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there's no fair in farewell

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Sometimes, when he looks down, Louis envies them. Humans. He’s not sure what about their lives attracts him, though. Whether it’s the not knowing, or the way they persevere despite that. The hope they have, the faith they put in other human beings or in God, in something they can’t touch and have never experienced. He wonders if he believed in God, back then. When he was alive.

It’s weird, thinking about that. Because Louis isn’t dead, is he, despite the fact that he’s very much died. Years ago. He thinks. He’s not sure how long it’s been, the memories have been taken from him upon his arrival. Maybe that’s what he envies. Remembering.

Not that Louis doesn’t remember anything. Just not from before. Not from when he walked the earth and had friends and family. He knows it’s a gift, in some ways. He’s not sure he’d want to remember dying. But it’s hard not to look down and wonder, sometimes. Would he have known some of these people? Does he have siblings? Are they still alive? And if they died, where are they?

Not everyone that dies comes here, after all. He knows that much. It’s only the young, like him. The ones that haven’t experienced love and get a second chance, in a way.

He shifts, back aching, his wings stretching a bit before they fold back against his shoulders. Those, at least, are cool. Then again, everyone here has them. But still, that’s one thing he thinks the humans might envy him for. Well, that, and the ability to live forever.

His quiet sound when he stretches again, trying to get rid of the ache in his lower back, attracts the attention of a curly haired boy, who comes closer, beaming at Louis in that way he always does. Louis beams back at him, the way he always does.

Harry. If anyone looks like the Angels that humans depict in their paintings, it’s him. With his wings delicately folded behind his back, emitting a pale pink energy that tells Louis he’s happy to see him, he looks every bit as innocent and angelic as people like to think they are.

Because that’s what they are. Angels. Cupids to be more exact. Him and Haz. Given a second chance at love by bringing people together, all over the world. The humans are wrong though, they don’t matchmake. That’s left up to the Fates. They work tirelessly, figuring out what people are meant to be together, are meant to be in each other’s lives. Louis and Harry, they only come into it after that’s been figured out. They get told who to set up and do it.

Not that it’s all as boring as that. It’s actually quite fun. Harry certainly loves it, loves watching the charges he’s set up over the years, the ones that are still together, at least. Because not everyone is. Not every match made by the Fates is meant to last. Some are just meant to teach a lesson. Some don’t even become anything other than friends. Those are hard to watch, sometimes. But then there’s the Ones. The Soulmates. They’re rare, but they’re the Real Thing. The ones that, once they are matched, will be together forever. Well, once the Cupids have done their job, that is.

And setting them up can be a lot of fun. Although Cupids don’t have the ability to directly influence feelings (so much for humans depicting them with a bow and arrow, Louis wishes it were as easy as all that), they do have the ability to influence reality. To manipulate the world. As long as it directly affects their charges, at least. Sometimes Louis thinks it’d be fun to just manipulate the world for a laugh, but he’s already gotten in trouble for that before. Had to fill out a massive pile of forms to explain why he’d done what he’d done, and how it wasn’t just random but actually had a purpose in setting up one of his charges. It’s a good thing he’s good at bullshitting. But the paperwork had been a drag, and Harry had given him this disapproving look, and, well. He hadn’t done it again.

Harry settles down next to him and Louis can’t resist, spreads his wings out so the very tip of one tickles the back of Harry’s neck. “Hi,” he tells him, and Harry sends him another of those sunny smiles.

“Hi,” Harry replies, in his usual slow voice. It irritated Louis once upon a time, but now just makes him fond as ever of the boy sat beside him.

“You look happy,” Louis observes, folding his wings back, but only after ruffling up Harry’s curls. Harry doesn’t even bother trying to untangle them, probably guessing that Louis will just mess them right back up. He really knows him too well.

Harry nods. “I am. One of my charges just had a baby. She’s so cute and tiny. Wanna see?”

Harry’s obsession with babies is adorable. Louis is sure that he would’ve fathered a million of them, if he hadn’t died young. Well, maybe not a million. He doesn’t think any human lives long enough to father a million babies. Cupids do, but Cupids can’t have kids. In hindsight, that doesn’t make Harry’s obsession with babies adorable so much as sad. Louis frowns. Just for a second, because Harry looks at him, and he’s sweet and expectant, and Louis can’t ever say no to him. “Sure, Haz.”

Harry gives him a slow, thoughtful smile, as though he knows exactly what Louis is thinking, but then he reaches towards the window, presses a long fingertip against it. The clouds outside disappear, the image blurry for a moment before it comes into focus, revealing a tired but happy looking young woman, holding a baby with a small tuft of jet black hair.

“She is cute,” Louis acknowledges grudgingly, while Harry leans forward as though he’s trying to count her fingers and toes from all the way up here. Louis swears he can hear him coo. “You did good, Haz.” Even from way up here he can tell the woman looks happy, besotted with her daughter. The man he can see in the background can’t keep his eyes off the two women in his life. It’s nice.

“We have the best job in the world, Lou,” Harry mumbles, and looking at the scene in front of them, Louis can’t find it in him to disagree.

*

They check in with Niall, once the baby has fallen asleep and Louis is pretty sure his bum has too. Harry has to help him up, which amuses him far too much. He teases Louis about being an old man, and Louis isn’t sure what’s wrong with him today, but it makes him think of how he both is and isn’t. He’s not sure how old he is, he doesn’t think any of them are. Maybe God would know, She knows everything, but She’s too busy to bother with stupid questions like that.

It’s just, sometimes he’d like to know. How long he’s been here. What happened to him. What it feels like to be in love. He knows they can’t, as Cupids, knows that the only way he’ll ever experience love is by watching the people he sets up, but sometimes he wishes there was more. It usually only lasts a day or two though, so he tries not to think about it too much.

Niall always cheers him up anyway. If not for his jokes and his easy Irish charm, then for the way he absolutely loves his job. He likes hearing stories too, has always favored Harry and Louis because they come down and tell him about the people he’s matched up. Not every Fate wants to know about the people they match up, but Niall does. He especially likes hearing about the ones that don’t work out, says it helps him figure out who to connect next time.

Louis thinks he could never do this job. Just walking into the room it overwhelms him sometimes. There’s rows upon rows of switchboards, different coloured cords connecting jacks in a random criss cross. Niall explained the colours to them once. When the cords aren’t plugged in they’re simply black, but they light up the moment a connection is made. Pink, he told them, meant that although the match wouldn’t lead to a relationship, there was something to be gained from the connection. The wire would disconnect on its own once the lesson had been learned.

Red wires meant a romantic, to be reciprocated relationship. Niall always keeps an eye on those. Sometimes the colour fades, and he’ll call in one of the Cupids, telling them the connection between their charges is fading. They can try and interfere, but it doesn’t always help. Louis remembers how it felt the first time he got called in by Niall, when he was new to the job. He’d done whatever he could to bring them closer together, but eventually the line had disconnected, and the couple had gone their separate ways. It had upset him, back then. Had made him feel useless, because what point was there to being a Cupid when he had nothing to show for it in the end?

Niall had been delighted though. Because, as he’d told Louis -who had very much felt like smacking him-, he’d had an inkling that there was someone far better suited for one of Louis’ charges. But not even the Fates could disconnect a couple once they were together. Not until the relationship had run its course.

Louis had been with him when he’d connected the woman to the man he’d thought she’d match well with. It’s the only time one of Louis’ charges has actually been part of a silver cord. He didn’t understand the importance of it until the other Fates came over, congratulating Niall, and telling Louis how lucky he was to be able to be a part of something so wonderful. Niall had told him then. Silver meant Soulmates. It meant the line wouldn’t ever be disconnected, regardless of whether the two people connected by the cord were together yet. Where red wires could be disconnected if the matches weren’t a couple yet (which pissed off the Cupids sometimes, when they had invested time to get their charges to meet only to be told by the Fates that they had found someone else that was better suited for them) silver wires, once put in place, would never disconnect. The couple were meant to be, and while that certainly didn’t mean it would be easy, or their relationship wouldn’t have its ups and downs, they would always come back together in the end. Louis had grudgingly had to admit, setting them up has definitely been a satisfying experience.

Pushing open the doors to the big hall Niall’s in, Louis is once again overwhelmed by the amount of Fates that are working here. It’s absolute chaos to him, even if he knows there must be a system, somewhere in this madness of cords and jacks. It takes him a moment to locate Niall - they don’t seem to have a station of their own, no blocked off area of the world that is theirs to play with - but when he does he waves at him, gestures for him to come over.

Niall grins, holds up a finger as if to say he’ll be a minute, and Louis is about to head back outside when he notices Harry’s absolute delight at the room. He almost rolls his eyes, would have if it weren’t for the sweet smile on Harry’s face.

“Lou, look,” he tells him, gestures towards one of the switchboards, where a red wire is plugged in, vibrant in colour. “That one’s mine. That’s the girl I just showed you.”

Louis blinks at him. “How on earth would you know? There’s like a million wires in here.” He can barely make out the colours of some of the wires, with the amount that are connected, criss cross over one another. But sure, Harry knows exactly which one is his and who they are.

Harry doesn’t take offense to the doubtful tone of Louis’ voice, just beams at him. “Can’t you feel it? I could tell you which ones are mine with my eyes closed. They feel mine, Lou.”

This time Louis does roll his eyes. But only when Harry isn’t watching.

*

Niall comes out a couple of minutes later, bright smile on his face as always. Louis really likes him. He never lets the bad things get him down, thinks of every disconnecting cord as another challenge, another possibility. “Alright lads,” he greets them, running a hand through his hair. His wings, unlike those of the Cupids, aren’t feathered and tucked between his shoulderblades. Instead they look almost drawn on, like tattoos, wrapping around his shoulders, the wings extending almost to his elbow. They seem more decorative than anything, but Louis has seen Niall use them before, had watched the tattoos come to life, extend into beautiful grey wings that were every bit as powerful as his own. He supposes they don’t need the wings as much as Cupids do, since they don’t travel around as much. And with the amount of Fates working in the same hall wings like his and Harry’s look like they’d get in the way.

“Fancy a drink?” Louis asks, not bothering to say hello, though he can hear Harry do so. Always so fucking polite, that one is. Not that they have to be polite around Niall. They’ve known each other for ages, and Niall has to be one of the most easygoing people he’s ever met. He wonders if the other Fates are like that. He wonders if it’s something to do with the fact that they were never human. He’d asked him about it once, how Fates came into being. Niall had shrugged, told him he’d just popped into existence one day, already fully formed. Louis tries not to think about that too much, because the concept is just weird. Though he supposes it’s not any weirder than people dying, losing all their memories, and waking up as a Cupid in Heaven. And who says it’s the truth, anyway? Maybe Niall has lived a ton of lives, but if he can’t remember anything about it, it might just feel like he came out of nothing.

(God, he hates days like this. Where he seemingly can’t stop thinking about everything, can’t stop analyzing just how strange this world is, how strange he is. He really needs that pint with Niall, thank you very much.)

He misses Niall answering, but since he assumes the answer is going to be yes - since, let’s be honest, it’s always yes - he feels confident in leading the way to one of the bars they commonly end the day in. They tuck themselves into a booth, Harry’s thigh pressing against his own and Niall’s knee knocking against his under the table, and only look at the menu out of habit. Louis already knows what they’re getting. Niall is a creature of habit, he knows what he likes and he’s not straying from that. Harry’s order depends on his mood. Considering the pale pink colour still swirling around him, today’s a good day, which means he’ll likely order the chicken, stuffed with mozzarella, wrapped in parma ham. Worse days he opts for something healthier, which has always baffled Louis, who considers anything greasy to be the true comfort food. Ok, to be fair, he doesn’t need to be in a bad mood to crave a nice burger. There’s just never a wrong time for a burger.

They order their pints and their food, talk about nothing in particular for a while. Harry mentions the baby that was born to one of his charges, his face doing that scrunchy thing that Louis always likes to tease him about. He wonders, idly, what Harry would’ve been like on earth. What kind of people he would’ve made that scrunchy face at.

“What about you, Neil?” He interrupts, when Harry’s monologue about the baby has been going on for a good five minutes. “Anything out of the ordinary happen today? Or was it just another day at the office, plugging in cords?”

Niall looks up from his food, grins. “Actually, something pretty wicked happened. I plugged in a couple and the cord went grey.”

Louis blinks at him. “Sounds riveting,” he says dryly. “It turned grey. What an absolute highlight of your life.” He’s so glad he’s not a Fate. He’d be bored out of his skull apparently, if Niall is so excited about a cord turning an unexpected colour.

Niall throws a chip at him. Harry just makes a face, but Louis catches the chip with his mouth, so, take that Niall. “As I was saying,” Niall continues, obviously deciding against throwing another chip at Louis, which is rather a shame because those were good, “it turned grey, which was actually pretty amazing, Tommo, because that rarely ever happens. We had to grab a manual just to check out what it meant.”

“Ooooh,” Louis mutters under his breath, then “ow” when Harry elbows him. Rude.

“What did it mean?” Harry wonders. Louis scoffs. He’s bored with this conversation already. He’s feeling really antagonistic today, apparently. Which really isn’t fair to Niall, if he’s honest. He scowls at his food for a moment, before sighing, looking up at his friend.

“I’m sorry Niall,” he shifts, wings fluttering a bit. “Don’t know what’s wrong with me today.” Harry seems appeased, which, Louis rather prefers him smiling at him than giving him that look he’d done earlier. He gives him a small smile in return.

“Same thing that’s wrong with you every day,” Niall picks up a chip, points it at him. “You’re just an asshole.” He’s teasing, it’s obvious by the way his eyes sparkle. It doesn’t stop Louis from wanting to throw food at his face. Instead he shifts in his seat, blinks innocently up at him when Niall flinches, withdrawing his ankle from the swift kick Louis had delivered to it.

“Boys,” Harry scolds, making a face at both of them now. Suck that, Niall. At least Louis is not the only one getting glared at. “Behave.”

Louis almost sticks out his tongue. “Yes mum.” He meets Niall’s eyes, and then the both of them are laughing, Harry joining in a moment later.

Everything feels lighter after that, and Louis does actually want to hear what the grey cord means, because he’s always been too curious for his own good, so once they’ve settled down a bit, he gestures at Niall. “So, what did it mean, Ni?”

Niall picks up as though he’s never been interrupted. “You know how sometimes we can’t plug people in? Like no matter what, it’ll either not fit a plug or it’ll just fall straight back out?” Louis nods. Niall had explained that to him too. Those were the ones they’d taken to call Aromantic. To be completely honest, the humans themselves had started calling it that, and the Cupids and Fates had just incorporated the word into their vocabulary. Who’d know better than a human, after all? Louis idly thinks they’re all sort of like that, up here. Unable to fall in love, to establish a romantic connection.

“Right, so, I figured this one was like that? I’d tried plugging one in before, but it just fell straight back out, so we figured, we’d leave it alone. But then I just had this feeling. I was looking at this other jack and something in me just went, this might work.” He shrugs a shoulder, as though he’d just been messing around, which, Louis thinks, wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility. Niall takes his job seriously, but one can only look at a switchboard for so long before trying the most random options. Maybe that’s just him though. Which is another addition in the column ‘reasons why Louis should never be a Fate’.

Harry seems excited. He’s always excited about romantic connections. Louis saw him cry once when a girl he’d set up lost her connection, and the new one Niall had made turned pink. Even when it had turned out well in hindsight - the girl falling in love with her best friend, thus realizing she was attracted to women - Harry had been so upset at the thought of people not getting their happy ending. If it were up to him everyone would meet their Soulmate.

“So I go and plug it in, figuring it’ll fall back out, but it takes. And then it turns grey, and I’ve no fucking clue what that’s supposed to mean.” Niall continues. “So I go and look it up in the manual - got a nice cloud of dust in my face for my efforts - and it turns out, it’s pretty rare, but some of the ones that we figured were Aromantic aren’t completely unable to feel romantic attraction. It’s a whole lot more complicated than we thought. There’s ones that only fall in love once they’ve already become close to their match, ones that experience romantic attraction but don’t want it reciprocated, and a bunch more. So the grey means that there’s a possibility of romance, but it doesn’t exactly tell us more than that. Which is going to be wicked to figure out.”

Great. More work. Louis steals a chip off Niall’s plate. “So now we’re going to have to set up people who might not fall in love with each other, and we have no clue whether or not the relationship will work out if they even do end up romantically attracted to each other?” Man, what he wouldn’t give for a bow and arrow now.

Niall nods. “Cara was so excited. She was hanging around, waiting for a new match, but the moment she saw she called dibs.” Louis nods approvingly at that. If anyone can figure it out it’s Cara. She’s wicked smart and doesn’t give up. “I just hope she can figure it out without going down,” Niall adds, frowning. Louis and Harry both nod, identical grave expressions on their faces. Going down is never a good thing. It might not be entirely fair, but it was seen as sort of a weakness, if a Cupid couldn’t make their charges fall in love from Heaven. Despite the fact that they couldn’t directly influence feelings, it was assumed that whoever needed to go down to the human world just hadn’t altered the world to the best of their ability. Louis, thankfully, has never had to go down before.

There’s also the problem of memories. Going down to the human world meant becoming temporarily human, in most ways. It meant losing their wings and regaining their memories. Every memory, leading right up to the way someone died. It can really mess with your brain, Louis’ heard. Even after. Because once those memories are back, you don’t lose them, even when you go back up. Something to do with dying, he supposes. Dying is the only way to wipe the slate clean. And going back up isn’t the same thing as dying.

“If anyone’s strong enough to handle it, it’s Cara,” Harry says quietly. Louis nods, hoping he’s right. He’s always liked her, he’d hate to see her get hurt.

*

It’s late when they head back to their place. Harry and Louis say goodbye to Niall, who stays near his work site, in an apartment building he shares with some of the other Fates. Having wished him a good night, Louis is glad to unfold his wings, fly the rest of the way home. He tickles Harry’s side with the tip of one feathery wing, grins at him. “Race ya.”

He doesn’t wait for a reply, just stretches his wings, beating them once against the air and then he’s soaring, tumbling through the sky. He can hear Harry’s raspy laugh before he joins him, taking the challenge and chasing him, higher and higher up in the air until the apartments below them are as small as the human world they look down on.

Louis finds a cloud, settles onto it, wings fluttering ever so softly to keep from sinking through. He beams at Harry, who is upright in the air, grinning back at him. “If people could see you now, Lou,” he says, and Louis snickers.

“Maybe they have. Maybe that’s where all the paintings come from.” Though he thinks if either of them would be the subject of a painting it’d be Harry. Harry with his full lips and his green eyes. With those chocolate curls and dimples in his cheeks.

“I can see that,” Harry says earnestly, like he hadn’t known Louis was just teasing. Louis makes a face, scoops up a bit of cloud and throws it at Harry, watches it brush in soft tendrils against his cheeks. He huffs, feels so full of energy that he just wants to do something.

So of course he tackles Harry, and there they go, spiraling through the air as they fall, ground approaching at a dizzying speed. They only break apart seconds before they would hit the grass, which is so close Louis can feel it brush against his back. But then they’re soaring back up, Harry’s joyous whoop accompanying Louis’ bright laugh.

They chase each other through the air, fly up only to tumble back down, until they’re clammy with sweat, wings trembling from exertion. Landing in front of Louis’ apartment, Louis nudges his shoulder against Harry’s. “Thanks.”

Harry smiles, even if he sounds a bit confused. “What for?”

Louis just shrugs and heads towards the door. “You.” He glances over his shoulder, catches Harry giving his shoes a tiny, happy smile. “Night Hazza.”

“Night Lou.”

*

He feels sore in the morning, wings aching, but despite the accompanying twinge in his shoulders whenever he moves, Louis feels much happier today. He hadn’t known just how much he needed to let off some steam and do something silly, but of course Harry had come through. He always does.

Louis can’t remember what it was like before Harry was in his life. He knows, logically, that there had been a time when he hadn’t met him yet. Louis has been a Cupid for far longer than Harry has, even if Harry has plenty of years’ experience by now. How much, Louis can’t say. Time tends to blur together after a while, and once he’d seen the first of his charges die he had decided to give up on tracking their lives. If he had to take a guess though, he’d say he’s been here maybe fifty, sixty human years. Long enough for his parents, his possible siblings, all of his friends, to have lived full lives of their own.

Where that thought would have made him sad yesterday it brings contentment now. Although he doesn’t remember the people he once loved he knows that they must have existed. And knowing they had lived a full, long life, had families of their own, it makes him happy. Louis never got the chance, but at least they did.

He wonders about Harry’s family. Wonders what the world was like when he grew up. Wonders if he was loved. He’s sure he was. Harry’s very lovable.

It’s a strange thought, that their paths might have crossed, back on earth. That Louis might have been a middle aged man by the time Harry was barely out of his teens. In a way, he likes this better. Sure, they both had to die, but at least they’re together, both forever as young as the day they passed away.

Shaking off his thoughts, he heads into the shower, eyes not fully opening until he’s about drowned himself. He gives his hair and body a cursory scrub, towels off haphazardly before ruffling his feathers, letting them shake off the excess water so they’ll stop dripping.

While he waits for them to dry enough to be able to put on a shirt (so much for Cupids flying around in some skimpy cloth that just covers their privates) he heads down to the kitchen, is just about to switch on his coffeemaker when the door opens.

“Mornin’ Lou,” Harry greets. Louis just blinks blearily at him for a moment.

“How are you always so obnoxiously awake in the morning,” he complains, looking at him. Harry’s awfully put together. “Did you have coffee already? And if so, where’s mine?”

Harry chuckles, places a brown paper bag onto the kitchen table. “Good morning to you too, Boo Bear.”

Louis, his fingers already reaching out for the bag, narrows his eyes at him. “I don’t like you.” He regrets ever letting Harry nickname him. What kind of a stupid, nonsensical nickname is Boo Bear? He’s neither scary (sadly), nor a stuffed animal.

“You don’t? Well, I guess I’ll take that breakfast back then. Give it to someone who’s actually my friend.”

Louis scowls harder, fingers tightening around the bag that’s cradled to his chest. Whatever is inside, it smells delicious. Stupid, ridiculous, cherubic, baking prodigy asshole. He grumbles. “Fine. Maybe I like you a little.”

Harry produces a cup of coffee from his favorite breakfast café, incidentally just around the corner from Harry’s place. Louis scowls. “Ok. Maybe a lot.”

Harry beams.

*

It’s calm, when Louis gets to the office. As much as he isn’t a morning person he enjoys the relative quiet that’s only broken by a flutter of wings and the occasional sip from a coffee cup. Harry’s energy is a mellow green today, interspersed with flecks of yellow. Louis knows that means he’s in a good mood, calm and content. It’s always soft colours with Harry. Green is his default, but it turns yellow when he’s excited - like when they raced each other through the clouds - and pink when he’s fond of the people he’s with. Louis always likes that Harry’s energy turns pink around him. He often wonders what his own colours are, but somehow he never gets around to asking.

He rummages through the papers on his desk, looking at the notes that have come straight from headquarters, giving basic info about his charges: age, name, location. There’s additions scrawled all over the page, things Louis has learned from observing them. Hobbies, job, their schedule. All information that helps him manipulate the world below, fold delicate ripples in time or space to nudge his charges closer together.

He reads through the notes, refreshes his memory, before tapping a finger against the window, which blurs and then reveals a blond boy, sitting at a desk not too different from his own. He watches him watch a screen, mouse hovering over a purchase button for tickets for tonight’s football game. Louis checks his page. Kid’s a ManU fan. Which wouldn’t be all that bad, if the one Louis is meant to set him up with wasn’t a massive Liverpool supporter. Although Louis loves sports, he never understood the rivalry some teams have, but apparently it’s Real™. And important. Hopefully not important enough for the two to hate each other by default.

Freezing the website for a moment, he checks in on the other boy, who is texting a friend about coming to a café tonight so they can watch the game. Despite the season not having started yet and it just being a friendly practice match, the friend is a bit worried, because he doesn’t want to start any trouble. Louis grins. He can fix that.

Going back to the blond, Jake, he unfreezes the website, drains the leftover ticket pool, chuckling when the boy curses under his breath at the displayed THIS MATCH IS SOLD OUT. He crafts a quick ad that’s displayed on the page, telling Jake that the match will be shown on the big screen at a nearby bar. The same bar his future boyfriend will be at tonight, if Louis has anything to say about it.

Which he does.

The good thing about being a Cupid is that time moves differently up here than it does down there. Where he’d have to wait six hours just for Jake and Matthew to end up at the same bar, if he were in the human world, he doesn’t have to wait at all up here. He’s not too sure how it works, but the point is, it does. So once he’s gotten his second coffee of the day - sadly not nearly as good as the one Harry brought him this morning - he settles back at his desk and watches Matthew psych himself up, obviously dreading going into a bar that is potentially filled with ManU supporters. The bar has strict guidelines on sportsmanship and petty rivalries, and Louis knows there’ll be a good mix of both Liverpool and Manchester United supporters there tonight, but Matthew obviously doesn’t have that knowledge. It doesn’t help that his friend is nowhere to be found, but Louis nudges one of the patrons near the door, who decides it’s time for a cigarette. He smirks as he watches him stumble out, right into Matthew. One quick conversation, an are you here for the match and Matt is led inside, an arm amiably around his shoulder.

Because Louis actually does like sports, he doesn’t fast forward through the whole ordeal. There’s not much fun in it anyway, and he might miss the perfect chance at getting the two to interact, if they don’t get there on their own.

Which they don’t. And an hour into the match, Louis is starting to lose his focus. Worse, his interest. Matthew and Jake are sat at opposite sides of the bar, haven’t got eyes for anything other than the big screen. There’s a pint of beer in front of both of them that Louis wishes they’d hurry up and drink, because maybe alcohol is the solution here. Alcohol is a lazy solution though, one that Louis doesn’t like to utilize until he’s got absolutely nothing else in his arsenal. Plus, he can’t actually influence feelings. And making sure someone is having a really bad time - thus, hopefully, leading to excessive drinking - is hardly ever conducive to putting them in a romantic mood.

He spins around in his chair, sighs deeply, thinking he’s about to have a really bad time if he has to continue watching this - especially when the game isn’t really any good - when Harry appears at his side. Magic, that boy is. Louis feels better already. He grins up at him. “Hi Harold.”

Harry makes a face. “That’s not my name.”

Louis wants to ask him how he’d know that, since neither of them remember their lives. It’d be a sick burn. But Harry can get awfully sad sometimes when confronted with his lack of a past life, and Louis really isn’t about to make this a full blown pity party. Especially since Harry’s wobbly bottom lip is lethal. “Alright Harold,” he teases instead. “Thought you’d be hard at work. Or, actually, thought you’d be watching your baby. She still got ten fingers and toes?”

A dimple pops out on Harry’s cheek. “Just came to see what you were doing, Boo Bear,” he responds sweetly. Louis frowns.

“That’s not my name.” He says petulantly. “Why?”

“That’s what you get,” Harry beams at him. “For calling me Harold.” Louis thinks that’s highly unfair. There’s nothing silly or embarrassing about the name Harold. “Just thought you might like to grab some lunch if you’re not busy?”

Yes, Louis would like lunch. Louis would like lunch a whole lot, and it’s not even because he’s hungry. It’s because he’s bored, and lunch with Harry sounds infinitely more interesting than sitting here at his desk. If he’s honest, it’d still sound infinitely more interesting than sitting at his desk regardless of what his charges were doing. And Louis is a very curious creature who might or might not love spying on his charges. “I’d love to,” he says honestly. “But I have to get these two to notice each other somehow.” He scowls at his screen. “Sports fans. They’re the worst.”

Harry nods, like he knows all about it. Louis knows for a fact that he doesn’t. Harry has the coordination of a giraffe. A clumsy giraffe, at that. He’s the kind of boy that falls up the stairs. He’s the kind of boy that uses stairs in the first place, when he has perfectly good wings that’ll carry him wherever he wants to go. Louis is impossibly endeared by him. “D’you want me to bring you something back?” He offers sweetly. Louis thinks about that for a moment.

“Give me a bit? This game’s been going on for almost seventy minutes. I’ve got to be able to make them interact somehow. Even if they just end up talking about how this is the dullest match ever.” He gripes, turning back to his window, assuming Harry is going to stay.

Harry, of course, sits down next to him. Good boy. “Who’s winning?”

Louis arches his eyebrow. “Like you care?”

Harry just grins. “I don’t. But they do.” And. Hey.

“Hazza, you’re brilliant!” Louis might flail a little, in his excitement to reach out to the screen. He knows this will undoubtedly mean filling in paperwork tonight, because changing little things here and there is all well and good, but fixing a match is serious, and he’s going to have to make a case for why he’s done it. “I could kiss you!” It’s an expression he’s picked up from the humans he watches. It usually leaves the recipient adorably flustered.

Harry, instead, just looks mildly amused. And a little bit pensive. “I wonder what that’s like, sometimes. I mean. It seems wet and kind of gross, but also, the way people look afterwards, all starry eyed? I wonder what it’d be like.” Louis nods. He wonders that too, sometimes. He’s spent his entire life making people fall in love, without ever understanding what it’s really like. He can recognize the signs, but even if he knows what it looks like, he’s never known what it feels like.

“Who do you reckon would be most upset if they lost?” He asks Harry, because he can’t get all introspective right now, not when there’s charges to set up and lunch to look forward to. “Not angry upset, mind. More like sad, mopey little puppy, please come and buy me a drink and comfort me in my time of trouble upset?”

Harry’s eyebrow quirks up. It’s judging him, and Louis has to resist the urge to make a face at it. “You want to make one of them cry.” He accuses.

Louis contemplates that. Grins. “Nah, that’d just be a bonus. Or maybe not. Are crying guys a turn off?” He asks the window, because asking Harry is sort of pointless. Harry would entirely be the kind of guy to find crying guys a turn on. If, y’know. They were actually capable of those sorts of feelings. Asking him now is like asking a frog what it’s like to play tennis. It’d have no way of knowing.

Louis shakes off that thought (a frog playing tennis, honestly? Where’d that come from?), turns back towards the window, absently tugging at his bottom lip. “Forget the crying. Let’s just bring a bit of life to this party, shall we?” They’re seventy eight minutes in and it’s still 0-0. Honestly, Louis is doing the world a favor. Though he’s sure the Liverpool fans might not agree with that. But they can kiss his, admittedly formidable, ass. Because it’s still 0-0 in the second to last minute , and Louis, again, feels very grateful for the ability to manipulate time, even if he would’ve just had to wait ten minutes. Ten agonizing minutes, from the looks on some of the supporters’ faces. He almost holds his breath with them, even when he, ever so subtly, causes one of the Liverpool defenders to completely botch the pass he’s giving to the goalie. The United striker, good lad, takes advantage, and, bam. 1-0.

The referee barely adds any extra time, and Louis keeps a close eye on Matt and Jake, the former understandably upset, while the latter celebrates. And accidentally (an actual accident this time) gets knocked into Matt on his way to the loo.

Bam. Louis loves this moment. Matt absently reaching out a hand, steadying Jake. Jake apologizing, at first too caught up in the win to notice, but then seeing the look on Matt’s face. Then seeing Matt’s face. Louis can see Harry lean forward from the corner of his eye as Jake offers Matt a drink, sounding far too genuine and soft when he says something about it being sort of a consolation prize. From the look on Matt’s face, it’s anything but.

“You actually did it.” Harry sounds a bit surprised. Rude.

Louis makes sure to communicate that with his eyelashes. By which he means that he blinks at him. Condescendingly, and affronted. Harry just blinks back at him, slow and unperturbed. “Are you questioning my matchmaking skills, Harold?” His voice, too, shows just a hint of how deeply insulted he is by Harry’s lack of faith in his abilities. How deeply he pretends to be, anyway.

It’s really a pity Harry’s known him long enough not to take him seriously. “No,” his voice comes, slow at first, like he’s searching for the right words, but then he catches up to Louis’ true feelings (it might be the snickering, Louis thinks dejectedly. He should work on his acting skills). “Not at all, Boo Bear.” He beams at him, and somehow Louis is unable to keep from smiling back. Crap. “Just questioning your morals. Figured you just did it for the hell of it.”

“That’s worse!” Louis huffs, flicking Harry’s cheek with his fingers. “You’re so mean to me. I was going to buy you lunch, but you’re out of luck now, mister! No free lunch for you!” He still gets up from his seat, because he’s actually quite hungry now. He’ll check in on Matt and Jake later.

“Louis,” Harry says patiently. “The meals at the cafeteria are free to begin with. ”

Louis huffs again. That.. is entirely besides the point.

*

They head to the cafeteria together, where Louis ends up carrying Harry’s plate of food as well as his own on one tray. He might not be able to buy him lunch but he can certainly act like he’s responsible for Harry getting this meal, especially when he can lord it over him that he’s a nicer person than Harry is. Not that he actually expects anyone to believe that. Harry is the nicest person he’s ever met. It’s kind of gross, actually, how nice he is.

Harry follows him silently, letting Louis choose a spot, dimple in full force as he sits down and Louis presents his food to him with a flourish. “Enjoy,” Louis tells him, sitting on the other side of the table, where he can keep an eye out for Niall, who should have a lunch break coming up soon.

“After that display of chivalry, how could I not,” Harry compliments him, and Louis isn’t sure why, but it makes him feel a little flustered. He wasn’t going for chivalry, but he still likes that Harry is impressed by these kinds of things. “So, you working on your two charges again later? Or do you think they’ll be able to manage from where you left them?”

Louis tucks into his food, shrugging a shoulder. “Dunno yet. It was promising, but, I’ve never seen either of them hit on a bloke before. So they might need a little nudge, depending on how comfortable they are.” Or on how clueless they were about their own feelings. That seems to happen a lot these days. People were so busy with everything else, the world having become such a big place, but simultaneously feeling smaller than ever. There was all this pressure now, this need to succeed and be someone, which made it hard for their charges to get in touch with their feelings sometimes. Or to understand that it was real, something that could last. With the whole world just a swipe on your phone away, lovers were traded in so fast, relationships not always given the chance and time to develop. It’s made his job more interesting, but Louis still kind of thinks it’s sad.

“It was nice, seeing them together.” Harry says pensively. “I remember when I first started out. It was so much harder then.”

Louis nods. He remembers that. He remembers thinking it wasn’t so bad back then, compared to when he had started out. But it was definitely better now. Easier for boys to admit their feelings for other boys. Easier to find places to meet, to drop little hints about their sexuality. “It’s one of my favorite things,” he admits. “Especially when they’re not too sure about themselves yet. Seeing them figure it out, realize that love is just love.. It’s nice.”

He glances up at Harry, wondering if he’ll make fun of him for being a sap, but Harry just does that little scrunch face that tells Louis he’s feeling particularly fond of him right now. “I once set up this seventy five year old man,” Harry tells him. Louis swears his fond intensifies. “He’d been married to his highschool sweetheart since he was in his early twenties. Niall thought the match was a mistake at first, because, y’know. He’d been married to a girl all his adult life. But he told me to give it a try anyway, and .. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man look so happy, Lou. I know I shouldn’t spy, but, that first kiss? It was so sweet.” He can’t stop beaming at his food, but Louis, for once, doesn’t tease him about it. Not when he can read from his expression just how much that one moment meant to him.

“I love moments like that,” he replies softly. “They’re what I think about when I’m having a shit day. When a couple falls apart or I’m having to do one of those godawful pink ones that always hurt to watch. They’re what makes me think we have a job worth doing after all.”

Harry nods at him, sips from his juice, cheeks hollowing as plush lips wrap around the straw. Louis has watched enough people bumble through a first date to know that it can be made into a highly suggestive move. Harry just looks sweet when he does it. Especially when he brightens up, waves one of his ridiculously large hands. Louis turns to look over his shoulder, spotting a familiar blond. He hollers out a helpful “Ni! Over here!” just in case Harry flailing about hadn’t been enough to catch his eye.

Niall heads on over to them, his tray properly filled - Louis is sure he can spy no less than three chocolate pudding cups balancing on the blue plastic tray. “Hungry?” He teases, making room for him to put his food down before going back to his own.

“Nah. I mean, yeah, but, Perrie really wanted to finish this one match she was working on, so she asked me to bring some stuff back for her, and you know how crazy she goes over these little pudding cups.” Niall explains, setting them aside, as well as a sandwich that he carefully wraps up in some napkins. Louis smiles. He has good friends.

“What about you then? Been making any crazy matches today? Any cords turning funny colours?” He teases. Niall, a spoonful of food in his mouth, just flips him off good naturedly. “Hey! I was actually serious.” Well, sorta. He might’ve been a bit rude on purpose, but his question was genuine. “Hazza, ask him.” He begs, fluttering his lashes at Harry.

“Any good matches happen today?” Harry asks obediently, still sipping on his drink. “I think I’m about done with mine, so, feel free to throw one my way.”

Niall nods, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Louis contemplates telling him that maybe he shouldn’t have used all the napkins for Perrie’s sandwich, but, he doesn’t want to piss Niall off too badly. Not when he’s one of his best friends and coincidentally the only Fate that they know that will actually send some of the more interesting cases his way. “Just gotta finish up the paperwork, but, I might have a good one for you.” He tells him. “Actually,” he motions with his spoon towards Louis, who only barely manages to avoid getting soup all over his favorite shirt. “For both of you.”

Louis quirks an eyebrow. “I’m still working on Matt and Jake.” He thinks so, at least.

Niall nods again. “Orders from Headquarters,” he explains, “they want two Cupids on this one.” It’s unusual, to say the least. “I’d be happy to throw it your way Harry, but I gotta find someone who’s able to work with you. I figured you two would work well together, but if you’re busy, Lou, I’ll ask someone else to jump in.”

Louis hates double caseloads. With a passion. It’s twice the paperwork, twice the amount of hours, watching, learning, planning. But he’s also incredibly curious, and if Niall has a case for Harry, one that involves not one but two Cupids, direct orders from Headquarters… Well. “Nah,” he shakes his head for emphasis. “I’ll manage. That is, if you’ll have me, Haz.” He flutters his eyelashes at him again.

Harry seems awfully unimpressed with the display. But he still tells him, “of course. Always.”

Niall seems pleased with that. “Awesome. If you’ll give me a mo’ after lunch to collect all the info, I’ll get it to you by this afternoon.”

“Is there anything you can tell us right now?” If this were Louis asking he would’ve probably been a bit less polite about it, but it’s Harry, and even though it’s plain to see how curious he is, he’s still very well mannered. Not that Harry can’t be rude, or short with people, but it’s hard to get him to lose his temper, and he’s always had a way with words that Louis just doesn’t. It’s not ingrained in him the way it seems to be in Harry. He always has to think about tacking on a simple ‘please’.

“Yeah Ni,” he chimes in, “what’s so special about this case?”

It’s easy to see that Niall delights in being the one to tell them. Both because he likes knowing things others don’t and because he’s absolutely in love with his job. Once you get him started about what he does and how it works it’s almost impossible to shut him up. Louis really kind of loves it.

“It’s a silver one,” he tells them, gauging their response. Louis feels a zing of electricity go through him. Excitement making his wings flutter.

“Soulmates?” He looks at Niall, who is grinning at him. Louis can feel his cheeks start to burn, he knows he’s grinning back so wide. His eyes go to Harry then, expecting to see a matching expression on his face. Instead Louis watches it turn from surprise to elation to something that’s, oddly enough, close to panic. “What’s the matter, Haz? I thought you’d be excited.” He frowns, voice gentle. As much as he enjoys teasing Harry about his obsession with love, now doesn’t seem to be the time. Not when that frown on his face is accompanied by a sudden blue swirl in his energy. “Hey. Are you alright?” He reaches for him, hand covering Harry’s. “Are you freaking out?”

Harry bites his lip, ducking his head. “I’ve never done soulmates before.”

Oh. Louis bites on the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling, squeezes Harry’s hand instead. “You’re worried you’re not gonna be able to do it?” He gets a tiny nod. “Hazza-”

“It’s stupid, I know,” Harry doesn’t look up at him, his energy getting increasingly blue. “It’s no different than any of the other charges I’ve had, but-”

“It’s way different,” Niall cuts in, oblivious to Louis’ glare.

“Niall,” he tells him exasperatedly. “Don’t help.” That, at least, elicits a small chuckle from Harry. “He’s right though, Harry. It is different. It’s rare, and that makes it scary. I’ve only ever done one myself, and I was shitting bricks all the way through, no matter how much I told myself that it was no different from any of the other charges I’ve had. It’s terrifying, trying to set up a couple that you know is meant to be together. There’s all this pressure, because you feel like if you don’t get it right they’ll never love again.” He hears Harry make a quiet, wounded sound, so he barrels on, hoping what he says next will make Harry feel a little less worried. “But you know what, something’s different this time, and it’s not just that I’ve done this before. It’s that we’re doing this together, Haz. And between you and me, there’s no doubt in my mind that we can pull this off.”

Harry looks up at him, green eyes a little bit wet. “Really?” Louis gives him a soft, reassuring smile.

“Yeah, Harry. Really.” He squeezes his hand again. “We’ll do this together. And it’ll be magical, just you wait and see.”

Chapter Text

Despite his reassurance, Harry still seems a little quiet when they head back to the office. And Louis has to admit he’s a little unsettled too. He’s only set up soulmates once before, and that was after he’d already worked with one of the pair, setting up her previous relationship. He felt like he knew her, back then. Right now? He has nothing to go on except for the information Niall promised to give them later this afternoon.

But when Harry is so worried Louis can’t show his own insecurity. So he just distracts him, with silly jokes and stories of all the charges he’d set up. He can tell that Harry isn’t fully paying attention, his energy still shows swirls of blue, but they fade in and out, aren’t a bright constant the way they had been at lunch.

With no charges of his own to keep him busy, Harry seems a bit lost, and Louis invites him over to his desk, asks him if he’d like to see Matt and Jake again. Harry nods, then shakes his head. “Can we see your soulmates?”

There’s no distracting him, apparently. Louis smiles. “Of course. Just let me check in on Matt and Jake real quick, yeah? Gotta see if they still need my help or if I’m gonna be able to devote all my time to our soulmates.”

Harry nods again, though by the way he’s biting his lip Louis can tell there’s something bothering him. He doesn’t ask though, knows all Harry needs is a bit of time. He turns to the window, about to tap his finger to the glass, when his words come, slow and steady in a way that tells Louis he’s fighting hard to keep from showing emotion. “Do you think they wanted two Cupids on the case because they thought I’d fuck it up on my own?”

Louis stills, turns to Harry, who looks small, even his wings a little droopy. “No,” he says emphatically. “Harry, don’t even think like that. Soulmates are rare, yeah?”

“Ok, but, you’ve done them on your own before. I’ve never heard of any couple needing two cupids to set them up.” Harry argues. Louis frowns. While he’s worked with others before, that was only when he was just starting. Or when he was training others.

“Alright,” he concedes, “I’ll give you that. But Niall got orders from headquarters before he even asked us, remember? They wanted two of us working together, regardless of who ended up assigned to the case. Look, I don’t know why they think it’s a two person job, but it has nothing to do with how capable you are. You’re great at this. We’re gonna find out in a while, yeah, when Ni comes back with the info. Then we’ll know exactly why headquarters has their panties in a twist. But it’s not you, alright? I can tell you that much right now.”

There’s a bit of pink mixed into Harry’s energy now, which makes him smile. “Don’t stress, yeah? Or if you do, stress about the fact that you’re gonna be working one on one with me for the next however long this takes. Because honestly Harold, I’m not sure you can take me.”

Harry’s giggle is like music to his ears. Louis grins at him, turns back towards the window then, nodding towards it. “Shall we see how our boys are doing? Which, by the way, if it weren’t for you coming round, I might’ve not even got them to look up at each other.” He’s not sure how true that is, thinks he might’ve managed somehow, but Harry’s comments had definitely inspired him to think outside of the box. “By the way,” he adds casually, “seeing as how you’re directly responsible for me doing a spot of match fixing, I’m thinking it’s only fair that you do the paperwork.”

Although Harry makes a face, he doesn’t argue. Louis thinks he might think he’s kidding. He doesn’t tell him that he’s not, just turns to the window, finally pressing his finger against it, watches as it blurs before revealing Matt and Jake.

Revealing, as it turns out, is about the only way to describe it. Louis isn’t sure to feel elated or embarrassed at catching the two very much in the act. He’s not ashamed to admit he hadn’t been expecting this, though he thinks the way he sort of yelped was enough of an indication. Looking over at Harry, he finds him with his hands covering his eyes. Though it almost looks as though he’s peeking through his fingers. Cheeky lad.

Not what I was expecting,” Louis comments dryly. “Don’t think they’ll be needing my help anymore, by the looks of it.” Though sex wasn’t the same thing as falling in love, he knew that. There might be a few misunderstandings yet before they figured it out. Louis would have to check in on them in a bit, just to be sure one of them hadn’t snuck out without leaving their phone number.

Harry lowers his hands only when Louis has closed the window - as much as he enjoys knowing a hard day’s work wasn’t in vain he’s not much for voyeurism - looking pink and sheepish. “I’ve never seen any of them. Y’know.”

Louis blinks. “Any of them? Like, any of your charges? Ever?” Either Harry is the luckiest boy in the universe, never checking up on his charges in an intimate moment, or. Well, actually, that’s the only option Louis can think of.

Harry shakes his head, bites on a fingernail. “Well. I mean. Not the-” he gestures towards the window, even if it’s currently only showing clouds. Louis frowns for a moment, not sure what he’s talking about. “Not the gay ones,” he hears Harry whisper, and, oh.

Louis isn’t sure what it is about Harry’s voice that makes him feel a little unsettled. “Does it bother you?” He asks, his voice a little sharp despite how he’s telling himself it’s not something he should make a big deal of. But some of his favorite charges have been gay, and the thought of Harry not being okay with it stings somehow.

“No,” he can hear the frown in Harry’s voice. A bit of red seeping into his energy. Louis isn’t sure why Harry is getting angry at his question. “Didn’t I just tell you about this cute middle aged gay couple that I set up?”

Which, yeah, he did. Louis lets out a breath, tension seeping away from him. He’s not even sure why it bothered him, but it did. “Sorry,” he says softly. “I just. You sounded shocked.”

“Well, yeah. I’ve never seen them have sex.” Harry defends himself, face getting a bit pink again. “Have you?”

“Yeah. I mean. Not loads of times. I’m not some pervert, but. Sure. I would’ve thought with how often you check up on your charges you’d have seen them have sex loads of times.” Harry certainly likes to keep up with them way more than Louis does. Sure, he checks in at the start, but after a while he doesn’t go back to them anymore, not unless he’s told that the connection is wavering. There’s too many of them to keep track of, anyway. “It’s not that much different from straight couples having sex, if you ask me.”

Apparently it was to Harry though. And if it’s not that it bothers him, then Louis wonders what exactly shocked him so much. Or does he get all pink cheeked over every couple he sees getting intimate? The thought makes him laugh. “Harold, are you a prude?” He teases.

Harry squeaks. “No!” He whines, his energy going pink again, which makes Louis want to reach out and ruffle up his hair. The fact that Harry feels fond whenever Louis teases him is just adorable. “I’ve, um, maybe thought about it. Once or twice.”

Louis blinks. Harry blushes.

“You-”

“Don’t,” Harry begs him, obviously flustered by now. “You know how my brain is! I just wondered, that’s all. The, y’know. Mechanics of it all.”

Louis is so endeared by this boy. “Harry,” he shakes his head, watches him hide his head in his hands again, letting out a soft, embarrassed whimper. The mechanics. Honestly. “You have got to be the most awkward, delightful boy I’ve ever met. Never change.”

Harry’s energy flashes yellow, the colour so bright Louis almost has to avert his eyes. He doesn’t say anything, but Louis doesn’t need him to. “Me too,” he tells Harry, “I’m happy that we met too.”

*

A quick break and some coffee later, Louis and Harry are back at his desk. The paperwork for the match fixing came in, as Louis had expected, but he’s ignoring that in favor of showing Harry the soulmates he had set up. “It’s been years since I checked in,” he warns him, “they’re bound to be old. I don’t know if they’re even alive, still.” He checks his computer, has to look up their names so he can get the window to function properly. With active cases he just has to press a finger to it, his fingerprint automatically connecting him to the charges he’s working on, but with old cases like this he has to look up their names, bring back the memories. Somehow they’re embedded in his skin, translate to the window. Louis can look up anyone he remembers, and he has wondered sometimes if that’s the reason they forget all about who they were before they died. So they wouldn’t spend years following the ones they left behind.

Harry stays quiet, leans forward when the window reveals an elderly couple, side by side on the couch. “Oh look,” he says softly, “they’re looking at photo albums. Aw! D’you think they had kids?” The pictures are too small to make out, but the way the woman brushes over one of the photos with a shaky finger makes it clear she’s having fond memories. She glances up at the man, says something too soft for Louis to hear and the look he gives her makes Harry gasp.

“He’s looked at her that same way ever since he was young,” Louis says quietly. He has to admit, seeing them, still together after so many years, it’s kind of emotional. “Like he can’t believe he got this lucky.”

“She’s looking at him the same way.” Harry sounds awed.

Louis smiles. “Yeah. It’s something else, isn’t it? Soulmates?” He’s glad they did this. Glad that they’re still alive, still loving each other the way they had when he set them up. Maybe their life hasn’t been easy, maybe they’ve fought and left each other, but they’ve found their way back to each other. They’re here, old, at the end of their life, together. Louis feels something deep inside that he doesn’t have words for. It’s a mixture of emotions, something so intense he can barely drag his eyes away from the window, from those two people on the couch who will never know how much he had been rooting for them.

“Lou?” Harry’s hand on his arm draws his attention, though it still takes him a moment to get over that fierce stab of something in his chest. He feels breathless, almost. Meeting Harry’s eyes, he can tell that he isn’t the only one. “Thank you.”

He wants to ask him what for, but he’s not sure he can make his mouth work. Louis hopes that his slightly confused smile does the trick. Harry’s smile turns soft and sweet in response. “I don’t think I’m afraid anymore.”

*

Niall comes by a bit later, looking a little stressed, even though he still manages a smile for Louis and Harry. “Finally got your papers,” he tells them, dropping them onto Louis’ desk. “Sorry it took a bit. Headquarters told me to be thorough.”

“Thanks,” Louis tells him. “I was contemplating doing the paperwork for my last case, but you’ve come through once again Nialler.” He grins at him, watches Harry’s fingers creep towards the file, which of course warrants a smack.

“Heeey,” Harry pouts. “It’s my case too!”

Louis levels him with a look. “And we’re being nice to Niall now. You can wait a minute, can you?” He’s only teasing, but Harry’s told him to be nice and polite plenty of times. It’s nice to be the one telling him off for a change. “We still on for dinner tonight?” He asks Niall. It’s the last day before the weekend - which falls on Wednesday and Thursday here, because apparently most humans have Saturday and Sunday off, which leaves all the Cupids busy to try and match make - and if they haven’t made other plans Louis and Niall usually order in food and hang out at Niall’s place. Play a couple games, watch a movie. Not so different from life on earth, he reckons.

Niall nods. “Can we do it a bit later though? I promised I’d help Cara with a bit of research. I’m meeting her at the office after hours.” Louis arches an eyebrow, giving him a look.

“You blowing me off for a girl, Neil?” He feigns hurt. Niall just laughs.

“You blow me off for Harry plenty,” he says, and, ok, true.

“That’s different. Harry’s Harry.”

Harry beams at him like that makes sense. Niall just rolls his eyes. “Seven ok for you Tommo?”

Louis sighs. “Better make it seven thirty. I’d rather not sit next to you all night if you haven’t showered.” He’s not even joking. Niall’s feet are something else. Not even a four cheese pizza can measure up to the stink. And if he’s doing research with Cara, she’s likely going to have him carrying books and running all over the place. He’d rather play it safe.

Niall doesn’t seem bothered by his accusation, just shrugs, like it’s a fair thing to ask. That’s the good thing about Niall. He’s hard to anger in the first place, but he’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, and won’t take offense at having them pointed out to him. Louis could probably learn something from him. He’s not quite as good at accepting criticism. Which is why he’s so fond of Harry. Harry’s too nice to be rude to him.

“Alright, well, I best head back, you enjoy your case. Harry, good luck working with Tommo. If he drives you nuts, you know where to find me.” Niall jokes, grinning at Louis when he tries to glare at him. “I’ll see you seven thirty. Don’t forget you’re the one bringing food tonight.”

“Enjoy your time with Cara,” Louis teases, like that means something. Like there’s a universe where Niall would end up falling in love with Cara. There is. It’s just not this one. It’s still fun teasing him though, considering Niall had told him once, after too many beers, that he’s always nervous around her, never sure if he’s intimidated by her beauty or her quick tongue.

Personally, Louis thinks, it’s her eyebrows.

With Niall leaving them to their work, Louis really has no excuse not to let Harry open the file. Part of him wants to, though. He’s not too sure why. Just that it’s intimidating, knowing what they’re meant to do. And knowing that they’re both working on it is both a comfort and exactly what worries him. Because if they need the two of them on this case it’s bound to be challenging. And, if he’s honest, he’s not too sure how well him and Harry will work together. They get along brilliantly, but that’s because they’ve never had to be anything other than friends. Work!Louis can get snappy when things aren’t going his way, which they hardly ever do at the start of a case. He can get irritated when stuff drags on, and usually Harry is the one to lift his spirits, but he’s not sure how well that’s going to work when they’re both on the same case.

“Haz,” he starts slowly, fumbling with his sleeve to keep from reaching out towards the file. He’s not sure he wouldn’t snatch it out of Harry’s hand. “Before we get started, can you, will you promise me something?”

Harry meets his eyes, folder half opened, but his full attention on Louis. It’s intimidating as well as comforting. “Of course. What is it, Lou?”

He feels stupid even thinking the words, let alone saying them. But he can’t hold them back. So the words rush out, Louis barely giving himself time to breathe. “Promise me we won’t let the case come between us?” He asks him. It might be begging more than anything. “Promise me, no matter what, you won’t let it change us.”

He’s expecting Harry to laugh, not because he’s malicious and likes seeing Louis suffers but because he doesn’t understand why Louis is so bothered by this. If he’s honest, Louis isn’t even sure why he’s so bothered. It’s not like Harry is the only friend he has. But what he told Niall earlier on is true. Harry’s Harry. And that makes all the difference.

So, of course, since Harry is Harry, he doesn’t laugh. He just frowns for a moment, putting the folder down and turning towards Louis. “Louis,” it’s gentle. Oh God. Louis hates those gentle voices. They never bring good news. “You’re my best friend. The thought of losing you .. that’s not even an option, ok?” Louis only dimly registers that he hadn’t actually voiced out loud that he was afraid of losing him, but leave it to Harry to read between the lines. “We’ll always be friends.”

“Promise me,” he whispers.

Harry smiles. “I promise, Lou. No matter what, I’ll never let this case, or any others, come between us or change us. It’s gonna be you and I forever, ok?”

Louis is glad he can’t see his own energy. He doesn’t need to be more embarrassed than he already is. But whatever Harry sees, in his energy or in his eyes, prompts him to give him a hug, and, well, that’s sort of nice. Reassuring.

He pulls back before he actually wants to, thinking it’s probably going to turn awkward any second now. Harry had his face tucked into his neck, breathing softly on his skin, and they’re still at work. It’s probably going to attract stares at some point. Despite the fact that Louis honestly does not give two fucks about that (not even one fuck, he’s fresh out of fucks to give) he still pulls away, giving Harry a smile that feels almost tender. “Thanks.” He says softly, for once not tempted to make a joke to lighten the mood. “I kind of love you a little bit. I’m sorry for freaking out.”

Harry shrugs. “I kind of love you a whole lot, actually. And you stopped me from freaking out before, so. I’m just happy I get to help.” He smiles at him. “And knowing you’re worried about this affecting our friendship is also sort of nice. Not making me feel better about the case, but, knowing I matter to you is kind of nice.”

Louis chuckles. “Sorry. About you feeling worse about the case. It’s probably going to be fine.”

*

It’s maybe not going to be fine.

Niall did his research, but they’re still left with, well, not a lot to go on. Not that they usually do. It’s names, age, basic information, but Niall’s notes tell them that these two had never even met in their life, and, which is worse, didn’t live remotely close to one another. It’s a challenge, that’s for sure.

“Right,” Louis brushes his fringe off his forehead, looking at the infuriatingly blank piece of paper. “Ok. So we’ve got Zayn Malik, 19, of Bradford. Damn, he’s young.” Soulmates are rare, and finding your soulmate at a young age wasn’t always easy. Not everyone liked to be tied down at an early age. Things have definitely become more complicated than they used to be. Louis remembers when it wasn’t uncommon to get married at that age. Nowadays they’re all about experimenting and making the most of life. Not that he can blame them. “Guess we’ll have to see how ready he is to meet his soulmate,” he mutters, looking up at Harry, who is studying the meager information on the other piece of paper. “You wanna have a look at him?” He gestures towards the window with his paper.

Harry nods, putting his own page down as Louis presses his finger against the window. Together they watch the scene come into focus. Louis blinks. “I’m guessing that is not Liam Payne, 18, from Wolverhampton.” He says dryly, watching two boys make out on a bed that has, of all things, little Batman logos all over the covers.

“I doubt it,” Harry agrees, looking at the two. “Though I’m not even sure which one is Zayn.”

Louis cocks his head, tries to get an impression of their facial features, but the boys are too busy sucking face to give him much to go on. He just gets little details from the one pressed to the bed. A light stubble, white teeth, ridiculously long eyelashes. Warm olive skin. He sighs. “I hope it’s the pretty one.”

Harry just glances at him for a moment, then chuckles. “On the upside,” he says pensively, “at least one of them is definitely into men.”

Louis hums. That does make it a lot easier. He’s worked with closeted charges before, or people who were so deeply in denial that they wouldn’t even admit their feelings to themselves. Even in this day and age it’s not always as easy to come out of the closet as he’d like. It’s a whole lot better than when he first started out, but he’s seen enough fear and self loathing to know that love isn’t always welcomed. At least, not at first. Eventually, it all works out the way it’s meant to. That’s what Louis’ job is, after all. And he’s good at his job. “You want to check on the other one? See if he’s up to anything just as scandalous as his soulmate?”

Liam, as it turns out, is not. He’s also alone, which is very helpful, because at least this time Louis doesn’t have to guess who his charge is. He’s standing in front of the mirror, flexing his biceps, and Louis is about to hate him a little bit just for that (he’s not sure why, but there’s just something off putting about guys who spend all their time in a gym trying to bulk up) when he spots a pair of boxing gloves in the corner of his room. He can understand wanting to bulk up if you’re boxing. Though, Harry boxes, apparently, which is something you’d hardly expect from an uncoordinated noodle like him.

“Ooh,” Harry grins, pointing out the gloves. Louis would have been disappointed in him if he hadn’t. “He boxes! I like him!” Louis resists the urge to fondly roll his eyes. “Can I have him?”

He blinks. “Have him?”

Harry nods excitedly. “I figured, if we’re going to work together, it might be easiest to each take one of the guys? At least while we’re trying to gather info on them. There’s not really a point in doing it together, right?”

Right. Louis supposes Harry has a point. It’s just sad that said point means Harry won’t be working with him as much as he’ll just be passing information along. Louis feels kind of stupid for not considering that option. It does make sense. But he’s strangely annoyed by it nonetheless. “I guess,” he mutters, looking back at Liam Payne, who is still eyeing himself in the mirror. “Knock yourself out. I’m betting you’ll be bored out of your skull in no time. Look at the guy. I bet he eats, breathes and sleeps working out.” It’s just the tiniest bit petty, maybe.

Harry, of course, picks up on that, because Harry is an awfully insightful celestial being. He just looks at him pensively, until Louis sighs. “Sorry. I’m being stupid.” The way Harry cocks his head in response tells him he’s not disagreeing. He’s also not judging though, so that’s nice. “I was excited to work with you,” he grudgingly admits.

The way Harry smiles at that should not make Louis feel as though it’s remotely ok to be petty. But the way Harry smiles at that is totally making Louis feel as though it’s ok to be petty.

“You’re an idiot,” Harry tells him. Louis just nods. “If you’d really rather do this together, I mean, we could, Lou. I just figured-”

“You’re right. It would be easier. I’m just being dumb, Harry. Besides, it’s not like we won’t get to work together at all. And even if that were true, we see each other every day.” There really is no reason to take this personally. He knows Harry cares about him, is excited to work with him. This is just .. practical.

“You hate paperwork,” Harry says patiently, gesturing towards the window. “Finding out the basics, that’s a lot of paperwork.”

Louis sighs. “I know. I’m just being-”

“Stupid. Yeah. You said that already.” With anyone else that tone would sound patronizing. With Harry it just sounds fond. “Look, there’s not much we can do today anyway, we’ve only got about half an hour left, and then it’s the weekend. How about we just think about it? See what feels right, and we’ll talk about how we’re going to do this when we get back to work on Friday?”

Chancing a look up at Harry, Louis’ slight irritation melts away. “You’re coddling me,” he accuses, but it’s mild.

Harry just smiles. “Don’t act like you hate it, Tomlinson. You love being pampered and spoiled.” Which, yes, true. He just doesn’t like being treated like a child while he’s at it. Something in his expression makes Harry sigh, reach out to rest his hand on Louis’ arm. “I’m not coddling you. Just. You’ve been in a mood, these past days. You seemed a bit better last night after we -- and I thought you were over it this morning, but it keeps coming back in every so often.”

Louis bites his lip. He knows that he’s been having one of his spells, but he didn’t think it was that obvious. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Lou. I’m just-”

“Worried?”

Concerned.” Like that’s not the same thing. Maybe it isn’t. “And, y’know. Starved. Of seeing that beautiful smile.” Harry pokes at Louis’ cheek. Louis hates how much he adores him. How much he wants to melt into a happy puddle sometimes, knowing he’s got Harry’s attention. His affection.

“Sap.” He mutters, smiling despite himself. Harry laughs.

“I am sorry though,” Louis continues. “It just happens, occasionally. I just sit here and wonder-”

“What the point of any of it is?” Harry asks softly. Louis looks up at him, surprised.

“Yeah. But also, i know it’s silly, Haz, and I wouldn’t trade this job for anything, but looking down sometimes, I just get so jealous? They have so much potential, and they don’t even see it. They can be anything, do anything. Sure, maybe it’s scary, maybe not everyone gets to do what they love, and I know how lucky we are, I do, but, doesn’t it ever bug you that we didn’t get a choice?” He swallows. “The thought of doing this for the rest of forever, it’s not always as comforting as I would like it to be. I know that I won’t ever have to worry about losing anyone, and I am so thankful for that. But I just .. how do you miss a life you never remember you had?”

Harry nods. Louis feels almost embarrassed by how close to tears he is, but looking at Harry, he thinks he might understand. “I’ve thought about it,” Harry says softly. “What it would be like, to be one of them. What I would like doing. How it feels to be in love.” Louis watches Harry’s adam’s apple bob when he swallows. “It feels so unfair, sometimes. That we don’t get to experience that. That we spend eternity watching it, learning about it, but only ever from the sidelines. I just wish that once..”

Louis reaches for his hand, squeezes it. “Me too.”

*

Rather than make any decisions on how to continue, they decide to leave it at that for today. Both are feeling a little raw, Louis can tell that rather than Harry dragging him out of this funk he’s sort of dragged him into it, which he feels bad about, but it’s nice, knowing someone else feels the same way. They go for a milkshake once they’ve left the office, because Louis firmly believes that there’s no mood so bad it can’t be made better by a good chocolate milkshake. Harry opts for banana, because Harry’s always been strange, but he looks content, sipping at his drink, so maybe chocolate isn’t the only cure for this kind of blues.

“Got any plans this weekend?” He asks him, not wanting to start the weekend off on a sulk, hoping that Harry’s got plans that’ll make him feel better too. Louis knows that by the time he comes home tonight, tipsy and with sore muscles from playing video games all night, he’ll feel a lot better himself. Besides a chocolate milkshake, hanging out with Niall is one guaranteed way to lift his spirits.

Harry shrugs. “Not really. I was gonna go to the animal shelter, maybe.”

The animal shelter is about Louis’ favorite place in their part of Heaven. While the Cupids are kept separate from the people that have lived a full life - as they haven’t forgotten their memories, and could potentially recognize some of them - they share their corner of the sky with the pets that have crossed over. At least, for as long as their owners are still alive. Louis loves being with them. There’s cats and dogs and rabbits and guinea pigs, all varying in age but all healthy, because once death takes you it washes away all the illness that plagued you in life.

He knows Harry loves spending time there. Louis always teases him that it’s because his hair is perfect for birds to nest in, but he’s seen how it mellows him out. Animals love Harry too. He’s gone with him once or twice before, watched kittens climb all over him. It had been a pretty great way to spend the afternoon.

“That sounds like a great plan,” Louis encourages him, still feeling slightly guilty over dampening Harry’s spirits. “You finally gonna give in and take one of them home?” If it were up to Louis he’d take all of them home. It’s not that his apartment is lonely, though, sometimes it feels like it. As much as Louis likes his alone time, he’s not made to be alone. He needs to be around people, needs to be the center of attention more than he actually likes. It’s why he spends every Wednesday with Niall, why he regularly goes out to grab a bite to eat with Harry, or goes to a bar with some of the other Cupids. He just doesn’t like being alone unless it’s by choice.

Harry shakes his head. “I couldn’t do that to them. They have their friends there. They get to race around and climb on everything and there’s people coming by every day to pet them and feed them snacks. If I took one of them home - I’m gone most of the day. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Louis nods, like they haven’t had this exact discussion a dozen times before. He agrees with Harry, actually. It’s the only reason he hasn’t smuggled a cute pup home in his hoodie. “Well,” he says, “if you get sad, having to leave all the cats and dogs behind, having no one to cuddle, you know where to find me.”

Harry smiles at that. “One of these days I might actually take you up on that.”

Louis smiles back, thinking I wish you would.

*

Louis walks home alone that afternoon. Harry left a little earlier, but Louis still had to file the paperwork on the match fixing thing. He asked if he should stay, but Louis had known Harry was looking forward to the weekend just as much as he was, so he’d told him it was fine to go on ahead. It gives him time to unwind a bit before he comes home, before he goes back out to hang out with Niall. He’s excited for it, maybe even more so than usual. It’s time that he gets over his funk, especially when it’s starting to affect others.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Louis ends up napping on the couch for a bit, the TV on in the background. He’s got time, an alarm set for seven o’clock, though he figures his stomach will wake him up before then, demand that he eats something before he even considers leaving the house. So around six thirty he drags himself up off the couch, heads into the kitchen for a small snack. He considers texting Niall, asking him what kind of food he’s in the mood for, ends up texting Harry a string of dog and cat emojis instead.

Harry’s reply is instantaneous. Do you want to come with tomorrow???

Louis considers that. It’s not why he sent the message (he’s not too sure why he did, to be honest. He just needed someone’s attention, and he knows Harry will never leave him hanging. It might also have something to do with the fact that Louis knows he’ll have smiled that dimpled smile at his phone upon reading the message) but it’s not a bad idea. If Niall can’t cure his funk - and he has a lot of faith in his friend, who seems sunshine personified at times - then being buried under a pile of puppies certainly seems like a great idea. As does seeing Harry.

You not getting sick of me yet? He sends. Don’t need some Louis-free time to recover from work? It’s a joke but also not. Louis knows he can get sort of intense at times. And he’s possessive of Harry in a way he acknowledges isn’t always healthy. Harry probably shouldn’t indulge him, but he does. It’s how they work. They’re a loving, if slightly dysfunctional, family.

Never could get sick of you Lou. I’ll be at your place at 11 xx

Louis scowls. Eleven, on his day off. He’s probably lucky Harry didn’t make it 9. Make it 12, he replies, and bring coffee.

Harry replies by sending him a picture of his calendar. Don’t forget coffee!! is written down and circled. Already ahead of you :), he adds.

You’re the best, Louis texts back, feeling awfully sappy.

Harry’s reply is all at once cheeky and sweet, and incredibly Harry. I know :) xx

Louis might smile at it for a moment, before shaking his head at himself and pocketing his phone. He rummages through his cupboards for a snack, ends up sitting on the counter, dipping slices of apple into a jar of peanut butter. The glamorous life of a Cupid.

With all that time to spare between coming home and leaving again, you’d think Louis would make it to Niall’s place on time. But of course he gets distracted, and by the time he realizes he’s getting late - and that he’s supposed to bring food - it’s already nearing 7:30. He curses at himself, tries to get his shoes on and hops around on one foot, attempting to locate his keys. At least he makes it out of the apartment before he’s actually due to be at Niall’s. As sad as that might be, it’s probably considered progress.

On my way, he texts Niall, figuring that’s technically true even if he’s still in the hallway of his apartment building. What food are you in the mood for? He hopes it’s Indian. There’s a great Indian place just a block down from Niall’s place.

Just got back home, Niall texts him, about to get in the shower. Any food’s fine, I’m starving. Let yourself in if you want, you know where the key is. Louis suddenly feels a lot less bad about being late, and a lot worse about actually considering breaking out into a run. He hadn’t, but he’d considered it, and Louis hates exercise.

That’s not true, actually. He just hates pointless exercise. He’s like that with a lot of things. Explain him why it’s absolutely necessary and he’ll be happy to do it. He just needs a goal. Literally, sometimes. He does love a bit of footie.

Since Niall said he’d be ok with any kind of food, and Louis really is in the mood for a good, spicy curry, Louis pops in at the place near Niall’s house. The people there are lovely, and the food is brilliant. The very essence of Indian cuisine. Which is technically true. Because the people here, they are essence. They’re the love, the devotion, the culture, shaped into beings who infuse their cooking with all that’s great about their heritage. Louis isn’t sure where that essence comes from, if it’s something that’s taken from people upon dying or if this was here first, before men even walked the earth. God can instill certain qualities in people, so it isn’t too strange to consider that She might be the one who actually touches people’s hearts and gives them a calling, a gift.

It’s testament to how often they come here that the woman taking their orders smiles when Louis walks in, starts writing on her notepad before he’s even made it to the counter. “The usual then, love?” she asks him, and Louis nods. He’s a creature of comfort.

It only takes about fifteen minutes before their order is ready to go, and when he pays it’s with a large smile, one that’s returned just as brightly. “Say hello to Niall for us, will you?” He promises to do so, though he knows he might forget because he’ll be too busy scarfing down the food they’ve prepared. He is hungry.

When ringing Niall’s doorbell goes unanswered Louis lets himself in with the key hidden under the leprechaun by the front door - a gag gift Louis had gotten him a few years back, when he’d set up his first Irish match and suddenly realized what Niall’s accent reminded him of. He pets Daffodil’s green hat, shields his eyes as he walks in. “Niall! I’m here. Cover up that white arse of yours,” he calls out, making sure to make enough noise to ward off any naked Irishmen walking around.

“Take off your shoes,” Niall hollers back from the general vicinity of the bathroom. Louis looks down at his vans, makes a sad face. “I’ll be right out.” No comment on the white arse then. He must be tired. Louis does, obediently, take off his shoes, makes himself comfortable on the couch once he’s rummaged through Niall’s kitchen to find plates and cutlery. Something inside of him eases up, this pressure he hadn’t fully realized he was holding onto. Niall’s house is just as much home as his own is, and sometimes this is all he needs. A comfortable couch, good food, and one of his absolute favorite people in the world by his side.

Niall comes out a few minutes later, hair still damp and messed up, but thankfully dressed. He wordlessly offers Louis a beer, then settles next to him on the couch. They sit and drink in companionable silence for a few minutes, then dig into their food. Louis tucks his toes under Niall’s thigh, not moving except to bring his fork to his mouth, not until he’s so full he’s not sure he ever wants to eat again. Or move, for that matter. So of course he shifts, planting his head in Niall’s lap, carefully avoiding his plate. “Pet me,” he demands, looking up at him.

“Bad day?” Niall places his plate on the armrest, continues eating with one hand while the other obediently scratches through Louis’ hair.

Louis huffs. “Not really? It’s just. A mood I haven’t been able to shake. Makes me all whiny and irritable. Even Harry got affected. So you know it’s bad.”

Niall smiles indulgently. “Harry’s not that happy go lucky guy you seem to think he is, Tommo,” he says gently. “I mean, he is, but, he goes through the same things you do. He’s got the same frustrations and feelings as any Cupid.”

Louis contemplates that for a moment. Wonders what feelings Niall is talking about. Wonders if Harry has talked to Niall about them. That stings, somehow. He bites his lip. “Cara?”

Niall nods. “I reckon it can’t be easy, watching people fall in love every day. Me, I’m lucky. I don’t have to see it. I just connect them. You’re the ones doing the hard work. I think you’re more human than the rest of us.”

“I don’t want to be human,” Louis frowns. “I don’t know. If I’d want to be more or less human. I just feel stuck, sometimes. Like I’m not quite whole? You’ve never felt like that?”

Niall puts his plate on the table, nearly giving Louis a face full of fabric when he bends over to the point where his chest is pressed against Louis’ nose. He goes back to scratching his scalp afterwards though, so Louis doesn’t even consider moving. “I’ve never been human,” he says slowly. “Maybe that’s the difference. I know you don’t remember, but maybe some part of your soul does. Maybe that’s why you never feel quite at home here. Because it’s not where you were meant to be.”

“It’s weird,” Louis feels this weight press on his chest again. He feels kind of like he might cry. “Scary, sometimes, the thought that it’s never going to change. And, also, thinking that if my life had gone differently, if I hadn’t died young. I know it’s meant to be a reward, but sometimes I think I’d much rather have gone on to Heaven and waited for my family there. Even if I never could’ve loved the way I could on earth, it might’ve been easier? Because I’d still remember being alive. Having my experiences taken from me, I just feel so alone sometimes. And I can come over and see you, or I can go to the animal shelter with Haz, but even when I’m surrounded by people I’m still so alone?”

He honestly feels like crying now. This is not how he wanted his night to go. “I’m sorry,” he says miserably. “I wish I could just shake this. Forget about everything that I’m not even supposed to be missing in the first place. It’s not like I can ever change anything about it.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Niall looks down at him. “You know that, right?” Seeing Louis’ blank face, he frowns. “You’ve heard of Cupids that went down.”

Louis blinks up at him. “Yeah. Of course I have. No one wants that, though. What’s that got to do with any of this?”

Niall shakes his head. “It’s not the Cupids that don’t want it, Lou. It’s Headquarters. They’re the ones making it sound like going down means that you’re failing. The thing is, when Cupids go down, sometimes they don’t come back.”

Louis has heard of that. Of Cupids becoming too lost in their memories, in the life that they could’ve had. He doesn’t understand what that has to do with anything though.

“Lou,” Niall sounds disbelieving now, a little bit urgent. “You know what happens, when you go down, don’t you?”

“You remember,” Louis answers mechanically. “You remember who you were and how you died. How is that-” he frowns up at him, at Niall’s face, eyes wide like he’s shocked by whatever news Louis has apparently missed. “What?”

“I can’t believe no one’s ever told you. Fuck. You’d think you have a right to know, before you’re going down. Louis, going down doesn’t just mean you remember who you were and how you died. It means remembering everything. It means you’re able to fall in love.”

Chapter Text

It means you’re able to fall in love.

Louis doesn’t move. He’s not sure he even breathes. “You, I, what?” He blinks up at Niall, would be convinced he’s taking the piss, if it weren’t for his absolute inability to keep a straight face when he’s messing with someone. There’s nothing like that on his face now. It’s just concern, anger, disbelief. Louis thinks he might have a similar expression. “You can love? Like, actually fall in love kind of love?”

Niall nods. “I thought for sure you’d know. You know so much about this whole business, I figured you’d have learned that ages ago. This is why Headquarters doesn’t like Cupids going down. Because they’ll have to deal with what happens afterwards. Not just with you lot remembering everything. But with being able to fall in love.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Louis sits up then, feeling like his entire world has shifted. He wonders if he’d have acted differently if he’d known. If he wouldn’t have messed up on purpose, just to be sent down to earth to experience what he’d spent decades observing. “You’re - how could they-” he understands why, is the thing. Logically, he does. But it feels so fucking unfair he can hardly breathe. “What happens, after? When they come back do they-” they remembered their memories, would they remember what falling in love was like? Would they still be able to fall in love, even back home?

“I don’t know,” Niall says softly. “I’ve never - the only Cupid that’s told me about it didn’t want to tell me any more than that. I’m thinking, by the look in her eyes, I think it got taken away again. That ability. She remembers, though.” Louis wonders what that would’ve looked like. If she’d have been sad. Can you be sad about losing the ability to love? About remembering the feeling but not feeling it?

“Why didn’t she stay?” Going down had always seemed such a scary prospect. Had been synonymous with failure. Now it’s terrifying for a whole other reason. “Didn’t she get a choice? Was she forced to come back?”

Niall shakes his head. “They gave her a choice. If Cupids want to stay, God won’t stop them. Headquarters can’t. But staying, Lou, it means becoming mortal. It means you’re gonna die, eventually.”

Louis’ head is reeling with the curveballs Niall’s throwing. For one moment he was contemplating fucking up this assignment on purpose, just so he’d have a chance to go down. He wonders if he really would’ve sacrificed Harry for it. His heart thuds painfully in his chest at that notion. Then, once more, when he contemplates Harry going down with him. Falling in love. He feels a bit angry with himself for not jumping with joy at the thought. Harry deserves all the good things, and Louis knows that he’s just as lost up here. He’d told him I wish that just once.. And now that feels within reach.

But at what cost? Losing Harry?

He swallows. “Does H know?”

Niall looks at him, in a way that makes Louis want to avert his eyes, because the thoughts in his head are too selfish and mean, and he wouldn’t want Niall looking at him any differently. “No,” he says eventually, his voice carefully neutral, and, shit, he knows. “I’m taking you don’t want me telling him?”

Louis considers that. No matter what way he answers Harry is going to be pissed when he finds out. Knowing Louis knew and kept it from him .. it’s not something he should get to decide. He shouldn’t be keeping his mouth shut out of some misguided desire to protect him. Harry’s a grown boy, sort of. He should be trusted to make his own decisions.

“No,” he says quietly, feeling shamed just by the way Niall nods. “I mean, I should be the one to tell him. Since we’re working together.” It’s a shit excuse, he knows. “What if, Ni, what if he wants to go down? Not, I’m not saying he’ll purposely mess up the case, he wouldn’t do that, but what if he got the chance to go down and he wouldn’t come back?” He swallows, looking up at him. “What if I lose him?”

Niall’s expression gentles, his hand soft on Louis’ own. He didn’t realize his fingers were shaking until Niall covers them with his palm. “As hard as it is, Lou, that’s not up to you to decide.” Louis nods, he knows that. “I’m not gonna tell him. But you should.”

He knows Niall’s right. “What if he falls in love with someone down there? Does he show up on your board? Has that ever happened before?” If he can just focus on the logistics he won’t have to think about how he’d feel if that actually happened.

Except that he is. And Niall’s a lot of things but oblivious isn’t one of them. He just smiles, in a way that’s sympathetic yet not like he pities him, squeezes his hand. “How about I get you another beer, and we play some Fifa?”

Louis nods. That’s probably best. He can figure out how to deal with this whole thing later. He’s got the entire weekend to figure it out.

*

His phone goes off at an ungodly hour, his temples throbbing, shrill sound piercing his skull. He curses whoever’s stupid enough to call him at - he squints at the alarm clock - 10:34 in the morning. “What?” He grouses, not even bothering to open his eyes.

There’s a slight pause on the other side, before he hears a timid “Hiiiii.”

Harry. The sole reason for the many, many beers Louis had been drinking last night. He’s regretting that now, with a mariachi band playing just behind his eyes. “Hi Haz,” he pushes himself up, barely manages to hold back a whine. “What’s up?”

There’s another pause. “You feeling ok Lou? You don’t sound too good. I was gonna ask if you wanted to get breakfast together, but.. We don’t have to go to the animal shelter today if you’re not feeling up to it.”

If he’s completely honest, all Louis wants to do is throw his phone across the room and go back to sleep. Not just because he’s hungover, but because he’s been quite adept at ignoring The Thing Niall brought up last night, and subsequently has no idea if and how to talk to Harry about The Thing. He might have sort of forgotten that they were going to go out together today.

He’s been quiet for long enough that Harry chuckles. “Lou? You fall back asleep?”

He wishes. “Sorry. I’m up, I promise.” He drags a hand through his hair, pulls at the strands to alleviate his headache. “I’m not canceling on you. Just give me a bit to get in the shower so I’ll feel moderately alive again.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but technically you’re dead,” Harry jokes. He has such an awful sense of humour. Louis really shouldn’t laugh.

So, of course, he laughs. “Alright, Mr. Standup Comedy. What time are you coming round to pick me up?”

“How long do you need in the shower?” Louis carefully opens one eye, wincing at the brightness of the room. An hour, he wants to tell Harry. Maybe two.

“Like, ten minutes?”

Harry laughs, like he knows Louis is being cocky. “I’ll be there in half an hour then.”

Louis nods like Harry can sense that somehow, lets out another soft whimper when that proves to be a Bad Idea. “Haz?”

“Yeah?”

“Make it forty-five.”

*

Luckily the shower makes him feel a lot better, and once he’s dressed and his hair is moderately cooperative, Louis feels almost normal. There’s still a soft pain throbbing at his temple, and this uneasy feeling in his stomach that has little to do with alcohol and everything to do with The Thing that has the potential to change his life, but he’s functioning. And he has five whole minutes to spare.

He contemplates switching on the coffeemaker, figures that since Harry decided to ask him out to breakfast he’s gone back on his promise to bring Louis his morning coffee. But if he doesn’t have a cup of coffee in his hands he’s probably going to be more effective at asking him to have breakfast at that cute little place around the corner from Harry’s apartment, the one with the wicked good coffee. Even when that’s the opposite direction of the animal shelter.

He’s leaned against the counter, contemplating this with his eyes closed, and by the time he’s established whether or not it’s worth the effort to conjure up a really good pout - thus negating the presence of coffee in his hands and getting Harry to agree to whatever Louis wants - there’s a soft knock on his door. Louis determinedly does not flinch. “Come in,” his voice still sounds a bit gravely.

“You decent?” Harry teases, shielding his eyes when he opens the door.

Louis snorts. “Never.”

He wonders what it would be like if the disappointment he almost imagines on Harry’s face when he sees him fully clothed wasn’t just in his head.

*

They do end up having breakfast at Louis’ favorite place, because Louis’ pout is unbeatable. If it’s only because he made Harry apologize four times for not bringing him coffee, no one has to know.

With two cups of coffee and a full breakfast in his stomach, Louis finally feels like he’s starting to wake up. Unlike Harry he isn’t much of a morning person, even moreso after spending the night drinking and playing games with Niall. Harry’s often tried to get him to go along with him on a morning run or walk, but Louis is of the firm belief that they have wings for a reason. It isn’t to walk.

(They still end up walking to the animal shelter. But whatever, it’s a nice day.)

For the entire duration of their walk, Louis contemplates telling Harry what he’d learned last night. He chats about menial stuff, listens to Harry’s story about the movie he’s seen last night, but in his head he’s weighing pros and cons of telling him. He knows, logically, that he’s no better than HQ if he keeps this knowledge from Harry, who isn’t just a colleague but also his very best friend. But then he considers HQ kept it quiet for a reason. And sure, maybe it’s just to keep from losing their employees, but he likes to think they’re not quite as evil as that. Maybe they’re worried. Scared of losing people. Scared of having to watch them die. And whenever he arrives at that point in his thought process it’s like nothing else matters. He literally can’t. The thought of a world without Harry is unbearable, whether it’s up here or down there.

So he swallows back the words, even when they feel heavy in his stomach. Focuses on the conversation, lest Harry thinks something is wrong. He’d probably attribute it to the funk Louis has been in these past few days, but still. There’s no reason to make him suspicious. Luckily, he knows that by the time they’ll get to the shelter he’ll be safe, as there’s no better way to distract Harry than by giving him a whole bunch of animals to play with.

“I wonder how Tibby’s doing,” Harry always goes a bit starry eyed at even the mention of his favorite kitten in the world. Mr. Tibbles, as his collar says, is a nine week old tabby cat that’s yet to grow into his name. Or into his body, actually, his paws and head still too big for the rest of his body. He’s kind of like a wobbly kitten version of Harry, really.

“Same as always, I reckon,” Louis tells him. The animals don’t age. Mr. Tibbles has been nine weeks old for about five years now. Just like Louis has been in that indistinct age between 17 and 22 ever since he got here.

“He misses me when I don’t come round enough though,” Harry insists, and Louis can’t even laugh at that, because he figures it’s true. He’d certainly miss Harry if he stopped coming by, so why wouldn’t Mr. Tibbles? Especially since Mr. Tibbles gets to climb up into Harry’s hair and chew at the strands. Not that Louis wants to do that. He’s just saying. Harry is like a gigantic playground for happy, over excited kittens. He lets them climb all over him, fall asleep in the pocket of his hoodie. If Louis was a kitten he’d be missing him too.

“Maybe you should take him home then,” he says, like he’s said it before and undoubtedly will again. Louis knows Harry won’t. He feels too strongly about the animals being able to play together. Maybe one day an older cat will show up, one that won’t want to play but just needs a nice place to doze in the window sill. If that happens Louis is getting Harry that cat, regardless of what he says. “You know, so you’d have something to cuddle.”

Harry just grins at him, holding the door for Louis. “Thought I had you for that.”

If only. “Promises, promises.” Louis shakes his head, inclining it towards Harry when he walks inside, backwards, so he can keep his eyes on Harry. “Always making promises you don’t keep, Harold. One of these days you’re going to break my heart.”

Harry dimples at him. “Not possible.”

He supposes technically that’s true. Technically their hearts can’t break, because they’re not made to. But he wishes Harry meant it differently. Wishes he’d promise Louis he’d always keep him safe. Maybe then Louis wouldn’t have to keep a secret from his best friend.

“Alright, casanova, let’s go in and cuddle puppies and kittens already,” Louis teases, gently elbowing Harry when the other catches up with him. “We both know that the moment you see them you’ll have forgotten all about me, for all the sweet words you’re saying to me now.”

Harry parts his lips, then closes them, like he’s realizing Louis isn’t wrong. There’s a small frown on his face though, like he wants to argue even though he knows he can’t. He parts his lips again, and Louis, desperate to avoid another moment where he feels too raw and naked in front of him, prods his stomach with his finger. “You look like you’re catching flies, frog face.” He teases. “I see your plan. You think if you pretend to be an animal they’ll let you stay here, and you’ll get to play with Mr. Tibbles forever.”

Harry’s face is unreadable for a moment. He blinks, frowns once more before his expression smooths into something serious. Louis suddenly wonders if he’s upset him. Is about to open his mouth and apologize, when Harry speaks.

“Ribbit.”

*

Mr. Tibbles is adorable, as always, and Harry insists that he’s grown, as always. He’s insisting this while tiny Mr. Tibbles is climbing up Harry’s sleeve, a slightly larger calico cat asleep in his lap. It’s a lovely picture.

“Do you think Zayn and Liam are cat people?” Louis is petting a black cat that’s nudging her head up against his palm whenever he stops paying attention to her. “I think they’re animal people. They look like animal people.” Maybe not Liam, necessarily. He looks like a gym person. If he had a dog it’d probably be some oversized thing that people shy away from on the streets. Louis wonders about that for a moment. He knows the big dogs, there’s a ton of them here, having been put down by their owners because society deemed them dangerous. A lot of the time they’re not, just haven’t been trained properly, been abused in some cases. But they’ve been judged based on their appearance, and isn’t that exactly what he’s been doing with Liam? Sure, from the surface he seems like the type of boy Louis wouldn’t get along with, but maybe he’s just as much a puppy underneath all that muscle.

He chews his lip, thinking about that. “Haz? I want to work together. On the paperwork. If we’re going to get these two together we need to know everything we can. And it’s not that I don’t trust you not to be thorough, I still remember when you wrote a fifteen page report on something I probably would’ve spent no more than two pages on, but.” He frowns, tries to collect his thoughts. He’s not great at articulating them, not when he’s put on the spot. At least, that’s how he always feels. People tend to disagree. “I’m so used to judging people? I’ve seen so many of them, I tend to think I know people, know what they’re about. But the thing is, I get proven wrong all the time. First impressions aren’t always right. And if I just judge Liam based on what I’ve seen so far, that’s not really fair, is it?” He looks up at Harry. “If I just look into Zayn, I might know what he’s like and what he needs, but I won’t know anything about Liam except for what you tell me. I won’t understand him. And I think I need to.” He gives him a faint smile. “Especially because they’re soulmates. I don’t want to fuck this up.”

Harry’s been listening to him, the way he always does. With his full attention on Louis. He smiles now, shaking his head playfully. “That’s the angle you’re going with? Not, I want to work together with you, but this is better for the case?”

Louis pouts. “Just because I might get my way doesn’t mean that it’s not true.” He’s right. This is the best way to do this. He knows it is.

“True,” Harry smiles, brighter this time. “I suppose we sort of owe it to them to be thorough.”

Thorough. Yes. It’s absolutely not an excuse to spend more time with Harry, now that he still can. “Exactly,” he nods. “Besides. They’re soulmates. They’re gonna end up together one way or another. We might as well take our time.”

*

Once they’ve had their fill of playing with the kittens they move on, heading towards the puppies. Where Harry has a definite favorite when it comes to the felines, Louis has held a soft spot for an adorable husky/corgi mix called Sabre. It’s one of the more hyper puppies, tiny and adorably wolf like despite its short stature. It’s also a dog that Louis had actively had to win over, and where he doesn’t like when humans or other beings are finicky he loves it when he has to actually make an effort for an animal. Because once you win their trust it’s like you become the Chosen One.

Going into the doggy area now he can already hear Sabre’s bark, and it doesn’t take long for the four year old pup to run at him, not giving any indication that he’ll stop before he’s jumped up against Louis’ legs. Louis thinks if he could the dog would leap into his arms. Instead he kneels down, letting the dog squirm in his arms and lick at his face. “Ew,” he laughs. “Hi Sabre, I missed you, you daft dog.” Sabre yips happily, slobbering all over Louis’ sweater. It’s a testament to how much he loves him that he really doesn’t care.

“I’m gonna go ask if we can walk him,” Harry announces. Louis just nods, intensely happy and also intensely aware that if he parts his lips to reply he’ll end up with a mouth full of fur. He loves Sabre, so much. Loves how that warm puppy body is so squirmy and excited and happy, how he can feel it calm down under his touch when Sabre realizes he’s not going to leave him. The pup settles then, nudging his nose against Louis’ armpit like he’s hiding his treats there.

It tickles, and Louis can’t help but giggle. “What am I gonna do with you, huh, Sabes?” He murmurs fondly, the dog giving another excited bark when Louis addresses him. It’s near his ear because he’s huddled over cuddling the dog, but he doesn’t even care. He’s going to get grass stains and slobber all over his clothes and he doesn’t care. He could stay here forever.

Harry comes back a few minutes later with a leash in hand, and at least three other dogs trailing him. Louis can’t really blame the dogs. They get taken out for walks all the time, have huge fields to run around in and chase each other, so it’s not that they’re starved for attention. But Harry’s attention is something different altogether.

“They said we could take him out as long as we wanted. He’s not taken to any of the new volunteers, so they’re happy that he’s so mellow with you.” Harry tells him. Louis doesn’t think mellow is exactly the right word to describe an over eager pup like Sabre, but he supposes he understands what they mean.

“Did you hear that, Sabes?” He fondly scratches Sabre behind his ears. “We get to go on a walk! You wanna?” He’s not sure Sabre understands but there’s another delighted bark and Sabre’s tail wagging insistently, knocking against his knee. Louis laughs. “You’re a little devil, aren’t you? Been mean to all the volunteers, hm?” He’s not the least bit ashamed at the way he coos, even when it might make him look like an idiot in front of Harry.

Harry just crouches down next to him, nudges out a hand for Sabre to sniff at, making a face when he slobbers all over it instead. “Can’t blame him, can you? No one here can compare to you.” He says it so matter of factly, so offhand, that it takes Louis a moment to deal with the sudden rush of fondness and warmth in his chest. By the time he’s managed to control his smile, Harry’s already got Sabre on a leash, the dog so excited it threatens to unbalance Harry by running around him until he’s bound by the leash. Louis only barely manages to stop him.

“You better give me that before he trips you,” he tells Harry, who looks at him suspiciously, as though he’s not sure Louis won’t trip him. Louis scoffs. “You don’t need my help to trip, Styles. Don’t start.” He nudges him with his elbow, gives him a small, happy grin. “I’m really happy I came along today. Thanks for inviting me.”

They set out on a trail they must have walked a dozen times by now, one that’ll lead them out of civilization and towards a forest that feels so old Louis is never sure he feels comfortable or freaked out in there. It’s one of Harry’s favorite places though, so he deals with the slight goosebumps the heavy silence always gives him. “I’m glad you wanted to,” Harry tells him, leaves crunching under their feet, Sabre excitedly pulling on the leash and snapping his jaws at a bug. “After-”

Louis nearly winces. This is not where he wants the conversation to go. “I know,” he interrupts, shooting Harry an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to- ... it’s just. I’m kinda trying not to think about it anymore. I’d rather enjoy today, with you, than whine about something we can’t change.”

The words taste like ash in his mouth. Liar, he thinks. He wonders what Harry would say if he knew.

Harry nods, stays silent for a while, their feet and Sabre’s panting the only sounds. “Did you talk to Niall then?” He ventures after a bit, and something in his voice makes Louis stop.

“I did,” he frowns, looking up at Harry, who doesn’t seem to want to meet his eyes. “Haz, what’s wrong?” He reaches out for him, letting out a soft, confused sound when Harry shifts to avoid his touch. “Harry?”

He’s surprised to see tears in Harry’s eyes when he finally meets his eyes. “It’s fine,” he mumbles, and Louis just arches an eyebrow. Harry’s not fooling anyone here. “Don’t look at me like that. I can lie to you if I want to.”

“You can,” everything in Louis wants to scream at him that he can’t, he’s not allowed to, they’re best friends. But that would make him very much a hypocrite. “I’d just rather you didn’t. You can talk to me, Haz, you know that, right? About anything.”

Harry shrugs miserably. “Can I?”

“Of course you-” Louis stops himself, comprehension dawning on him. “Is this because I talked to Niall last night? Instead of you?”

He gets another one of those tiny shrugs. Harry’s face scrunches up in a way Louis knows means he’s embarrassed. “I don’t know, Lou,” his voice is low. “I mean, I’m happy for you, you look better today,” if he only knew, “I just. I wish you’d come to me, is all.” He looks up at Louis. “You can talk to me about anything too, you know.”

“I know that.”

“Do you?” It seems like Harry is honestly not convinced. Louis wonders if his heart can break after all. Just over hurting his best friend.

Harry. Yes. I do, you moron.” He reaches out for Harry, hand squeezing his wrist. “You’re such an idiot. Hey, stop, no,” Because of course Harry doesn’t take well to being insulted right now. His bottom lip quivers and he’s a step away from breaking out into a run. Louis shifts, enveloping him in a hug, one that Harry only slowly sinks into. “I know I can talk to you about anything. And I am. There’s nothing going on in my life that you don’t know about. But also, sometimes, I won’t want to talk. I’ll just want to drink beer and play videogames and ignore whatever’s going on because talking about it just makes it worse.” He trails his fingers up and down Harry’s back, hoping to soothe him. “But I know I can always come to you. You’re - Niall is never going to take that spot, ok? He’s never going to be my best friend the way you are.”

He can hear Harry sniff silently, his arms finally snaking around Louis’ waist. It’s odd how that makes him feel like he can breathe a bit better, when in reality they’re wrapped up in each other’s embrace to the point where he can feel Harry’s every inhale, chest expanding against his own. “Also,” Louis mumbles, his face now pressed against Harry’s shoulder, “I didn’t want to upset you. I know how much talking about all of this gets to you sometimes and-”

Lou,” Harry whispers fervently, voice strained. “I want to. I - I need to talk about this. Not all the time, but sometimes. You’re the only one that seems to understand. Whenever I feel like this, it’s like I can’t even breathe, like I want to jump out of my skin. I know that we’re doing so much good, and I want to focus on that, I do, I want to -- but I can only look at the charges I’ve set up for so long. There’s only so many times I can remind myself that I’m here for a reason. Sometimes I just need to-”

Oh. Louis pulls back, just enough to look at him. “Is that why you - with the baby and all, is that like-” he’s not even sure what he’s trying to say, but Harry meets his eyes and nods.

“They make it easier.”

He should tell him. Louis knows he should. “Haz-”

Harry shakes his head. “We don’t need to talk about this right now. You’re right.” He wipes his tears away, tries to smile. “Just. You can, yeah? Whenever you need to. Because you’re not alone, Lou.”

Louis swallows. “Yeah,” he says mutely. “You too.”

Harry smiles at that, nods. Takes a step back.

Or, he attempts to. Sometime in the middle of their conversation, Sabre had started to get restless, and as a result, had made several laps around where they were talking. The moment Harry moves, his legs become tangled up in the leash. He flails for a moment, wants to shift his weight to balance himself, but only manages to unbalance Louis in the process instead.

They end up on the ground, limbs tangled and an elbow digging into Louis’ ribs, Sabre barking happily at his two friends paying attention to him and coming to play with him. He licks Harry’s face, nudges his nose against Louis’ ear. Harry lets out a surprised giggle, his eyes crinkling at the corners. As Louis looks down at him, notices the bits of twig and leaves tangled in his hair, he can’t help but laugh. Leave it to a dog to lighten the mood.

It’s like an unspoken agreement to leave it at that, for today. They talk about the puppies and a bit about Matt and Jake - Louis asking Harry to remind him to check up on them when they get back to work on Friday - and finish their walk with Sabre. When they’re back at the animal shelter Louis is starting to feel the after effect of one too many drinks and not enough sleep. He can’t stop yawning, his legs feeling heavy and sluggish. Content to lean against Harry while the other talks to one of the volunteers, he’s thinking nothing of it when he wraps an arm around Harry’s waist to keep himself upright. Harry just smiles at him, cards his fingers through Louis’ hair while he continues his conversation. It’s nice. It’s how he wants things to stay between them. Forever.

Louis isn’t completely sure he hasn’t dozed off against Harry, the warmth of his body making him feel exhausted, when suddenly Harry shifts, jostling him. He releases a grumpy sound against Harry’s shirt, blinking back into awareness and moving to stand on his own two feet. “Sorry,” he murmurs, stifles a yawn. “I’m awake.”

Harry’s smile is soft and so, so fond. “You don’t look it, Lou. How about we head home, yeah?” Louis nods. His bed sounds wonderful right now. The chance to stretch out, nap for a few more hours. Maybe a cuddle with Harry?

He yawns again. “So you’re not taking anyone home today?” He asks, brushing his fringe off his forehead, tempted to smack his own cheek in an effort to feel remotely awake and coherent again. He doesn’t like being like this. So tired that he can’t keep up his walls. Which is an odd thing to consider because Harry’s his best friend and he doesn’t need protection from him. But still. He doesn’t like feeling vulnerable. “No adorable stray that melted your heart?”

Harry chuckles. “Just you.”

Louis isn’t sure if that’s in reference to being taken home or having melted Harry’s heart. He’s too tired to ask.

Harry takes him home, actually offers to tuck Louis into bed, but Louis, fortunately or not, has woken up a little on the walk home. Not enough to skip taking a nap, but enough to make it to his bedroom unaided. He gives Harry a sleepy smile while the other lingers in the doorway, moves in for a hug. “See you Friday, yeah?” He’s not sure if Harry’s got any plans tomorrow, but Louis is planning to spend the entirety of the day in sweatpants, lazing around and eating take out. Harry’s probably going to do all sorts of adult people things, like yoga and gardening and baking. Louis imagines him knitting a tea cosy and giggles. It earns him an amused smile, paired with a curious glance. Louis just shrugs. “Just. You’re an old lady, Styles.”

Harry doesn’t even argue. Just chuckles, ruffling up Louis’ hair. “Get some sleep.” God, sleep sounds good. Louis nods. Leans up and in to press a kiss to Harry’s cheek.

“Thanks for today,” he mumbles around another yawn. “Thanks for always.” He adds on, a little belatedly. “For being my best friend.”

“Always.” Harry promises.

*

His last free day of the weekend goes exactly as planned, which is nice, because lately nothing’s really gone according to plan. The universe is rude. But on this Thursday it’s lovely, because he’s lazed about in sweatpants all day, watching movies and eating junk food. It’s one of those days that would be a lot better with a pup snuggled up against his chest, but that’s about the only thing Louis could think of that’s not perfect about this lazy day.

He feels better when he goes back into work on Friday morning, especially when he finds a cup of coffee on his desk. He doesn’t even have to read the accompanying note to know that Harry’s left it there.

Lou,

Come over to my desk whenever you want to get started on Ziam.

I figured you’d want to check in on Matt and Jake, so I’m going to get some paperwork done. Please hurry and save me :(

-H

Louis only briefly wonders what Ziam is, blames his uncaffeinated brain for not clueing in immediately on the portmanteau. He figures Harry will delight in telling him though, will think he’s so clever for referring to Zayn and Liam as Ziam. Louis has to admit it sounds a hell of a lot better than Liyn or Zaam - the latter, quite honestly, sounds like some kind of sleep medication. And that’s definitely not what they’re going for with a couple of young, fit (albeit slightly too muscular, at least one of them) soulmates.

Louis nurses his cup of coffee like he always does. It’s become a sort of routine, ever since Harry first started bringing him a cup in the morning. Joke’s on him, really, because originally he’d grumbled about how the stuff Louis was drinking wasn’t real coffee, and how he should try the stuff from near his place instead. Louis, because he’s stubborn and likes to be recalcitrant, had refused at first. Until Harry had just put a cup in front of him and thrown out his own coffee. Just a whiff of it had been enough to change Louis’ mind, a feat not easily accomplished.

Even these days, the first thing he does is just bring the cup to his nose and inhale. There’s something comforting in the smell, in wrapping his hands around a too hot cup, fingers tingling. He knows better than to gulp it down straight away, even when Harry’s already been at work for a while it’s magically still hot, hot enough to burn his tongue. So he just inhales the scent for a minute or two, dozes with his eyes open - though he’d like to call it contemplating the day. Sometimes he’s not contemplating anything though. Just sitting here, smelling good coffee, feeling warm and content.

Inevitably he, as ever, takes the first sip when the drink is still a bit too hot. It’s made exactly the way he likes it, with cream and one sugar, to cancel out the bitterness from the coffee beans. As it burns a path down his throat he contemplates, as always, to just gulp the drink down, eager for the caffeine to kickstart his morning. He doesn’t though. Because once he’s finished his drink his morning will really start, and he’ll likely be at his desk, forgetting to drink anything, until it’s lunch time. It’s best to savour this moment. Especially since no one will bother him as long as he’s nursing his coffee. They know better by now.

There’s always that fine line between dragging out his coffee experience and having to drink a lukewarm and quite frankly disgusting beverage (it’s weird, Louis likes iced coffee just fine, but give him a too cold coffee and he honestly feels like gagging), so eventually he has no choice but to down the last of his cup and dump the waste in the dustbin.

As much as he wants to go straight over to Harry’s desk - to save him, of course - he decides he really should check in on Matt and Jake. Last he checked they were definitely getting along, but he knows it’s not always as easy as that. As much as he’d like it to be - though that’s not entirely true either. If every couple was so easy to set up Louis’ job would be a hell of a lot more boring than it is.

Opening the window, he’s not surprised to find Matt alone. He is, admittedly, a bit surprised to find a note from Jake on his desk. It’s been a few days, since the match, so Louis had expected him to either throw it out or have made use of it by now, but by the way Matt’s eyes keep flickering over to the note he’s not exactly made up his mind.

Louis shifts the window a bit, to be able to read the note.

I don’t usually do these things, the note reads, and Louis can’t help but wince a little bit. That’s never a good way to start a note. Especially since it leaves one wondering, what doesn’t he do? One night stands? Or leaving notes afterwards? Either way, it’s bound to be a bit confusing. I had a really good time last night. I’d say I’m sorry Liverpool lost, but I can’t aha. Still, I’d like to take you out sometime if you’re up for it? To make up for the loss and any future losses. Call me maybe?

Louis watches Matt pick up the note, which he’s done a lot by the looks of it, the paper already a bit worn and crinkly. He sees him biting his lip, picking up his phone, finger hovering over the call button. He’s already saved his number, which is as good a sign as Louis has ever seen any. Except he sighs, puts the phone back down.

Kids these days. Louis can’t help but grumble, contemplating his next move for a moment. Maybe he should check in on Jake? But the kid probably didn’t have any way of contacting Matt. No, he’s going to have to make him do it. Jake had made it pretty clear what he wanted.

He raises his head at that thought, grins. Jake had made it pretty clear. Matt just needed a little nudge.

When the first notes of the song start to play, Matt barely realizes. Louis almost wants to scowl, because he didn’t just scroll through the guy’s spotify account to find the song for him to not pay attention. But then Carly Rae Jepsen starts singing the first verse, and it’s like he got stung, he nearly jumps, goes rigid in his desk chair.

That’s your sign kid, Louis wants to tell him. He watches as Matt stares at the screen in confusion, then takes a deep breath, picking up the phone and dialing Jake’s number. “Hey, hi,” Matt starts, voice a little sheepish. “So, um. The weirdest thing just happened.”

Louis grins.

He’s still humming Call Me Maybe when he arrives at Harry’s desk a few minutes later, watches as he makes an unhappy face at the paperwork strewn over it. “You weren’t kidding,” he chuckles, in lieu of saying an actual hello. “I thought you were always on top of your paperwork.”

Harry gives him a self-conscious smile, a small shrug. “I, um, thought it would be good to read up on soulmates a bit?” He gestures towards the papers. “Old cases and whatnot. Niall said he’d bring me some stuff from the office later on. Manuals.”

Louis swallows. If he .. then he .. “Harry.”

“I know,” Harry pouts at him. It’s not at all endearing. “I know, Lou. I’m making a big deal over something that probably isn’t. It’s just scary. I don’t want to fail and have to go down.”

This is it. This is his in, his moment to tell him why going down might not be the worst thing that could happen. Harry deserves to know. If Louis doesn’t tell him Niall will. “I’m not gonna let that happen, Haz.” He says softly. “Look, I get it. Wanting to do research. But just because something worked for one couple doesn’t mean it will for another. You’ve got to stop fixating on the fact that they’re a silver cord. Forget it. They’re a couple just like any other. Ok? They’re just Zayn and Liam.” Harry’s still not smiling. So Louis nudges him. “Ziam.”

That earns him a small smile. “Do you like it?”

Knowing Harry he probably spent half of his Thursday coming up with it. “It’s very clever.” He watches Harry’s dimple pop out at that. Sometimes all Harry needs is a bit of praise. “You are very clever, Haz. You don’t need all this.” He reaches over, taps at his heart. “All you need is right there. You know how to do this.”

Harry doesn’t look too convinced, but he lets Louis clear away the papers on his desk nonetheless. They’re left with the only thing that matters right now. The slight information they have on Zayn Malik and Liam Payne. Louis has to admit he’s kind of excited. He likes this part. Likes noticing little details that might seem trivial at first but can go a long way in making someone feel connected to their partner to be. Like Zayn’s Batman covers. If he can just get Liam to wear something with a Batman logo - whether it be a t-shirt of something as small as a necklace - Zayn will feel a connection with him without ever having talked to him before.

“Who do you want to do first?” He asks Harry. He watches him look down at his paper, eyebrows knitted together as though he’s running through a list of pros and cons. “Don’t think about it. Just give me a name.”

“...Zayn.”

Zayn it is.

With a new charge it can be helpful to scan back through the past few days, to catch up on anything they’ve missed. Though they obviously can’t change anything that’s already happened. As much as they can manipulate the world they can’t actually go back in time, a lesson learned when Louis once saw one of his charges get hit by a car, on her way to meet the man she was meant to connect with for their first date. They can’t influence everything, as much as he’d like to sometimes.

So, with Zayn, they start not long after they left off. He’s alone now, hair disheveled and obviously still a little affected by the earlier makeout session. They watch him try and fix his hair, lean out of a window to smoke, one eye on the door.

“He lives at home then,” Harry notes. Louis nods. They can only follow their charges, not look around the house, but with the way Zayn is keeping an eye on the door, leaning out of the window to smoke his cigarette, he’s living with someone. And if he were living with a partner, they’d know. They wouldn’t have been able to make a connection between him and Liam if Zayn hadn’t been single.

“Maybe roommates,” he says, just to be thorough, though he has to concede that that isn’t very likely when a young girl opens the door, causing Zayn to hastily drop his cigarette out the window.

“Saf!” he scolds her, though the smile on his face belies his stern words. “Don’t you knock?”

(“Sister,” Harry writes it down on his paper. Sister, Saf, roughly 8-10 years.)

The girl makes a face at him, coming over for a cuddle. Louis smiles. They’re close then. That’s good. It’s always important to take note of familial relationships. You never know when it might come in handy.

Zayn drops a kiss onto her hair, holding her close for a moment. “Wanted to see if you wanted to come to the waterpark with me and Wali tomorrow. Abbu is taking us in the morning.” Saf says. “Now that you’re home for the summer.”

“You know I don’t swim,” Zayn reminds her gently. “And you’re saying it like I’m not at home during the school year. I still live here, Saf.”

The girl shrugs. “It’s not the same. Ammi says you’re out all hours.”

Louis watches a quick sadness pass over Zayn’s face. He doesn’t let Saf see it though, just tickles her. “You shouldn’t listen in on Ammi’s conversations.” He berates her gently. Saf just shrugs again. Zayn smiles. “Sure, I’ll come with you and Wali. Can’t say no to you, can I?”

Harry pauses the playback. “I’m gonna guess Wali is her friend, or maybe another sister? Abbu and Ammi - maybe mum and dad?” He jots things down, frowning in a way that makes Louis want to poke his cheek. “Still lives at home. He’s in school. Anything I’ve missed?”

“He doesn’t swim,” Louis adds, chewing on his pencil. “Dunno if that’s gonna be relevant, unless Liam’s a merman or a lifeguard, but. Write it down just in case.”

They go through the rest of the time they’ve missed, watch Zayn hang out at the waterpark with his sisters - the likeness so clear that Wali must be another sibling - the next day. They see him sketch, read a book, buy his sisters food, watching their stuff as they monkey about in the water. From everything they see, it’s clear that Zayn is very much a family guy. He’s gentle with his sisters, close to both his parents. They, in return, treat him in a way that makes it obvious they love him, are proud of him. If Louis wasn’t so focused on writing down every detail that might be important he thinks he might be overcome with jealousy. Zayn has a family. A proper, close knit family. Most of the charges they work with are a bit older, already living on their own. Seeing it up close like this, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

Once they’ve watched back the time they’ve missed out on, Louis pauses the window, leans back in his seat. His back and neck are aching a bit from being hunched over on the desk and looking up at the screen, and he looks longingly outside, where it’s another lovely summer day. It’s always summer, in heaven. Always warm and sunny and wonderful. “D’you wanna take a break?” He asks Harry. “Get something to eat from that food truck on the corner? Maybe go for a quick fly?” He’s eager to stretch his wings, sort out the sore muscles in his back. “Then when we get back we go and see what we’ve missed with Liam, and then we’re all caught up?”

Harry stretches too. Louis swears he can hear his back pop. “Sounds perfect.”

Outside they go, getting a burrito and wandering around for a bit, eating their food. They work near a park, so once the food’s gone, Louis doesn’t waste any time in stretching his wings, letting them beat against the air until he’s above the treeline. The wind is blowing in his face, ruffling his feathers and messing up his hair. It’s heaven.

Harry joins him, and Louis can’t help but smile at him. “If I ever had to go down, this is what I’d miss most.” He tells him, letting his wings steady him, hold him up in the air. They’re powerful, beautiful in the way strong things rarely ever are.

“Your wings?” Harry pouts. “What about me?”

Louis snorts. “What about you?” He teases, flying close, so he can tumble him onto a cloud. Or through one, as clouds might look like fluffy comforters but are actually not solid. He hears Harry giggle when a puff stays lodged into his curls for a moment, before dissolving into soft tendrils that float away. “Are you fishing for compliments, Hazza? Trying to make me say I’d miss you?”

Harry soars just out of reach, making Louis squint as he looks up at him, the sun behind him framing his head. He laughs, thinking of the depiction of angels, a halo around their head. In this instant, they’re not wrong. “Would you?”

Louis flies up to meet him. “No,” he says, “but only because I’d take you with me.”

They go back to the office not much later, the knowledge of all the work that lies ahead, yet to be done, finally enough to outweigh the sheer joy flying brings. Louis curls back up in his seat, legs pulled up against his chest, notepad balancing on top of his knees. It’s not the easiest when it comes to writing, but at least it gives him a change of posture, keeps that lower back ache at bay. Cupids can’t get sick, but sadly they aren’t immune to pain. And anyway, Liam’s probably spent most of his time at the gym these past days, so Louis doubts he’ll have a lot to write down.

Liam, as it turns out, does do something other than go to the gym. He cooks with his mum, does chores with his dad, learns how to change a tire on the car and how to fix a flat tire on a bicycle. Louis isn’t sure why until him and Harry watch Liam sit behind his computer at night, typing out emails and googling schools. He’s looking for a school to take him on as a trainee PE teacher, as it turns out, so he can gain qualified teacher status. Louis has no idea what it all entails, but looking at Harry, they’re both thinking the same thing.

Bradford.

Chapter Text

Sending Liam to Bradford sounds like a great idea. Even if it involves paperwork. With massive life changing alterations they’ll have to apply beforehand, rather than just fill in forms afterwards, and Louis thinks, sadly, getting a Bradford school to hire someone as a trainee PE teacher might just be considered a massive alteration. As does uprooting Liam’s entire life, even if it is in the pursuit of true love. But with the two of them living two and a half hours apart there’s really no telling how they’d meet otherwise. They have no mutual friends, no family that could potentially introduce them. And on the surface their lives couldn’t be more different. Liam is a guy’s guy, working out, wanting to be a PE teacher. Zayn is gentle, introvert. Very settled in his life in Bradford, from the looks of it. Granted, they don’t know much more about either of them than that, but Louis is ready to take the gamble.

Louis sighs. “We’re going to need to do those papers. Before anything else. It’ll take HQ a day or two to process, we can learn more about them in the meantime, but I don’t want to risk losing too much time.” Granted, they might have a stronger case if they know more about their charges, but between what Niall had looked up (proving there wasn’t any existing connection between them, anywhere) and what they knew Liam’s plan for the future was (thus ensuring that this wasn’t a wholly illogical solution on their part), he thinks they have enough to plead their case.

Harry nods. “It’s a start. I don’t know how else we’re going to make them meet. Not without altering the world in other ways.” Louis nods too. He’d much rather do one big alteration than a bunch of small ones, and not because of the paperwork. But because altering reality too much can have some unexpected side effects. People feeling like they’re not in complete control of themselves, as though they’re just sleepwalking through life. Feeling disconnected from their own emotions and reality. He’s seen some serious paranoia, back in his day when he was still training. There were videos, scary stories from his tutors that were meant to warn him off. Of a time before paperwork, when every Cupid was responsible for their own actions. It might seem like an easy solution, to change the fabric of time, but it came with consequences they couldn’t oversee. As much as Louis loathes paperwork he’s glad to be able to pass off some of the responsibility to HQ. Especially with moves like this. If their proposed alteration is judged and sanctioned by HQ, at least Louis knows he won’t have to feel too guilty if something unexpectedly goes wrong.

“Alright. So let’s file those papers and then have a look at what they’re doing right now? It’s a Friday night, two young lads like that, they’re probably heading out for the night.” Louis expects Liam to be. Probably with a whole group of friends. Zayn is a bit harder to pin down. He’s only seen him with his siblings, but even so he comes across as more of a homebody.

They file the papers, Harry’s neat handwriting pleading their case, get the standard reply that they’ll hear back from HQ in one to two business days. With that settled, they head back to Harry’s desk, pens and notepads at the ready.

Once again, when they open the window to check in on Zayn, they catch him in the act. Louis worries for a moment, until he realizes it’s a different guy. He’s not sure if he worries less or more, after that. “Huh.”

Harry blinks. “He’s a bit of a-”

Louis gives him a stern look. “Don’t slutshame Harold.”

“I wasn’t! I mean, I didn’t mean to?” Harry looks chastised, and Louis can’t help but chuckle at him, quick fingers digging into his ribs for a tickle. “Louuu, stop that.” He squirms in his seat, almost unbalances himself, would’ve fallen over if it weren’t for Louis’ hand on his arm. “I didn’t mean to be rude,” he huffs, when he’s stopped flailing, his face a bit pink. Louis isn’t sure if it’s because he’s flustered by Zayn or by the fact he’s almost made a very ungraceful faceplant on the floor.

“I know.” Harry would never say anything rude about anyone. Not unless they deserved it, anyway, and then it’s usually to their face, because Harry doesn’t believe in being nice to someone and then talking about them behind their back. He’s very genuine that way. A much better person than Louis, that’s for sure. “He is a bit loose with his affections. But we can’t judge. We don’t know what his life is like. Maybe he’s just figuring himself out. Maybe these are the only two boys he’s ever kissed.” Judging by how comfortable Zayn seems to be, he doubts it, but still. They don’t know nearly enough to judge, and besides, what exactly is wrong with hooking up anyway? As long as both parties involved are consenting and aware of what it means, there’s really nothing wrong with it. Zayn’s young, he’s meant to meet his soulmate soon, even if he doesn’t know that. He might as well enjoy himself in the meantime.

“Do you think his parents know?” Harry wonders. “He lives in their house. Either he’s not afraid of taking a little risk, especially with his little sisters around,” they might all be out, but still, Harry has a point. “I hope they know.”

Louis does too. As much as he delights in guiding people through discovering their sexuality, he does not like when they feel scared to tell their parents. Especially when it turns out they were rightfully afraid. He’s sat at his window a bunch of times, wishing he could go down and give some crying boy or girl a tissue and a hug. Usually he tries to show them comfort in a simple way, by playing a particular song on the radio, or reminding them in some other way that there were people out there who understood and accepted them.

With the two boys on the bed happily intertwined with each other, Louis decides to snoop through Zayn’s room. As much as one can snoop from a distance. There’s not much in his room, but enough to fill in a few more details about Zayn’s life. There’s pictures, mostly with his family, some in frames and others just tacked onto a bulletin board. A few books, most of them tattered, obviously read over and over. A library card hanging from a lanyard, casually thrown onto a laptop. There’s three things in particular that seem important though, and it’s mostly from the way they stand out from the rest. Where everything else is just haphazardly stacked together, messy in that way teenage boys are, these three things seem carefully placed. Not necessarily tidy, but treated with attention. The first is a row of books on art, placed on a shelf all by themselves. On the shelf below it there are multiple art supplies. Pencils, paint brushes, different sizes of paper. Lastly, stacked in an open drawer near his bed, are rows upon rows of comic books.

Louis takes note of all of it, writing it down. He guesses Harry is doing much of the same, but when he glances sideways he can see him, ears a little red, still caught up in the way Zayn and his hookup are rolling around on the bed. “You alright there, Hazza?” He teases, delighting in the way Harry flinches, squeaks.

“I was just, um, trying to see what his type was.” Harry lies. He’s not very good at it.

Louis laughs. “It’s okay to be curious. I remember you said you hadn’t seen it before. Do you need me to give you the talk, Harry?”

Harry goes red. Hides his face behind his hands again. “Noooo,” he whines, then pauses, lowering his hands. “Wait. The talk. Are you saying you’ve seen, y’know. How it, um,” he can’t seem to get his words out, and if Louis were a nicer person he’d cut him off, because he’s pretty sure he knows what he’s asking.

“Have I seen what?” He’s not a nice person. Clearly.

Harry whines again. But he’s also intrigued. Eyes bright and wide, curious in a way that seems almost a little inappropriate. “You talk like you’ve actually seen them do it. Like you know how it works.”

Even though Louis had known what Harry had been trying to say he still blushes. “I haven’t, like, spied on them or anything.” Even though that’s sort of their job. “But I’ve seen it once or twice. And when I started out with one of my charges he turned out to be in porn, so. It’s kinda hard to not pick up a thing or two if you’re staring at two guys dicking each other.” He says matter of factly, willing the blush on his face to go down. He doesn’t want Harry thinking he’s some sort of pervert.

Harry looks thoughtful. Almost intrigued. Louis has no clue what’s going through his head. He’s not sure he wants to know. So he just nudges him. “If you ever need me to give you the talk, just let me know.” He grins, then points towards his papers. “As for now, how about we focus on learning everything we can about Zayn and Liam, yeah? I can’t believe I’ve written down more than you have. That’s one for the history books.” He teases.

Harry just huffs, pushes his hair out of his face. “D’you wanna have a look at Liam?”

“Do you wanna have a look at Liam? We can watch Zayn some more, if you want,” Louis can’t help it. Harry goes so delightfully pink when he teases him. Both his cheeks and his energy.

He gets a whiny sort of sound in response, Harry’s famous pout, and Louis chuckles, taking pity on him. “Alright. Liam it is. He’s probably out with his mates.” Which isn’t a bad thing, really. There’s lots to learn about their charges just by watching them interact with friends or family.

Switching the window away from Zayn - thankfully before he’s getting to the actual sex part - they zoom in on Liam. Fully expecting to find him in some bar, drinking too cheap beer and eating chicken wings with his boys, Louis is surprised to see him cuddled up on the couch with a big dog, trying to keep his pizza out of the animal’s reach.

“Liam?” a voice calls, a young woman walking into the room. “We’re going out now. We should be back in a few hours. Thanks again for watching Zoe.” She smiles, running her hand through Liam’s hair in a move that feels almost motherly. Sister then, Louis concludes. “She shouldn’t wake up, but in case she does, there’s clean nappies on the dresser. You remember how to change her, right?”

Liam chuckles. “Yeah, Nic, you’ve only showed me like a dozen times. It’ll be fine, I promise. You just go and enjoy your dinner, yeah? You deserve to have a nice night out.”

His sister smiles. “You’ve only told me that about a dozen times.” She teases, even though she still looks a little nervous. “You’ve got our numbers. Do you need me to leave you the number for the restaurant?”

A man joins them, wrapping an arm around her waist as he presses a kiss to her cheek. “Babe, it’ll be fine. Liam knows where to find us if he needs to contact us. Zoe will probably sleep until we’re back. He should be more worried about Watson giving him a hard time than our daughter.”

Louis watches as his sister and her boyfriend leave, as Liam settles in for a nice night on the couch. Fastforwarding a little bit, they find him standing over baby Zoe’s crib, an expression on his face that’s almost sickeningly sweet.

“They’re both family people,” he smiles, glancing at Harry, who is as always impossibly endeared by the tiny baby, looking as though he wants nothing more than to climb through the screen and cradle her in his ridiculously big hands. “That’s good. Means they’ve got one thing in common, at least.” He knows there’s still a lot more to learn about both of them, but it’s good to find that they have at least some common ground. Though, it might just make it that much harder to convince him to move to Bradford.

*

The weekend turns out to be quite uneventful for both Zayn and Liam. They both seem content to spend the start of their summer vacation doing nothing particularly interesting. For Louis and Harry it means that although they spend most of their time watching them (occasionally skipping forward an hour or two) they don’t learn all that much.

Finally, on Sunday, they get a letter from HQ. Harry brings it to Louis’ desk, where he’d been finishing up the last of the paperwork on Matt and Jake. After checking in on them on Saturday evening - to find them on a first date that was so adorable he had almost told Harry to work on Zayn and Liam alone for a bit, not wanting to miss any of the date he’d worked so hard to set them up for - he had realized that they were probably not going to need any more of his help. He’d checked in this morning, found them cuddling in bed, still sleepy eyed but so lovestruck, hands tangling and fingers brushing over knuckles, unable to keep their eyes off each other. He’s sure these two will be just fine, so he’s finishing his report when Harry comes over, brandishing the envelope like a weapon. “HQ got back to us about the move to Bradford,” he announces, plopping himself in the seat next to Louis’.

“What’d it say?”

“I didn’t open it yet. Wanted to wait for you.” Louis privately thinks he wouldn’t have been so patient, he’s horribly curious and he’d want to know the second the paper got dropped on his desk. But even though he can see Harry’s practically vibrating out of his skin, he still managed to keep it a surprise, so they could look at the letter together.

Louis smiles, ruffles his hair with the feathers at the tip of his wing. “You’re sweet.” He gestures towards him then. “Go on. You do the honours.”

While Harry is, carefully but in Louis’ eyes oh so slowly, sliding his finger to open the envelope, Louis can only think of what is going to happen if HQ denies their request. He’d wanted to come up with some kind of backup plan, but between the high of seeing a successful matchup between his charges and the amount of time they’d spent watching Liam and Zayn he had simply forgotten. He’s almost holding his breath now, waiting for Harry to unfold the letter once he’d slipped it out of the envelope.

They skim the letter together, Louis’ eyes searching for those magical words.

We have reviewed your application and decided to grant your request. “Yes!” He cheers, accidentally hammering Harry’s shoulder a little too hard with his hand, though an apology gets lost in the excitement he feels, the way Harry suddenly leans in and captures him in a hug. Louis immediately stills, wraps his arms around Harry. “We did it.” He’d known they could do it, but still. They’d done it. “Harry, you beautiful man. I knew you could do it. You’ve a real way with words.” He’s sure that his pout is equally irresistible, but they hadn’t exactly been able to slide in a picture of Harry’s face to accompany their request. It’d have been funny though. ‘For an elaborate review on why we would like you to grant us our request, see exhibit A.’ He almost chuckles at the thought.

Harry just holds him tightly for a few more moments, before pulling back, looking shy and sheepish even in his excitement. “You’re giving me too much credit,” he mumbles, tucking a curl behind his ear. “Thanks, Lou.”

Louis shakes his head. “Never,” he insists. “There’s no such thing. You deserve all the credit, all the time. In fact, I’ve been campaigning to establish a Harry Styles appreciation day. Haven’t you seen the flyers?” He’s talking out of his ass and he’s not even sure why. Something about seeing Harry so sweet and happy at his praise is making him all flustered. “I’m almost done with the powerpoint presentation.” He leans in, presses a finger into Harry’s dimple. “It’s mostly pictures of your face.”

The way Harry makes a face at him almost makes him want to do it for real. Maybe he can, for his birthday. Though Harry prefers taking pictures to actually being in them. He’d have to find some way to sneakily snap a few shots of him. Maybe ask Niall for help. He can’t believe he’s actually considering this. It’s probably just because he’s so excited HQ granted their request.

“So,” Harry cuts through his reverie, bringing him back to the present, which, sadly, isn’t filled with adorably pouty pictures of Harry. It’s filled with actual Harry though, so Louis can’t complain. “How do you want to set this up? Liam’s been applying for positions here and there, but mostly near Wolverhampton. How are we going to get him to consider Bradford?”

Louis zones back out for a moment, this time considering the options. They could place an ad in a paper somewhere, but there’s no guarantee Liam would see it. Or that others won’t and the school would end up hiring someone else before they’d realized. “Does the letter give us a contact?”

HQ, when granting requests like these, usually set up a contact, giving the Cupids names and enough information to be able to look them up, use them as a means of directly influencing a certain turn of events. It’s easier than just manipulating things from Liam’s side, especially when it comes to hiring him over possible other applicants.

Harry reads through the letter, more thoroughly this time. “Yea,” he points out a paragraph. “A P. Higgins. He’s the PE teacher, as well as on the board of admissions.”

Louis nods, brushes his fringe off his forehead. “Alright. So, we gotta get P. Higgins to somehow realize that he desperately wants a trainee. Not just any trainee though, he’s got to have Liam Payne, no substitute allowed.” He ponders that for a moment. “He wouldn’t happen to have any friends or relatives that work in a school near Wolverhampton, would he? Someone that might just pass along Liam’s info?” He doubts they’ll be that lucky, but even with the request from HQ granted Louis still prefers to make as few major alterations as possible.

Harry does a quick search on the computer. “No,” he says, frowns, then clicks through a few pages. By the way he brightens up Louis can tell he’s found something. “But his wife does.”

Louis grins. “Seriously. Harry Styles appreciation day.”

It takes a bit of work, but by the end of the afternoon they’ve put the idea of taking on a trainee PE teacher in Paul Higgins’ head, as well as make his wife Clodagh’s friend decide to forward Liam’s information to her, the accompanying e-mail explaining that while their school didn’t have any possibility to take him on, his letter had been so genuine that she couldn’t help but wonder, didn’t Paul--?

Louis feels accomplished, excited to see how this turns out. He hopes that Liam will consider the offer, plans to check up on him first thing in the morning, just so they’ll be around when Paul ends up calling. He’s feeling good about what they’ve done, finds that the only thing he wants to do right now is celebrate with Harry.

“You wanna go out and get some food together?” He asks him, glad to be able to stretch his legs when they head out of the office. “I don’t really have any plans. We could order something in, or maybe go to that cute little restaurant that you love?” Harry’s much more of a foodie than Louis is, and he’s sure he’s heard him raving about some complicated dish that they make there that Harry swears is to die for. He’s easily pleased, cares more for the company than the actual food, but if it makes him more tempted to say yes, Louis is not above playing dirty.

“Oh,” Harry looks a bit conflicted, frowning so hard Louis would be teasing him about getting wrinkles, if it weren’t for the fact that Harry looks conflicted after he asked him if he wanted to spend some more time together.

“We don’t have to,” he’s quick to assure him. “If you’d rather have a quiet night in, or,” he wants to say or if you’re sick of me already, but even he knows that’s a rather preposterous thought. Harry would most certainly take offense to that. He’s never given any indication that he’s sick of Louis, so it’s not fair that that thought even sneaks into his head.

“No, I do, it’s just, I had plans,” Harry assures him. It’s not very reassuring.

“Plans?” Louis echoes. “With who?” Harry usually only hangs out with him and Niall. In various combinations. And he’s pretty sure Niall isn’t hanging out with him, or he would’ve made some vague threats about it, hinting at Louis about telling him about The Thing before tonight.

“Nick,” Harry says. “You know, from HQ?” Louis has to bite his lip to keep from calling him a pretentious twat. It’s not even that he doesn’t like Nick. He just doesn’t like how Nick acts around him. He seems to enjoy reminding Louis that he knows things about Harry, always inserts little bits of information into their conversations to show that they’re friends, that maybe Nick knows things about him that Louis doesn’t. It’s ridiculous, because Louis would bet his life on it that no one knows Harry the way he does. It shouldn’t bug him then, the way Nick acts, but it does.

“Oh,” is all he says. If you’d rather go and hang out with him, is what he swallows back.

“I ran into him the other day. You know. When I went to ask about soulmates. He gave me some names, people to look up.” Harry explains.

Louis frowns. “You don’t have to explain, Harry. I’m not your mum. If you want to hang out with Nick Grimshaw, that’s your choice.”

Harry makes a face at him. It’s a sad face. It’s a sad face that Louis caused. “I would’ve canceled, but, I haven’t seen him in forever. He’s making fajitas tonight. You could come if you wanted to?” He offers, like he’s not entirely sure that that’s true.

Louis can think of a million things that’d be more fun than hanging out with Nick Grimshaw. Including but not limited to getting all his nails pulled out or pouring salt onto an open wound. “No, no, that’s alright. I wouldn’t want to intrude. Besides, I don’t even like fajitas.”

“You love fajitas.”

“Not his, I don’t,” Louis says petulantly. “Anyway. You enjoy your night, yeah? We can always get dinner some other time. Maybe tomorrow.”

Harry nods, but he doesn’t look happy. “Maybe.”

Louis rolls his eyes, wrapping an arm around Harry. “Don’t look at me like that. Nick is a twat. He thinks I’m a prick. It’s just how we interact. We’re always competing for your attention. You should feel flattered.”

“You’re both weird,” Harry grumbles, but he snakes his arm around Louis’ waist, so Louis knows he’s not upset with him anymore. It makes him feel better. He doesn’t want Harry to feel like he can’t hang out with Nick. He just wants him to want to hang out with Louis more. “I just don’t like feeling like I have to choose between the two of you. You’re both my friends.”

“I know.” Louis sighs, nudging his hip against Harry’s. “I’m sorry. I won’t make you choose.” Harry smiles at that. “But if you did have to-”

Harry huffs, shoving lightly at him. “Good night Louis. See you tomorrow.”

Louis laughs. “Night Hazza.”

He’s barely made it ten steps before Harry calls out to him. “Hey Lou!”

Louis turns around towards him, not bothering to come to a stop, walking backwards instead. “What?”

Harry grins. “It’d be you.”

*

Louis spends another quiet night on his couch, watching TV and eating takeout. He knows he should go to the grocery store and cook something, especially if he plans to take Harry out for a meal tomorrow night (he does) and if he’s spending Tuesday evening at Niall’s (which he plans to, even if he doesn’t look forward to the conversation they’re bound to have about not telling Harry The Thing, which Louis knows Niall will give him a hard time for). He could do with some proper, healthy food, but even though he always promises himself he’ll do better next week it’s just so easy to pop in a quick pizza or order delivery (always a lot but somehow never something with greens) after work.

And besides, he deserves it. He’s worked hard today. They both have. He’ll just get a juice on his way to work tomorrow, and maybe grab some lettuce along with his lunch. It’s not like eating badly will cause any physical problems. His body is sort of frozen in the same state it was when he died - though not literally, as that could potentially become quite gross, considering he doubts many of the Cupids have died of natural causes. He doesn’t age, doesn’t gain weight, doesn’t even get sick. So eating healthy isn’t an absolute necessity, but one can only be friends with Harry for so many years and not feel the need to improve one’s eating habits.

Not that Harry is just a health freak. That would be doing him a disservice, writing him off as this solely kale eating, yoga doing, your body is your temple kind of boy. Harry eats burgers just like anyone else, he just likes healthy food too. And Louis has to give him one thing, eating healthier does make him feel more energetic in the mornings, even if he’s not quite up to Harry’s standard.

Harry, he texts him, one eye on the TV and the other on his phone, remind me to go food shopping tomorrow.

He doubts he’ll get a reply anytime soon, considering Harry is hanging out with Grimshaw who hoards his attention as jealously as, well, Louis does. So he puts his phone down, tries to focus on whatever’s on TV. It lasts all of five minutes, before he picks it back up, looks at it accusingly when the screen doesn’t show any messages from Harry. He plays a game on his phone for a few more minutes, contemplates texting Niall to ask what he’s up to and if he wants to come over. But tomorrow’s a work day and he’s got to be on his A game (whatever that is supposed to mean) if he’s going to make sure Liam accepts Paul Higgins’ offer of working in Bradford. He knows Harry would be paying attention, but still. Louis doesn’t want him doing all the work. He’d like to work together with Harry in the future, if the possibility comes up.

The show he’s watching isn’t particularly interesting, but neither is anything else on TV, which is hardly the TV’s fault. Louis just is terrible at paying attention, ends up flicking through the channels which only ensures that nothing catches his interest enough to become engrossed in it. Similarly, he plays a few games on his phone, checks a few apps, closes one only to open it back up a minute or so after. What he really wants to do is text Harry again, because Harry had said he’d choose him over Grimshaw, and Louis wants his attention. But that’s not entirely fair.

He goes to bed instead. At nine, as though he’s an elderly woman. He supposes he is elderly though, or would’ve been, if he hadn’t died. So it’s totally not pathetic that he’s in bed by nine fifteen, teeth brushed and clothes thrown haphazardly over a chair. What is pathetic is that he keeps checking his phone whenever the screen goes black.

Did the fajitas kill you? He types, but then erases the text. He rolls his eyes at himself, throws his phone onto the bedside table and punches his pillow in an attempt to make it more comfortable. He needs new pillows too. But he’s not going to text Harry to ask him to remind him. That would be ridiculous.

Through some sort of miracle, Louis actually ends up falling asleep at nine thirty. Which, sadly, means that he wakes up at ass o’clock on Monday morning, wishing desperately that he could go back to sleep. No such luck, apparently. He mentally curses himself, rolls over to grab his phone to check the time.

It’s six in the morning. Fucking hell.

But there’s a message from Harry. Louis snorts when he reads it. Thought you were supposed to be my mum and not the other way around?

He bites on his bottom lip to keep from smiling as he replies. Said I wasn’t, didn’t I? Keep up Harold.

You say a lot. I don’t always listen, Harry texts back. The cheeky bastard. Why are you up???

Louis makes an indignant noise at that. Rude. Why are you up?

I always get up at six. Morning run, remember. I’ve never seen you get up before seven thirty.

Morning run. Louis doesn’t even want to think about voluntarily getting up this early, let alone to go for a run. Something is severely wrong with Harry. He clearly enjoys punishment. You’ve never seen me get up, period. Or are you spying on me? Is that where you go on your morning runs? Past my house, to peek through my windows?

Can’t :(, Harry replies. You always close your curtains.

Louis is not smiling. It’s too early to smile. It’s too early for anything, except apparently sending ridiculous text messages to Harry. I’m so very sorry that I have been so inconsiderate. I will make sure to leave my curtains open tonight. He finally sits up, the room still a little bit dark. The sun will rise soon though, by the looks of it.

:) is all Harry sends back. It’s a conversation stopper, which is frankly appallingly impolite, because Louis was quite enjoying this. Plus, he needs something to entertain him now that he’s awake and doesn’t start work until nine.

Breakfast??? He sends Harry.

Are you asking me to bring you some or do you want to go out for breakfast? The text is followed up by another one before Louis can reply. Come out for a run with me?

The second one. And no.

:(

Louis rolls his eyes at the sad face Harry sends him. Still no, he texts, thinking back on his plan to make a powerpoint presentation of Harry’s pouty face. Maybe he should text him to send him a picture. But I’ll meet you at a breakfast place of your choosing at 7:30?

I have a better idea. Harry’s next text reads. The supermarket opens at 7.

Are you saying I have to make my own breakfast like a peasant? That idea is not better. Harry is an idiot. Just because Louis is up early doesn’t mean he wants to cook his own breakfast. Especially when it won’t turn out nearly as good as Harry’s does, or any place that isn’t his kitchen.

I wouldn’t do that to you. Or to myself. I’m not looking to get poisoned first thing in the morning.

RUDE!!! Louis texts back. He’s smiling. Shit. Fine. 7:00 at the supermarket it is. Go enjoy your run, Styles.

He waits a few minutes but no reply comes. Harry’s probably already outside, feet hitting the pavement, getting all sweaty and sore. Rather him than Louis. Louis is perfectly happy just staying here in his comfortable bed for another half hour or so. It’s warm and soft and he’s just as content watching the sun rise from behind his curtains.

He does end up getting up not too much later, though it’s only because if he’s going to brave the supermarket at seven in the morning he’s going to want a shower to properly wake up. Maybe even a coffee, if he’s got cream left.

He’s in luck, pouring the last of his cream into his coffee not too much later. He stirs in some sugar, sips at it contentedly as he writes out a grocery list. Harry’s got him adulting. Usually Louis would just pop into the store and grab whatever looks good, oftentimes coming home and realizing he’d forgotten a few things, sometimes the exact thing that had motivated him to go to the store in the first place. If Harry’s going to be coming to the supermarket with him, if he’s going to make him breakfast afterwards, he’s definitely going to need a list.

Louis rummages through his cabinets, takes stock of whatever he’s got left. His fridge looks pathetic, it’s got a couple of condiments, a rather fuzzy looking tomato, two slices of cheese and a half carton of strawberry flavoured yogurt. Not exactly the stuff of dreams. Harry’s a good cook but Louis doubts even he could make a great breakfast out of this. So he writes down what he thinks are the basic necessities. Bread, eggs, cream for his coffee. Butter. He mights as well get some healthy foods too. Harry will badger him into buying it anyway, he might as well save himself the headache and write it down. So he adds tomatoes - throwing out the fuzzy one that he couldn’t even remember buying - cucumber, apples and spinach to the list. Checks it over, then adds bananas, because he knows Harry loves them and he loves Harry.

With his list in his back pocket he ends up making it to the supermarket a few minutes before it’s due to open. He’s honestly shocked, even moreso when he finds that Harry isn’t yet waiting for him. It’s nice, not being the one rushing for once. At least, that’s what he starts out thinking. By the time it’s ten past seven and he’s still waiting for Harry it’s a lot less nice. Louis doesn’t like to wait. It makes him feel all antsy, like there’s a million things he could be doing instead of standing here, wasting his time. Not that he can name any of them, but still. He considers checking his phone, to see if he really had said 7 instead of 7:30, even when he knows he did. Then he considers checking his phone just so he’ll have something to do, so people won’t look at him funny for loitering.

Before he can make up his mind one way or another Harry suddenly pops up around the corner, jogging towards Louis. He’s still sweaty and in his running gear, red faced from exertion. “Sorry,” he gasps out, coming to a halt right in front of Louis. “I went a bit farther than I thought I did. Was gonna go home for a shower but then I saw the time.”

Louis watches a droplet of sweat appear at his temple, slide down his skin until it reaches his throat and disappears under his shirt. “That’s alright,” he says slowly, glancing back up at Harry’s eyes. They’re lovely and bright. He looks like he’s on his runner’s high. “I didn’t mind waiting.” He gestures towards the store, giving Harry the chance to go in first. The way his shirt is clinging to his back is almost obscene. “You can shower at my place before you cook me breakfast,” he offers generously.

“Is this because you’re hoping to see me naked?” Harry jokes. Louis makes an affronted face.

“First off, Harold, you were the one that was trying to peek through my windows. Don’t turn this around on me. And no, I’m not interested in your naked body, aesthetically pleasing as you might be. I just don’t want you stinking up the whole place while I’m trying to enjoy my breakfast.” He huffs, picking up a basket and handing it to Harry. “Are you always this rude in the morning?”

Harry has the audacity to giggle. “No,” he says, obediently taking the basket and shuffling inside, towards the fruit and vegetable department. “You’re just easy to tease.”

Louis regrets everything about this morning. This is the very last time he’s ever going to sleep that early. Stupid Grimshaw. None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for him. Harry would’ve texted back, Louis would’ve bought groceries after work, and he’d be happily asleep for at least another half hour right now. At least he gets a good breakfast out of it.

By the time they’ve made it back to Louis’ apartment, with more groceries than Louis had planned on - Harry probably guessed at the dismal state of his cabinets - he’s getting quite hungry. Hungry enough that he almost contemplates sneaking a few handfuls of cereal from his (quite well stocked, thank you very much) cereal cabinet. But Harry would probably take offense to that. So he opts for coffee instead, makes it just how he likes it, sat on the counter with his heels knocking into the lower cabinets. Harry’s disappeared into the shower the moment he’d dropped the groceries onto the dinner table, clearly expecting them to be neatly put away by the time he’s done cleaning up. Louis thinks he gives him a bit too much credit.

“Lou?” he hears, voice a bit sheepish. Louis glances up from his coffee to see Harry in the doorway, holding a towel together at his waist, his hair pulled up in another one. He looks a little awkward, pigeon toed and wet. “I uh.”

Louis bites his lip to keep from laughing at the look on Harry’s face. “You kind of forgot that you didn’t have any spare clothes with you?” He hadn’t planned on showering here, after all. And Louis can’t even think of how nasty it must feel to put on those dirty, sweaty running clothes again.

Harry nods, grip tightening on the towel as though he’s afraid it’ll come loose and drop on the floor. Louis isn’t too sure why he’s even worried about that. It’s not like his naked body is any different from Louis’ naked body. And while Harry is an aesthetically pleasing somewhat human being, that’s all it is. Besides, Louis doubts his cock is aesthetically pleasing. Cocks are just weird, no matter how pretty their owner.

“Suppose I can’t let you go to work naked, can I,” he muses, hopping off the counter, passing Harry without giving into the urge to tug at his towel. “Let me have a look.” He heads into his bedroom, rummages through his closet. Harry’s a bit taller than he is, as much as he’s loathe to admit that, so he puts out the loosest shirt and jeans that he has, tosses them onto the bed. “Here. They should fit, I think.”

Rather than Harry looking relieved he’s still sort of red faced and sheepish. Louis blinks at him, figures that counts as a question. Judging by Harry’s slight noise, it does. “Uh,” he says again, slowly. “Boxers?”

Right. Underwear. Louis points to his drawer, looks at Harry. “Grab whatever you want from there, mate.” He doesn’t need to be picking out underwear for Harry. It’s weird enough knowing he’s wearing his clothes without knowing exactly what it is he’s got on.

Harry nods thankfully, shuffles closer to the drawer. “Hope it fits.” He mutters to himself, and Louis wouldn’t be Louis if he didn’t take (mock)offense to that.

“Are you calling me fat?” It’s mostly to dispel the tension.

It works. Harry laughs. “No,” he assures him, sweet in his sincerity. “I just don’t have an ass like you do.” It’s true. While he’s taller, he’s not as curvy as Louis is. “Wasn’t enough left once I stopped growing, everything went into getting tall.” He jokes. It’s a bad joke. Louis still chuckles.

He shakes his head, points to another drawer. “Socks are in there if you need them. I’ll pour you a coffee, yeah?”

“Thanks,” Harry says, turning his back towards Louis, reaching for the shirt on the bed. Louis takes that as his cue to leave. He heads back into the kitchen, fixing Harry his coffee the way he likes, before grabbing plates and utensils, leaving everything else up to Harry. Even putting away the groceries. His logic being that he isn’t sure what Harry will make him, so there’s really no point in putting everything in his cabinets if he’s going to have to take it back out.

Plus, his coffee’s nearly gone cold, and that’s just sad.

Harry comes into the kitchen not much later, looking a little self conscious, and it’s not hard to see why. “Jesus,” Louis huffs, unable to hold it back. “Styles.”

“Is it that bad?” Harry seems strangely insecure, almost as though he’s about to cry. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, hovers them in front of himself as though he’s trying to cover up.

“No,” Louis hastily assures him, jumping off the counter and heading towards him. “No. Just. I’m glad I’m not your mum, is all. I don’t think I’d be comfortable letting you go out like that.” He had never been aware of their size difference, not like this. Not like when he’s seeing it with his own two eyes. The way the clothes cling to Harry’s skin, tight like a second skin. Despite Louis’ bigger ass, the jeans are still tighter on Harry than they’ve ever been on him.

“Maybe we can go by my place before work?” Harry mumbles, head ducked down, and, no.

Louis shakes his head. “You look good, Haz. Like, really good. It’s tight on you but it works.” It does, which is ridiculous. Jeans aren’t supposed to be that tight. It can’t be comfortable. But Harry’s discomfort doesn’t seem to come from the fact that the clothes aren’t meant for his frame. He just doesn’t seem to understand how good he looks. Probably feels like a fool. “Harry,” it’s soft. “You look really good. I know I tease you a lot, but I wouldn’t let you make a fool of yourself, yeah?” He rests a hand on his arm, looks up at him. “I don’t think we have to go by your place, but if it makes you feel more comfortable then we will, ok?”

Harry meets his eyes. Louis can tell he isn’t quite convinced. “I feel all, um, exposed,” he admits, and well, Louis can see why. He doesn’t need to look hard to see exactly why.

He nods. “We’ll go by your place then. After breakfast, is that ok?” He checks in with him. “We can go now, if you’d rather?”

“Do you really think it looks good?”

Louis huffs. “Yeah. Like. If you were down there, in the human world, you’d probably get hit on within five minutes of stepping outside.” Harry’s always been beautiful, but there’s something about the tight clothes that has a certain appeal. Maybe it’s the contradiction of the clothes with his sweet mop of hair that makes him look so innocent. “Maybe even here.” He smiles at him. “But Haz, none of that matters if you don’t feel comfortable in it. If it’s not for you, then that’s fine, yeah? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Likewise, if you love it, then who cares what other people think? You do you, yeah?” He shrugs a shoulder at him. “I’ll love you anyway.”

Finally, Harry’s dimple makes a reappearance. “Thanks Lou.” He stops fidgeting, stands a little taller. It’s striking, how much of a difference that makes. Where the clothes seemed to wear him before, now it’s very much Harry wearing them. Louis almost wants to reconsider everything he’d just said. He’s not sure Heaven is ready for an angel to look so sinfully good. Even when they don’t appreciate it the way humans would, they’re not blind. Harry might just stop traffic.

“Sure,” Louis says, handing him his coffee. “You can cook me breakfast now.” He tilts his head, looks at him. “If you can move in those clothes.” He’s glad he hasn’t put anything away, isn’t sure his jeans would survive Harry crouching down in front of a cabinet.

Harry tucks a curl behind his ear. “They’re actually pretty comfortable?” He shrugs a shoulder, shirt riding up a little. Blushes a bit, tugging it back down. “Maybe I’ll just spend most of the day at my desk.”

Louis chuckles. “Since you’re cooking me breakfast, I might just be persuaded to get you your lunch, if you play your cards right.” He can be selfless. It might not be something people associate with him, but for the people he loves there’s not much Louis won’t do. Even if he tries to keep them from finding out just how big his heart is. He doesn’t like being vulnerable, nor being taken advantage of. But he knows Harry never would.

*

After a delicious breakfast, Harry opts not to head back to his apartment to change his clothes. Instead they fly to work together, enjoying the crispness of the morning. Louis makes sure to distract Harry until they’re at his desk, not wanting him to get self conscious again from anyone who might be giving them odd looks. Some people look, because of course they do, this isn’t Harry’s usual dress sense and he looks good, but no one bothers them, which suits Louis just fine.

Once at Harry’s desk, Louis finally starts to feel the nerves. Harry’s outfit drama had distracted him, but now that he’s back at work he can’t help but wonder how Liam’s going to react to the offer to become a trainee PE teacher in Bradford. Harry seems similarly nervous, hesitating before pressing his finger to the window, looking at Louis. “Ready?”

Louis takes a deep breath, nods. “Have to find out one way or another how he feels, don’t we?” He mumbles. He tries to tell himself that no matter what happens, it’s not going to be the end. It might complicate things a bit if Liam doesn’t even want to consider moving to Bradford, but there’s options. Eventually, they’ll make it work. They’re soulmates, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Or so he keeps telling himself.

Liam appears in the window, looking a bit sleepy still, sat at the breakfast table with his mum. Louis leans in, their conversation quiet but he doesn’t hear anything that gives him any indication that he already knows. “Looks like we made it in time,” he says, relief colouring his tone. He’s not sure if Paul has even read the e-mail yet, but he doesn’t want to check on Paul and miss the moment he contacts Liam. This is too important.

Breakfast, much like Louis and Harry’s own, is a quiet affair. Liam’s mum chats a bit about nothing in particular, Liam’s dad is reading the newspaper. Liam feeds bits of his bacon to the giant dog they’ve seen before. It’s almost idyllic, and Louis feels Harry jump when Liam’s phone starts ringing out of nowhere.

Liam seems startled too, stares at his phone for a moment before answering. Louis doesn’t realize he’s reached out towards Harry until he can feel his fingers wrap around his own. They have nothing to go on except Liam’s sporadic answers and his expression, and Louis sympathises with Liam’s mother, who has stopped eating, is following the conversation none too subtly.

Finally, after a few minutes, Liam puts his phone back down, blinks at his mother. “Huh,” he says softly. “That was..” He pauses, looks at his phone. “D’you remember when I sent out that letter a couple weeks back, to Colton Hills?”

“Was that them?” His mum asks, excited. “Did they finally get back to you? What’d they say?”

Liam’s father puts the paper down, looking expectant as well. Liam shakes his head. “No, I didn’t think I’d hear from them again, it was a bit of a gamble too, I knew they weren’t hiring. But someone read my letter and they got in touch with a friend of theirs, I guess? The guy who just called, Paul Higgins, he teaches PE and he heard about me from his wife, they sent her the letter I think? And, um, he wants me to come in for an interview?”

“That’s wonderful, Liam!” His mother sounds delighted. His father does too, reaching over the table to squeeze Liam’s shoulder in unspoken support. “When are you going? What school is it? Is it Highfields? Moreton?” She shakes her head. “Whichever it is, I’m sure it’ll be wonderful. You’ll do great, love.” Her eyes look a little bit shiny, as though she’s about to cry at the thought of her baby finally growing up. Louis can’t help but smile a little bit, even when he knows Liam’s next words are likely to tip her over the edge into actual crying.

“That’s just it, mum.” Liam absently pets the dog, scratching him behind his ears. “It’s not in Wolverhampton.”

“Oh,” she interrupts him, “that’s alright. We’ve actually been talking about how your birthday is coming up. Me and your dad thought we could get you a car, make it easier for you to accept a job that’s not in Wolverhampton. Where is it? Bilston? It’s not Birmingham, is it?” She looks at her husband, who reaches out, rests a hand on hers. Louis feels Harry’s hand squeezing his.

Liam shakes his head. “Not Birmingham.” His mum looks relieved, and Liam seems to hesitate for a second. “It’s in Bradford.”

Chapter Text

Harry is still holding onto Louis’ hand, and Louis is so grateful for it. He usually does alright with the tension, takes it as a challenge if anything, but soulmates are different. They had filed a formal request with HQ, and Louis did not like the thought of letting them down. Not even when it means a possibility of going down. He doesn’t feel ashamed of that any longer, even if it’s still treated as failure, but he’s not going to throw the case on purpose. Not when he has Harry to consider. Harry, who doesn’t know, and is afraid of fucking up this huge chance they have.

“Bradford?” Liam’s mum echoes, something in her voice making her husband look at her, a soft murmured ‘Karen’ not enough to soothe her. “That’s-”

“It’s pretty far,” his father cuts in, and Liam nods. “About two and a half hours, I reckon. You wouldn’t be making that drive every day, I expect.”

Liam doesn’t say anything for a moment, then slowly shakes his head. “I’d have to get a room somewhere. See if there’s anyone I can board with.”

“You can’t seriously be considering this,” Karen sounds shocked, and what’s worse, she sounds close to crying. Louis wishes he could tell her to shut up. Or maybe not shut up. Maybe he just wants to go down there, whisper in her ear that it’ll all turn out ok. That Liam will have someone looking out for him there. That he’ll meet the love of his life.

“Karen, sweetheart, he’s eighteen. Nineteen soon.” His dad cuts in, his voice patient.

“I know he’s eighteen Geoff,” his mother responds, a bit of irritation present in her voice. “But he’s also my baby-” Liam flushes at that, parts his lips to say something but his mom continues “and, Bradford. It’s so far away. What if he needs someone to talk to? What if his boss isn’t nice? What if he runs out of money and-”

“Mum.” Liam reaches for her, resting a hand on her arm. “There’s phones, right? If I need you or dad, I can call. And I can come home every weekend.” He’s talking as though he’s already made up his mind, and the moment he realizes that, he makes this odd facial expression, eyebrows raised and teeth biting into his bottom lip. He falls quiet for a moment, obviously in the middle of some internal struggle. “I don’t have to go,” he says eventually, reluctantly. “If you don’t, I can keep looking here.”

Where his mother’s face first shows relief, it is soon washed away by hurt, a little bit of anger that Louis is pretty sure is directed at herself. “No,” she says softly, resting her own hand atop her son’s hand. “No, Liam. I know how hard you’ve been looking. I know how worried you’ve been that no one would want to hire you. And then this happens? I might not like how far away you’re going, but -- this is sort of like divine intervention, almost.” If only she knew. “You go to that interview, alright? And if you find that this isn’t what you want, then you come home and we find some other place that’ll take you. But if you go there and you think you want to do this, then I’ll support you.” She reaches for his face, cups his cheek with a loving smile and bright, teary eyes. “Geoff’s right. You’re not a child anymore. I can’t protect you, as much as I want to.”

Liam shifts in his seat, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on her shoulder. “You always protect me, mum. No matter where I go. You’re like that little voice in my head warning me about danger,” he sounds fond, then teasing. “Or telling me not to mix my colours with my whites.”

HIs mum smacks him with the newspaper that’s on the table, causing the giant dog to bark. “Cheeky boy,” she chides him, but she sounds fond. “It’ll be lonely here, without you.”

Geoff’s rescued the newspaper, hid behind it again. Liam laughs, gesturing towards him. “You’ve still got dad.”

“I might as well replace him with a newspaper, that’s all I see in the morning,” his mother sighs, but it sounds fond. It’s clear she loves her boys. From the way Geoff lowers his newspaper to stick out his tongue at her, the way Liam is still hugging her, they love her very much too.

The giant dog steals a piece of bacon off Liam’s plate before Liam sits back down at his seat, brushing his sleeve over his phone to clear the screen. “Mr. Higgins said he’d give me some time to consider it, talk it over. I’m supposed to call him back when I’ve made a decision.” He hits the home button, watches the screen light up, but doesn’t do anything else for a moment, just letting the words hang in the air between them.

“Call him,” Karen encourages him, even if her smile is a bit watery. “Call him and say you’d be happy to come in for an interview. Be sure to thank him for giving you the opportunity. And find out who referred you to him. If this works out and you get the job you should send them something to thank them.”

Liam smiles, doesn’t seem to mind her instructing him all that much. Louis wonders if it’s the kind of thing he would’ve thought of on his own. He knows he most likely wouldn’t have. There’s a brief thought about what his own mum would’ve been like, if she’d have been this mix of protective, exasperated and loving, but there’s really no time to get into that now. “You sure mum?” Liam checks, looking up at her.

Her face does this weird thing again. “No,” she admits with a sigh. “But I want you to call him anyway.” She gestures towards the phone. “Go. Call him. Before I change my mind.”

Liam gets up from the table, pocketing his phone and coming round to hug his mum again, wrapping his arms around her shoulder and pressing a kiss to her cheek. “You’re gonna come with, right? To the interview? Well, not to the interview, maybe, but to Bradford? We can make a day out of it. See what the city’s like.”

Karen rests a hand on the arm around her chest, leans into him a little bit. “You sure?” She asks. “I might not like it.”

“You’d still let me go,” Liam tells her.

His mum nods.

As they watch Liam leave the room, the window showing him heading up the stairs, Louis feels like he can finally breathe again. He turns to Harry, winces when he realizes he’s held onto his hand so tightly that Harry’s knuckles have turned white. “That went well,” he says softly, only noticing that Harry’s held onto his hand just as tightly when his fingers start tingling the moment he withdraws his hand. “I wasn’t too sure there, for a minute.”

“I guess it’s never easy for mums to see their children grow up,” Harry muses. “To understand that they’re adults and have to spread their wings, leave the nest.”

Louis chews his bottom lip. “Does it make you think of your mum too? D’you reckon she’d have been the same?” He can’t imagine how devastating it must’ve been for his mother, hearing that he’d died. If he imagines Karen Payne hearing that kind of news .. He shakes his head, trying to dispel the thoughts.

“She seems nice,” is all Harry says. It’s very noncommittal. But one look at him and Louis knows that he’s thinking along the same lines that he is.

He reaches out for him, tugs at a curl. “We’re a sorry pair, aren’t we? We should be celebrating. All it takes now is the interview and then we’ve at least got them in the same city.”

“Along with about a half a million other people.” Of course Harry has done his research. Louis fondly rolls his eyes at him.

“Along with half a million other people.” He acknowledges. “Still. It’s an improvement. It’s a lot easier to get them to bump into each other if they’re not two and a half hours apart.”

Harry nods, nudges him, inclining his head towards the screen, where Liam has made it to his bedroom, is sat on his bed, that’s covered in little snitches. Louis can’t help but smile. It’s something endearing, the way tough, strong Liam Payne has a fondness for Harry Potter. He’s starting to like the guy. The way he’d been with his mum too, it’s clear he’s got a good heart.

“He looks scared,” Harry notes. Louis nods.

“Probably worried he’s not gonna do well in the interview. Afraid to get his hopes up.” Not that that’s gonna happen, but Liam doesn’t know that. Doesn’t know that his mum was right and this is divine intervention. That there’s two Cupids spying on him, rooting for him. It’s not necessarily about wanting what Liam so desperately wants, because what you want isn’t always what you need, but for now, what Liam wants and what Harry and Louis want to happen lines up perfectly.

“What if he doesn’t like the city?” Harry asks. It’s something that Louis has worried about too. He supposes they could just withhold any other invitations that come Liam’s way, give him no choice but to accept the job in Bradford if he doesn’t want to delay his traineeship, but it’s never a good way to start off a relationship, having someone so deeply unhappy. Though, they don’t know how long that feeling would last. It’s a last resort, at least.

“We’ll just have to make him like it. Dig a bit deeper into what he likes, pull a few strings here and there.” He sounds more confident than he is, but Harry seems comforted by it and that’s all that matters.

Together they watch as Liam picks up the phone, once, twice, three times before he actually psyches himself up enough to make the call. He’s a bit pale, fidgeting with his bedspread, and Louis starts feeling antsy again too, wishes he could reach out for Harry’s hand again. He just watches instead, listens to the slight tremor in Liam’s voice as he says his hello.

Paul Higgins must be a miracle worker, because within a minute of their conversation, the colour’s returned to Liam’s face, and he actually manages a smile, his voice much steadier when he answers, sets up a date for an interview.

It’s three days from now. Louis doesn’t register it at first, until the conversation’s done. Liam’s hands are shaking, but he’s smiling, bounding down the stairs to tell his mother about going into Bradford for an interview this Thursday.

Shit. “Did he say-”

Harry makes a face, looks at him. “Fuck.”

Fuck indeed. “Looks like we’re working this weekend.”

*

Although there’s never a wrong time to spend with Harry, working on the weekend is not exactly what Louis had in mind. He’d toyed with the idea of making Liam and Karen run into Zayn on the day of his job interview, but he doesn’t think they’ll have the time to make it happen. Monday’s already half over and they’ve just got Tuesday to figure out how they’re going to make Bradford appealing to Liam. They can’t spend their valuable time rearranging Zayn’s schedule to facilitate him meeting Liam. Besides, Liam probably won’t focus on handsome strangers when he’s full of nerves for his interview.

“Fuck,” Harry says again. Louis concurs. He rubs at the bridge of his nose, takes a few deep breaths because Harry once told him that would help. It doesn’t, but it also doesn’t make it worse, so maybe that’s the best he can hope for right now. He needs to come up with a game plan, fast.

“Right.” He licks his lips, feels jittery and heavy at the same time, his creativity stifled. “I could do with another coffee,” he looks at Harry. “From that place two blocks down from here? You coming with?”

Harry looks as though he’s about to argue at first, pinched lips and knitted eyebrows, actually looks from him to the screen then back and starts “What about-?”

Louis sighs. “I know. But we can look back, yeah? And we’ll only be gone about an hour, tops. Half an hour if we take it to go. I just, I need a moment. Get some fresh air. I know myself, nothing good is gonna come to me if I just sit here at my desk trying to force it to happen.” He shrugs sheepishly. “But if you want to, if that works for you then I’d be more than happy to get you something. I promise I’m not ditching work, or trying to make you do it, I just-”

Harry shakes his head. “I wasn’t thinking that, Lou.” His voice is so earnest, Louis can’t help but smile a little. “It’s weird, though. I feel like we’re running out of time and we’ve barely started. Like we don’t know enough. We’re not ready.” He looks like there’s this giant weight on his shoulders. The clothes go back to wearing Harry. “Can’t we postpone the interview? Just by a couple of days?”

He knows they could, is the thing. Technically. But Liam had already seemed nervous, and Karen hadn’t been too happy about the thought of letting her youngest go off to Bradford, and more importantly, Louis would feel like it’s too close to giving up. And he does not give up.

“Listen to me Harry,” he starts, pulling Harry up out of his chair. “We can do this. Ok? You and me. We’re a good team. A great team. Liam and Zayn are fucking lucky to have us, even if they’ll never know. We’re going to make this happen. I don’t know how, but we will.”

Harry seems amused more than anything by his rousing speech, and Louis is about to tell him off for ruining his moment when his energy flares a bright pink and he buries himself in Louis’ arms. “Thanks Lou. I don’t know how you do it but you always make me feel better.”

The urge to drop a kiss onto Harry’s mop of curls is almost too much to resist. Louis rests his chin on it instead. “I just know you, Curly. You and your penchant for sappy movies. Can’t go wrong with a big speech, can I?”

Harry nods like that makes sense. “Big speeches and dramatic declarations of love are kind of the staple of those movies,” he agrees. Louis thinks Harry is entirely the type of boy to deserve both. “Alright. Let’s get coffee.”

Louis smiles. “I’m buying.”

As far as declarations of love go, this is neither obvious nor dramatic, but Harry still goes a little pink.

*

The fresh air clears his head, the coffee gives him a boost, and by the time they’re back at Harry’s desk, Louis feels marginally more ready to tackle this problem. Or at the very least face it head on. He grabs his papers, checks with Harry who seems happy to let Louis take the lead. Louis likes that about him. He never has to worry about taking charge with him, because even when he does Harry never feels like it’s because Louis thinks he’s better than him. It’s like he knows Louis does better when he’s the one in charge of the whole creative process, and he’s happy to defer that to him, while still giving him enough input of his own, speaking up when he disagrees. They really do work well together.

“Right,” Louis starts, glancing over his papers. “What do we know about Liam so far, and more importantly, what do we need to know if we’re going to sell Bradford to him?” He’s treating it as a sort of TV commercial, or a folder. What needs to be in it if they’re going to make Liam want to go there?

Harry looks down at his own papers. “He loves his family, but they’re obviously not going to be there. Likes Harry Potter, working out. I’m sure there’s plenty of gyms in Bradford.” He circles that, puts a question mark near it, clearly considering it something to look up later. Louis hides a smile by looking at his own notes.

“He likes that big dog of his. I’m thinking he’s probably not going to be able to take it with him, so maybe he’d like an animal shelter nearby. Depending on if he’s going to board with someone, he’s probably not going to be able to have a dog at home, but he might like to volunteer, if he’s got some time?” Likewise, he’d probably enjoy a park. But with a city, nevermind district, as big as Bradford, he’s pretty sure there’s an abundance of them.

“It’d be nice if we could get Zayn to volunteer. I haven’t seen him with any pets, but, he’s very caring with his sisters.” Harry ponders. “He’d probably need something to do during the summer too, I’ve seen the way his mum looks at him. He’s only been home for a short while and she’s already encouraging him to go out.” Even though Safaa had said that Zayn was out at all hours, they hadn’t really seen him leave the house during the day. At night was a different story though.

Louis nods, then frowns. “It depends on when Liam moves down here though. Probably not until after his birthday, which only gives us a few days before he starts his job. Zayn’s probably going to be back in school around that time too. I don’t know if either of them would volunteer once the holidays are over.” It’s something to keep in mind though. It’d be a cute way for them to meet, for sure. Louis can see it now. Matchmaking puppies. Winding their leashes around them, the way Sabre had.

“Maybe not then,” Harry agrees.

Louis feels bad for shooting him down. “We’ll definitely have to keep it in mind,” he tells him. “I don’t know how busy either of them will be. We’re going to have to keep our options open until we do.” They don’t even know where Zayn studies. Just know that he still lives at home, so wherever he goes must be close. Likewise, they don’t know where Liam’s school is. Sure, they might end up in the same city, but if they’re on completely opposite sides, it’s still bound to be a challenge. But Louis isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. It doesn’t help that he’s absolutely insufferable when he loses, but if it ensures that people around him are going to help him succeed then that’s not such a bad thing.

“So aside from Harry Potter and the gym, what else does Liam like? He’s gotta do something other than work out, especially if he’s going to be working as a trainee PE teacher. By the time he comes home he’s going to want to do something else, I reckon.” Harry is frowning a bit. “I know his mum was teaching him how to cook, so we have to make sure that wherever he ends up living - should we figure that out first? Where he’s going to live? Do you think Paul Higgins is going to be able to help us?”

They probably need a game plan. Right now they’re both floundering a little bit, unsure of what to do first. Louis sighs. “Maybe we should split up on this one, Haz. Just for the rest of the afternoon. It’ll probably be a better use of our time if we aren’t doing everything together.”

Harry bites his lip, then nods. “So one of us is looking into housing, trying to figure out if we can’t make mama Payne feel better about letting her boy move-” that hadn’t been the first thought on Louis’ mind, but he thinks Harry’s right, it might go a long way in making them both more comfortable about Liam taking the job. “And the other is looking into things that’ll make Liam want to move in the first place?” He’s not really asking as much as he’s confirming it for himself, but Louis still nods. “You got a preference?”

Louis likes to be hands on in most situations, so it’s hard to decide which part he’d like to work on more. He trusts Harry with both, of course, but he still wants to tell him he’s changed his mind, they’ll do it together. “Not really,” he says. “They’re both important. And, honestly, they’re both going to be simultaneously interesting and the most boring thing on the planet.” Watching, learning, writing down information that might turn out to be useless, that was definitely not his favorite part. But finding that one something that might at first glance not mean anything, turn it into something that was going to make a difference, he likes that. “You pick whichever you like.”

“I’ll look into Paul then,” Harry decides. “You’re better at manipulating the world than I am.”

Louis isn’t sure that’s exactly true. “You’re better at the details though.” Harry is definitely more nitpicky than Louis is. His attention to detail can be frustrating as much as it’s a definite bonus in some circumstances.

“Alright. I’ll keep watching Liam then.”

Louis finds that he wants to argue that too, but shuts his mouth, chuckling when Harry looks at him curiously. “Alright,” he says instead. “You do Liam. We’re going to be working together on Thursday anyway.” If Harry didn’t feel confident in his abilities to manipulate the world - which is silly, really, because Louis knows he can do it just fine - Louis would be able to do it for them, with the information Harry has provided. But who knows. Maybe it’s not so much manipulating the world as it is placing the right information here and there. A flyer for a local gym, soon to be opened. A commercial played on a local channel, when Liam and his mum are having lunch.

Heading to his own desk feels sort of odd after having spent the last couple of days at Harry’s. He resists the urge to check in on Matt and Jake, opts for watching Paul instead. It’s weird, how half the time when something happens he has to resist the urge to turn to his side, where Harry used to be. Instead he’s on the other side of the office, staring intently at his own screen. Louis feels almost inexplicably lonely.

He has to admit, after a while, and albeit a bit grudgingly, that he was right in suggesting that they split up for this one afternoon. Because by the time he checks in with Harry at the end of their workday, they both have made significant progress. Louis has found out that one of Paul’s good friends rents out rooms in a house, and as luck would have it, Paul had already discussed the possibility of referring Liam to him with his wife. He’s a good guy, Paul. Louis likes that he didn’t have to put the idea in his head. Despite his earlier misgivings he’s become quite fond of Liam, and he likes the thought that there’s people looking out for him. Louis had done a quick scan of the area, found that it was close to the school Liam would hopefully be working at, and equally close to a gym that was due to open soon, boasting a 24/7 schedule. It was also relatively close to Bradford College, which Louis hopes and sort of assumes Zayn is studying at.

Like Louis, Harry had also made progress. He’d spent the afternoon trailing Liam, finding out that he wasn’t just keen on going to the gym, he also enjoyed going for a run (Louis is happy to find that Horton Park is quite close to both the college and Liam’s potential school), singing (with a city that large, surely a pub that does karaoke nights wasn’t going to be hard to find, especially considering the student population) and going to the movies. He enjoyed both Marvel and DC movies, and had a particular affinity for Toy Story. Not everything might turn out useful, but it’s a good enough start, and Louis can't help but think back on the little Batman logos on Zayn’s bed. They’ve got all of tomorrow to get a headstart on their preparation, and then they’ll see what good their work has been on Thursday.

He can’t resist running his hand through Harry’s curls when he stands behind his chair, having read the information he’d written down by leaning over his shoulder rather than sitting down like a normal person. It’s nice though. Harry’s very comfortable to be draped over, and Louis has been in need of a little affection, spending his entire afternoon exiled at his desk. “Hazza,” he murmurs, getting a content hum in response that Louis thinks signals Harry’s desire to continue petting his hair. So he does. “You’re not ditching me for Grimshaw again tonight, are you?”

“I wasn’t ditching you,” Harry says petulantly. “He asked me to hang out and I said yes.”

“Details.” Louis keeps petting his hair, thinking this might soothe Harry. It’s soothing him, at least. Harry’s almost like a puppy that way. His hair equally soft to the touch. “So, are you?”

Harry sighs. “No, Lou, I’m not ditching you for Nick tonight.”

Louis tugs at his hair.

“Ow!” Harry whines. “What was that for?”

“Just because.” He lies. Harry still lets him put his hands back on his hair. Louis can’t decide if it’s stupid or sweet. Maybe a bit of both. “So you’ll let me take you out to dinner tonight? I’m still willing to pay, because I’m such a good friend, despite the fact that you totally ditched me for Grimshaw last night.” This time Harry doesn’t argue his choice of words, probably too afraid of what Louis will do to his hair. Rightfully so. Well. Louis wouldn’t actually do anything to Harry’s hair. He doesn’t mind if he thinks he will though.

“Aren’t you tired?” Harry glances up at him. “You’ve been up since six this morning. How are you not crashing by now?”

Louis makes a face at him. “Coffee and excellent willpower.” Most likely, pure stubbornness. And the desire to spend some time with Harry. He’s been spending most of his time with Harry, but that’s been work, mainly. He’d like just a night out with the two of them. Besides, Harry’s been doing great work. He’s kept Louis sane, he’s earned some great food for that feat alone. “Do you not want to?” Yesterday it was Grimshaw, now he’s asking if Louis is tired. “If you don’t want to, you can just say so.” Maybe he does think they’re spending too much time together. He’s only gone a day without him once in the past week.

Harry scoffs at that, pulls away to look at him, wincing a little when a curl snags on Louis’ fingers. “You’re silly,” he tells him. Silly is not a word that should be used when one is speaking in such a serious tone, but somehow Harry makes it work. He somehow manages to sound fond even when he’s scolding Louis. “Why would I not want to hang out with you?”

Louis shrugs. “I don’t know.” It sounds defensive, and he swallows. “I just thought. We’ve been working together a lot. Maybe you wanted, I don’t know. It’s stupid, sorry.”

Harry smiles at that, which Louis would take offense to if it wasn’t Harry. “It’s not,” he assures him. “I get it, ok? I didn’t, I don’t want you to get sick of me either. That’s why I asked if you weren’t tired. I don’t want you to feel like, obligated to take me out to dinner because you’re happy with how things are going, and then you’re sitting opposite me in the restaurant thinking you’re sick of my face.”

It’s strange. Harry is voicing pretty much what Louis was worried about, and yet the moment he hears those words he just wants to roll his eyes and tell him not to be dramatic. Mainly because there’s absolutely no point in time where he’ll ever get sick of Harry’s face. “Yeah,” he says softly, “I mean. No. That wasn’t. I don’t feel obligated, ok? When have I ever felt obligated to be nice? I’m not like you, Haz. I don’t - I thought it’d be nice to hang out. As friends. Not have everything about our relationship be defined by work. Because it’s been about work a lot, lately, and I love working with you, I do, but I kind of also really like just hanging out with you? I figured maybe we could do that. Enjoy some food, maybe see a movie?” It’s been ages since he’s been to the cinema. It’ll be nice to be out for a night, just be Harry’s friend.

Harry looks up at him, the beginnings of a smile forming on his face. Louis reaches out to press his fingertip against his cheek, where he knows his dimple will appear. “Besides,” he says casually, “I’d never get sick of staring at your beautiful face.”

He’s delighted to see the slight flush on Harry’s face. Feels tempted to touch his cheek again, feel the warmth underneath his palm. He doesn’t, just winks at him instead. “Especially when you’re dressed like that.”

Harry splutters a bit, like he’s completely forgotten what he’s wearing today. Louis is delighted. Teasing Harry is easily one of his favorite pastimes. “Speaking of,” he continues breezily, “does that mean you’re coming with to mine after dinner? Looks like you might need some help taking off those clothes.”

“Louis,” Harry whines. Louis is about to give in, stop teasing him, when he can see the bright spark in Harry’s eyes. “Stop being mean to me or I might just go and ask Grimshaw to help me take off my clothes.”

“Over my dead body.” Louis grumbles. “I’d have to burn those clothes afterwards, I wouldn’t be able to forget that Grimshaw put his grimy hands all over my jeans. Even if I’m not the one in them.”

Harry chuckles at that. “Don’t worry, I don’t think Grimshaw would want to touch them if you were the one in them.”

Louis is pretty sure that it’s meant as an insult, but he’s honestly quite relieved at the thought. He doesn’t ever want to imagine a world where Nick Grimshaw might actually enjoy taking Louis’ clothes off. For once he is fiercely thankful of Heaven being a place where love and sex don’t exist.

“Can we stop talking about Grimshaw before I lose my appetite?” He tugs at one of Harry’s curls, just because he can, because Harry put that god awful image in his head. He doesn’t mind Grimshaw, if he’s honest. They’re not friends but that’s probably because they’re a bit too alike, a bit too keen on one upping each other and needing to be the center of (Harry’s) attention. Louis even sort of admires him for his quick wit and intelligence, and his sense of humour isn’t too shabby either. But he doesn’t feel the need to spend time with him, and if he’s honest, it’s just too much fun to rile up Harry to let his little petty feud with Nick die completely. “You still haven’t said yes, you know. To my dinner invitation.”

“You haven’t given me a chance to,” Harry points out reasonably. “You were too busy talking about my face.”

Louis shrugs a shoulder. “Can’t blame a man, can you?” He teases. “So?”

Harry laughs. “Yes.” He rolls his eyes at Louis. “Of course. Always.”

*

The restaurant Louis takes Harry to is one he wouldn’t necessarily be tempted to go into if he passed it on the street, but Harry’s dimpled smile is enough to make him feel good about entering. And the moment he’s inside he has to admit he’s charmed. It’s a small place, fifteen tables at most, but it has a warmth and atmosphere that immediately makes Louis feel comfortable. Despite the fact that it’s high end and the waiters are dressed impeccably, Louis doesn’t feel like he’s out of place in his regular clothes. No one looks at him differently, and while the staff certainly treats them with respect they aren’t groveling and distant the way waiters in more expensive restaurants sometimes tend to be. “It’s nice here,” he tells Harry, chuckling at the way he seems to preen, as though Louis has complimented him instead. “‘s gonna make me poor, but, it’s nice here.”

Harry frowns at that, but doesn’t say anything until they’ve been led to a table, have sat down. “We can split the bill, if you’d rather?” He offers. “I know I’ve been saying I wanted to come here again, but, I’d have been just as happy eating somewhere else. I’m just happy to spend time with you.”

Louis chuckles to hide the warmth that he can feel blossoming inside of him at those words. “Aw, sap,” he teases, meeting Harry’s eyes and finding it impossible not to smile at him. “Same here, Styles.” He scans the menu, just to give himself something to do, adamantly does not look at the prices. It is a bit out of his price range, but he’s just bought himself a ton of groceries this morning, he can totally make himself dinner instead of ordering in for a while. Or maybe he can get Harry to make him dinner. “It’s fine,” he assures him, “I’d say I was just trying to outdo Grimshaw with his stupid fajitas, but honestly, Haz, that wouldn’t be that hard.” He jokes. “I got curious after you told me about this quail with a wine gravy or whatever it was you told me about at least a dozen times.” He’s not even exaggerating. Much.

Harry’s eyes sort of glaze over for a moment. “It was really good,” he looks as though he’s remembering it in detail. Louis feels almost as though he’s trespassing onto an intimate moment, looking at him. “Everything’s good here though. The ricotta and beetroot ravioli is to die for.”

“Think I’ve already done that one time too many,” Louis can’t help but tease, glancing at the drinks menu and wondering if it would be terribly bad behaviour to order himself a beer. This is probably a wine place. But he’s never been much of a wine drinker. Beer or liquor, that’s more his thing. “It does sound good though.” Even if he’s more of a meat eater himself. “Any other recommendations, chef?” He grins up at him. “Maybe I should just let you order, you seem to know an awful lot about the food here. Should I be jealous? How many other boys have you taken here?”

“Three,” Harry says slowly, counting on his fingers. “And one, no, two girls.”

Three boys and two girls. So Louis is the sixth person Harry’s taken to this restaurant. He’s not quite sure what to make of that. Other than that apparently this place really does serve great food if it has Harry coming back over and over. He likes to try different places, different dishes. If he’s been here enough it must be an absolute favorite. “And here I thought I was special,” Louis shakes his head, ends up ordering a beer when the waiter arrives - because it’s on the menu, and if Louis wasn’t supposed to be drinking beer with his food then they shouldn’t allow him to order it.

Harry just smiles, orders a glass of wine that Louis has no doubt will go perfectly with whatever dish Harry’s already decided on ordering. He still doesn’t have any clue, he’s honestly not too sure what some of the ingredients are. Marron, for example, flummoxes him. It reminds him of marrow, though, so he’s going to steer clear of that just to be safe. Out of the dishes he does know - or at least recognizes all the ingredients of - there’s not a single one that doesn’t sound absolutely fantastic. “I think maybe you really do need to order for me, Harold,” he tells him. “I can’t decide. Everything sounds good. You’ve been here before, with your array of boys and girls - don’t think I’ll forget that, by the way, I’m still debating on letting you pick up the check just because you’ve cheapened what was supposed to be a memorable evening - so I trust you to know what I like.” Harry always knows what he likes. And he’s so damn thoughtful about it too. Picking a dish. Where Louis would just pick any of the dishes that seem good, Harry really seems to consider every option.

Finally, he settles on a Tuscan style veal with parmesan tuiles, ordering himself some sort of chicken with smoked potatoes and truffle. Louis has no idea what he’ll end up eating, whether or not he’ll like it, but with the amount of time Harry spent deciding on what to order for him - versus what he’d ordered for himself - he’s most certainly going to act like he loves it even if he doesn’t.

They chat about little things while their food is being prepared. Harry’s plans for the weekend, now that it’s been cut short by a day. Tattoos - Zayn has some, and Louis thinks they’re rad. He never used to think he’d want one, and he knows that they can’t, something to do with their skin and technically not being alive or being able to heal. He tells Harry that he might get a tattoo if he ever has to go down, feels the words getting stuck in his throat when he’s reminded of The Thing he’s still yet to tell him.

“Haz?” He knows he’s going to have to tell him sooner rather than later. “About going-” down, he wants to say, but they’re interrupted by the waiter, bringing out their dishes. Looking at his plate, Louis doubts he’ll have to feign appreciation for the dish. It looks absolutely stunning, the meat tender and the vegetables cooked perfectly. Harry’s looks delicious too. Louis makes sure to thank the waiter, complimenting the way the dish looks, as does Harry. He finds himself briefly distracted by the food, the way it smells and looks and then the way it tastes, the meat practically melting into his mouth, while still having that beautiful faint grilled taste. “Oh man,” he can barely wait until his mouth is empty to speak. “This is amazing. Great choice Haz.” He points at Harry’s food with his knife. “How’s yours?”

Harry simply nods enthusiastically, chewing on a piece of chicken. Louis chuckles. “That good huh?”

For a while, that’s all they do. Simply enjoy their food. Once the first few bites have been washed down with a sip of beer - and Louis still stands firmly behind his choice, even though he can see why this dish would also go well paired with a nice wine - they pick their conversation back up. “I never want to go down,” Harry says, frowning at his plate. Louis can barely look at him. “I’d love to get a tattoo, but, it’s not worth it.”

Louis swallows. What if it was, he wants to ask him. What if the thing you wanted more than anything was down there? Would you go then? Would you go even if it meant leaving behind everyone you love? Leaving me? “Harry..”

Harry shakes his head. “You’re right. We weren’t going to talk about work tonight.”

Louis so desperately wants to take the out he’s given. “That’s not-” he starts, but Harry levels him with a look. It’s uncharacteristically serious.

“No. Nope. No more talk about work. Not a word, Lou. Tonight’s about you and me and our friendship and this insanely good food. Capiche?” He probably thinks he’s very clever, using that word in an Italian style restaurant. Louis bites down on his bottom lip to keep from smiling at the way Harry stares at him, clearly not willing to accept any answer other than Louis’ agreement not to discuss work anymore.

“Alright,” he relents. “Capiche. Whatever. No more shop talk.” He’s only known for about a week, there’s no rush in telling him. He knows Niall will disagree, but he can explain to him that he’s tried to. Twice. On both occasions Harry had shot him down. Really, is it Louis’ fault that Harry doesn’t yet know?

He swallows down the resounding yes with some more beer.

By the time they’re headed out of the restaurant - Louis had insisted on paying despite Harry’s initial protests - it’s late, and Louis is starting to feel both the two beers he’d drank and the side effects of waking up so horribly early this morning. “I don’t know how you do it,” he moans, rubbing at his eyes and hiding a yawn. “Getting up so early, every day? Even on the weekends. What kind of demon are you?”

Harry chuckles, ruffles Louis’ hair. It’s rude but also sweet and Louis might sort of lean into it a little. He’s not often willing to let anyone pet him, but right now he’s tired and happily accepts any sort of affection. It’s too late to go to the movies, but he’s wondering if he can’t lure Harry over to his place for a cuddle. Maybe a nice cup of tea? Really, Harry should just move in already. That way he can cook Louis breakfast in the mornings, and he won’t have to steal his clothes and look ridiculously distracting all day.

“Harry,” he frowns, looks up at him. “Why aren’t we living together?” It makes so much sense. They’re best friends. Harry’s at his place most mornings anyway, bringing him coffee. He’d eat a lot better if Harry lived with him. “We should live together, Harry.” It sounds petulant.

Harry laughs again. Rude. “Because you like your place and I like mine.”

“That’s dumb.” Louis’ place is clearly superior. It comes with its very own, very stocked cereal cabinet. Does Harry have a cereal cabinet? No. Harry probably has a vegetable cabinet. Louis makes a face. “I don’t like vegetables.”

The way Harry’s looking at him makes Louis wonder if he skipped a step in his conversation. It made sense in his head. “It made sense in my head,” he says.

“I’m sure it did,” Louis isn’t sure if Harry is patronizing or not. He glares at him just in case. It just makes Harry pat his head. That is definitely patronizing. But also sorta nice, so Louis lets him get away with it. “Alright. Let’s get you home, yeah?”

Home. Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. Louis nods. “Will you tuck me in and read me a story?” He’s saying it mostly because he’s trying to be cheeky. Maybe five and a half percent of him would actually enjoy it if Harry did. He doesn’t expect him to, though. There’s limits to their friendship. Louis isn’t exactly sure where they are, but they have to be somewhere.

Right?

Harry chuckles again. Louis smiles. He likes hearing Harry laugh. He likes making Harry laugh. Even if Harry’s sort of laughing at him and not with him. “Sure, Lou,” he tells him, patting his hair again.

Louis sighs. “I wish you would stop doing that,” he complains, looking up at him. Harry’s not even that much taller than he is, but from where Louis is standing he suddenly feels small, young. He wonders if it’s because he’s feeling insecure. Wonders why Harry would be making him feel insecure. He shakes his head. “I wish you’d never stop doing that.” He’s not sure both statements aren’t true.

Harry nods, like Louis’ requests aren’t contradictory at all. “Sure,” he says again, “but first I gotta get you home, alright? You look like you’re about to fall asleep right here, and we can’t have that.”

Louis isn’t sure why they can’t have that, it sounds like an excellent plan. But he trusts Harry. Grins, quick and somewhat dirty. “‘s cause you need me to help you out of those clothes, isn’t it?” He nods, like he’s onto something. “Gonna take advantage of my lowered inhibition, are you?” He eyes him suspiciously.

“I’d never,” Harry scoffs, looking genuinely perturbed for a moment. Louis isn’t sure why that’s such a horrible thought. He’s a somewhat attractive man, isn’t he? Sure, neither of them are wired that way, but, if things were different? If they were down there, and they could, would Harry..? He supposes he’ll never know. And he’s not sure it’s not better that way.

Suddenly he feels weary, more than drunk. Maybe a tad melancholic. He knows beer does that to him, but he’s not sure it’s the beer this time. “Alright,” he manages, rubbing at his face again, trying to get some of his brain to come back online. “I really need to get some sleep.” He smiles up at Harry, gently prods his side. “Take me home.”

Chapter Text

Louis wakes up with his pillow half covered in drool. Without even opening his eyes and checking his reflection he can tell he’s got a horrible case of bed hair. It usually only happens when he’s drunk, but apparently two beers plus massive exhaustion is enough to get him quite close to inebriated. He wipes at his cheek, groans.

Fumbling for his phone, he finds that it’s 7:23 in the morning, just a few minutes before his alarm goes off. It’s not enough time to go back to sleep, but at least he doesn’t get woken up by a horrible blaring noise, so, small mercies.

Pushing himself up into a sitting position, he yawns, scratches at his stomach as he thumbs through his phone for a few minutes, trying to give his brain some time to wake up enough to even contemplate leaving his warm, comfortable bed.

Checking his messages he finds one from Harry. It makes him smile before he’s even opened it.

Hiii, it reads. Am I bringing you some extra strong coffee this morning? You seemed pretty out of it last night.

Louis cringes a bit. Sadly he’s one of those drunks that gets overly affectionate, and even more sadly, he always remembers everything that’s happened.

Made a bit of a fool of myself last night, did I? He texts back.

The reply is quick and cheeky. Clearly Harry has been up a lot longer than he has. Probably already went for a run and took a shower. No more than usual. As Louis contemplates what he should reply, another text comes through. You asked me to move in with you.

His fingers hover over the keys on his screen for a full minute before he feels coherent enough to reply. Momentary lapse of sanity, he texts back, brought on by exhaustion and beer. Dunno what I was thinking. I could never live with someone who’d make me trade in my cereal cabinet for a vegetable one.

Is that what you were on about last night? Harry texts back.

You disappoint me. I thought you could read my mind. Louis switches off his alarm when it goes off, grudgingly leaves his bed in order to head to the bathroom. He has no qualms in texting Harry while he’s on the loo. You were off to such a good start with the promise of extra strong coffee. He knows he should cut back on the coffee. There used to be a time where he solely drank tea in the mornings. Yorkshire, of course. While that’s still a definite favorite, he’s slowly switched to drinking coffee, needing something stronger to wake him up and get him ready for work.

Sorry, comes Harry’s reply. Don’t know if I’d want to be in your mind. Seems a scary place.

Louis considers taking offense to that. He might not be as sweet and innocent and forgiving as Harry likes to pretend he is - and is, to an extent, though neither of them are completely innocent - but he doesn’t think his mind is a scary place at all. Just very busy, most times. It’s like, the more time he needs to wake up in the mornings, the more his mind likes to make up for it, assaulting him with thoughts for the rest of the day. Don’t need you to read my mind anyway you’re already in my head all the time, he types, then makes a face at himself. It’s a joke, clearly, but somehow it doesn’t translate to text. Just comes across sappy and sort of needy instead. He erases the words, opts for a sad faced smiley instead, and a grumpy looking one.

Harry texts back a string of emojis, consisting of a few vegetables, a heart, two angel faces and a banana.

*

This morning, Louis heads into work on his own. He’d told Harry he’d be running a bit late, to go on ahead without him. It gives him a few extra minutes, especially since he’s opted for flying rather than walking the way Harry likes to do, and he desperately needs those minutes to make himself semi presentable. His hair is absolutely refusing to cooperate, so as a last resort he slams a beanie onto it and intends to avoid all mirrors today.

By the time he gets to the office he’s only five minutes late, ten if you squint. Louis heads to his desk, finding it empty, a movement from the corner of his eye alerting him as to why. Harry’s waving from his own desk, points to a large coffee that Louis could cry over, he’s so glad it’s there. It doesn’t take him more than a split second to change his course and move to Harry’s desk, his hands around the cup before he even says hello.

“Morning Haz,” he sighs happily, doesn’t even flinch when the first sip burns his tongue. It’s worth it. “Thank you. Lifesaver.”

Harry smiles at him. “Thought we might finish setting up Liam’s interview? So we won’t have to spend too much time on it on the weekend.” He’s already got his papers in front of him, the window opened to Liam’s bedroom. Louis watches Liam scroll through a web page, trying to read up on job interviews. He smiles despite his exhaustion.

“Sounds good,” he says, lowering himself in the chair next to Harry’s. “And maybe then we can look into Zayn? See what he’s up to, if we’ve got time left. Might as well see if there’s a simple way to get them to establish first contact. If not, no harm done.” Liam might not even remember Zayn by the time he moves to Bradford at the end of the summer. But it’ll make their second meeting easier even if he doesn’t, because repeated exposure to someone or something can do wonders for how familiar and safe they feel after a short time. It’s simple marketing.

They work side by side for most of the morning, checking their notes and pulling a few strings here and there, nothing too obvious but things that’ll make Liam subconsciously feel comfortable about moving to Bradford. Paul had already done a lot of work for them by contacting his friend about getting Liam a place to live, so it’s just a matter of making his surroundings feel appealing.

That, and making sure Liam doesn’t completely botch the interview. Judging by how nervous he is, it’s a legitimate concern. They can only do so much in giving Paul the idea to hire Liam, but ultimately it’s going to come down to how well he does at selling himself. Even with his clearly fit physique and his more than adequate letter and resume, it’s not a guaranteed sell.

Louis breathes a sigh of relief when Liam’s older sister Nicola comes into his room about an hour into watching him try to prepare for his interview. “Mum called,” she says by way of saying hello. “Said you were stressing out about some interview?”

Liam groans, hiding his head in his hands for a moment, before looking up at his sister, eyes a bit wide and manic. “I’m going to fuck this up, Nic,” he complains. “I don’t even know why they’d invite me over, there’s gotta be loads of people who’d want to work in Bradford who aren’t all the way from Wolverhampton. People who know the area, who’re going to be way better at this than I could ever be.”

His sister gets up from the bed she’d sat down on, coming to stand in front of him, her hand gentle as it cards through Liam’s hair. Mostly to keep him from tugging at it, Louis guesses. “Language,” she admonishes him, though there’s clearly no heat to it. “Honey, you shouldn’t put yourself down like that. There’s plenty of other people who will try and do that for you. It’s your job to sell yourself.”

She gets a sort of soft noise for her efforts, Liam’s shoulders hunched miserably. “How? I don’t know what makes me any better suited for the job than any other candidate. There’s nothing that makes me special.”

It’s obvious from his tone how deeply he believes that. Louis exchanges a look with Harry. He can see sympathy and a bit of sadness in Harry’s eyes. Liam’s a nice enough kid, there’s no reason either of them can see for him to be so hard on himself.

Nicola, on the other hand, doesn’t sound sympathetic at all. She swats at Liam’s shoulder, narrows her eyes at him. “Liam! There’s tons of things that make you special. You were on the reserve list for the Olympics, how many people do you think can say that?”

“I didn’t make the team though,” Liam interjects, and Nicola huffs.

“No, you didn’t, but you still did better than most everyone in the country or you wouldn’t have been listed in the first place. You’ve worked hard, Li, you’ve always pushed yourself. With boxing, with running, with singing. I remember when you used to get up at five every morning to go for a run. You joined that performing arts group. You got eleven GCSE’s.” She reminds him. “Yes, loads of other kids did some of those things, but you did all of them. And now you’re applying for a traineeship at a performing arts school, and you’re asking me why you think they’d even consider you?” She shakes her head. “They’d be daft not to. And you’re daft to think that you don’t deserve exactly what you’re about to get.”

Liam can’t help but smile at those words. Louis glances at Harry again. “Did you know it was a Performing Arts school?” He might’ve missed that, but it doesn’t surprise him. Liam and Zayn are soulmates. Of course the place they want Liam to teach at is the one place he’s exceptionally well suited for.

Harry shakes his head, nods towards the screen. “She’s good.” He sounds fond. “He doesn’t seem so horribly nervous now.”

It’s perhaps a bit of wishful thinking, because Liam still looks like he’d rather chop off his toes and eat them than go in for an interview. Nicola seems to agree, if the look on her face is any indication. “Why don’t we practice, yeah? I’ve done loads of interviews, I can help you prep.” She sits back down on Liam’s bed, motions for him to come over. “Turn off your computer and come sit here with me. We’ll just run through some questions, I’ll give you some tips, and then I’m going to make you come downstairs, because Zoe’s missed her uncle and you’re going to drive yourself mad, staying up here.”

Liam chuckles a bit at that, obediently goes to sit next to her. “Thanks, Nic. I owe you one.”

Nicola grins, her smile a lot like Liam’s. “Oh you do. Trust me, I won’t forget. I’m calling in major babysitting favours. And don’t think moving to Bradford will get you out of those either. The moment you’re back home, I’m gonna dump my daughter on your lap and get myself some rest.”

Liam snorts, but he still nods. “Deal.”

*

Leaving Liam in the capable hands of his older sister, Harry and Louis switch over to look at Zayn instead. He’s holed up in his room alone, as they’ve quickly discovered is a favorite pastime of his. This time he’s sans company, headphones slipped on and a tablet in front of him that he’s using to draw. He seems frustrated, if the frown on his face is any indication. Occasionally he’ll check a piece of paper that Louis quickly realizes is an assignment from his school, only to release a frustrated sigh before going back to his work.

Louis wishes he knew what artist Zayn was listening to, wonders if he’s interested in the same type of music Liam is - if there’s potential of having the two of them meet at some sort of gig - but he’s keeping his headphones on, possibly not wanting to disturb the rest of his family. Or wanting to be disturbed, because only a few minutes into observing him his door opens, his mum peeking in and retreating when she sees that Zayn is wearing headphones. She looks slightly worried.

Louis makes a split second decision, knows he should probably check with Harry, but figuring that by the time he’s managed to convince him, Zayn will only have become more annoyed. Deciding it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, he reaches out towards the window, biting down on his bottom lip to keep from smiling when the tablet in front of Zayn suddenly switches itself off.

“Fuck!” Zayn curses, fingers trembling when he jabs at the screen, at the buttons. It remains unresponsive. “For fuck’s sake!”

“Lou,” Harry frowns at him, sounds worried rather than annoyed at Louis’ decision to mess with Zayn’s tablet. He doesn’t say anything else, the question obvious simply from the way he’d said his name.

Zayn looks as though he’s considering throwing his tablet out of the window. Louis has a moment where he isn’t too sure he hasn’t made a mistake, but shoves that down firmly.

“Lou.” It’s more insistent this time.

“I know,” he nods, bites down on his lip. “I should’ve asked you.” He watches Zayn, his body tense with anger, but then he deflates, his shoulders dropping as he rubs at his face. “He was so frustrated.”

Harry shakes his head. “You don’t have to ask me permission,” he says softly. “I’m just not sure how this is going to help?” He doesn’t seem convinced Louis had a plan. Louis can’t blame him.

Louis looks at Zayn, who is taking a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself. He’s thrown his headphones to the side, the music too soft to recognize the artist. The door opens and Zayn tenses again, but it’s only his sister, Safaa. The one Zayn always seems to be the gentlest with. Even now, when he’s clearly upset, he schools his features into something less dark just at the sight of her face.

“You ok?” the look on her face is a copy of the one they’d seen on her mum’s face earlier, something that makes Zayn look almost sheepish for a moment. “I heard you cuss.”

“Sorry,” he mumbles, opening his arms for a cuddle that Safaa seems quite happy to accept. She moves closer, rests her head on Zayn’s shoulder, her arms around his neck. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I’m alright, honest.” Despite the words, the attempt at sincerity, she doesn’t seem too convinced. She rolls her eyes, her chin still hooked over his shoulder so Zayn doesn’t see, something that makes Harry chuckle when he spots it.

“Just because I’m eight doesn’t mean I’m stupid,” she grouches, shrieks when Zayn tickles her.

“I’d never think you were stupid, little dove,” he reassures her, and the smile on his face this time is genuine. “It’s nothing, really. Just school. Do yourself a favour, never grow up, ok? It’s not worth it.”

Safaa nods, face solemn. “Never. ‘m gonna be forever young, like Peter Pan.” She promises, but then makes a face. “Maybe not. You couldn’t come to Neverland with me. I’d never see you again.”

Zayn makes a face right back at her. “Are you calling me old? Are you accusing me of being an adult. Safaa. How dare you hurt me so.” He teases, tickling her again, until she cries out for mercy, wraps herself around him like a clingy octopus. “Ugh, gerroff,” he grumbles, but he holds onto her, clearly doesn’t want to let her go.

Safaa plays with his hair, sat on his knee. “Zayn, let me do your hair,” she begs him, batting her lashes at him. Like her brother she has these long eyelashes, framing beautiful dark eyes, and clearly she knows how to use them. Zayn groans. “Please? You know ammi doesn’t like it when you cuss around us. Let me do your hair and I won’t tell.” She wheedles.

“Blackmail!” Zayn gasps, narrowing his eyes and looking as though he’s about to tickle her again. “I’m sure ammi wouldn’t like it if I told her you were blackmailing me! That’s not how she raised you either,” he teases. Safaa just shrugs a shoulder. Clearly, in her world, cussing is worse than blackmail. Louis can’t help but smile.

Zayn can tell she’s not about to cave, sighs. “How about this. We compromise. You don’t tell ammi I cussed in front of you - even though you were in the other room and it shouldn’t count in the first place - and I don’t tell ammi you tried to blackmail me. You don’t get to do my hair but I’ll take you out for ice cream instead.”

It sounds like a pretty good deal, but Safaa still seems reluctant to accept it. The youngest in a family of six, she must have learned to barter at an early age. “You take me out for ice cream and I get to do your hair,” she counters.

“How is that a compromise?” Zayn asks, chuckling.

Safaa shrugs her shoulder. “I don’t know what that means.” Whether that’s true or not, Zayn can’t help but laugh, clearly charmed by her. Louis is starting to feel a lot less bad about breaking Zayn’s tablet. He needed something to distract him, cheer him up. This was all part of his plan, clearly. If anyone asks. “Please?” She pushes out her bottom lip, pouting at him.

Zayn snorts. “Please, not the puppy dog eyes again. Alright. But I’m not going out with my hair all in ponytails and braids or whatever you’ve got planned. And no glitter.” He narrows his eyes at her. “I’ve still got glitter in my pillowcase from last time, and I took a shower before I even went to bed that night! And mum has washed the sheets at least twice since then.”

Safaa sighs, like it’s a hard bargain Zayn is driving. She pouts some more, like how dare Zayn take her beloved glitter from her, she’s an eight year old girl, but this time, Zayn doesn’t budge. So she relents, trades in her pout for a bright smile as she hugs him, jumps off his lap and starts to tug him towards the door. “C’mon,” she urges him, “Wali!” She hollers, ignoring Zayn’s wince at the volume of her voice, “Wali come help me do Zayn’s hair!”

Although watching them is likely not going to help Harry and Louis learn more about Zayn - except for how he still looks stunning with ponytails and glittery barrettes in his hair - it’s still a nice afternoon. Zayn definitely looks a lot more relaxed, sitting on the floor of his sister’s room, letting his two younger siblings play hairdresser. He obediently turns his head this way and that, looks into mirrors when they tell him to. It’s sweet.

Harry nudges him at some point, having briefly left to grab them both a sandwich from the cafeteria. “I wasn’t too sure about you breaking his tablet, but it seems to have worked out.”

Louis grins. “Of course it did,” he bites into his sandwich, resists the urge to wink at Harry. “It was all part of my plan.”

“Obviously,” Harry agrees, nodding along pleasantly. They eat in silence for a few minutes. “So why did you break his tablet?” He asks then. “I didn’t think you were that bored. You spent an hour watching Liam fret over his job interview.” He’s still not judging, even if Louis were to admit that yes, he was just bored. Not that he was, or that wasn’t the only reason.

“I just had this feeling,” Louis can’t quite explain it. “I sat there, watching him try to draw, thinking of how he’s in art school and- I just thought, isn’t he supposed to be enjoying it? He’s starting his second year soon, he should be excited?” He hadn’t been able to really pinpoint the feeling of vague dread he’d experienced, watching Zayn. Part of him feels like he’s just bullshitting now, trying to come up with an explanation for something that had simply been done on a whim. But he had had a gut feeling, even if he doesn’t feel totally confident that it’s because of the reasons he’s giving Harry now. “It wasn’t this fully formed thought,” he tells Harry, knowing he can be honest with him. “But maybe in the back of my head I was thinking what if he stops liking art, what if he drops out of school? It doesn’t feel right.” He’d still live in Bradford, but somehow the thought of Zayn quitting school - even if it’s something he’d never really considered in depth before - doesn’t sit right with him. It doesn’t feel like that’s what’s meant to happen.

Harry listens to him the way he always does. Intently, without judgment. Letting Louis stumble through an explanation, nodding like everything he says makes sense. Louis knows that he’ll call him on his bullshit if need be, but he also knows that Harry relies on intuition and instinct as much as Louis does. Maybe even more so. “So you figured that if you broke his tablet you’d make him forget all about how frustrated he is with this assignment?”

Louis frowns. “I don’t know. I mean, he’s going to have to finish it eventually. Maybe it’s just that he looked upset. He didn’t seem to like what he was doing but he didn’t seem to want to give up, either? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and give things some time.” It was counterintuitive when it came to the line of work they did, but micromanaging wasn’t always the best course of action. Humans could surprise you, if you let them. You, and themselves.

“You like him,” Harry seems pleased with that. Louis knows he can get attached to his charges sometimes, even if he doesn’t like to get too involved. It hurts too much if something goes wrong. He knows he’s better off letting them go, even when he’s grown fond of them. “I think you’re right. He needed a break.” He cleans his hands with a napkin, tosses the sandwich wrapper in the bin. “Is that why he’s been going out so much at night, you think? To distract himself?”

Louis shrugs. “I don’t know. We’ve been sort of focused on Liam these past days, but yeah, maybe. Or maybe he’s just young, getting it out of his system before the next school year starts.” Zayn liked to stay inside during the day, slept in late and kept to himself, even though he was more than happy to indulge his sisters when they wanted some company. Louis sometimes wonders if he’s a bit depressed, but he doesn’t seem to be, really. Just seems the kind of boy that needs time to himself to recharge, that’s happy on his own, with his books and his movies and his art. He did go out a lot though, from what they’ve watched back. Sometimes he’d go to a club with his friends, sometimes for a pint. A few nights he’d just snuck out and gone for a walk, occasionally bringing his sketchpad along.

Harry nods. “Do you want to see if we can make them meet up on Thursday?” If they want to they’re probably going to have to pull some strings today, unless they want to risk working the entire day. Louis isn’t exactly planning to. But then, he was considering taking off a few hours early today, and it’s already two in the afternoon.

“Maybe,” he says vaguely, watches as Zayn takes both Safaa and Waliyha out for ice cream. Their house is in a neighbourhood not too far from the centre, only a mile or two from where Liam will hopefully spend most of his time this fall. “Zayn’s probably going to want to stay indoors. So we’d have to make his sisters take him somewhere. I don’t know how much attention he’d be paying to Liam.” He’s not sure Zayn is even out to his family, though he’d been kissing boys in his own bedroom. And Liam’s not going to be paying attention to Zayn when he’s focused on acing his interview. Plus, he doesn’t really like making other people do something. Especially when they’re underage. It just seems icky somehow. “How about we just see what happens? If they don’t meet, no biggie. We’ve got the entire semester, provided Liam gets the job and decides to move.”

Harry nods again. “Yeah,” he says vaguely, seeming a little distracted by the prospect. Louis can’t blame him. It’s nerve wracking, knowing that for all their hard work they could be left empty handed in just two days. “Maybe not then?” He asks Louis. Like it’s on him to decide. Maybe Harry thinks it is. Louis has worked longer as a Cupid, had set up soulmates before. He thinks Harry might be feeling a little bit lost. Louis does too, if he’s honest. He’s not sure they’re taking all the necessary steps, but he also knows that this is a delicate situation, that they can’t do more than their best and that it’s important to step back and take time to themselves before they burn out.

So if Harry needs him to be the one to make the decision, he’ll gladly take the burden of knowing the consequences are on him. “Yeah,” he decides. “In fact, I’m going to take the afternoon off. You should do the same, unless you’ve got some paperwork to finish up on other charges. We’re going to be working on the weekend, we might as well take some time to ourselves.” He smiles at Harry, who doesn’t look completely convinced. “We won’t be any good to Liam if we’re grouchy and exhausted, will we?”

“True.” Harry agrees. He smiles. “Got big plans for this weekend, do you?”

Louis chuckles. “Massive.” He sighs happily. “I plan to do absolutely nothing. All Wednesday. I might not even leave my bed for an entire day.” Truth be told, he’d probably get bored after an hour or so, but the prospect is still wonderful. No plans, nothing to do but pamper himself. Louis is a boy who needs pampering once in a while. He needs a lovely self care day. Complete with bubble bath and a facial mask, not that he’d let Harry know that. Harry would be way too gleeful at knowing he’d successfully converted Louis into the kind of boy who does facial masks. And Louis enjoys teasing Harry about his masks too much to let him know he’s seen the benefits of it.

“Should’ve picked up diapers then,” Harry says practically, disrupting Louis’ happy daydream of staying in bed. He huffs.

“Let a boy dream, will you, Harold?” He grumbles, picking up his papers and stuffing them haphazardly back into his folder. “Just because you’ve probably got every moment meticulously planned out-”

“I don’t actually,” Harry interrupts him. “I was thinking I might join you.” He pauses. “Not in your bed, obviously. That’d be weird. But in the whole lazy day, staying in bed kind of thing. But then I started thinking of logistics. I’d probably need to piss at some point. Eat something. It’s not very practical, is it?”

Louis thinks this particular conversation, Harry’s monologue, deserves an eye roll. So he rolls his eyes at him. “Dreams don’t have to be practical.” He retorts. It sounds pretty good. He doesn’t think Harry can argue with that. It’s a conversation ender if he’s ever heard one, and he’s pretty pleased at coming up with it. Check and mate.

Harry can tell he’s pleased with himself, if the fond smile on his face is any indication. Louis almost wants to make a face at him, but he doesn’t. Just grins at him instead. He likes how Harry always lets him act like a fool. How he’ll indulge him, even when Louis is just being an idiot. “Stop looking at me like that,” he mutters, knowing they’re both smiling at each other like the slight lunatics that others probably think they are.

“Like what?” Harry asks. Louis knows he isn’t actually oblivious. Just playful.

“Like I’m endearing. It’s insulting, Harold. I’m not endearing.” Endearing is about as bad as adorable. It’s not very masculine.

Harry’s dimple pops out. “You’re right. You’re funny and handsome and rugged. Is that better?”

Louis snorts. Funny, yes, he’ll give himself that. He likes to think he’s hilarious, even if no one else in the world but Harry (and sometimes Niall) seems to agree. Handsome and rugged? That’s definitely new. But compared to endearing, it’s an improvement for sure. “Much. Thank you.” He grins at him. “Though you forgot modest.”

“How dare I,” Harry slaps his own cheek, soft enough that it doesn’t even leave a mark. “So very modest. The most modest. When people pass you on the street they go, wow, look at him, that has to be the modestest man I’ve ever seen, just look at-”

Louis shoves him.

Harry falls off his chair, resurfaces with his curls a bit tangled and his face red, eyes bright. “Was I singing your praises too much?” Oh God. He’s continuing. “Couldn’t take it? Since you’re so modest and all?”

“Harry.” Louis tries to sound stern, but he thinks the smile on his face betrays him. He couldn’t fight it off if someone threatened his life. “You are the absolute worst.” Harry dimples, like it’s a compliment. Louis can’t even muster up the energy to roll his eyes. Knowing Harry he’d take it as a declaration of his undying love, or something. Instead he just huffs, helps Harry back up onto his chair. “I’m gonna go home,” Louis declares. “I can’t take you singing my praises anymore. It’s embarrassing.”

“Says the man who wanted to declare Harry Styles appreciation day,” Harry retorts sunnily. Louis has to give him that. “What was that about a presentation again? Flyers?”

“Watch your mouth before I shove you off that chair again,” Louis scolds, chuckling. “I’ll see you on Thursday, yeah?”

Harry pouts for a second, as though he’s actually saddened by the fact that Louis cut short their ridiculous banter. But he brightens up at the prospect of seeing him on Thursday - it’s either that or brightening up at the thought of working on Thursday, and while Harry is completely that guy that would do such a ridiculous thing, Louis is entirely that modest that he’ll take Harry’s smile to be in direct response to seeing him - and so Louis doesn’t feel too bad. “Alright. Liam’s got his interview at noon, so, let’s say we meet here around nine?”

Nine is ridiculously early for the weekend, but with the drive from Wolverhampton to Bradford taking roughly two and a half hours, Louis doesn’t want to risk anything going wrong and checking in too late. It’d be entirely his luck to check in at half past eleven only to find that Liam’s mum’s car had broken down an hour or so back. “Sounds like a plan,” he agrees, glad that he’s spending tonight with Niall and not Wednesday night. He’s going to need his beauty sleep - and even then he’s probably going to be a bit annoyed at working on the weekend, regardless of how many hours he’s slept. “I’ll see you then, Haz. Have a good weekend.”

Harry smiles at him. “You too, Lou. Say hi to Niall for me.”

*

Louis spends most of his afternoon taking an advance on his plans for Wednesday. He goes for a quick nap, then lazes about in some joggers and a loose tee, eating a quickly thrown together omelette and watching crap TV. It won’t be much of a difference from his plans for tonight, but he rather likes it that way.

Your turn to get the food tonight, he texts Niall, half an hour into an old Champions League match between Barcelona and Benfica. It’s from the sixties, and he wonders if that’s the kind of game he’d have watched back when he was still on earth. He likes watching historic sports games for that reason. Plus, no matter the era, it’s fun to watch footie.

He texts Niall again. I’m at home, took the afternoon off. You wanna play a bit of footie later? I miss it.

Niall’s probably still at work, so he doesn’t bother checking his phone for a while, watches Barcelona lose 3-2, Benfica winning in part through an own goal from Barcelona’s goalie, not a minute after Benfica had scored the equalizer in the first half. Louis daydreams a bit about what it would’ve been like to be a football player. He’d probably not have made it very far, he’s good but not that good, but he wonders if he’d have been able to get signed somewhere. Playing for England might’ve not been in the cards, but he would’ve liked to try. Or, maybe when he was on earth he didn’t care for football. He doubts it though. His personality can’t have changed that much, even when they wiped his memory.

His phone vibrates when he’s switched from watching last century’s football to some quiz show that Louis always gets into even when he ends up shouting at the contestants for failing to answer some pretty easy questions. He shouts “42, you idiot, the answer is 42!” mumbles something about how he knows that and he’s dead, pop culture is hardly something he’s expected to keep up with, one eye on the TV and one eye on his phone.

I’m home at 5:30. Come by whenever. We can order pizza? Banged my knee into a table so dunno how good I’ll be at footie but I’ll be happy to come out and play.

Louis frowns. Niall’s always had a weak knee. He’s not sure why that is. If Fates are brought into this world fully formed, why would you make them anything less than perfect? Not that perfect is a word he associates with Niall, he’s a bit too crude in some regards, he’s definitely flawed, almost human, but why? What’s the point in making them human when they’re not?

Sorry to hear about your knee. We don’t have to if you’d rather not. He doesn’t like it when Niall’s in pain. Niall doesn’t like showing it, hides it from everyone, but Louis has seen him limp ever so slightly sometimes. Sometimes Louis is irrationally angry at whatever’s dared to hurt Niall. Even when it’s a bloody table. He’s like a little brother. No one’s allowed to hurt him but Louis. Or is this just an excuse for when you inevitably lose? He can’t resist teasing him, loving how competitive Niall can get. It’s why he loves playing with him. Whether it’s regular footie or a game. They always want to beat one another, even if they’re not terribly sore losers. Mostly.

Haha, you wish Tommo. I bet I could beat you even on crutches.

You talk a big game, but you’ve never been able to beat me before. What makes it so different this time? Louis texts back. He glances at the TV, where one of the contestants is trying to work out where a particular state in America is. For some reason a lot of English people are tremendously bad at geography, at least when it’s not about their own country. Louis would yell at the TV again, but he thinks the only reason he knows the answer is because he’s spent the past however many years traveling all over the world, even if he’s never left Heaven.

Maybe this time I’ll play dirty :) Niall replies. The smiley emoji makes it sort of ominous. Louis chuckles. Whatever the outcome of tonight’s game, he’s sure they’ll have a good time.

...As long as he can keep Niall from asking him about The Thing.

*

It’s not the first thing Niall asks him. But Louis should’ve known better than to let that lull him into a false sense of security. They chat a bit about their work, eat pizza and have a beer - though Louis isn’t planning to drink much, wanting to keep his wits about him this time - and Louis almost forgets about the whole conversation they’d had last week. Until Niall pins him down with a look.

“How’d Haz react?” For a moment or so, Louis debates feigning ignorance. Then he realizes that Niall has a lot of faith in him. Until he looks up to meet his eyes, and, shit, was it that obvious?

He cringes a bit. “I haven’t-” he starts, but he doesn’t quite know how to follow that up. Any excuse he’ll make is not going to be good enough. He doesn’t need Niall to tell him that.

“Tommo.”

“I know,” Louis puts down his plate, wipes his fingers on his napkin before he rubs at his face. “I want to. I should. I know that. I just .. keep finding reasons not to.”

“What are you afraid of?” Niall considers him for a moment. “Besides losing Harry.”

Louis barks out a hollow laugh. “You mean that isn’t reason enough?” It’s not just Harry. He thinks he might be just as upset if he lost Niall. But Niall isn’t a Cupid. He’s never going to go down. Louis doesn’t have to consider losing him.

Niall frowns at that. “No?” He shrugs. “I mean. It is, but. You don’t know that’ll happen, do you? It’s not up to you or him whether or not you go down. If you can’t get your charges together, HQ has to sign off on your permission form to go down. It’s not like he could just leave on a whim.” Louis knows all of that. But still. “And he’s not the type to mess up a case, just because he’s curious.” Niall adds softly.

That’s definitely true. Harry would never. No matter how curious he is. He’d never put himself before others. He’s not wired to be selfish. Not from what Louis has seen, at least. He’s always going to do whatever it takes to bring people together. “You’re right,” he says grudgingly. “I know you are. You’re absolutely right. But whenever I think of telling him -- I just think of how it’d be if he’s not here anymore. If he’s not coming back. Having to watch him .. watching him fall in love is one thing, Ni, I’d be so happy for him, and I’d be so honored if I’d get to be the one to help him fall in love, but. Watching him die? I don’t think I could do that. But I don’t think I could not do that either. I’d want to know. I’d want to be part of his life even if he’s not part of mine.”

Niall nods, silently hands Louis another beer. He has opened it and drank down at least a quarter of it before he’s reminded of his own decision not to drink too much. “I get that, Lou, I do.” He sits back down, sighs. “But that still doesn’t mean it’s up to you. Don’t you think that if you didn’t tell him he’d be mad at you? If he ever had to go down, I mean. If he knew you knew.. And it’s Harry. He’s gonna know. What if that makes it so he doesn’t want to come back? Because he thinks he’s got nothing to come back for?”

Louis swallows down another sip of beer. “But he wouldn’t have anything to come back for anyway,” it sounds bitter even to his own ears. “In the grand scheme of things, what do I matter? Compared to the chance to fall in love? I’m just a friend, Niall. Yeah, we’re great friends. The best. But if it’s a choice between me and falling in love? Harry wouldn’t choose me. And I can’t blame him. Because he shouldn’t.” He sighs. “But you’re right. None of that matters. None of that makes it ok that I haven’t told him. I’m selfish, and that’s not fair. Harry’s a big boy, he can make his own decisions.” Even if they would end up hurting him in the end. He doesn’t think he can stand losing Harry, but he also won’t keep him from being truly happy. He doesn’t think he could live with himself, knowing what he’d cost him. “I’ve gotta go into work on Thursday to see how Liam - one of the soulmate charges I’m working on - is gonna do on his job interview. It’ll be quiet at work, I’ll tell him then.”

*

Knowing that what he’s about to tell Harry might change everything, Wednesday unsurprisingly doesn’t turn out to be a particularly relaxing day. Louis spends most of his morning in bed like he predicted, but after a while he gets bored of it, and eating in bed is never as much fun when you find out the crumbs go everywhere, and you have to brush them off your ass afterwards. So by the time it’s three in the afternoon he drags himself out of the house, goes for a long fly just so he can clear his head and decide on what he should say to Harry.

It doesn’t make him feel any less nervous by the time he gets into work on Thursday, but one look at Harry and he can tell he’s nervous too. Though in his case Louis knows it’s a full 100% to do with Liam, whereas Louis is at most 60% concerned with how the interview is going to go. It’s weird how seeing Harry nervous affects him though. It doesn’t calm his nerves, but it calms his brain enough to take the lead, to push down the jitters and function on logic. Because Harry needs him to, and even when Louis doesn’t plan on it, his autonomic nervous system responds to Harry as though Harry’s nerves are his own.

“Morning Hazza,” he tells him, smiling as he puts a sandwich down in front of him. “Made you breakfast.”

Harry pokes at it, dubious look on his face, offers Louis the second cup of coffee on his desk. “You must’ve been really bored in bed this weekend, if this morning instead of sleeping in you’re bringing me an actual home cooked breakfast,” he teases, but it’s clear that his heart isn’t in it.

Louis snorts softly, sits down next to him. “My cooking isn’t that awful. I’ve managed to successfully feed myself for decades.” He pauses. “Or maybe that’s just because I can’t die.” It has the anticipated result, Harry smiling at him, almost despite himself. “Nervous?” He asks, even though he already knows the answer.

“A bit,” Harry tries to downplay it, though he likely knows Louis won’t believe him anyway. “It’d suck if we worked this hard for nothing.”

“Not for nothing, Haz.” Louis reminds him gently. “Even if it feels like it, it wouldn’t be for nothing. Paul is keen on hiring Liam, he’s done interviews before, he’s probably used to people being nervous. And if Liam decides not to move to Bradford, then we’ll just find another way of making them meet.” He squeezes Harry’s shoulder. “Even if we both have to go down for it.”

Harry shivers. “Don’t say that. You’re gonna jinx it.” He shifts, away from Louis’ touch, though it seems he’s only doing it to turn on the window so they can look in on Liam and his mum, who have gotten a headstart on their trip to Bradford. Liam looks at least as queasy as Harry does. Louis closes his eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath.

“What if I told you going down wasn’t that scary?” He says quietly, his words coming slow, as though his lips are still trying to hold them back. His tongue feels dry, like rubber in his mouth. “That it could be nice, instead?”

Harry frowns at him. “It’s not,” he says, as though he’s dismissing Louis’ words on instinct. But Louis can tell that he’s intrigued. It’s more than just being a polite listener. He knows Louis, can read his moods. They both know something important is coming. “Isn’t it?”

He takes a deep breath. “I thought it was a bad thing too, for the longest time. Until-” he doesn’t really want to say last week, knows Harry will know he kept it from him. That’s a conversation he’s not yet ready to have. If ever. “I was talking to Niall about it. How rewarding this job can be, but how lonely, too. How unfair it feels, at times. And how we’ve been working so hard and it’s scary, not knowing how it’ll work out, if what we’re doing isn’t in vain,” ok, that last is a little white lie. “We’re always told going down is a bad thing. It’s like failing. And Niall - he said HQ likes for us to think that it is. Because, because it’s not, Haz.”

“Why not?” It’s barely more than a whisper.

“Because going down, we don’t just remember. We get, we can, it’s possible to fall in love.” It hurts, saying it. Hurts to see the flash of disbelief on Harry’s face, that’s replaced by a wild look of hope in his eyes, accentuated by the flare of gold in his energy. It’s a colour Louis has never seen before. He wonders if that’s the colour Harry’s energy would be if he was in love. But then, on earth, he wouldn’t have his energy. Or his wings. But Harry’s always been a bit in love with the idea of being in love, it’s clear from the pure joy he’s exuding. Only for a second though, before it fades, so rapidly that Louis doesn’t understand what he’s looking at at first.

“Oh.” Is all Harry says. He glances from Louis to the window. “Look, Liam’s looking a bit better.”

Louis frowns. “Harry?” Sometimes he can read him like a book. Other times he has no clue what’s going on inside his head. “What’s going - aren’t you happy?”

Harry bites his lip. “It’s not really something to be happy about, is it?” He shrugs a shoulder. “HQ doesn’t like us knowing. It’s not like we can fuck something up on purpose just to go down. And even if we could, even if we got a chance to, then what? We can fall in love, but we have to give it up again?” He’s certainly understanding that a lot sooner than Louis did. Louis wishes he wouldn’t. Wishes he could’ve enjoyed that hope for a brief moment longer. “That just seems mean.”

“Do you wish - should I not have told you?”

Harry stays silent for a moment, bites his lip again. “No. I mean. Yes. I don’t know. HQ is right, in not telling us. I don’t - or maybe they aren’t. I think we should know before we go down, so we’re warned. I know that saying that humans have, that it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think I could do it.” He finally looks at Louis again. “Can we make sure we don’t have to?”

Louis thinks of how badly he wants to experience it. Just once. Thinks of how he contemplated messing up, on purpose. He wants to, needs to know. “We will. I promise.”

Chapter Text

They sit in silence for a while, watching Liam and his mum drive up the M6, headed towards the M62 that’ll take them in the direction of Leeds. Liam’s mum is listening to some easy music on the radio, but it’s clear her mind is elsewhere too. Louis can see it in the way her fingers occasionally tighten around the steering wheel, the way her eyes flick towards the exits as though she’s eager to turn around and head back home. Liam doesn’t look like he would mind all that much if she did, to be honest. Harry had said he was looking a bit better but Louis thinks that’s mostly because he didn’t want to talk about what Louis had just told him.

It’s nine thirty when Louis breaks the silence, scraping his throat and biting down on a smile when Harry jumps in response to the unexpected sound. “What time are they going to be there?” He asks, wondering if Harry knows. He could probably look at the navigation system, but Harry’s closer to the window, and he hates this silence. Louis isn’t made for silence.

That’s not entirely true. He can be quiet. He can enjoy quiet, even. But not when it feels like there’s tension. Not when there’s things left unsaid and he isn’t sure Harry isn’t a bit angry with him for telling him. He wants nothing more than to take it back, or to make it better somehow.

“If there’s no traffic jams, a little after eleven.”

“Oh. They’ve left early then.” It’s met with silence. Harry just nods. There’s not much to say to it, Louis knows, but he still searches for something else to say. “Two and a half hours, they’ve gotten in the car around eight thirty then.”

“Yes.”

Louis falls quiet again, fidgets with his sleeve, stretching it out so he can tuck his fingers inside of it. It occupies him for a minute or two. He sighs then. “Harry.”

Harry doesn’t look away from the window. “Hm?”

“Harry.” It’s more insistent this time. “Harry, look at me, dammit.” He’s trying not to explode, but Harry knows how much he hates being ignored. It always makes him feel like a child. And it’s not fair. He’s not done anything wrong.

Finally, Harry turns around to meet his eyes, though it’s slow, slower than Louis would like. He’s not sure why he’s so scared to see his expression. Harry can’t be mad at him for this, can he? He swallows, looking up to meet his eyes.

Oh. “Harry.” It’s soft this time, body in motion before he’s even aware of it, before his brain has caught up to what he’s seeing in those green eyes. He’s wrapped his arms around him, wings too, as though any of that will be able to protect him from the thoughts in Harry’s head, from the fear and the hurt he’s seen in his eyes.

Harry resists for a moment, then curls into him, arms around his middle as he sniffs, hiding his face against Louis’ shirt. “Sorry,” he mumbles, voice a bit muffled, but Louis is pretty sure he’s heard him right.

He sighs again. “You daft boy,” he murmurs, fingers carding through Harry’s curls, careful not to get stuck. “What’re you sorry for? None of this is your fault, is it?”

“Feel selfish,” Harry admits to his shirt. “For making you promise we won’t go down.”

Louis keeps carding his fingers through his hair, shakes his head. “Don’t you think you’re allowed to be selfish about that kind of thing, Haz?” It sounds tender. “About not wanting to get hurt? That’s - you should be selfish, yeah? You should protect yourself if you feel like it might hurt too much.” As much as Louis wanted to, he couldn’t make that decision for him. He’s relieved, sure, that he won’t have to lose Harry. But if the tables were turned, he doesn’t know if he could promise he’d always want to stay up here. “And if you change your mind and you do want to go down, then that’s ok too, yeah? You’re allowed to make those decisions for yourself.”

Harry huffs, warmth transferring through his shirt, giving him slight goosebumps. “‘s not fair though, when we’re working on this together. When my decision is going to impact you.”

Louis wants to pull back and make him look at him, but even the slightest shift has Harry making this slight hiccuped noise, arms tightening around his middle. So he just lets him hide, resists the urge to drop a kiss onto his hair. “Haz, listen. First of all, it’s not up to either of us what happens, yeah? If we get them together from up here, that’s that. If we don’t, HQ is the one that decides whether or not we’re even going to go. I’m not, I wouldn’t be so selfish that I’d throw the case just go to down, and even if I did, HQ would just tell me I’ve done a shitty job and to fix it from up here. Your decision doesn’t mean you’re deciding for me. It just means that on this case, just like on any other case, we’ll do whatever it takes to set them up from right here. If it’s meant to be that I go down, then it’ll happen on another case. If not, then it won’t.” He assures him. “And if for some reason we need to go down, then we’re going together, yeah? And I’d do whatever I could to protect you from getting hurt.”

Harry squeezes him tighter in response, stays pressed close for another second before he finally relaxes a little bit. He doesn’t pull away just yet, but he shifts so he’s eye to eye with Louis, his face a bit red and his eyes still a bit watery. “You’d keep me from getting my heart broken?”

It’s a ridiculous promise, Louis is well aware. If they have to go down he’s not going to be able to prevent Harry from being able to fall in love. And neither of them are going to be prepared for it. They won’t know the signs, won’t know what kind of person Harry will be attracted to. “Sure,” he smiles at him. “I’ll just keep you locked up in my apartment, only get you to interact with Zayn or Liam.” He teases.

“You did ask me to move in with you,” Harry remembers. There’s not quite a smile on his face yet, but the hint of one is there nonetheless. It eases something in Louis’ chest.

He still scoffs, brushing Harry’s tears away from his face. “I’d prefer if I didn’t have to kidnap you for it,” he tugs at one of his curls, gives him another, hopefully reassuring, smile. “It’ll all work out, ok? Just because you can fall in love down there doesn’t mean that you have to. It just means that you could, if you wanted to. If you ever wanted to know what it was like.”

Harry looks at him. “Do you want to? I know we talked about it and you said - would it be worth it, to you?”

“I don’t know.” The thought is nice. But knowing he’s going to have to give it back up? He’s not sure Harry’s not right in saying that’s harder. “When Niall told me, I just wanted to throw the case, go down, find out for myself. But then I thought about it, and there’d be so much I’m giving up, either way. If I come back, maybe I’ll know what it was like but I’ll never feel it again. Which, I don’t know if it’d hurt, but I don’t like my chances. And if I stay .. I can’t imagine finding anyone I’d think was worth staying for. Worth dying for.” But then again, falling in love might change all of it. “I’m scared, just as you. I’m almost glad, that HQ is the one who gets to decide. It feels a bit unfair, but then it does regardless? Whatever ends up happening, we’re always losing something, aren’t we?”

Harry nods, tugs at his lip, glancing away from him before looking back. “If you ever went down, I’d hope you’d come back. Maybe that’s not fair. But I don’t think I’d like it up here without you.”

“I was worried,” Louis feels like he can finally admit that now, after hearing Harry pretty much say what he’s been feeling for the past week. “That once I told you, you’d want to go down, and I’d lose you. Maybe that isn’t fair, maybe you’re right. But it’s true. I can’t imagine you not being here. In my life, in some way.”

This time, Harry is the one to hug him. Neither of them let go for a really long time.

*

By the time they’re checking back in on Liam and his mother, they’ve made it onto the M62, have just passed Manchester. They’ve got another hour to go, plenty of time to get there because the radio has just finished airing the ten o’clock news. There aren’t any massive traffic jams to be expected, though both mother and son seem happy to keep driving, rather than stop for a coffee. Louis can’t blame them. He doesn’t expect anything to happen, but he knows that if he were in Liam’s shoes he’d probably be a lot more comfortable having coffee in Bradford somewhere than on the road, not knowing what lies ahead.

So they arrive in Bradford a little after eleven, parking the car near the school. Liam takes one look at it and promptly pales again, and Louis is about to nudge his mother, but she’s already a step ahead of him, resting a hand on his arm and gesturing towards a coffee corner nearby. “C’mon love,” she urges gently, “let’s get some food in you, yeah? You’re looking faint.”

Liam nods, even though he confides to his mum that he’s not too sure he won’t get sick on Mr. Higgins if he eats right now. Karen looks concerned, rightfully so, since that’s bound to make a lasting impression, just sadly not a positive one. “We’ll at least get you some tea, alright? And I might have some Pepto-Bismol chewables, if you do feel sick. But you should really try and eat. Mr. Higgins might want to see how fit you are, and it won’t do to faint in front of him, will it?”

Bless her. She’s trying to make him feel better, but clearly the thought of showing Mr. Higgins how in shape he is is something that hadn’t occurred to Liam. He’s looking a bit alarmed. “I didn’t think about that,” he allows her to lead him into the coffee shop, distracted enough that he doesn’t see the flyer Harry made sure was in the window, advertizing karaoke night in a nearby bar.

“You’ll be fine,” his mum assures him, steering him towards a table and sitting him down. The TV in the background plays commercials, sound muted as bright flashing images announce the upcoming opening of a 24/7 gym in Bradford. “You’re in great shape. You’ve always been. And look,” she points to the screen, “there’s a new gym opening soon. You’ve got nothing to worry about, love, I promise.”

Liam glances up, watches the commercial though he’s clearly not too interested at the moment. That’s ok. At least he knows. He’ll remember it later, hopefully. Louis is pleased, but he knows it’s too early to celebrate. First there’s the interview to get through.

Too nervous to stay put in one place for long, Liam ends up outside before too long, after having at least managed to eat a slice of toast and a few strips of bacon. It’s not much, but apparently it’s all he could force himself to eat before he caved to the urge to be outside. It’s started to rain a bit, not enough to soak through his clothes but enough that staying outside isn’t an appealing option for more than the time it takes someone to feel like they’re not stuck inside anymore. Louis and Harry watch as Liam’s mother convinces him to go towards the school. It’s eleven thirty eight, still a good twenty minutes before the job interview, but with the two and a half hour drive they’d had to undertake to get here it’s not all that weird or awkward to arrive early. Liam doesn’t seem too convinced, still looks as though he’d rather run away, but he finally nods, pauses his mum on her way inside so he can wrap her up in a hug.

Karen wraps her own arms around her son in return, rubbing his back and whispering things in his ear that are too soft for Louis to hear. He watches Liam nod though, watches some of the tension drain from his body. He still doesn’t look too happy when he pulls back, but at least he no longer looks as though he’s about to cry.

“I didn’t think I’d be so nervous,” Harry admits, watching as Liam heads inside, walks up to the reception desk. Something’s changed in his posture the moment he stepped inside, Louis notices. He’s holding his head up high, has straightened up, exuding a bit of confidence without coming across as cocky. Louis can’t help but smile. Nicola had done a good job preparing him, or maybe this is just Liam putting his game face on. Either way, it’s a good sign.

“He’ll do well, I think,” he gestures towards the screen. “I don’t think it’s really a case of whether or not he’s qualified. It’s about confidence.” He hadn’t been too sure earlier on, with Liam looking as though the threat of throwing up on Paul Higgins was an actual possibility, but right now, he’d put his money on Liam, no doubt about it. “I don’t think he’ll need our help getting the job.” He prefers it that way. Yes, they had pulled some strings, got Paul to even consider hiring Liam in the first place, but he’d feel a lot better about Liam getting the job if they didn’t have to manipulate Paul’s feelings. It’s something they’re only allowed because HQ granted their request, but if they don’t have to, all the better. In the long run, Liam and Paul will have a much better working relationship if they’ve both actually actively wanted the situation they’ve found themselves in.

“I hope so,” Harry almost whispers, watching as Liam nearly jumps up out of his seat when a large man calls his name. They watch him glance back at his mum, who gives him a reassuring smile, one that fades into a nervous look the moment her son has turned his back on her to head towards the man. The introduction is simple, a handshake, the exchange of their names. Liam’s led into an office then, and Louis isn’t surprised to feel fingers tangle with his, Harry’s hand trembling as though he’s absorbed all of Liam’s earlier nerves.

The conversation starts off a bit stiff, as most job interviews do, but soon enough they relax into it. Paul asks about the drive over, tells Liam he’s impressed with him coming over, considering Bradford was likely not a place he’d ever considered applying to. Liam’s honest, explaining that he’d been on the fence, but that he hadn’t had much luck back at home and that he’d looked up the school. He expresses excitement about it being a performing arts school, mentions his own background in that area. It might not be incredibly subtle, but he’s hitting all his marks, talking himself up without coming across as cocky. He’s honest, without pretense, shows insight into his own flaws as well, when he mentions that he’d been so nervous, that sometimes his confidence can get the best of him, that he’d wondered why Paul was even interested in seeing him. It’s a good conversation, one that doesn’t feel as strict as some job interviews that Louis has been privy to over the years. Paul seems like a nice man. Not nearly as intimidating as his looks might suggest. He’s a bit of a giant teddy bear, honestly. He reassures Liam that his resume is impressive, that he understands that it can be a big thing to ask, moving so far away from home. He explains about his friend, who rents out apartments, how he’d help Liam get settled in, so he wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to live. Tells him about the bars and park and gym, making Louis chuckle. “He’s doing all the work for us, Haz,” he shakes his head. “We spent days trying to figure out how to make Bradford sound appealing, when all we had to do was let Paul Higgins talk to Liam.”

Harry seems a bit more relaxed too, though he still hasn’t let go of Louis’ hand. “I like him,” he agrees. “He’s kind of like- I don’t know. Like I’d imagine a dad to be, I guess.” He’s warm, and genuine, and Louis has no doubt that he’ll charm Liam’s mum, convince her that her baby boy will be more than fine living so far away from home.

The two men speak for a bit longer, and as Karen Payne predicted, Paul wants to see Liam in action. They head towards the gym, Karen invited to come with them, and as Liam runs a few laps and does an obstacle course Paul had put together earlier this morning, she chats with Paul for a bit. Louis was right. It doesn’t take him long to charm her, for the storm clouds in her eyes to finally dissipate. They watch Liam together then, and where there’s only pride in Karen’s eyes there’s approval and joy in Paul’s.

Liam is offered a bottle of water when he gets back to their side, a little out of breath but not too much. It says more about his stamina than his commitment, Louis is sure, because he knows Liam gave it his all. Paul seems impressed too. “You’re fast,” he notes, smiling as he says it. “Strong, too. And I like your attitude. You’ve a very sensible boy here, Mrs. Payne. Good head on his shoulders. I’d be delighted to take you on as a trainee teacher, Liam, if you’re interested.”

Liam looks at his mother first, clearly checking whether or not she’s warmed up to the idea of Liam moving so far away from home. Paul notices, smiles again. “If you’d need a moment to talk it over, you’re more than welcome to. You don’t have to decide right now.”

Harry’s hand tightens in his. Louis isn’t sure if he’s not squeezing just as hard. He’s fairly sure neither of them are breathing though. Finally, his mum gives an almost imperceptible nod. Louis thinks she’s got a lot to say, but she wants this to be Liam’s decision. She doesn’t want to be the one to convince him to go. Liam’s an adult, he should be making his own decisions, especially in front of his potential employer. But she also understands that he needs her blessing on this. Needs to know that it’s okay to say yes.

“No,” Liam shakes his head, “I mean, that’s very nice of you, but I don’t need time to talk it over. I’ve already made up my mind. It’s a bit nerve wracking, I’m not going to lie, but, I wasn’t half as nervous as I could’ve been when I was talking to you. I think I’m more excited than anything, if I’m completely honest. I’d love to come and work here.” He glances at his mum when he says it, but rather than there being tears in her eyes there’s just pride. And trust, the firm belief that her son will make it.

“I’m very happy to hear that,” Paul says, and Karen lets out a soft sound.

“Me too,” she admits. “I’m never going to be completely thrilled with you moving so far away, but the school seems lovely, and having met you, Mr. Higgins, I feel a lot better. At least I know my little boy won’t be alone.”

Liam makes a face when she calls him that, brushes a wrist over his forehead, trying to wipe off some of the sweat. He mostly seems to be doing it because he’s a bit embarrassed at being called her little boy. “Mum,” he groans, but he’s smiling and so is Paul Higgins.

“No matter how old you get, Liam, you’ll always be your mum’s little boy. It’s sort of a parent’s prerogative, isn’t it? Embarrassing their children in front of others.” Paul chuckles. Liam relaxes a bit. It’s clear he doesn’t want to be seen as a child in front of the man he’s going to be working with, but he’s also pleased that his mother seems comfortable with him moving away from home.

“‘s alright,” he says, wrapping an arm around his mother’s shoulder. “Wouldn’t be where I was today if it weren’t for her, would I. I can take a bit of embarrassment if that’s the trade off.” Karen wraps her arm around his waist, her eyes a bit watery. Liam presses a kiss to the side of her head. “Besides, once I’ll be here, I reckon I’m gonna miss it.”

Karen sighs at that. “I’m gonna miss you too.”

Paul nods. “We’ll be sure to take good care of him though. My friend’s got a house, I’ve been in contact with him before the interview today, he said we could come round to look at a room if you’re interested? It’s not too far from here. The rent’s not too steep either, it should be more than affordable on the salary we’re paying you.” He explains. “We should sign the paperwork first though. Get it all filed and official. I could call my friend and tell him we’ll be coming by after, if you’d like?”

Louis finally feels as though he can breathe again when Liam nods. He turns to Harry, knows the grin on his face might be a bit mad, but Harry is grinning back at him just as wildly. “We did it!” He almost can’t believe it. “We really did it! He’s going to move to Bradford! He’s going to meet Zayn and they’re going to fall in love and we did it.”

*

It’s easy, from there on out. Not getting Liam and Zayn together, Louis knows better than to get ahead of himself like that. But the entire day goes off without a hitch. Liam signs a contract, goes to look at the room, which isn’t huge but is bigger than the one he has back home, includes a fridge and a microwave. The bathroom and kitchen are shared, three other young people living in the house, two of which are around and seem friendly enough. There’s a girl named Jade, who is working as a barista after dropping out of uni last year - she says she might go back, but she isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life right now. She tells Liam she models a bit on the side. Louis can see why, she’s very pretty. The other roommate Liam gets to meet is a boy named Andy, who studies Dance at Bradford College. They both seem nice enough, polite to Karen and interested in getting to know Liam. It doesn’t take Liam long to decide that he’ll take the room, and before the afternoon is over and they’re on their way back, Liam’s got a job, an apartment, and the phone numbers of his two future roommates.

They really did it. Louis almost can’t believe it. He has to admit, he wasn’t that sure everything would go according to plan, no matter how much effort they had put into it. There was so much that had the potential to go wrong, but here they are, and in just a few short weeks, Liam will be moving to Bradford.

There’s so much to do still, but for now, they’ve done all they can. Louis grins, closes the window once Liam is back in the car with his mum, excitedly discussing the things he needs to buy for his room and the hopes he has for his future. “Nice job, Haz,” he compliments him, holding up his hand for a high five. “Great work.”

Harry dimples. “From both of us,” he acknowledges, and Louis isn’t too modest to know that that’s true. “Worth coming in on the weekend.” He stands up, stretches. Louis can tell his back is bothering him a bit, from the look on his face. He almost offers him a massage. But then he stands up too, and he can tell he’s absolutely been hunched over his desk for too long.

“Definitely.” He agrees, rubbing his lower back. “Glad to go home though. Want to go for a fly, before we go back?”

Harry’s eyes light up.

*

It’s a little weird, coming into work the next morning and knowing that they really don’t have all that much to do. It’s only the start of August, Liam isn’t moving until after his birthday, at the very end of the month. They’ve got a good idea on who he is, what he’ll enjoy doing, and Zayn seems to have settled into a rhythm too. There’s honestly not an awful lot they can do until the two are in the same city, so once they’ve written their report, detailing to HQ how they had managed to get Liam a job and an apartment, it’s only eleven in the morning and they’re just sort of .. done.

It’s a funny feeling. After working with Harry so intensively for the past near two weeks, spending almost every moment in the office together, focused on the same case, now they’ve got nothing to do. Harry is the first to broach the subject, call attention to the metaphorical bright pink elephant in the room.

“If we don’t really have that much to do until Liam’s moving - I thought we could check in a few days before, maybe on his birthday, see what’s the latest on both of them - I think I might ask Niall to give me another case.” He says it like he’s just thinking out loud, but the way he glances at Louis makes it obvious that he’s trying to gauge his reaction. “Nothing too big, of course. Certainly no soulmates. But we’ve got three weeks, at least. There’s a lot we could do in the meantime. For others.”

Louis can’t really disagree with that. He likes spending time with Harry, definitely, but they’ve really about done all they can for now. There’s no point in spending the next three weeks trailing Zayn and Liam, when checking in here and there will be enough. Plus, it’d be nice, getting the chance to fix up some quick charges, be reminded of why they were doing this. “I reckon you’re right,” he tells Harry, watching him from the corner of his eye, seeing him relax a bit at Louis’ words. “Wouldn’t want you to get sick of me anyway,” he teases, but even he can tell that the words are a bit too genuine to really come across as a joke.

Harry parts his lips, to disagree, to reassure him, and Louis resists the urge to make a face. “I know,” he assures him hastily. “‘m just being dumb, Haz. I don’t really think that you will.” At least, there’s no reason to think that Harry will. Decades in each other’s pockets and they haven’t, yet. But apparently there’s always this nagging part of Louis’ brain that will convince him that he needs to do more. That tells him he’s not that special, and one day Harry is going to wake up and realize that. “Besides, it’s not like I’m going to let you disappear on me completely. We never did get to see that movie the other week. I’m demanding at least one movie date in the next three weeks. And two breakfasts.”

“Only two?” Harry grins at him. “I’m getting off easy.”

Louis contemplates that for a moment. “Per week.”

*

The next three weeks go by so fast, it’s almost a blur. Louis spends time with Niall, who starts off saying he’s so proud of him for telling Harry, then ends up worried when Harry had apparently been upset to find out. They continue their tradition of hanging out on Tuesday evenings, finally get to play football like Louis had been wanting to. Niall, despite his knee feeling better, still doesn’t manage to beat him, but it’s close, closer than Louis would like.

He checks in on Matt and Jake, who have overcome their star crossed love of rivaling football teams, and who are, honestly, nauseatingly adorable. For their third date, Jake brings Matt chocolates shaped like flowers, stuttering something about how he knows flowers are standard for a date but he’s only ever dated women before and he’s not too sure it goes for men too but he didn’t want to show up empty handed so he figured this was a possible substitute? From the look on Matt’s face he could’ve shown up with a spare tire iron and he’d have thought it was the best gift he’d ever gotten. It’s really sweet. Jake is new to dating boys (though Louis has a feeling he’s not new to being with boys), but he’s clearly smitten with Matt, the two unable to keep their hands or eyes off each other. Except when football is on. Once the season has actually started, the two spend their weekends catching up on the matches, and not once do they get sidetracked and start making out when one of their teams is playing. They hold hands, but that’s as far as it goes, even when the start of the season makes for some dramatic play. Louis watches Matt getting Jake a beer when United is playing, watches Jake grab the chips from the kitchen when Liverpool is on the TV. They’re domestic, and sweet, and Louis feels impossibly endeared by both of them.

He does end up working on a new match too. Two, even. One’s an older woman, in her thirties, who has been single for a decade and has been focusing on her career and contemplating getting kids on her own. He watches as she gets pressured by her friends to go speed dating, can’t help but agree with her when she ducks out after just a handful of awkward five-minute dates. The one she’s meant to meet isn’t here anyway, so he doesn’t blame her for not giving it a chance, even if he knows her friends might. It’s a good thing she went though, because it gives her the last push she needs to make an appointment at a local sperm bank. Which, not so coincidentally, is where she meets him. It’s one of those love at first sight kind of ordeals, the ones Louis loves but also hates because they make everything seem so easy. Not everyone is so lucky, and Louis had learned that the hard way, going from matching up easy pairs to getting incredibly frustrated at his charges’ inability to recognize what was right in front of them.

The other match he’s set up isn’t exactly a match. It’s a boy, early twenties, who ends up crushing hard on his best friend, who then ends up dating another mutual friend of theirs. Louis isn’t sure what lesson the boy - Billy - has to learn, but it’s heartbreaking, seeing him fall in love with her a little deeper every day, watching as she talks to him about her boyfriend, cries on his shoulder when things are upsetting her. He has to admit, he’s quite impressed when Billy seems genuinely upset when she is, when he’s selfless enough that he helps them figure out their problems, even when it costs him his own happiness. Louis knows she’d never return his feelings, the cord had turned the wrong colour, but Billy doesn’t know that. It’s good to see that he loves his friend enough that he’d honestly want what was best for her.

All in all, it’s a busy three weeks, and time flies by. Harry sticks to his promise, that Louis had kind of forced him to make in the first place, of cooking him breakfast twice a week. To make up for it, Louis actually makes him breakfast a few times too, and not just by throwing a ton of cereal in a bowl and calling it a day. He cooks for him, shows that he can make a decent meal, even if he might not be as naturally culinary gifted as Harry is.

The day that they’ve agreed they’ll check back on Liam and Zayn on, Louis has decided they should go out for breakfast together. He’s been good about spending his money, has cooked his own meals rather than gone out - still trying to silence that little nagging voice in the back of his head that says he should be smart with his money, considering he’d taken Harry out for a too expensive meal - and generally tried to eat healthy. So it’s sort of mandatory that he goes out and celebrates his weeks of being good by ordering a massive french toast Napoleon.

Harry is happy to accompany him, waffles over the choices on the menu for a bit but ends up joining Louis in his desire to get a massive sugar high, ordering the same food and opting for a caramel macchiato to drink. Louis favors a strong black tea, but he has to admit, Harry’s drink does look delicious.

“Are you excited to check in on Zayn and Liam again?” Harry asks him, making quick work of his food, just as Louis does. Louis shrugs a shoulder at first, but he knows Harry knows that’s a lie. Of course he’s excited. They’re kind of like their kids, in a weird dysfunctional way. He wants them to do well.

“Zayn’s probably spent the entire month holed up in his room, scowling at his tablet,” he thinks that’s a fair prediction to make. Zayn’s not the type to stray too far from his comfort zone. Sure, he’ll have hung out with his sisters, maybe hooked up with a few people, but he’s stable that way. He does art, sticks to himself. It’ll likely make it a challenge to get him to accept someone new in his life, at least for longer than a night. “It’ll be interesting to see how he’s doing though. If he’s enjoyed his summer. I’m excited to see how he’ll be once school starts back up too.”

Harry nods. “I’m betting Liam’s got everything planned for his move. Do you remember how excited he was, in the car, on the way back home? He was already trying to decide on what he was going to have to buy, how he’d decorate his room. I’m betting he’s made this whole list of things to ask for his birthday.” He sounds fond. It’s entirely the kind of thing Louis could see Liam do too. Which shouldn’t make him feel so fond of him, because Louis is not really that kind of person, and he doesn’t typically understand or get along with people who are like that. But in Liam’s case it’s sort of sweet. He wants to be comfortable and make a good impression, and that Louis can understand.

So he nods. “He’s worked out a lot too I’m sure. Probably pushed himself, thinking he could be faster and stronger, like it hadn’t been enough what he showed Paul.” That’s not really sweet as much as it is a little sad, but it’s also something he thinks Zayn might recognize. From what they’ve seen, Zayn is a perfectionist too, if not in the same areas of life. “I’ve missed them.” He shakes his head. “Is that weird? It’s weird, right? Missing someone you’ve never even met? Someone who doesn’t even know who you are or what you’ve done for them?”

It’s Harry’s time to shrug a shoulder. “Maybe. But, I mean, just because they don’t know us doesn’t mean we don’t know them. I guess it’s kind of like with celebrities? You follow their day to day life, get invested. In our case, we actually have the power to make things happen. It makes sense that we’re involved.”

Louis thinks that it still sounds sort of creepy. He wonders what it would be like to meet one of the people he’s set up. Not even the one he’d be working on at that moment, if he’d ever go down, but just on the street. He wonders if he wouldn’t end up saying hello, just on instinct.

It’d be even weirder if one of his charges died and came to their little corner of Heaven. He knows that typically only those that die young and haven’t experienced love do, but he’s had ample experience with unrequited love over the years. Charges like Billy, who only know heartache. It makes him wonder if he was like that. If one of the older Cupids had tried to set Louis up, only to find him popping up in Heaven not too much later.

“I guess,” he says, when Harry’s looking at him as though he’s still expecting an answer. “I don’t think I’d be too happy, knowing someone had been looking in on me all this time. It’s sort of creepy, isn’t it?” He motions towards Harry with his fork. “Why do we always end up having these deep conversations this early in the morning?”

Harry smiles at that. “Because this early in the morning you’re still too tired to put up all those defenses you like to walk around with.” Louis narrows his eyes at that. He’s sure Harry didn’t mean it as an insult, but it doesn’t sound exactly like a compliment. “You’re a bit more unguarded. Softer. It’s nice.” He finishes, quietly. Louis decides not to argue, and just smiles at him instead.

It does stay on his mind though, all the way throughout breakfast and on their way to work. Once they’ve finally sat down, at Harry’s desk, just like all those times before, he finds he still can’t put it out of his mind. “Haz?” He doesn’t wait for Harry to acknowledge him, doesn’t look up to meet his eyes. “Do you really think that? That I’m .. hard?” He knows he isn’t necessarily soft and likeable from a distance, he’s loud and doesn’t always know how to hold his tongue, offering critique and generally being quite vocal about his displeasure, but he doesn’t like the thought of being unapproachable. Even to strangers. And Harry isn’t a stranger, isn’t watching from a distance. He knows better, doesn’t he?

Harry’s chuckle fades at the expression on his face, apparently, because it gets stuck in his throat, makes him shake his head - Louis had been unable to resist glancing up, his curiosity forever getting the better of him. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re not -” he sighs, stays quiet for a moment, as though he’s trying to search for the right words. “You like to keep people at a distance, sometimes. It’s like, that thing you do? Where you say something sincere but you don’t like people thinking it’s what you really mean? So you laugh it off and you make a joke about it. You do that, a lot, when it comes to things you care about or insecurities you have.”

Louis swallows. Harry looks as though he isn’t done yet, so he bites his tongue, resists the urge to go on the offensive. There’s really no reason to. Harry isn’t trying to insult him, Louis’ first instinct shouldn’t be to fire back.

“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, either,” Harry continues, still slow, thoughtful. “But sometimes, seeing little glimpses of what’s truly going on in your head .. when you’re tired or drunk or there’s just too much going on, sometimes you hold those cards just a little bit less close to your chest. And I like that. I don’t mind that it takes a lot of work to get you to open up, Lou. I don’t mind having to pick out the truth from in between the jokes. Because I feel like I know you. I know who you are, underneath, and I know that you’re a wonderful person. I probably know that better than anyone, maybe even including you.”

Louis frowns. “You’re talking like I don’t ever open up to you though,” he points out. That doesn’t seem like a fair judgment. He talks to Harry all the time. About all sorts of things. “I do.”

Harry nods at that. “You do, I know that. But even then, Lou. It’s like sometimes you say something and then you catch yourself, and it’s like .. you turn it into a joke like you’re scared I’ll judge you for it. Or like I’ll see something and .. I don’t know. Be disappointed?” He shrugs a shoulder. “When really, thinking about it, I don’t think I could ever be disappointed in you.”

It’s not that what Harry is saying is mean, but Louis still feels a little tender, hearing it. He’s never been too good with accepting criticism, always needs to stew on it for a bit, pick out the truth from those words and not reject it on instinct. Because criticism can definitely be valid, and he knows he isn’t infallible. “I’ll try to do that less then,” he mumbles, glancing down at his hands.

“You don’t have to. I wasn’t - I didn’t mean it in a bad way, honest. I wasn’t criticizing you.” Harry sounds a little upset, that the conversation has gone this way. “You just, you asked why this keeps happening, and - I like that I get to see you like that. I like that you feel like you don’t have to be so on all the time. It’s like, seeing that, knowing that you aren’t naturally an open book, it feels special.” He ducks his head. “I feel special.”

Louis’ heart aches. “You are.” He has to purse his lips and bite his tongue to keep from turning it into a joke, realizing Harry is right, because he’s feeling weirdly irritable at being so vulnerable, even when he knows that Harry would never, in a million years, make fun of him for it.

Harry looks up at him. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Not making a joke out of that?” He nods, as though Louis has answered him. “You can, if you like. But you don’t have to. I promise that you don’t ever have to. You can trust me, with all of it. You’re - I’ve always admired you, for being so strong. Even when things are going wrong, even when you feel down, it’s like, you allow yourself a certain amount of time to be upset and afterwards you’re fixing it. You always do that. It’s like you don’t ever need anyone, and I think that’s so incredible.” He reaches for Louis, resting a hand on his arm, gently squeezing his wrist. “But just remember this, ok. That no matter what, you can always be weak, around me. You don’t have to be strong and do it all on your own. I can help you. If you want.”

This is a weird conversation to have, Louis dimly registers, especially considering they’re at work and anyone could listen in. He’s honestly not even sure how they got here, but the way Harry is talking to him, it’s like he’s pleading with him to let him in, while at the same time acknowledging that he’s got his boundaries and making sure to stress that he’s okay just the way he is. It’s awfully Harry of him. “I’ll try,” he says again. “Not because, not because of what you just said or that it made me feel wrong, I know you don’t mean it like that. But I guess, I can’t help but feel a little shitty? That you think I don’t trust you with everything, when I feel like I do. I feel like no matter what I’m going through or what I’m thinking, I know you’d never judge me, for any of it.” He falls quiet for a moment. “I don’t know why I keep my guard up. I don’t think I’m aware of it, half the time.” He wonders if it’s the kind of thing you learn later on in life. If love is the catalyst for it. “But you are special, Harry. Don’t ever let me make you think otherwise, ok?” He needs him to know that. That even if he keeps things to himself, even if he doesn’t like to show his cards or even acknowledge that he’s got cards to play, he loves and trusts Harry beyond all else.

Harry nods, lips pressed tightly together. Louis nudges him. “C’mon. What is it? I can tell you’ve got something to say.” His voice softens a bit, and he rests a hand on the one that’s still on his wrist. “No judgment, yeah? I know I might seem hard or cold from a distance, but you know better, right?” He might tease Harry a lot, but he’s never going to judge him. Not even for crying as often as he seems to do. He knows it’s not that Harry cries more than he does, he just doesn’t seem too bothered with crying in public, something that would absolutely make Louis cringe. It’s something he almost admires him for if he’s honest. The ability to just feel and not give a shit about anyone else. Though it’s likely more that Harry is simply too overwhelmed, because if anything, he cares too much about what other people think. It’s just not always obvious.

“I know,” Harry exhales shakily. “I just wanted to say sorry. Because we were having a nice breakfast, and I don’t want you to think that I’m criticizing you or that this is something that’s been bothering me that you’ve been doing wrong because that’s not it. And I’m sorry if I made you feel like it is.” He breathes in deeply. Louis waits patiently. “And you’re really special to me too.” It comes out mumbled more than anything.

Louis resists the urge to make a joke, to cover up the achy warm feeling in his chest. “Thank you.”

*

Once they’ve both gotten over the slight awkwardness of the conversation - which, really, mostly stems from the fact that it wasn’t awkward at all - they go back to the task at hand. It’s been three weeks since they’ve really checked in on Liam and Zayn, apart from a few short moments where they just wanted to make sure nothing unexpected was going on. It’s Liam’s birthday, and Louis is expecting it to be a big affair, considering it’s the weekend and Liam’s close to moving to Bradford. His house is probably filled with family and friends.

When they check in, he’s a bit surprised to see that there aren’t really all that many people present. Liam’s mum is there, with his dad, as well as Nicola and her boyfriend and her baby. There’s another girl too, one that they quickly deduce is another sibling, both from her looks and the easy, teasing way they have with each other. Her name’s Ruth, and she’s brought a boy with her, one Louis and Harry haven’t seen before. Judging from the introductions and the way they refrain from making too many inside jokes, he’s a relatively new addition to the family. There’s cake and presents and it’s nice, the dog barking and the baby making these adorable sounds, happily perched on her uncle’s lap. But it’s still sort of odd, not seeing Liam’s friends all there. Louis concludes it must be the family party, before the friend party. That’s a thing, right?

“Any plans for tonight, Liam?” Ruth’s boyfriend asks. Louis can tell, from the immediate silence, that it’s the wrong thing to ask. That something’s not quite right. Ruth rests her hand on her boyfriend’s arm, shaking her head, making him frown. “What?”

She whispers something under her breath, Liam looking up slowly. “You don’t have to make a big deal out of it Ruth,” he says calmly, but his voice is deliberately steady. “No, Barry. No plans. ‘m probably gonna stay in and watch a movie, maybe take Watson out for a jog if the weather’s nice.”

Watson barks at the sound of his name, startling little baby Zoe, though Liam is quick to soothe her, cradling her close so she can wrap her tiny hands in his hair and tug. He doesn’t even wince.

“No party tonight?” It’s Harry, sounding a little disbelieving and upset, the latter similar as to how the entire Payne family looks right now. “Aren’t his friends going to want to say goodbye?”

Louis doesn’t understand either. “Maybe they’re throwing him a going away party later?” There’s not much later to do it though. Liam’s days away from moving up North. “Or maybe they’ve planned a surprise party?” It doesn’t sit right with him though, the way his family is acting. Subdued, exchanging looks with each other. Even the way Liam had spoken.

“I’m sorry,” Barry offers. “I didn’t mean-”

Liam shrugs a shoulder, gets up to his feet, carefully putting Zoe in her mother’s arms. “Why should you be sorry?” He mumbles, bitterness lacing his words. “It’s not like it’s your fault I don’t have any friends.”

Chapter Text

They watch in silence as Liam leaves the room. The window automatically follows him as he heads up the stairs, taking multiple steps in one go, possibly to avoid getting called back by his parents. It’s not until he’s shut the room to his door that the tension in his shoulders drops, and with it his face.

It hurts, watching him. Feels too private, all of a sudden. “I think we should-” Louis starts softly, and Harry nods, closes the window, giving Liam the privacy he so desperately seems to want.

They stay quiet, the window dark, reflecting their faces. Louis swallows. “How did we miss this?”

At the same time, Harry says “How does he not have any friends?”

They’re both good questions, ones that neither of them know how to answer. Louis thinks back on the past few weeks, on the times they’ve watched Liam. He’d been spending time with his family, with his boxing trainer, with his dog. How had this not been glaringly obvious? How had they missed that Liam hadn’t spent any time with people his own age?

It makes him wonder about Zayn. They’ve seen him with others, but only those he’s been making out with. Does Zayn not have any friends either?

He doesn’t even care that it possibly complicates their jobs. He just feels sad, knowing that Liam doesn’t have anyone to confide in, anyone outside of his family that’ll miss him when he moves to Bradford. Louis feels bad about judging him so quickly at the start, and angry at all the other people in his life that must have done the same, because Liam Payne is a beautiful soul and he deserves for people to see that.

“Can’t we do something?” Harry asks him, and Louis recognizes that tone in his voice. He’s upset, angry like Louis is. But he’s also almost spiteful, like he wants nothing more than to prove Liam wrong, and with it every person in his life who has neglected to give him the chance he deserves. If it were up to him he’d fill the room with people who adored him, but that’s not exactly an option.

Louis can’t fault him for wanting to though. He wants to throw Liam a birthday party too. Wonders what it’d be like if they just popped down, HQ be damned, and went to ring the doorbell. Liam would likely think they’re pranking him though, if he wouldn’t think they were downright crazy. “I don’t think so,” he says quietly, wondering how Liam feels about Bradford now. If he thinks he’s still going to end up alone there. At least he’ll have roommates. But how confident is he that they’ll end up even getting along? Not having friends does something to your self esteem, and God, how obvious is it in hindsight. The way he’d always doubted himself, never thought he was anything special. It all makes sense now. Louis really wishes it didn’t.

“What about his roommates?” Harry suggests quietly, apparently thinking along the same lines as Louis is. “I know we’re not supposed to really check in on them, let alone influence them, and HQ is probably going to sanction us for doing something that doesn’t technically help us set Liam and Zayn up, but, couldn’t we find some way to let them know it’s Liam’s birthday, at least?”

Louis is never one for sticking to the rules in cases like this. He knows that Harry is though, is always a little more worried about getting in trouble. “Do it,” he says resolutely. “What’s the worst they can do? Undo it? It’s not as though we’re messing with the universe here. We’re just letting them know it’s his birthday, and counting on them to be decent people.” They had seemed to like Liam well enough. Had exchanged phone numbers. It’s not that far fetched to hope at least one of them gets in touch upon learning it’s his birthday, is it?

Harry, despite it being his idea, still seems sort of hesitant, so Louis reaches for the window, thinks of pretty Jade Thirlwall. The window seems to need a moment, a moment that Louis doesn’t really breathe because he’s never tried this before. He’s only looked up current charges or past ones. Or the ones that HQ gave him permission to interact with. He hopes that thinking about Jade is enough to activate the memory embedded in his fingerprint.

It finally opens, revealing Jade in her room, applying mascara and chatting to another girl, who is sat on her bed. Louis isn’t too sure how he’s going to do this, doesn’t know how exactly to break the rules without the girls feeling a little out of sorts, doing something that isn’t entirely in their nature to. In the end, he prays for the best, reaching for the window and channeling his energy into getting Jade’s friend to think of scrolling through her phone.

It works like a charm. The girl picks up Jade’s phone, scrolls through her contacts - Jade doesn’t so much as blink, which is a good sign. “Oooh,” she says, “who’s this? Liam? New boy?”

Jade chuckles, applies lipstick. “That’s the new roommate I told you about, actually. He’s moving in on Tuesday, I think. He seems nice.” She glances at her friend through the mirror. “Probably not your type though, Jesy.”

Jesy arches an eyebrow. “Liam, you said? What’s his last name? I’m going to look him up on Facebook.” She doesn’t bother taking her own phone to do that, which makes Louis feel a lot better about breaking the rules. Apparently she and Jade are close enough to mess around with each other’s phones.

Once Jade remembers Liam’s last name, Jesy wastes no time in looking him up. “Curly,” she notes. “Cute.” She scans his page, Louis hearing Harry take an audible breath. “Oooh, today’s his birthday!”

Score.

“We should send him a text!” Jesy enthuses. Jade frowns at her reflection for a moment, then shrugs.

“Why not. He’s a nice enough guy, and he’s going to be living with us in a couple days. Wouldn’t be so weird, would it?”

Jesy nods, already busy composing a text by the looks of it. Jade just sits next to her, reading along as she types, her chin perched on Jesy’s shoulder. “I’m telling him we’re going to have to go out for drinks next weekend to celebrate,” Jesy decides. “You, me, Andy, Soph and him.” She doesn’t glance at Jade for confirmation, just sends the text, presses a kiss to Jade’s cheek before handing her the phone. “Is Soph back from her holiday by then?”

Jade pockets her phone, rubs the lip gloss off her cheek. “Should be. It’ll be a nice way to get to know each other. Since we’re all going to be living together. Except you, but, you’re here half the time anyway. You’re sort of an honorary roommate.” She goes back to finishing off her makeup. “Except that you don’t pay the rent.”

Harry nudges Louis, nodding towards the screen. “Let’s check in on Liam.” It sounds almost urgent, but Louis can’t really blame him. He’s excited too. He hopes it makes a difference. He’s not going to care too much about getting into trouble with HQ anyway, but he’d rather it not be completely in vain.

Changing the window back to Liam’s room, they find him face down on the bed, his arms around his pillow. His phone is next to him, screen black. “D’you think he’s read it?” Harry wonders. Louis knows he’s not really expecting an answer. What would he say? There’s no way to know, except to keep watching.

So they do. Liam doesn’t move for a couple of minutes, not until there’s a soft knock on the door. “I’ll be right out mum,” Liam calls out, attempting a steady, light voice, though Louis figures there’s really no point to it. His family knows him well enough, it had been obvious from the moment they had all gone silent at Barry’s earlier question. And they all clearly care about him, feel upset at Liam’s lack of friends just as much as he does, though clearly not in the exact same way.

Karen doesn’t open the door. Louis can tell though, even without looking in on her, that she desperately wants to. “Alright love,” she says softly, her tone of voice so gentle that it makes Liam groan into his pillow. “Nic said Zoe has to take a nap soon, she wanted to know if you’d put her to bed for her.” There’s probably not really a reason for that, other than to draw Liam out of his self imposed exile, but despite the fact that everyone in the house (and up in Heaven) knows that, it still works. Well enough at least that Liam sits up, brushes a sleeve over his face.

“Yeah, of course. Just give me a minute, and I’ll come down.” Liam replies, trying to fix his hair and make it look as though he hasn’t just been crying. There’s a soft reply from Karen, footsteps retreating. Liam takes a few deep breaths, goes to grab his phone and slide it in his pocket.

It’s almost as an afterthought. He’s nearly pocketed it when he takes it back out, unlocks it. His eyes widen a bit when he reads the text, and it isn’t quite enough to warrant a smile, but there’s the definite beginning of one.

Louis thinks sometimes the momentary absence of unhappiness is the most you can hope for.

*

It’s not long before HQ gets wind of what they’ve done, and Harry and Louis are called into the office. Louis doesn’t feel too remorseful, so he goes in, head held high, mostly because Harry looks rather sheepish and a bit pale, next to him. He brightens up soon though, when they’re led into a room only to find Nick Grimshaw waiting for them.

“Nick, hi!” Harry greets, going towards him for a hug, though he stops in his tracks when Nick makes a slight move away from him, gestures towards a seat.

“Please take a seat.”

Louis loathes him for the way he makes Harry’s face fall, the way he makes him sit down in his seat, looking small and chastised. He arches an eyebrow, taking the seat next to him, probably a bit more defiant than he should be when he’s about to be reprimanded for breaking the rules. “Grimshaw,” he greets, more polite than he wants to be but less polite than he likely should.

“Tomlinson.” Nick looks at them both, sighs. “Heard you broke the rules.”

“Nick, listen,” Harry starts, leaning forward, practically begging him with those green eyes of his. Louis bites the inside of his cheek to keep from snickering. He knows that look. He dares Grimshaw to be immune to it. “I know that we kind of maybe broke the rules a little bit, but, if you’ll just hear us out, I swear you’ll understand.”

Nick seems to struggle to keep a smile off his face. “I don’t need to understand, Harry. You know as well as I do that the rules are there for a reason.” He barely looks at Louis, just focuses on Harry, who frowns, not very happy with the way Nick is acting right now. Louis knows it’s just Grimshaw doing his job, but he’s still a dick for not letting Harry explain. “Look, if it were up to me, I’d say you probably had a good reason for it, and even if you didn’t, it’s not like you did anything massive, and it’s probably not going to have any unforeseen side effects, but the rules are the rules. I’m not supposed to sympathise with you for it. I just gotta check if what you’ve done actually has a purpose in bringing your charges together, which I’ve already done and it doesn’t, so now I gotta figure out what the appropriate disciplinary action is.”

Harry looks like a kicked puppy. Louis wants to kick Grimshaw. Even when he knows Harry’s likely not upset with Grimshaw, just mortified at being accused of breaking the rules.

“It was my fault,” Louis tells him. Harry’s soft sound is ignored by both Louis and Nick. “Harry asked if there was something we could do to cheer Liam up, and I decided to break the rules. If you’re gonna discipline anyone it should be me.”

Nick sighs. “It doesn’t work like that. You’re working this case together. Harry should’ve stopped you.”

“It’s Harry.” Louis argues. Nick nods like that’s a sensible argument. “And, y’know. I’m me.” It shouldn’t be hard to get Nick to shift the blame to him, should it? Considering they aren’t exactly friends, the way Nick and Harry are. Maybe for once Louis can actually be thankful that Harry befriended Nick?

Harry shakes his head. “Lou,” he starts, but Louis just gives him a look. “Nick,” he tries, clearly thinking he’s going to be easier to convince.

“It’s not like either of you are in a lot of trouble,” Nick tells them. “It’s up to me to decide, right? That’s why I picked up the case. I know you’re not one for breaking the rules, Harry. And I know you, Louis, and as much as you want to act like you’d do whatever you wanted with no regards for the consequences, you wouldn’t do anything if Harry asked you not to.” Louis wants to scowl at him for it, but he knows it’s the truth. He’d never hurt Harry. At least him and Nick seem to have that in common. “The minimum I can get away with is making you do overtime, archiving. So. Whenever’s convenient for you this next week, you’re doing one night of archiving from 5 to 8.” He presses a few buttons on his computer, prints out a piece of paper and puts it in front of him. “If you’ll both just sign your names, we’re done with this whole thing.”

Harry still looks sheepish when he signs. He glances up at Nick. “Thanks,” he says quietly. “Thank you for looking out for me.”

Nick smiles, for the first time this meeting. It’s like he drops the act of Nick Grimshaw, HQ employee, and turns into the boy who is one of Harry’s closest friends. Louis has to admit he’s slightly more likeable as the latter. “Anytime. And if you’re up for it, I think I’ll take that hug now?”

Harry nearly leaps out of his seat, cuddling into Nick. Louis meets Nick’s eyes over the top of Harry’s head. “I think I’ll just stick with a handshake,” he tells him. “If it’s all the same to you.”

Nick snorts, shakes his hand. “Pleasure as always, Tomlinson.”

Louis resists the urge to wipe his hand on his jeans. “Same.” He pauses, then sighs. “And thank you.”

*

One night of archiving isn’t too bad, all things considered, and when they check in on Liam later and find that he’s shown his mum the text - causing her to squeeze him tighter than perhaps is comfortable (at least judged by the look on Liam’s face) - and is looking a bit less distraught, Louis is happy that he broke the rules. “This was a good idea of you, Hazza,” he compliments him, resisting the urge to hug him. It’s half because he doesn’t like Grimshaw being the last person to have touched him, which is just so weirdly possessive that he prefers not to think about it, let alone act on the impulse. “I really hope they’ll end up getting along. Liam deserves to have a good group of friends.” Jesy and Jade had seemed nice, and Andy had been friendly enough too, the short time they had seen him. Soph, the third roommate, was a bit more of a mystery, but if Jade and Andy liked her Louis is sure she must be a nice enough person. He just hopes that Liam gives them a chance too. That he won’t withdraw, based on previous experiences.

He hopes he’ll give Zayn a chance too, once they finally get them to meet. Which is really what they should be focusing on now. Liam’s due in Bradford in a few days, Zayn’s only got a couple of days of his holiday left. The past three weeks they’ve pressed pause on their relationship, but now it feels as though they’re almost running out of time again.

The problem is that they’ve still got no idea what Zayn’s schedule will be like once he goes back to school. They check in on him regardless, but as always, he’s either out on his own - at night, going for a walk, or during the day, finding a quiet place to sketch - or with his family. Even the pictures in his room are mostly of his family, and Louis finds himself hoping that Zayn isn’t friendless like Liam is, or if he is, that he’s at least content with it.

Finally, a day or two after Liam’s birthday - the day before he’s moving to Bradford, in fact - Zayn gets his class schedule, and they’ve at least got something to go on. Liam, they already know, will be teaching from eight to four thirty every day, leaving him with only the evenings and weekend to plan out. Zayn has mostly afternoon classes, doesn’t start before ten o’clock except on Wednesday. He’s got a night class on Monday too, from six to eight. It’s a class where they work on drawing actual people, so it makes sense that it’s not during the day, when most of the models might be at work. Louis briefly contemplates whether or not they could get Liam to become one of the models, but he doubts he’ll feel comfortable getting stared at by a class of students, even if they’re not going to be judging him.

Evenings and weekends are going to be the key, clearly. It’s Monday now, and Liam’s moving tomorrow, isn’t starting his traineeship until the next week, the same day Zayn is starting his classes. So there’s a bit of room to make them meet beforehand, if they can get Zayn to go out at the same club Jesy told Liam they were going to on Saturday. That’s the plan Louis and Harry tentatively settle on, while they watch Zayn finally finish the assignment he’d been working on on and off all summer. They watch as he grabs his phone, texts someone, making a comically horrified face when the phone rings in response. Zayn’s not a phone person, apparently, because he just stares at the phone until Louis is sure it’s about to stop ringing.

“Lo?” He finally greets, reluctantly bringing the phone to his ear.

The conversation is rather one sided. Zayn doesn’t do more than hm and use one word responses, though by the look on his face it’s not because he doesn’t enjoy speaking to whoever he was texting before. He’s just not very talkative, prefers to give the room to the other person. It’s not until the end of the conversation that they actually hear him say a proper sentence.

“Sounds wicked. See you tonight, mate.”

Louis should not feel such a thrill at hearing Zayn call someone mate. But it’s nice, after being confronted with Liam’s situation, to hear that Zayn apparently does have friends. Although he knows mate is a term used loosely, referring to anyone ranging between casual acquaintance to bosom friend, at least Zayn is meeting up with someone tonight.

He grins at Harry. “I’m gonna get some coffee. D’you want anything? We can skip forward afterwards, if you’d like. See who Zayn’s meeting up with tonight?” Hopefully they’d go somewhere Zayn was familiar with, because once they know what places he likes going to it’s a lot easier to make Liam go there too. Unless it’s like, a leather bar or something. No amount of nudging is going to make Liam feel comfortable enough to set foot inside one of those, Louis is fairy sure.

Harry nods, absently doodling on a piece of paper. “Can you get me a muffin? I want something sweet.”

Louis doesn’t even bother to resist the urge to pinch Harry’s cheek. “You’re sweet enough.” He teases, watches with satisfaction as Harry’s energy goes pink, his features softening in response to Louis teasing him. He loves how that never changes. “Alright. I’ll bring you a muffin, muffin.”

He heads outside quickly, before Harry can take this as a challenge to come up with the worst endearment he could possibly think of. It’s nice out, as it always is, and Louis takes his time walking to the coffee shop, glad for the ability to skip forward in time. It’ll make it a lot easier to keep tabs on Zayn’s whereabouts for tonight, and considering they’re about to spend the evening in archives, getting dust all over themselves, he’s quite glad that he’s not going to have to miss out on the one evening Zayn is actually meeting up with people.

Harry’s not really doing anything, when he comes back. He’s barely watching the screen, and his paper is full of doodles rather than actual notes. Louis puts his muffin and coffee in front of him, nudges him when Harry barely even looks up. “Where’d you just go?” He asks him. “You looked worlds away.”

Harry blinks, breaking out of his reverie, smiling when he sees the muffin and coffee in front of him. “Hi. Sorry. Were you talking to me? I was kind of-” he gestures vaguely. “Thanks, for the coffee and the food. Babycakes.”

Louis snorts. “Really? That’s why you were lost in thought? You were thinking about pet names to call me?” He shakes his head in disappointment. “And the best you could come up with was babycakes?”

“It’s thematic!” Harry protests. “You called me muffin. Would you prefer something else? Sugar? Honey bun? Puddin’?”

Harry is entirely the type of person that would spend twenty minutes trying to come up with nicknames that fit Louis’ offhanded endearment. Louis really loves him a lot. He doesn’t think there’s anyone in the world like Harry. “I’m vetoing all of those,” he ignores the aghast look on Harry’s face. “You’re not calling me anything edible.”

Harry pouts. Then grins at him. “Ok princess.”

“No.”

Before Harry can continue on with his probably extensive list of increasingly cringeworthy nicknames, Louis presses a finger to the window, speeding up time until it’s night, and Zayn’s about ready to head out. “I’m wondering who he’s meeting,” he says loudly, to drown out the whispered endearments Harry is still throwing at him. Snuggluffagus, honestly. “Harry.”

“Yes, dear?”

Dear isn’t so bad. Louis could probably live with being called dear, if Harry wasn’t being so annoyingly derogative when he says it. He’s enjoying this way too much, the little shit. Louis regrets leaving him alone. “Pay attention, will you, darling?” He sounds saccharine sweet, bats his lashes at Harry, who doesn’t even giggle like he expected him to. He just beams at him, like Louis calling him darling is actually something he’s happy about. Fuck.

“Alright, love.” He pets his hand, turns back to the window. “Paying attention now.” He stares at the screen as though it holds the answers to everything in life, though it might just be because he’s caught Zayn with his top off. And, well. Zayn’s pretty. With or without his top off, if Louis’ honest. He’s a very attractive human being.

“Don’t ogle.” He scolds Harry, because apparently Harry having eyes and paying attention - thereby doing exactly what Louis told him to - is something he should admonish him for, albeit playfully. “Creep.”

“I thought we were done with the pet names,” Harry hums, glancing at him over his shoulder. “Did you want to continue? Because I’ve got a ton of them still left in my arsenal, if you’re up for it.” He sends Louis a sunny smile.

Louis rolls his eyes. Forwards enough that Zayn has at least got his top on.

*

Zayn’s night doesn’t prove to be very eventful, but it’s educating nonetheless. They find out what bar he likes, what drink his go to choice is, and they see him with a friend for the first time. It’s nice, seeing him with people his own age, seeing him comfortable and smiling, even getting cajoled into dancing once he’s got a few drinks in him. He doesn’t get completely drunk, because the guy he’s with - Anthony - has got work in the morning, but there’s plans to meet up on Saturday, celebrate the end of the summer. They don’t end up deciding on the bar Liam’s going to be at, but it’s in the same area, so it might not be too difficult to nudge them in each other’s direction.

It finally feels as though they’ve got a starting point. Everything else has led up to this, to facilitate the chance of them meeting. There’s something so special about that first meeting, and now that they’re close, Louis almost can’t wait. He wishes they could forward all the way there, but although time moves differently they’re still bound to some rules. They can’t forward more than a few hours, can’t go beyond midnight and skip to another day. So unfortunately they’ll still have to wait.

Louis is still in a good mood though. Good enough that when he wants to go home and Harry reminds him of the archiving they’ve got to do tonight he doesn’t even complain too much. He just sighs and nods, rubs at his face because he’s already tired and now he’s got to work for another three hours. “Let’s pop down to the cafeteria and grab some sandwiches, alright? I’m not going to spend three hours in a dusty room without any food.” He likes Harry well enough that he doesn’t want to end up snapping at him because he’s hungry and being hungry makes him irritable.

Harry smiles. “Actually. I uh, I made us dinner? We just have to grab some forks. I figured you’d want a proper meal, and I had some roast left over from last night. So I made a quick chicken pasta salad.”

Harry’s a great cook, and Louis is more than happy to trade in day old sandwiches from the cafeteria for Harry’s pasta salad. “That sounds ace,” he grins at him, resists the urge to ruffle his hair when Harry smiles so sweetly in response. “I’ll just pop on down and get us some forks then. Do you want a drink?” He could go for a beer if he’s honest, something that’ll make the night of archiving seem a little less endless, but he knows better than to drink on the job. He might break the rules on occasion but he doesn’t actually like getting in trouble.

He briefly wonders what would happen if he was ever fired. Would they send him on to Heaven? Would he just cease to exist, considering he no longer has a purpose? He shakes the thought, nods when Harry asks him to bring him some coffee. He’s clearly as tired as Louis is.

It doesn’t take him long to grab them both a drink, though Louis has opted for tea rather than coffee, knowing his body will thank him once he’s in bed and actually able to sleep. It’s quiet now that most everyone has left, and once he’s in the archiving hall, there’s not a sound except his and Harry’s breathing. It’s sort of creepy, really.

“Why are archives always so creepy?” He wonders out loud, handing Harry his drink. “They’re always dusty and dark and just .. I always feel a bit spooked, if I’m honest.”

Harry hums. “It’s the history of it all, I think.” It might just be the fact that there’s stacks upon stacks of boxes that are threatening to topple down any minute, in Louis’ opinion, but Louis doesn’t say that. “We’re actually in history right now. Everything that happened, that we did, that others before us did, it’s all here. It’s a weird concept.” Harry takes a sip from his coffee. “You know about liminal spaces, yeah?”

“Liminal spaces?”

“They’re kind of like, transient places? You’re not supposed to be there for a long time. Like airports. Or things that are only supposed to exist at a certain time? Like, right now, the office is empty and it’s getting dark. It’s creepy because we know we’re not supposed to be here. I always feel the same about the archives. There’s so much history here, things that were but aren’t anymore.” He shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s a combination of knowing that some things don’t exist anymore but they sort of still do, because they’re here, all around us.” He gestures towards the boxes.

“Huh.” Louis says, scratching at the back of his neck. “That’s sort of cool, if you think about it.” Still a bit creepy, but cool. Knowing that no matter what, there was some record of the past. It’s not hard to see why he would find that attractive, considering he has no past, not one that he can remember. It’s a nice thought, that someone remembers. Or can at least look it up. There’s records, that he existed, even if he doesn’t personally remember. It’s sort of comforting. “Do you think we’d be in here?” These were just the Cupid archives, old papers that haven’t yet been digitized - which is what they’re doing for the next three hours. He’s sure God has a much bigger archive, consisting of everyone who has ever lived. Louis knows for sure that he’d be in there somewhere.

Harry shrugs again. “Probably. If you mean our records when we first came here. I don’t think we’d be in here as charges, considering that’s kind of our thing, right? Not having experienced love. So we probably never got to be matched up by the Fates. But the employee records should be here somewhere.”

Louis tries not to feel disappointed. It’s not like it’s important. He knows who he is, even if he doesn’t know who he was.

“Do you want to find them?” Harry puts down his cup, empty by the looks of it. Louis hasn’t even started on his tea. It’s probably lukewarm by now. At best. “Perrie spent a few nights in archiving last year, after she refused to set that one match up.” Louis remembers. It had been a tough case. She’d found that the man she was supposed to set her charge up with had been abusive to his previous girlfriends, and she had decided that it went against everything she believed in to set up a girl with someone like that. It had been a big ordeal. They weren’t supposed to defy direct orders, and once the Fates had made a match it was up to the Cupids to make it happen. They weren’t supposed to judge. Especially since everything happened for a reason. But Perrie hadn’t bought into it, hadn’t wanted to hear that maybe he would change for her, or that she needed to go through the experience to achieve what she was meant to do in life. She had flat out refused, and of course HQ had reprimanded her. Another Cupid had taken over the case too, but Louis hadn’t wanted to hear about it. Maybe that was cowardly, but he doesn’t always need to be confronted with the cruel reality of life. “She told me where they were.”

“Did she tell you what’s in them?” Louis looks up at him. “The employee records -- are they just of when we got here? Old evaluations and whatnot?” He’s not sure why he’s asking Harry. He probably doesn’t know more than Louis does. If he did, if Perrie had told him, he’s sure Harry would have found some way into the archives long before this.

“Let’s go and look?” Harry suggests. Louis nods, drinking down his tea, making a face when the last few sips are more cold than anything. He gets up from where he was perched on the computer table, follows Harry to the back of the archives, past rows upon rows of boxes and filing cabinets. They get to a dark corner, the light flickering a little bit, and isn’t that just something. Louis finds himself shivering even before Harry stops in front of a cabinet. “Pez said they should be in here.” His finger brushes over the drawers, the letters indicating which files can be found where. He crouches down, opens up the one labeled P-T. It doesn’t take him long to pull out two folders, labeled Styles, H.E. and Tomlinson, L.W. (Austin, L.T.).

Handing Louis his folder, he cradles his own to his chest, suddenly looking a bit insecure. “You sure you want to have a look?” He asks, and Louis hadn’t been sure before, but now that he’s got his own file in his hands, he’s not sure he can go without knowing. Especially considering there’s another name on there. He needs to know.

So he nods, even if his fingers are a bit shaky. “Yeah. You first?” He’s selfish that way. He’d rather open Harry’s folder and be disappointed at the lack of information than find it out when he’s opened his own. If there’s nothing in there about their human lives, it’s going to hurt a bit less when he hasn’t got his hopes up.

Harry nods, holding the folder in front of them, so Louis can read with him. He’s leaned slightly into him, and it’s only natural for Louis to wrap an arm around his waist. From the way Harry exhales he’s grateful about it. He doesn’t think either of them breathes for a moment before they open it up, the first visible thing a picture of Harry, faded from years of being in the archive, though the boy at Louis’ side doesn’t look a day older than the one in the file. “Cute picture, Curly,” he says softly, trying to dispel some of the tension he knows they both feel.

Harry Edward Styles, the first page reads. 1 February 1978 - 15 March 1996. Louis swallows. “You were eighteen.” It sounds so young. Eighteen. Harry’s been here for twenty one years, longer than he’d ever been on earth. He reads on. Son of Anne Selley and Desmond Styles, sibling to Gemma Styles. Born in Redditch, Worcestershire. His parents’ birth dates aren’t mentioned, nor if they’re still alive. Still. It’s more than they’ve ever known. Louis isn’t sure Harry even knew his own middle name, or that he wasn’t actually called Harold. He’s only ever been Harry Styles.

“I have a sister,” Harry whispers. Louis squeezes his waist. He can tell without Harry having to give voice to his thoughts that he wants, more than anything, to look up his family through the window. Possibly go through the archives in an attempt to find out more about them. Were his parents still together? Was his sister happy?

“You wanna do mine?” He says quietly. He’s not trying to take Harry’s moment away from him, but he knows him. He knows Harry can get lost in his sadness if no one is there to stop him. Louis isn’t sure this wasn’t a really bad idea. Because he knows he’ll want to look up his family too, but HQ is going to sanction them to a whole lot worse than just archiving. And he’s not sure it’ll be worth it. Harry would’ve been 39 by now, it’s not unlikely that his family is still alive, but can the same be said for his own? The thought almost makes him want to put the file back and pretend he’s never seen it, but that wouldn’t feel fair to Harry, who needs someone to go through the same heartache he’s just gone through.

So he looks. Of course he looks.

Louis William Tomlinson (born Louis Troy Austin), 24 December 1934 - 15 march 1955. Son of Johannah Poulston and Troy Austin. Then, a whole list of siblings, all girls. Charlotte, Félicité, Daisy and Phoebe Tomlinson. At least he can see where the name comes from.

“You died long before I was even born,” Harry points out, incredulously. Louis doesn’t know why that knowledge hurts, but it does. “We died on the same date.”

So they did. And Louis apparently made it to twenty, before he died. He’s been here over triple that long. Sixty two years. It’s weird to see it in print. Weird knowing how long he’s been here, or that he would’ve been turning 83 this year, had he not died. He frowns. “I don’t feel eighty two. Do you feel thirty nine, now that you know?”

Harry pulls at his lip, thoughtful. “No. I always just feel .. young.” He frowns. “I guess you don’t really have a choice, though. Seeing the same face staring back at you in the mirror for twenty one years, I suppose your brain doesn’t really ever get beyond ‘young’. I never knew I was eighteen. It sounds so young, doesn’t it? Liam and Zayn are older than I ever got to be, and they look so .. They feel like kids, still. It’s weird. I’m a child.”

Louis nods. It is strange. He doesn’t feel eighty two, but he doesn’t feel twenty either. He wonders if this is what Harry meant about liminal spaces. In a sense, he feels like he’s like that. He’s neither eighty two nor twenty yet both at the same time. “Good to know I’m older than you though,” he tries to make light of the situation, gently elbows Harry. “You know, for when you ever doubt that I’m right. ‘M older, so I’d know, wouldn’t I?”

It coaxes a small smile onto Harry’s face. “Great,” he groans, “like you needed anything else to convince yourself that you’re always right.”

Louis rolls his eyes at that. “I am always right.” He raises an eyebrow, as though daring Harry to defy him. He knows he won’t. He never does. “And, anyway, if I’m not, in those rare, very few and far between circumstances that I’m not, you usually say that I am anyway.”

Harry shrugs. “It’s easier than arguing with you.”

“So, really, when you think about it, it’s all your fault that I’m insufferable.” If Harry didn’t cave so easily, Louis wouldn’t feel so superior and convinced of his own truth. Clearly.

Harry smiles at that. “Ok, grandpa, whatever you say.”

*

“So,” Louis starts conversationally, about an hour into digitizing files - which is slow work but actually not all that boring, because they get to read up on some matches, and some pretty laughable excuses for making alterations to the world - “How much trouble do you think we’d get in if we looked up our family through the window?”

Harry looks at him, the fact that he’s not scandalous proving to Louis that he’s considered the same thing. “A lot,” he says slowly. It hasn’t seemed to convince him. “Are you going to?”

Louis shrugs. “I don’t know what point there’d be. I would’ve been almost eighty three. I don’t know if I’m the oldest or the youngest of the kids, just that I’ve got a different dad. I could’ve been the oops baby from my mum’s second marriage.” In which case, his siblings were likely all very old if not already deceased.

“You could’ve also been her oops baby from her highschool sweetheart,” Harry suggests.

Louis nods. “I’ve no way of knowing if they’re still alive without looking, but, I don’t know. I don’t know how well I’d deal if I tried to look them up and the window wouldn’t let me because they’re dead. I don’t think I want to know that they died.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I want to know that they lived. How they lived.”

Harry looks a bit conflicted, like he was hoping Louis would break the rules and make it easier for him to follow suit. Louis is pretty sure he doesn’t want to know, but he’s still almost tempted. For Harry’s sake. “It’s like, I don’t know them,” he continues softly. “I don’t remember them. And the first thing I learn about them - I don’t want that to be that I lost them.” Even if he’s already lost them forever. It’s still sort of different. “Anyway, I’d be more curious about my mum and dad. I don’t know why but they’d be the ones I’d want to look up. And going by my own age.. I don’t think there’s even a chance that they’re still alive.” Even if he was his mum’s first child and she had him while she was young, she’d still be pushing close to a hundred years these days.

Harry, though. He’s got a chance. His family’s likely still alive, because he’s only died just over twenty years ago. Unless something happened that killed his entire family, chances are pretty good that they’d be able to find them, watch them. “Do you want to?” Louis asks him. “I understand, if you do.” He wants to caution him, wants to tell him what Dumbledore had told Harry - yes he likes the Harry Potter books, sue him - it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live. Even if they’re not exactly living.

“I don’t know.” Harry sounds a bit small. “It’s weird. I want to feel like I belong, but I won’t, will I? Not with them. If I looked up my sister and I found her in a room full of people, I wouldn’t know who she was. She’s my sister, but I’m not her brother. Not really. She buried her brother a long time ago. I’m just the memory of him, and not even that, because I don’t remember anything. It’s like, I might as well be a hologram. There’s nothing in here-” he gestures towards himself, towards his heart and his head “nothing that connects me to her.”

Louis’ heart aches at hearing those words. He knows he can’t change the way Harry feels, also knows that if he ever does change his mind all it’ll take is one word and Louis will be right there with him, looking up his family. They really are ride or die, together. For now though - he gets up from his seat, goes over to him, wrapping arms and wings around him. His one wing knocks into a stack of boxes and they get covered in dust, but he doesn’t even care at the moment, is too swept up in the need to comfort Harry. “You do belong,” he tells him, voice a little rough, the firm belief that Harry does pouring into every syllable of his words. “You might not belong with them, Hazza, but you belong. Ok? If nothing else, you’ll always belong with me.”

Harry turns around wordlessly, wrapping his own arms around Louis. Louis thinks he’s crying at first, but when their eyes meet, Harry’s eyes are dry. And he’s .. smiling?

“You okay?” He asks softly, running his thumb over his cheek just to check. It comes away dry. “I thought you’d be sad.”

Harry nods. “Yeah,” his voice sounds a bit shaky, expression sheepish when he looks at him. “I just thought, I never would’ve known you if it weren’t for this. Louis.” He holds onto him a bit tighter. “I’m not sad, I don’t think I could ever be sad at dying when it brought me here. When it brought me you.”

*

They don’t do much digitizing afterwards. Nick is probably going to be pissed, but then again, he might have known. Louis wouldn’t even put it past him to place them in archiving exactly because he knew they’d go snooping. As much as Louis doesn’t care for him sometimes, he knows that Nick loves Harry, and they’ve likely talked about some of the same things that Louis and Harry have talked about. He might have thought it would give him a bit of closure, would make him remember that he was loved once, if not in exactly the way he’d hoped. Or maybe Louis is putting too much faith in Grimshaw, and this is just the mandatory disciplinary action. Either way, they do their best but they’re not making much progress, getting too distracted with telling each other dumb made up stories about their pasts. It’s funny how much you can do with just a little bit of information.

“I was a singer,” Harry tells him, “on a cruise ship. I ran away from home when I was a little boy, because my mum caught me stealing cookies and I was too afraid to ever face her again,” he’s smiling, which Louis likes. He likes hearing him talk about his mother, though he couldn’t ever imagine anyone being so mad at Harry that they’d never want to see him again. Harry, though, is totally the kind of boy that would make himself sick with worry over something that had never been a big deal to anyone else.

“What kinda cookie was it?” Louis interrupts.

“Chocolate chip. She made the best chocolate chip cookies in the whole wide world. She’d told me they were for her work but they smelled so good Lou, I just had to have one. Or three.” Harry looks dreamy as he says it, like he can actually remember the taste of these cookies he’d made up. “So I wandered around, grew up on the streets, and by the time I was sixteen I found myself on a cruise ship, entertaining the guests.” He runs a hand through his hair, fluffs it up as though he’s getting ready to face his audience. “It didn’t pay very much but I was happy, Lou. People loved me and I loved them. I loved singing, making them feel something.” His face falls, eyes darkening when he looks at Louis. “But I made them feel too much. There was this young woman, recently married, and her husband thought that she was looking at me some type of way. So here I was, on deck in the middle of the night, watching the stars, and he comes out of nowhere.”

“Did he frame you for the theft of a precious jewel?”

Harry blinks. “What? No.” The reference seems lost on him. Louis has to fight to hold back a snicker. “He threw me overboard. Just like that.” He gestures, a what can you do.

“And that’s how you died?”

Harry sighs. “No, Lou, I turned into a bloody dolphin. Yes, that’s how I died. Obviously.”

Louis snorts. “Alright, not bad. Seven out of ten. My turn.”

“Seven out of ten? I told you I ran away from home over a cookie, I’m baring my soul to you, bringing up my past pain, and you’re rating my life and tragic death.” Harry splutters. “And I only get a seven out of ten?”

Louis shrugs. “A bit cliche mate.”

Harry huffs at that. “Alright then. Let’s hear your story. Your very original origin story.”

Louis has talked a good game until now, but he falls silent for a moment, trying to think of something to say. “Alright,” he starts, wondering if he can just make it up as he goes along. “So I was born in 1934 right. Before the second world war.” He would’ve been five when it started, near eleven when it ended. “Obviously my life was hard from the get go. My dad got drafted, never came back but he was a war hero. For a long time it was just me and my mum. She worked as a nurse, so there was no shortage of work, even in the war. I grew up helping her, handing her bandages, making these homemade remedies that she’d never charge enough for, because she believed that helping other people was the most important thing. I was always hungry, but I was happy too, because when she’d hold me at night, in our tiny bed in our tiny apartment, I always felt safe. Even with the war waging around us.”

He glances at Harry, who has gone from looking skeptical at Louis’ ‘memories’ to fully entranced, in just a few sentences. Sucker. Everyone loves a good war story, loves when good perseveres in the face of evil. This is going to be an easy win. “I grew up with the smell of blood in my nostrils, knew what dying looked like before I turned nine. Somehow, we made it through the war. My dad never returned, mum always said he died a hero, but one of the last patients my mum treated was a man named .. let’s call him William. William Tomlinson.” It is his middle name, after all. His new middle name. It made sense that it came from somewhere. “William, Will, he was near death when he came to us. Brought in on a stretcher and they didn’t think he’d last the night. He didn’t seem to mind though, said at least he got to look at something beautiful before he died. Said that with everything he’d seen, it was good to know that there was still beauty in the world.” He swallows. “Mum wasn’t the sort to be easily flustered by men, she’d grown up a single parent in a war, she was used to crude words and unwelcome advances. But William wasn’t like that. He was kind, good to her, always treated her with respect. He held her hand while she was panicking, thinking that she wouldn’t be able to save him. He told her you already have.”

He’s not sure where this is coming from, but Harry’s looking into it, and Louis is kind of enjoying this. It’s nice, getting to make up a story. None of it might be true or everything might be, but regardless, it felt like it could be a memory, and that was enough. “She saved his life, though it was touch and go for a while. And afterwards, he told her that he couldn’t bear to be away from her anymore. That since she’d saved his life, it was hers to do with as she pleased. They were married a year after the war ended. Charlotte was born in 1947, the year I turned thirteen.” He recalls his sisters’ names, infuses them in his story. “Félicité in ‘49, and then Daisy and Phoebe, they were close together. 1953 and 1954. They were babies, when it happened.”

“When what happened?” It’s a bit breathless.

“I got sick.” Louis tells him, voice quiet. “Part of me didn’t want to accept it, at first. And part of me thought, I’d always known I wouldn’t grow old. I’d lived through a war, I’d already dodged so many bullets. And mum wasn’t alone anymore, she had William and her daughters. I didn’t want to give up, obviously, but it was the mid fifties, hospitals and cures weren’t as developed as they are now. They tried everything they could, what was within their financial limits - I told them, at some point, to stop looking for a way to cure me.” He’s not sure he’d be that selfless, but it makes for a good story. “She had four other kids to take care of. I was an adult.” He swallows. “She fought me tooth and nail but I left the hospital - with no money for them to cure me, they weren’t going to let me stay anyway - and I went off somewhere that I couldn’t infect others. I found two others that were suffering from the same disease, and together we took care of each other, hoped that we’d make it to a cure.” He remembers reading up on things, on different events in history. Not knowing if it was a time period he’d lived in had made it all too easy to imagine himself there. It’s helping him remember the facts now. “I died a month before Dr. Salk announced the vaccine.”

This time, when he looks up at Harry, there’s tears in his eyes. “You must’ve been so alone,” he whispers, and Louis wants to remind him it’s just a story. Just a dumb made up story. He doesn’t know how he died, but he doubts it was anything as tragic as this. In all likelihood he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, his death utterly pointless and devoid of heroism.

Louis smiles at him, ruffles Harry’s hair. “Got me you though, didn’t it?” He doesn’t mean for it to sound teasing, and for once, the walls he puts up are let down enough for it to sound soft and sincere. “Like you said. We’d never have met if it weren’t for us dying. Can’t hate it too much then, can I? You’re the best part about my life, Haz. I don’t think I’d have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t forgotten my earlier life. Might’ve been too caught up in what I lost to see what I’d gained.”

*

Despite the chicken salad that Harry had made, Louis is still feeling sort of hungry when they’re finished with work. He feels dusty and tired too, sore in ways that go beyond physical. There’s an obvious cure. “You wanna go get some ice cream?” He asks Harry, as they head out of the building, using their keycards to lock it. “My treat.”

Harry’s a sweet tooth, for all that he tries to eat healthy, so it doesn’t take him long to decide. He seems more than happy to agree. Louis thinks he would’ve even if he hadn’t offered to pay. That’s nice about their friendship. Neither of them really care about money, or keep a score of who owes what. Whenever they’re together they just like spoiling each other.

Walking side by side, they don’t say much until they get to the ice cream parlor, that seems so brightly lit when they’ve grown used to the dark of the night and the archives. They share smiles as they both naturally drift towards their favorites, Louis going for mint choc chip, and Harry opting for honeycomb. Without needing to even discuss it they decide not to stay inside, instead heading out towards a bench in a nearby park. It’s nice, sitting there, watching the sky grow darker around them.

“I’d love to see the stars one day,” Louis remarks, looking up at the sky. “I used to have this charge, he was super into stargazing. His mum told him all about the different constellations, and later on he shared the stories with his boyfriend. I always wondered what they looked like.” He wonders if other parts of Heaven have stars. It kind of seems like it should. Humans loved looking at the stars, It seems sad that they’d miss it after they died.

“Cara seems to think that we’re the stars,” Harry remarks softly. “I don’t know how that’d work, seeing as the constellations don’t move, but. It’s a nice thought.”

And a good explanation for why they didn’t see them. Louis hums. “So fallen stars are like fallen angels then?” He chuckles. “Maybe they’re the Cupids that have to go down.”

“Or humans that get reincarnated,” Harry offers. It’s one of those things that Louis hasn’t quite got his head wrapped around. Reincarnation, Heaven, it’s weird how those are still such foreign concepts when he’s actually in heaven.

“Do you believe in hell?”

Harry frowns. “I don’t know. You’d think there’d be one, not just because Heaven clearly exists but also because - what would happen to the bad people in the world? Where would they go?”

Louis can’t imagine them coming into Heaven either, but the concept of Hell makes him feel unsettled. He hasn’t ever known God to be unforgiving like that. “Maybe they’re the ones that get reincarnated. Maybe when humans are wishing on falling stars they’re actually wishing on, like, thieves and murderers.” It’s such an odd thought that they can’t help but giggle. It takes some of the charm out of it though. But Louis still likes the thought, that everyone gets a second chance.

“I can’t imagine doing God’s job,” Harry tacks on, after a moment. “Can you imagine, being responsible for everyone on earth?” He licks at his ice cream, fails to notice when it’s dripping down his hand. Louis watches the creamy liquid slide down the tendons in his wrist. “It sort freaks me out sometimes when I think about how long we’ve been working on Zayn and Liam without making any real progress. I can’t imagine how crazy I’d go being responsible for everyone in the whole world.”

Louis nudges him. “We have made progress. Liam’s moving to Bradford tomorrow. We’re going to make him meet Zayn on Saturday. They’re soulmates. Once we get them in the same place, it’s probably going to be a piece of cake.”

Chapter Text

The most of Tuesday is spent observing Liam, watching him as he packs up his belongings and drives himself to Bradford in the car his parents have gotten him. His parents follow behind in their own car, help him move in, and by the end of the day he’s settled into his room, looking a bit lost once his parents have - reluctantly, in Karen’s case - left.

He’s sat on his bed, unpacking his clothes into a dresser, putting his comics and DVD’s up, when there’s a knock on the door. Liam almost freezes, which would make Louis chuckle if he didn’t understand the reason for it. For Liam’s nerves. He watches him take a deep breath, before calling out a timid “Come in.”

The door opens to reveal Jade, smiling at him. There’s another girl behind her. “Hi!” Jade steps inside, looks around the room. Liam flushes a bit when she notices his comics, but she doesn’t say anything about them. “I see you’ve all moved in. I wanted you to meet Soph. She just got back about an hour ago. I was gonna go introduce you right then but you guys were still busy getting everything unpacked.”

Soph moves from behind Jade’s back, smiling at Liam too. “Hi Liam,” she extends a hand to him, shakes it, much to Jade’s amusement. “I’m Sophia, but everyone calls me Soph. It’s nice to meet you. Jade said it was your birthday last week and that we’re going out this weekend?”

Liam nods, a smile slowly transforming his features. He looks good. A bit shy, but happy that they remembered, that the offer was genuine. Louis watches as he drags a hand through his hair, or starts to, before realizing he’s traded in his curly ‘do for something shorter and more stylish. It had surprised Louis when he’d first checked in on him this morning, but he’s liking it. Liam looks older, more confident. He hopes that confidence becomes more than just a mask, someday. That he doesn’t have to consciously put it on, like a piece of clothing. “Yeah,” he says softly, “She texted me on my birthday, last Saturday. I’d really like that.”

Jade twirls a piece of her hair around her finger. “Well, Jesy did,” she says more to Soph than Liam, “she stole my phone and decided that we should properly welcome our new roomie. Despite, y’know, not living here.” She smiles at Liam. “I hope you don’t mind. She can be sort of .. demanding.”

Liam shakes his head. “No, not at all. It’ll be nice getting to know you all. And the town.” Although he sounds confident, Louis knows him well enough by now to know that he’s nervous about it. Scared that he won’t make a good impression. “It’s a bit intimidating, not knowing anyone or anything.”

The girls seem somewhat charmed by this confession, Soph coming further into the room and sitting herself down on the bed, next to Liam. “I felt the same way when I came here last year,” she confides in him. “But Jade and Andy have been brilliant. I know we’re all busy, and from the little I heard from Jade about your job you’re going to be too, but if you ever need something or you want someone to show you around, I’d be more than happy to.”

For a moment Louis thinks that she’s flirting with him, but when he focuses on her expression there’s no intent in her eyes. Just the genuine desire to make Liam feel at home in this new town. He breathes a quiet sigh of relief. That’s the last thing they’d need, some girl trying to get into Liam’s pants when they’re trying to set him up with his soulmate. Especially when they don’t yet know if Liam is even aware of his own attraction to guys.

“They’re nice,” Harry says softly. He sounds happy about that. Louis smiles.

“They seem to be.” He agrees.

They watch as the three of them chat for a short while, before Jade excuses herself, telling them she has to be up early for work. She leaves Sophia and Liam to themselves, the two of them still sat on Liam’s bed.

“So,” Soph starts, grinning at Liam. “You got a girlfriend back home?”

Liam seems a bit taken aback by her question, blushes. “No.”

Soph nods at that. Tilts her head and looks at him. “Boyfriend?”

Although Louis doesn’t really appreciate her direct approach he’s quite keen on finding out the answer. It’ll be good to learn just how far Liam’s come in his self discovery.

His frown doesn’t seem to be a great indication. “No,” he says slowly, “no boyfriend either.”

Soph nods, seems to sense his discomfort. She smiles. “I don’t mean to pry, sorry. You’re more than welcome to tell me to fuck off, that it’s none of my business. Jesy will probably ask you the same thing though. We’re sort of nosy, around here. And if you’re going to bring anyone back, we’ll probably notice it anyway.” She shrugs. “Not that that’s ever stopped anyone. My room’s next to yours though, so if you’re going to be bringing anyone home, try and remember that the walls are a bit thin.”

Liam’s full on blushing by now, shaking his head at her comments. “I didn’t, I wasn’t, I think for now I’m just going to focus on my job, to be honest. I’m not really looking for anyone.” He ends up saying. It’s more or less smooth. At least, it’s audible enough.

“But if you were,” Soph doesn’t seem to want to let it go, even though she just apologized for being nosy. “What kind of person would you be looking for?” She pushes her long hair behind her shoulder. “I’m not hitting on you, by the way. Just to make that clear. But I do sort of have a reputation for match making.”

Harry scoffs. “She wishes,” he says grumpily. Louis snorts. She might’ve gotten lucky, or she might have been used by some Cupid to set up a couple, but that’s not really her accomplishment. Still. Maybe she can be useful.

Liam seems a bit relieved at hearing she isn’t trying to flirt with him, relaxes a bit, even offering her a smile. “I’m not really looking for anyone,” he repeats, “but I guess, if I were, I don’t know. I don’t really have a preference.”

Soph beams at that. “Are you saying you don’t particularly care if it’s a blonde or brunette, or that you would be equally interested in a girlfriend or a boyfriend?”

Although Liam goes a bit pink again he doesn’t seem too hesitant about answering. Louis is relieved to see that. Not because he doesn’t think they can handle it if Liam isn’t out, or even aware of his attraction to guys, but because this conversation could be a hell of a lot more awkward if Soph is making Liam talk about things he’s not ready to discuss. It is a bit rude regardless, even if she means well. Liam’s sexuality is no one’s business but his own.

(And Louis’ and Harry’s. And eventually Zayn’s.)

Liam looks fine though, as he answers. Just shrugs. “The latter.” It sounds airy, but then he bites his lip. “I guess.”

“He guesses?” Harry frowns. “Is he not sure, or is he just worried that Soph will judge him for it?” Maybe that’s what happened in Wolverhampton. If so, it’s incredibly brave of Liam to tell Soph the truth. Considering he’s only just moved in and desperately wants to make a good impression. Louis doesn’t reply, just watches Soph, praying that she’ll be nice about this. Liam deserves that. He deserves people liking him for who he is, not for who he pretends to be.

Soph just smiles. “Cool.” She nods. “If you ever want to meet someone, let me know. I’ve only been here a year but I know a lot of people. I’m sure we could find someone that strikes your fancy.” She takes him in for a moment, nods towards him. “I bet there’s loads of people that would fancy you.”

Liam ducks his head again, hiding his blush. “Not you though, right?” He sounds almost teasing, tries not to be too obviously relieved but by the sound of Soph’s laugh he doesn’t quite succeed.

“Don’t worry,” she assures him, “you’re safe from me. I’m not into anyone that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance. Just, for other people. It’s why I enjoy setting them up.” She bites her lip for a moment. “I’m really sorry if you feel uncomfortable with what I just asked. I shouldn’t ask you whether you like boys or girls or both. I tend to stick my foot in it.”

Liam looks at her, finding her looking genuinely repentant, and maybe even a bit upset at the thought of making him uncomfortable on his first day here. He’s quick to shake his head, reassure her. “It’s alright. I guess it’s a fresh start for me, here. People weren’t always that nice about it back home, but I could tell from the way you asked that you weren’t going to judge me.”

Soph smiles. “I’d never judge you. You are who you are and you love who you love, right? As long as you’re happy. That’s all I care about, Liam, that you’re happy here. I really hope you will be.”

Liam smiles. “Me too.”

*

With the weekend coming up, Liam and Zayn will have to go through the next two days on their own. Louis is oddly nervous about it, thinks he might understand how Karen feels. Liam’s just moved, and he’s not going to be able to check in on him, not in real time anyway. He could, theoretically, if he skips his weekend, but he tries to convince himself he’s not that worried.

Still, Liam’s on his mind a lot during his two days off. He hopes that when they check in on Friday he’s made friends with his new roommates, that everything hasn’t gone to shit because if they cancel the night out Louis and Harry are going to miss out on the first real chance to get him to meet Zayn. Even if they hadn’t made plans to go to the same bar they’ll at least be in the same area, and hopefully there’ll be a way to get them to notice one another, if not actually interact.

On Friday, when they get back, Louis can tell Harry’s as nervous and high strung as he is, and neither of them waste time with pleasantries before checking in on Liam. They find him in the newly opened 24/7 gym, signing up and chatting to one of the trainers there. It’s smalltalk, he tells the trainer he’s just moved to Bradford and this place seemed perfect considering his working hours, that he’s going to be working at a school. The trainer’s polite, asking him about his job, about what convinced him to move here. Asks him if he’s big into clubbing. Liam chuckles, shakes his head. “Not that much, no. But my roommates are taking me out tomorrow, to celebrate my birthday and moving here.”

The trainer nods, smiles at him. “That’s cool. It’s not a bad scene around here. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

So, that’s good news at least. The plan is still on from Liam’s side.

They check in on Zayn, who is out at the waterpark with his entire family. From the looks of it, it’s sort of a family holiday, and Louis can’t help but wonder if this is all they can afford. They hadn’t left Bradford for the summer, and in fact they hadn’t seen Zayn’s dad around a lot. The younger girls had been at the waterpark before, but they hadn’t seemed to have spent any time with all of them together. Louis is glad that they can do it now.

Zayn is lounging by the pool with his mum, the both of them keeping an eye on his youngest siblings, who are playing in the water nearby.

“You excited to go back to school, beta?”

Zayn glances at her, shrugs a shoulder. “I guess.” He doesn’t sound particularly interested. “It’ll be nice seeing everyone again.” He chuckles. “For about a week, and then I’ll be sick of them again.”

His mother laughs softly. “You haven’t seen them a lot this summer, I noticed,” it’s soft, and yet still sounds pointed, like she’s asking a question instead of stating something.

Zayn shrugs again. “They’ve been busy ammi. Going on holiday, working on the assignments they’ve set us this summer. Working in general.” He looks at her again. “Speaking of, Ant got me a job interview at the supermarket he works at.” He says it softly, like he’s not sure she’ll take it well. It sounds like they’ve had this discussion before.

Judging by his mother’s sigh, they have, and multiple times. “You know how I feel about you working,” her voice doesn’t get any louder, but Zayn still shrinks a bit in response. “I’d rather you focus on school.”

“I know,” Zayn pushes himself up a bit, sitting up. “I know, but mum, I know how expensive school is. I feel bad every time I have to ask you for money to go out, or to buy something. It’d be easier, if I had a job. I’d have my own money.” He looks at her, pleadingly. “I’d be able to help out and buy my own art supplies.”

Money is tight then, by the sound of it. His mother sighs again. “I don’t want your grades to suffer.” Louis isn’t sure why that makes Zayn suddenly smile, but he does, gets up from his sunbed to hug his mother. There’s a muffled ‘thank you’ that he hides in her hair, and his mother chuckles, embraces him, the love visible even from where Louis and Harry are sitting. “I wish you wouldn’t worry so much, beta.”

Zayn presses a kiss to her hair. “I just want to help,” he tells her, getting a tight squeeze in response. “I owe you and dad so much.”

His mother shakes her head at that, lets out a soft sound. She pulls away, cups Zayn’s face, her hands gentle on his skin. “Just be happy, Zayn, that’s all me and your father want. For any of you. Money’s tight, it always has been and it always will be, but we’ll be able to make sure all of you get the education that you want. It’s not your job to worry about how we make ends meet. You save that for your own family, alright?”

Zayn’s lips quirk up into a small smile, his hand resting against the one on his cheek. “Don’t think I’d particularly have to worry about kids,” he says casually. His mother just nods. Clearly she’s aware of her son’s sexuality. Louis isn’t afraid to admit he’s a bit relieved at that.

“There’s always adoption,” she tells him, ruffling his hair. Zayn bites the inside of his cheek, looking a bit lost in thought for a moment. The smile on his face makes it easy to see that he’s thinking about it, his future, and how he feels about possibly adopting children one day. Louis has seen that look before. Frequently. He nudges Harry.

“Let’s hope Liam wants kids.”

*

Despite Zayn’s hesitance at asking his parents for money, he still plans to go out with Anthony on Saturday. That much is made clear when they meet up around noon, Zayn dressed up nicely, the purpose obvious once they head to the supermarket together. Zayn’s a bit nervous, but Anthony reassures him, tells him the manager’s a cool guy, he won’t make things hard on Zayn. “Honestly,” he tells him, “you’re probably better dressed than he is. Relax, Z, I’ve told him about you. It’s really not going to be a problem. It’s honestly no more than a formality at this point.”

It doesn’t reassure Zayn as much as Ant likely hoped it would, but in the end, it really does turn out to be no more than a formality. Ant has clearly talked Zayn up, and Zayn can be charming when he wants to be. The whole interview lasts no more than fifteen minutes and at the end of it, Zayn has officially secured himself a job. He’s working two nights a week - Tuesday and Thursday - and either Saturday or Sunday, depending on the week. It does limit his free time more than it did before, but the supermarket isn’t too far from Liam’s place, so it also gives them a natural way to cross paths.

Zayn looks happy, when they leave the supermarket. Louis isn’t too sure how happy he’ll be when he has to cram his homework in between school and work, when he has to get up early to make sure he’s got it all finished, but as long as Zayn’s happy, so is he.

And it gives them a good excuse to go out and celebrate tonight.

*

By the time Liam and his roommates are ready to head into town - Louis and Harry are happy to see that Liam seems comfortable around them, for the most part - Louis is finally feeling more excited than worried. Tonight’s finally going to be the night they get them to meet. He wonders what it’ll be like. Some soulmates seem to instantly recognize the other person, despite never having met before. It’s like they take one look at each other and immediately know that this is something important. Something that’ll change them, for better or for worse. It’s not even always the ones that believe in a higher power, in fate. It’s inexplicable, even for him, but it’s beautiful.

Then there’s the ones that could spend half their lives being friends and never realize that they were destined for more. Not until that one moment that shifts the world on its axis and makes them see everything in a new light. As frustrating as that can be, it’s also sort of beautiful to be able to be a part of that moment. To facilitate it.

For his - though he’ll claim mostly for Harry’s - sanity, he hopes that Zayn and Liam will be the former. He hopes it’s every bit the cliche story. Their eyes meeting, over a crowd, feeling like time stopped and no one else in the world existed anymore. In reality, it’ll probably be Zayn stumbling into Liam, half drunk, maybe spilling his beer over him, but regardless of how it happens, he just wants to see it. To be a part of it. A love story that’ll last an entire lifetime.

Liam looks good, his new haircut suiting him well, and he might’ve had a bit of help from his new roommates in getting dressed. He’s wearing jeans that are tighter than he’s used to, and his shirt is almost indecent in the way it clings to his biceps. Louis has no idea what Zayn’s type is but he thinks every guy who’s into men should at least give him a second glance. The fact that he’s a little unsure about himself only makes him even more appealing.

The five of them - Liam, Jesy, Jade, Sophia and Andy - head into town on foot, obviously having had a few drinks before they’d left the house. Jesy’s got her arm linked with Liam’s, looking remarkably steady on her high heels, even on the cobbled streets. They head into a cosy looking bar, one that isn’t too crowded yet, as it’s still quite early for a Saturday night. Finding a booth that’ll seat the five of them, they order beer and shots, and chat, keeping things light for the moment. Liam, as the new one in the group, is obviously the focus, but instead of assaulting him with questions the other four are happy to share information about themselves too, making sure that Liam doesn’t feel like he’s getting the third degree. Slowly but surely, Louis and Harry watch Liam relax, his fingers a bit less tense around his beer. He opens up a bit more, tells them about his job and what Wolverhampton was like, blushes a bit when he tells them that he hasn’t really been clubbing before. Rather than looking at him funny, Jesy just whoops, an arm slung around Liam’s shoulders. “I can’t believe we get to take your virginity!” She gushes, prompting Liam to nearly choke on his beer.

“Jes!” Jade laughs, even more so when Jesy just blinks at her as though she doesn’t understand why she’s being scolded.

“What?” Jesy laughs too, shrugging a shoulder. “Liam knows what I meant. Right Liam? Just because your brain is stuck on orgies doesn’t mean that our minds are in the gutter.”

Jade makes a noise, but decides to drink from her beer rather than argue with Jesy. Jesy looks about half disappointed and half pleased that she’s won. Her arm stays around Liam’s shoulder, which looks a bit uncomfortable, considering that her head only comes up to his shoulder. Louis can’t help but wonder if Jade wasn’t wrong when she said Liam wasn’t Jesy’s type. She certainly seems quite happy to be pressed close to him. But then, it’s sort of Louis’ job to notice that kind of thing. His brain is stuck on love and all the ways in which it shows in humans. He might just be overreacting, reading too much into a friendly touch. Although Soph seems to notice too, if her amused smile is any indication. She’s the first to lift her shot glass, raising it towards Liam’s in a toast. “Here’s to us taking your virginity then,” she teases, laughing when Liam goes a bit pink in response. “Don’t worry. We’ll be good to you.”

Liam clinks glasses with her, then with the other three in their group. He seems to try and find out the right thing to say, looks like he’s swallowing back something that’s on the tip of his tongue. “I guess it’s one way to get close to you all,” he settles on eventually, sounding not quite as confident with his delivery as he’d like, judging by the slight frown on his face. It fades when they laugh.

“Lou?”

Louis, for once, doesn’t look away from the group to meet Harry’s eyes. “Mm?”

Harry lets out a soft sound. It holds the middle between a sigh and a petulant, grumpy little noise. It’s clear that he wants Louis’ full attention. Louis isn’t too sure why. Harry should be happy that Liam is looking this comfortable and content around other people. He’d been the one to suggest breaking the rules, he should want nothing more than to stare at Liam and watch him make friends.

There’s no follow up to his name other than that sound, and Louis reluctantly looks up. “What’s wrong, Haz?” He asks him, seeing the stubborn set to his jaw. It comes out a bit sharper than he means to, but he’s managed to soften his voice at least somewhat by the end of his sentence.

Mostly, it’s in response to the slightly saddened look on Harry’s face. One that quickly changes into something more neutral, shoulders going up a bit at the annoyance he’d clearly heard in Louis’ voice. Louis winces. “Sorry,” he starts, turning a bit, ready to give Harry his undivided attention. “I got a bit caught up. Just .. ‘s nice, seeing Liam make friends, isn’t it?”

Harry nods, but the tension in his body doesn’t fade. Louis wonders if he’d pull back if he tried reaching out for him. He’s honestly not sure. Harry can be a bit mercurial at times, and if he’s not ready to talk about why, Louis is not going to get it out of him. Not that he’s ever really had the patience to try. If Harry doesn’t want to talk, Louis won’t make him. Even if the silence can annoy him somewhat, because Harry’s very obvious about his silence. About how he wants people to know that he’s quiet for a reason, that something’s wrong, and, more often than not, that he considers it to be their fault. “Are you gonna tell me what you wanted to tell me?” Louis ventures, working hard to keep his frustration from his voice. They’re so close to getting Liam and Zayn to meet, and there’s so much to do. He really doesn’t have time to be playing this game right now.

Harry huffs. Crosses his arms in front of him. He’s about a second away from rolling his eyes, Louis thinks. “I was gonna say that I was gonna miss working with you,” he sounds pouty now, “but I don’t think that’s true.”

Louis breathes in. Very slowly.

“And that we should check on Zayn.” Harry continues, as though that suggestion somehow makes what he’d said before less offensive. Louis almost wants to snap at him to go look at Zayn on his own if he likes working alone so much, so he counts to ten instead. On ten he releases the air in his lungs, tries to shake some of the tension from his shoulders.

“That’s a good idea,” he compliments him, opting to stay safe and not smile at him. Harry might think he’s mocking him when Louis honestly isn’t trying to. They should check in on Zayn, see where he’s at right now, if he’s already headed into town.

Harry doesn’t answer, just reaches for the window, changing it from Liam to Zayn instead. He’s still at home, though he’s obviously getting ready for his night out. He’s picked out an outfit and is working on his hair, listening to some music that Louis wouldn’t be able to match to an artist if he was held at gunpoint. It sounds nice though. Zayn’s bopping his head, fixing a few strands of hair, eyeing himself critically in the mirror. Louis can’t help but smile at Harry’s endeared giggle. It eases some of the tension he’s feeling, and from the way Harry sighs - not frustrated this time, at least not with Louis - he feels the same way.

“Lou?” He starts again, doesn’t wait for Louis to turn to him this time - though of course, Louis does. “I’m sorry.” His eyes are big and green and lovely and his energy shimmers, a mix of blue and pink. “That was mean, what I said.”

Louis contemplates denying that. He doesn’t like seeing Harry sad, but it had been a little mean. “What prompted it?” He asks instead. His voice is gentle.

Harry’s shoulders sag a bit, and even his hair seems sort of droopy for a moment. “I just. It’s dumb.” He sighs again. Shrugs. Louis stays quiet, even when he wants nothing more than to reassure him. Tell him it’s ok. That he’s not dumb, and even if he were dumb, Louis would still think he’s bloody wonderful. Harry huffs again, and then it’s like he can’t hold himself back, words streaming out without hope of going unheard. “You were sat here, watching them, and I was here, watching you, and I thought I’m going to miss working with you, I’m going to miss looking at you and seeing how excited you get and how much you care about them - I always knew you cared but I never knew before, and now I do, and you’re just so good at this and so wonderful and I felt so stupid because I’d be so happy if we got them together but I’d also be sad? Because I’m going to miss working with you and you don’t even care.”

He hiccups out a breath, and Louis blinks at him. He’s going to have to rethink his earlier stance re: Harry being dumb. Because this has to be the most idiotic thing he’s ever heard him say. “There’s like, a part of me that is kind of hoping they don’t have that love at first sight moment.” Louis starts softly, choosing his words carefully. “And, sure, partially that’s because I love making that magical moment happen, and even though I’ve actually become rather fond of these assholes over the past couple of weeks and I can’t wait for them to get their shit together and fall in love because they deserve it - they deserve to be happy and settled and together - I’m not really ready to say goodbye to them yet. But the biggest reason why I don’t want them to fall in love right off the bat is because of you, Haz. Because I was terrified at first that working with you would change our friendship and it did but it only made it so I got used to spending every minute of my day with you and I’m not sure how I’m going to go back to .. not.” It might be a problem. He’s gotten so used to checking on Harry, on sharing every little up and down of his life with him. He’s not sure how he’ll go without that, once they set Liam and Zayn up. He’s not too sure he wants to.

They look at each other, a bit sheepish, Harry’s energy definitely more pink than blue now. “Me too,” Harry whispers. “I mean. The - all of it. I’m gonna miss Liam and Zayn, but I’m gonna miss you more. Which feels so weird because you’ll be right here. But not right here right here.” He gestures between them.

Louis nods, nudges him gently. “Do you think they make a patch for that?” Humans have patches to go through nicotine withdrawal. Is there an equivalent for missing someone so much that you feel like you’ve lost a limb?

Harry gives him a small smile. “Don’t think there’s a cure for this.”

Louis remembers what Harry said a while ago. About making a joke to mask his discomfort. He knows Harry’s right, but he’s wrong too. Because that’s not the only reason he jokes. It’s also because he can see the pain on Harry’s face, and he just wants to make him smile again. “So, that’s it then? You’re moving in with me?”

*

Their sweet little moment gets interrupted, not by Louis’ joke but by Zayn’s friend, coming into his room, startling Zayn to the point where he actually jumps. His squeak gets lost in the music, not that Anthony really seems too bothered about barging in and scaring his friend, not even when Zayn levels him with a rather intimidating glowering look. “C’mon mate, stop fussing with your hair, and let’s go,” he looks as though he’s a second from dragging Zayn out of the room. Zayn seems to think that’s a genuine possibility, because he stops fidgeting with his hair - which looks great, honestly, Louis isn’t sure why he’s been spending so much time on it because he can’t really see how it looks different from the way it did ten minutes ago - and turns off his music.

“You seem pretty excited,” he notes, and is that suspicion in his voice?

Anthony shrugs a shoulder. “Just ready for a night out man.” He fidgets with his jacket though. Louis thinks Zayn might be right to be suspicious.

“You’re not ditching me for some girl, are you? Leave me alone within ten minutes to suck face with some blonde all night?” Zayn narrows his eyes at him, and Ant laughs.

“If I did you wouldn’t really get to complain mate. I’ve been on the other side, remember? The last few times we went out? You completely mugged me off in favour of some guy. And not even the same guy each time.” He grins a bit. “At least I’m consistent in my affections.”

“More like desperate,” Zayn teases, then shrugs, even though he looks somewhat sheepish. “Not my fault people think I’m attractive.” It’s casual, but he still seems sort of pleased, like he hasn’t quite gotten used to people admiring the way he looks.

“It’s totally your fault,” Ant quips back, giving up on leaning against the wall and actually physically starting to manhandle Zayn out of the room and into the town. Zayn lets it happen. “You’re the one that just spent an eternity on your clothes and hair. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you when you’re not making an effort. I’ve seen you before you grew into those ridiculous eyelashes and those cheekbones.” He leans in, whispers conspiratorially. “I knew you before you were hot.”

Zayn lets out a soft, choked noise, careful not to shove Ant too hard since they’re near the stairs. “You’re a twat.” He tells him. It comes out fond.

Ant just grins. “I love you too.”

*

With Zayn and his friend finally heading into town, they check back in on Liam, finding that the group has moved from the bar to a nearby club. Liam seems a little tipsy, not enough to forget all about himself, but enough to be loose limbed and not quite so worried about the impression he’s making on his roommates. Who seem charmed by him, just like Louis had hoped they would be. Honestly, why Liam’s not managed to make a single friend in Wolverhampton is beyond him. Yeah, he’s a bit awkward, and from what they’ve learned he’s been focused on what he wants to achieve in life, but he’s good. He’s kind and selfless and if he didn’t have his roommates with him Louis would be worried about the way he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. He’s pretty sure they’d protect him though, even when Liam doesn’t look like the kind of boy that needs protecting.

He’s a bit goofy when he dances, starts out standing near the bar just bopping his head to the music, until Jade pulls him onto the dance floor, where Jesy is losing herself in the music. Louis likes watching her. She dances like she’s trying to attract attention but she isn’t. She’s just having fun and it’s drawing eyes to her, but she doesn’t even notice or care. Half the time she’s got her eyes closed, and when she opens them it’s just to give a bright, beaming smile to Jade or Liam. Louis really hopes that she and Liam will become friends. Liam could use some of her spark in his life. Some of her carelessness, her joie the vivre even if Louis abhors that expression.

It’s having an effect on Liam, even more than the few drinks he’s had. His smiles come easier, his movements gradually looking more comfortable, even confident. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by his usual concern of what people might be thinking. He spins Jade and dips Jesy and laughs when Soph and Andy join them, doing some complicated little movement that there really isn’t enough room for on this packed floor. It’s all .. nice. It kind of makes Louis want to go out, if he’s honest.

It gets even better when Harry suddenly nudges him excitedly, gesturing towards the screen. Louis isn’t sure what he’s meant to be seeing in the background of moving bodies, but then he spots a familiar red shirt, spots Zayn’s grey henley next to it. “Yes!” He cheers, not even bothering to look around to see if they’ve startled any of the other Cupids working in the office. “Oh my God, Harry.” He lowers his voice, resists the urge to reach out and take Harry’s hand. “Harry.” He almost can’t believe their luck. They hadn’t even planned for this to happen. Zayn and Anthony were supposed to go to another club, and they’d take it from there. But apparently something had caused them to change their minds, and now Zayn and Liam are in the same club, barely twenty feet apart.

Harry laughs, bright and wild. “I know,” he whisper-shouts, not very good at keeping his voice down when he’s excited. “I feel like my heart’s going to give out.” He takes Louis’ hand, presses it against his chest. Louis isn’t sure if he can actually feel his heartbeat or if it’s just an illusion brought on by the quick pace of his own. “This is it,” Harry sounds awed, still cradling Louis’ hand to his chest, almost like he doesn’t notice. “They’re going to meet. They’re going to fall in love.”

Louis can’t help but smile, feeling that same thrill. He also sort of feels like he hasn’t breathed in hours. He’s watching Zayn, oblivious to the presence of his soulmate, look a bit annoyed with Ant who is glancing around. “I told you she wouldn’t be here either,” Zayn tells him, ordering something from the bartender and sliding over a tenner before giving the room a disdainful look. “No one in their right mind would come here,” he has to shout a bit to be heard over the music, though thankfully it’s not loud enough to attract any stares. “It’s so fucking crowded and the music’s shit.” He pockets the change, picks up his beer.

“You’re just saying that because you want to go back to the other place and hook up with the guy who took our coats,” Ant responds, nodding his thanks to the bartender and picking up the bottle of beer that’s slid in front of him. Zayn shoots him the finger but he ignores it. “We’ll go back in a while, ok, but I have a good feeling about this place. I’m thinking she’ll show up.”

Zayn wraps his lips around his bottle, sighing, obviously resigning himself to his fate by leaning against the bar, eyes scanning the crowd. “An hour.” He decides. “If she hasn’t shown up in an hour, we’re headed back.”

Ant grins, clinking his bottle against Zayn’s. “Deal.”

*

“What do we do?” Harry has yet to let go of Louis’ hand, though at least he’s stopped cradling it to his chest. It’s resting in his lap now, which should feel odd but oddly enough doesn’t. Just as it doesn’t feel odd for Louis to brush his thumb over Harry’s knuckles. Back and forth, back and forth, in a rhythm that he’s not sure is meant to soothe Harry as much as it’s meant to soothe himself. “They’re right there. Do we do anything?”

Louis bites his lip. “Do you want to?” He asks him, looking away from the screen, where Zayn and Liam are completely oblivious to how important this night can turn out to be. “I’m not the only one making decisions,” he reminds Harry gently. “You don’t have to ask me. We’re working together.” While that’s definitely true it’s also not, in the sense that he doesn’t really like when people make decisions that affect him without consulting him. But he knows Harry, knows he wouldn’t do that.

“I know,” Harry’s nod is sort of jerky. “I’m just nervous? I’d hate to mess this up.”

Louis chuckles. “So you’d rather it would be my decision?” He teases lightly. “If all goes wrong, blame Tomlinson?”

Harry smiles one of Louis’ absolute favourite smiles. “Yeah, exactly,” he teases. “Why do you think I’ve got such a perfect record. Anytime something goes wrong, I tell HQ it was you.”

“So that’s why you’re friends with me,” Louis aims to look wounded, can’t make the shocked expression on his face work if Harry’s dimples are any indication. “And Nick? Is that why you’re friends with him too?” At least that would soften the blow somewhat.

“Nah,” Harry can be ruthless, if he wants to be. His eyes are sparkling, the fucker. “I actually quite like him.”

Louis gasps, takes his hand back only to shove Harry, though he keeps him from falling off his chair. Harry’s laugh is definitely too loud for the office, but it’s also Harry, so even though they get a few stares, no one shushes them. They look sort of endeared instead, which is completely unfair but also working in Louis’ favour at the moment. “You’re rude.” He mutters, making a face at Harry before looking back at the screen. He’s not going to pay Harry any more attention. He’s just going to stare at Zayn and Liam and figure out how to--

“Harry.”

Harry stops fixing his hair, fingers frozen halfway to his head. “Mm?”

“Where did Zayn go?”

“What do you mean where did Zayn go, he’s right-” Harry leans forward, frowns. “Fuck.”

“What the fuck.” They’ve literally taken their eyes off the screen for two minutes, and suddenly Zayn’s gone. Louis’ initial thought that perhaps he’s just gone to the loo becomes a lot less plausible when Anthony is also nowhere to be found, when their beers are still side by side on the bar. “Harry. What the fuck.” He’s not blaming Harry, of course he’s not, just. How did this happen? How did they literally lose one half of their soulmate couple the first time they’ve been in the same room?

Because Liam’s still there. Liam’s still on the dance floor, looking completely in his element and not caring that the love of his life has suddenly been ripped from his presence. Which, of course he doesn’t care. He hasn’t even met him yet, and that’s completely Louis and Harry’s fault.

“Should we look back?” Harry offers, his voice sounding a bit wobbly, as though he’s about to cry. For all he’s said about not wanting the two of them to get together too soon, as it would mean he’d have to stop working with Louis, he seems genuinely upset now that their plans are being altered yet again. “Or should we just go to Zayn and see how he’s doing, find out what happened?”

Louis nods mindlessly, before realizing Harry’s asked two questions, that really can’t be answered with just a nod. “Um,” he’s a bit taken aback if he’s honest, not sure what just happened but he has this nagging feeling that it isn’t anything good. “Let’s just see how he’s doing first. See if that doesn’t tell us enough. Fuck. We gotta figure out if we can get him to come back.”

Harry nods, switching the screen from Liam to Zayn. They both wince, the expression on Zayn’s face making it clear that he’s none too happy.

“How dare he,” he spits out, “that fucking cunt. How dare he-” he rounds on Anthony, eyes dark, ablaze with anger. “And you!” His hands curl into fists. “Why’d you hold me back for? I could’ve taken him.”

Ant doesn’t flinch at the anger and accusation in Zayn’s voice. He just nods. “I know, I know you could’ve Z, but he’s not worth it, alright? You’re better than him.”

Zayn growls in frustration. “He called me a fucking faggot.” He doesn’t jerk away when Ant grabs his shoulder, though he’s tense and visibly unhappy when he wraps him up in a hug. “Just because I kiss guys sometimes doesn’t mean that I’m worth any less than he is,” he mumbles against his shirt, hands still tight at his sides.

“I know.” Ant tells him, large hand rubbing circles into his lower back, until Zayn breaks, leans into his touch with a soft sob. “He’s an asshole, ok? You’re worth ten of him, Z. He’s a fucking wanker, coming at you like that.” His voice is soft, but there’s definite anger in there, and Louis isn’t too sure Ant won’t just storm back into the club and give this guy a piece of his mind. He’s mentally cheering him on, hoping he’ll do just that.

“It’s not fair,” Zayn lets out quietly, breaking away from Anthony’s hug at the sound of people approaching. He brushes away his tears, hands a bit shaky. “I can’t help it. I got enough shit back in school because of who I was, and at home when I first came out. Do you think that if it’d been a choice I’d have chosen this? People already gave me shit over the colour of my skin, like I’d go and choose something else that made me an easy target?”

Ant shakes his head, still looking so angry, while Zayn looks mostly sad now. “It’s not fucking fair, and you’re not an easy target. You could’ve taken him, I know you could’ve.”

Zayn nods, lets out a soft breath. “But people would’ve taken one look at me and figured I’d started it.” Whether that’s true or not, Louis doesn’t know. But he’s in no position to judge. Zayn’s clearly experienced racism and being singled out as different, and from the way he nods, Anthony has experienced it alongside him.

“Even if they didn’t,” he says softly, “it’s not going to fix anything. It’s not going to make him any less of a homophobe.”

Zayn snorts at that. “‘s not my job to make him less of a homophobe.” He sounds bitter. “It wouldn’t have fixed anything, you’re right, but it would’ve made me feel better.”

“Just for a bit.” Anthony gives him a small grin. “And then you’d have felt disappointed in yourself, because your mum taught you better. Told you to take the high road.”

“Or I’d have remembered that abbu told me that sometimes bullies only understand the value of a good fist in the face.” Zayn quips, but he smiles a bit, breathes in deeply and then out, visibly trying to calm himself. “Shit. I’m sorry I ruined your night man. I know how excited you were to see that girl again.”

Ant shrugs. “Not your fault, mate. Besides. I’d never choose her over you.” He nudges Zayn, grins again. “And anyway, who says the night is ruined? Let’s just find some place to chill out and smoke up. It’s early enough.”

Zayn’s eyes light up at that. “Yeah? That sounds great.” He nods, gives him a smile, one corner of his mouth tugging up. “Thanks mate.”

“Anytime.”

*

They stay quiet for a moment, watching Zayn and Anthony head towards a park, where they can sit and smoke weed in silence. It’s Harry that finally breaks the silence on their side of the screen. “I think we should leave them be,” he says quietly. “I don’t think, right now, I don’t think Zayn’s in the right frame of mind to be meeting Liam.”

Even though Zayn deserves a good experience, and meeting Liam is supposed to be one, Louis can’t help but agree. There’s something foul tasting in the back of his mouth, this useless anger burning in his veins. He wants nothing more than to find whoever called Zayn those names and take it out on him, but that would definitely get him in trouble with HQ. Vengeance is not taken lightly here. Still, it feels almost worth it.

“Hey,” Harry squeezes his shoulder, gives him a soft smile. “Why don’t we go to the shelter in a bit? I don’t know about you, but I’d love a good cuddle with Mr. Tibbles. We could take Sabre for a walk, like we did last time?”

Louis privately thinks that he’d be happier with a cuddle from Harry, but he works up enough energy to smile and nod.

Chapter Text

Louis isn’t much calmer by the time they leave work and head towards the pet shelter, but he doesn’t think anything’s really going to calm him down today. He’s just so frustrated, at the world being the way it is. At people claiming to know God’s word. It makes no sense to him. He doesn’t begrudge people the desire to believe in something, but it just doesn’t make any sense to him that they seem to pick and choose from the book they say is the word of God. On one hand they say only God can judge, but they’re so quick to pass verdict on anyone they deem different. Sometimes he wants to go down there just to shake every homophobic asshole and tell them exactly what God thinks of ‘those people’ and of them. There’s a lot of cruelty in God’s name, when he’s only ever known God as the closest thing he will ever experience to true love. God loves her children, all her children, and she would never approve of what had just happened to Zayn.

Harry can tell that he’s quietly fuming still, because he’s quiet on their walk, only nudging Louis when they’re arrived at the shelter. “Do you want to go see the puppies first?” He asks him softly. It makes Louis smile a bit. Harry always goes straight for the cats, but he’s willing to forego his immediate comfort if it helps Louis feel a bit better.

He shakes his head. “Nah, we can go see Mr. Tibbles. I know you’ve missed him.”

“You sure?” Harry sounds concerned. Louis almost feels guilty. He knows Harry’s feeling much of the same that he is - albeit maybe a bit different, because Louis remembers when things like this happened way more frequently than they do these days, for all that it feels like humanity never learns - and yet he’s shouldering Louis’ foul mood without complaint.

“Yeah.” He nods, looks at him. “It’s sweet of you, though.”

Harry ducks his head. “I just want to help.” He mumbles.

Louis nods again. “I know.” He sounds gentle. “You do. This does.” He waits for Harry to look up at him to smile. “Thank you, Harry.”

Harry gives him a small smile back, looking a little hopeful now. Louis isn’t sure if it’s because of him or because he’s going to see his favourite kitten again. “I have missed Tibby.” He tells him, like Louis doesn’t already know.

They’re let into the shelter, Harry making a beeline for the room he knows Mr. Tibbles is in. Louis watches him fondly, then smiles at the girl behind the counter. “Any new arrivals?” As much as he’s a dog person, he does love cats, and he always likes meeting the new ones. There’s something soothing about getting to welcome a new cat to Heaven. It’s been one of the things he’s done ever since one of his charges lost her favourite pet while he was working with her.

The girl nods. “Just one. She came in a couple of days ago. She’s a bit scared still, so we’ve kept her in a separate room for now.” She shakes her head. “Poor thing. She doesn’t take too well to people, but she’s improved a bit. I think she’s not used to how crowded it is here. You can go in and see her though, if you’d like. If you give her a bit, she’ll come around. Just let her come to you.”

Louis isn’t too great with unpredictable cats, if he’s honest, but his heart is still aching from what happened to Zayn and now it’s also aching because there’s this new arrival and she’s scared and lonely and probably misses her owner. He swallows, thanks the girl as she passes him a key to the room where the cat’s at.

Rhana, the label outside the room reads. Nine years old. That’s young, for a cat, though the shelter is used to arrivals of all ages. Peeking through the window, he sees a beautiful calico kitty curled up on a pillow, head on her paws and her fluffy tail tucked against her body. She’s alert, when he comes in, her ears turning a bit, but she doesn’t look too alarmed.

“Hi baby,” he heads up to her, slowly, lets her sniff his hand. “Hi gorgeous. Oh, you are a beauty.” She blinks slowly at him, her green eyes cautious, though she can’t resist the urge to butt her head against his knuckles. Louis smiles, blinks back slowly to make her feel at ease. She looks healthy, which is something he’s always grateful for. No matter what had caused them to pass over, it was over once death claimed them. Here, in Heaven, they’d always be the same age as they were when they left their human, but they didn’t have to suffer. “Hi,” he says again, more of a whisper this time. “You’re a little scared, huh?” He slowly moves to scratch behind her ears. She’s wary, but lets him, watching him intently as he talks, as though she understands every word. “I can’t imagine how scary it must be, suddenly waking up here. I bet you miss your owner, huh?”

She headbutts his palm again, like she’s not just acknowledging that he’s talking to her but actually agreeing with him. “I bet they miss you.” Louis continues softly. “I bet they miss you a whole lot, Rhana.” He strokes down her back, watching her fur twitch a bit, like she’s not too sure she likes it or not. But she lets out a little meow at the sound of her name, and Louis thinks that no matter how absurd the thought is, she’s answering him back. She knows what he’s saying. “You’re a clever one, aren’t you?” He can’t help but smile, be a bit taken with her. Even if she’s difficult. Maybe because she is. Louis has always had a weak spot for difficult or broken things. Always felt the need to take care of them, fix them if he could. He doesn’t think anything can fix the way Rhana misses her owner - let alone the way her owner must miss Rhana - but he can at least give her some attention, as long as she seems comfortable enough to accept it.

He keeps petting her, slowly, blinking at her every so often when she meets his gaze. He’s learned that it’s something that communicates that he means no harm, that he can be trusted, and every time he does, Rhana blinks back just as slowly. “I wish I could tell your owner that you’re not alone,” he says quietly. “That someone will always take care of you, the way they did. The way you took care of them.” He’s not sure what he’s even saying, but he knows that she likes when he talks to her, can tell by the way she keeps looking at him and twitching her ears to show that she’s listening. She lets out another soft sound, a prrrrt, when he shifts, and nudges her head against his hand again. “You’ll be okay,” he assures her. “These people here, they’re all good people, yeah? They’ll come and pet you as much as you want.” He smiles softly. “It doesn’t mean that you betray your owner, ok? They’d be happy, knowing you’re still loved.”

It’s the same thing he’s told every new arrival, for years now, but he means the words every single time. He’s seen just how devastating it could be to lose a pet, had wished he’d been able to comfort his charge when the loss of her cat had almost broken her. The only thing he’d been able to do was go to the shelter and give her cat all the love that she still felt for her. He knows that the humans whose cats he’s welcomed don’t know it, but he still likes thinking it helps, somehow. Even subconsciously, he hopes it brings peace.

A movement just outside the room catches his eye, though it’s more because of the way Rhana suddenly retreats a little, her body a bit more tense when it had slowly started to relax underneath his touch. Louis glances over his shoulder, smiles. “It’s just Harry,” he tells her. “He’d never hurt you. He’s silly, but he’s very sweet.” She glances away from the door, back at him. “He has these massive hands too. Well, not massive, but, you’d like them. I bet they’re excellent at giving you all the rubs and cuddles you want.” He chuckles softly. “Maybe you can meet him next time, yeah? When you’ve settled in a bit?” He gives her one last scratch behind her ears, backing away slowly. She gives him one last, slow blink, and he feels the lump in his throat ease a bit. He hadn’t been able to help Zayn and it had made him feel angry and hurt and useless, but he likes to think that maybe he’s helped Rhana a bit. It’s not the same, but it’s still nice.

He gives her a little wave as he heads out the door, meeting Harry, who is looking curiously at the cat that tucks her tail behind her paws, settling back down again. “Hi,” Harry says softly. “New arrival?”

Louis smiles. Harry knows better than anyone what his habits are. He never judges him for it either. “Yeah. She just came in on Tuesday.” He locks the door behind him, smiles at the way Rhana is still watching the both of them. She looks a bit calmer than she had when he’d come in. He likes to think she actually understood everything he’s told her.

“She’s beautiful.” Harry says softly. It sounds a bit wistful. Harry always gets a bit upset at new pets coming in. He’s excited, but he also feels guilty, because he knows what new arrivals mean. Knows that someone on earth is grieving their loss.

Louis nods. “She is.” He agrees. He looks up at Harry. “I thought you’d still be with Tibby?” Harry can get lost in his own world when he’s with his favourite kitten, and Louis isn’t used to not having to drag him away.

Harry blushes a bit, shrugs sheepishly. “Didn’t feel right being away from you. I just got sad, thinking about how things left off tonight. Didn’t want you to be alone in case you were sad too.” He sounds timid.

Louis feels his heart ache with how much he adores Harry. He slips into his arms, doesn’t bother with words as he rests his cheek against Harry’s chest, closing his eyes and wishing he could stay in his embrace forever.

*

They stay like that long enough that Louis thinks it should become uncomfortable, but somehow it just doesn’t. He tells himself he’ll move away the moment he thinks Harry is about to, but that moment doesn’t come, not until they’ve breathed each other in for what feels like hours. He doesn’t even pull back when he talks, lets the words come out muffled against Harry’s shirt. “It’s shit like this that makes me want to take a long vacation,” he tells him softly. It’s almost hesitant, the way it comes out, and he finds himself afraid to look up, afraid that Harry will be disappointed. Worse, that he’ll think him weak.

Harry drops a kiss onto his hair, which oddly makes Louis feel like crying. He doesn’t say anything at first, but the way he tightens his hold on him is making Louis a little less afraid of his reaction. “What, exactly?” He finally asks. “The homophobia, or the not getting Liam and Zayn to even meet?”

Both, Louis thinks bitterly. He’s not sure which it is. He just knows that it’s a big ball of suck and he is tired. Too tired to even shrug. “Sometimes the world is just cruel.”

Harry hums. “It is.”

“And sometimes I think, it doesn’t deserve us. It doesn’t deserve love.” Louis admits quietly.

Harry’s thumb brushes softly over the skin on his back, the dip just above the waistband of his jeans. He stays quiet again, letting the words hang in the air between them, long enough that Louis wonders if he should regret them, or take them back. He does neither.

Eventually, Harry lets out a soft sigh, buries it in Louis’ hair. It makes him shiver a bit, but he’s not sure if it’s because of the soft breath against his scalp or the fact that Harry surely must be disappointed in him now. “Sometimes it doesn’t,” Harry agrees, his voice soft, a little raspy. “I think that’s exactly why we have to keep going though.” He says thoughtfully. “We don’t just love people who deserve it, Lou. That’s not the point of love. It’s unconditional, at its essence.”

Louis frowns against Harry’s shirt. He’s not sure he believes that. Sure, some types of love are. The type of love God holds for all humans. Some should be, like the type of love a parent has for their children. But romantic love? It’s scary, thinking of that as unconditional. Because sometimes love could break people, could change them in ways that weren’t healthy. Sometimes giving up was better than the alternative. He’s not sure how to articulate that though. Just curls his fingers in Harry’s shirt.

“Or,” Harry amends, “maybe not unconditional. But it’s not - sometimes we love in spite of our better judgment. It’s not rational, I guess is what I’m saying. I know it hurts, caring for people when you feel like they don’t deserve it. I guess all we can do is hope that through it, through what we do and how we bring love into the world, they come to deserve it? They learn and they grow and they become what we could see in them all along?”

Louis swallows, finally pulls back, meeting Harry’s eyes. He’s surprised to see a bit of moisture clinging to his lashes, reaches up without thought to brush it away. “How do you always know just what to say?” He asks him softly. His thumb keeps brushing over Harry’s cheekbone, the movement almost hypnotizing. Harry leans into it ever so slightly, a corner of his mouth tugging up.

“I guess it’s because I’ve told myself that a hundred times,” he admits. “The first time I got confronted with the ugly side of humanity - I stayed home for a week. I couldn’t understand why people treated each other that way. I felt so stupid, so naive, thinking that what I did could make a difference, when there’s wars being fought every day. And sometimes I still do. What we do might never change the world, Lou. On a larger scale, making Liam and Zayn fall in love won’t matter. But it’ll matter to them. It’ll give them a reason to hold on.” He bites his lip. “You meet every new cat that comes to the shelter. You talk to them and you pet them - maybe that doesn’t help the world become a better place, but it helps them. It helps you. Maybe it even helps their owners, in some way. That’s all we can do. Our best. Every day. Even when it sucks and even when we feel like none of it matters. I have to believe that it does. Even if it’s just to one soul in the entire universe.”

Louis leans in, pressing a kiss to Harry’s cheek. Harry’s arms tighten around him again, and he thinks if he just holds onto him a bit longer maybe his embrace will make him feel whole again. “Never change,” he whispers against his skin, breathing him in. It’s all he can manage. Never leave me, he thinks, but he doesn’t know how to say that.

Harry drops another kiss onto his hair.

*

Although Louis is still a bit frustrated when he wakes up the next morning, he doesn’t feel remotely as upset as he had done on Saturday. He’d say that all he’d needed was a good night’s sleep but if he’s honest with himself it’s mostly because of Harry. Because of the way he’d held him so sweetly, the way he’d talked to him, giving him space for his doubts and insecurities while also giving him a different, happier perspective. He’d cooked him dinner at Louis’ flat, and they’d watched some old, sappy rom com that Harry loved and Louis loved too, even if it’s in part because of the way Harry had gone starry eyed at some of the scenes. They’d fallen asleep on the sofa together, Louis is pretty sure, though by the time he wakes up he’s in his bed and he’s alone.

He’s still in his clothes though, so he’s pretty sure he hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night and crawled into bed, because if he had he’d have taken his jeans off at the very least. The way the blanket is covering makes him think Harry must have picked him up and carried him, which is both sweet and a little embarrassing.

Wandering into the living room, he’s not surprised to find that he’s alone. The blankets and pillows are neatly folded onto the couch, and there’s a note on the counter in his kitchen that he finds when he follows the scent of somewhat freshly made coffee.

Thought I’d let you sleep for a while longer. I went home for a shower and a change of clothes. Made you breakfast, it’s in the fridge. See you at work

Xx

p.s. you drool in your sleep

p.p.s. And snore

Louis can’t help but snort, pouring himself a cup of coffee. It’s still hot, thanks to his coffeemaker, but the taste proves that it’s been at least an hour since Harry had left. Coffee’s coffee though, so he’s happy to gulp down the dark liquid before he shuffles into the shower to get rid of the lingering discomfort of sleeping in his clothes.

When he feels moderately more awake, he dresses for the day, makes new coffee as he leans against the counter, eating his breakfast wrap. It’s good, tastes healthy and delicious, and Louis can’t help but wonder how long Harry had been awake in his house while he’d been asleep. It’s not nearly as creepy a thought as he’d expected, just makes him feel warm and fond, knowing Harry felt at home enough in his apartment.

Guess you finally didn’t have to go for your morning run to see what I look like when I sleep, he texts Harry. It’s ridiculous that he’s even texting him, considering he’s going to see him at work in less than an hour, but whatever. Harry can choose not to text back.

Still didn’t get to see you wake up though :( Harry replies. He must be out of the shower then.

Not my fault, Louis sends back. You were the one that left. He debates adding a sad faced smiley. Decides against it.

Sorrrrry. I figured you’d be none too happy if I woke you up by showering at your place. Besides, my clothes are more comfortable than yours.

Louis smiles, remembering Harry in his clothes. Mine made you look good though ;) he texts. And I didn’t wake up when you carried me to bed or when you made me breakfast (thanks for that by the way!) so I doubt I’d have woken up from you taking a shower.

Harry’s reply takes a bit longer this time. Louis finishes his coffee and rinses his mug, wipes the counter clean of crumbs. I’ll remember that for next time :) is all it says. Louis can’t help but grin down at his phone.

*

Louis walks to work, taking a slight detour to pick up Harry’s favourite muffin from the bakery just a block from work. It’s the least he can do for him, after he’d cooked him breakfast. He doesn’t know what he’d do without Harry. No matter what happens, Harry can always put him right. He just hopes he does the same for him. He wants to be just as good a friend to Harry as Harry is to him.

Coming into the office he’s surprised to see that Harry’s desk is empty. Habit has him looking towards his own, since they’ve been working together enough that seeing Harry at his own desk wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. But he’s not there either. Louis frowns, feels a bit out of his element, waffles between sitting at his own desk and waiting at Harry’s. He places the muffin on Harry’s desk, idles for a moment before heading towards the break room to fix himself a drink. Not that he needs more coffee, he’s already had two cups and it’s not even nine, but it gives him something to do that isn’t waiting for Harry.

It kind of defeats the purpose when he texts him, but that’s just how they are.

Where are you???

It’s not at all needy, he tells himself. He’s working with Harry. He’s totally allowed to ask where he is.

Did I beat you to work? Is this real life?

He sips from his coffee, makes a face. It’s weak. At least it’ll keep him from getting too hyper off caffeine, but. Still. It’s almost a shame to drink it.

Almost.

Harry doesn’t text him back, and Louis wastes ten minutes standing in the break room, nursing his coffee, waiting for him to. When his coffee’s cold - and cold coffee isn’t great on the best of days, but cold weak coffee is even worse - and he’s poured the remainder down the drain, Harry still hasn’t responded, so he reluctantly heads back into the office.

Harry’s still not at his desk, so Louis sits himself down, contemplates eating the muffin he’d bought him. It’s looking delicious, and Harry’s late for work. He doesn’t really deserve a muffin, does he, if he’s late and making Louis wait.

His hand creeps towards it, but before he can, a light smack is delivered to his fingers. “Tell me you weren’t just trying to steal my muffin.”

Louis nearly jumps. “Christ, Harry.” He scoffs, bringing his hand to his chest and cradling it, like he’s actually hurt him with the little tap. “What are you doing, creeping up on people like that. You’re lucky I’m already dead and can’t die from a heart attack.”

Harry sends him a sunny smile, sits down in the less comfortable seat - Louis picked the good one, good chairs are for good boys who make it to work on time. “I know you’re technically 82, Lou, but I don’t think you’d die from a heart attack when you’re in the shape that you are.”

Louis arches his eyebrow. “Did you just call me fit?” He knows Harry didn’t mean it like that, but, Louis will take a compliment where he can get it. Even if he has to ask for it. Well, with Harry, anyway. He doesn’t like people knowing that he’s vulnerable and in need of compliments, but Harry never makes him feel vulnerable even when he is.

Case in point. Harry just smiles indulgently. “I didn’t, actually, but, you are.” He tells him. “So, why were you trying to steal my muffin?”

“Who says it was your muffin?” Louis sends him a pointed stare. It’s not very effective, considering Harry keeps smiling.

Harry shrugs his shoulder. “It’s my favourite. Thank you for that, by the way.”

Louis can’t help himself. He arches an eyebrow. “Ok, assuming this is your muffin and not mine.. Who says I’m the one that left it?”

This time, Harry’s smile lingers somewhere between teasing and soft. Louis isn’t sure how that’s possible. “It’s my favourite.” He repeats, voice fond.

Warmth pools in Louis’ stomach, and he finds himself unable to keep from smiling. So he hides it by looking down, elbows him gently. “Why were you late?”

Harry offers him a piece of muffin before he offers him an answer. “I wasn’t,” he picks off a bit of the crumbly top of the muffin, popping it into his mouth. “I was talking to Nick. I wanted to know if we could get in trouble for what we did the other day.”

Ah. “Are we?” He hopes that they won’t get in trouble because Harry told Nick, but he doubts that. Nick might be many things but he wouldn’t be that much of an asshole that he’d take something Harry told him in confidence and use it against him.

“He said he figured we would snoop around.” Harry shrugs. “Said that if the others didn’t want us to know they shouldn’t leave the files in the archive and then send Cupids there as a punishment.” Louis has to admit that he’s got a point. “All the same, he advised us not to tell the others. Said if they figured it out for themselves that’s fair game, but if they don’t..”

It feels a little unfair, but then, Louis doesn’t really hang out with any of the other Cupids enough to know whether or not they’d want to know this kind of thing. He only really spends time with Perrie and Cara outside of work, and Niall. But Niall didn’t have another life, before this one. He wasn’t reborn the way they have been. As far as they know.

He just hums, accepts another piece of muffin that Harry hands him, until they’ve demolished the entire treat between the two of them. Next time, Louis thinks to himself, he should just buy two. They really are very good.

Once they’re done, they both seem a little reluctant to actually get to work. Louis contemplates getting another coffee, but really, he can’t stomach any more of that weak stuff, and he really shouldn’t be drinking any more anyway. He could go for tea, but around here that’s usually even more subpar than the coffee is.

He sighs instead, rests his head on Harry’s shoulder for a brief moment, wishing that he could just go home and have Harry wrap around him again like a warm, protective blanket. “I’m nervous,” he says quietly, only straightening up when they’re attracting stares. “I don’t know if I want to see how Zayn’s coping. Can we boycott sadness today?”

Harry chuckles softly, reaches for him just so he can brush his knuckles over Louis’ knee. It feels comforting, even when the touch is brief. “I don’t think we’ve got much of a choice. But he might not be too sad. He doesn’t realize he’s missed out on meeting his soulmate. He’s just had a shitty encounter, but from the sound of it, that’s nothing new.” Louis hates when he makes sense. “Besides, today’s his last day off before he goes back to school. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get him to go anywhere today, but we might as well see.”

It is their job, Louis has to grudgingly agree. There’s really no use in putting it off. It’ll just make him more antsy, and he does not need that. Harry does not need that. “Alright. Let’s just get it over with then.” He could suggest looking at Liam first, but he’d rather bite the bullet.

Switching on the screen, they find Zayn still asleep, the way his hair is mussed up making him look younger, more innocent. His room is somewhat of a mess, clothes strewn everywhere, but he looks peaceful, slumbering while the house is slowly waking up around him. Louis doesn’t want to fast forward, but he knows that watching Zayn sleep isn’t just creepy it’s also going to be fruitless. “D’you think he’ll be up in an hour?” Zayn looks pretty much dead to the world, something Louis sympathises with. He too enjoys sleeping in as long as possible.

Harry shrugs. “If he’s anything like you, I doubt it.”

Even though Louis just had the exact same thought he still huffs at Harry, prods his side. “We can’t all be morning people, Haz. Some of us have to be night owls.”

“You’re not a night owl, you’re just lazy,” Harry teases. Louis doesn’t have the heart to correct him. It’s not like he’s really wrong. He likes sleeping. He likes not having responsibilities. And he’s not someone who can stay up until three in the morning.

“Excuse you, I’m 82.” He teases back. “I think I’m allowed a little lie in at my age.”

Harry just rolls his eyes, doesn’t ask Louis’ permission (which Louis likes, as much as he hates it when people do things without consulting him) when he switches the window over to Liam instead. Liam is very much up, because he’s in the gym, working out.

Louis grumbles. “Are we sure they’re soulmates? They’re so different. They don’t look like they should work.” Zayn is sleeping, which is the normal thing to do after a night out. It’s nine in the morning and Liam’s in the gym, has been for a while, Louis presumes. He’s all sweaty and red faced and it should be gross but somehow he doubts that Zayn would mind seeing him that way. He probably wouldn’t mind him coming home that way either, waking him up with a kiss. Or, y’know, something a little less PG.

Harry just snorts again, watches Liam in a way that almost makes Louis want to say something. He bites his lip though, doesn’t want to accuse him of being creepy when he’s not sure that’s what it is. And there’s nothing really wrong with Harry appreciating the way Liam looks. He is, objectively, an attractive man. And Harry’s appreciation is solely aesthetic. It doesn’t stop Louis from wondering if Harry finds Liam more aesthetically appealing than, say, him.

“Do you need a napkin for all that drool?” Apparently he’s not very good at biting his tongue.

“You jealous?” Harry retorts. Louis can’t help but scowl. He wants to tell Harry that that’s ridiculous. That there’s nothing to be jealous of, considering who they are and what they’re doing. Considering even if there were a reason to be jealous, Zayn is always going to win out.

“You wish,” he pets Harry’s hair in as condescending a way as possible. Harry leans into it and almost purrs. Bastard. “I know I said I doubted they were soulmates, but they really are. Don’t go lusting after Liam now. That’s sort of icky.”

Harry seems mildly disturbed by Louis’ words. “Icky?” He echoes, frowning. “Why? Because we’re both boys?”

Louis blinks. “Yes,” he deadpans, “that is totally why. I’m getting upset over homophobia, but I’m totally against guys hooking up.” He rolls his eyes at Harry, thinks he hasn’t shoved him off his chair enough recently. Especially considering they’ve had this discussion before. Maybe a good knock in the head would set him right, would keep Harry from doubting Louis. He doesn’t act on it though, at least not yet. “No, you idiot. I don’t care about that. But, y’know. You’re like, twice his age, almost. And you’ve been watching him. And you know he has a soulmate.” It all sounds like excuses, even to his own ears.

Harry, though, just accepts it as truth. Relaxes a bit at his explanation. “Well, there’s no reason to be jealous, not that I’m saying that you were, because that’s ridiculous,” It really is. There’s no reason to be jealous because they’re not wired that way, and even if Harry did prefer Liam aesthetically, that doesn’t mean anything when Louis is his best friend and always will be, “but even if you were, I’m totally committed to getting Liam and Zayn together. Despite you saying that they’re too different.” He ends his sentence on a frown, and Louis feels the odd urge to defend himself. Or comfort Harry. He’s not sure where either impulse comes from.

“I know that they say opposites attract, but, I don’t know. Isn’t it, ultimately, isn’t it going to be more comfortable when you’re with someone that just fits?”

Harry turns towards him, taking his eyes off where Liam is still going through his gym routine, looking increasingly more disheveled. It’s indecent, really. The students in Liam’s school are going to have heart attacks, or at the very least inappropriate feelings. Liam’s going to be so popular. “We are really different,” Harry points out quietly.

Oh. Louis swallows. “We are,” it sounds a bit tentative. They are, he knows that, that’s not what he’s unsure of. Harry is like Liam, getting up at arse o’clock in the morning, for fun. Personality wise, Harry’s probably a good mix of Liam and Zayn, he can seem confident but feel shy, is more fragile than people might assume. He likes being with friends but he also needs time on his own, to recharge. Louis is .. It’s not so much that he’s like Zayn, it’s that he doesn’t see much of himself in Liam. He’s more confident than Liam is, and he’s definitely not as dedicated or serious as Liam.

Harry just gives him this helpless, sort of endeared look, like he knows exactly what’s going through Louis’ head or like he can’t believe Louis isn’t grasping what he’s trying to tell him. “We fit,” Harry points out, confident, but then faltering a bit at the end. “Don’t we?”

OH. Louis feels a bit stupid indeed. “We do,” he’s quick to assure Harry, smiling at him. “We do, we fit.” He doesn’t point out how that doesn’t prove that Liam and Zayn are soulmates. He also doesn’t tell him there’s the obvious fact that while Liam and Zayn are soulmates despite their incompatibility in some regards, Louis and Harry are not. There’s no silver cord connecting them, the way it connects Liam to Zayn. “Do you think,” he’s not sure he even wants to ask him, but he finds he can’t stop himself. “Do you think we’d have been soulmates, on earth?”

It’s a stupid question and Louis wouldn’t blame Harry for laughing. But Harry doesn’t. He just contemplates it, like it’s a legitimate question. Like Louis wouldn’t have been forty four by the time Harry had even been born. Never mind that they might not even have been interested in other men. Louis honestly can’t tell if he’d have been gay or straight. He supposes the period of time he lived in he’d have ended up married to a woman regardless of his preferences.

“I don’t know,” Harry eventually settles on. “I don’t know if our lives wouldn’t have been different. Maybe the us that we would’ve become wouldn’t have even been friends. But the you and me that we are here, if we’d have met on earth, then, maybe.” It’s a complicated answer to an equally complicated question. Louis supposes they’ll never know, what would have happened. There’s no point in asking questions when they won’t ever find the answer. “I think this is all meant to be, though,” Harry adds. “You and me, meeting here. Does that make us soulmates .. I don’t know. It makes us something.”

Lucky, Louis thinks. It makes them lucky.

*

They’re not so lucky in bringing Liam and Zayn together, as it turns out. Not that Sunday, when Zayn plain refuses to budge and even leave the house. Not that Monday, when Liam and Zayn start up their lives. Liam’s nervous, and Louis and Harry are nervous for him, like two parents that are watching their child take his first steps. It’s a big, scary world out there, and school is about the worst. Kids can be nice and accepting but they can be cruel too, judgmental in ways that Liam has already experienced, growing up. Louis isn’t ashamed to admit that he holds Harry’s hand (and feels as though he holds his breath) all throughout Liam’s first lesson.

It goes well though. As Louis had suspected, the girls take to Mr. Payne rather quickly. He doesn’t look as indecent in his school provided gym clothes as he did in his own gym outfit, but he still catches them glancing at him, giggly fourteen year olds who can’t stop sneaking looks at their fit new teacher. The class goes off without a hitch, and Louis finally releases Harry’s hand when the bell rings and his fingers feel numb.

Zayn’s first day of classes isn’t as nerve wracking, because Zayn’s not new to his college. It is a bit surprising, though, to see him walk through the hallways, not nearly as ecstatic to be back as Louis had sort of expected. It might be that he has to get used to getting up early again, as well as attending lectures in a crowded hall. He did spend the entire summer mostly alone or in a small group of people after all, but he looks drained and none too happy when he drags himself from his first class to lunch. Louis feels a bit sorry for him, knowing that he’s got a second class from 2 to 4 and then another from 6 to 8. At least the last one should be in a smaller group, and it’ll be more hands on than the two theory classes that Zayn’s got on his schedule.

It doesn’t leave them with much time to get the two of them to meet though, so while they spend most of the day alternating between checking in on Zayn and following Liam’s first day, they don’t really end up doing much to actually set them up. There’s a few ideas though, and Louis can’t believe their luck when Zayn walks into his night class and the teacher introduces them to Soph, who will be one of their models for this drawing class. Maybe, hopefully, they can get Soph to talk to Zayn - though they aren’t allowed to directly influence her, sadly - and she can be the match maker she had claimed to be.

They spend two hours watching Zayn, who takes notes and then starts sketching. There’s a short break an hour in, but rather than talking to Soph, Zayn opts for a cigarette outside. Louis has a moment where he debates making him change his mind - maybe making it rain - but then Harry nudges him, helps him realize that Soph has already disappeared into a small dressing room next to the classroom. She clearly wants a bit of privacy too, and Louis can’t really begrudge her that. Not when she’s had ten students staring at her for an entire hour, has another one to go before class is over.

Eventually they decide to call it a day, promise each other that they’ll try and think of a few more ways to get Zayn and Liam to meet, just in case their first plan falls through the way the original one had done. Louis aims to do just that, but when he gets home and finds himself on the couch with a good movie on, freshly cooked dinner in front of him and his body still warm from the shower, he finds it all too easy to decide that he’ll figure something out in the morning.

Of course, by morning, he ends up oversleeping on the one day he really shouldn’t, and between texting Harry to please bring him something for breakfast at work and trying to locate his missing sock (lamenting the days he just went barefoot in his shoes) it completely slips his mind.

Until he gets to the office and Harry’s there, beaming brightly at him, holding out a sandwich that Louis is pretty sure doesn’t come from any café but rather has been carefully made and lovingly wrapped up in Harry’s kitchen, and the first thing Harry asks him is “And?”

Louis comes to a halt, makes a face. “Fuck.” His brain is racing, but he hasn’t even had coffee yet, and he knows that anything he does come up with on the fly is going to be utter shit. “Shit. I’m sorry Haz. I completely forgot.”

His guilt, made worse by the cup of coffee Harry hands him along with his breakfast, sits heavily in his stomach, at least until Harry shrugs. “Don’t worry. It’s not like we can do everything at the same time. We just need a few ideas to get us going.”

Louis sits down, gulps down too hot coffee, almost feeling vindicated in the way it burns his tongue and the roof of his mouth. “Still. I promised you. I was just exhausted last night, and this morning I overslept, and that’s not an excuse but-”

“Louis,” Harry shakes his head, sits down next to him, wearing that sweet patented Harry Styles smile that people would go to war for. “Relax. It’s not a big deal. It’s only Tuesday, Liam’s only moved to Bradford a week ago. We’ve already tried to get them to meet once. It’s not like we’re behind schedule on anything. There’s no deadline, right?”

That’s true. When it comes to love, there’s never any deadlines. Still. Louis has never liked spending too much time on one case. He always worries that people are going to think he’s not very good at his job. But this is something unprecedented. Two Cupids working together. There’s a reason for that, the task at hand more difficult than normal. So he really shouldn’t feel so worried that they haven’t managed to set them up yet. Maybe it’s just that he wants to make a good impression on Harry. He wants him to want to work with him again, but also, he wants him to be proud. Impressed, even, maybe.

He sighs, gives Harry a small smile. “Thanks.” He gestures with his empty coffee cup, bitter flavour still lingering on his tongue. “For this too. You’re the best, Haz.”

Harry gives him a small smile in return, one that’s shy and happy, accentuated by the pink flourish in his aura. Louis is glad to see that he genuinely isn’t upset or frustrated with Louis’ forgetfulness. He still promises himself to do better today.

“Zayn’s working tonight, isn’t he?” He asks, between bites of his sandwich. It’s a caprese, but for some reason the tomato and pesto and mozzarella haven’t made the bread soggy. Harry’s clearly capable of performing miracles. Maybe it’ll transfer into their work somehow. “At the supermarket?”

Harry consults his notes, nods. “Tuesdays and Thursdays, and either Saturday or Sunday depending on the week.” That had been what they’d agreed on in the job interview. “I don’t think we’ll be able to make them meet after work though. He’s on the clock ‘til ten and he’s got an 8:30 class tomorrow.” The only day he’d start before 10, Louis recalls.

He taps a finger against his lip, checks his own notes to see what Zayn’s class schedule for today is. He starts at 10, then has a break from 11:30 to 2:30, followed by another hour long class. He starts work at 6, which arguably leaves them with some time between Liam leaving work and Zayn starting his job, but considering Zayn’s probably got homework, there’s not an awful lot of time left. Louis can’t bear waiting for the weekend though. Not when he’d pinned all his hopes on last weekend only to have everything go awry at the last minute. “Maybe at work though?” He suggests. “The supermarket isn’t that far from Liam’s place. Maybe we can get him to go in? We’d have to check if Zayn’s working the register or if he’s restocking, but if necessary we can change his tasks around a bit, give him a chance to bump into Liam?” Maybe meeting at the supermarket isn’t going to lead to that dramatic wow moment, but love stories didn’t necessarily need to start with a bang - no pun intended. Sometimes it was a lot simpler than that. A small conversation, perhaps a smile. A small action can mean so much more than you’d expect.

Harry nods. “Sounds like a plan.” Louis can tell that he’s a bit relieved. It feels good, he has to admit, to know that they’ve got a plan again. That they aren’t just wasting time, watching and waiting. He still thinks he should come up with a few other options, but at the same time he doesn’t want to jinx it by already having a back up plan.

Their morning is spent watching Liam teach, and making sure he has reason enough to drop by the supermarket at night, as opposed to on his way home. It’s not that hard, in the end, when Liam’s sweaty and in need of a shower once his day at work draws to a close. They barely have to do anything, especially when Jade ends up burning dinner before Liam has even managed to get out of the shower. Liam, being the person that he is, immediately offers to go to the store and cook, without Louis and Harry having to do more than watch (and smile proudly).

It’s just after six when Liam leaves the house, which works perfectly. Zayn’s just started his shift, there’s really no reason for him to be anywhere other than in the store, stocking shelves. He’s not working the register today, still needs to be taught how to, but he doesn’t seem to mind, seems happy in his own world, refilling shelves. There’s a bit of awkwardness when customers approach him, but all in all, things seem to be going according to plan.

Louis resists the urge to hold Harry’s hand, just watches as Zayn heads into the back to grab a box filled with cartons of orange juice, a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead when he carries it out into the store. He similarly resists the desire to check in on Liam, knowing he’ll come into the store sooner rather than later.

Or, he’s supposed to, anyway. When ten minutes have come and gone - ten minutes past the time they’d figured Liam would be entering the supermarket that is - Harry’s smile has turned into a slight frown, and this time he’s the one sliding his hand into Louis’. “Do you think we should-” he starts slowly, hesitantly.

Louis would give anything for double screens right now. Last time it was where’s Zayn and this time it’s where’s Liam. Soulmates indeed.

He strokes his thumb over Harry’s knuckles to soothe him, despite the fact that he’s not feeling awfully soothed himself right now. How hard is it to get two boys to meet, when they’re literally only supposed to go into the same supermarket? What on earth can go wrong?

He sighs softly, pushes his fringe from his forehead with his left hand, not wanting to let go of Harry’s. “Yeah,” he says reluctantly. Zayn isn’t going to go anywhere, they might as well. He wonders if they should’ve been smarter about this, should’ve followed Liam instead of checking on Zayn. But he knows why they’ve checked on Zayn. It felt only fair after spending most of their day watching Liam. He doesn’t want either of them to think (not that they’d ever think, because they don’t know) that they’re picking favorites.

Changing the window, it reveals a flustered Liam, back at his apartment. “Forgot my wallet,” he tells Jade sheepishly, all but jogging into his room to produce his wallet from the jacket he’d discarded before his shower.

Jade smiles at him. “I’m glad you’re back, actually,” she tells him, trailing behind him as he heads back towards the front door. “I’ll come with you. I need some things from the shop and it is my fault that dinner’s ruined.”

Louis glances at Harry, wondering how he feels about this. It’s one thing to have Liam out with his friends in a club on Saturday night, but having him run into his soulmate while he’s out shopping for food -- it is going to limit their chance to interact. At this point though, isn’t it enough to make them meet? He’s honestly not sure, and he wishes Harry would have the answer. Unfortunately, he looks similarly torn.

Liam seems to have no such qualms, happily accepting Jade’s offer to accompany him. So off they go, heading back towards the supermarket. It’s better than nothing, Louis tries to convince himself. At least they’ll get to see each other. It might not be romantic, there might not be an instant spark, but with their last plan falling through Louis will honestly be happy to just get them in the same room together.

He has to remind himself to breathe once Liam enters the store, does a quick scan to see where Zayn is. He’s in the back of the store, chatting to a customer, which isn’t perfect but at least he’s there. It’s better than having him on break or in the store room, even if he might be distracted by the customer’s needs.

Harry’s hand is clammy in his, but when Louis brushes his thumb over his knuckles Harry responds by giving his fingers a light squeeze. It eases something inside of him. Knowing that he’s not the only one responsible, not the only one both terrified and excited.

Jade and Liam chat as they make their way through the aisles, picking up fresh produce and meat, grabbing crisps and soda. Slowly, without realizing it, they make their way closer and closer to Zayn. In fact, Louis thinks to himself, if Liam doesn’t look up when he turns the corner, he’s literally going to run into Zayn.

(He almost hopes he doesn’t look up)

“Hold on,” Jade starts, resting a hand on Liam’s arm, “I think the coconut milk is around here somewhere.” She scans the aisle, triumphant grin appearing on her face. “There it is!” She doesn’t drag Liam towards it, dashes off herself to go and grab it. “You find the red curry paste yet?” She calls, and Liam glances around.

“No,” he tells her. “Maybe in the next aisle over. I’ll go check.”

The next aisle over, also known as the aisle Zayn is currently standing in, is literally so close that all Liam has to do is round the corner. He’s not even two steps from seeing Zayn. Louis’ heartbeat is thundering in his ears.

This is it.

This is it.

Liam takes a step forward, shifts his basket from one arm to the other, his eyes momentarily on the groceries.

“Certainly ma’am,” Zayn’s voice comes. “I’ll check right away.”

Liam looks up, comes to a rather abrupt halt at the sight of an elderly woman, standing in the middle of the aisle he needs to head into. Louis watches him glance past her, seeing a young man turning a corner at the opposite end.

“Does he work here?” Liam asks her, smiling when she nods. “He’d know where the red curry paste is, wouldn’t he?”

The woman nods again, a small smile blooming onto her face as she points to something right behind Liam’s ear. “Oh! It’s right there dear.”

Liam’s confusion turns to gratitude, as he grabs the paste off the shelf, giving the woman a sheepish but warm smile. “Thank you so much.” He pauses, then nods at her. “Have a good evening.”

With that, Liam turns away just as Zayn comes back into the aisle. He rounds the corner and almost runs into Jade, who laughs as she tugs him towards the cash register, now that they’ve finally collected all their ingredients.

Louis doesn’t say anything until they’ve left the shop. He’s not sure what he can say. He’s honestly not sure what he’s feeling right now, either. Glancing at Harry, seeing his face, guilt hits him hard, bitter tasting like this morning’s coffee. He should’ve come up with another plan. He should’ve thought things through last night, or this morning, or even during the day when all they’d done was watch Liam, sure that nothing could go wrong.

How hard could it be right, after all, to make two boys meet?

Chapter Text

“Lou,” Harry starts, and Louis finds that he can’t. Not right now. He can’t listen to Harry’s empty reassurances, can’t deal with the fact that they’ve screwed up again, with the litany of your fault your fault his head likes to taunt him with.

He gets up, rather abruptly, and grabs his bag. “I’m going home,” he tells Harry, grateful that it’s nearly five o’clock. Ducking out a few minutes early won’t be a big deal, though he knows Harry won’t agree.

“Oh.” Harry’s voice drops a bit, making Louis’ stomach hurt worse. “Ok. Do you want to - we could go see the cats again tomorrow?”

In the midst of his realization that oh, it’s the weekend, the suggestion, the reason for it, doesn’t escape Louis, and before he can get a hold on his emotions he explodes. “Fuck’s sake, Harry, I don’t need you to fucking coddle me. ‘m not a child. I don’t need to go cuddle small animals anytime something goes wrong.” He knows it’s not fair, lashing out at Harry, but he doesn’t manage to get a hold on himself beyond attempting a laboured, measured inhale. It’s followed by an exhale that’s no less frustrated, albeit slightly calmer. “I’m just gonna go home.” He repeats, succeeds in making it sound at least a little apologetic.

Harry just looks at him, unsure, and Louis hates that, that Harry directs that look at him. It’s wholly deserved, but still. He knows he should apologize, but he can’t make the words come, not when he has so much more to apologize for than simply for blowing up on him.

Instead he nods at him stiffly, heading out of the office and going straight to Niall’s. Maybe being alone wouldn’t be the worst idea, but if anyone can calm him - besides Harry - it’s Niall. And he won’t be afraid to call Louis on his shit either. Not that Louis really needs it right now. He already knows he’s been an asshole. It’s not Harry’s fault their plan fell through, and even if it had been, there’s no reason to yell at him. There’s never any reason to yell at Harry, or any of his other friends. Especially when Harry had just been trying to help him.

Niall isn’t home yet, so he waits at his doorstep, typing out a quick text to Harry. I’m sorry for yelling at you. I’m a dick. He reads the words, finds they aren’t remotely what he wants to say. They’re not good enough, for one, and also, part of him isn’t sorry. He’s still keyed up and frustrated, but he’s moved on from wanting to punch the wall. It’s just unfortunate that he chose to unleash his anger on Harry. That’s not ok, regardless of how it helped him. And Harry deserves more than a shitty apology through text.

So he deletes the text, pockets his phone just as Niall turns the corner. Louis only has to nod at him before Niall narrows his eyes, moving past him to open the door. He doesn’t say anything, not until they’re inside and on the couch, Louis fidgeting under his gaze.

“Haz said you yelled at him,” Niall starts, no hello or how are you. He doesn’t even offer him a beer, giving Louis no distractions. His gaze isn’t unkind though. “Why?”

Louis swallows. As much as he wanted to tell Niall, it makes him feel weirdly defensive, knowing Harry had already talked to him. It’s a testament to their friendship, or the kind of person Niall is, that he’s not already judged Louis. “What did Haz tell you?”

He’s not evading the question. Not really. Niall still pins him down with a look. “Not much. Ran into him on the way out. Asked why he looked like someone kicked his puppy. He said you two got into some kind of fight and you yelled at him.” He shrugs. “Wouldn’t tell me more than that, said I deserved to hear your side of the story. That you probably needed to talk to me about it. No judgment, he was adamant about that.”

Louis swallows down a bitter laugh. Of course Harry would be a darling, too selfless when it comes to Louis. Too forgiving to his friends. Not that there’s not a line. There is, Louis knows that. He just doesn’t know where it is or how he’s never crossed it. “I was a dick,” it’s easier to say that to Niall than to Harry. “He didn’t do anything wrong. You should judge me.”

Niall all but rolls his eyes. “I don’t have time for your self chastising shtick. I know you well enough to know that you’re hardly ever a dick without reason.” He pauses, grins. “Except to Grimshaw.”

“I have a reason!” Louis interjects, but he can’t help but return Niall’s grin. “Grimshaw’s a pompous arse.”

Niall does roll his eyes this time. “You just don’t like competition,” he tells him sweetly. “Don’t worry, your arse is still the biggest.”

Louis throws a pillow at him. A laugh bubbles up in his throat, just this side of manic. The tension in his chest eases, then increases again when he thinks of how he lashed out at Harry. And why. “We didn’t manage to make them meet. That’s the second time now, Ni.” He picks up another pillow, plays with a loose thread.

Niall hums. “It’s been what, a week?”

Said like that, it really doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Louis frowns. “I know. But, I can’t help it. I’m worried,” he admits, only realizing as he says it how true it is. He still struggles to find the right words, to explain. Not why he’d lashed out but why he felt like he couldn’t breathe, would fall apart if he’d had to spend another minute in Harry’s presence. “It’s already fallen through twice. What if we keep fucking this up and we have no choice but to go down and fix it?” There’s a lump in his throat he can barely swallow around. His voice comes out small. “Harry made me promise we wouldn’t have to.”

Niall stays silent for a while, doesn’t move at first, though when he does he sighs, goes to the fridge to grab them both a beer. It’s weirdly comforting, yet strangely Louis feels like crying. He starts peeling off the wrapper on his bottle instead, wanting to talk but not at the same time. He bites his lip to keep from blurting out something stupid that’ll change the subject. He needs to be honest right now, or he’ll just end up snapping at Harry again on Friday. But waiting for Niall to respond is oddly like his walls are breaking down brick by brick with every passing second.

“I didn’t think Harry would be that selfish,” Niall says quietly, taking a sip of his beer and looking at him. Louis wonders if he looks as small as he feels. “Making you promise something like that.”

Immediately, Louis feels the urge to defend Harry. He remembers how sad he had looked, how he had called himself selfish for the exact same thing. “Shouldn’t he be though?” He looks up at him. “It’s his life. He’s scared to get hurt.” He remembers holding Harry, wishing he’d never have to lose him, wishing he could keep him from getting hurt. It’s why he’s so upset now, because if they keep screwing this up he won’t be able to keep his promise. And he’s already hurt him, just by yelling at him. When he knows Harry had only been trying to help.

Niall frowns a bit. “I guess,” he says slowly. Louis appreciates that he’s taking the time to think about it. “I don’t know though. Like. Either he’s selfish or you are, I guess. But it’s not fair that he’s asking you to shoulder this huge responsibility. That messing up would be your fault.” He points at him with his bottle. “I’ve half a mind to yell at him now, but I doubt that’d help matters much, and I’d probably feel guilty anyway, because he always looks so sad when he thinks he’s disappointed someone.”

Harry’s famous puppy dog eyes. Louis both hates and loves them. He shakes his head. “He didn’t say that, exactly,” he defends him. “It just sort of feels like it would be. Because I promised him and I feel like I should’ve done more. I feel like it’s a promise I should be able to keep, but it’s like I haven’t even been giving it my all, lately. I was supposed to come up with all these ideas on how Zayn and Liam could meet and I forgot.” He almost bites out the words. “How can I look Harry in the eye and tell him that I’m a hundred percent committed when I forget shit like that?”

Niall considers that for a moment, sipping from his beer and looking at him. “Do you really feel like you’re not committed?” He asks. Louis shrugs, but stays quiet. So Niall sighs, shifts a bit on the couch, gently squeezing Louis’ shoulder. “I don’t know, I don’t see you enough at work to know whether or not that’s true. But if you think it is, then, I guess you need to ask yourself why.”

Louis isn’t sure, actually. Maybe he just feels like he isn’t committed because he’s let Harry down and somehow in his mind it’s less bad when he’s let Harry down because of something he could’ve done differently. Because then that means he can change it. Can work harder and prevent fucking up again. Whereas if he has been giving it his all and it isn’t enough .. he doesn’t want to not be enough for Harry.

He tries to voice some of this to Niall, but he’s not sure he’s making an awful lot of sense. It’s not even all making sense in his own head just yet. But Niall just lets him talk, get it out of his system as much as he can. And when Louis finally manages to get the words out, give sound to his fear that his best isn’t going to be good enough, he just pulls him in for a hug. They don’t fit together the way him and Harry do, but it’s still comforting.

They end up dropping the subject after that, though when Louis tells him he won’t be staying too late, as he has some apologizing to do and wants to get on that in the morning, Niall just gives him a grin and keeps him from opening up another beer. They watch a movie, have a playful fight over dumplings, and by the time Louis walks home he feels a little less lost.

He makes good on his promise of getting up early, showers and decides against heading to the bakery to grab Harry a muffin. His apology deserves something bigger. With Niall on board - set to text Harry at ten in the morning, luring him out of his apartment for an hour or two - Louis waits for him to text him that Harry’s with him before making the short trip from his apartment to Harry’s place. With a quick stop at the supermarket in between.

He lets himself in with the spare key, feeling a bit awkward about being at Harry’s place without his permission, but hoping that Harry will appreciate him showing up and making an effort. Louis isn’t the greatest cook, but Harry deserves something big, a gesture that will show him how sorry Louis is, how much he cares for him.

Once he’s got his pancake batter mixed, he lets it rest for a bit, cutting a bit of the stems off his flowers and arranging them in one of the many vases he finds in Harry’s pantry. There’s a card too, and Louis might’ve gone a bit overboard because he’s also bought a stuffed teddy bear, one that holds a heart that said I’m beary sorry. It’s corny but exactly the kind of thing Harry loves.

The pancakes come out a bit misshapen and he’s not sure if they are all properly cooked through (despite the fact that some look suspiciously black), but he’s made an effort, and that’s what should matter, really. Once he’s set the table, he texts Niall that the coast is clear, wonders inanely if he should hide in the bedroom or just stay in the living room, potentially giving Harry the fright of his life.

Eventually, when he hears the key in the lock, he scurries off, hides in the kitchen, crouching down behind the breakfast bar and peeking out, watching as Harry comes to a dead halt, eyes widening at the flowers and the breakfast and the teddy bear. He watches him cross the room in a few large strides, the pun on the teddy bear making Harry smile, the text on the card making his bottom lip wobble. Louis’ heart aches.

“Don’t freak out,” he says quietly, getting to his feet.

Harry jumps, lets out a shriek.

Louis rolls his eyes. Can’t help but smirk. “Hi,” he says softly, heart aching at the way Harry clutches the teddy bear to his chest. “I broke into your apartment. Sorry.”

Harry nods, eyes flickering to the pancakes. “To poison me?” Louis knows that he’s teasing, can tell by the playful lilt in Harry’s tone. “I didn’t think you were that upset with me.” It’s mild, but Louis still glances down, blushes.

“I really am sorry, Haz,” he takes a step towards him, falters for a moment when Harry just glances at him curiously, but then he ignores everything in favor of rushing over and wrapping his arms around him. He doesn’t fully stop until he’s pressed against him as much as he can be, his face tucked into Harry’s neck. Harry lets out a sigh, making Louis tense, but then he wraps his arms around him in return, and Louis knows he’s forgiven.

They stand silently for a few minutes, breathing each other in, and Louis isn’t sure if Harry feels the same way but there’s something oddly calming about this. It’s like he’s never fully settled unless he’s with Harry. And sometimes he fights it, sometimes he doesn’t like the thought of being so dependent on him, but it never helps. Nothing, no one, makes him feel the way Harry does.

“I just don’t understand, I guess,” Harry admits, his voice muffled due to the fact that he’s got his lips pressed against Louis’ hair. “I mean. I knew you were upset. I just didn’t think you’d be upset with me.”

Louis wants to cry. Or scream. He just tightens his hold on Harry. Shakes his head, without moving an inch away from him. “‘m not, Haz. I could never be upset with you, not for something as stupid as this. You’ve been working so hard.”

“We both have been,” Harry says quietly, and Louis whines.

“Have we?” He resurfaces, to meet Harry’s eyes, but finds that he can’t stomach the look he might see in them. So he goes back to his favorite hiding spot, cheek resting against Harry’s collarbone. “I’m not sure I have. I forgot to think about ways to make them meet up, and if I hadn’t then maybe none of this would’ve happened. We would’ve done something different, or, I don’t know. We’d have been able to make them meet.”

“Lou,” Harry’s voice sounds agonized, his hands trembling as he strokes them up and down Louis’ back. Trying to comfort him, like Louis is the one that was hurt in this scenario. “This isn’t just on you. How can you - why would you think that, babe?” He clicks his tongue, shakes his head. It’s as impatient as Harry ever gets with him. “I’m sorry, if I made you feel like that. Like this is all on you. We’re in this together, remember? None of what happened is your fault. If there is someone to be blamed then it’s both of us, ok? But I don’t think that we did anything wrong. We haven’t been able to make them meet, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been trying. And you have been. I’ve seen how hard you work.”

Louis swallows. “But what if it isn’t enough? I promised you we wouldn’t have to go down Haz, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep that promise, and what if you hate me?”

If he thought Harry sounded agonized before, it’s nothing compared to the sound he smothers in Louis’ hair now. “I’d never,” Harry insists hotly, body vibrating with something Louis isn’t sure isn’t anger. It fades soon though, Harry’s arms loosening their grip on him, gentling rather. “Louis. I love you. Ok? No matter what you do, no matter how badly you think you fuck up, I love you. That’s never going to go away. If everything falls through and we have to go down then that happens. It terrifies me and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it, but we’ll take it as it comes, ok? It’s not going to be your fault when it happens. It wasn’t fair of me to make you promise, but I didn’t think you’d take it like this. I didn’t think you’d think it was your responsibility. It isn’t, Lou. I’ll never blame you for it. And even if it was your responsibility, I could never hate you.”

Despite being pressed against Harry from head to toe (or at least from face to knees), Louis finally feels like he can breathe again. “Can you promise me that?” He says, hating how weak he sounds. How weak Harry can make him feel.

“Done.” Harry says easily. He drops a kiss onto Louis’ hair as though that’ll seal the promise. Louis hides a smile against Harry’s throat. “Is that why you yelled at me yesterday? Because you felt guilty?”

Louis squirms a bit. He had rather hoped that they wouldn’t have to get into that, that brunch and the apology had been enough. But he should’ve known better. So he nods.

“Because you felt like you didn’t deserve to be comforted?”

He huffs. “Food’s getting cold,” he mumbles, knowing he should pull away so they can actually get to it, but curling his fingers into Harry’s shirt instead. He smells like warmth and comfort, and Louis is feeling a little too vulnerable to go without such things, apparently.

“I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference, if I’m honest,” Harry teases him lightly. “How much worse can they get just because they’re cold?” He releases a laugh into Louis’ hair and Louis can’t even get upset. Not even if he tries. So he just huffs again and cuddles into him a bit more, greedily soaking up his warmth and light. “Thank you though. It’s very sweet of you to make me brunch. Breakfast? Have you eaten?”

Louis glances up at him, nearly crossing his eyes in order to be able to see him. “Are you going to eat it?” He bites his lip, hating how his voice sounds as though he’s two seconds from crying. He doesn’t think that’s going to go away for a bit. He needs some time to build himself back up. That sounds bad though, because he doesn’t want to have walls up around Harry. He just doesn’t want to be two seconds from crying the entire time he’s around him either.

Harry’s eyes are gentle, his expression fond. “How can I not, when you’ve broken into my house to cook for me? When you didn’t even have to do any of that. You could’ve come into work on Friday and acted like nothing had happened and I’d have forgiven you.” His hand has come up to play with Louis’ hair and Louis wants to melt into it, but he also wants to scowl at Harry’s words. He really shouldn’t be so easy for him.

“It’s probably going to suck.” He pouts a bit. “I’m not a very good cook. Pancakes are hard. But I know how much you love them, so I wanted to try. I’m sorry if they suck. Next time I’ll find a better way to apologize.”

“This is perfect,” Harry assures him, though by the time they’re both seated at the table and he’s braved a first bite of his pancake he doesn’t look as though he can say it a second time, not with a straight face. He tries though. Makes it through four more bites of undercooked yet slightly charred pancake before he gives up with a pained expression. “Maybe I’ll make us something instead, yeah?”

Louis nods with a grimace, watches as Harry moves past him into the kitchen. He picks up the bear, holds it in front of his face. “Hey Harry?”

“Yeah?”Harry turns around, does this weird scrunchy faced thing that Louis adores.

“I’m beary sorry.”

*

Harry’s breakfast slash brunch is a lot more edible than Louis’ had turned out to be, not that that’s much of a surprise to either of them. Having decided that he really did fancy pancakes Harry had whipped up a new batch, fluffy and light and perfectly cooked. Louis would hate him if he didn’t feel so hungry. Or if it was anyone else. Instead he just pours a liberal amount of syrup on his pancake. He’s maybe four bites in when he stops, points his fork at Harry. “Why are yours so much better? What’s your secret, Styles?”

Harry glances up from his plate, smiles, dimples and all. “Love.”

“Bullshit.” Louis counters. “Mine were made with extra love and they still came out sort of,” he grimaces, “ok, really crappy.”

Harry’s smile just widens. “Extra love, huh?”

Louis scoffs. “Never mind. No love next time. Seeing as how you’re making fun of me for it.” Harry’s smile turns into a pout, but Louis is armored against it this time. Shakes his head, brandishes his fork like a weapon. “No. You don’t get to pull that face. Not when you so rudely rejected my love.” He has to bite back a grin. “I’ll save it for someone else. Maybe I’ll start liking Grimshaw.”

Harry lets out this honking laugh that reminds Louis of some sort of animal. He still can’t help but be endeared. “Nick?” Harry hiccups. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

“Maybe the only reason I don’t like Grimshaw is because I like you so much.” Louis frowns at his own words, makes a face. “Meaning, I’m saving all my love for you, so there’s no love left for anybody else. Maybe, Styles, I’d be a nicer person if you weren’t hogging all my attention and affection. It’s selfish, really.”

The dimple returns, even as Harry shrugs, spooning jam onto a second pancake. “I never claimed to be selfless. Not even when it’s for the greater good. I rather like having you so fond of me. So I guess I’ll just be selfish.”

Louis clicks his tongue like he’s disappointed, but he can’t hold back the smile that’s threatening to form on his face. “Alright then,” he decides. He grins down at his plate, finishes up his first pancake before cutting into a second one, dragging a piece through the leftover syrup on his plate. “Honestly though,” he continues after another bite, “what is your secret? Why are you so good at cooking and I’m .. not.” He’s not awful, he can feed himself, but he doesn’t have the innate ability for it that Harry seems to.

“Patience, I guess,” Harry says, after thinking about it for a few moments. “When it comes to pancakes, patience is important. If you turn up the heat too much, wanting to be done with it, things just come out burnt and undercooked.”

Louis frowns. “Huh.” It’s not that that’s some big revelation, but, it kind of seems oddly fitting for their entire situation. “D’you think it’s the same with Liam and Zayn?” Maybe it’s not fitting at all, maybe his brain is just making these odd little connections that make no sense to anyone else. “Cause, y’know. We sort of have been trying to speed up their meeting, rather than letting it happen organically-” not that they have too much of a choice, as two people in the same city weren’t necessarily destined to meet, “so maybe because we’re putting pressure on it, they just come out .. On fire. In a bad way.”

Very eloquent. Harry doesn’t comment on it though, just hums. “Maybe. You could say that. I guess it also goes for when they meet though? Like, some things need to happen fast. Like steak. You don’t want to take too long with cooking them, because the end result isn’t going to be great. Unless you’re one of those people who likes their steak well done, in which case, you’re just wrong.” He grins, knowing full well Louis isn’t one of those people. Louis smiles back, trying to follow along with Harry’s analogy (he thought he was the one making odd leaps in his thinking, but Harry is clearly trying to outdo him). “But some relationships are like chicken. You don’t want to take too long there either because it’ll dry out the meat, but you don’t want to go too fast because then you end up sick.”

“Right.” Louis drags his finger through the syrup on his plate. “So Liam and Zayn are like chicken? Sort of? I mean. Maybe. I guess we won’t know until they meet. They could be chicken before they meet and steak afterwards.” He snorts, shakes his head. “This analogy’s getting weird, mate. And it’s just making me crave a good steak.”

Harry grins. “We could go out to dinner tonight, if you’d like? You paid last time, so, how about it? Dinner on me, and maybe a movie?” He gives him a sheepish sort of smile. “Instead of going to the shelter,” he teases, but there’s still some apprehension in his eyes.

Louis feels warmth in his stomach. “You don’t have to do that,” he says, shaking his head when Harry looks as though he’s about to interrupt. “I’m not gonna say no, obviously, but you don’t have to feel like you’ve got to make up for something. Wanting to take me to the shelter was a sweet thing. I know that. I knew that then, too. I just didn’t want to be-”

“Coddled?”

Louis winces a bit at getting the word thrown back in his face, even if Harry’s tone isn’t malicious in the slightest. “Comforted,” he corrects, quietly. “I don’t think you were wrong, really. I didn’t think I deserved to be comforted. I’ve been thinking about it, and I guess I was sort of trying to convince myself that I hadn’t given it my all? Because I figured, if I had, and I’d still have messed up .. I don’t like letting you down, and I especially don’t like letting you down when I’ve tried so hard not to.”

Harry’s eyes soften. “Lou,” he looks as though he’s about to reach over the table and pull him into a hug, but he settles for just brushing his fingertips over Louis’ hand. “You’re human.” He pauses, snorts. “Sort of. Letting me down, letting anyone down, that’s gonna happen. That’s just a fact of life. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t - you’re not perfect. I never thought that you were. And I hope that you know that I’m not perfect either, that you don’t think that I am. I never want either of us to hold one another to impossible standards. Because that’s not fair. There should always be room for mistakes.”

“So what do I do, when it happens?” Louis asks, his voice sounding a bit timid despite his honest curiosity.

Harry shrugs. “You say you’re sorry. And you don’t need to make me brunch or bring me flowers or a teddy bear - though I love the pun, and the effort, it’s all very sweet. But I’m just saying, next time, you can just apologize. That’s all it takes. I promise.”

Louis still wonders if it can be that easy. He’s not sure why. Harry’s never been hard on him. If anything, he’s been too easy. Letting him get away with things that he shouldn’t, things that might’ve upset him, coming from anyone else. Letting him get away with things that did upset him. “You’re too easy on me,” he says it quietly, keeping his voice from sounding accusatory.

“I’m only as easy on you as you deserve,” Harry counters. “You’re too hard on yourself. I’ve always known that. You’ve always been the kind of person that would take the blame for whatever went wrong, like sometimes shit doesn’t just go awry because of sheer bad luck. It’s like, something happens and you automatically assume you must’ve messed up somehow.”

“I do mess up a lot though.” Louis points out. He can’t even cook Harry a proper forgiveness meal.

“So does everyone else. But you’re not on their case all the time. I’ve messed up plenty, but you don’t hold me to the same high standards you do yourself. So if I need to be a little easy on you, that’s just to make up for how hard you are on yourself.”

It sounds suspiciously like coddling, but there’s also a warmth in Louis’ chest that keeps him from arguing. It’s sweet, isn’t it, somehow? How much Harry cares for him. How he just wants Louis to feel good about himself, at the end of the day. He doesn’t make it sound like he’s treating him as a child, he’s just .. protective. Louis isn’t used to having someone be protective over him, at least he doesn’t think so. Doesn’t remember.

“You’re the best,” he says quietly, giving Harry’s hand a soft squeeze, keeping his eyes trained on his pancakes until Harry laughs. He looks up then, sees amusement paired with a cheeky grin.

“I know. The beary best.”

Louis contemplates dumping his glass of water over his head for that dumb pun, but then, he really brought that onto himself.

*

They end up spending the day at Harry’s apartment, lazing on the couch and watching movies from ‘their’ respective eras. It’s funny, watching things from the year they were born. They watch Viva Villa! from 1934, and Grease, from 1978. The plan is to watch movies from when they were teenagers, but once they’ve watched Grease, Louis can’t help but want to do something. Maybe not quite dress up as Danny, but ride off into the sunset in a flying car nonetheless. No matter how ridiculous that sounds.

“I love this movie,” Harry sighs happily, curled up on the couch with a mug of tea. “I think I like movies where there’s singing.”

He says it as though he’s never watched a musical before, and Louis eyes him for a moment. It’s not something they’ve talked about - which feels odd, considering how long they’ve known each other - but Louis has an extensive collection of movies with loads of singing. He grins. “We should go over to mine,” he suggests. “If you like Grease then I’ve got a couple more movies that I’m sure you’d enjoy. They’re not all as classic as Grease is, but they’re pretty good nonetheless.”

Harry hums. “I would, but, I don’t think I want to move.” He looks comfy, feet tucked under himself, a spot of sunlight hitting the back of his hair and making it look as though he has a proper halo. It makes it hard to see the colour of his energy, but Louis doesn’t have to guess to know that it’s going to be a mix of his favorite colours. Harry’s happy, content, all things good and warm. Louis wants to bask in him the way Harry basks in the sunlight.

“That’s kind of a problem,” Louis points out, considering whether or not it’s worth the effort to poke his toes into Harry’s side. He thinks it might be, but not if Harry is only bluffing about not wanting to move, because Louis is ticklish and Harry knows all his weak spots. “Considering you were going to take me out to dinner later. Is wooing me off the table then?”

He gets a weak grin in response. “I’ll woo you on or off any table, Tomlinson, don’t you worry.”

Louis grins back.

*

After another movie (one from Louis’ childhood, although he obviously doesn’t remember), Harry finally deems himself ready to get up from the couch. He groans a bit as he does, sighs a lot, but Louis isn’t caving, so Harry only comes over for a cuddle twice before heading into his bedroom to change. Louis just lounges on the couch, figures that however he’s dressed is probably good enough for a night out. Especially if they’re eating steak. Steak isn’t exactly the fanciest kind of meal, though he supposes it’s at least a step up from spareribs which he’s learned from watching many humans on their first dates, is not exactly a great meal to order in a restaurant. Not when you’re trying to impress someone. Not that Louis is trying to impress Harry. For one, he thinks that Harry’s already impressed. And, also, Louis is always trying to impress Harry. It’s sort of his default state. Whenever he does something or says something witty he always turns to Harry to see his reaction.

Harry does the same with him, he’s noticed. They’re this weird codependent pair of friends, but it works for them, so Louis can’t really find it in himself to worry about it too much. So what if they tend to get wrapped up in their little HarryandLouis bubble? After all they’ve gone through, they deserve to seek out the things that give them comfort. And it’s not like the two of them don’t have any other friends. That might be unhealthy, actually, even if Louis is forced to admit that he harbors a bit of jealousy towards the other people that Harry chooses to spend time with. Especially when he’s choosing them over Louis. Not that that happens too often. He should probably feel bad about that, but he just feels pleased instead. He likes knowing he’s Harry’s number one. And he’d feel bad about that, if Louis wasn’t damn sure Harry knew that he was Louis’ absolute favorite too.

With Harry finally dressed, they take their time getting to the restaurant. They walk, meander more like, without really feeling the need to talk, just enjoying each other’s presence. The entire night ends up being like that. They don’t need to fill the silence with words, can just smile or bump one another to share exactly what’s on either of their minds.

It’s easy to follow Harry to his place after the movie ends. Louis doesn’t even really think about it, and when Harry smiles and asks him “You’re staying then?” it doesn’t really sound like a question. He just smiles, follows him into the bedroom like he’s shared his bed a hundred times before. His final thought, before he falls asleep, is that this should be weirder than it is.

*

On the last day of their weekend, they wake up wrapped around each other, but rather than it being awkward, it just feels warm and safe and comfortable. There really is something to moving in together, Louis thinks to himself. It’d make it so much easier to sneak into Harry’s bed for a cuddle in the middle of the night.

His thumb brushes over the dip in Harry’s spine, which makes Harry’s nose crinkle in a way that forces Louis to swallow down a giggle. He’s only half awake, Louis can tell, and he wonders how often Harry allows himself a lie in. He’s always up early to go for a run, but right now he’s just soft and pliant, content to tuck his nose into the crook between Louis’ neck and his shoulder.

“You missed your morning run,” he teases him lightly, when he’s reasonably sure Harry’s awake. There’s no reply for a moment, then a soft puff of air that tickles his skin.

“It’s raining out,” Harry complains.

Louis snorts. It’s Heaven. It never rains. It’s always sunny and warm and perfect. “Ok,” he concedes, petting Harry’s hair, wondering if the sound he hears is actually a purr. Harry has always preferred cats to dogs, unlike Louis, but he never thought it was because Harry was actually a feline in disguise. He wonders what that means for his preference. “Can’t go out when it’s raining. Might get wet,” he continues quietly, not realizing the disgruntled sound Harry replies with isn’t because of his words until Harry pushes his head up into his hand and he realizes he’d stopped petting him. He dutifully continues, wonders why part of him feels like his heart is in his throat.

“Should stay here then,” Harry mumbles, voice still laced with sleep. It might be Louis’ favorite sound in the entire world.

“Ok,” Louis agrees easily. He could get used to this. Easy Thursday mornings, nothing on their plate except for what’ll literally be on their plate. It’s easy to push back the worry, the knowledge of things that have to be done at work. He wouldn’t trade in working with Harry for anything, but this? The simplicity of being together, he’s missed that. He’s missed not having to do anything, not having to try and impress him. He liked it better when it was just their default state. When he could impress him with accents or his footie skills.

“Stop thinking so loudly,” Harry complains quietly after a minute. Louis laughs softly, more breath than sound coming out. “What on earth could you have to think about on a morning like this?”

Louis cards his hand through Harry’s hair, careful not to let his fingers snag on any curls. “I guess,” he says softly, “just how much I wish time would stop sometimes. We’re immortal, we have all the time in the world, I know it doesn’t mean the same thing it does up here as it would if we were human, but still. Some moments, I’d like to stay in them forever.” Said out loud it sounds sappy and far too honest, far too raw for a morning like this.

But Harry doesn’t even move away, just presses his lips to the skin within reach, which turns out to be the column of his throat. He doesn’t joke, the way Louis might have (might have said something like if he wanted that, he shouldn’t ruin it by thinking about it and talking about it), just presses close and breathes him in. Like he wants to hold the air in his lungs forever. Wants to hold Louis inside of him, forever. Louis doesn’t have to do that. He already knows Harry’s in his heart forever.

They fall asleep like that, pressed close together, and don’t wake up for another hour or so. When Louis does wake up though, Harry is just watching him, in a way that should be creepy but mostly just makes Louis feel a little shy. “Is this because you’re worried we’ll mess up again in the morning?” Harry asks, like their conversation hadn’t been interrupted. It takes Louis a moment to remember.

When he does, he bites his lip, unsure of how to answer. Should he lie, say that it is, to possibly avoid any awkwardness now that they’ve properly woken up? Or should he be honest? He ends up shrugging. “Not entirely. I mean. I guess, sort of, in an abstract sort of way? It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted this moment to last forever because I didn’t want any other moments. Just. You’re - this is the closest thing I’m probably ever going to experience to love.” He avoids Harry’s eyes, knows that he’s blushing a bit. It’s true though, and he doesn’t take it back. He doesn’t have any other friends that he could just be with, the way he can with Harry. He doesn’t get to sleep in their arms and not feel awkward. His home would still be a home without any of the others in it, but take Harry away from him and it’s all just empty. Wrong. No matter where he is.

“Maybe you’re right,” Harry says quietly. “Maybe we should move in together.”

His heart doesn’t jump, but it does something. Something painful yet not, something warm and tender and he knows they can’t fall in love but they can love nonetheless. He doesn’t want to kiss Harry, doesn’t want to be his boyfriend, but he wants to be around him, the way the earth orbits the sun. He wouldn’t die without Harry but he wouldn’t be properly alive either. It’s the most intense thing he’s ever felt and he could mistake it for love if he didn’t know they weren’t wired that way, hadn’t seen just how all encompassing it could be.

“Yeah?” He croaks out, scrapes his throat but his voice doesn’t come out much better the second time around. “You mean that?”

Harry hums. “I’m lonely,” he admits, voice buried in Louis’ hair. “That’s why I get up so early every morning and go for a run. Because otherwise I’d be in bed, waking up alone, and I just. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up with someone else but I still miss it?”

It shouldn’t make sense, but Louis understands nonetheless. “It’d be nice,” he agrees, “not having to be alone every day. I mean, I know we see each other at work, and we hang out in our free time, but, this was nice, wasn’t it? I thought it’d be awkward, but.” He shrugs.

“It’s you and me,” Harry finishes what Louis has left unspoken. “I don’t think anything between us would ever be awkward.”

Louis has the inane desire to make Harry pinky promise. Instead he looks up at him, meets Harry’s smiling eyes. “Best friends forever,” he whispers, smiling. “Which, in our case, is literally forever.” He holds back the joke about how he’s not sure Harry is going to be able to keep that promise, the teasing question of are you sure you won’t get sick of me. He doesn’t have to say it, he already knows the answer, it’s so easily visible in Harry’s eyes. There’s joy in them, happiness and trust. Like forever with Louis is just barely the start.

*

They don’t end up moving in together right away. They don’t even discuss the details. But that’s okay. Because they have literal forever to get to that place, and everything is so calm and content that Louis doesn’t want to break it with conversations about such mundane things as which apartment are they going to stay in and what furniture are they keeping. Instead they make breakfast, all domestic and still in their pajamas, and Harry teaches Louis how to whisk.

Chapter Text

Despite the lovely weekend Louis is still a bit reluctant to go into work on Friday. He ended up spending last night at his own apartment, frustrated with himself for how lonely he’d felt after spending just one night with Harry. His bed had suddenly seemed so big, and when he heads into the office in the morning it’s practically on his tongue, the question whether or not Harry had felt the same way.

He tells him good morning instead, gives him a smile and settles next to him, hoping that the two days Zayn and Liam had spent without them hadn’t changed anything, though Louis honestly doesn’t think anything could really get worse. They’ve never interacted, there’s no reason to assume that they might’ve run into one another and hated each other from the get go. And even if they did, it’d probably make things easier, because at least they’d know each other, and there can be a fine line between love and hate.

Checking in on Liam, they find him settling into himself, into the role of teacher. It’s nice to see how much more comfortable he is only a few days into his new traineeship. Paul seems so proud too, and Louis is reminded of Liam’s mum, how scared she’d been to let her little boy go off to Bradford all alone. From the way Liam and Paul interact she has nothing to worry about. Paul is clearly fond of Liam. Louis isn’t even surprised when Paul invites him over for dinner tonight, though Liam politely declines, tells him he’s already made plans to go see a movie with his roommates tonight. Rather than looking disappointed, Paul seems relieved, clearly comforted by the fact that Liam has already made friends after only living here for less than two weeks.

Louis is comforted too, he knows Harry feels the same way, can tell by the soft smile on his face. They’re both so relieved that Bradford hasn’t turned out the way Wolverhampton had. That his roommates don’t just tolerate him, they actively encourage him to join them on nights out.

“Zayn’s not working tonight, is he?” Harry asks softly, smiling when a group of fifteen year old girls giggle and blush at having Mr. Payne show them how to do a particular work out.

Louis checks his notes, even though he’s fairly sure that he knows the answer already. “Not unless he’s picked up another shift he’s not. He’s worked yesterday, and depending on his schedule he’s either working tomorrow or Sunday. Why? Think he might like to catch a movie?”

Harry grins at him, but Louis can see the worry in his eyes, can see that Harry’s telling himself not to get his hopes up a third time. “They’re probably not going to get to interact a lot in the theater, but, same room’s an improvement at this point.”

Not really, since they have been in the same room, but Louis nods nonetheless, knows what Harry means. Anything’s better than nothing, even if they just happen to be in the same row for an entire movie. Who knows, they might bump into one another in the loo. It might be as silly as oops and hi.

“Might as well,” Louis agrees, switching the screen over to Zayn, fastforwarding a bit until he’s sat in the college’s cafeteria, absently working his way through a curry while he’s checking his phone. Louis checks Zayn’s schedule, tells Harry that he’s only got another hour long class to go after lunch, leaving him to start his weekend at three.

Harry, meanwhile, looks up the different movies that are playing in the cinema in Bradford. He frowns. “Lou, there’s sixteen screens in this cinema. We’re gonna need to know what movie Liam’s gonna see. And what time. They have like three screenings of most.” He sounds a bit panicky, and Louis reaches for him, squeezes his shoulder.

“Hey. It’s ok. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen, yeah? If they don’t watch the same film or they don’t go at the same time, they could still run into each other in the lobby or on their way out. And if they don’t, then they don’t. We’ll figure something else out. We’ve got to stop putting this pressure on ourselves. We talked about this, remember. I’m not mad at you if it doesn’t work out and you’re not mad at me, right?” He smiles at him, feels the tension drain from Harry’s body as well as his own when Harry smiles back. “This is an opportunity. Nothing more.”

“But it’s already our-”

Louis shakes his head, doesn’t want to shush Harry but he kind of does at the same time. He’s alright as long as he’s comforting Harry, but if he starts thinking about it he’ll just end up getting nervous too. “We’ve already had two chances. Which, I know we think that’s bad, but maybe we can try and see it as something good instead? Because, well, it means we’ve managed to get them together in the same room on two occasions, when they don’t even know each other or have any friends in common. Not to mention there’s about half a million people living in Bradford.” He’s had a hard time seeing things in a different perspective, but somehow it’s easier when he’s trying to convince Harry. “We’re doing great, Haz. Ok? Just remember that. No matter what happens tonight, we’re still on track. And it’ll be worth it, in the end.”

Harry looks like he still wants to argue at least a little bit, but then his shoulders sag and he rests his head on Louis’ shoulder for a moment. “Thanks Lou.” It’s quiet, but all the more sincere for it. “You must hate having to comfort me when you’re worrying too.”

Louis resists the urge to drop a kiss onto Harry’s mop of curls. “Nah,” he says, finding that he means it. Hoping Harry can hear just how much he means it. “It’s not my favorite pastime, but that’s more because I don’t like you worrying, period. But getting to be the one to comfort you? That’s pretty special, H. Even if it’s just because we’re the ones working this case together.”

It’s quiet for a moment, and then Harry leans in, presses dry lips to his cheek. “It’s not,” he says softly, confirming what Louis already knew, deep down. “You’re pretty special all the time. Somehow, even if you end up saying the exact same things someone else would, or the same things I told myself, they have more weight, coming from you. You tell me everything’s going to be alright and I believe it.” He lets out a soft laugh. “For a while, anyway.”

Louis smiles at that, ruffles up Harry’s hair. “If only that worked when I wanted you to do my work for me.” He teases. “Would come in pretty handy, that kind of superpower.” It’s not that Harry doesn’t already do things for him. He spoils Louis, honestly. Which is all the more rewarding because he does it because he wants to. Because he cares about him.

He caves, presses a kiss to Harry’s hair, that’s even more messed up now that he’s run his hands through it. “We’re going to see if we can’t make them meet at the cinema. I don’t want to be changing their plans around too much, so if Zayn doesn’t feel like going or they can’t make it to the same movie or the same time, then we’ll figure something else out, alright?” He’d like things to finally be going their way at least a little, but he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on themselves. Though, hearing himself say that, he pauses. Reconsiders. “Or maybe we should. I don’t want to not put in the effort.” As much as Harry had said that it wouldn’t be his fault, he doesn’t want to have to blame himself for not giving it his all. He doesn’t want to look back in regret.

Harry looks relieved, when Louis says they’ll put in the effort. He always likes having a plan, Louis knows that. “See if you can’t find out what movie they’re going to see, yeah?” He asks him, checking in with him to see if he minds Louis giving him instructions. He doesn’t seem to. “And what time, if they’ve got that figured out yet. I’ll go and see what Zayn’s plans are. And then once we know what Liam’s going to be watching, we’ll see if we can’t get Zayn interested in going.”

It’s a good plan. Even when it means they end up working at different desks for a bit. Louis feels a bit lonely right away, which is ridiculous, considering Harry’s only a few desks away. He can see him, can call out to him. He could probably bounce a paper ball off of the back of his head if he puts in a bit of effort. Predictably, he tries.

Just as predictably, Harry giggles, when he feels the paper hit the back of his head. He pretends to scowl at Louis, who just mouths at him to open the note. He watches Harry as he unfolds the paper, thinks he could spot his dimples from twice the distance he’s at.

I am being slowly seduced by your curls, is what the note says. It’s so stupid only Harry would appreciate it. He likes that about him. How easy he is to please. How Louis can be completely stupid and corny and Harry lights up like it’s the best thing he’s ever heard (or read, in this case). Louis likes making him smile.

He goes back to his work, checks in on Zayn as he leaves his class - they’d fast forwarded earlier this morning, but nothing interesting had happened in his classes, nor at lunch. He’s on his phone again, barely looking up as he makes his way out of the school. Louis zooms in, checking to see if he’s texting anyone, but he’s scrolling through his Spotify instead, clearly looking for something to listen to on the way back home.

It’s not much later - Zayn is still walking home - that Harry comes by his desk, looking pleased as punch with himself. Louis debates leaving him hanging for a moment, pretending that he isn’t going to be proud of whatever Harry’s done, but it’s Harry. He really hasn’t learned to hold back when it comes to this boy. “You look pleased,” he notes, already finding himself grinning. “Good progress, then?”

Harry nods happily, sinking into the seat next to Louis’. “I didn’t even have to do much digging. I just fast forwarded to when Liam was done with school and the first thing he did was check his phone - they have an app group, isn’t that amazing? Liam and his roommates have an app group-” It’s really not something Louis would usually find even close to amazing, but considering Liam’s past it’s a huge improvement and he understands why Harry’s so excited about it. It’s sweet. “So I kind of spied on him a little,” he sounds a little guilty, which is ridiculous when that is exactly their job, “and he’s going to see the new Marvel one at seven thirty. They’d been talking about whether or not everyone would make the six thirty one, so Andy suggested catching the later one.”

The new Marvel movie - whichever one that was, but that’s not going to be hard to check - at seven thirty. Zayn likes comics, so getting him to go see the movie was probably not going to be the problem. Whether or not he’d do it tonight, and with whom, and at what time, was going to be the bigger issue. But with Harry next to him, looking a lot more relaxed than he had this morning, it’s something Louis is ready to face.

In the end, it all goes off without a hitch. For once. Zayn’s on his phone, watching some Youtube video, and all they have to do is make sure it plays an ad for the movie. From the way he doesn’t skip the trailer, even when he’s allowed to, his interest has been piqued. They give him a bit of time, see if he calls up one of his mates, but instead when he comes home he heads up to his mum almost immediately, asks her if she’d be ok with him taking Waliyha to the movies tonight, since there’s a new one out that he knows she’d love to see too. His mum looks touched by his thoughtfulness, doesn’t even complain when he tells her he’d like to go to the seven thirty screening. It’s a Friday night after all, and, as Zayn tells her, it’ll give Wali plenty of time to do her homework even before they head out.

It’s sweet, and Louis isn’t sure why he is surprised. Zayn’s been nothing but sweet with his sisters whenever they’ve checked in on him, but considering he’s started school back up and is working, he had somewhat expected him to take advantage of a free evening to head out with his mates. Taking his fourteen year old sister to a movie on a Friday night instead is a nice twist.

They take a quick break for lunch, then skip to later that evening - Louis is so glad for that ability, to manipulate time. It makes it so much easier to focus on the important bits, doesn’t mean they’re working insane hours. He remembers when it had been much less common to do so, back when he’d first started out. It had been hours of sitting at his desk, watching his charge go about his or her day. Wasting time, really. There’d been an experiment where every Cupid got assigned multiple cases instead, hoping it would maximize productivity, but even with different timezones it had been impossible to stay on top of everything. A few missed chances here and there and HQ had quickly reconsidered, making time manipulation more easily available.

To prevent being caught off guard again - like last time at the supermarket, when Liam hadn’t shown up when they’d expected him to - they start off at different desks, Harry keeping an eye on Zayn while Louis follows Liam’s movements. They could, theoretically, fast forward until they’re supposed to be at the movies, but he doesn’t want anything happening that they could’ve prevented. So he watches as Liam gets ready, as Soph cancels on them last minute, telling them she has a headache. There’s a short discussion about whether or not they should go, but before Louis has to step in, Soph makes the decision for them, telling them to head out and have fun, she’d feel bad if they stayed behind just for her. And, she adds, she hadn’t been that keen on the movie to begin with. She’d have tagged along just because it was a nice night out with her friends, and they could do that whenever she felt better. With everyone on board with that resolution, the rest of them - Andy, Jade, Jesy and Liam - walk the short distance to the Cineworld Cinema. It’s early when they arrive, but once they’ve bought their tickets and decided on their snacks and drinks, the doors have opened and they head inside.

Harry, meanwhile, heads on over to Louis’ desk, sitting down next to him and smiling. “Zayn’s at the snack bar right now,” he tells him softly. “They’ve bought their tickets and they should be coming in soon. Don’t think they’re near each other though.” Louis had wondered about that, whether or not Harry would manipulate things just enough for the ticket lady to give Zayn and Wali a ticket close to where Liam and his friends were sitting. He just hums in acknowledgement, and Harry goes a bit pink. “I tried, but when they asked for something a bit closer to the middle the lady said they’d all been reserved.”

Louis smiles at him, bumps their shoulders. He wants to tell Harry that he doesn’t owe him any explanation, but he knows Harry knows that. Also knows that Harry prefers to explain what he does, regardless of whether or not Louis thinks he’s owed anything. “I checked, there’s no intermission, but unless either of them are leaving before the movie ends, they should cross paths in some way tonight.”

Rather than fast forwarding through the movie, they decide to watch it with them. If asked, Louis would say that it provides valuable information, both about Zayn and Liam’s interests and also about the way they interact - even if it’s just a small glance, they might miss some important moment if they fast forward through the movie. That’s part of it, of course, but the bigger part is that Louis just really likes movies.

He’s almost caught off guard when it ends, has honestly been paying more attention to what’s playing out on the big screen than whether or not Liam and Zayn have even become aware of each other’s presence. But the moment the credits start rolling he sits back up, ignoring his slight lower back ache as he watches carefully, Liam’s friends getting to their feet. He’s expecting Zayn to do the same, but he’s staying seated, eyes still on the screen.

“Shit,” he curses, tugging at Harry’s sleeve, panic bubbling up in his throat. This is not what’s supposed to happen. They’re supposed to leave together. How else are they-

“Wait.” Harry says, covering Louis’ hand with his own. It’s becoming a thing, them holding hands whenever Liam and Zayn are close to meeting up. Louis loves-hates how his heartbeat settles at just the touch of Harry’s skin. “Look.”

Louis looks. While Liam’s friends have all gotten up and collected their rubbish, Liam is staying seated, whispering something to Andy, who looks conflicted for a moment, then shrugs and points towards the exit. Liam nods, but doesn’t move, although his eyes flicker to his friends when they exit the room. “Why did he-” he starts, confused, not sure if he should feel worried for what’s going on or proud of Liam for defying his very recently acquired friends and staying seated - but for what?

For a post credit scene, as it turns out. Liam’s friends have barely left - along with most of the people in the room - when the screen goes from showing the credits to a small preview for an upcoming Marvel movie. There’s more credits after that, but still Liam stays seated, though he glances towards the door occasionally. His persistence pays off when there’s another post credit scene, the lights only coming back on when the screen has gone black and there’s barely any people left in the theatre.

Liam looks simultaneously happy and a bit uncomfortable, can’t resist checking his watch (like he’d done as the credits rolled) before he gathers his stuff and prepares to hurry back towards his friends - and Louis can’t blame him, not with his past. He thinks it’s incredibly brave of Liam to stay behind to watch the post credit scenes, especially since his friends hadn’t stayed with him. Peer pressure is real, but Liam’s really growing into himself around them.

Liam’s checking his phone as he heads towards the exit, too busy to notice his surroundings, causing him to bump into someone. He glances up and then quickly looks back down when he nearly drops his phone. “Oops,” he mutters, the room - and Louis and Harry - so quiet that they can hear the nervous laugh Liam’s swallowing down. “Sorry mate. My fault.” He’s too busy shoving his phone in his pocket to notice the smile that’s directed his way, barely looks up at the response.

“No worries.”

Liam just nods, zips up his jacket as he heads towards the exit. It’s almost an afterthought as he calls back to the man. “Have a good night.”

Louis watches Zayn’s lips curl up into a surprised smile. “You too mate.”

*

“They talked!” It’s not even a whisper, it’s like Harry can’t contain his excitement, no matter how hard he tries. There are some heads being raised, a soft shush coming from their right but Louis is too busy beaming at Harry to scowl at whoever had dared to shush his boy. They’ve finally accomplished something, dammit, and as far as he’s concerned Harry deserves to feel excited.

So what if it had only been fourteen words. Who’s counting?

“This is brilliant,” Harry continues, and Louis can’t stop grinning even when his cheeks hurt. Maybe it’s not the love at first sight they’d hoped for, and Louis isn’t even sure Liam had really seen Zayn, he’d been too focused on making sure he didn’t drop his phone, but they’d quite literally bumped into each other and they’d exchanged a few words. Next time, maybe Liam will recognize Zayn’s voice, or Zayn will recognize Liam’s face, because from the smile that had played around his lips, Zayn had seen Liam. And while Louis is certainly prone to exaggeration he doesn’t think he’s being too optimistic when he says Zayn had liked what he’d seen.

“It is!” He agrees, when he realizes Harry is looking at him, obviously waiting for his response. “It’s brilliant. You did brilliantly, Haz.”

Harry goes from beaming to bashful in a matter of seconds, energy so bright pink that Louis almost needs to shield his eyes. He doesn’t, doesn’t want to when Harry looks so lovely like this. “We did brilliantly,” Harry corrects, and Louis knows that that’s true, but he still wants to shake his head. He’d tell Harry that he hasn’t really done all that much, but if he’s honest, neither of them really have had to do more than nudge them along. Zayn had only needed to see the trailer for the movie and from there on out things had been almost easy.

He hopes it’s a sign of things to come. That somehow, between the supermarket disaster and their near fight, they’ve managed to get over whatever hurdle was causing them go to one step forward only to end up two steps back.

“I think we’ve earned our night off,” Louis continues, stretching until his back feels a little less achy. “I was gonna head to the store and cook but I think I might just order in a curry, pop in a movie, and treat myself.”

Harry chuckles, though the sound is light, more of a giggle. “So, same as every night then?” He teases. Louis is on too much of a high to take offense. He just sticks out his tongue at him instead.

“See you tomorrow?” He asks, shrugging on his coat as he glances at the window one last time, seeing Liam head on home with his friends, looking relieved that they’d waited and beaming quietly at his feet when his friends tease him a bit about waiting for the post credit scenes. It’s obviously all in good fun, and Louis feels warmth blossom in his chest.

“Yep,” Harry grins at him. “Same as every day.” He’s obviously still poking fun at Louis’ plans for the evening, but Louis feels too warm, too happy at tonight’s result and the knowledge that he’ll see Harry again tomorrow - and the day after that, and the day after that, for all of infinity - to do more than smile and nod.

“Good.” He says softly. “I’m glad.” He buttons up his coat, swipes his fringe from his forehead. “Have a good night H.”

It’s not until he’s left the building, wondering why Harry had laughed when he’d replied with a “You too mate” that Louis realizes he’s been quoting Zayn. He’d wondered why Harry had called him mate, it’s not one of the nicknames they tend to use for one another, and it’s a testament to how happy he is about what they’d accomplished that he hadn’t realized Harry’s parting words were the exact same as Zayn’s until he’s already on his way home.

Never one to let someone else have the last words, he digs his phone up from his jacket pocket, and sends Harry a text.

They talked!!!

It’s half quoting Harry and half just excitement, accomplishment making him feel as though he’s floating even when he’s not flying home today.

Harry texts him back a string of happy emojis. Louis can’t stop smiling all the way home.

*

The next two days are rather uneventful. Zayn works on Saturday, spends Sunday doing his homework, and Liam enjoys having two days off, goes to the gym but otherwise doesn’t do much. The excitement of getting them to interact wears off halfway throughout Saturday, when a rather formal looking Nick shows up at their desk, asking them to come in for an evaluation. If Louis had had any warm fuzzy feelings towards him - from the way he hadn’t really punished them for breaking the rules, when rules had dictated that he should do far more than just send them to archiving for a night - they vanish quickly at seeing the way Harry almost shrinks into himself at hearing they have to go down to headquarters.

It’s not that it’s that unusual on its own. When cases drag on for a bit they have to come in for a talk, explain all they’d done and usually it’s nothing more than a formality, can even be useful because HQ can come up with some new ideas, different tactics that require approval and therefore can’t just be done by Cupids on their own.

It’s just, the timing kind of sucks. They’d finally established first contact, and ok, granted, it’s been a while since they started working on the case, but they’d been kind of stuck since Liam had only moved to Bradford less than a fortnight ago. And since he had settled into his new life, they’d managed to bring them into the same space no less than three times. Louis thinks they deserve some credit.

For what it’s worth, Nick seems to think the same thing. He wraps an arm around Harry’s shoulder - Louis tries not to scowl, fails when Harry leans into it - and tells him that he thinks it’s bs they’re making them come in, but, orders, mate, sorry.

(Louis is sort of vindictively pleased at Nick calling Harry mate, as opposed to something more .. he almost wants to say intimate)

Harry just nods, his eyes dull and even his hair looks sort of droopy. Louis wants nothing more than to tug him into his arms and hide him away from the world. “It’ll be ok Haz,” he assures him, fingers itching to reach out to at least hold his hand. “If anything, they’ll give us some fresh ideas, yeah?” The look Nick gives him is a mix of amusement and scepticism, and Louis can’t really blame him. HQ might know about rules and they might give them some pointers in that area, but when it comes to ideas on how to bring charges together nothing can beat the Cupids’ knowledge. Louis thinks Harry knows that too, but he still hums, manages a smile like he’s actually grateful for Louis’ meager attempt at cheering him up.

The walk towards HQ seems to take forever, Louis’ shoes - and wings - feeling like they’ve been weighed down with lead. Harry in particular seems to drag his feet, and Louis feels that odd mixture of jealousy and gratitude for how Grimshaw is with him. He doesn’t treat him like a child, or like Harry’s fragile, but he does seem to have some sort of innate sense of how to care for him, how to make him feel a little less worried. Bastard.

At least they get to go in together - not that Louis had really doubted that, seeing as how they’re working the case together, and it’s not like either of them haven’t been pulling their weight, much as his subconscious tries to make him believe that he has - once they finally get to HQ. Nick leaves them in the waiting room, gives Harry a cuddle and Louis a thumbs up, that he returns with a mild grimace. They both know that whatever’s going to happen, it’s going to suck. Even in the best case scenario, they still get scolded, as if they haven’t been giving it their all. As though they’ve been failing.

Harry sighs, when Nick has left. “We’ve failed, haven’t we?” His voice is small.

Louis shakes his head, but his tongue feels like rubber in his mouth. “We haven’t,” he says slowly, after swallowing a few times to make sure his mouth works and his words don’t come out squeaky and hesitant. He needs Harry to believe this. “Whatever they say, Haz, we haven’t. Just hold onto that, ok? They don’t know shit. Not like we do. They might say that we’re not effective, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t put in the effort. If they’d come down to our office and saw what we’d been doing, then they’d know.”

“That’s a nice sentiment, Tomlinson,” a voice calls out, and Louis glances up, has to school his features into something neutral, something that doesn’t show his disdain. It’s a courtesy he hadn’t been allowed in return, from the way the words had sounded.

“Mr. Walsh,” he greets politely, nodding his head at him. “Good to see you.”

Louis Walsh - Louis can get irrationally angry at the fact that he shares a name with him - barely nods back at him. “Wish I could say the same. Would you step into my office please?”

Louis takes a deep breath, curses him out in his head. Louis Walsh is one of those people that makes Louis really have to work at biting his tongue. There’s nothing pleasant about the man. Sure, one could say that he’s just following policy, but there’s something about him that makes Louis think that he enjoys enforcing rules, and delights in punishing those who break it or who simply fail to live up to his standards. He’s a bitter, mean old man and Louis doesn’t know if he’s ever been human but he’s pretty sure that he’s never been loved, and maybe that’s why he works in HQ and maybe that’s why he’s so hard on the Cupids, because he’s bitter and old and jealous.

If he was alone he might find himself being a bit antagonistic, but as it is, he’s with Harry, and he knows how much Harry worries. He doesn’t want Harry to be punished just because Louis felt the need to be uncooperative. So instead he just nods, gets to his feet and follows him into the office, Harry trailing behind him like a shadow.

Walsh doesn’t offer them anything to drink, just gestures towards two seats, two hard uncomfortable plastic chairs, while he sinks down into his black leather luxurious looking desk chair. It doesn’t get any better from there on out.

Let’s just say, Louis has a newfound appreciation for Grimshaw. He’s had to deal with Walsh before and he’s never been very pleasant, but today he’s downright rude, doesn’t even let Harry finish his sentences and pretty much ignores anything they have to say. Louis isn’t sure what’s going on, but he can tell that it’s personal, in a way. And not because of Louis, because of Harry. Which just makes him loathe Walsh all the more.

And that’s before he tells them - smiling, like he’s giving them good news - that if they fail (Harry cringes at the word, whereas Louis just bristles) one more time, HQ will have no other choice but to send them down, unless they’d prefer to be removed from the case.

Louis stays quiet at that, wonders what Harry will say. He knows how afraid he is of going to earth - and honestly, confronted with the suddenly very real possibility, Louis’ heart is feeling quite unsteady in his chest - but he also knows that Harry doesn’t like to walk away from his responsibility. And he doesn’t like backing down from a challenge, and it’s clear Walsh is issuing one.

Harry almost scowls, wants to, Louis can tell by the stubborn set to his jaw. “No, that’s alright. I’m sure we can manage.” He tells Walsh in a clipped voice. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever heard him talk like that to anyone. He doesn’t resist the urge to reach out to him this time, even if it’s just to tangle their fingers.

Walsh glances at their hand holding, something in his eyes that Louis doesn’t like, but that only makes him hold onto Harry a bit tighter. He meets Walsh’s eyes, not backing down. “You’ve heard him. We’re not giving up.” He tries not to be rude but he can’t really help himself, not when Walsh clearly dislikes Harry and Louis therefore must hate him on principle alone. “Now, if there’s nothing else, we’re quite busy, and we’d like to get on with our work.”

He doesn’t get the affronted response he’d hoped for, just gets an almost gleeful smile instead. “Of course, Mr. Tomlinson. I’m sure you both have a lot on your plate. Of course, I wish you all the best of luck. If not, I daresay we’ll be speaking soon enough.”

Louis manages a tight nod, all but dragging Harry from the office, not letting go of his hand until they’re outside and he’s not sure if he’s shaking with anger or if there’s a bit of fear in it too. “Fucking tosser,” he growls out, rubbing Harry’s arms and bringing him in for a hug. “You alright, Haz? He was an absolute tit towards you. The fuck is wrong with him?”

“He hates me,” Harry says quietly, folding himself into Louis’ embrace. For as defiant as he’d been earlier he looks meek and small now. Louis would stomp back into HQ and put his foot up Walsh’s arse if he wasn’t concerned with Harry’s needs right now.

“Again, what the fuck is wrong with him?” Louis mutters angrily, the words weaving their way through Harry’s curls. Harry doesn’t laugh, just slips his arms around Louis’ waist. “He’s mental. He should have his head checked out. Anyone who hates you is clearly sick in the head.”

Harry lets out a quiet sound, muffled by Louis’ shirt. “That’s ableist, Lou,” he reminds him, and Louis wants to laugh. Even when confronted with an absolute shithead like Louis Walsh he’s still kind. So fucking angelic.

He presses a kiss to the top of Harry’s head. “Sorry,” he murmurs, tugs softly at one of Harry’s curls. “Not mental. Just an asshole then, yeah love?”

“Better,” Harry agrees quietly, his soft content sound at Louis’ playing with his hair coaxing Louis into running his hands through his curls, careful not to get caught. “He does, though. Hate me. He used to mentor Nick.”

No wonder Grimshaw’s such a tit, Louis thinks, and it’s like Harry knows, because he squeezes Louis, hard enough for it to hurt at least a little bit. “Don’t,” Harry says quietly. “He’s nothing like him. Not for lack of trying on Walsh’s part though. He tried to groom him into his successor, or whatever. And then Nick met me and he realized what an utter trash bag Walsh is and so he told him to fuck off, and ever since then Walsh has had it in for me.” He doesn’t pull back to look at Louis as he talks, even when Louis has to strain a bit to hear what he’s saying. Perhaps that’s Harry’s point though. “I’m sorry, Lou. I’ve no doubt he means what he’s saying. He’d be more than happy to fuck us over and send us down. And it’d be all my fault. He’s been waiting for a moment like this. For me to fail so he could-”

“Hey.” Louis interrupts him. “You haven’t failed. Fuck that. Fuck him. We haven’t failed and we’re not going to fail, you hear me? We’re going to prove him wrong and he can eat shit.”

Harry barely manages a smile, and his nod isn’t a whole lot more convincing, but at least he allows Louis to hug him for a little while longer before they head back into the office.

*

They want to take their time with it. If the next attempt is going to be the final one, they better make it a damn good one. So of course that means that two and a half minutes into Monday morning, Harry comes over to his desk, looking panicked. “Liam’s going to be in Zayn’s art class.”

Louis glances down at his coffee. It’s not nearly strong enough for this. “What.”

“You remember how Soph’s modeling for Zayn’s art class? She’s asked Liam to come along with her because they wanted two models, and Liam asked when and she told him that it’s every Monday night and it’s Zayn’s art class and he’s going to be there and they’re both going to-”

Louis stops him. Literally has to press a hand to his mouth to do so, but drastic times call for drastic measures. “Breath, Hazza,” he reminds him gently, only taking his hand away when Harry has licked at his palm, muttering something under his breath that sounds like can’t with your greasy paw on my lips. Louis smiles. “Better?”

Harry nods sheepishly.

“Good,” Louis grins at him, gestures for Harry to sit down. He’s only just gotten into the office, had wanted to grab some notes and head over to Harry’s, but he supposes they might as well work at his desk today. Harry looks relieved to be sitting down, at least. “Now, let’s try this again, and a bit calmer this time, yeah?”

“Liam is going to be in Zayn’s art class.”

Shit. Louis knew he hadn’t misunderstood him, but it still fills him with dread. Because art class is on Monday. Today’s Monday. They wanted to take their time planning out their fourth slash first meeting. He has to remind himself to breathe, this time. “Okay,” he says slowly, hoping that by processing the information a bit slower, he’ll magically be able to keep from freaking out. “Did she ask him to come with today, or?”

Harry’s eyes are a bit wild. “They hadn’t, I think, maybe?” He sounds a bit sheepish. “I mean. Soph asked him, she said they wanted a model, they didn’t, she didn’t make him promise it’d be tonight?” He absently tugs at one of his own curls. “But they were starting with two models tonight, I think.”

Louis isn’t sure if Harry had thought or assumed, but he doesn’t want to ask him that. Doesn’t want Harry feeling like he thinks he’s overreacting. “Alright,” he says slowly. “Can we, we could try and make him go next week, instead? Give us a bit more time to prepare?”

For one glorious moment Harry looks relieved, but then he deflates. “Walsh will know,” he mutters, his loathing for the man woven into every syllable. “If we know, then he’ll definitely know. And he’s exactly the type of man who will tell us that we should’ve done it tonight, who will turn us trying to do it next week into us failing a fourth time.”

Louis thinks he’s probably right. He has to bite back a string of curse words, feeling hopeless and a little panicked himself. This isn’t how they planned it. They weren’t supposed to be caught off guard this way, having only a day to prepare for something that feels so life altering. And could be. Because going down -- Louis isn’t sure he’s ready to face his past. To know his memories, his loss. “So,” he tries to sound calm, “either we do this tonight, or we’re fucked?”

Harry whimpers, and Louis immediately regrets his choice of words. “I mean,” he tries, “not, that’s not, shit, sorry Haz. It’s not that bad. It won’t be. The universe is practically doing the work for us, yeah? We just have to make Liam go tonight. And then he’ll be there and Zayn will be there and Zayn will stare at him for two hours and -- it’s going to work. It has to.”

He wishes he could will it into being just because of his need to protect Harry. And himself.

It’s not ideal, but it can work. All they have to do is convince Liam. He hadn’t been entirely against Sophia’s suggestion to come, which is a lot more than he’d expected, if he’s honest. Liam doesn’t look like the type of guy to enjoy being gawked at, never mind being scrutinized in the name of art. Louis wonders if he’d only said yes because he doesn’t want to do anything that’ll upset this newfound friendship with his roommates. He hopes it’s not that. But even if it is, he’s not going to be too sad about it. Not when it gets Liam and Zayn in the same room. And Sophia knows Zayn, sort of, has been modeling for the class before. She could introduce them, maybe.

(Louis briefly wonders how it had slipped their mind. Sophia had met Zayn. Why hadn’t they used that? Was Walsh right, had they really failed?)

Harry takes one look at him and breathes out shakily. Fuck. He’d just been calming down. “Lou,” he starts, and Louis takes his hands in his, because that’s all he’s learned over these past weeks, is that it calms them down when they hold hands. He wishes he’d have more to show for all their hard work.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he says quietly, willing Harry to believe it. “If we go down. I know that we’re scared, I know that you are and I am too, Harry, but if it has to happen, there’s no one else I’d rather do it with than you. Because I know that as long as we’re together I’m never going to lose my way. And I promise you, I won’t let you lose yours.”

Harry manages a small smile. “Together, like always, yeah?”

Louis nods. “Forever.” He agrees. “Couldn’t get rid of me if you wanted to.”

*

It’s not that hard, to convince Liam that he should accompany Soph tonight. He doesn’t have anything planned, and Soph is frighteningly good at batting her lashes and getting her way. It helps that Liam actually enjoys her company. Despite the way she’d been a bit too forward at the start, asking Liam questions without regard for how well they know one another, they actually seem to get along well. And despite not having all too much in common, they’re both easy to get along with, and have a genuine interest in getting to know one another. Soph, in an attempt to convince Liam, had offered to go to the gym with him next time, and while Louis is sure that Liam would’ve said yes regardless, it’s nice that she offers. That she wants to hang out with him, even when they’re not doing something that benefits her.

They don’t have to do anything to make sure Zayn shows up. They still monitor him, of course, because they don’t want to give Walsh the satisfaction of getting to send them down - there’s always that thought of what if in Louis’ head, but he’d be damned if he’s going to do anything less than his absolute best when Walsh is the one making the decisions - but as long as he’s in school, everything’s just fine.

Everything seems to go off without a hitch. There’s nothing, all day, that would validate the uneasy feeling in Louis’ stomach, the way his heart seems to skip and he can’t properly breathe. He attributes it to nerves, to knowing what’s at stake. There’s no possible way he could’ve foreseen it, after all.

And they’re so close this time. Again. That’s what’s so frustrating about it. Liam’s literally about to head into the room when his phone rings, caller I.D. making him frown as he gestures to Soph to head on in, he’ll be right behind her.

Louis knows something’s wrong when all the colour drains from Liam’s face, when he steadies himself with a hand against the wall. “When?” He asks, voice shaky, then, “Where?” He nods at whatever’s being said on the other side, rubs at his face. “Yeah. I’ll come right over.”

As he pockets his phone, he tries to steady his breathing. Louis does the same, too worried to even realize that it’s Zayn who’s entering the hallway, who’s frowning as he sees poor Liam, in obvious distress. “You alright?” He asks, coming closer, though Liam doesn’t even seem to hear him, doesn’t look up as he shakes his head, fails to do more than gasp in a few panicked breaths. “Mate?” Zayn urges softly, at his side now. “Do you need to sit down for a bit? You’re looking pretty pale.”

He reaches for Liam, as though to help him sit down, and it’s like that suddenly kickstarts him. He pulls away, rather abruptly, eyes wild and panicked, and Louis isn’t sure he’s even seeing Zayn right now. Whatever’s going on has got him rattled, and he’s only got a single thought in his head. “I gotta go.” Liam manages, everything about him suddenly in motion when he’d been so still before. He’s gone before Zayn can do more than blink.

Chapter Text

Harry is the one to break the silence. “Did we just-” he pauses, frowns. “I’m not, did we just fail, or?” He seems confused, and Louis can’t blame him. He’s not sure himself. They’d met, certainly, exchanged a few more words, and he thinks with time they could spin this into something, but that’s just it. He’s not sure Walsh will give them time.

If only Soph would come up to Zayn to ask him what was going on, if he’d seen Liam. Then maybe they could go from there. But at first they’re too stunned, too worried about Liam, and by the time they’ve checked back in on Zayn - they’d followed Liam, relieved when upon coming home, Andy had taken one look at him and offered to drive - class has already started.

“Maybe we can-” Louis starts, but before he can even contemplate on how to finish that thought, Grimshaw shows up at their desk.

“Boys,” he says, and it sounds soft, apologetic. Louis knows that he doesn’t like this any more than they do, that he loathes Walsh. He hates how Walsh still manages to use him as his errand boy, wonders if he’s feeling vindicated at making Nick come over to deliver the bad news. Because Louis doesn’t have to be a mind reader to know it’s bad news.

He still shakes his head. “No,” he says. “This isn’t fair. It’s not over. It can’t be over, Nick. We haven’t even-” he has to swallow back the lump in his throat, wants to beg him, his dignity be damned. Harry’s worth far more than his dignity. “We can fix this. We can - you have to give us some time. You have to give us a chance.”

“Lou,” Harry’s voice is quiet, agonized, and Louis is sure that it’s because he’s failed them and now they have to go down, until he looks up and he sees concern in Harry’s eyes, hears his own words in his ears, the desperation that’s so obvious.

“I’m sorry, Louis,” Nick says quietly. “It’s not up to me. I wish it was. But Walsh - as much as I hate that man, he’s the one in charge. Unless he gets direct orders from God, there’s nothing we can do.”

Louis wonders how easy it’d be to appeal to God. Probably not very. She’s very busy, and why would She concern herself with two of her Cupids when She’s got a whole world to govern? They’re not even human. They’re just Her instruments. Instruments don’t have a right to complain, do they? He knows it’s bitter, but right now, rather than feeling defeated, he just feels angry. It’s progress, they’ve talked again today, and whatever’s happened - he finds tears welling up in his eyes. Something’s happened, and they can’t even be there with Liam to make sure that he’s ok.

But they can, once they go down to earth. It’s odd, how that thought suddenly sobers him up. How he feels like he can breathe again. It’s partially knowing he has a job to do - both in bringing Zayn and Liam together and in making sure whatever’s happened, Liam’s going to be ok - and partially because he doesn’t want to fall apart in case Harry needs him to be the strong one right now. He pulls it back, his tears, his anger, breathes in deep and steady. “Alright,” he says softly, nodding at Nick and managing a smile for Harry. “Alright, let’s go.”

If Harry is surprised by his sudden change in demeanor, he doesn’t say anything. He just sticks close to both Louis and Nick, though when Louis looks at him he doesn’t look scared or upset, he just looks determined. Head held high, like he’d rather choke than give Walsh the satisfaction of knowing he got to him. Louis feels so proud of him.

Once they’re back in HQ, it isn’t long before Walsh lets them into his office, greeting them with a smile that almost makes Louis feel physically ill. The man looks satisfied, clearly delights in knowing they’d failed. Louis is glad that Harry doesn’t play the part, doesn’t look like his whole world has just crashed down around him. He can tell that it frustrates Walsh a bit, and that is almost enough to make him smile.

“Please, sit down,” Walsh tells them, gesturing towards the plastic chairs. “I’m sure you know why I’ve called you in here.” He doesn’t give either of them time to respond. “I’m very sorry, boys, but-”

“Are you?” Louis can’t help but interrupt him. He doesn’t have the patience to play nice. “Are you really?”

Walsh presses his lips together into a thin line, fingertips resting against each other as though he’s praying. Louis supposes it’s supposed to make him look grandfatherly. It just makes him look ridiculous instead. “I’m only following the rules, boys.”

“It’s Louis,” Louis says curtly. “Louis and Harry. I know you know that. If you’re going to fuck us over - and don’t pretend that you aren’t, because you can hide behind rules all that you want but we all know you’re feeling absolutely delighted at getting to punish us - then at least have the courtesy to call us by our names. I’m not your boy. Harry’s certainly not your boy. You can remember our names, it shouldn’t be hard, considering we share one. Unfortunately.”

Harry snickers softly by his side, and Walsh turns his pale blue eyes onto him. “Do you think this is funny?” He bites out, and Louis feels vindictively pleased at seeing the little cracks in the man’s composure. “That’s rather unfortunate. I had called you here thinking we could figure something out, since it hadn’t been a complete waste of your time today, but-”

No, Louis thinks. He doesn’t get to do that. He doesn’t get to make either of them believe that if Louis had held his tongue right now, Walsh would’ve refrained from sending them down. That’s not fair. He opens his mouth to tell him just that, but before he can, Harry speaks up.

“Bullshit.” Something about the delivery - his voice not slow and syrupy the way it usually is, but quick and bright and hard - gives both Louis and Walsh pause. “You think I don’t know what you’re like? Did you forget, who I’m friends with? But no, of course you didn’t. Not when it’s such a huge thorn in your side. Not when all of this is because of who I’m friends with. You might think you’ve won, Walsh, but you haven’t. Because regardless of whether or not you send me down, Nick is never going to look at you the same way as he used to. He’s never going to choose you over me, even when I’m not in his life anymore. So go ahead. Send me away. It won’t make a difference.”

Walsh looks stunned, doesn’t seem to know what to say for once, and Louis can’t repress a smile, reaches for Harry’s hand to squeeze it. It’s meant to be a brief touch but Harry tangles their fingers, and it’s only then that Louis realizes just how badly Harry’s hands are shaking. He doesn’t let Walsh see it though, and Louis feels another rush of fondness.

“So,” Louis turns back to face Walsh. “We’re going to have to go down to earth. How exactly is that going to work? Are you sending us?” He hopes not. He doubts it though. For as much as Walsh enjoys being the one in charge he doesn’t really seem like the type to want to do a lot of work. He probably has minions for that.

Predictably, Walsh shakes his head, though he looks a bit sour. Louis isn’t too sure why until he tells them. “I’ve instructed Nick on the procedure. You can direct any questions towards him.” Louis is sure he wanted to lord that over them, that he’d picked Nick specifically because he thought it would hurt all of them the most. Nick, for having to actively work towards losing Harry. Harry for having his friend betray him. And Louis simply because him and Nick have never gotten along. But after Harry’s little speech Walsh sounds as though he’d rather it was anyone else. Someone Walsh could control. Louis is suddenly feeling very grateful for Grimshaw.

He squeezes Harry’s hand. “Fine. We’ll go and do that then. Unless you’ve got any last words for us.” He pauses, arches an eyebrow. “Actually, don’t bother. I think all three of us know what whatever would be coming out of your mouth, it won’t be sincere.” He gets up from his seat, careful not to tug Harry away, though he wants nothing more than to march out of this office hand in hand. Thankfully, Harry seems to be on the same wavelength. He doesn’t say goodbye, and neither does Louis. They just turn their back on him and leave, a united front as always.

Once they’ve left the room, Harry’s hands only start shaking worse, or maybe they’re Louis’. He’s not sure. He just holds on as tight as he can, wants to wrap him up into a hug but before he can act on that impulse, Nick closes the distance between them in a few long strides and wraps him up in an embrace. Louis doesn’t even have time to feel annoyed about it, because in a matter of seconds Nick has shifted, tugged him into the hug too, his arm around his shoulders while Harry’s is around his waist. It’s so strange that Louis needs a moment to process it, and by the time his brain has caught up to what is happening his body has already accepted the comfort he doesn’t want to admit to needing.

“I’m so sorry,” Nick tells them quietly, his voice choked up and Louis wants to scoff because there’s no way he can loathe Grimshaw when he’s being so damned earnest. He just feels for him instead. At least Louis gets to keep Harry. It’s everything he’d always wanted, but now that he’s faced with it he just feels sorry for Nick instead. “Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Harry rubs Nick’s back, his other hand still firmly on Louis’. “It’s ok,” Louis can hear him assure him, and all Louis can do is nod dumbly, his tongue feeling like it’s glued to the roof of his mouth. “I know it’s not your fault, Nick.”

“I should’ve said no.”

“And have someone else do it?” Louis interrupts them, finding his voice. “Someone who won’t care about Harry as much? I know we’ve never been the best of friends, Grim- Nick, but I’d much rather it’s you than anyone else. Alright?”

Harry nods. “That’s why you said yes, wasn’t it?” He smiles up at him, only pulling back enough to do so, to give them all some room to breathe. “Walsh thought he was making it worse for us, and maybe he did, but you said yes because you didn’t want it being anyone else, didn’t you?”

Nick grimaces a bit. “I remember what you made me promise, back when we first met. When we first became friends and you knew that I was in HQ. You told me, if it ever came down to this, you’d want me to be the one to help. Because you knew that I’d always be the one protecting you, that I’d always make sure you’d come back.” He swallows. “And I will, Harry.”

For once, Louis isn’t jealous. For once, he’s just grateful. Because he can see how Harry relaxes a bit at those words. He knows how important it is, knowing that he isn’t going to be lost down there on earth. That if there’s a way to ensure that he’s coming home, this is it.

“I’m just glad Louis is going with you,” Nick continues, and that, that surprises him. Nick can tell, clearly, because he chuckles. It’s not an entirely happy sound, but it’s still a welcome one. “Don’t look so shocked, darling. I know we’ve never particularly cared for each other, but I’m not stupid. I know that no one cares more about Harry than you do. If anyone could make sure he’s ok, it’s you. I still hate that you have to go down there at all, but at least I know that he isn’t alone.”

There’s a lump in Louis’ throat that makes it hard to speak, but he nods, tries anyway. “I’m glad he has you too. It’s good knowing that someone’s looking out for him - us - up there. That it isn’t Walsh keeping an eye on us, because Lord knows he’d leave us down there forever, just because he’d find fault in us some way.”

Nick hums in agreement. “Walsh is dangerous. You wouldn’t think so, considering his whole shtick is about sticking to the rules, but he loves finding little loopholes whenever someone pisses him off. I’m going to do all I can to keep him off my back, and off yours.”

“Thanks.” Louis stays quiet for a moment, starting to feel a bit more awkward in the three way embrace they’ve still got going on, but not enough to break it. “So, how does this work, exactly? Do we still get to talk to you? Or is it like us and the humans? We know they’re there but they don’t know that we are?” He frowns. “We’ll still remember you, won’t we? Will remember that we’re Cupids and why we’re there?”

“There’s a bit of an adjustment period,” Nick replies. “You’ll know, of course you will, but it can get .. overwhelming. So generally, for a while anyway, we won’t expect anything from you. You’ve got your memories back, have to adjust to being human again. It wouldn’t be fair throwing you straight into work. While you’re adjusting, we’ll make sure that you’re placed in their lives. I’m thinking it’s easiest if we set you both up with one of them. Once you’ve become friends, or at least part of their inner circle, then you’ll have to coordinate to make them meet. We’ll take care of all the essentials - money, a background story, phones. We’ll keep an eye on you, and adjust your course, if necessary, but in general, there won’t be much contact, no. You’ll still be Cupids, but it won’t be the exact same as it is up here. You obviously won’t have your wings, for one. You can’t die, but you can get sick, because while you’re down there, you’ll have to pass as human. We’ll work with you on that. Before you go down, there’s a two day training, where we’ll explain everything in more detail.”

Louis needs a moment to process everything, then glances up at him, frowning. “So if you’re placing us in their lives, while we’re still adjusting to everything, does that mean we won’t be together? We’re figuring out who we were and how we died - but we’re not even in the same place?” He has to work to keep his voice from sounding panicked.

Harry’s hand is soothing on his back, rubbing slow circles over his spine. Nick nods reluctantly. “It makes the most sense, unfortunately. Timing wise, and all. If you’d both show up on the same day, it might make people suspicious. And if you need a day or two less or more to recover than Harry does, then you’re not stuck waiting on each other. I know you two have been fast friends, but it doesn’t always happen as easily in the human world. HQ has strict rules. They don’t want to waste too much time.”

“Everything for the numbers, is it?” He can’t help but sound bitter. “Have to prove how proficient you’re being?”

“Not exactly,” Nick doesn’t even sound put out by Louis’ assumption. He just sounds, fuck, gentle. “HQ doesn’t like when Cupids stay on earth for too long. It makes everything more complicated. It can hurt them. Become too much. Being quick about everything just makes it easier for you two, in the long run.”

Louis bites his lip. It’s hard not to blame HQ for everything right now. Even when he can see how this makes sense. He knows they’re just doing their job, but he’s scared, unsure, and the only person who will help him is Grimshaw. “How long?” He asks quietly. “How long does it take us to get our memories back, once we’re .. there? Is it instantaneous?” Nick had said that it could get overwhelming. Were they going to remember everything, in excruciating detail, the moment they came down to earth?

“It depends,” Nick answers him, and Louis is relieved that he’s not lying, even when it’s not a particularly enlightening or comforting answer. “For some, it comes back quickly. For others, it’s just little snippets here and there at first. I’d say it depends on how long you’ve been away from earth, but I’m not sure that’s true. It’s a working hypothesis. We don’t have enough data yet.”

Harry frowns. “Because not a lot of Cupids have gone down?”

Nick shakes his head. “Because not every Cupid chooses to come back. And those that do, they don’t really like talking about it. So we don’t really know what happens unless it’s really obvious.” Unless they fall apart, is what Nick doesn’t say. Louis thinks they all understand regardless.

“I guess I can understand that,” Harry says thoughtfully. “The not wanting to talk about it. It’s sort of private, isn’t it? I mean. If I don’t remember my family and suddenly I do, knowing I’d lost them - I’d sort of want to keep them to myself for a bit. Cause that way it’s like they’re still with me, in a way?” He shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m saying right now. I’m just .. I’m terrified, Nick. And I don’t for the life of me understand why anyone would choose not to come back.”

There’s a short pause, Nick looking a little hesitant. Louis thinks he knows what he wants to tell them. “Listen, there’s something I need to-” he starts, and Louis, for once, sympathises with him.

“We know,” he says quietly. “About the feelings.” He can see more than hear the sigh of relief. “Ni knows. He told us. I know that he wasn’t supposed to, that HQ doesn’t want us knowing, but.” He shrugs, hopes that Nick won’t get Niall in trouble. Niall can handle himself though, but still. It’s going to be hard enough to leave him. Knowing he got him trouble and can’t protect him.. Louis has always felt protective over Niall.

“Ok,” Nick says weakly. “Good. That’s. I’m glad he told you. At least you’re prepared.”

Louis smiles wryly. “I think we’d know though. I mean. We’ve only been watching people fall in love for decades. If anyone could recognize what falling in love is like it’d be us.”

Nick nods. “Maybe so.” He looks from Louis to Harry and back. “I think you should both go home for now. We’ll do the training on the weekend, because now that you’re going down to earth you’ll have to adjust to their weekend - Saturday and Sunday. You can take tomorrow off, take some time for yourselves. See if you can’t spend some time with friends, or wrap up anything you’ve got going on. I don’t know how long you guys are going to be down there, or if-”

“We’re coming back,” Harry says immediately. He pauses, looks at Louis. “Aren’t we?”

There’s nowhere you can go that I won’t follow, Louis thinks. “Yes,” he tells him, giving him a reassuring smile. “Of course. Always.”

Nick seems relieved at that. He hugs Harry again, having finally let go of the two of them somewhere during their conversation. Louis honestly had barely noticed. It almost makes him want to laugh. When did he become so comfortable with Grimshaw? “Alright, you guys head on home, ok? I’ll let you know what time we’re starting the training on Wednesday.” He glances at Louis, then back at Harry. “Mind if I borrow Harry for the night?” He asks Louis, like Louis has any say in that at all.

He shrugs. “Depends on whether or not Harry wants to be borrowed, I suppose,” he tells him, but he can’t help but smile a bit. “Of course. It’s going to be hard for you, I get that. You’re going to want time to say goodbye.”

“Even if it’s just going to be a see you later,” Harry interjects. Louis meets Nick’s eyes, gives him a faint smile at that. It’s good at least one of them feels confident.

“I just wasn’t sure if you were ok being alone right now,” Nick says softly, and there it goes again. That rush of fondness Louis is not used to associating with Grimshaw. He’s not sure how he feels about it, but the fact that it isn’t inherently negative is surprising.

“I’ll call Ni,” he thinks he’s right, Nick is. He doesn’t really want to be alone. And he doesn’t know how long it’ll be before he sees Niall again. He’s going to miss that asshole. The more time he can spend with him, the better. “He’ll probably throw me a going away party,” he grins. “Lots of beer and take out and video games. It’ll be aces.” He could almost look forward to it, if he didn’t know the incentive for the party. But it’ll be nice to have one all the same, at least it’ll take his mind off of things.

Nick seems relieved, knowing that Louis won’t be alone, and Louis is almost grateful for it. Because it gives him something to focus on, something that isn’t this dread, this black pit in his stomach that seems to get bigger with every breath. He’s spent decades knowing exactly what his days were going to be like. The job might vary, the charges each bringing something different to the table, but in the grand scheme of things, he knew exactly what his life would be like. And now? He’s going to go to earth, to a place he’s spent years observing from a distance. A place he once belonged. Will he feel that way again? Or will he long for Heaven the way he sometimes longed for earth?

Leaving Harry with Nick, Louis heads straight for the big hall where he knows Niall will be behind his switchboard, watching cords turn from their usual colour to something more vibrant. He doesn’t say anything, just heads straight in, goes to his desk and wraps himself around him. It doesn’t take Niall more than a heartbeat to drop his cord, wrap his arms around Louis in return. There’s something bubbling up in Louis’ throat and he’s not sure if it’s laughter or a sob, but he knows that it’s panicked, whatever the sound.

“Ni, I-” his voice cracks, and that’s enough for Niall’s arms to tighten around him. Louis shudders. He squeezes his eyes shut, wishing he could block the world out as easily as he can block out the light. He doesn’t want to cry. Not in front of everyone. He wants to be strong, wants people to speak of him with admiration in their voice. He was told he had to go down and he didn’t even flinch. He doesn’t think he’ll be that lucky though.

Niall rubs his back, tells him to keep breathing, in and out, that’s it Tommo, and it doesn’t loosen the tight feeling in his chest but it makes it hurt a little less, and even when his vision is still swimming because of the tears at least his head isn’t anymore. “What happened?” Niall asks, when Louis feels like he has calmed down at least a little bit.

Louis still struggles to keep his breathing under control, to not let this whole exercise be in vain. Niall breathes with him, makes him keep eye contact, though he knows. Louis knows he knows, the moment he sees the tears in Louis’ eyes. “No.” Niall lets out, low, shocked. “Fuck.”

Louis nods bitterly. “Fuck.” He agrees.

He remembers talking about it with Niall. Remembers saying that part of him was excited, wanted to know. He wanted to live. Louis has always liked taking risks. But somehow, faced with having his entire existence turned upside down, he only now realizes that he’s only liked taking risks because he knew he’d always have his safe place to come back to. In a place where nothing would ever really change, he was safe no matter what risk he took. He’s not stupid. He knows earth won’t be anything like that.

“When?”

“After the weekend. There’s a two day training. I get tomorrow off. Haz too. To y’know.”

“Say goodbye.”

Louis nods. “Harry says it’ll be see you later.”

“And you?”

“I don’t know,” Louis answers honestly. “Once we’re down there, it’s not in our hands anymore, I don’t think. It’s not safe, or predictable, the way everything is up here. I might remember something that makes me want to stay. I might get to see my siblings’ children or grandchildren and find that I have something else to live for.”

Niall hums. “You might fall in love.” It’s meant to be a joke but it falls flat. Louis can’t even make himself smile.

“I might,” he agrees quietly. It’s a weird thought. Doesn’t sit right with him, but he knows why that is. “Harry insists that we’re coming back. So, who knows. Maybe I’ll fall in love. Maybe it won’t matter.” Because he doesn’t think he could leave Harry behind. He doesn’t think there’s anyone on earth that’ll mean more to him than Harry does. Even if he knows he might be wholly unprepared for what falling in love will feel like.

“Maybe you’ll fall in love with Harry,” Niall teases, and this time, Louis does laugh.

“Right,” he snorts, shakes his head then. It sounds preposterous. Falling in love with Harry. Falling in love in general sounds weird, something that he can’t quite fathom because his body and brain were never wired that way, but to see someone he’d known for decades in a completely different light, just like that? Like a switch being flicked, and then he’d feel awkward and shy around them and wouldn’t know how to act? It just sounds too weird.

“Who’s on the case?” Niall asks, frowning. It’s a strange look on him. It’s not that Niall is always happy, that wouldn’t be realistic, and while he’s not human and never was, it doesn’t mean that he was made to never show any emotion other than happiness or contentment.

“Grimshaw.”

Niall exhales, and it sounds like he wants to say something, but Louis shakes his head. “I’m glad, really,” he tells him, ignores the way Niall looks absolutely baffled for a moment. “I know, I know we’ve never been friends, or civil, even, but, he loves Harry. He’ll keep him safe. And he’ll keep me safe because I matter to Harry.” He makes a face. “And because he’s a decent person, no matter how much I’ve been insisting otherwise.” He grudgingly admits. “It could be much worse,” he continues quietly. “Walsh could’ve put anyone else on the case. It could’ve been someone like Taylor.”

Niall shrugs at that. “Taylor’s not so bad. She’d throw anyone under the bus if it got her praise, but, considering she’d not want you to tarnish her reputation, she’d do anything to make sure you got in and out quickly.”

She was ruthless. Louis can’t help but wonder if Niall isn’t right though. They might need someone ruthless on their side. He’s still glad that it’s Nick though. Because Nick will always put Harry first, no matter what, and Louis wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Is there any way you could get the day off tomorrow?” He asks, fingering one of the cords, not even realizing it until Niall gently slaps his hand away. “And, quite possibly, also now?” He glances up at him through his lashes, shrugs in a way that feels too helpless to be anything but genuine. “If this is the last time-”

Niall’s eyes soften, and he looks as though he’s about to hug Louis again. Louis thinks he might cry if he does. “It won’t be the last time,” Niall assures him.

Louis’ lips quirk up into a humorless smile. “You can’t promise me that. No one can promise me that.” He knows he’s promised Harry though. He also knows that he shouldn’t have. But apparently Harry is the exception to all of Louis’ rules.

“True,” Niall shrugs a shoulder, “but I still don’t think it will be. But if, then, yeah, absolutely. It’s not like it matters if the matches I make take another day. None of them will go anywhere until you guys are sorting them out, so.”

Louis frowns. The way Niall is talking makes it sound like he doesn’t value his job, and that’s just wrong. Neither of them could do their jobs without the other, but regardless, Niall’s job has value. Niall’s life has value. He wants to say that but he’s not sure how to word it without either insulting Niall or making him feel so flustered he feels forced to disagree. “I’m going to pretend like you didn’t just insult yourself and just be happy that you’re coming home with me,” he decides.

Niall grins at him, flashing his pearly whites. “Cool. Give me a couple minutes to finish this up. I’ll meet you outside, if that’s ok?” The way he looks at Louis, it’s obvious that he’s not sure Louis won’t fall apart if he’s left alone, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. Louis can’t exactly blame him, he’s not too sure he won’t either.

“Sure,” he says, ever the person who wants to be able to hold it together. He fishes his phone from his pocket, heads out of the hall, already pulling up his conversation with Harry.

(He might be able to hold it together on his own. He just knows it’s easier when he’s with Harry. Even if it’s just over text.)

How are you holding up? You ok?

It doesn’t take long for his phone to vibrate. Yeah. Helps that I’m not alone. How about you? Are you ok?

Nothing a couple of beers can’t fix. Louis writes. He bites his lip. Remembers how Harry had mentioned to him that Louis always has his walls up. Scared, he adds. Trying not to be, but I can’t help myself.

His phone starts vibrating again, this time with a call. Louis barely has time to accept the call and bring the phone to his ear before Harry’s voice comes through. “Do you want me to come over?”

And. Yes. Yes he does. He has to swallow down the lump in his throat, blinks a few times to get rid of the moisture in his eyes. “Nah,” he manages, even if it sounds feeble, even if he knows Harry will know. Harry always knows. “I mean. Yea. I do. But.. You’re with Nick. It’s not, it’s not exactly fair, is it? I’ll get to keep you, when we go down. Even if we’re not going to be in the same house, even if I’m with Liam and you with Zayn or the other way around, I still get to talk to you and see you.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, rolls his eyes at himself. “I can’t believe I’m even saying this. But I can’t be selfish right now. Nick - he’s a good guy. And he deserves some time with you. He’s going to have to miss you, even if it’s just for a little while.”

Harry stays quiet for a moment, then lets out this soft sound that makes Louis’ heart ache so badly he has to press a hand to his chest and remind himself to keep breathing. “So this is what it takes, huh?” He manages, and despite the tears in his voice Louis can tell that he’s also trying his hardest to smile. “If I’d known this is what would’ve caused you two to get along..”

Louis snorts. “You’re not that desperate, Hazza. But, you better take advantage of it. Go make nice with Grimshaw. We’ll get to see each other soon enough.”

“Will you be ok?”

“Yeah,” Louis isn’t even sure that that’s a lie. He thinks he’ll be ok, even if it’s just because he has no other choice but to be. “Niall’s taking the rest of the day off, and tomorrow. I won’t be alone. Don’t worry, H.”

“Can’t help it,” Harry says softly, seriously. “It’s my prerogative, as your best friend.”

Louis rolls his eyes again, but he also feels warm inside. “Alright mum,” he teases. “Text me, ok? If you need anything at all. Lord knows we’re codependent enough as it is, but I really don’t care right now. I know you’ve got Grimshaw and I’ve got Niall, but no one knows what we’re going through except for the two of us. So, even if it’s three in the morning and you can’t sleep, I’m only a text or phone call away.”

Harry hums softly. “You too, yeah? Nick’s going to be staying over tonight, but if you need me, I’ll be right there. Even if that means sneaking out of the house and meeting you in the park at three thirty, with your favorite ice cream.”

He sounds so earnest about it, Louis can’t help but smile. It earns him a curious glance from Niall, who just rolls his eyes and doesn’t look the least bit surprised when Louis mouths ‘Harry’ to him. “Alright, that sounds like fun,” he tells him, grinning at the ground. “Ni’s here, so I’ll talk to you, alright H? Be safe.”

With his goodbye echoed back to him, Louis finally disconnects the call, heads to Niall’s side. He feels lighter, somehow. It’s like this was all he needed. The reminder that he’s not going through this alone. That there’s one other person who knows exactly how it feels, and that even when he feels responsible or like he has to be the shoulder to cry on, Harry would never demand any of that from him. Harry doesn’t need him to know everything, or to even have a plan to figure it all out. He just needs him to be there, and that Louis can do.

*

It’s weird, spending the next day and a half with Niall. They don’t really do anything different than they usually do. They just hang out, but even when they’re playing video games or watching a movie, there’s always this undercurrent. Sometimes they just fall quiet, look at one another, until one of them inevitably looks away. Despite his desire to lighten the mood with a joke, Louis never does. He thinks they both need it, the fragility of their situation. Of knowing that sometimes the best things go unsaid.

On Tuesday night, before Louis is set to go home, Niall hugs him so hard and long that Louis isn’t sure he’ll ever stop feeling the weight of his embrace. Niall is one of the best huggers in the universe. He never holds back, never gives anything less than his all. “I’ll miss you,” Niall whispers, and for once there’s not a smile on his face. For once he’s got no more jokes, and neither does Louis. “So much, Lou.”

“Me too,” Louis manages, holding onto him tightly. “I’ve never, I don’t think I’ve ever told you just how much you mean to me. And part of me doesn’t want to right now because it’ll sound so much like goodbye, but, you’re so important to me, Ni. You’re like .. sunshine. You’re so --” he swallows, shakes his head. “I’m gonna miss you.”

“Ask Nick to keep me updated, yeah?” Niall pulls away only enough to look him in the eyes, his own watery. Or that might just be Louis’ eyes. “I’m gonna want to know how you’re doing. I’m rooting for you guys, yeah? And, maybe you won’t want to hear this, but, I’m sorry?” He shrugs a shoulder, looks sheepish for a moment. “If it weren’t for me, I mean, I suggested you guys take this case. I thought it’d be - I never thought it would end up like this.”

Louis shakes his head. “None of this is your fault. None of it is anyone’s fault, really. Or it’s everyone’s, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just what’s meant to happen. Maybe this was our destiny, all along. I don’t know if I believe in that, and I don’t know how comforting a thought it is, but it happened. All that’s left now is to get through it.” He goes in for another hug, rubs Niall’s back. “Just do me a favor. Keep an eye on Nick. Not because I don’t think he’ll do a good job but because he’s going to miss Harry.” He gives him a small smile. “And go to the animal shelter on occasion, say hi to the newcomers? It’s - I hate saying goodbye to you, but aside from missing you, I think that might be one of the worst things. Knowing that there’s gonna be new arrivals and I won’t be there to welcome them, to make them feel a little less lost.” There’s definite tears in his eyes now. He’s not sure if he can handle the thought of newly deceased pets feeling lost when he knows he’s going to feel the same way, on earth.

Niall nods. “You know I will. I’ll make sure they’re taken care of, no worries. You just focus on getting those two stubborn soulmates together.” He stays quiet for a moment, seemingly debating on what to say. Louis waits patiently - a surprise even to himself. “I want to ask you to come back. But I can’t. Because maybe you’re right and this is happening for a reason. And maybe you won’t want to come back, and I promise I’ll try not to take it personally. I’m just - I’ll miss you, Lou. Whether you’re gone a month or a year or forever. You’re always going to be my best friend.” He smiles a wry little smile. “I know I’m not yours. I know Harry is, and that’s ok. I just need you to know that I love you. An awful fucking lot. And my life wouldn’t have been the same without you. So, thank you.”

Fuck. Louis is full on crying now. “You are my best mate,” he insists firmly. “Harry’s - he’s Harry. He’s in a league of his own. Whatever we have, that transcends friendship, it’s like, it’s like he’s a part of me. But you? You’ve always been my best friend. You’re just as much home as this place is. And you always will be, no matter what ends up happening.”

Niall sniffs, goes in for another hug. “You sure you don’t want to stay over? Or I could come with you to yours, if you’d rather? We don’t, it doesn’t have to end yet.”

Louis nods, pulls away so he can frame Niall’s face with his hands, pressing a kiss onto his forehead. “I know. But if I don’t say goodbye now, I don’t know if I will be able to. And I need to be alone for a while. The next two days, the training, I need to be in the right frame of mind. I’m going to need to pay attention and keep on top of things and we both know that if you stay with me, there’s no way either of us are sleeping.” He pauses. “But, if we’re going down on Friday, then, I’d like one last cuddle, yeah? For some good luck.”

“Luck of the Irish, ey?” Niall smiles.

Louis nods again. “Exactly. Gonna need a couple more hugs just to get some of that luck to rub off on me.”

“As many as you want,” Niall tells him, soft and sweet and so sincere that Louis has to hug him for a fourth and final time. “Alright, go. Before I don’t leave you any choice and just follow you home.”

Louis chuckles, ruffles up Niall’s hair. “See you Friday.”

Niall nods, swallows. “See you Friday.”

*

The first thing Louis notices when he walks into Nick’s office on Wednesday morning is Harry. While that isn’t anything unusual - it’s like he’s got an ingrained sense of wherever Harry is in a room, no matter the circumstances - it’s his hair that catches his attention this time. Or, more specifically, his lack of.

“Harry,” he doesn’t even remember to say hello, just heads on over, watches him turn towards him but his eyes are on the semi short ‘do, hands already reaching out to run through them. “You cut your hair.”

Harry nods solemnly. “I did.”

Louis sinks his fingers into his hair, glad that there’s still a few curls left to wind around his fingers. It’s strange, not seeing the ringlets down to his shoulders. But at least it’s long enough to play with. “Why?”

At first there’s just a shrug, but then Harry looks up at him, his green eyes hinting at sadness, just as his energy does. “I don’t know. Or, I know, but I don’t know if I can explain it?” He looks at Louis as though he’s begging him to understand.

Louis frowns, pushes Harry’s fringe from his forehead, only to watch it fall back into place. “I like it,” he decides. “It’s a nice change. Makes you look .. I want to say less innocent, but I’m not sure that’s it. But it suits you.” More than he’d thought it would. It was just a shock, is all. He’s used to Harry with long hair. He’s had it long since he came, really. To have it cut short - even if it’s not too short, his hair still curling around his ears - is something he has to get used to. But he meant what he said, it suited Harry.

“I guess I just needed the change. To commemorate it, or something.” Harry tries to explain. “This is such a huge thing, potentially life altering. It felt weird, going back to earth the same way I’d left? Like time hasn’t passed and I’m still the same person when I’m not, when I can’t possibly be.” He shrugs a shoulder, scrunches up his nose. “Told you I couldn’t explain it.”

“I get it though,” Louis assures him. He does. Well enough that it makes him wonder why he hadn’t thought of it. But he’s been here a lot longer than Harry has. It’s not like anyone would recognize him if he went back, even if he knows that’s not why Harry had done it. “I loved your long hair, but I love this too. At least you’ve still got some curls left. I think if you got a buzzcut, the way Liam did, I might’ve fainted.” Not that Liam’s hair had been fully chopped off, but it had been a definite shock, seeing him with his shorter hair. “Shame he cut it though. You could’ve looked like twins, with your adorable mess of curls.”

Harry makes a face at him. “You really think it’s adorable?” He frowns a bit at that, and Louis bites his tongue to keep from laughing. “I wasn’t really - I don’t want to be adorable.”

Rather than asking him why, Louis can’t resist the urge to tease him. “You wanted to be strong and manly and intimidating?” He remembers when Harry had called him rugged and charming, smiles fondly down at Harry’s messy curls.

Harry ducks his head, mumbles “maybe” and it’s not until he pouts up at him that Louis realizes he wasn’t joking.

“Why, love?”

There’s another shrug. “Earth is .. different. There’s bad people there. I don’t want, what if they take advantage of me?”

Louis frowns at that, sits next to him. “Haz, if people are going to take advantage of you it’s not because of the way you look. It’s because of who you are. Because you’re kind and gentle and wonderful and everything good.” He realizes that’s not helping, shakes his head. “Above all else though, you know how to stand up for yourself, haircut or no.”

“It’s different,” Harry mumbles. “It’s scary.”

Louis nods. “It is. But I’ll tell you something. You are one of the strongest people I know. You don’t take anyone else’s bullshit. You’ve been on earth before, baby. We both have. And we don’t remember right now, but we will, and we’ll know how to live there again. Or we’ll learn how to.” He tugs at one of Harry’s curls, the one by his right ear. “But more importantly, no matter what happens, I’m never gonna let anything bad happen to you. Anyone who wants to take advantage of you has to go through me.”

There’s the start of a dimple on Harry’s cheek. “I’m screwed then,” he manages, before his face breaks into a smile. Louis doesn’t even care that it’s at his expense. “You’re tiny. It won’t take a lot of effort to go through you, I’d imagine.”

“Rude.” Louis grins back at him though. “It’s sort of symbolic, in a way, isn’t it?” He gestures towards Harry. “Your hair, I mean. Like, we’re losing our wings when we go down - which, by the way, I’ve decided I’m flying everywhere from now on, while I still can - but no one will notice.” Not that anyone would notice that Harry had cut his hair, but still. Louis isn’t quite sure where he’s going with this, or even if it is symbolic, but it is a nice thought. Sad too though in a way.

“It’ll be weird,” Harry agrees. “Like we won’t be human, not fully. We can’t die. But we won’t be Cupids either. We’re sort of this in between thing.”

“Like superheroes?” Louis knows full well that that’s not what Harry meant, but he doesn’t want to dwell on that. On how they won’t belong anywhere. He wonders if it’ll stay that way, after. Whether they decide to go back or not, will they ever feel like they fully belong in one world or the other?

Harry smiles at that, and it’s almost sort of grateful. “Yeah,” he says, eyes soft as his voice. “Like superheroes.”

Louis smiles back at him, and together they wait for Nick to come in. It’s an amiable silence, at least until Harry shoves at Louis and Louis ends up bum first on the floor. “Ow!” He whines, “what was that for?”

Harry arches an eyebrow, gestures towards the paperclips Louis had been throwing at him. There’s a few nested in his curls.

Louis sticks out his tongue. “Not sure about your fringe,” he teases, a paper clip dangling just above his eyebrow.

“Maybe it’s the new fashion,” Harry retorts, but he starts picking the paper clips out of his hair. By the time Nick comes in, he’s almost done. Louis doesn’t point out the one that’s hanging just above his left ear. He figures he might need something to smile about while they’re in training.

Chapter Text

It’s funny. For how much time they spend preparing over the next two days, Louis still doesn’t feel all that prepared come Friday morning. He’s been instructed on how to pass as human - thankfully, Heaven isn’t too different in that regard. They have computers and cellphones and get paid, supposedly to make the transition from living to this state of eternal being a little easier. He supposes that’s also why they’re eating. That, and the fact that food is just freaking delicious.

Aside from that, he’s also learned his fake new background. At least he got to keep his name. Sometimes, when Cupids have just passed over and have to go back for some reason, they have to assume a new identity. HQ tries to keep the new Cupids from having to go down at all costs, not just because it’s more painful for the Cupids to remember such a recent past but also because it’s a lot more complicated when there might be relatives who are still alive. In this day and age anyone can be looked up on Facebook, no matter where they live. So a new name might be safer in some circumstances. But Louis gets to stay Louis and Harry gets to stay Harry.

The newly invented Louis Tomlinson was born 24th of December 1996, making him 20 years of age. The same age as when he’d died. It’s a weird thought that he might be celebrating his 21nd birthday in a few months if they don’t get Liam and Zayn together before that. He’s never been twenty one.

Harry’s eighteen again, birth date February 1st 1999. Louis isn’t sure why they both kept their birthdays, as it shouldn’t really matter beyond having some random date printed on their information, and might in fact make it a little strange to anyone who is into genealogy (if those people exist) to find that there were two Louis Tomlinsons who were born on the exact same day, only 62 years apart. But he supposes that it’s a way of reconnecting with their past, of having some sort of memory of who they were. If it weren’t for the two of them snooping in archives neither of them would’ve known their birthday until they’d gone to earth, so it’s a nice thought in that regard. And he has to admit, it’d be sort of nice to celebrate his birthday, even if it’ll actually, secretly, be his 83rd.

Not that he’s planning to stay on earth for three months, but, if it happened, at least that’d be an upside. Even if it’s Christmas Eve.

Louis is going to be enrolled as a Performing Arts student, which was a bit of a surprise when Nick told him. He’s wondered if it’s got something to do with his past as well. If that’s something he used to do, or at least be interested in. He loves movies, but he’s not sure that qualifies him to be studying Performing Arts. He’s just going to have to wing it, hopes that his classes won’t be too hard or that if they are, he won’t have to actually sit in on any exams. He knows going down isn’t supposed to be a punishment, but having to go to school after years of being at work sort of feels like it anyway. But he understands that it’s a good way of getting him close to Zayn, and hopefully it’ll make it easier to befriend him. Artsy types tend to stick together and all that. Louis hopes so, at least.

Harry, to Louis’ surprise and a bit of his own dismay, isn’t enrolled in school. Nick explained that they’d figured it was best if he took something called a gap year - he’d tried to explain what it was, but this wasn’t Louis’ (or Harry’s) first rodeo, they’d set up enough young soulmates to know that it usually meant doing nothing under the pretense of finding yourself. Not Harry though, apparently. He was working in a bakery, making just enough money to rent himself a tiny apartment, conveniently located near Liam’s gym. Louis - upon hearing that - was very glad that he’d given in when Harry had begged for him to be placed with Liam, rather than Louis. If he had to go to the gym to meet Liam he thinks they might be forced to stay on earth forever.

He’d tuned out the argument that ensued between Harry and Nick at hearing Harry wasn’t in school, but despite the fact that it had gone on for a good ten minutes and Harry had alternately scowled and used his puppy dog eyes on Nick, he hadn’t budged, and by the end of it, Harry was still not enrolled in any college. Louis isn’t sure why he’s so keen. Harry’s too old to be in Liam’s classes, and since Liam doesn’t attend college the only way they’d meet is if Harry befriended one of Liam’s college roommates. Since Andy is the only one in college that’d limit their options, and Louis can’t exactly see Harry as a Dance major. It’d be funny though, he’d have to admit. But even if he studied something else - why would he put himself through that? Days of classes that they couldn’t fast forward through, knowing it’d be futile, because in a few weeks they’d have to go back to Heaven and none of that knowledge would ever be remotely useful?

In the end though, they’d prepared as much as they could, and it’s not really Nick’s fault that Louis still feels like hyperventilating when they’re heading into work on Friday. He’d spent the night wrapped around Harry like some sort of clingy octopus, so many things left unsaid though the way they’d held onto one another had spoken volumes. Come daybreak, they’d gotten up in silence, had eaten breakfast - one Louis was sure he would’ve enjoyed on any other day, but that right now just tasted like cardboard - before flying to work. Louis had insisted on flying, wanted to remember the feeling of being free, even if it was not from worry.

Once they arrive at the office, Niall is there with Nick, both looking serious and rather glum. It makes something in his stomach twist, but Louis plasters on a smile, tells them both hello. He knows he can’t deceive them, could never hope to deceive Harry, but he has to do something to keep from feeling as though everything is about to crash down around him.

There’s still so many questions. It’s Friday today, the weekend just ahead of them, so why aren’t they allowed to stay here a little while longer? Louis can’t meet Zayn until he’s in college, it doesn’t make sense. Except, of course, that it does, because Louis isn’t going to be focused on meeting Zayn for the first couple of days, if not weeks. He’s going to be focused on everything that he’d lost, on his pre-Cupid life. And he doesn’t even get to do it with Harry.

Not that that’s entirely true. He’s got Harry’s number, and there’s nothing stopping them from getting together once they’re on earth. There’s no rule that says that they can’t interact, and if there were, frankly, fuck the rules. Louis isn’t sure he can do this on his own, and even if he could, there’s no way he’s letting Harry go through this on his own.

There’s a few last minute instructions, and then there are hugs. So many hugs. There’s hugs between Harry and Nick and Louis and Niall, and then hugs between Harry and Niall and -surprisingly enough - Louis and Nick. There’s even a few hugs between Louis and Harry, because they can. Because they need to.

“Are you ready?” Nick asks softly, while Louis’ hand finds Harry’s, his thumb automatically brushing over his knuckles. He squeezes it too for good measure. Harry’s hand is trembling ever so slightly, but he squeezes back, his pressure reassuring in its own way.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be ready,” Louis mutters under his breath, glancing up at Harry, the corner of whose mouth is twitching in response. “I guess,” he says louder. “As much as we can be. You did a good job at training us. Thanks for that.” The words feel weird in his mouth, not because he’s thanking Nick Grimshaw and actually being sincere, but because some part of him feels disconnected from his body. Like he’s floating behind himself, not fully in control but rather he’s just watching from a distance. It’d be nice, if this could happen to another Louis Tomlinson. If he could stay here and just watch his body go back.

Nick manages a small smile. “If it was anyone else, I’d be excited,” he admits. “I’ve never worked a case like this before. It’s really interesting. But now that it’s you two, it’s just shit.”

Louis gives him a small smile in return. He’s glad for his honesty, even more glad that Nick isn’t trying to reassure them, isn’t lying to them about how he’s sure everything will turn out to be alright. “Guess we’ll go and make history then, right H?”

Harry nods. Louis wonders if they really will be. Making history. Or if they’ll just be remembering it. He supposes it doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things, none of this will matter. But it will to Liam and Zayn, and because it means going back to earth, it will definitely matter to Louis and Harry. They might not make history, but they’re making their history. His heart aches. He wishes this was all over. He wishes this was a ‘do you remember that time when’. Even if that makes him a coward.

“Alright,” Nick instructs them, “lie down on those couches. I’ll give you something to help you sleep, and once you wake up, you’ll be on earth. It can be a bit disorienting at first, but we’ve set everything up for you. There’s a manual in your kitchen cabinet in case you need a bit of a reminder on how things work and where everything is. We’ll keep an eye on you from up here.”

“Two,” Niall cuts in. “As often as we can.” Louis opens his eyes at that, already having settled on the couch. He can hear the tears in Niall’s voice, wonders if he has time for one last hug. But he doubts it’ll change anything. No amount of hugs is going to be enough. He just looks at him instead, tries to manage a smile.

“Thanks,” he whispers hoarsely, reaching out towards Harry, needing to feel his hand in his. He wants to hold on as long as he can. “See you soon, yeah Ni? Remember what I said about the animals.”

“Good luck boys.” Nick says softly, closer now. There’s a press of something cool against the side of his neck, a softly whispered miss you Haz that Louis just catches before he falls asleep.

He falls in his sleep too. This dizzying spiral down that makes him nauseous, and when he tries to steady himself, tries to extend his wings to get his balance, it hurts so fiercely between his shoulder blades that he can barely breathe.

He comes to with a gasp. Sits up straight, hands immediately going towards his back, but his skin feels fine, if a little tender. It takes him a moment, to realize he can feel more skin than usual. Out of habit, he goes to stretch his wings, knowing they’re missing but not fully knowing until he does it and nothing happens.

Louis shivers, glances around, the apartment small but comfortable, looking a lot like his apartment in Heaven. He wonders whose doing that is. If Harry had perhaps told Nick what Louis’ place had looked like. He knows that Nick had never been in his house, and yet some of the pieces seem an almost exact replica.

It’s unsettling as much as it is comforting, and his first instinct is to text Harry. He’s not sure why he doesn’t do it, why he picks up the phone that’s on the table and just pockets it instead. Getting up from the couch, he wanders through the apartment, fingers touching walls, brushing against objects as he reminds himself to breathe in and out, counting out the seconds of every in and exhale.

You’ll be okay, he tells himself, you’ll be fine. Whatever happened in your past, you’ll be okay. It can’t be worse than that story you made up about how you went off to die on your own. He looks in the mirror, finds blue eyes looking back at him. “You’ll be alright,” he tells his reflection. He’s not sure either version of him fully believes it.

He finishes his tour of the apartment by clutching the manual from the kitchen drawer against his chest. He doesn’t even care if it looks pathetic. It’s got to be a step up from texting Harry at least. Thankfully the apartment had come with a fully stocked fridge, so Louis doesn’t have to venture out just yet. He knows he’s going to have to, preferably before Monday when he’s supposed to start school, but he’s still relieved that he can stay inside for a little while longer.

Making himself a strong cup of tea, he settles back on the couch a while later, flipping through channels with one eye on the TV set and the other on the manual he’s skimming through. Tea balanced on his knee, he doesn’t really absorb anything, but then it’s more to give himself something to do. Something that isn’t freaking out or wondering when the first memories are going to kick in and whether or not Harry has already remembered and is Harry okay?

His fingers itch to reach for his phone, but again he tells himself not to. It’s not even that he knows Nick is watching and he doesn’t want to look pathetic and weak. It’s more that he knows Harry might need time. The last thing he wants to do is make him come over to comfort Louis when he’s got his own past to deal with.

Besides, Harry knows he can always text or call. Louis had said he’d always be there.

Resolutions have never been his forte though, and he only lasts another hour before he picks up his phone, needing a moment to figure out the navigation on it, but it doesn’t take him long to pull up a messaging program.

Anything yet? He types, sends it before he can reconsider. He wants to ask him if he’s ok, he really does, but he’s scared to. Scared that Harry will say that he’s not and Louis won’t know the right words to fix it this time. It’s easier to talk about memories. Even if that’s a scary conversation too.

I think I remember what my mum looks like. But it might just be something I made up? I’ve thought about it before, what she’d look like. Harry texts back. You?

Louis suddenly feels bitter. He knows he’s been away from earth longer than Harry has, but there’s still an immature part of him that wishes he’d have remembered something first. Nothing, he texts. Maybe I was an amnesiac before I died haha. The joke falls flat even in text. He still sends it.

I wish you were here, Harry texts him.

Louis wonders where his shoes are. I can be, he replies. Do you want me to be? He’s not sure he’s ready to go outside, but he will if Harry needs him. He doesn’t care what HQ thinks, how it’s better for them to be apart right now. It’s bullshit. Yes, he knows that there’s been a whole slew of people who have been manipulated to think that Harry belongs in the tiny apartment he lives in, and the same with Louis. He knows that it’ll take a while to really become the new normal and that if he does something to upset the balance there’s a chance some people might get the feeling something’s not entirely right. But, also, it’s Harry.

Harry rings him. “Yes,” he says quietly, the moment Louis picks up. “But you shouldn’t.” Louis almost smiles at that. Because it’s so very Harry. Louis knows that he doesn’t care about the rules, but he does care about Nick and about doing whatever he could to piss off Walsh. Nothing will do that more than them returning to Heaven, victorious. Preferably soon.

“I shouldn’t,” Louis agrees softly. He runs a hand through his hair, curls up on the couch, cursing softly when his tea spills over his joggers. “It’s weird, right? Does your place look similar too? If it weren’t for the fact that it’s raining outside and I haven’t got me wings I’d almost be able to believe this whole thing’s just been a bad dream.”

Harry hums. “Everything feels different, but not,” he says, and he sounds so incredibly sad that Louis wishes he could crawl through the phone and into his arms. He thinks they might both need it. “At least you’re still the same,” he sounds a bit relieved at that. “Even if you’re not here. It’s nice talking to you. Is it nice for you? Am I, I’m not bothering you, right? If you want to be alone, with your memories-”

“Haz,” Louis rubs at the wet spot on his knee, reaches to pick up the cup that had fallen to the floor. “First off, what memories? I haven’t got any yet.”

“Nick said it might take a while,” Harry interrupts quietly. “On account of you having been away longer.”

Louis sighs. “I know. I’m not, I’m dreading it a bit to be honest. As much as I want to know who I was, it’s a lot more than that, isn’t it? It’s knowing how I died and who I lost and that, I wouldn’t mind having a day to myself. Some time to adjust. And it’s shit that you’re not here because you’re the only person that understands and you’re my best friend and also I’m a bit shit at cheering myself up.” He grimaces, shakes his head. “You’re never bothering me, is the point. If this whole thing wouldn’t come crumbling down I’d be banging on your door right about now.”

“Thanks,” Harry says quietly. “You’ve always been there for me.”

Louis laughs. “I’d be there for me, if I’m honest. I think I need you just about as much as you need me right now. You’re always there, and I want you to be. Things are never as scary when I’m with you. I mean - we’ve been here, what, two hours? And already I’m on the phone with you. Face it, Harry, you’re never going to get rid of me. I’m never going to say-”

He goes quiet. Can hear a voice, his own voice, whisper soft in his head. I don’t want to say goodbye, it says, and then, there’s another voice, just as soft. I know, it tells him, I know my love and I don’t want to say goodbye to you either. But not saying goodbye - you can’t take that from them. They need to see you, one last time.

His fingers go lax around the phone. What about what I need, mum? The voice echoes in his head, a shiver running down his spine as a tear makes its way down his cheek. There’s another voice, and it takes a minute for Louis to recognize it as Harry’s, sounding tinny through the phone.

“Louis? Lou, are you still there?”

He feels wired, like he’s just run a marathon or something. The voice still echoing in his head. It sounded soft, and sweet, and familiar. Mum. He swallows, brushes away the tears on his cheek before reaching to pick up the phone he’d dropped. “Harry? Hey.” He takes a slow shivery breath. Not sure how even to explain what had just happened.

“You just remembered something, didn’t you?” Harry sounds equal parts excited and sympathetic. Louis loves him so much it hurts.

“Yeah.” He’s quiet for a moment, wishes he could hold onto the memory, but it’s threatening to slip out of his grasp. He knows, logically, that he’ll have many more memories coming, that he won’t have to strain to keep a hold of them, but already he’s forgetting just what her voice sounded like. Even if Harry’s sounds so sweet and caring, part of him wants to tell him to shut up, he needs to concentrate. He needs to remember. “It was my mum. I think it was my mum, at least. She sounded - warm.” He decides. It’s not the best description, but it’s true. She’d sounded like she’d loved him. And from what she’d said, she wasn’t the only one.

“Did you see her face? Or just heard her voice?”

Louis closes his eyes, but all he sees is darkness. No images come to mind, not even when he tries so hard to recall what exactly she’d said. “Her voice. And mine. It was - she said something about needing to say goodbye. I don’t, I’m not sure what happened, but-” he has to stop, swallow hard around the lump in his throat.

Harry doesn’t say anything for a moment. Louis can hear the clock tick in the background, can hear the soft sounds coming from the TV and Harry’s harsh breathing. “Fuck this,” he eventually says, and it’s calm despite the emotions that are clearly audible. “I’m coming over.”

It’s so sudden and so Harry that Louis can’t help but laugh. It’s not like the sadness is fully pushed away in favor of this warm fondness in his chest, but it does help. “It’s okay,” he assures him, pushing down the part of him that longs for Harry’s arms around him, Harry’s presence that’ll make everything make sense. “I promise, Haz. I’m okay. I think - I’m sad, in a way, but it’s a good kind of sadness? Does that make sense?”

“Not in the slightest,” Harry replies instantly, but it’s clear from his voice that he’s teasing. “Tommo the martyr.” He sounds fond too. “If you’re sure.”

“I am,” Louis isn’t lying. As much as part of him wants to be with Harry he wants this too. The memories. Needs it, even. As scary and overwhelming as they are, he wants them back. His mum, her voice, maybe the way she looked. He wants to know because she might not be alive anymore and he’s going to want to keep her alive in his memories. Now that he can. “I need to know who I am. Or who I was. I - they’re my family.” He sounds pleading, as though he needs to convince Harry. As though Harry won’t understand when he’s the only person that will. The only person that has ever understood everything about Louis. Though he doesn’t know, anymore, if that’s true. And that’s a scary thought. That the past can change some things that Louis has always been so sure of. Can change him.

Harry hums. It sounds like he’s got a lot to say, but he holds it back, and Louis feels thankful for it. He doesn’t know if he can do this right now, an entire conversation about all this. Harry must come to that same conclusion, because he just sighs. “Be safe, ok? And call me, if you need me. Remember, yeah? Three thirty in the morning, going out for ice cream. That wasn’t just an up there thing. It’s an always thing. A you and me thing. Yeah?”

Louis smiles, his heart aching a bit, but in a good way. “I’ll remember,” he assures him. “Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. For - for being the you in the you and me things. For us having you and me things. Just .. thank you.” He wants to say something about how he’s sorry he can’t be there for Harry, that he doesn’t have room for him, knowing he goes through the same things Louis is going through. But if he is going through the same things he knows that Harry will want to cherish his memories too. At least, the ones that aren’t to do with how and when they died.

“Always,” Harry is smiling, Louis can tell. His muscles respond instinctively, causing him to smile back. “I’m gonna call you tomorrow, ok? If that’s ok.”

Louis beams down at his still wet knee. “I’d be upset if you didn't.”

*

After fixing himself a new cup of tea, Louis makes himself a little nest on the couch, blankets and pillows and a chocolate bar within reach. He’s got no idea how long it’ll be before another memory will come to him, doesn’t know if it’s something that needs to be triggered or if it’ll come naturally, but he figures he can’t go wrong with a little bit of comfort.

He’s sipping his tea, trying very hard not to force anything, to keep a clear head so as to not have any interference. It’s probably not how it works, but he can’t help it. He’s alternating between trying to recall his mum’s voice and telling himself to not think about anything, and it really isn’t helping. His tea’s gone and so’s half the chocolate bar before he turns his attention to the TV instead. There’s a cooking show on that he’s only marginally interested in but he’s a bit too lazy to dig around for the remote that got lost somewhere in his little nest, so he settles in to watch it anyway.

Somewhere between the contestants plating up the starter and finishing the main course he drifts off into sleep.

There’s a baby crying. It’s an odd sound, even more odd perhaps that Louis recognizes it. There are no babies in Heaven. He finds himself getting up, wandering out of his apartment, in search of the source of the sound. Except when he exits his apartment he doesn’t end up outside. Or, not the outside he’s used to. His surroundings are dark, filthy, smoke rising from chimneys and mixing with the clouds that are promising rainfall.

“Louis!” He turns around at the sound of his name, a faceless woman approaching him, putting a little bundle in his arms. “Come inside and hold her for a while, will you? I’ll be right back from the shop. Lottie’s inside, she’s still sleeping.”

He nods, watches himself, his hands small, much smaller than he remembers. He looks up at the woman, who seems tall enough that he realizes he must be small. Young. “Mum?” His voice comes out high, and she chuckles, runs a hand through his hair. It’s such a loving gesture that he nearly cries.

“You’ll do alright, boobear. I know she’s only tiny but you’re such a great help. Mum’s little assistant, aren’t you? I’ll only be a few minutes. Come on, get inside now before Fizzy catches a cold.”

The words stick in his throat, the I love you that he wishes he could tell her. He just nods instead, takes the few steps that lead up to their house, his baby sister safely cradled against his chest.

He’s not surprised that there’s tears on his face when he wakes up. He’s not sure whether this was a memory, a dream, or some strange mix of the two of them, but it felt so real. He’s known his sisters’ names, but not their nicknames. He couldn’t have made that up. Could he?

He sighs, shifts to lay down on the couch, blankets tight around him though he doesn’t find the comfort he searches. She’d sounded so warm, his mum. So loving and gentle and kind and everything he hadn’t known he was missing. He wonders if it’s too pathetic to have a little cry over his mum, to say out loud all those things he hadn’t even realized he’d wanted. I wish you’d hold me one last time mum. I wish I could see you, just once more.

Trying to mimic a long lost embrace, he pulls the blankets tighter around him, falls asleep exhausted and with tears in his eyes.

*

Saturday morning starts a bit better. Granted, Louis falls off the couch and upon sitting up knocks his head into the coffee table, but it’s still an improvement from feeling lost and alone and terrified. He’s a bit groggy, but he can find his way through his apartment with his eyes closed - except this isn’t his apartment, and he knocks his elbow into the wall and stubs his toe on a chair.

As he’s hopping around, hands curled around his foot, he wonders if Nick is watching. He’s probably laughing. Louis flips off the ceiling, just in case.

At least there’s coffee, so while various body parts are hurting, Louis still feels a bit more settled once he’s got a mug full of the hot, strong liquid cradled in his hands. He leans against the counter, breathes in the smell, idly wondering if he should start to formulate a plan for the next few days. He knows he’s supposed to attend school on Monday, so it’s probably smart to go around and explore for a bit. He’s never been great with mornings and he doesn’t want to have all of the attention on him just because he stumbles into class late and confused. Not when he’s already going to be confused, due to not knowing whatever the other students have been working on for the past month.

They’re going to know him though, Nick had assured him. It’s been a whole ordeal, planting all these false memories, making sure that Louis’ neighbours and classmates know who he is. They hadn’t dared to mess with Zayn or Liam directly, but there’s acquaintances that should make it easy to slip into each other’s social circle.

Except for the fact that Louis hadn’t received any of these fake memories. He’s going to have to do actual work, read up on all the people that he’s supposed to know and hope that he’ll have studied hard enough to remember all the details come Monday morning. He wishes he could’ve been a new student, a transfer or just a late applicant, but apparently the school only allows people to start at the very start of a semester, so they didn’t have much of a choice beyond hoping that Louis wouldn’t end up staying long enough to be caught out on his lack of knowledge.

Thankfully it’s only been a month. Louis can’t imagine just how much trouble he’d be in if he’d have come in later in the year, when everyone was already settled in and had an idea of what they were doing. There’s a bunch of classes on Louis’ schedule that he should probably read up on at least a little, but between getting to know the people he’s supposed to know and learning the layout of not just the school but also the part of Bradford he’s meant to have walked around in every day, he’ll be happy if he doesn’t stuff up completely.

Fixing himself a quick breakfast of his favorite cereal, he heads back to the living room, putting the manual on the table and flipping through the pages until he finds the people he’s supposed to know. Thankfully most of them are just acquaintances, if that. Classmates who he’s seen but hasn’t interacted with. Louis thinks he can probably get away with not knowing their names, but he takes a few screenshots in case he needs a quick reference while he’s in school. There’s only a few that he’s supposed to have spoken with or started a tentative friendship with, one of which is a friend of a girl in some of Zayn’s classes. He wishes it was as easy as just heading up to Zayn and introducing himself, but it looks as though Louis will have to go through other people, deal with the whole six degrees of separation shit. He knows it’s ‘easier’ that way, at least for HQ who doesn’t have to manipulate too many people all at once, but while he definitely wants to stay on earth long enough to remember more about his family Louis is pretty set on making sure he doesn’t stay here a minute longer than he needs to. For his own sake as much as Harry’s.

He spends a few hours studying on the people he’s meant to know and the facts he’s supposed to remember about them, before taking a break, his headache making him think that maybe he should head outside. It’s a bit of a scary notion, because although he’s got his phone and a reasonable sense of direction, it’s a lot less simple than it sounds. He might run into someone he’s supposed to remember, or people might see him and realize something’s off, and then there’s the fact that earth is busy, and there’s bikes and cars and buses that Louis isn’t used to. He knows it shouldn’t bother him, but watching it all from a distance is a lot different than actually immersing himself in it. He can’t help it if his heart is pounding a little.

Still, he does end up going outside, and he’s quite proud of that. Sure, there’s a little moment where he doesn’t quite understand how the lights at the intersection work, where he waits patiently for the pedestrian light to turn until someone next to him pushes a button, but overall, he doesn’t get any odd looks on his way over to the nearby supermarket.

His fridge is fully stocked and so are his cabinets, but Louis still heads inside, learns the layout of the place. It’s pretty similar to the shop Zayn works at, which is a block or two away, and Louis files that away for future reference. Who knows, it might come in handy.

Picking up a lemon just to give himself something to do, he watches the people push their carts through the store. Everyone seems in such a hurry, there’s hardly any hello’s or good afternoon’s, not even an excuse me when two people nearly bump into each other. Everyone seems to be in a world of their own. It’s slightly disconcerting, but also a bit reassuring, because if people don’t notice others then they probably won’t notice Louis.

He ends up leaving the store with a bag of crisps and a newspaper, his head still aching enough to reconsider heading straight home. He walks to a nearby park instead, thinks he should’ve bought a bottle of water because the crisps are salty and his mouth feels dry. He swallows, licks his lips.

“More water, love?” he clenches his fingers around the newspaper in his hands, resists the urge to look around because he knows this voice is in his head, knows that he’s remembering something and it shouldn’t be so weird. But he’s not used to having new memories, not used to having another voice in his head, not one that he doesn’t know. Except that he does know this voice, even if it’s one he hasn’t heard in sixty odd years.

Louis takes a deep breath, hides behind his newspaper, trying to welcome the memory, the little clip that keeps pushing against the front of his skull, making his temples throb.

“Please,” it’s his own voice but it’s not. It’s weak and rough and airy, young and old at the same time.

“Alright, darling, sit up a little,” Louis closes his eyes, sees his mum, her face still not clear but her features coming in slowly. She’s smiling at him, he can see that much, fluffing up the pillows behind him. Everything else is white, unfocused, except for her. “There you go. Drink up.”

He feels parched, he realizes, when he opens his eyes again. Not as much as he’d been back then, in his memory. He can feel his throat ache though, making him wonder if it’s because of how thirsty he is now or because he’s holding back the desire to cry. These snippets, for lack of a better word, are giving him context, but they’re not giving him what he wants most. The memory of his mum’s face.

It makes him wonder, what happened in his past. He remembers what he’d told Harry, about the way he’d died. Could he have been right all along? From the little snippets that are coming back he hadn’t died quickly. Had maybe even been in a hospital. Had it been a slow illness? Had he wasted away? Or had it been something quick and were these memories unrelated? Did Harry know, already? Had he accidentally made up a story that was similar to the way he’d died too?

The thought brings a small smile to his face. He doubts Harry would’ve run away from home over a cookie, or at least that his parents would’ve let him. No one in their right mind would ever let Harry disappear from their lives.

He should call him, he thinks. He promised to, didn’t he? Louis folds up the newspaper, only gets lost once on his way back home, but at least no one’s looking at him. Once he’s back inside - thankfully without having run into any of his neighbours, because for all the studying he’s done his mind is feeling terrifyingly blank right now - he drinks two full glasses of water, before settling back on the couch.

His phone in hand he’s ready to dial Harry’s number when his name flashes on the screen, the phone buzzing in his hand.

Louis can’t help but laugh as he picks up. “Hey you, I was just thinki-”

“It was a car.” Harry sounds weird, voice high and fast and a bit manic, his words coming out like he’s not even sure Louis is listening but it doesn’t matter, he just needs to say it out loud. “A fucking car, Lou. Can you believe it? It’s so - I got hit by a car and I died and it’s so pointless. So .. stupid and common and - someone just ended my life, like that. They ran a red light, they were distracted, it wasn’t even personal I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and they hit me and I died and none of it even - if I’d been there a few minutes later, or if the light hadn’t turned yet .. there was no point to it.” He breathes out harshly, in a way that makes Louis cling to the phone, swallow because he’s got so much to say but Harry doesn’t sound like he’s done yet. “I was eighteen and I died and there was no point to it, Lou.” His voice is shaking now. “It isn’t fair. I was just eighteen. I had my whole life ahead of me and they took that from me because, what, what was so important that they were distracted enough to not see me crossing the street?”

Louis closes his eyes, bites his lip. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t think reminding Harry of everything that had happened since was going to do him any good. He doesn’t want to say that if it hadn’t happened they never would’ve met, because he’s not sure right now Harry wouldn’t trade in their past if it had meant staying alive. And he can’t blame him, because now that his memories are coming back Louis isn’t sure he can sit here and say that he doesn’t regret what happened just because of everything it had brought him. Not when he’s finally starting to remember his mum and everything he’s lost. He wanted more time with her. He deserved that. And so did Harry.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, when all he’s heard for a minute is their laboured breathing. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Haz. I’m sorry that it was pointless and that you had to remember it and that you were alone. I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye.”

He gets a hurt sound in response, a sort of sob that Harry tries to cover up for some reason. Louis wants to tell him not to, that it’s okay, he understands, but he can’t make his mouth work. “I never got to say goodbye,” Harry whispers, like that hadn’t occurred to him yet. “My mum, my sister - I went out, and I never came back. When I left, they didn’t know that that was the last time they’d see me.” He sounds hollow, and Louis wishes he could head on over and hold him, because Harry sounds like he’s shaking apart.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, for lack of anything else. “At least you-” he cuts himself off then, not sure how he’d even finish that sentence. Not sure if there’s a way to finish it that won’t make matters worse. At least you died quickly? Like that was some kind of comfort. At least you know what happened now? He’s not sure Harry wouldn’t have rather never remembered.

“At least I have you.”

Louis shakes his head. “That’s not, that wasn’t what I was going to say.” He defends himself weakly.

“I know,” Harry whispers. “That’s me saying that. At least I have you.” He sounds a bit calmer now, like all he’d needed was that reassurance. That reminder, that he had Louis. No matter what. Louis bites his lip again.

Would you change it, he wants to ask him. If you could, would you go back in time and make sure that you weren’t there? That it had never happened and you wouldn’t have died? It’s not fair to ask him that though. Not when it’s not possible in the first place. And when he can’t even answer the question for himself. He doesn’t want to have never met Harry. But he doesn’t think this is fair on either of them either. He wishes they could’ve had it both. A long, happy life with their siblings as well as a chance of meeting one another.

“I want to find her,” Harry says after another minute of silence - Louis feels bad for not saying anything, but he has no words, feels so utterly unable to help him. “My sister. Gemma. She’d be in her forties now, there’s no reason she wouldn’t still be alive. My mum too. I want to find them. I want to tell them-” he pauses, exhales audibly. “I can’t tell them, can I? They wouldn’t believe me, even if I did. I’d just scare them, showing up, looking like their dead family member, and I’d drag up all this hurt that they maybe came to terms with years ago.”

Louis doesn’t think anyone could ever really come to terms with something like that. Especially not a senseless death like Harry’s. It would’ve been different if something else had happened. Maybe. Either way, he doesn’t think you ever truly get over something like that. People who died young, it just wasn’t fair. “No,” he says quietly, hating that he has to hurt Harry, has to agree with him when he wishes he could tell him he should go and see them. “No, you can’t, I mean, you can, but, you’re right, you shouldn’t.”

Harry just breathes in shakily, and Louis continues. “But if you wanted to, then I’d come with you, Haz. Screw what we can or can’t do. You know I’d go with you.”

“Even if you disagree with me?”

Louis huffs out a soft laugh. “You’re my best friend, Harry. I’d follow you to the end of the line. No matter what decisions you make. It’s my duty to back you up, and go to war with you. Because whether or not it’s something you should do, I couldn’t ever let you do something like that on your own. Not when I know how much it would hurt you. I’d want to be there. I’d need to be there.” He knows Harry would do the same for him. And he can’t rule it out, the feeling. His siblings were younger than him, some might still be alive. If he’d be able to find them could he really stop himself from seeking them out? Maybe just find out where they live, see them on the streets? It would hurt like hell, he’s sure, but in a way it might also be nice. Maybe he could see them and have an idea what he would’ve looked like if he hadn’t died.

“Can you come over?” Harry’s voice is small. “I know we said - I know that we shouldn’t, but, can you please come over?”

Louis feels some of the pressure in his chest ease at Harry’s question. “Sure,” he tells him quickly. “Of course. Give me a bit and I’ll be on my way, yeah? I might get lost on the way, but, I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

Harry sniffs. “Thank you.” He whispers, making Louis’ heart ache all over again. It’s nothing compared to how it hurts when he hears Harry’s final words though. “Lou? Please be careful. Please be safe.”

*

It’s weird, ringing Harry’s doorbell. Knowing that he can’t just let himself in, because he doesn’t have a key to this place. Rather, he doesn’t know where the spare key is. He feels awkward, standing there, at the front door to an apartment that looks like it might be only half as big as the one Harry’s used to. He knows that he can’t forget that everything’s changed, but he wishes he could pretend, at least, while they were together. But the apartment’s gonna be different and Harry’s hair is different and what if they’re different? What if they’re no longer Harry and Louis?

It’s silly to worry, he knows that, but he can’t help it. Stands there, on a bright yellow WELCOME mat that is decorated with ghastly pink flowers, wringing his wrists and licking his lips and resisting the urge to bounce on his feet. Thankfully it’s only a short while before Harry unlocks the door, and Louis honestly isn’t sure why he’d worried when the first thing Harry does is tug him into a warm embrace.

“You came,” it’s muffled against Louis’ hair.

Louis wraps his arms around him, fingers brushing over Harry’s spine. “Of course I did.” He didn’t have much of a choice, not that he’d wanted one. If Harry asked for him he’d move heaven and earth to get to his side. “You knew I would.”

Harry presses closer. “Did,” he agrees, his voice as shaky as the hands that move over his back, like Harry’s trying to reassure himself that Louis is real, alive, and well. “Just weren’t sure you’d make it.” He admits, the words so quiet Louis needs a moment to decipher them. “It took a long time.”

“I got lost a time or two,” Louis chuckles softly, determined to hold onto Harry until he stops feeling so small in his arms. “Kept pushing through though. Knew you needed me.” He brings one hand up to Harry’s hair, cards through the curls. He still misses his curls.

“Always need you,” Harry is past shame at this moment, past embarrassment and sheepishness, and Louis feels so warm and fond of him. It must show on his face when Harry pulls away, because there’s a sudden hint of a smile. “Come in,” Harry brushes his hand over his face, sniffing a bit though he doesn’t seem too close to tears for now. “Kind of ambushed you. Sorry.”

Louis shrugs. “It’s the best way to be ambushed, isn’t it? With hugs?” He takes off his coat, hangs it up next to Harry’s, before taking off his shoes. The hallway’s full with just a small shoe cabinet and a coat rack, and Louis revises his earlier statement. This apartment isn’t half of what Harry’s used to. It’s not even a third.

Harry leads him into a living room that doubles as a dining room, as well as a kitchen. “It’s not much,” Harry says quietly, and Louis can tell that he’s trying really hard to not be unhappy or sound ungrateful. He also knows that Harry needs his space, doesn’t like to be locked up inside, and this apartment looks like it’s doing just that. “It’s got everything I need though,” he assures Louis - himself? - as he gestures towards the couch, an invitation to sit down. “How’s yours look? Is it as small as mine?”

“It’s a bit bigger, but not by much. I figure they want to keep it realistic? Wouldn’t want people asking questions about how we’re able to afford a big place when we’re still in our teens.” Louis doesn’t mind a small place. He just needs his comforts. His tea and his sofa and a comfy bed and he’s all set. If he wants space he’ll go outside.

He sits down on Harry’s slightly lumpy sofa, looking up at him for the first time. Properly, that is. And it’s - it’s weird, really. He’s seen Harry every day for decades, looking the same, day in day out. Two days on earth and he looks different. Not older, it’d be ridiculous to claim that he looks older, but there’s something about him. Something that isn’t just the absence of wings or the fact that Harry’s energy is no longer visible to him. He looks .. fragile.

Harry almost stares at him too, making Louis want to duck his head and avoid meeting his eyes. He’s not sure how he measures up, in his eyes. “It’s weird, isn’t it?” he says quietly, looking down at his hands just to give himself something to do. Something that isn’t looking up at Harry to catalogue all the ways in which he’s different. “Do I look much different to you?”

There’s a quiet sound, then the sound of feet shuffling closer. Finally, the sound and feeling of Harry sitting beside him. “No,” Harry says softly, after a contemplative pause. “I’m used to seeing your energy, and obviously that’s not there, but you’re not really that different? Just -- sharper?”

Louis glances up, sees him frown. “Sharper?” He’s not sure he likes that description. Has earth already changed him, hardened him?

“It’s like you’re more in focus?” Harry explains. “Like all these years I’ve been seeing you but I’ve been distracted by your wings and your energy and now it’s just .. it’s you. The way you’re meant to be seen, maybe.” He ducks his head now too, but Louis can still see the start of a dimple. “You’re beautiful. Like you’ve always been. Right now you’re just more you.”

Louis isn’t sure how that’s possible, how he can suddenly be more of himself than he used to be. He doesn’t think he’s ever been anything other than himself, but at the same time what Harry’s saying makes sense. He’s more in focus too, because now that Louis can’t see his energy and read his moods based on the colours he’s seeing swirling around him, he’s going to have to pay attention to other things. To the twitch of his jaw and the stubborn set of his eyebrows. To the press of his lips and the crinkles by his eyes. “Do you like it then?” It’s almost tentative.

Harry meets his eyes. “I like every version of you,” he insists, but then he smiles. “I just didn’t expect to feel like there was still so much to learn about you? Like now. You’re frowning, but you don’t seem upset. Just, confused?” He hazards a guess, shrugs his shoulder. “I used to be able to tell exactly what kind of mood you’d be in, based on the way your energy looked. Now - I’ve got to learn what it means when you frown, or when you smile at me.” He reaches out, brushes a fingertip over Louis’ lips. “It’s sort of nice, actually.”

Louis ducks his head and smiles.

“Like that,” Harry says softly. “What does that mean?”

For some strange reason, Louis almost feels like blushing. “It means you’re a sentimental twat,” he teases, reaching out to tickle him, quick fingers going up his ribs. “You would enjoy a challenge.”

Harry just dimples. “I do when it’s you.”

*

It’s funny, how just being together makes everything so much easier. Louis feels like he can finally relax, like wherever he is, he’s alright because Harry’s with him. Harry seems to feel the same way, Louis guesses, because neither one of them seem to want to say goodbye. They’re both careful not to alert the other to the clock, which makes for an awkward time around dinner, until Harry’s stomach growls and Louis snorts and asks if they should just be lazy and order in a pizza. After spending some time debating the pros and cons of various nearby pizza places they settle on one, and the only hint of time is while they wait for their food to get delivered. From then on neither of them mentions anything about what time it is, though Louis knows they’re both aware, if only because the sky is getting darker. He can see it even with the curtains closed.

They keep busy, keep each other busy. Harry quizzes him about his classmates, Louis in turn asks him about the people in Harry’s life, the ones at the bakery and the people he’s supposed to know at the gym. They come up with silly little things to remember, mnemonics that’ll make their life a little easier. Louis still sort of wishes he could shrink Harry and put him in his pocket, but unfortunately that’s not an option. He knows he’s got the next best thing though, Harry’s number on speed dial.

Tired and full and therefore a little lazy, they end up watching some old romantic comedy on the telly, Harry’s head pillowed on Louis’ shoulder. It’s odd how when he turns his head he’s not automatically got hairs tickling his nose, but it’s still close enough to how it always used to be that Louis can close his eyes and pretend that this moment will last forever.

He thinks he might have fallen asleep, because the next thing he notices the telly is showing some infomercial and the clock chimes midnight. His arm’s gone numb and there’s a small wet spot on his shirt from where Harry must have drooled on him, though he isn’t pressed against him anymore. Instead Harry’s standing in front of him, biting his lip and looking so small that Louis just wants to wrap him up in a hug. He’s got a blanket wrapped around himself, holding it together at his chest. For a moment they just look at each other. The clock chimes one last time, and despite the infomercial still playing in the background all at once the house feels quiet. Heavy.

“Stay.” Harry suddenly blurts out. It sounds pleading despite the way he’s almost snapped it at him, jaw clenching as he shuts his mouth, teeth clacking together like he isn’t too late at holding back the word. Louis watches him swallow.

He doesn’t tease him. Not this time. Instead he just nods, pushes himself up to his feet. “Of course,” he says quietly, resting his hand on Harry’s arm, covered by the blanket. He motions towards it. “Is that for me?” He’s not exactly looking forward to spending the night on that lumpy sofa, but he will. Harry needs him so of course he will.

Harry looks surprised for a moment, then sheepish. “I thought-” he starts, awkward now, and Louis can’t resist the urge to tug the blanket out of his grasp, only to wrap it around the two of them. It’s ridiculous how safe he feels, cocooned in a blanket with Harry’s body to warm him.

“Okay,” is all he says, smiling up at him. He slides his arms around Harry’s waist, tucks himself under his chin so he can hear his heartbeat. It’s faster than Louis is used to, but he chalks that up to the newness of it all. Not that their hearts didn’t beat in Heaven (although Louis has no idea why they did when technically they were dead, but that’s Heaven for you, it’s full of unexplained things, just not the ones humans think) but they’re not used to this. To earth and this massive challenge ahead of them that Louis is just as scared of. He can’t fault Harry’s heart when he knows his own pulse is raised too.

“Yeah?” Harry whispers back, resting his cheek against Louis’ hair.

Louis closes his eyes, drinks in the feeling of having Harry wrapped around him. He thinks this is the first he might have really relaxed since he came down. “Yeah,” he whispers back, knowing they should move but not wanting to let go of him just yet. They continue to stand there, wrapped up in a fluffy blue blanket and each other’s arms, for what feels like hours.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, he can’t breathe. It’s like his entire body is on fire, and no matter how hard he tries he can’t get enough oxygen into his body. He tries to speak, to alert Harry, who is sleeping peacefully next to him, but his jaw feels locked, and no amount of trying makes it possible for him to open his mouth. It’s easily the most terrifying thing Louis has experienced. It only lasts a minute or so, but when the tension in his body finally gives he’s gasping in air, pulse thundering in his ears while tears pool in his eyes.

He feels like he’s shaking like a leaf, but Harry hasn’t even woken up and Louis feels angry even though he knows that’s not fair. He feels like Harry should’ve sensed something, should’ve known and woken up and helped him, even though Louis doesn’t know what just happened. His body aches all over now that the tension has drained from his muscles and he just feels so very tired. He’s scared though, to go back to sleep. Worried that it’ll happen again and he’ll wake up feeling as though he’s suffocating.

Slipping out of the bed, he wraps the throw cover around himself, heads into the kitchen to make himself some tea. His legs feel weak, like he’s just run a marathon, and he’s trying really hard to keep himself from worrying. He knows that he can get sick, now that he’s on earth, although he can’t die, Nick has told them. But he’s not really been anywhere, and what could he possibly have contracted that would make him feel so ill one minute and completely fine the next? Or was it simply that his body hadn’t been used to an illness, hadn’t had to deal with it for so long that even the smallest infection would make his nervous system go haywire?

Everything seems a bit easier when he’s got his tea, when he’s on the couch and he’s got the telly on, soft voices calming down his still racing heart. Maybe it’s a memory, he realizes, when he’s nearly burnt his tongue on the hot, strong tea. Like it had been a memory the other day in the park. Though his mouth had felt dry from the crisps, not the memory. Hadn’t it?

Louis shivers, pulling the blanket tighter around him, trying to keep the fear at bay. If this is a memory threatening to break through, does that mean it’ll happen again? Get worse? Had Harry experienced anything like this? Or hadn’t he had time, seeing as he’d died on impact? Did this mean Louis’ death had been slow and agonizing?

He tries to remember what it had felt like. What symptoms he’d had. Maybe if he remembers he can google it, know what to expect. Though, he’s not too sure he wants to know.

“Lou?” Harry’s voice is soft, still scratchy from sleep. “What’s wrong?”

Now you care, the bitter part of Louis’ brain pipes up. He shakes his head to dispel those nasty thoughts. It’s not Harry’s fault he hadn’t noticed Louis’ turmoil. Even if it had made him feel terribly afraid and alone. “Nothing,” he lies, fingers tightening around his mug. “That’s not true.” He’s not sure why he suddenly felt the urge to lie. Had he done that, back then? Was he still caught up in some memory he couldn’t quite shake? “I think I had a memory.” He looks up at Harry. “Only it wasn’t a memory. It was like - I woke up and I couldn’t breathe and I felt like my blood was boiling and I tried to call out to you to wake you but I couldn’t open my mouth, it’s like my jaw was frozen in place.”

He doesn’t realize how badly he’s shaking until Harry sits next to him and wraps his arms around him, pulling Louis close against his chest. He feels tense for a second, then melts into it. “I’m sorry,” Harry says quietly. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

Louis shakes his head again. He knows it’s not fair. Harry’s not psychic. He was asleep and Louis couldn’t make a sound and it had only lasted a minute or so anyways. Still. “It was terrifying. And I’m not sure it was a memory. I mean, I don’t know what else it could be, but, what if it wasn’t, H? What if-” What if Nick was wrong and he could die? What if that was just one more lie HQ had told them?

Or just as frightening a thought, what if he was going to end up getting so sick that he had to go back and Harry had to remain on earth to try and get Liam and Zayn together, and eventually decided he liked it enough to want to stay?

“Ssh,” Harry rubs his back, shakes his head now too. “Don’t think like that, sweetheart.” It should feel patronizing but it doesn’t. It just feels comforting instead. Louis doesn’t want to think like that. He wants to just stay wrapped up in Harry’s arms and never have to think about things like that. He’s just not sure that’s an actual possibility. “I’d never let anything bad happen to you.”

Louis doesn’t think it works like that. He’s also pretty sure that his mother would’ve felt the same way, and yet, look at what had happened. “Was it like that for you?” He only now realizes that Harry’s not wearing a shirt, that his cheek has been pressed up against his bare skin. He’s warm though, and comfortable, and Louis doesn’t feel like moving away. “Remembering? Did you .. feel it?”

“No.” Harry says after a short pause. “But I died pretty instantly, I think. All I remember-” his arms tighten around Louis, and Louis can hear his heartbeat speed up. He wants to tell him that it’s ok, he doesn’t have to talk about it. But he also selfishly wants to be able to focus on something that isn’t himself right now. “All I remember is crossing the street and this red Nissan coming out of nowhere. I never even had time to react. They say that everything goes in slow motion before you die but it wasn’t like that. It was just fast, and-” his voice breaks, and Louis isn’t the only one shaking anymore.

He holds onto him a bit tighter, as though he can hold together all the little pieces of Harry’s heart that he can so vividly imagine are breaking, have been breaking ever since he first started remembering. “This is shit,” he manages, angry and sad and worried and hurt all at once. “We don’t deserve this. I’m sorry, Haz.” Sorry that he hadn’t tried harder, that Walsh was such an asshole, that some idiot in a red Nissan hadn’t paid enough attention on that day.

“No we don’t,” Harry agrees softly. “I don’t want - do you think you’ll be ok? What happened - I’ve never heard of memories coming in like that.” Louis pulls back just enough to see Harry frown.

“Have you ever heard of memories coming in at all though?” Louis points out reasonably. He almost smiles when Harry seems petulant in the way he shakes his head. “Maybe this is normal. Maybe - maybe I didn’t die quickly, and my body is still remembering what it was like to be sick.” It sounds like it could make sense.

“That sounds awful.”

Louis nods. He’s frowning now too. “I just hope that whatever happened, I’ll remember quickly. And that it’ll be done once I remember.” He can’t exactly go to college and have whatever type of fit he’d been having in the middle of class. He’s sure that would turn some heads and they’re all about blending in. But with barely a day left until he’s meant to attend class he’s not sure he’ll be that lucky.

Harry keeps an eye on him all throughout the day, just in case, and by four in the afternoon Louis reluctantly brings up the subject of going home. Nothing has happened all day, but still, he can tell before Harry’s even said anything that he’s unhappy at the thought. His jaw twitches and his brows furrow and Louis would laugh if he didn’t share Harry’s worry. “I’ve go to go home at some point Haz,” he points out, finding himself very reasonable despite his fear.

“No you don’t.” is Harry’s quick reply. Louis swears he can see a pout forming on Harry’s face.

“I do,” he insists softly. “I’ve still got some more reading to do, and I’ve got class in the morning.” He makes a face at that. “I can’t believe that is actually something that came out of my mouth. I can’t believe I’m going to college.” He’s nervous for a wholly different reason now too. Sure, Nick is keeping an eye on things, would surely step in if Louis was threatening to do something that would expose him, but still. It’s a lot. “I’ve got to go home. There’s no point in waiting here when I’m not even sure that what happened this morning will happen again.”

Rather than petulant Harry now just looks sad. “There’s no point in being here?” He asks quietly.

Louis frowns. “That’s not what I said.” He’s fairly sure of that. “That’s not what I meant,” he tacks on. “I know you’re worried, Harry, so am I. I’m not going to lie to you. But I know that we can’t die, I know that Nick wouldn’t let anything happen to me because if he did you’d never forgive him, and I trust in that. I trust in you to keep me safe, even if it’s through Grimshaw.” He smiles a bit, and Harry can’t resist smiling back a little. “As for there not being a point to staying here - there’s always a point to staying here as long as you are here. But unfortunately the world does not revolve around pretty boys named Harry Styles, and I’ve got an actual life outside of you, for the time being.” Whether or not he’s happy with that remains to be seen.

The pout has turned into a full on scowl, which is at least half because Louis knows Harry wants to argue but can’t find fault in his logic. He seems to struggle with what to say, parts his lips but changes his mind, and in the end he just glowers at Louis like it’s all his fault.

Louis smiles, resists the urge to ruffle up his hair and instead just leans in to hug him, quick and gentle. “It’ll be alright,” he promises, hoping Harry won’t call him out on the fact that that’s not really something he can promise. “Don’t frown. You’re on earth now, you’re going to grow older. You might get frown lines.”

There’s a sigh released into Louis’ hair before Harry even contemplates letting him go. “I’ll still be pretty though, won’t I?” He asks, like that’s actually something he’s thinking about now. Worrying about. Forget ruffling up his hair, Louis has half a mind to whack him round the head instead.

“Always,” that he can promise. “The prettiest. Even when you’re sixty years old. You’d be the fittest grandpa in the whole retirement home.”

His answer coaxes a charmed giggle out of Harry, one that Louis’ body is so used to that he finds himself smiling back before he’s even aware of it. “Will you be alright?” Louis asks him softly, pulling back and brushing some of Harry’s hair from his forehead, so it can’t shield his eyes. “I know you worry about me, but, you will be alright, won’t you? On your own?”

Harry nods reluctantly. “It’s a bit scary, going into work tomorrow. I’m not, I just feel like I don’t quite know how to even meet Liam?” He threatens to frown again, but Louis brushes the wrinkles from his forehead with one gentle fingertip. “I trust Nick, when he says this is the best place to put me at, but we haven’t seen Liam go into this bakery once this entire time. The gym, yeah, and this is close to the gym, but it feels weird, knowing I’ll spend eight hours in a shop while I could’ve been so much more useful.”

Louis can’t fault him for thinking that way. It’d all be so much easier if they could still fast forward time at least, or do something more productive than selling cookies or learning how to act. At least he’s supposed to know someone who knows someone who knows Zayn. Harry’s flying blind here. “You like baking though,” he points out. “Maybe Grimshaw figured you’d enjoy this.”

“I do,” Harry says grudgingly, clearly trying not to sound ungrateful. “I really do and this would be great if we weren’t actually on earth for one purpose. This isn’t like, spring break. Fun is not the point.”

Louis can’t help but laugh. “Alright grumpy,” he teases softly, shaking his head at Harry’s surprised face, though he can see the corners of his mouth twitching. “And you tell me off for being a martyr. Just enjoy it, Haz. It’ll happen, ok? If it makes you feel any better you can go to the gym tomorrow night and really punish yourself on the treadmill. Who knows, Liam might be there. Seeing as he’s not modeling for Zayn’s class.”

He didn’t think so, at least. Not since Liam had walked out right before class was due to start. They’d probably found someone else to sit in. Louis frowns. They still don’t know what even happened to Liam. If he was ok, if he was even in Bradford at the moment. Whatever had happened it had sounded bad, had clearly shocked him to the point where it was visible to a complete stranger.

He can tell that Harry’s mind is on the same thing, because the smile fades from his face, is replaced by a frown that Louis doesn’t brush away this time. “I hope he’s ok,” Harry whispers softly. “Not, not because I want this to be easy, or that I don’t want to stay here any longer than I need to, but-”

Louis nods. “I know.” It’s just because it’s Liam. They care about him. Which is going to make it really awkward when they first get to ‘meet’ him. He swallows. “If you run into him-”

This time it’s Harry’s turn. “I know,” he says softly. “I can’t let him know that I know. I won’t. I’m not gonna go up to him and ask him if he’s alright. He’s a blank canvas. Liam who?” He nods, determined. Louis chuckles softly.

“There’s my boy,” he teases, giving in to the urge to finally sink his fingers into Harry’s hair. “I should go.” He doesn’t want to anymore, as much as he ever did, but he knows that he should. He still hasn’t memorized his route to school and he needs to pack a bag, make sure he’s as prepared as he can be. “Text me, ok?”

“When?”

Louis shrugs. “Anytime. All the time. I’m probably going to be scared shitless in class tomorrow. Having my phone on probably won’t do me any favours, but I don’t care. I like knowing I can reach you.” Though Harry would probably be elbows deep in flour by the time Louis even arrived at school. He thinks Harry might have a much more enjoyable time than he will. He’s never been one for learning, for sitting still and letting teachers prattle on. He likes knowing stuff, alright, maybe more than he should, but he’s definitely better at a hands’ on approach. But who knows. Maybe Performing Arts won’t be all theory and classic playwrights. Maybe it’ll be fun.

“I will,” Harry promises him, looking content as a house cat at being petted by Louis. “You text me too, yeah?” He bites his lip, sounding a bit sheepish. “Text me when you get home?”

Louis doesn’t have to ask him why. He just nods, swallows a sudden lump in his throat. “Will do.”

*

It’s probably a bit too late that he finally heads to bed that night, but he’s gone over the stuff he absolutely needs to know one last time, before making himself some lunch to bring to school tomorrow. He’s gotten used to Harry’s cooking, there’s no way he’s going to brave the cafeteria food, even if that means he might run into Zayn. With the other’s schedule for the day memorized - mostly afternoon classes, and a six to eight class at night - Louis knows he’s got at least some time to settle in before he’s even meant to run into him. He’s got a class from eight thirty to eleven, then another from one to two thirty. He knows that he doesn’t have to run into Zayn, that in fact it might be better if he just works on his assigned friendship with the guy who knows a girl in some of Zayn’s classes. If he even does anything at all, because technically they’re still in their adjustment period and Walsh won’t be too much of a prick to Grimshaw. But Louis has never been a really patient man and if he can sort this out sooner rather than later he’s going to at least try.

There’s another reason he’s gone to bed late and that’s because he’s wanted to put it off for as long as he could, unable to shake the memory of waking up that morning. He hopes that if he’s exhausted his body he won’t have any memories plaguing him while he sleeps, and that the only thing he’ll feel is regret that he’s set his alarm for seven in the morning.

He can’t put it off indefinitely though, knows that he’ll definitely regret that in the morning, never mind when he’s in class and he can’t keep his eyes open. So just before midnight he turns off the lights, makes sure that his phone is charging and the volume is on, and tries to make himself comfortable. He does a few breathing exercises - it might not help, but it won’t hurt either, and maybe if he tricks his body into thinking he’s relaxed it won’t betray him by tensing every muscle he knows he has and then some he was never aware of prior to this morning. It’s only a couple of minutes after that he finally slips into an uneasy sleep.

“Sweetheart, are you okay?”

His head is pounding and he feels like his heart is beating so rapidly that he must’ve just done something extremely exhausting, like run a marathon. His muscles aren’t hurting though, so maybe something just scared him?

He swallows -- tries to swallow. It’s like there’s this pressure in his throat, not a lump but something bigger, something in his muscles that makes it impossible to move them. His body feels weighed down, and when he tries to speak nothing more than a croak comes out at first.

“Love?” His mum frowns, coming closer. He’s learned to recognize her voice by this point, even if he’s never seen so much of her face as he does right now. Her features still aren’t all clear but he can see her eyes. They’re kind eyes. Warm and caring but also worried. He can tell that she is trying not to show it, sees the small wry smile lingering around her lips.

“Mum?” he manages. It’s all he manages around the pressure in his throat. His mother frowns, rests a hand against his forehead. It’s cool and perfect and he wants to close his eyes but he also wants to keep looking at her.

“You’re burning up,” she sounds worried now too. Removes her hand from his forehead. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” Louis could cry. Don’t go, he wants to tell her. Stay. Don’t leave me, please. But the weird feeling in his throat doesn’t dissipate, and he can’t do anything except helplessly watch her leave.

This time he doesn’t wake up feeling like his body is holding him prisoner. He just feels sad and empty instead. Reaching for his phone it tells him that it’s 6:57 in the morning, only a few minutes to go until his alarm was supposed to wake him. Out of curiosity he feels his own forehead but although it’s a bit clammy he isn’t burning up, and aside from a vague feeling of hunger he’s actually feeling quite alright.

Once he’s taken a quick shower Louis tries to forget about the melancholy feeling that’s lingering, knowing that he’s got to be on his A-game (whatever that actually means) to get through the day without causing any suspicion. There’s enough time to go over his memories later, to categorize the new details and file away how his mum’s eyes had looked and how it had felt when she’d locked eyes with him.

Woke up ok, he texts Harry, just early! Are you playing baker yet? Have a good day xx

He doesn’t really expect a reply, but he still checks his phone on and off all throughout breakfast and before he’s out the door. He doesn’t check it on his way over to college, except once to remember if he’s meant to take a left or a right, but only then when he’s safely on the sidewalk and there’s no one else in sight. Harry would kill him if something happened to him, especially when he’s out in traffic. And Louis has seen enough death to last him a lifetime, had dealt with the frustration of losing a match before he could give them their happy ending. He knows he can’t fully prevent anything from happening, but he’ll make sure that he’s not increasing the chance of getting in an accident.

All the same he’s quite proud when he makes it to class with a whole five minutes to spare. Making sure that his phone’s on silent, he shoots off another quick text to Harry. Got to class safely and on time! Go me!! What about you, making anything good? Couldn’t sneak me something could you? I’ve been missing my Harry Styles’ goodies. He signs off with another kiss then pockets his phone, taking out all his books and his laptop. Unfortunately his first class is a theoretical one, which seems like the absolute worst way to start a Monday morning.

“Tommo!” He nearly falls out of his seat at his name being called out, and when he looks up he sees -- he’s fairly sure it’s Sam. Sam who is a friend of Lily who is in some of Zayn’s classes. His very tenuous link and the one who was supposed to remember Louis. Well, at least they succeeded in that regard.

“Hey!” He tries to recover from the near fall, grins sheepishly at his acquaintance-hopefully-soon-friend. “You scared me, mate.” Does he sound as awkward as he feels, he wonders? He didn’t think his acting skills would be tested quite so quickly, even if he is a Performing Arts student.

“Sorry,” Sam grins at him, clearly not very repentant. Louis would scowl at him but he doesn’t think that makes for a very good first-not-first impression. “I was just wondering what you were doing here, with, what, four whole minutes to spare. Who are you and what did you do with Louis Tomlinson?” He eyes him suspiciously.

Shit, Louis thinks. Shit shit shit. He didn’t even last, what, a whole minute?

The look on his face must be quite comical, because Sam cracks up. “Relax, I’m just teasing. I’m just not used to not seeing you rush into class at the last minute.” Cheers, Grimshaw. He might have told him that. Though, if Louis is honest with himself, it is rather true to form. “Or without your morning coffee.”

Louis aims for a chuckle, and though it still comes out sort of breathless he thinks he’s doing ok. “Had a shit night,” it’s not exactly a lie. “Woke up on time and couldn’t get back to sleep. Figured I might as well try and impress the teachers by not disrupting class for once.” There. Who says he can’t act? He just needs a moment to adjust, that’s all. Though he can’t explain the lack of coffee.

Sam doesn’t seem suspicious at his explanation, just nods amiably and sits himself down in the seat next to Louis’. “Did you do the reading, then? I meant to, but I had the craziest weekend, man.”

Nothing compared to mine, I’m sure, Louis thinks. He just nods, gesturing wordlessly for him to continue. The soothing sound of Sam’s voice is enough to calm his frazzled nerves, and Louis does his best to hum and ah at the right moments, until their teacher comes in and shushes them. He launches straight into his lesson, no introduction to the topic, and while Louis would usually hate that - and part of him definitely does - he’s rather content to let it all wash over him.

Ten minutes in, he finally starts taking notes, when he realizes everyone else is, and twenty minutes in he checks his phone under the table, trying not to alert anyone as to what he’s doing. There’s a text from Harry, sent just three minutes ago, and Louis is smiling before he’s even opened it.

Hiiiii, it reads. I’m so proud of you :) I made buns! They’re not as good as yours though ;) xxx

Louis has to fight back a snort. Are you coming up with baking puns now? I don’t want naan of that.

:(. I will leave no scone unturned in my quest for the best puns. Just wheat and see. Harry texts back. Louis laments his lack of cool when it comes to Harry. Whereas with anyone else he’d groan and tell them their puns were terrible he’s just beaming at his phone instead.

Still. Stop it, he sends him. I’m in class. Because one of them will have to remember that and be responsible, and once Harry gets going with his puns Louis knows better than to think it’ll be him.

Trouble keeping from laughing out loud at my jokes? :D comes the next reply. Then, in a separate text: Ok, I’ll stop. Louis barely has time to pocket his phone before it buzzes again. Glancing at the teacher - who might as well be talking to an empty class for as much as he’s paying attention right now, Louis is a bit too far away to be sure but he wouldn’t be surprised if his eyes were glazed over and he was just reciting facts without being really present - he unlocks his phone again to see one final message from Harry: I loaf you.

Louis’ best friend is a dork.

*

Once class finally finishes Louis feels a headache pressing just behind his eyes. He’s not sure if that’s a memory coming on this time or if it’s just because of their teacher. Two and a half hours of theory is a lot, and despite the fact that they’d had a fifteen minute break in the middle, Louis feels about a decade older than when he first arrived this morning. He thought Performing Arts was supposed to be fun?

He wants nothing more than to grab his phone and spill his woes to Harry but he knows that he’s got to start getting his shit together, and Sam is looking at him as though he’s expecting Louis to hang out with him. So Louis leaves his phone in his pocket and joins Sam at an off campus coffee place that thankfully has affordable yet decent brew. With a cup of strong black coffee in his hands Louis feels remotely more human - ironic as that might sound. “Man, this class sucks.” He mutters, more to himself than anything, but Sam chuckles.

“You say that every week.”

At least Grimshaw got his character right. It is very much like Louis to bitch about boring classes. “Yeah,” he says vaguely. “Well. It seemed extra bad this week.” He shrugs a shoulder, takes a sip of his coffee even when he knows it’ll likely be too hot. Of course he gets a burnt tongue for his efforts, but right now that first taste of coffee is too good to be bitter about it.

Sam hums. “At least the other classes make up for it. How are you getting on with that writing assignment for Hopkins’ class?”

The writing assignment for Hopkins’ class. Louis needs a moment to try and remember what he’d read about that in the folder Nick had put together. There’d been a few pages that were supposed to be part of it, he thinks, but reading through it he hadn’t been exactly wowed by what had been put onto paper. “I’ve got something on paper, but I might scrap it,” he says honestly. He knows he could just wing it, knows that whatever he hands in won’t matter because it’s not like he’ll stay here long enough for any grades to really count, but he is the one who will have to perform whatever shitfest is written down on that paper. He’d rather have it be something good, thanks.

They spend a while just chatting, and Louis thinks he’s doing fairly well at pretending they have a history. It’s pretty nice, getting to meet new people. There aren’t that many Cupids that come to Heaven, especially not these days when so many diseases have been cured and people are so concerned about safety. That, combined with the fact that apparently thirteen year olds fall in love these days - Louis isn’t sure what he was up to at age thirteen but he sure as hell knows that it wasn’t falling in love - means that over the past decade the amount of Cupids has only grown by a handful. Knowing that there’s a whole world of people - or at the very least a full class of them - to get to know and possibly befriend is both bewildering and exciting.

Not that Louis feels like he can really befriend too many people, not when he already has to focus on so many things. Then there’s the rather sad knowledge that it wouldn’t be entirely genuine when he’s just trying to manipulate people to get his way. Plus, there’s the whole thing about how he’ll only be in their life for a short while. But Louis is a social creature and he does like the prospect of meeting at least a few new people.

“Hey,” he says suddenly, as though something had just occurred to him. He might interrupt Sam in the middle of a story, he’s not entirely sure. Paying attention is difficult when he has to sift through bits of information at the same time. “We should hang out sometime. I mean, outside of class.” He pauses. “I mean, outside of getting coffee outside of class.” He chuckles sheepishly.

There’s a sudden silence that almost worries him, as much as the look on Sam’s face does. “Are you asking me out on a date?” Sam asks, and Louis nearly chokes on his coffee. “I mean, I think you’re a great guy Lou, but, I don’t swing that way. I’m sorry.”

Fuck. Louis wants to run away, he feels so mortified. He brushes some dribbled coffee off his chin with a napkin. Graceful. “That’s, no. I mean. I’m sure you’d be - but I didn’t mean it like that.” It makes him wonder if Sam thinks he’s gay. Does he look gay? Louis has never given much thought to that part of him, because it’s not like he’s ever had the emotions to match. He supposes he could ‘swing that way’. Though swinging a certain way implies movement, implies fluidity, and Louis has no idea how much of that applies to him. He’s never had any need or way to find out. “I just meant. It’d be nice, to have more friends. People that aren’t just from back home. I know you’ve got Lily, and obviously I’ve got Harry-” he thinks he’s safe in saying that, knows that whatever backstory Grimshaw might have given him it’ll always include Harry. “But it’d be cool to get to know more people? Get a group together, go for a couple beers. Maybe have a party?”

Preferably a party which includes Lily and Zayn. But Louis won’t complain if it’s just a couple of people headed out for a night in an area that Zayn and or Liam might possibly be at too. Who says he can’t combine meeting new people with actually getting a job done?

Sam seems relieved - which, hey. Louis is a catch, alright? There’s no need to be looking that pleased by the knowledge that Louis wasn’t hitting on him. “Yea, that sounds cool. We could get some people together this weekend, maybe? Go for a drink.”

Louis nods. He’s not sure whether Zayn is working on Saturday or Sunday this weekend, but he hopes he might catch a glimpse of him, even if he thinks it might be weird. He’s known Zayn was an actual person, obviously, but knowing he’s an actual living breathing person and actually being in physical proximity to that person is just .. weird. Different. A bit scary.

The two of them make tentative plans, where Louis’ main focus is to keep from being too obvious that he wouldn’t mind if Sam invited certain people who could invite certain other people. He thinks Sam is a nice enough bloke on his own, and for as much as he has a job to do, he likes hanging out with him just because too.

At the same time, he’s sort of relieved when Sam cuts short their coffee break, telling him that he’s made plans to meet Lily for lunch. It gives him a chance to text Harry, which sounds rather sad when you think about it, considering Louis has only gone a few hours without him. So Louis doesn’t say it out loud, just waves Sam off and contemplates ordering another coffee before he’s glued back to his phone.

He just about manages to wait until he’s got his new drink before he’s digging his phone from his pocket, texting Harry.

I shouldn’t have told you to stop texting me. That was the most boring lesson of my life. I would rather suffer through three more hours of baking puns than spend another minute in his class. X

Harry doesn’t disappoint. Donut tempt me, he texts back, and Louis is smiling down at his phone again. Shit. Poor baby. Are you still in class now? Because I’ve got a whole tray of baking puns just ready to be made. But only if you truly knead them!

His puns are horrible. Absolutely lame. But Harry knows that. He just enjoys his lame sense of humor, and he enjoys making Louis’ life a little bit less miserable even when he has to resort to shitty puns to do it. Guess I can’t ask for you to come over and give me a hug, can I? Louis types back, debates on erasing it for a moment because it sounds truly needy (or kneady, as Harry would say), but he ends up just sending it as is.

Harry takes a moment to reply, and Louis wonders what he’s doing right now. If he’s outside, on his lunch break, or if he’s in the back, learning everything he can about baking. He’s sure that Harry’s enjoying it. Can just imagine the smile on his face. It’s enough to make him smile as well.

I don’t think I can baguette away with leaving right now. Crumb over to my place after your last class and I’ve got all the hugs for you dough xx

Even when Louis is asking for hugs and being vulnerable Harry still keeps up the puns. He truly is one of a kind. I think you’re running out of puns, love, they’re lacking a bit. Not your best work. Will you bring home something sweet?

That depends, am I picking you up on my way home?? Because in that case, yes, I am bringing home something sweet :)

There’s a warmth that’s spreading through his body at those words, accompanied by a funny tickle in Louis’ stomach that tells him it’s probably time to get some proper food inside of him, rather than just filling his stomach with coffee. Alright curly, enough with the charm. And the puns. I’ll see you after work, yeah? He watches the cursor blink, doesn’t really want to finish their conversation but he doesn’t want to keep Harry from his job. He smirks. Have a good day my lovely pun-pal.

Pocketing his phone, he decides to act on that funny feeling in his stomach, and orders himself something to eat, completely forgetting about the lunch that’s in his bag.

*

Louis ends up letting himself in after class, when Harry’s shift at the bakery isn’t done yet - or at least, Louis’ rather incessant ringing of the doorbell hadn’t yielded any reply, so wherever he is, he’s not home yet. He takes off his shoes and coat and then settles onto the sofa, halfway asleep by the time he can hear the front door being unlocked.

There’s barely a pause before Harry’s voice calls out. “Honey, I’m home!”

It takes Louis a moment to understand how Harry knows he’s here, and he fully blames that on the groggy feeling that always comes from a mid afternoon nap. “In here,” he calls out, his voice sounding raspy and soft enough that Harry could miss it completely. He doesn’t though, because Louis can hear his footsteps come closer, and there’s no shriek at the discovery of a barely awake boy on his couch. “Hi,” Louis murmurs, dragging a hand through his hair and blinking slowly, only just managing to hold back a yawn. Harry’s sofa might be lumpy but something about his apartment always puts Louis at ease. Even when this is a different apartment. It’s still Harry’s. As such it oozes charm and comfort.

“Hi sleeping beauty,” Harry greets him. He’s smiling at him all soft and happy. Louis registers it but he can’t really do more than smile back. He needs a moment to fully wake up. “Wasn’t sure you’d already be here, until I almost got attacked by your vans at the front door.”

Louis had left them sort of haphazardly lying around, which he would say has everything to do with how at home he feels around Harry, but then, Harry is the type of person who can trip over air, so it’s not like Louis’ inability to put his shoes away neatly in any way affects Harry’s coming home. “Oops?” He shrugs, grinning at him, finally pushing himself up into a sitting position. “How was your day?”

Harry takes the newly opened up spot next to Louis, hands him a bag of something that smells greasy and sugary and perfect. Louis contemplates tearing into whatever it is straight away, but he figures he should probably offer some to Harry, or at least get a drink to wash them down with. And it’s probably polite to listen to how his day was, first. He hopes Harry knows what a sacrifice he’s making. “Good,” Harry says, eyeing the bag that Louis is all but clutching to his chest. “It was fun. Messy.”

“As the best kinds of fun are,” Louis nods. Harry hums in agreement.

“How was yours? Your afternoon class any better than the one this morning? You didn’t text me to distract you with more puns.”

Louis snorts. “That’s cause they were getting awful, love,” he teases. It doesn’t disappoint. Harry’s face morphs from an easy smile into a pout in record time.

“Heeey,” he complains softly. Louis snickers, nudges him with his elbow.

“Thanks though. It’s good to know that when I want to literally stab my brain with a fork you come through with something that’s just a tiny bit less bad.”

Harry huffs, reaches out to steal the bag from Louis’ hands. “You don’t deserve my sweetness. You’re a horrible person, Louis Tomlinson. I don’t know why we’re even friends.” He gets up, and Louis calculates how much effort it would be to push himself up off the couch and physically wrestle the bag from Harry’s hands.

Too much, probably. So instead he just blinks at him. Innocent. He’s in Performing Arts. He can totally play innocent. Jutted out bottom lip and slow sweeping eyelashes and all. “Harrrrry,” he starts, knowing that there’s been only a handful of times that Harry has been able to resist him when he turns on the charm. “Don’t be cruel.”

Harry’s not budging, Louis can tell, so he holds back the mischievous smile that is threatening to creep onto his face, and just bats his lashes at him instead. Goes for the big one. “You know I loaf you.”

It’s only a second, maybe two, before Harry’s stern façade cracks and a giggle falls from his lips. “You’re playing dirty,” he accuses Louis, but he sits back down and hands him back the bag. “It’s a good thing I loaf you too.”

This time Louis does dig into the bag, just in case Harry has any change of heart and decides to cruelly take it away from him again. Inside of it are the most delicious donut ball things he’s ever seen in his life, and they taste even more glorious than they look. They’re sugary and cinnamon-y and perfect and Louis really does loaf Harry an awful lot.

He even lets him have a few. Though Harry doesn’t eat as many as Louis expects, but then, he’s spent all day surrounded by pastry and sweet things, he might just be a bit sick of them by now. “These are delicious, H,” he compliments him, giving him a sweet, sugar-lipped smile. “If this is the kind of stuff you’re making on the first day, I’m gonna be weighing 24 stone by the time we get back to Heaven.” He figures they can gain weight now, seeing as they can also get sick. He wonders if that means they can get hangovers, or eat so much that they want to throw up. These donut balls are almost tempting enough to make him want to test that theory.

Harry beams a bit, rests his head on Louis’ shoulder. “I think I might have wanted to be a baker,” he says softly, absently scratching a fingernail over Louis’ thigh. “I came in today and it felt like I was home. I felt like - it seemed familiar, in a weird way. Like this is what I’ve always been meant to be doing.”

Louis hums. Stays quiet for a moment - having another one of the sugary treats, and really, it’s all Harry’s fault if he’s going to be hyped up on sugar later - before shifting, just enough to press his lips to Harry’s hair. It’s there that he voices his question, words slipping through tendrils of soft hair, and he’s almost wishing for them to go unheard. “Does that mean you’re changing your mind about staying here?”

He’s not sure if the fact that Harry doesn’t immediately protest is a good thing. He knows that Harry’s the type to think through his answers but this shouldn’t be something he’d have to think about, is it? It’s a no brainer. Of course Harry hasn’t changed his mind. He’d been so adamant about not even wanting to go down in the first place. Things hadn’t changed that much in such a short time, they couldn’t possibly have.

“I think,” Harry starts slowly, body tensing as though he’s about to pull away from Louis - as though this is a conversation that absolutely requires eye contact. Louis is quite content where he is, actually, thank you very much, so he throws his legs over Harry’s lap and presses his nose against his throat. Harry just huffs but doesn’t try to move away a second time. Instead he starts tracing these slow circles over Louis’ ankle. “I was afraid, before. Of what it would do to me, to come here. Of what it would mean, to remember everything. But I don’t think - I’m not that different, am I?”

Louis can’t protest that. He’s worlds different but also the exact same as he’s always been. “You’re still my Harry,” he says quietly, can tell from the way Harry’s skin is twitching underneath his nose that he’s about to chuckle even before the sound comes out.

“Thanks, Lou,” he gives his ankle a soft squeeze before continuing to trace aimless patterns over his skin. It’s a bit maddening, but not because it’s ticklish. Louis isn’t too sure why it’s bothering him, and anyway, it’s not nearly enough to pull away. “I lived through knowing how I died, which I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do. And there’s still a lot to figure out, and I don’t know if I’m going to ever fully come to terms with everything that’s happened in my past, but, I thought knowing would be bad. But not knowing might be worse?” He feels as though he’s about to shrug, only stops himself so Louis doesn’t get a shoulder knocking against his ear. Thoughtful, his Harry is. “I don’t know. I thought it’d be more scary, I guess.”

Louis can’t exactly relate, considering he’s still only getting bits and pieces of his past life, like jigsaw pieces that he knows will provide him with a picture but for now leaves him clueless. He needs context, though he’s taking what he can get, savours all the little memories of his mum. “So, that’s not a no,” he observes quietly.

“It’s not a yes either,” Harry points out reasonably. “I don’t know, Lou. I’m not - I haven’t changed my mind if you haven’t.”

Louis frowns. “So you’re saying you’d stay if I did but you’d go back if I wanted to? That’s not exactly fair, H.”

Harry does shrug this time, though he’s still careful about it. But Louis is already pulling away, doesn’t know why he’s feeling this weight in his stomach, but the thought of having Harry’s future put squarely in his hands again is a heavy one, one he can’t exactly deal with at the moment when he’s nowhere near figuring anything out. “All I said was that being here isn’t as awful as I thought it’d be,” he sounds calmer than Louis feels, and he’s not sure why that irritates him so much. Why it makes him want to pick a fight.

“That’s not what you said,” he tries to keep from sounding bitter, but he doesn’t quite manage. “You said you hadn’t changed your mind if I hadn’t. That’s not, you can’t put that on me. You did it before and it’s not fair, you said you wouldn’t do that again.” He shifts, gets up from the couch, not sure where he’s gonna go but he can’t stay seated when everything inside of him feels in sudden turmoil. “I can’t be responsible for what you do, Harry. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not the one with all the answers. You’ve figured out what happened in your past, congratulations, but I haven’t. I keep having these random dreams that could be memories or could just be made up, and sometimes I feel like my heart is about to race out of my chest but I still have no idea what the fuck is going on and it’s not right that you’re putting this all on me.” He’s working his way up to a panic attack, feels as though he’s about to hyperventilate, and he can feel that headache press against his temples again. Not now, he thinks desperately. He can’t deal with the heartache of a memory right now. Not when Harry’s looking at him as though he’s fragile, as though he feels sorry for him.

“Lou..”

He shakes his head. “I can’t.” He doesn’t know what Harry’s going to ask of him now, but whatever it is, he can’t deal with the pressure. Not when he already feels as though he’s about to implode. “I have - I need to be alone.”

He’s vividly reminded of last time he stormed out on him, on how he’d felt so guilty that he broke into Harry’s apartment to make him pancakes. But that time he actually did something wrong, he yelled at Harry without telling him what had upset him. He figures this is progress, because at least now he’s addressing what’s making him feel this way, is expressing just how pressured and cornered Harry is making him feel. Still, he pauses on his way out the door. “I’m not mad at you,” he feels as though Harry needs to hear that. “I’m not, this isn’t, I don’t even really blame you, for what you said. But it’s still not fair, and it’s freaking me out, and right now I just need to be alone for a bit so I can decompress, or whatever.” He doesn’t look at Harry, knows he’ll be right back in his arms if he does. And while his first instinct is always to give Harry what he needs he knows it can’t always come at his own expense. “So. I’m not mad, I love you, and I’ll text you when I get home so you won’t have to worry about whether or not I got back safely. Ok?” As mad as he is - and he isn’t lying when he says he isn’t mad at Harry, he’s just angry about everything right now, about Harry putting him in this position, yes, but that’s not really on Harry either - he knows Harry needs that reassurance, and he’s always going to give it to him.

Because that’s what friends do.

And because Harry is Louis’ best friend he lets him go.

Chapter Text

Are you ok?

Lou I’m sorry.

Louis can you please answer my texts. Please?

I’m sorry. I know you said you needed time to be alone, but I miss you and I’m worried about you. Please at least let me know you’re okay.

Louis sighs as he reads through the messages, knowing that Harry is probably frantic right about now. He hasn’t sent him anything in the last few hours, but even when Harry had been at the bakery he’d texted him all throughout Tuesday, enough to let Louis know that he’s thinking about him. Which is sweet, but Louis wasn’t lying when he said he needed time. He understands Harry’s need to be reassured, which is why he’d let him know the moment he had gotten home, just because he didn’t want his best friend to fall apart at the thought of something having happened. Especially since Louis knows Harry would assume it was his fault. But he hadn’t texted him back since then, and he figures Harry is probably torn between feeling guilty at causing a fight and feeling angry that Louis is making him worry. Which in turn makes Louis feel guilty for being such a shitty friend, but he had asked Harry to give him some time alone.

For the first time he wonders if their codependence is perhaps a bad thing. Unhealthy. He shouldn’t be worrying about Harry when that means he doesn’t have the time or right frame of mind to be worrying about himself. He shouldn’t have to think about who to put first. And while he supposes that it’s not that bad to put Harry first as long as Harry puts him first he doesn’t think it always works that way. Not when Harry isn’t putting him first. Which is an awful thing to have to say, but the fact that there’s four messages from Harry in his inbox when Louis had requested some space does point in that direction. It’s not that Harry’s selfish, really. He just wants to know that Louis is okay. But Louis isn’t sure that he is okay, is the thing, and as much as he doesn’t want to lie to Harry he also doesn’t want to tell him the truth and make his best friend feel even worse. It’s why the messages have gone unanswered, why he’s in bed now, two a.m. on what is technically Wednesday morning, rereading them and wondering for the umpteenth time what he can say. He feels bad about not answering, but what else is he supposed to do when no answer is good enough to put the situation to rest?

I’m getting there, he types, stares at the words as they appear on his screen. They seem to mock him, sound so confident when he is anything but. He doesn’t know how far from okay he is or how long it’ll take him to get there. He thought he knew who he was, once upon a time. Even with no knowledge of his past he felt like he had a grip on who he was as a person, but now, on earth, he finds that even the most basic truths are called into question. Maybe if his memories were coming in quicker he’d have more to go on, but it’s like this vague nagging feeling in the back of his head, that he’s supposed to remember things but the harder he tries the more the memories slip through his fingers, like tendrils of smoke. He’s had a headache all throughout Tuesday, enough to make him contemplate staying home, but since that’s not really going to do him any favours in the long run he had forced himself to attend class. It’d been a distraction, but the headache had pressed ever more insistent against his temples.

He’s not sure who he is, or what he wants, what he should want, and it’s not fair that he feels so pressured to figure it all out. He understands Harry’s desire to leave the decision to him, and maybe Louis will end up feeling the same, because they’ve always been like that. It’s always been the two of them, the dream team, and the thought of breaking that pact between them is unthinkable. But the thought of making Harry sacrifice something he wants just so Louis can be happy is also not something he can imagine himself doing. So where does that leave him? Doing whatever Harry wants because it’s the easy way out? Louis knows himself well enough to know that ultimately he’d end up resenting him, and that’s just something he’ll never allow to happen.

It leaves him with so many questions and no answers. Not even to the simple question of whether or not Louis is okay.

Ultimately, he erases the words he’s just written, stares at the blinking cursor for a moment, wondering if Harry’s awake like he is. He’s not sure whether he hopes for him to sleep peacefully or not. He wishes he could head over there, cuddle into him, reclaim that safe space that Harry’s arms have always provided.

Why not?

Louis knows about a million reasons why not, but none of them are enough to stop him from pulling up Harry’s contact and pressing the call button on his phone. It only rings a few times before Harry picks up, and when he does Louis can tell by the sound of his voice that his friend is having a sleepless night too.

“I don’t want to talk,” is the first thing Louis says.

There’s an almost painfully heavy pause, in which Louis can hear Harry swallow. “Okay,” is what he finally says, cautious.

Louis doesn’t know what else to say, but he knows that he can’t hang up the phone, has to ask for what he wants. Harry’s his best friend but he can’t read his mind. As much as Louis would want him to, since he doesn’t know how be vulnerable when things are this strange between them. “Can I come over? I just, I can’t sleep and I hate when things aren’t right between us, and I know I said I needed space but I don’t think that’s true. I think I just need to not talk about this. But I’m sad and I’m scared and I really want my best friend. So can I come over and can you hold me?”

He feels so vulnerable, almost wants to take it back, especially when he can hear the clock tick in his bedroom. The second hand of the clock is relentless in its movement, separating Louis’ comment from Harry’s reply. If and when it comes.

“Harry?”

The way Harry exhales cuts straight through Louis, because - is he crying?

“Oh love.” Louis breathes out. He wishes he could fly over there, could hold him now. Not because he’s selfish and he needs comfort, but because Harry’s hurting and fuck what he said about self preservation and putting himself first. That goes out the window when Harry’s crying.

“Please,” Harry says quietly, and it sounds so subdued that Louis almost hates himself for a moment. He doesn’t fully get there though, because Harry lets out this self deprecating chuckle. “I don’t know why I’m such a mess. I’m such a baby, one little fight with my best friend and I’m falling apart.”

Louis doesn’t argue that they hadn’t really had a fight, that he hadn’t been mad at Harry. He thinks Harry knows that. “I’ve been a sad, moping mess all day, so I’m not much better,” he says lightly, hearing another raspy chuckle in reply. Harry sounds a little bit less like he’s crying, so Louis holds onto that. “Plus, y’know, I’m calling you at two in the morning so I can come over for a bit of a cuddle. Because apparently I’m shit at sleeping alone, and also, Nick is an ass for not letting us room.” It’d be so much easier to just pad over to Harry’s room in his pajamas. Now he has to put actual clothes on, or risk freezing his ass off on the way over. Not that it’s that cold, but Louis is used to summer only. Summer and sun and warmth. England in September is not exactly like Heaven.

“Alright, you’re the biggest baby,” Harry concedes. He sniffs. “I’d really like it if you came over.”

“No talking,” Louis repeats. He knows that they’re going to have a conversation about this. But not right now. Not when he’s tired and achy and he just wants to sleep in Harry’s arms for as long as he’s allowed. They can do that, right? Have a little reprieve from all their responsibilities? Just go back to being Louis and Harry, the way they used to be. Maybe if they can do that he won’t feel so lost, won’t feel like he doesn’t know who he is anymore. As long as he’s Harry’s Louis he has something to hold onto. Someone to (aspire to) be.

“No talking,” Harry confirms. “Just cuddles.”

“Sounds perfect.” Louis smiles for the first time in what feels like forever. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Don’t fall asleep.”

“Don’t worry. I’m just as pathetic as you are,” Harry quips. “Haven’t slept a wink all last night. Just kept waiting for you to text me back, or to tell me that you never wanted to see me again because I was such an asshole.”

Louis frowns. “Harry.”

“I know,” he says hurriedly. “I know. Not talking about it. I won’t say anything else. Just, hurry here, yeah? It’s easier not to worry when you’re here.”

“I will.” Louis promises him. “And Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Harry’s voice trembles. “I love you too.”

*

Since it’s arse o’clock in the morning the buses aren’t running, and Louis doesn’t really feel like hailing a cab, isn’t sure how he’s supposed to be doing that when he can’t see any on the street. He only belatedly realizes that he could probably look up a company online, but by that point he’s already two blocks away from his apartment, and he figures he’ll be there quicker if he keeps walking than if he calls up a cab and has to wait for it to come to wherever he is. He hurries though, partially because he promised Harry and partially because he’s feeling a little out of sorts, both emotionally and in the sense that he isn’t used to being outside in the dark in an unfamiliar city.

Nothing out of the ordinary happens, but still Louis’ heart is racing by the time he climbs up the stairs to Harry’s apartment. He feels a faint ache in his jaws but that might be because he’s been grinding his teeth subconsciously, both to fight off the frustration of his legs not being able to carry him any faster and the fact that part of him isn’t sure what he’s hoping to find in Harry’s arms. Is it even possible for him to find peace at this moment in time? Or is a reprieve the best he can hope for? And is that fair to Harry?

It doesn’t stop him from knocking on Harry’s door, and by the speed with which it’s opened Harry’s been waiting for him in the hallway. Louis stumbles inside, all gracefulness abandoned hours ago, and allows himself to fall into Harry’s arms. Harry’s welcoming arms, that immediately circle around him, holding him so tight that Louis thinks he should remind him about the actual need to breathe. He doesn’t, just worms his hands under Harry’s sweater, figuring there’s pajamas underneath but instead he touches bare skin. Harry hisses but doesn’t recoil, so Louis takes that as an invitation to press closer.

“Hi,” Louis whispers, face pressed against the coarse fabric separating his skin from Harry’s chest. “Bradford’s kinda scary by night, did you know?” He might sound childish but he doesn’t care. Louis is used to knowing everyone, knowing every sound because every day is the same in Heaven, at least to a degree. There’s always the same people and always the same routine. People are predictable. Here he can’t be sure if the sound he heard in a nearby alley is just a stray cat or someone waiting to mug or murder him.

“You should’ve taken a cab,” Harry admonishes him softly. Then: “Are you in your pajamas?”

Louis doesn’t bother moving away to let Harry verify that yes, he is wearing pajamas. He’s put shoes on, and a coat, obviously, but other than that he hadn’t bothered to get dressed. He probably should have, seeing as he’s got class in the morning and Harry’s clothes are undoubtedly too big for him, but he’d been focused on one thing only. Getting to Harry’s apartment as soon as possible. “Didn’t wanna waste time,” he mumbles, and Harry’s arms tighten around him in response.

“Do you want tea?”

Harry’s such a host, it almost makes Louis smile. He shakes his head instead. “Just bed.” Where he couldn’t sleep before no matter how comfortable his surroundings, he thinks he could probably fall asleep right where he is, faceplanted against Harry’s chest. There’s something about being near him that just instinctively makes Louis’ body relax.

Harry hums something that Louis assumes is his agreement, because the next thing he knows he’s getting tugged towards the bedroom. Louis knows it’d be a lot easier and faster if he opened his eyes and stopped clinging to Harry but that’s not an option right now. So he allows Harry to maneuver him through the apartment, trusting in him to take the lead. He’s soon rewarded for that trust with a soft bed and warm hands that push his coat off his shoulders and wrap him up in an embrace the moment he’s toed off his shoes and crawled under the covers.

Louis thinks about shifting just enough to rest his head on Harry’s chest but that seems like too much effort. So he just falls asleep instead, Harry’s body a warm and solid presence at his back.

*

“Lou,” it’s faint, and for a moment even a bit unfamiliar, the voice calling out to him. Or, not unfamiliar, per say, but wrong. The voice doesn’t belong with the situation, with what’s happening right now. He wants to turn around, search out its owner, but he doesn’t want to look away from his mum. She’s standing in the doorway, sad smile on her face, her hands on the shoulders of two identical looking girls. “Come on, darlings, he needs to rest, alright?” she says softly, and Louis wants to tell her no he doesn’t, he just needs her to stay, but when he tries there’s a pain that sparks up so bright he can barely breathe. Mum, he wants to tell her, begs her with his eyes, and she comes closer again, rests a blessedly cool hand on his forehead.

“Louis.”

He frowns, wants to shush Harry because Harry shouldn’t be here. Wherever ‘here’ is. It’s white and bright and everyone looks grave so he assumes it’s a hospital. His mum is looking at him, and he tries again to say something, but all that comes out is a whimper and some tears. She makes this soft, soothing noise that Louis has never heard before in his life but immediately recognizes, because it’s a mum noise. A noise that says everything she can’t put into words.

“Just rest, darling, we’ll be back tomorrow, okay?” He wants to beg her, wants to tell her about the pain and the way his heart is racing and the all encompassing fear that there won’t be a tomorrow. He can’t make a sound, not even give sound to his frustration with a scream.

“Louis!” It’s louder now, too loud, and his mum disappears, the scene disappears, like it’s all going up in smoke and this time when Louis opens his eyes there’s no brightly lit hospital room. There’s just darkness, only broken by the moon shining through thin curtains. That, and the shape he recognizes as Harry, inches from his face.

This time his jaws don’t protest when he tries to open them. “Hey,” it’s quiet, voice a bit hoarse, and it hurts a bit when he swallows. He frowns. Harry looks worried, the way his mum had. “What’s wrong?” He reaches for him, traces his furrowed brow with a fingertip. It’s usually enough to make his features shift into a smile, but not this time. “What happened?”

“You had a nightmare.” Harry says quietly, and Louis frowns again. A nightmare. Was that what it was? It hadn’t felt like a nightmare. Even if he’d been unable to move, to speak, it had been a sweet dream in the sense that it gave him something he’d missed so terribly. The memory of his mum’s presence, the knowledge of what his twin sisters had looked like. He’s assuming they’re Phoebe and Daisy, as he remembers a previous dream where his mum had placed a baby in his arms and told him that Lottie was inside. It makes him wonder why Lottie and Fizzy hadn’t been with them at the hospital. Had he been that sick that they weren’t all allowed to come and visit at the same time?

“It was my mum,” he says quietly, when he realizes Harry’s been looking at him. “I was at the hospital.”

“You were screaming,” Harry whispers, and it’s only then that Louis realizes that Harry’s not only wide eyed, he’s also got lips that are bitten red with worry, and a slight sheen to his eyelashes. “I tried to wake you but you wouldn’t wake up. You just screamed and you felt so tense and I-”

Louis shifts, wraps Harry up in a hug. “I’m alright now,” he assures him, rubbing a hand slowly up and down Harry’s spine. “Don’t worry, love. I’m okay.”

Even as Harry nods and hides his face against his throat, Louis can’t help but wonder, is he?

*

They fall into an uneasy sleep eventually, Louis’ heart still feeling like it’s beating just a tad too fast, but even with Harry’s head on his chest it won’t settle. Harry doesn’t seem to notice that anything’s out of the ordinary though, so perhaps it’s just Louis’ imagination, this frustration that makes his heartbeat echo and makes it sound like it’s going double its mellow pace. He cards his fingers through Harry’s hair, anchors himself to what he can feel and hear and see. To things he knows are real. His last thought before he falls asleep is a desperate reminder to himself: I’ll be okay, as long as Harry’s here. He’d never let anything happen to me.

When Louis wakes up it’s to slight twitches in his neck and shoulders, but he attributes that to having slept with Harry in his arms, in a bed that’s not as comfortable as his own. He’s still got a headache but by now that’s almost familiar, so after a quick breakfast and a hug that’s longer than it should be, they both go their separate ways. That is to say, Louis walks Harry to work, saying goodbye only when he’s seen him go in and be greeted happily by his co-workers. It makes him smile as much as it makes him wistful, knowing Harry’s settled in so well.

He takes the bus home, showers, which helps him feel more awake though it does nothing for the ache and occasional spasms he feels in his neck and back. He feels a bit as though he’s being pulled backwards at times, but he supposes becoming human comes with all kinds of discomforts that he’s not used to. At least there aren’t any flashbacks or memories, and Louis has to admit that for as much as he wants to find out what happened he’s glad that they only happen when he’s asleep. He doesn’t think it’d be a great way to make friends if he ended up screaming in class the way he’d apparently done in Harry’s apartment.

Freshly showered and shaven, Louis makes his way to school, giving Sam a friendly wave when he passes him in the hallway, chatting to a girl Louis knows from his folder is Lily, the girl in Zayn’s classes. He’s got just enough time to get himself a coffee from the cafeteria before they’re due in class, and it’s not long before Sam joins him.

“Morning,” he greets him, smiling. Louis smiles back, despite the still faint ache in his jaw. “I talked to Lily earlier. She’s game for hanging out if you are. Said she knew a few people too, if you’re still interested.”

Is he ever. Louis nods enthusiastically, regrets it when it makes his neck twinge in a way that he finds hard to ignore. But he doesn’t want Sam thinking he’s not genuinely keen, so he nods again. “Definitely. What’s the plan? We could do a few pints at a bar. Maybe shoot some pool or something?” He’s never played pool, not that he can remember, but from what he’s seen it’s something that kids these days are still into, and it might be a nice, casual way to interact. Though there’s only two people playing at a time, generally speaking, so maybe something else? He doesn’t want to suggest a movie though, not when the whole purpose of the night is to meet and talk to people. Hopefully Zayn.

“Sounds good. I’ll ask her who she’s planning on inviting, if they’ve got any ideas. Are you bringing anyone?”

There’s only one person Louis can bring. “Definitely. Harry’s still sort of new here, just like me, but maybe he’ll bring some other people if that’s cool?” It’s a big maybe, even if Sam says it’s fine, because the only person Louis can think Harry would want to bring is Liam, and the two of them haven’t even met. Which is sort of Louis’ fault, because he’s spent most of Harry’s free time at his apartment, keeping him from going to the gym and casually inserting himself into Liam’s life.

So that’s their plans for the weekend semi sorted - and Louis is all too aware of how it’s technically weekend for him now, at least, it is up in Heaven. He wonders what that means for Nick and Niall. They aren’t monitoring them, so if something goes wrong they’re on their own. And what will they do? It’s not that Louis fancies himself irreplaceable or thinks that Niall can’t function without him, it’s not like they’ve been hanging out every weekend, but still. He wonders if Niall misses him as much as Louis misses him. No matter how busy he’s been, there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about him, doesn’t wish for him to be here. Whereas Harry never fails to calm Louis’ nerves Niall never fails to make him smile.

Shaking off the wistful thoughts, he focuses on their class, counting down the days until he actually gets to - hopefully anyway - meet Zayn.

Rather than heading towards Harry’s apartment after school he texts him, letting him know about the party on Saturday and asking him if he wants to come. Maybe you could go to the gym and see if you can’t get to know Liam a little bit? He doesn’t mean for it to sound like he’s telling him what to do, but he’s trying to stay aware of their purpose here, and to give himself an excuse not to head over to Harry’s place and stay plastered to his side at all times.

It helps, as much as it doesn’t, that he’s not feeling the best. All throughout the day he’s had these random muscle spasms, and by the time he gets home he’s glad to lay down on his bed. He contemplates taking a painkiller but it’s not quite that bad, and hopefully with a short nap it’ll all sort itself out.

(Or, if not, at least when he’s asleep he gets the chance to see his family again.)

He’s just about to drift off when his phone chimes with a text from Harry, and Louis blinks bleary eyes open, squints just enough to be able to read his message. Don’t worry, I won’t let you down, is all it says, and Louis frowns at the text, wants to tell him that he’s not, regardless of what happens, but he’s not eloquent enough right now to formulate a reply that’ll be enough to reassure him. He thinks, idly, that they maybe should’ve talked last night, as much as he hadn’t wanted to at the time.

Instead he texts back you never do, attaches a smiley face and an x, and then promptly falls asleep, phone still in hand.

*

There aren’t any dreams or memories this time, but Louis wakes up much like he’d done a few nights ago. Except worse. Because this time it isn’t just his jaw that feels locked and his muscles that feel on fire, it’s to find himself practically arching off the bed, like his back is playing the floor is lava but hasn’t sent along the message to his head or feet. His heart is racing and he can’t breathe, struggles to stay calm and not panic but he’s locked inside of his own body so that’s pretty damn futile. Especially when he can’t even breathe in and out at a steady pace and focus on that. His brain latches onto the one thing that has ever managed to keep him calm. Harry. He thinks of his curls and his smile and his smell, and it doesn’t do one bit to relax his body but at least it keeps his brain from fully frying inside of his head. Whenever his thoughts stray he brings them back. The way he’d fall over when trying to play footie. The way his hands had felt last night when they’d pushed the jacket off his shoulders. How he’s always snoring, but not loud enough to be annoying, just softly, in a way that’s almost adorable. Louis thinks of his eyes, sometimes green like the sea and other times darker, like leaves in a forest. And he knows eyes can’t change colour but he swears that Harry’s do, that it’s not just a trick of the light or how he feels about people.

He thinks of his mother, too. Of what kind of person she was, from the little he’s remembered of her so far. He thinks of his sisters, wonders if he’ll remember his father or his stepfather. Wonders if they would’ve liked Harry, if they could’ve met him. Slowly, bit by bit, his muscles relax, until he finally collapses onto the bed, breathing harshly, sweat covering his skin.

“What the fuck.” He says it out loud, glad to find that his voice is working again, that his jaw isn’t forcing his mouth shut any longer. “What the fuck.” He wants to scream, yell at Nick even though he knows he’s not watching and none of this is his fault. He just wants someone to tell him what is going on and if it’s going to stop. He also wants a hug. Not from Nick, preferably, but honestly, anyone would do at this point in time.

He’s stubborn though, always has been, so rather than texting Harry and telling him he shouldn’t go to the gym, he should come over and coddle Louis instead, he just rolls over and goes the fuck back to sleep. With his arms around a pillow.

Of course, since he’s slept all of the afternoon, by the time it’s midnight Louis is wide awake. And, quite possibly a mistake, googling his symptoms. It’s not that he’s scared that he’s going to die - he can’t die, not again - but if he’s right and this is how he did die, then he’s going to want to know what he’s in for.

Minutes later he’s got multiple tabs open, and about thirteen diagnoses that all more or less seem to fit his symptoms. They range from relatively harmless (which, sure, great, but it doesn’t really feel harmless to be locked inside your body) to potentially life threatening, and Louis has no possible way of eliminating any of them until more symptoms decide to pop up. Great. Not only is he not going to know what’s wrong with him, he doesn’t even know how bad it’s going to be, or how long it’ll be before it stops. He assumes that it will once he fully remembers the circumstances surrounding his death, but what if he’s wrong? What if he’s going to spend his entire time on earth feeling like a time bomb that could go off any minute? How on earth is he supposed to do his job when he can’t even trust his own body to behave?

Harry hasn’t texted him, which perhaps means he hasn’t gone to the gym, or, more likely, that he did but Liam wasn’t there. He hopes that Liam’s ok, hates that they still don’t know what had caused him to run off that morning and if it was something that was still going on in his life.

Closing the tabs on his phone, he pulls up his messaging program, finds that Harry’s last been online only a few minutes ago. He contemplates calling him, decides against that. Days at the bakery start early, he doesn’t want to wake him if he’s just drifted off into sleep.

Sweet dreams, he types, brushing his thumb over Harry’s display picture. He ends up deleting the text, but stares at the picture until his eyelids grow heavy.

*

He wakes up to a text from Harry. Technically, he wakes up much the same way as he’d done yesterday afternoon, with muscle cramps and a lack of oxygen, but once that subsides and Louis is trying to keep himself from freaking out, he wakes up to a text from Harry. He’s grateful, to have something to focus on, and spends a few minutes just staring at his lovely face again, before opening up the message.

Good morning! it starts. Louis thinks that’s debatable. It’s certainly better now that he’s not struggling to breathe. Didn’t see Liam in the gym last night. Well. Sort of. I saw him head into the gym the moment I came out of the shower. Figured accosting him naked would probably not endear him to me. Better luck next time I hope! How’s your night been? Any more memories? Hope you have a good Thursday x

Liam would probably enjoy the visual at least somewhat, Louis thinks, considering Harry is objectively beautiful and Liam’s not entirely straight. He’s also quite well endowed - not that Louis has been looking. It’s just.. You can only be friends - cuddly friends who sometimes spend the night asleep in the same bed - for so long before learning the size of their package.

Still, it’s probably for the best that Harry didn’t introduce himself to Liam out of the blue and naked. He can only imagine how frustrated Harry is though, to be so close but not manage to make progress.

At least you know what time he heads in :) he replies, trying to be supportive. Plus, he might’ve been too intimidated if you had approached him. I know what you look like shirtless and wet. You might’ve given him a heart attack. Or spoiled him for Zayn. Can’t risk that. Better bundle up before you speak to him! Only show him your eyes, for safety reasons of course.

The reply doesn’t take long, though it takes Louis a bit to read it, and by the time he does he’s freshly showered and waiting for his coffee to cool down. Are you saying my eyes aren’t pretty :(

Of course Harry would take that out of everything Louis typed. He snorts, sips his drink even when it’s too hot. The prettiest. But Liam might think you’re trying to mug him if you cover up completely. Don’t think that’d be the greatest start to your friendship.

It’d be a bit funny if it were anyone but Harry. But Liam’s pretty strong and Louis wouldn’t be surprised if he was the type to do something as reckless as punch any potential muggers. Plus, I’m rather fond of your pretty face. Just protecting those angelic features.

He’s on his way out the door, ready for his fourth day of class, when Harry replies. It eases something in Louis’ chest, tension he didn’t know he was feeling nor can explain dissipating. :) you always know how to cheer me up. You’re the best Lou.

*

The rest of the week is rather uneventful, on Louis’ side. That is to say, he’s getting used to waking up feeling as though he can’t breathe and like his body isn’t under his control. Sadly he’s getting nowhere with either his research or the memories, because although he’s had a few more snippets, he doesn’t really make any progress. It’s more of the same. His family, bright white lights, the worry on their face, the pressure he feels to smile and reassure them even when he knows he can’t. He’s glad for the chance to see his family, knowing it’s the only way that he can, likely ever, but it is frustrating to not know what’s wrong and if he’ll ever remember enough to not feel dread every time he closes his eyes.

Harry’s made some progress, though, which at least makes one of them. He’s managed to meet Liam in the gym, and although it hadn’t immediately sparked up a friendship and Harry hadn’t felt comfortable inviting him to the Saturday group hangout Louis is taking him to, they’d at least talked a little. It didn’t go beyond superficial chitchat, but they’ve seen each other twice now, once on Thursday night and then again on Saturday morning, and it’s a start, at least. Now, Harry can head in and nod his hello to Liam, and they can chat a bit while they’re at nearby machines, or whatever they do in the gym. Louis doesn’t want to think about it. Just the thought of Harry all sweaty and red faced makes him exhausted.

Rather than pushing for something with Zayn Louis had decided to leave it be for a while, hoping that Fate will be kind (and considering Fates are real and Niall is one, he knows that they’re kind. He also knows they don’t work to bring people together but, figure of speech and all that) and make Zayn go to the party. He’s been planning all day what to do if that happens, knows he can’t afford to get sidetracked by Harry, which is a lot harder than it sounds. It’s very much not like Louis to not pay attention to Harry, and considering they’ll be at a party where Harry doesn’t know anyone besides Louis it’s going to be difficult to keep himself from spending all his time making sure Harry has a good time.

Especially since they haven’t seen each other for a few days. Which is weird and not at all like them. But Harry had spent time in the gym and Louis can’t be annoyed about that when that is exactly where he should be, where Louis had told him to be. And Louis - well, honestly, he’s been at home, when he hasn’t been in class. Doing homework and generally feeling exhausted from the horrid games his body likes to play. It’s not exactly made him want to be around Harry, knowing he’d only be worried. At the same time it’s made him want to be around Harry even more than usual.

They still haven’t talked either. Which shouldn’t be such a big deal, because they’ve certainly communicated enough, but Louis doesn’t want Harry thinking that he hasn’t come over because he’s been avoiding the conversation. They both know that Louis doesn’t like fighting, at least, not fighting with Harry, but he just honestly hadn’t felt up to dealing with the whole situation. Not when his sleep hasn’t been the least bit rejuvenating, when the bags underneath his eyes should come with a brand label at this point.

He knows he can’t avoid it forever though. For one, they’ll be at the same party tonight - party is a big word, they’re going to meet up a couple of people for drinks and see where the night takes them - and there’s also the fact that Louis promised to pick him up. Early enough that Harry would cook for them. Louis knows Harry well enough to know that he’s probably spent most of his afternoon in the kitchen, and while he’s looking forward to the food he’s not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of sitting across him at the dining room table.

Need me to bring anything? He texts Harry, more out of habit and politeness than anything else, considering he’s talked to Harry all afternoon and he’s five minutes from actually going over there. As he’s waiting for a reply he checks his coat for his bus pass, grabs his keys and makes sure he’s got enough money in his wallet. Nick had set them up nicely, he has to admit, though Louis isn’t sure where the money is coming from, what bank account he’s taking it out of. Maybe it’s coming out of his own, back in Heaven, so he’s making sure not to overspend. He wonders if Harry has changed in that regard. If he doesn’t care anymore, now that he doesn’t hate earth the way he’d expected to.

He shakes off the thought, checks his phone, smiling when Harry’s replied. Nah, just your usual sweetness xx. Louis breathes in and out deeply, nods at his phone. He can do this. He can be sweet and happy and all those things that Harry loves about him. There’s no reason to feel worried, or scared. Even if the conversation that they need to have might be difficult he knows there’s enough love between them to bridge even the biggest gaps in opinion. And he could use a cuddle.

Be right there then. He texts him back, brushing his finger over the two kisses that Harry had sent. It makes him smile, seeing them, even when they’re not anything new. It’s just, who knew that something as silly as two x-es could make him feel so much better?

Those two kisses are nothing compared to Harry’s hugs, Louis realizes all over again - when did he forget? - when the first thing Harry does upon seeing him is scooping him up in a big Harry Styles™ hug. Louis sinks into it gratefully, smells Harry’s grapefruit wash and his off brand laundry detergent. “Hi,” he mumbles, muffled against his shoulder. He thinks if he closes his eyes right now he might not ever want to move.

“You look like you haven’t been sleeping,” Harry sounds concerned, and Louis just pinches his side, where his love handles are. He can’t quite remember a time where Harry was insecure about them, but he knows that it happened. Just in a dim, dim past, and suddenly that makes him wonder if rather than remembering his life on earth he’ll end up forgetting about his life in Heaven. It makes his hands gentle on Harry’s skin, slip around his waist to knit together at his back.

“Rude,” he doesn’t bother pulling away from his shirt until he thinks breathing is absolutely essential. “I don’t look that bad.” It’s a lie, and he doesn’t need Harry’s frowning eyebrows to tell him he’s caught on.

“You look as though you’re dy- oh.” Harry bites his lip, as though that’ll help in taking the words back. “Oh.” He says again, holding Louis at arm distance and checking him over. He nods to himself. “Still?”

For some stupid reason that makes Louis want to cry. He is tired. “Yeah,” he sighs, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes. “It’s been - bits and pieces, really. More of the, y’know. Waking up feeling like someone’s pulling the strings on my body.”

Harry frowns deeper. Louis didn’t think his eyebrows could move that much. It’s impressive, really. “And the screaming?”

He shrugs. “Don’t know. I live alone. Haven’t had any neighbours banging on my walls, so, maybe not.” Maybe he couldn’t scream, because his jaw was locked tight. Louis doesn’t want to say that though. Harry’s eyebrows might actually migrate off his face if he does.

“You wanna stay here tonight?” Harry actually sounds hopeful, like babysitting him is a good thing. Louis wishes it was just because Harry’s missed him. “I mean, I’m closer to the pubs anyway. And we’re going out, might be late. Buses might not be running anymore.”

Louis can’t help but chuckle a bit. “You didn’t have to sell me on it, Haz.” He pinches him again, for good measure. Smiles softly, his heart feeling as though it’s trying to grow in size. He loves this boy. This idiot with his floofy hair and his huge heart and his silly shirts, this literal angel that’s happiest when he can take care of someone. Louis is so very lucky. “I’d be happy to. It’s you that’s going to regret it, when I’m kicking you in your sleep or screaming in your ear.”

Harry shrugs. “It’s a price I’m happy to pay.”

“Sap.”

*

Louis knows better than to get his hopes up that Zayn will actually be there, let alone that they’ll run into Liam. But he’s still a little disappointed when he shows up at the bar he’d agreed to meet Sam at and it’s only him and two other guys. Lily isn’t even there, and Louis is so exhausted that part of him contemplates just turning back around and going home. He doesn’t want to waste a night he could spend cuddling up with Harry, even if he knows better. It’s just the fatigue talking, he knows.

He tries his best to plaster a smile onto his face as he comes up to meet Sam, gives him a hug before stepping back to introduce Harry. “This is my best mate, from back home,” he smiles at Harry, gestures towards Sam. “Sam. My saving grace in class.”

Sam snorts. “It’s nice to meet you, Harry. These are my friends, Eric and Mike. There’ll be a few more people later on, but for now it’s just the five of us. Lily said she’d join later, her job was running late. She might bring a couple more people.”

Louis nods, grins. He reminds himself that even if Zayn doesn’t show, Liam might still be in town somewhere, considering it’s Saturday night and his roommates definitely enjoy going out. They might get Liam to come with them, if he’s in a better state than he’d been last time Louis had looked at him. Harry had said he seemed alright, but Louis hadn’t exactly expected Liam to let everything out to a complete stranger. For as much as they know Liam, Liam doesn’t know them. Louis is going to have to be conscious of that, on the off chance he does run into him tonight. A few beers in him and he might just forget, wave hello.

With his belly still full from a nice dinner, Louis happily orders a pint at the bar they’ve chosen to meet at. It’s calm for now, just a few other groups talking, and since there’s still a headache pressing behind his eyes, Louis is grateful for it. He’s also grateful for the company, because - not that he’d expected anything else from Sam - Eric and Mike are great guys. They’re up for a bit of banter, and everything is just, chill. If Louis doesn’t think too hard he can almost forget that he’s here to do a job. By the way that Harry is tense next to him he doesn’t think Harry has forgotten though, nor will be able to. So Louis gently digs an elbow into his side when the others aren’t paying attention, quirks an eyebrow. “You ok?” He mouths, and Harry’s frowny face turns into a smile, his fingers brushing over the back of Louis’ neck in a way that makes him shiver.

“‘s weird,” he mumbles, ducking his head and practically whispering into Louis’ ear. “Seeing you with other people. I forgot, how charming you could be.”

Louis isn’t sure if he’s meant to take that as an insult or not. He just takes a sip of his beer and leans his shoulder against Harry’s. It results in Harry wrapping an arm around his shoulders, which is nice enough that Louis just melts into it.

There’s a lull in the conversation that Louis doesn’t pick up on until Eric scrapes his throat and looks at them. “So,” he starts, and there’s a hesitance in his voice that makes Louis straighten up a bit. “What’s the deal with - are you two ..?”

Oh. Louis bites his lip, doesn’t want to laugh when he thinks that might offend Harry. It’s not that the idea of being with Harry, being Harry’s, is laughable, but it’s just. Weird. He knows that they’re close, and affectionate, but he’s used to everyone being used to it by now. He should’ve realized how it might look to outsiders.

He looks up, meets Harry’s eyes. They’re dark and a bit unreadable, but Louis swears he can still see the spark in them, something that’s almost challenging. He turns to Eric. “Why?” He asks him. “Would it be a problem if we were?”

Harry tenses next to him and Louis drops a hand onto his thigh, rubs soothing circles into his skin. “Nah,” Eric says, shrugs, and Louis can feel the tension drain from Harry, but he still leaves his hand on his thigh just in case. “Just wondering. Sam said you two were friends. You seem pretty affectionate for just friends. But it’s cool, if you lot are a couple. And if you aren’t.” He picks up his beer, drains it quick enough that Louis almost feels sorry for him. He seems to regret asking, seems to genuinely only have been curious, but the sharp tone to Louis’ voice had clearly made him stumble over his words.

Louis chuckles. “He’s been in my life forever.” He glances at Harry, smiles. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him.” Which, he’s aware, also answers the question Harry hadn’t asked, of what Louis would do if Harry planned to stay. He doesn’t think he can imagine himself going back without Harry. “If you think this is affectionate, wait until you get a few drinks into Curly.” It sounds fond, and it’s light enough to break the remaining tension around the table.

*

Two beers later, Harry proves Louis’ words, his head pillowed on Louis’ shoulder and his arm around his waist. Eric, after the initial awkwardness of his question had faded - and Louis is aware that they haven’t answered either way - seems content as ever, and Sam just seems happy to see him with Harry. Which is funny, especially when Louis thinks about his initial shock at thinking Louis was asking him out. He’s sure it’s not that Sam is relieved Louis wasn’t lying, but he does seem pleased at Louis having a Harry in general, in whatever capacity. He’s told Sam that they’re just friends, and they are, but he knows that they’re more affectionate with each other than friends usually are. But how can he explain that without telling him about all the decades he’s known Harry?

By the time Louis’ second beer is but a distant memory - really, he’s finished it maybe two minutes ago, but with the amount of talking he’s done he’s feeling thirsty already - Lily finally shows up. Then, Louis heart rate kicks up a notch, when she gestures to the people behind her, when his eyes land on .. “and this is Zayn.”

Harry twitches next to him, sits up straight, and Louis sends him a warning glance. “Hi,” he says, to the group in general. “Nice to meet you. I’m Louis.” As much as he feels thrilled at the chance to interact with Zayn he knows he has to play it cool.

Which is hard, a few hours later, when they’re in a club and Zayn is dancing on some guy, looking pretty into it. Louis wants to pull him aside and tell him off, tell him his soulmate is looking for him and what is he doing wasting his time with others who can never make him happy, but all he can do is look on and remember that the first few times they’d checked in on Zayn he’d been in various states of undress with various boys.

So much for that only being a summer thing then. Louis hopes that when he meets Liam he won’t just see him as another hookup, that he’ll actually give him a chance to impress him. Liam is - Louis doesn’t want to say boring, because he definitely isn’t, but people don’t always warm up to him as quickly as they should. And he’d hate for Zayn to think that Liam is nothing more than a pretty face.

He’s exchanged a few words with Zayn, nothing special, and Harry’s done the same, thankfully not mentioning anything that would make Zayn think they’re some kind of weird stalkers. Which, they are, technically, but as it’s their job it really isn’t that weird. But that’s not something they can explain to Zayn any more than they could to Sam.

Acting on impulse, he goes to bring Zayn a drink, when the guy he’s with has excused himself. He’s pointed to the bathroom and Louis isn’t sure if Zayn isn’t meant to follow (even if he thinks Zayn is above hooking up in bathrooms, he’s not sure Zayn won’t be so tacky, if he’s really into this guy), but if he can keep him from making a mistake and hooking up, he might as well. Louis isn’t the type to begrudge anyone a hookup (except perhaps Harry, but Harry’s too nice and Louis just doesn’t want him taken advantage of), and it’s not like he thinks that it’ll diminish Zayn’s worth if he hooks up with people, but, he just. What if he falls in love with this guy? What if him and Harry were meant to do something but didn’t? They don’t have the ability to fast forward here, he doesn’t know how it’ll turn out. It’d be just like Walsh to throw them a curveball this way, when Nick is off work.

“Hey mate,” he tells him, grinning at him. Zayn looks at him lazily, the way people do when they’re maybe one or two drinks from properly drunk. “Got you a drink.”

Zayn’s lips tug up into a smile. Louis absently thinks that Liam is a very lucky man, to get such a handsome soulmate. And what he hadn’t noticed, from up in Heaven, is that Zayn is charming. He’s all lazy sex appeal and bedroom eyes and Louis thinks that maybe his sexuality isn’t as theoretical as he thought it would be, because there’s a definite stirring of something in his stomach. It kind of freaks him out, if he’s honest. He wants to run away and grab Harry and tell him that his body is doing things he’s not used to and demand Harry makes it stop. At least he’s not getting hard. “Thanks,” Zayn tells him, accepting the drink. Louis gratefully registers that he doesn’t seem too put out by not being able to follow the guy into the bathroom. He’s not even looking to see if he’s coming back. Perhaps he wasn’t as into him as he seemed?

“Welcome,” Louis responds, perhaps a beat too late. He lifts his own glass up in an unspoken toast, takes a long sip.

Zayn nods, glances just over Louis’ shoulder. Louis is pretty sure that Harry’s standing behind him. It’s like he’s got a sixth sense just for Harry. “You make a cute couple.”

Louis wills himself not to blush. “Me and Haz? We didn’t, we haven’t, I mean, we aren’t-”

There’s a soft chuckle that Louis can barely hear over the music, or his heartbeat that’s thumping in his ears. It’s more the crinkles by Zayn’s eyes that betray his amusement. “Could’ve fooled me. But, that’s cool. You two being ‘friends’.” He actually does quotation marks around the words, and Louis oddly feels reminded of himself. Zayn is being a little sarcastic, but clearly not in any mean way. Louis knows better than to take offense. (Louis is also not very good at not taking offense, but Zayn’s crinkly eyes are extremely distracting).

“Really,” he insists. “Just mates. Harry’s like-” my brother? For some reason, Louis can’t make himself say that. Harry’s more than just family. He feels like a part of Louis.

Zayn looks serious again. “Hey, it’s cool. Like I said. Whether you’re really friends or keeping it on the DL, it’s nice either way man. Seeing you and him together. More people should be so affectionate in public, yeah? Maybe then the homophobes of this world wouldn’t get their panties in a twist every time I snog someone.” He shrugs, but by his tone of voice it’s something he gets bothered by, at least to an extent.

Any frustration or anger that Louis feels at not being believed fades away at that. He just hums, nods. “Yea, I can imagine. It’d be nice if not all eyes were on you.” He thinks it’s the three (four?) beers he’s had that make it so he keeps talking. “Not that I can blame anyone. I mean. Look at you. You’re a ten.”

At least Zayn takes it in stride. He snorts, nearly inhales his drink. “Excuse you, I’m an eleven. At least.”

As Louis cackles at Zayn’s joke he thinks maybe it’ll be easier than he thought, to befriend Zayn.

Chapter Text

He’s a bit tipsy when they finally make their way home, though not so much that it warrants Harry’s arm around his waist. But it’s warm and comfortable so Louis just leans into him and follows him up the stairs and into his apartment. He only pulls away to gracelessly worm his way out of his clothes, laughs at the errant thought of how he would make a decent snake, then shrugs when Harry looks at him quizzically. “Always figured I’d be in Slytherin,” he says in lieu of an explanation. Harry, the darling, just nods and accepts this as a normal conversation.

With Louis in bed and only his nose poking out from under the covers, he feels warm and content and simultaneously sleepy and wide awake. “I love you,” he says out loud, and Harry chuckles.

“Are you talking to me or the duvet?”

Louis frowns. “Both,” he decides. “Mostly you. Though the duvet isn’t trying to be a smartass.”

Harry joins him under the covers, pressing close because Louis isn’t willing to give up more than an inch of the blanket. Not when he’s got such a nice, cozy cocoon going on. Harry is just going to have to join him in his cocoon. “Come here pretty butterfly,” he murmurs, feeling a puff of breath against his cheek when Harry laughs.

“Had a bit too much to drink there, huh Lou?”

Louis thinks it’s too much effort to take offense. He just worms his cold feet in between Harry’s ankles, takes his revenge in the form of a startled hiss.

“Why’re you so cold?” Harry complains, but he takes Louis’ hands and starts rubbing them to warm them up.

“‘m not cold. I’m hot. Zayn told me so.”

He can hear the frown in Harry’s voice. “Zayn told you you were hot?”

Sort of. He hadn’t protested when Louis had joked that he was clearly an eleven too, so that counts. He thinks it does. “Are you saying I’m not?” He mumbles, his fingers starting to tingle. It’s not unpleasant enough to move away. Even opening his eyes is too much effort.

It’s why he twitches when he suddenly feels Harry’s fingertip brush over his bottom lip. “You’re the prettiest boy,” Harry’s voice sounds low, as soft as his touches are. “Couldn’t keep my eyes off of you tonight. No one else could compare.”

Louis feels like he’s finally warming up. Maybe even burning. He ducks his head, tucks it under Harry’s chin. “Not even Zayn?”

Harry releases a soft chuckle into his hair. Then there’s the gentle pressure of a kiss on his temple. “Not even Zayn. Go to sleep, Lou.”

Louis rests his hand against Harry’s heart. “M’kay,” he agrees softly. “Night pretty butterfly.”

“Night, Lou.”

*

It’s weird that it’s not weird to wake up with his nose tucked into Harry’s neck. He’s getting all too used to it, and it makes his heart ache, knowing that he might not have it for much longer. No matter how much he tries to put off thinking about it he knows that eventually he’ll go back to Heaven, and whether or not Harry follows him is not nearly as certain as he’d like. Louis thinks he might, if he asks, but he doesn’t think that that’s fair, no matter how much part of him protests that, wants to ask him regardless.

Thankfully he doesn’t wake up in pain and with his muscles cramping, but Louis knows better than to think that whatever had caused it is out of his system. For one, there’s still the faint headache, though that could be because of the beers he’s had the other night. But Louis is pretty sure by now that whatever’s causing these pains is related to his memories, to the way he died. He just wishes it wouldn’t take much longer to figure it out. Especially now that he’s made first contact with Zayn. He’s even got his phone number, the two of them hitting it off much like Louis had anticipated.

He doesn’t get to enjoy that knowledge for long though, because Harry wakes up sooner than he’d like, and Harry’s a morning person. Which is the only reason that Louis doesn’t sleep over all the time. He doesn’t understand how Harry can be so terribly awake from the moment he opens his eyes. He’s not too sure he wants to know either, he’s perfectly content staying in bed while Harry makes him breakfast.

“Lou?” Harry murmurs, stroking his fingertips through Louis’ hair. And..that’s new. Louis hums in reply, presses closer, wondering if he can’t tempt Harry to be his personal space heater for a while longer. He remembers calling him his pretty butterfly yesterday and is torn between mortification and the inane desire to laugh. Instead he pushes up into Harry’s hand, signaling that he very much likes this petting that’s going on. He doesn’t care if it’s just because Harry misses the cats up in Heaven, Louis will gladly purr and let himself be lavished with attention for a bit.

Harry, bless him, is indulgent, and just keeps scratching Louis’ scalp ever so softly, until the need to pee overrides the desire to stay in bed. Louis presses a kiss against Harry’s collarbone, before extracting himself from the warm and cuddly comfort of his best friend. “Morning,” he tells him softly, his mouth curving up into a smile at the sight of Harry’s messy hair. “Like your ‘do.”

Immediately Harry’s hands go up to his hair, trying to tame the mess of curls. He looks a bit horrified, but amused too, so Louis just steals Harry’s slippers on his way to the bathroom. He pokes his head back into the room when his stomach grumbles. “Haz?”

“Mm?” Harry’s given up on taming his hair, and is just looking adorably rumpled and sleepy instead.

“Pancakes?” He bats his lashes for good measure.

A surprised chuckle is his reward. “On it.”

*

It’s over breakfast that Harry brings it up. “You look tired.”

Louis glances up from his food. It’s really good food. Of course it is. Harry’s made it. “Rude.”

Harry chuckles. “I don’t mean - just, you do. Are you still-?”

It feels like they’ve been having this conversation over and over again. Then again, it also feels like Louis is having the same thoughts over and over again. He’s at a bit of a standstill. “Yeah,” he tells him. “I don’t know how to .. I dunno. I wish there was a way to like, get it over with. It’d be nice if it just hit me out of nowhere.”

There’s a wry smile on Harry’s face. Louis doesn’t understand why for a moment, repeats his words back to himself. Shit. “Fuck. I didn’t mean-”

“I know.” Harry doesn’t sound put out. He knows Louis well enough to know that he never intends to stick his foot in it. “It wasn’t easy, but, I understand. Seeing you like this - even last night, when you were asleep, you seemed.. Tense.”

It’s Louis’ turn to nod. “I kind of am. Like. It keeps happening when I’m relaxed, when I’m dreaming or almost waking up. And part of me wants it, but another part is, scared, I guess. So I tend to worry about whether or not I’ll remember anything and that just makes me so tense that I don’t, or not get, y’know, beyond the same kind of memories. It’s always the same, even when the details differ.” He gives Harry a small smile. “To be honest, I was kind of expecting something to change this time. Because, y’know. You did a pretty good job at relaxing me.”

There’s a small dimple in Harry’s cheek. Louis wonders why it seems so endearing to him now. He can’t remember the last time he’d seen Harry’s dimpled smile, but it had always been one of his favorite features, so he’s not sure why he just wants to stare at him now. He turns his eyes to his breakfast to avoid doing just that.

“Do you want me to help you?”

Louis thinks about that for a moment. “I’m not sure you can, really. I feel like when I try too hard it just blocks everything in my mind. I’ll be thinking about my mum, trying to remember what she looked and sounded like, and all I get is just this white noise. Which is kind of terrifying, if I’m honest, because I’ve just started to remember her, I don’t want to forget already.” For as scared as he is, he sounds awfully blasé, but then that’s something Harry’s used to. So he just nods, rests his chin on his hand and looks at him for a moment.

“We could try yoga. Or meditating.” He suggests. “Or go for a run and then to a sauna.”

“No offense,” Louis looks up again, grins, “but all of that sounds awful.” The sauna doesn’t sound completely terrible, but if he has to run before he can relax in the heat he’s going to have to pass. Plus, what if it works and he ends up screaming his head off in a tiny box surrounded by naked strangers? Nah. Not bloody likely.

Harry pouts. “I just want to help.”

He has no right to be so adorable when he’s trying to get his way. Louis sighs. He’s not sure why he’s so against the idea of letting Harry help in the first place. It’s not that he feels weak, he doesn’t often care about being weak in front of Harry. It’s not even that his memories are his own and that he doesn’t want to share them. He knows that if he remembers something and doesn’t want to talk about it Harry will be the last one to make him. It’s just .. “It hurts,” he says quietly. “It’s gotten worse, too. Most mornings I wake up and I feel like I’m locked inside of my body, and all I can do is breathe until it fades but I can’t even do that. It’s terrifying, Haz. And I know that maybe I should do something to push through it and that it’ll be done once I remember everything - at least I bloody well hope so - but..”

“You don’t need to protect me.”

“I’m not. I just want to, I don’t know. Save you the image of me in agony.” He jokes feebly.

“You look like you’re in agony now,” Harry points out mildly. “Not remembering. It’s eating at you. Not knowing when you’re going to feel like this next. When your body will betray you again.”

Fuck. He’s transparent, isn’t he? Louis swallows. “I just don’t want you to see me like that. I know how much you hate feeling helpless.”

“Then let me help.”

Louis sighs. Harry has a point. He can’t stay in limbo forever, and as much as he’s worried that purposely triggering his memories - if that’s at all possible - is going to backfire, he trusts Harry to keep him safe. To be able to handle it. So he nods. “I’m, it isn’t, don’t freak out, ok? It’s not very nice to look at.” The thought of Harry seeing his face contorted in pain while his body feels like a guitar string being twisted too tight - it’s not really something Louis is looking forward to.

Harry nods seriously. “Is there anything I can do? While you’re- can I talk to you? Or are you going to have all these memories and me talking is just going to distract you?”

“Most of the time the memories come first,” Louis tells him, finishing the last of his pancakes, that have gone cold by now. “I’ll be asleep and I’ll be dreaming about something. It’s best not to wake me up then, even if I’m screaming. Once I wake up, sometimes I’m ok, but most of the time I’m, I can’t move and it feels like every nerve in my body is tightening up. If, when that happens, I’d like it if you talked to me. It won’t make it fade any faster, but it gives me something to focus on.”

There’s another serious nod from Harry, silence that stretches between them for a few minutes before Harry abruptly gets up to clear the table. Louis follows him to the kitchen with his own plate, rests his hand on the small of Harry’s back. “You don’t have to. If you don’t want to see me like that.”

Harry bows his head, lets out a soft, shuddery breath. “Of course I don’t want to see you like that. I’d give anything to keep from seeing that, as long as it meant you weren’t going through it. But you are, and I’m your best friend.”

“You’re more than that.”

Harry turns around to meet his eyes. They’re a bit watery and his smile is wobbly. “I am?”

“Of course.” Louis gives him a reassuring smile. “You’re - I don’t have words for what you are, Harry. But best friend doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t even come close.” The word everything tumbles through his mind, but he doesn’t let it pass his lips. He just shrugs instead, his smile helpless now. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else in the world to help me through this. Which is shit, because I don’t want you to see this. I want to keep you from - I mean. I guess I am sort of trying to protect you. I know, I know, you’re a big boy. You don’t need protecting. Least of all from me. Still though. I hate seeing you in pain. I hate causing you pain even more.”

There’s a beat of silence before Harry scoops him up in a hug, his lips hot against Louis’ jaw for only a moment, before he buries his face in his hair. “You’re so stupid,” he lets out, so much emotion in his voice that it almost makes Louis dizzy for a moment. Or maybe that’s the way Harry is squeezing him so tight he can barely breathe. “I love you too.”

*

Once Harry’s made them a cup of tea they clear the coffee table from the living room. Despite Louis calling it an awful suggestion they’re going to start by meditating. Louis knows from years of watching people that it can have a serious impact but he’s never really understood the appeal. Or maybe he’s just never had the patience. But Harry’s smiling at him like this holds the answers to everything and he’s got his curls tucked back in a blue bandana, wearing something soft and comfortable looking and Louis just wants to hug him and stay tucked away in his arms for the next eternity.

Instead of telling him that he just stands in front of him, giving him a curious smile. “Shouldn’t we be sitting down? Y’know. Legs crossed, chanting, the whole experience?”

Harry snorts. “We’ll get to that. First, we need to stretch. Make sure that you’re nice and relaxed, not holding any tension in your body.”

Louis makes a face at him. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, mate. Considering, y’know.” He understands now, why Harry made him change out of his jeans and into some soft jogging pants. They’re a bit too long and his shirt sleeves won’t stay rolled back, giving him a massive case of sweater paws, but he feels comfortable. He thinks that’s the most they can hope for, though. But he still follows Harry’s example, stretches his calves and his arms, shakes his extremities to dispel any lingering tension. It works a little bit, as long as he doesn’t think too hard about what they’re about to do.

When he finally sits across Harry on the carpet, legs crossed and his hands on his knees, he does feel a little more relaxed. He also still feels like he should be chanting. He’s comfortable though, especially with the scent of mint tea and the soft ticking of the heater. Louis gives Harry a smile, pushes his sleeves back and takes a sip of his tea. “Should I close my eyes?” He’s never done this before, and he hasn’t really felt comfortable looking in on people when they did. It seemed private somehow.

Harry chuckles. “You can, if you like. You don’t have to. It all depends on how easy it is to close yourself off from anything other than yourself.”

“..I’ll close my eyes.” Louis does as he says, thinks he can hear Harry huff out a laugh, but he just smiles in his general direction instead. He knows better than to keep looking at Harry. The room is enough of a distraction as it is - Louis is the type of guy to just.. notice things. But he does not need to see what Harry looks like when he’s meditating. He can imagine it though. The softness that’s always so close to the surface, brought out in full force. Or maybe he won’t be like that, maybe he will just be helping Louis, and staying alert himself.

He finishes sipping his tea with his eyes closed, with Harry’s soft voice telling him what’s in store for him. He tells him to try and find a comfortable position, to make sure that his spine is supporting his weight. Louis spends a moment trying to do just that, to ‘stack his vertebrae’ the right way, whatever that means. He peeks one eye open, wondering if he can just copy Harry’s position, closes it when he spots Harry looking at him.

Harry laughs softly. “Listen to your body, Lou.”

“My body’s been kind of a tit, lately,” Louis reminds him, and Harry hums.

“That’s why we’re doing this. You need to learn to trust your body again.”

It sounds a lot easier said than done, especially when meditating is supposed to make him remember, and remembering comes with the exact reason he can’t trust his body. How is he meant to trust it when he can’t control it?

When Louis has finally found a position that feels like it should meet Harry’s requirements, Harry instructs him to focus on his breathing. He tells him to feel every in and exhale, to visualize the negative thoughts and feelings being pulled out of his body every time he breathes out. His usually slow voice is even slower when he tells him that every inhale comes with good things, with relaxation and health and positivity. And while it’s a bit of a struggle at first, to not time his breathing with Harry’s or count the seconds, Louis slowly finds himself sliding into it. He’d figured he’d get sleepy, but instead he feels .. he’s not sure. It’s an awakeness, of sorts, but different. Rather than feeling aware of everything around him he’s aware of himself. From the very tips of his toes to the last inch of his hair. He swears he can feel his blood rushing through his veins, can feel the oxygen he breathes in push its way through his entire body.

He’s barely aware that Harry’s still talking, is so focused on his own breathing, on the sound of his heartbeat in his ears, and it’s just.. It’s the oddest thing. He’s never realized, before. Just how alive he is. He’s always taken it for granted, that even when they were in Heaven they still breathed, ate, still had blood rushing through their veins. He hadn’t thought about why that was, but right now, he thinks it might be because of how utterly human he feels. How, at the same time, he feels so fragile, but invincible. The human body is a miracle, and Louis feels it, in a way he’s never done before. Every strand, every fibre, all working together in a beautiful harmony.

There’s a small part of him that’s refusing to cave, for the longest time. That sits back and rolls its eyes and tries to tell him that he’s being weird, that it’s not going to work, it’s just a waste of time. “Harry,” he whispers, barely recognizing his own voice. “How do I stop thinking?”

“You don’t,” Harry’s voice sounds gravelly, in a way that makes Louis shiver. He feels like it’s almost tangible, the way Harry sounds. Like if he opened his eyes he could see the soundwaves in a beautiful golden colour. “You just .. let it be. You can exist next to your thoughts. Hear them, acknowledge them, and let them be. Go back to your breathing, instead.”

It sounds a bit vague, and Louis isn’t sure how exactly he’s meant to do that, but he goes back to focusing on his breathing, tries to let his brain wander where it wants to. Even if that’s to the thought of this is stupid, you look ridiculous right now. He’s probably not supposed to flip off his inner self and tell it so be it, I don’t give a shit, that doesn’t seem very meditate-y, but it makes it easier, so he thinks Harry would probably be ok with it.

“I’m going to touch you, is that ok?” Harry’s voice comes, surprisingly close to his ear. He waits for Louis to reply, but a hum is the best he can do. He’s so focused on himself, on keeping his breathing even, that he barely notices Harry’s hands gently guiding Louis to lay down on the carpet. His breathing has slowed down to the point where he thinks he might fall asleep, even when his mind felt fully awake not a minute ago. His body is suddenly exhausted, tendrils of sleep wrapping themselves around his brain, and he’s grateful for the floor underneath him.

“Might fall asleep,” he manages, a little groggy.

Harry’s fingertips ease into his hair, carding through it. “That’s ok,” he tells him. “You can, if you want to. If that’s what your body tells you to do.”

“I don’t know,” he murmurs, “dunno if I want to listen to it, it’s such a tit.”

“Ssh,” Harry says, his voice sounding like it’s coming from miles away. Louis knows that he isn’t though. He can still feel his fingers in his hair. Even when everything else feels warm and fuzzy and heavy, his mind can’t help but notice Harry’s fingers in his hair, the way he’s noticing every part of his body. It’s almost as though he’s a part of him. “Don’t think about it. Don’t think about anything right now.”

Don’t think about it. The words reach him even through the fog in his brain, through the darkness that’s pulling him under. They don’t quite sound like Harry anymore though.

“Don’t think about it.” his mum’s voice is soft. “Don’t think about anything right now, darling.” She swallows, brushes some hair from his forehead. Her hand feels blissfully cool against his clammy skin. “Just focus on getting better, alright?”

Louis wants to nod but he can’t. He’s used up all his energy just getting that one question out, and even then, he couldn’t finish it. Was it because of the way his muscles aren’t under his control, or was he simply too afraid to ask? Too afraid that she would have an answer for him, because somehow that’s worse than not having an answer at all. It means she’s thought about it. The big what if. What if I’m not strong enough to beat this? What if I’m going to die?

She tells him not to think about it, to focus on getting better, and he wants to tell her ‘I’m not sure that I can’ but all that comes out is a soft whimper, a barely audible “mum”. He’s not sure, but he doesn’t think there’s much of a chance of getting better.

He’s seen it in the way the doctors frowned when they entered his room and saw him these past few days. Can see it now in the expression in his mother’s eyes whenever she doesn’t think he’s looking. He wants to focus on getting better, on that hope that flares up in her eyes whenever he can breathe properly, whenever his sisters come and visit and he has a moment where everything is almost normal. But his body always betrays him. He doesn’t know how long it will be, but he knows that eventually, the muscles that seemed under his control will tense, neurons going haywire and his body giving in to whatever illness was causing these flare ups.

He’s getting weak, but he’s managed some breakfast today, despite it being nearly three in the afternoon. He sleeps a lot, but whenever he wakes up his mum is still there. He wonders if that’s a sign. He knows she’s got other places to be. There’s other kids that need her attention, but she’s been here all morning, taking care of her eldest. How long has it been? Louis can’t quite remember. Weeks, he thinks. Weeks since he’s felt healthy, since every day didn’t come with some form of torture. He’s been in the hospital for at least half as long. The doctors are working their hardest, and Louis is grateful for it, but sometimes, when the pain is at its worst, he wishes he could scream at them to stop. To let him go. Maybe it’s a good thing that his jaw is locked so tightly that he can’t even make a sound.

He’s resting, his eyes closed, his mum telling him a story about his siblings, when it starts. It’s slow this time. The fire that crawls up his veins, the invisible threads that tangle inside of his body and pull tighter, bit by bit by bit until his back is arched off the bed and his arms are crossed tight at his chest, hands curled into fists. “Louis,” he can barely hear her voice, only registers the fear, and it hurts to even think. He wants to tell her to leave, that she shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t have to watch this, but all he can do is meet her gaze when his body wrestles all control from him, leaving muscles to cramp, his body contorting to the point where he’s actually afraid his spine will snap. It hasn’t been like this before. It’s been bad, but he’s never felt this much strain on his body, has never felt as though the life was literally being forced from his body. It gets harder to breathe, harder than it’s ever been before, darkness teasing at the edge of his vision.

“Louis? Darling?”

Is this how it ends? He thinks. There’s anguish at that thought, fear. But relief too, even when he feels too guilty to admit it. He tries, desperately, to search out her eyes one last time. To let her know, even without words, how much he loves her. Her eyes are filled with tears when she looks at him, her hand still on his forehead even though he can barely feel it. She nods, almost imperceptibly. “I love you too,” she whispers. “My beautiful boy. I love you so much.”

Don’t say it, he thinks. Don’t say goodbye.

“Louis!”

He wakes up with a gasp, expects to feel the same pain, to have nothing but his ankles and shoulders pressing to the mattress. Instead he can feel his shirt is soaked through with sweat, his limbs shaking when he gingerly tries and manages to lift up his hand to brush his hair from his forehead. Harry helps him sit up, and it isn’t until he’s resting against the couch that he realizes just how horrified Harry’s looking.

It’s odd, how that’s the thing that makes him dissolve into tears.

Harry immediately tugs him into his arms, but this time not even his scent or his embrace is enough to calm Louis. He feels like he cries for hours, until he’s exhausted, until his throat hurts and his eyes are burning and puffy. He clings to Harry, needing to feel him close, needing to reassure himself that this memory is of his past life. That no matter what it felt like, he hasn’t just died. He’s alive. More or less. More than he’d thought he’d be, when he closed his eyes that last time.

Harry hasn’t said a word all throughout, has just softly rubbed his back and made these little comforting sounds, letting him get it all out. Louis is grateful for it, even though he hates crying in public. Not that Harry counts as public, really, but he still doesn’t like to completely fall apart anywhere other than in the comfort of his own home. But right now he doesn’t care, he doesn’t have much of a choice. He needed to let it out, and it’s so comforting to know that Harry’s got his back. That he won’t try and comfort Louis with empty words, won’t make him talk.

Even now, the first thing he does when Louis pulls back isn’t to demand an explanation. He just gives him a small, concerned smile, asks “Tea?”

Louis nods, wipes at his nose with his sleeve. It’s gross and even more so because this is Harry’s shirt, but he feels too drained to even bother looking for a tissue. “Please,” he manages, and he’s not surprised when his voice sounds shot to hell.

Harry gives him another smile, gets up from the floor, and if Louis were in any other state of mind he’d feel bad about the fact that Harry looks a little stiff when he first gets into motion. He knows that Harry’s not got the best back, and between working at the bakery and going to the gym he’s already putting enough stress on it. Yet he’s not said a word, has just been there for Louis.

God, he loves him.

Louis watches Harry in the kitchen, rests his back against the couch and tries to breathe evenly, get a small bit of his body back under his control. He’s not ready to think about what just happened yet, even if part of him is dying (hah) to talk about it, make sense of it. It’s just, he’s not sure he’s ready to accept that that was real. And, possibly, that it means that this is over. As relieved as that prospect makes him it’s also terrifying. Does it mean there’s no more memories to come? No more new things to learn about his family? Will he never know what his sisters looked like when they were older? Why hasn’t he ever seen his dad?

With a cup of tea cradled between his hands and Harry’s fingers carding through his hair, Louis slowly feels himself settle back into the present. He blows over his tea, inhales the smell - chamomile. It makes him smile a little.

“I think I choked to death.” It sounds macabre, said out loud like that. All the more for how matter of fact it sounds.

Harry makes a horrified noise next to him, but when Louis glances at him he realizes it isn’t much of a surprise to Harry.

He swallows. “What happened in my dream.. It didn’t just happen in my dream, did it?” Had Harry seen it? His final struggle? Had he seen Louis die?

Harry swallows, looking down at his own tea, placed carefully by his knee. Louis wants to reach out and hold his hand, but he’s not sure his own are quite steady enough to attempt it. “Harry.” It’s quiet. It’s not until Louis watches a tear splash onto Harry’s thigh that he realizes why. “Hey.” He places his own tea out of reach, turns towards Harry, his fingers automatically going into his hair to try and comfort him. “Hey, love, look at me.” He urges softly. Harry doesn’t move his head at first, sniffs, but then slowly raises his eyes to meet Louis’. “Hey. Hi. Look. I’m still here. I’m still-” as alive as he’d been since he’d died, he supposes.

“I watched you die,” Harry whispers, voice shaking so badly that Louis can barely make out the words. “I, Louis.”

Louis nods, shifts to sit on his knees, wrapping his arms around him and hugging him tight. “It’s over now,” he soothes him, pressing a kiss into his hair. “That’s never going to happen again.” There’s still that uneasy feeling that it might, but right now he won’t listen to it. Can’t.

Harry stills in his arms. “Yeah,” he says quietly, then stronger, “yeah. It won’t. Ever.”

Louis nods again before realizing what Harry’s talking about. “Harry.”

“No.” Harry looks at him now, and while his lashes are still wet he’s stopped crying. He just looks fierce and ready to fight and Louis admires him so much it hurts. “No, listen. It won’t happen again. Because when we’re done here, you’re going to go back, and I’m going to come with you, and we won’t ever have to watch each other die.”

It’s Louis’ turn to swallow. He wants to shake his head, wants to tell him not to decide things like that on a whim, that it’s okay to take his time to think about it. That it’s okay if he still wants to stay. “Haz-”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m not losing you. That’s not an option. Not - it never was, really, but, seeing you like that? Not being able to help, not knowing what the fuck was going on except that you weren’t breathing and you kept making these horrible sounds .. I’m not losing you again.”

Louis reaches for his hand, holds it between his own, before cradling it to his chest. “You haven’t lost me.”

“And I never will.” Harry can be as stubborn as the day is long. It’s one of his less endearing traits. Even when he’s stubbornly declaring his love for Louis, in a way.

Louis chuckles. “What if I want to stay?” It’s an argument for argument’s sake.

“You won’t. You don’t.” Harry sounds certain, but his hand twitches, twists in the fabric of Louis’ shirt. “Do you?”

Louis shakes his head. “No.”

“Good.” Harry finally manages a small smile, one that grows when Louis reaches out to brush the tears from his face. “Then that’s settled. We get the job done, and we go home.”

Louis nods, stays quiet for a moment, blowing on his tea even though by now it’s lukewarm at best. “I was relieved,” he whispers, more to his mug than anything else. He can feel his eyes sting and he is almost overwhelmed with how guilty he feels. Past him had been so selfish. Present him would give anything to spend more time with his family. “I was so relieved it was over.”

“Louis.”

He breathes in shakily, doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I don’t understand. I didn’t want them to say goodbye, I didn’t want them -- I loved them, didn’t I?”

“Of course you did.” Harry sounds a bit incredulous, shifts closer, his knee resting against Louis’ thigh. It’s more of a comfort than he knows. “Louis. I know you. You loved - love - with all your heart. Once you let someone in, that’s it. That’s for life.”

“Then why-”

Harry lets out a soft sound. “It was horrible, watching you go through that. I can’t even imagine how bad it must’ve felt. And I’ve only seen it once. You’ve gone through that, for, what, weeks?”

“I’ve gone through it now. It sucks, yeah, but, I don’t understand why it would’ve made me give up. I wouldn’t-” he swallows, looks at him. “If it was you, I can’t imagine ever choosing to die. And that’s, they’re my family. I loved them more than anything, presumably. How could I give them up and not you?”

They’re both silent for a moment. Louis listens to the ticking of the clock, to the way Harry inhales and sounds as though he’s about to say something, only to change his mind. He looks at him, expectantly. Harry looks back at him, scoffs. “Lou,” he shakes his head. “I don’t even know where to start with that.”

He sounds almost frustrated, and Louis swallows. “I don’t know. But I’d like it to end with where it makes sense? Where I don’t feel so-”

Something in his voice makes Harry hug him again. “You’re not. What, you think you’re a bad son, just because you felt relieved that you didn’t have to be in pain anymore? Selfish? Don’t you think your mum wished for it to be over? Not, not in this way. I’m sure she wouldn’t have ever wanted it to end in this way. But she loved you, and she didn’t want you to suffer. I’m sure, when it ended, she understood. She understood and she forgave you, even though there was nothing to forgive. Because she knew, Lou. I have no doubt in my mind that she knew how much you loved her and how much you wanted to stay.”

Louis buries his face against Harry’s shirt, breathes him in. He’s not crying but he thinks that’s just because he’s got no more tears left to shed. He never thought that that was possible, but somehow even when he’s feeling this hurt so deeply he can’t cry, can only hold onto Harry and silently beg him to hold him together. Because Louis isn’t sure he can do it on his own.

“Besides. You said you’ve gone through it now. But you don’t know that. You don’t know that back then, it wasn’t happening much more frequently. Here, now, you’ve only had it happen when you were asleep, or relaxed. It wasn’t every night but even if it was, imagine that happening day in, day out, over and over. Multiple times a day, with no end in sight. Not even a chance to sleep because it could happen at any moment. Imagine that, and then tell me that you don’t have the right to feel relieved when it ends.” Harry’s voice sounds rough, but his hands are infinitely gentle on Louis’ skin. Like he’s worried he’s still going to snap in half if he touches him just a little harder. Louis isn’t sure he won’t, but at the same time he wishes Harry would leave marks on him, would remind him that for as fucked up as he feels, it’s at least real. Unlike what had happened. While that too had been real, once upon a time, now it was only a memory. He’d never truly been in danger. It’s hard to convince himself of that though, when his heart’s still racing. There’s so much pain, both physically and emotionally, that Louis can’t make sense of anything except that he’s so grateful for Harry. And that maybe, as long as Harry keeps holding him, he’ll eventually be okay.

“Would you give me up?” he asks quietly, not pulling back to meet Harry’s eyes. His thumb brushes over the knobs in his spine when he feels Harry tense in response to his question. “If you went through this, this torture. Would you be able to give me up?”

“I can’t answer that,” Harry whispers. “I wouldn’t want to. But I don’t think you’d ever want me to be in that kind of pain. Or to have to make that decision. If this was happening to me, I think you’d want me to let go. You’d love me enough to want what’s best for me. Even if that means you’d have to give me up. You wouldn’t be able to be selfish. Even when part of me would want you to be.”

Louis was wrong. He can cry more. But this time it isn’t just grief, or guilt. It’s relief too, gratitude, that for all that’s happened he’d somehow been lucky enough to end up with Harry. He tries telling him that, but despite the fact that his jaw isn’t locked and his brain isn’t being turned to mush due to lack of oxygen or pain, all he can do is hold onto him, whisper his name, hoping that that’ll be enough to make him understand.

Harry drops a kiss onto his hair, and they hold each other until deep in the night. Even then, when stomachs rumble and the sky has turned dark around them, it’s an unspoken agreement to stick close. Most of what happens that evening is unspoken. They share maybe ten words between them altogether, and most of those are to decide what’s for dinner and what they’ll watch on the telly. Harry doesn’t ask him if he’s planning to go home, and by the time Louis can barely keep his eyes open, Harry just takes his hand and leads him to his bedroom.

*

It’s oddly comforting, to dress in Harry’s clothes in the morning. To have his scent around him, even if it’s just the brand of laundry detergent that he uses. Louis is reminded of that one day that Harry had gone to work in his clothes, and the thought that things hadn’t change as much as he thought they did is one that makes him smile. He feels a bit awkward, in an oversized sweater and jeans that have been rolled up at the ankles, but at least Harry hasn’t tried to talk him into one of his floral patterned blouses, and there’s just something about wearing clothes that are too big that is inherently comfortable.

Harry’s made him blueberry pancakes, wrapped him a bacon sandwich to take to school, along with a thermos of coffee. Louis could kiss him.

The thought makes him stop in his tracks, fork full of pancake hovering in front of his mouth, and he blinks. He could kiss him. It’s just a figure of speech, Louis’ said it before but it’s never been anything other than an expression. And it’s not like it still isn’t, but .. he could, is the thing. Theoretically. He could kiss him and maybe it wouldn’t mean anything but maybe it would. Now that they’re here, on earth, it has the potential to mean something.

He shakes off the thought when Harry laughs at him, teases him about his faraway look, but even when Harry walks him to the door a bit later that morning - Louis knows he’ll be late for work, but Harry doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush - he can’t quite ignore the thought that he could lean in and capture Harry’s mouth in a kiss. It’s not how they’ve ever said goodbye, but in some alternate universe, in this universe, it could be.

He doesn’t though. Of course he doesn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to Harry to kiss him just because Louis has suddenly become fascinated with the idea of it. Harry’s not an experiment, and if Louis wants to know what it’s like to be human and how his body will react if he kisses someone, he’s not going to use his best friend for that. Harry deserves better.

So instead he just brushes dry lips over his cheek, steals another cuddle from him, already dreading the walk back to his apartment, but knowing he can’t exactly start the day without his books. “Miss you,” he murmurs, his nose briefly tucked against Harry’s throat. He can feel him swallow.

“You too,” Harry murmurs into his hair, his arms tight but gentle around Louis’ middle. “Am I seeing you later today?”

He’s still a bit worried, Louis can tell, and he doesn’t really blame him for it. Even though he’s slept like a baby the previous night, woke up actually feeling rested for once, he knows he’s not fully back to his usual self. Part of him wonders if he will ever truly be. If this is something you can come back from. Knowing how you died, it’s probably supposed to be life altering.

“Maybe,” he decides, squeezing Harry’s waist for good measure. “Depends on the homework I get. Or if you’re going to be at the gym after work. Might pop round for a tea and a cuddle at night? Or you could come to mine.” Harry hasn’t even been at his place yet. It’d be nice to change that, to have something to draw on on those nights that he’s alone and anxious. He likes reminding himself that Harry’s a solid presence in his life, and it’s much easier to do that when he’s been in his apartment. He might not be so anxious now that he’s not freaking out about his past, but there’s still a lot that they need to work on before they can go home, and as much as Louis tries to be the rock in their relationship, he sometimes needs a reminder that he’s not alone.

He knows that if Harry comes to his place it’s not going to be easy for him to stay the night. He’d have to get up even earlier to make it to work on time. Then again, Harry’s an early riser, and Louis thinks he might just be worth the hassle, regardless of whether or not it’s just because Harry’s worrying. He likes knowing that. That Harry is willing to go out of his way, to make himself uncomfortable, in a sense, to make his life a little brighter. It works, because Louis is able and willing to do the same thing, and he’d never let Harry make himself too uncomfortable.

“Alright.” Harry seems loathe to let him go, so Louis tickles him, giggles when Harry squirms and lets out a high pitched sound.

“C’mon, smile for me,” he chides gently, looking up at him and resisting the urge to brush a kiss over his chin. “I’m alright, yeah?”

“Yeah?”

Louis knows that Harry isn’t too sure, so he takes a moment to actually, seriously, contemplate it. He ends up nodding. “Yeah. It’s, I hope that I get some more memories back, but I’m really glad that this part’s over and done with. It’s not going to be easy, I’m going to be dealing with it for a while-”

“Grieving,” Harry supplies, and Louis nods again.

“Yeah. But that’s alright, innit? It’s good, knowing I loved them so much. That I was loved in return. It makes it, bittersweet, I guess? It’s sort of wonderful, to love so deeply. Even when that makes it hurt this much.” He looks up at Harry, shrugs a shoulder. “I had a family. And missing them, that’s worth it. Remembering them, knowing what they looked like. They’re not just names on a piece of paper anymore. I’ll never know what they grew up to be like, and that sucks, and yeah, it’s not fair. But I know what they were like when they were little. I heard their voices, I know their eyes. I don’t just know I had a mum, I watched her be one. And I’m glad for that.” He’s also glad that he forgot, in a way. He’s not sure he’d have been able to work as a Cupid if he’d still been so attached to his life. He might have just spent decades watching all of them grow up. There’s still a part of him that wants to know that they’re ok now, but it’s different. For now at least it’s enough to know that they were a part of his life, that he was an important part of theirs.

Harry nods. Louis almost forgot, that he understands. That he’s gone through it too, and so recently. “Are you okay?” He asks him softly, hand coming up to brush through his curls. “I know that you-”

Harry bites his lip, shrugging a bit. “Some days, I don’t know, I feel like I’m just going through the motions and like I’m not quite .. real, I guess? Which, to be fair, is sort of true. I’m only here for a little bit. People remember things about me that haven’t actually happened. So those days my past feels more real than anything. Well, except for you. You always feel real.”

It makes sense then, that Harry isn’t adamant about going into work. He’s definitely late by now, and Louis thinks he might be too, but this is more important. He tugs gently at his curls. “All of it is real, Haz. I know that it’s too easy to say that everything happens for a reason, but with everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve been a part of.. Maybe we’re not just here to get Liam and Zayn together. Maybe we’re not just here to get back some piece of our past. Yes, the first is our job and the second is a consequence of being here. But that doesn’t mean that the people we interact with, they don’t know that. They don’t know that we’ve only barely existed here. And something that happens that you might not even realize, could have a huge impact on someone else.” He feels like he’s talking a load of shit at the moment, but even when his mouth is saying things that he hasn’t consciously decided to say, he does mean it. “The littlest thing could have the biggest impact.”

Harry gives him a small smile. “The butterfly effect.”

Louis nods. He can feel he’s blushing, and he’s not sure why until Harry scrunches up his face in that way that Louis loves.

“You called me a butterfly the other night.”

He really shouldn’t be held accountable for the things he says when he’s drunk. Harry should know better. Louis tries to communicate just that with his eyebrows. It just makes Harry giggle, but by the way his arms loosen around him it has the desired effect. His eyes seem a bit less clouded over too.

“Yeah, well.”

“There’s nothing little about me.” Harry arches an eyebrow, and the innuendo has Louis blushing all the more.

“I’m going to be late for school,” he manages, wrestling himself out of Harry’s arms. There’s a laugh that Louis can feel bubbling up Harry’s throat before he succeeds in escaping his clutches. “You better get to work, little butterfly.”

“Pretty.”

“Hm?”

“You called me a pretty butterfly.” Harry insists. “Not little.”

Louis sighs. Leans in, pressing a kiss to his cheek and patting his hair in the most condescending way he knows how. Harry still pretty much preens under his attention. “Get to work, pretty butterfly. Go and make people happy.”

“Do I make you happy?”

It’s such an odd question that for a moment Louis can just stare at him. He smiles then, eyes softening. “The happiest.”

Harry smiles back. “I’ll see you tonight then.”

Chapter Text

School is uneventful. Although classes are interesting, Louis still feels a bit out of his depth, knows that he’s missed a good handful of lessons, even if no one but him remembers. He’s finding his footing though, enjoys the subject more than even he thought he would. It fits him, allows him to express himself in a way he hadn’t realized he was good at. He’s better at actually performing than writing about it, but even with the homework assignments he exceeds his own expectations. It’s nice.

What’s also nice is that Sam genuinely seems to consider him as a friend. The first thing he does when he spots Louis that morning is to head up to him and tell him how much they all enjoyed Saturday night, and Louis is happy to accept the invitation to do it again sometime. He knows that it is a politeness thing, but he’s also learned from years of watching humans when it isn’t. Sam seems genuine in his offer, and Louis is equally genuine when he tells him he’d like that, that he’d had fun too.

“Your friends are nice,” he tells him, and somehow that leads to we should all hang out at lunch, and Louis isn’t sure that Zayn will be there but he finds that it doesn’t even matter. Now that he’s not afraid to fall asleep, a weight has been dropped off his shoulders, and he actually enjoys being around these humans. The possibility of befriending more of them is a thrill.

Hanging out at lunch ends up being him, Sam, Mike and Lily, and although Louis thought it didn’t matter, he’s still a teensy bit disappointed when Zayn doesn’t show. It fades though, because Lily turns out to have a wicked sense of humor, and by the time he’s supposed to head to his next class he’s only half finished the sandwich Harry made him and his sides are hurting from how much he’s been laughing.

It’s nice though, having that be the only pain he feels.

All in all, by the time Louis is heading home, he’s in a great mood. He doesn’t even care that it’s raining, that when he finally gets inside his socks are making this awful squelching sound in his shoes. Instead he just throws everything in the wash - minus his shoes, of course, he does know how to work a washer, thanks - and spends a good twenty minutes warming up in the shower, before curling up on the couch with his trackies and a cup of tea.

He fiddles around on his phone a bit, sending a text to Zayn on impulse. It’s a bit random, but, from what he’s seen and learned of Zayn, he thinks he might appreciate this better than Louis awkwardly attempting to start a conversation. And he wants to get to know him. Sure, partially because he’s meant to, but also because he’d genuinely liked Zayn and he wouldn’t mind hanging out with him more often.

Harry says I should come to the gym with him sometime.

Ok, it’s not completely random. Harry hasn’t actually said that, because he knows Louis hates the gym, and he’s a better friend than that, but Liam is at the gym, and if Louis has to suffer through human life to get the two of them together he might as well go all in and drag Zayn with him to exercise.

It’s not that Louis doesn’t exercise at all, mind. He just prefers to do it at home, rather than at the gym, where people twice his size are looking at him funny. He walks a lot, is known to do the occasional push up, might even have a set of weights that aren’t just used for decoration. But he prefers his exercise to be fun, as well as useful. Like playing footie. Or challenging Harry to a push up contest which he might inevitably lose because Harry’s noodle arms are surprisingly strong.

With one eye on the TV, Louis feels cozy and content, idly thinking that the only thing that would improve his situation right now is for Harry to be here. Or maybe a dog. Something warm and alive to cuddle up against. Preferably Harry though, because a dog can’t pet his hair, and Louis is feeling very much in the mood to be petted right now.

Gross, Zayn texts back. Dump him.

Louis snorts. Still not dating him. Is the first thing he types. He finds it amusing really, that so many people seem so dead set on the two of them dating. Since when can’t people be affectionate and cuddly in a platonic way?

He won’t take no for an answer either :( come with me? He continues. It’s a bit brazen, considering they’ve met all of one time, but Louis is pretty sure that they genuinely hit it off, that it wasn’t just the alcohol talking. Considering Zayn hasn’t texted back to ask who the hell he is, he at least remembers him. That means something, hopefully.

Haha. No.

Pleaseeeeeee? I thought we were friends. Don’t you love me??? He’s sent it before he can properly think about whether or not he’s coming on a bit too strong. It would probably not work out too well if Zayn started avoiding him, thinking him some creepy stalker. Telling Zayn he was so pretty and funny was all good and well when he’d been drunk but it might seem a little weird now. He’s not Harry, he might have to actually consider his words for once.

You’re funny, Zayn’s next text starts. If you want me to come to the gym with you I’m gonna need a better reason than that. And not having the balls to say no to your ‘friend’ isn’t a good enough reason aha.

..Or maybe not. Maybe Zayn is completely comfortable with Louis being a little on the intense side. Maybe Zayn’s been smoking weed, or he’s just bored in class and Louis is the only entertainment he has, but Louis isn’t about to complain, not when it hopefully, potentially, gets him his way.

Is Zayn even in class right now? He is tonight, Louis knows that. His modeling class. Where he was supposed to meet Liam before Liam fled the scene. He tries not to think about that too much. It’ll drive him mad, not knowing. And anyway, he’s got a job to do. A mission. Get him to the gym.

Louis doesn’t know what might convince Zayn though. He doesn’t know him that well, and to be honest, he’s probably only humoring Louis. Has no actual intention of going. Maybe he’s just being nice because he thinks Louis might be upset if he says no. He hadn’t seen him interact with a lot of people over the summer. Maybe Zayn would actually like a friend.

Or maybe Louis is overthinking this.

He sips his tea, bites down on his bottom lip. You don’t have to go if you don’t want, he starts, watching the cursor blink. But from what Harry says there’s lots of pretty boys? Lots of pretty, sweaty, half naked boys? Who will probably fall at your feet if you bat your lashes and will gladly offer to help pump … iron ;)

He hopes Zayn understands that there’s no hard feelings if he says no. The last thing Louis wants is to make a potential friend uncomfortable. And not just because it’ll complicate his job. Zayn is more sensitive than his appearance lets on, seems - to Louis at least - to wear his leather and his tattoos like armor to keep people from seeing how easily he’s hurt at the rude comments that too frequently come his way. Louis would like to be a good influence in his life. For however long that is. And, ok, it’s sort of creepy that he knows all this, because he shouldn’t, he should only judge him by what he’s seen on that one night, but he can’t exactly separate all he’s seen from Heaven from what he’s experienced in person. And if that means he’s a bit more careful, then, what’s bad about that? What’s bad about not wanting to hurt someone?

Nah, Zayn replies, I know. It’s cool. You have a good point about all the pretty boys. I’ll think about it ;)

Louis quietly cheers. Might even fistpump. He hopes Nick isn’t watching. He flips off the ceiling just in case he is. I’ll buy you a cheeseburger after. It sort of defeats the purpose of going to the gym, but still.

Ohhh, tempting.. Make it a double and I’m in. Wednesday? I work tomorrow & thurs and I’ve got a class tonight.

I’ll ask Harry when he plans on torturing us. I’ll let you know!

Hopefully Harry will be able to go to the gym beforehand and maybe sort of casually ask Liam if he’s going to be there on Wednesday. Louis doesn’t have particularly high hopes that either him or Zayn will want to go to the gym a second time, so he’s going to need Harry to put the completely-platonic-but-charming-as-hell moves on him. Liam doesn’t work at night so that at least works in their favor.

With the possibility of a first - sort of - encounter in the cards, Louis feels simultaneously giddy and slightly sleepy, due to the warmth of the tea and the apartment. He’s too awake to doze, too unfocused to contemplate doing his homework, and all around too content to do much more than move enough to get himself another cup of tea while he flicks through the channels.

The afternoon passes with him catching a bit of a cooking show, followed by half an episode of a quiz, then some program about antiques. None of it really catches his interest but he can’t be bothered to find something that he really does like. He’s midway through an entertainment segment of some random afternoon news show when his phone rings.

Not bothering to look at the caller ID, he picks up. There’s not that many people who have his number, so he’s about 99% sure it’s Harry. “Tomlinson’s Lepidopterarium, how can I help?”

There’s a pause, then a giggle. “Tomlinson’s what now?”

Louis smiles at the ceiling. It’s a bit of a smug smile. He likes when he can make Harry giggle. He can make him laugh easily enough, but an actual giggle has to be earned. “Lepidopterarium, Harold. It’s a butterfly house.” Because Harry is a pretty butterfly and he’s going to be in his house. Obviously.

He doesn’t have to see Harry to know that he’s smiling. His body automatically responds to the tone of his voice, his lips curling up into a smile that’s softer than the one he’d had before. “Clever,” Harry responds.

“Don’t sound so surprised.” He might have looked it up earlier, but Harry doesn’t need to know that. That’d sort of defeat the purpose of trying to impress him. “What can I do you for, Mr. Styles?”

Harry laughs again. It’s not a giggle this time. It’s a deeper, throatier laugh, but Louis still feels thrilled at hearing it. “I wanted to ask you what you wanted for dinner. I think I’m gonna head to the gym first, but unless you’re hungry now I thought it’d be nice if I’d bring over takeout after? We could watch a movie, maybe?”

You could spend the night, Louis’ mind supplies. He hums. “Sounds perfect.” He pushes himself up into more of a sitting position. “Hey. If you run into Liam by any chance, ask him if he’s going to be there on Wednesday.”

After a slight pause, Harry lets out a sound that’s closest to a whine. “How am I supposed to-”

“Figure it out,” Louis retorts, but he sounds fond. Confident. “Ask him if he needs a buddy. Don’t people have gym buddies? Someone to spot you or whatever it’s called? Tell him you’ll be there on Wednesday. Just, don’t flirt with him.”

Harry splutters at that, his voice indignant. “I wouldn’t!”

“No, I know.” He does know. Harry doesn’t flirt. It’s just unfortunate that when Harry doesn’t flirt people still think that he does. Because he’s nice and open and genuinely interested in people. And also lacks any knowledge of the concept of personal space. “Me and Zayn are gonna come with you if Liam’s going to be there.”

He says it so casually that Harry’s first response is a distracted hum. He’s probably still thinking about how he’s going to convince Liam to come work out with him on Wednesday. In fact, Louis can hear when he’s catching on. His breath stutters and if Louis were there he’s certain he’d see his eyes widen. “...What?”

This time Louis can forgive him for sounding shocked. “Me and Zayn.” He repeats, slowly. Just because he can forgive him doesn’t mean he won’t tease him a bit. “We’ll come to the gym with you. But only if Liam’s there. Because I’ve already had to promise him a double cheeseburger and told him I loved him, and I don’t think it’s going to work a second time. I promised him hot sweaty men, and no offense to you, I think he’d be a little disappointed if you were the only hot sweaty man he saw.”

“How is that not offensive?” Harry says, but he’s only joking, Louis is pretty sure.

“He thinks we’re dating.” And even though Louis had told him a few times how wrong Zayn was, he thinks Zayn won’t risk ogling Harry with his admittedly-not-boyfriend right there at his side.

“Oh. Ok.” It’s a testament to their friendship that this isn’t weird. That Harry doesn’t ask him whether or not he’s told Zayn that they aren’t. For a split second Louis wonders if Harry would take offense if Louis had made it clear that they weren’t, if he’d be disappointed, maybe, if Harry would want to date him, but he refuses to let that thought take root. They’re not and that’s the end of that.

“So, basically, the fate of our entire existence on earth rests in your hands,” Louis jokes, laughing when he can hear Harry whine again. “Relax, babe. It’s not that deep. I just figured, maybe, y’know? And if he isn’t there, then, well, I’m probably going to pout at you for as long as I’ve got sore muscles, but I know it wouldn’t be your fault.” He’d still try and get a free breakfast out of it though. And not a home cooked one, no. He’d make Harry take him out somewhere. Somewhere quaint and gaudy in its decoration, with perfect scones and irresistible pancakes. With rose scented tea in old fashioned flower-decorated little cups that belonged to the owner’s grandmother. Or something. It’s not like Louis has thought about it.

Harry sighs. “I’ll try,” he tells him. Louis listens really hard but he doesn’t sound despondent, so he’s fairly sure that Harry isn’t as worried about this as he tries to make it sound. Maybe he’s just trying to get a free breakfast out of Louis. “What if he’s not there tonight?”

“Then you bring me food and I’ll cuddle you until you stop sounding like someone just ran over your cat,” Louis teases lightly. He smiles. “And on Wednesday you get to teach me all about how I’m lifting weights wrong or how I haven’t got the right posture when I’m on one of those weird machines, and we’ll show Zayn just how hot and sweaty the two of us can be. I’m sure he’ll forgive us.” If not, Louis might just make his cheeseburger a triple. Or he can make Harry take them out. But he doesn’t want Harry actually thinking that he blames him, so probably not. “Listen, we don’t have to do this. It was just an idea. We can find some other way to get them to interact. I’ve got Zayn’s number, he seems alright with me texting him randomly, so, I don’t think it’ll be too hard to meet up with him. Liam’s a bit harder but then he’s always been, yeah? We knew that. He’s not used to having friends so he might think you’re taking the piss out of him. And that’s exactly why you are the one that’s assigned to him. You’re patient, and kind, and you wouldn’t make fun of him.” As much as Louis would want Liam to understand that he wouldn’t do that either, he has a habit of sometimes sounding sarcastic when he’s actually genuine. He’s not too sure they’d get along too well at first. Harry’s easier. He’s charming and approachable. If Liam is going to put his trust in one of them it’s obviously going to be Harry.

“You’re all of those things too,” Harry counters, and it’s not because he doesn’t want the responsibility of befriending Liam. It’s because Harry is always so sweet and insistent when he thinks Louis is putting himself down. Which he wasn’t. Not really.

“I know,” he says, because he does. He’s heard Harry tell him often enough, for one. And he’s not the type to linger on his own shortcomings for long. At least, not outwardly. Sure, he doubts himself at times, and sure, he analyzes his flaws and agonizes over his mistakes, but he doesn’t have low self esteem. It’s not as high as he’d like to portray it to be either, but that’s a whole other conversation. “But you have that One Thing, Haz. The X factor. People look at you and just melt.” Whether it was the hair (Harry still looked like an angel even when his hair was shorter), the eyes, or the dimples (those fucking dimples), everyone was charmed by him. From babies to elderly ladies on the street. Louis is pretty sure that if Harry ran for president of the United States he’d win by a landslide, just by popping a dimple. They wouldn’t even care that he wasn’t American.

Ok, maybe he’s just slightly over exaggerating now. But Harry sounds comforted when he speaks, so Louis can’t really regret it. Not that he’s actually said any of what he’d been thinking, and what he had said wasn’t so bad, but still. He’d say a lot mushier stuff if it made Harry sound comforted. “Thanks, Lou.” He says earnestly. “I’ll come by yours after the gym then. What kind of takeout are you in the mood for?”

Louis hears his stomach grumble, thinks he could probably eat anything by now. Thinks he might have to make himself a bowl of cereal, at the very least, if he doesn’t want to end up starving to death before Harry comes over. “Whatever you’re in the mood for, love. I’m not picky.”

“Sushi then,” Harry teases.

Louis can’t help but bark out a laugh. “I hate you.” The sad thing is that he’d probably suffer through sushi just for Harry. But he also knows that Harry would never be so mean.

“I love you too.” Harry responds breezily. Then: “Text me your address, yeah? I should get a move on if I’m going to be at your place at a decent time. I swear I just heard your stomach rumbling all the way through the phone.”

Louis presses a hand to his stomach, glares down at it for betraying him when it just responds with a loud gurgle. “You’re the best.” He responds warmly. “Don’t rush on my behalf. Or, actually, do. I could do with a cuddle.” He pauses, only for a second or so. “Not for any particular reason, mind. Just in the mood for a cuddle. I missed it. Just cuddling because we can, not because I need you to comfort me.” He’s more than grateful that Harry has cuddled him to comfort him, but it’ll be nice to be held by him when he’s not going through inner turmoil. When he can actually appreciate the little details, like how that one curl above Harry’s ear always tickles against Louis’ nose, or how his knees fit perfectly against the back of Harry’s. How Harry somehow never manages to snag his rings on Louis’ hair when he’s carding his fingers through it.

Harry sounds just as warm and fond as Louis must have done when he responds. “Will do. See you in a bit, yeah?”

“Love you,” Louis reminds him. “See you at home.”

*

He wonders, when the doorbell rings, if he can tell whether or not Harry’s been successful just by the look on his face. Harry’s always been easy to read, but then, Louis had always had his energy to go on. It’s been strange, adjusting to life without it, and if he’s honest, with the things he’d had on his mind he hasn’t paid as much attention to Harry as he should. Yes, he’s been practically attached to his hip at every possible moment, but it’s been more about him than about Harry. Not tonight, he thinks to himself. Tonight’s all about Harry. Whether he’s sad or happy, he’s going to get the full Louis Tomlinson experience. The mother hen that barely anyone knows he is.

He pads over to the door, smoothing his hair down as he goes - he might’ve fallen asleep on the sofa for a short period of time - and brushing the crumbs from his shirt before he opens up. “Hi,” he tells him, trying to take in everything at once. The way his hair’s damp because he showered at the gym. How he’s still slightly flushed. The takeout - Indian, by the smell of it - in his hands. “I’m starving. I’m so glad you’re here.”

Harry grins at him. “That’s the only reason you’re glad I’m here?” He holds out the bag to Louis. “Could just drop this off and go home then.”

“Don’t you dare,” he knows Harry wouldn’t, but it’s still cruel of him to even suggest it. So Louis makes sure that he can’t leave by snaking his arms around his middle and cuddling into him. “Can’t leave if I don’t let you go.” He murmurs into his shirt. He tries not to be creepy and inhale his scent, but whatever shower gel Harry’s been using smells almost intoxicating. Even better than the curry he knows Harry brought him.

Harry rubs his back for a moment, presses a kiss to the top of his hair. “‘s gonna be hard to eat if you’re attached to me like that,” he says practically. “Plus, I’d like to sit down. It’s what civilized people do. Sit down to have dinner.”

Louis snorts but lets him go, smiling a little sheepishly. “Sorry.” He’s not sure why he’s apologizing, when he’s never apologized for hugging him before. He’s never contemplated that it might be a bit much, the way he’s always in his personal space. He knows Harry’s pretty oblivious to personal space, but still. He wonders if that’s one of those things he’ll have to pay attention to now, now that he doesn’t have the colours in his energy to tell him if his affection is welcomed.

He lets Harry step inside, closes the door behind him, before taking the food from him and bringing it to the kitchen. “Water ok?” he calls from there, filling up two glasses before bringing everything into the living room, utensils and plates and napkins carefully balanced on his arms. He only barely manages not to break anything, sets everything out and settles onto the couch just in time for Harry to join him. Resisting the urge to watch him for clues, Louis just digs into the food, divides the things he knows they both love, and relishing in the things that Harry brought just for him. It feels domestic in the very best way, and the uneasy feeling fades just as quickly as it had come on. “How was your day?”

Harry accepts his plate with a smile, shifts to tuck his toes under Louis’ thigh, facing him. “Good,” he says slowly, nodding as though to confirm it to himself. “Slow, for a bit. It usually is on Mondays. But Barbara taught me how to make scones and lemon curd. So that was nice.”

Louis smiles at him. It’s easy to see that Harry loves his job. Likes the people there, likes the work. “That’s good,” he says softly, not wanting to pry and ask him about whether or not he saw Liam at the gym. As curious as he is, he does genuinely want to hear about his day. He wants to know about everything that makes Harry look this happy. “Did you do well?”

Harry nods. He’s the one with the sheepish smile this time. “I think so. She said she was proud of me. That they were pretty good for a first time. Which means that I’ve still got to improve, obviously, but, she made some of the others try them and they all said they tasted nice.” He’s trying not to sound too proud, which is honestly adorable.

“Sounds like I’ve got to try them sometime then,” Louis brushes his fingertips over Harry’s ankle, so proud of him. “My classes don’t start too early tomorrow, I could walk you to work and sample some of the things you’ve made.”

Harry’s face turns bashful, and he glances down at his food for a moment, leaving Louis to drink in his features. It makes his heart ache. “I’m glad you had a good day, love.” It sounds soft. “And I’m glad you’re here. ‘s nice, seeing you after work. Seeing how happy it makes you.” He knows that it won’t last forever, but he hopes that once they’re back Harry will remember just how much he enjoyed baking. He’s always going to be a Cupid, but maybe he could be a Cupid with a side job. Or maybe he could just bake for the people he loves. Whatever ends up happening, Louis wants him to remember this. He’ll make sure that he does.

“It was a good day,” Harry agrees quietly. “Until I got to the gym.”

Louis bites his lip. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that. Was he not there? Did you not get to talk to him- that’s okay. It doesn’t matter, H. We’ll find some other-”

“Lou.” Harry interrupts, shaking his head. Is he smiling? “You haven’t even let me start the story, let alone finish.”

He bites his lip again. Harder this time. “Sorry.” He mimics zipping his mouth, locking it. He even stuffs the imaginary key in his pocket for good measure before gesturing for Harry to continue.

“I didn’t see him at first. Which, I know you said it wasn’t a big deal, so I wasn’t too worried,” it’s sweet, how he reassures him while he’s talking. “But I kept an eye out for him all the same. I was maybe, midway through my routine? When I saw him come in. But he wasn’t alone so I wasn’t gonna go up to him until I overheard what they were saying.” Harry’s face clouds over as he says it, and Louis’ hand tightens around Harry’s ankle until he winces and he realizes he’s practically bruising him. He lets go, but brushes his fingertips over his skin. “They were being assholes. Saying shit about how Liam had been caught staring at one of them and that they didn’t want a faggot at their gym.” Harry’s voice sounds dark now, and Louis can’t help but grit his teeth, hoping it doesn’t get worse. Fuck. Like Liam hasn’t gone through enough shit in his life already.

“What happened?” He asks, his voice tight.

“I pretty much jumped off the treadmill and went over there. Which, I maybe shouldn’t have. Like, Liam’s a big guy, he can take care of himself. But he wasn’t going to make a scene and fuck that, they don’t get to talk to him like that. They shouldn’t talk to anyone like that.” Harry grits out. “It took them a bit to back down, but they finally did. So I go to like, apologize, for stepping in, but he thanks me. And I felt like an absolute piece of shit, because I have this ulterior motive for inviting him to train with me, but, we agreed to work out together on Wednesday.”

Louis can understand why Harry doesn’t feel too accomplished, why he isn’t celebrating the fact that they managed to get things to go their way. He finds himself hoping, in a way, that this wasn’t something that Nick is responsible for. That it was just a cruel twist of fate (not Niall, but the expression) that somehow worked in their favor. “You would’ve asked him regardless, H,” he reminds him softly. “That wasn’t you being manipulative. You didn’t step in thinking you’d be a hero and get things your way. You did it because you didn’t want him to suffer and it just happened to work out to your benefit.” He’s not sure he’s very convincing, but that’s because he feels just a tad guilty too. Like they’d willed this into existence somehow. “This isn’t a bad thing that you did. And Liam probably feels really grateful that you’re not an asshole like those guys, and-” he sighs, “even if this would be our fault somehow, don’t you think Liam would be happy that he’d get to meet his soulmate? Don’t you think that maybe, years from now, he’d look back and say it was worth it?”

Harry hums, putting down his food, and before Louis fully knows what’s going on he’s got an armful of Harry. It’s a bit uncomfortable, with the way Harry’s still got his toes tucked under his thigh, and Louis has a plate of food he’s trying to keep from upending itself onto the carpet, but he welcomes it nonetheless. “Hey,” he murmurs, hand moving from Harry’s ankle to brush over his back. “You’d never want something like that to happen. You’re not that kind of boy. If anyone knows that, it’s me, yeah? No one knows you better than me. And making the best of a shitty situation is not a bad thing to do. Liam probably feels relieved that he doesn’t have to train on his own, and me and Zayn will just be a bonus, yeah?” It feels a bit cocky, calling himself a bonus, but Harry nods like he is, so he’s not about to take it back.

“I love you a lot,” Harry murmurs, and he sounds almost shy. Or not shy, really, but more hesitant than Louis has heard him in a long time. “More and more every day.”

Something almost flutters in Louis’ stomach. He swallows. “Me too.” It’s simple and it’s the truth. Ever since they’ve come to earth he’s gotten to know Harry in a different way. Has seen him grow up, in a sense. How could he not love him for all the good things he is and does?

“Yeah?” Harry doesn’t pull back to look at him, and Louis takes that as his cue to squeeze tighter, holding onto him until Harry all but melts into his embrace. Screw the food. He’s got a microwave if it goes cold, and he’s pretty sure he could dry clean the carpet if he had to. Having Harry melt into his arms more than makes up for any minor annoyance.

“Yeah.” Louis assures him, just in case his embrace wasn’t enough. Harry gives a soft, content hum, before pulling back, only just enough to meet his eyes. He smiles at him, thumb brushing over the soft skin underneath Louis’ eyes. He leans in then, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek, nearly catching the corner of his mouth. Louis thinks it’s probably his imagination that Harry looks more disappointed than embarrassed when he finally pulls back.

*

Tuesday starts fairly uneventfully. Harry left late on Monday night, insisting that he wouldn’t want Louis to have to get up early just because Harry had to go into work, but by the time the alarm goes off Louis thinks it’s still dreadfully early. He’s an old man, he’s not made for early mornings, he thinks wistfully. It’s a load of bullshit because Louis has never been old a day in his life, but for once he can say that this is the oldest he’s ever been. He wonders what would happen if he stayed on earth for a bit, returned to Heaven when he’d traveled and seen the world. Would he stay as old as he’d been upon his return? Was it even possible to actually age, since he couldn’t die? Could his cells age and die when he couldn’t?

It’s too deep a subject to contemplate at seven thirty in the morning, so Louis turns the radio on, listens to a bunch of unknown and largely unremarkable pop songs, ends up sending one that’s actually pretty catchy to Harry, with a morning sunshine and a string of mostly unrelated emojis. He shoots off a text to Zayn then, figuring that it’s easier than hoping he’ll run into him in school.

Sadly, that turns out to be about the highlight of his day. It’s not that his day is bad, really, it’s just remarkably uneventful. He goes to school, talks to Sam, has lunch, takes a few more classes, heads home and does his homework. Just like any ordinary college aged human. Harry joins him for dinner, under the pretense of talking strategy, but by the time he heads home that night they’ve not done anything but watch TV and eat the home cooked meal Harry provided them with. It’s a good night, no doubt, and in a way it’s sort of nice that this feels normal. That not seeing Harry for a day is stranger than seeing him, just like it was in Heaven.

And then it’s Wednesday, and although Louis tries, the nerves hit him in full force by the time he’s home from school. He’d agreed to meet Harry at the gym, figuring it was too conspicuous - for Liam, at least - if they all ganged up on him. So he’s supposed to meet up with Zayn outside a few minutes after Liam and Harry had agreed to meet, which would give Harry some time to mention the two friends that might be coming round later. Louis is hoping that’s how Harry’s playing it, because they haven’t discussed it, and they probably should have. What if he just heads on over to them and Harry wanted to act surprised? He’s probably a better actor than Louis gives him credit for, but he’s also incredibly obvious at times, and Liam isn’t that oblivious.

He spends his time waiting by messing around on his phone, playing a few games that he doesn’t have much interest in, but it’s better than just standing around and looking lost. Especially when a few people give him odd glances to begin with. Which, Louis is a little insulted, if he’s honest. He’s never been to this gym before, but that doesn’t mean people should be looking at him as though he’s the last person they’d ever expect to attend one. He’s not the buff and beefy type but then neither is Harry.

Thankfully, before Louis can get either irritated or insecure, Zayn heads up to him, looking, if possible, more uncomfortable than Louis is feeling right about now. It’s almost enough to make Louis reconsider, but he knows that the discomfort will be well worth it, in the end. He just wishes Zayn would know that too, but he thinks that telling him about his soulmate being in there might just be enough to make him balk.

He’s only slightly surprised when Zayn moves in for a hug, returns it gratefully, before taking the bag off his shoulders and putting it over his own. It’s part sneaky - Zayn won’t be as likely to leave if he doesn’t have his stuff - and part just because he can’t make Zayn feel any more comfortable but he can at least offer some silent solidarity. Or something. He’s not sure any of it translates but Zayn seems more grateful than surprised so that’s probably enough of a win.

“Hi,” he finally tells him, pocketing his phone and giving him a grin. “Thanks for coming.” He’s still not entirely convinced any of this is a great idea, but at least him and Zayn can commiserate over Harry bossing them around. Maybe he can even convince Zayn to come and play footie with him sometime. Or smoke up under the bleachers. Not that he’s ever done that, but he’s seen how Zayn gets when he’s high and it’s something Louis has always wondered about. His brain is usually going a mile a minute, it’d be nice to feel so mellow.

Zayn nods, even though he doesn’t look particularly thrilled. “Sure,” he says. “Happy to.” It’s in such stark contrast to his expression that Louis can’t help but laugh. It’s that or apologize, and he doesn’t want to apologize when he knows that he’s about to make Zayn the happiest he’s ever been.

“At least you’re getting a burger out of this,” he teases him, giving the building a mistrustful glance. He sighs, then pushes at the door, nearly letting it close back up when the first thing he hears is the thump of a bass. He’s not an idiot, he figured the gym would have pseudo-inspirational music, something designed to get your heart rate up, but he didn’t think it’d be so loud. How are they supposed to have a conversation with Liam when all Louis can hear is noise? He pushes through though, holds it open for Zayn, who reluctantly heads inside.

Thankfully, one of the first things Louis sees is Harry. He’s waiting for them by the entrance, doesn’t waste any time in heading over and nearly scooping Louis off the ground into a hug. “Hi,” Harry whispers in his ear. “I told Liam I invited some friends over to train with us. He’s getting changed.” His lips nearly brush the shell of Louis’ ear in a way that makes him shiver.

He pulls back, grins at him. Thank God for Harry being enough of a mind reader (or just having been Louis’ best friend for long enough) that he didn’t make this awkward. Although- he watches Harry turn to Zayn, take a step forward as though he’s thinking about hugging him too. Thankfully he stops himself, even if it’s with a little aborted movement. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, and Louis thinks he’s probably contemplating whether or not to introduce himself. “Zayn, you remember Harry. H, Zayn, you’ve met.” He rests a hand on Harry’s lower back, fingertips brushing over his spine. Harry melts into the touch a little, the tension disappearing from his body.

“Yeah. Hi. It’s nice to see you again. So Lou managed to convince you to come, then?”

Zayn glances from Harry to him, corner of his mouth tugging up. “I heard you convinced Lou and he’s just making sure he’s not suffering alone.”

It’s funny, being called Lou by someone else. Mostly because Louis can see the muscle in Harry’s jaw twitch, as though he’s not sure whether or not he wants to tell Zayn that he doesn’t know him nearly well enough to call him that. It’s a little endearing, Harry’s jealousy. Louis wants to pull him aside and tell him that Zayn will never be the kind of friend that Harry is. Instead he just brushes his fingertips over his spine again.

“I’m very convincing if I want to be,” Louis agrees happily. “So, shall we go in? No sense in delaying the inevitable and all that. I’m ready to accept my fate.” It’s possibly he’s being a tad dramatic. It’s also very possible he’s just doing it to make Harry smile. Louis has long accepted that he’ll gladly make a fool of himself to cheer Harry up.

He pinches Harry’s side, as if to tell him let’s not keep Liam waiting, and it must translate well enough because Harry scrapes his throat and nods. He holds the door for both Louis and Zayn, and leads them towards the changing rooms.

They couldn’t have timed it better if they had tried. Harry holds the door again, and Zayn is the first to walk in this time. On a shirtless Liam. Louis almost wants to stay outside, but instead he gives Zayn a gentle shove when the other comes to a complete stop in front of him. Zayn all but stumbles inside, looks back at Louis and the expression on his face is none too friendly, though it melts away soon enough when Liam looks up.

“Oh.” It’s soft, and Liam is quick to pull a shirt over his head. “Hi.” He seems a bit shy, a little taken aback, and Louis would give anything to be in his head right now. Does he remember Zayn, from the few times they’ve run into each other? Does he recall the movie theater or the night he’d ran out of Zayn’s art class? Does Zayn?

“Hi.” Zayn returns quietly.

There’s a very palpable silence for a moment, until Harry coughs. “Hi. You guys know each other?” He’s definitely a better actor than Louis gave him credit for. It doesn’t sound the least bit like he’s acting. Even his face seems genuinely surprised. If Louis didn’t know better he’d think Harry had honestly forgotten.

Zayn says “Um,” just as Liam says “I-” and then both fall silent and look at each other. Louis almost feels sorry for them. He’s also silently cheering because they clearly remember the other, and by the look of it, they don’t look at all unhappy at seeing each other again. Could they possibly have been thinking about each other all this time?

“Well,” he says, to dispel the tension, “looks like I’m at a disadvantage then. Seeing as you three all know each other.” He steps forward, past Zayn, reaches out a hand to Liam. “I’m Louis. Harry’s best mate and Zayn’s friend.” Just in case Liam would get any ideas, because Louis might have been hovering just a little bit. He can’t help it. Zayn’s his friend, he doesn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. Too uncomfortable, anyway.

Liam looks away from Zayn for what feels like the first time, composes himself to shake Louis’ hand. “Hi,” he tells him, and Louis thanks the stars that the smile on his face is earnest. “I’m Liam. Harry’s, um,” he pauses there. “Gym buddy.” It sounds unsure.

“And friend,” Harry pipes up from behind them. Louis turns to look at him and Harry looks sheepish. “I mean. If you want?”

It’s sweet and so Harry that Louis isn’t sure how Liam isn’t a puddle on the floor right now. But instead Liam just gives Harry one of those earnest smiles of his very own, before he turns back to Louis. “And friend,” he echoes. The tension between his eyebrows fades, and Louis can feel his heart ache. God, this boy deserved so much more than he’d gotten in his life thus far.

“Awesome,” he tells him sincerely. “So how do you know Zayn then?”

Zayn shakes his head. “He doesn’t. Not really. I mean, I think we ran into each other a few times. But. I don’t think we’ve said more than a dozen words to each other all together.” He glances up at Liam through his eyelashes, scratches at the back of his neck. “The last time I think I saw you, I was about to head into art class and you looked as though you’d seen a ghost.” He’s careful with his words, with the way he makes it sound almost casual. He’s not fooling Louis though. It’s clear that he has worried, at least to some extent, about what happened that night.

Liam bites his lip. “Yeah.” He sounds sheepish now too. “I’ve been meaning to like, apologize. But, y’know. I didn’t know anything about you. But you were so nice to me that night and I just ran out on you.”

There’s so much that Louis wants to say but he doesn’t, just glances at Zayn. Zayn, who looks surprised that Liam had been thinking about him at a time like that. Who looks at once grateful and a little saddened. It’s pretty much how Louis feels about a lot that Liam says too. He knows about his past, more than Zayn does at least, but still, he manages to be surprised by how careful Liam is with the people around him. How part of him always seems to wait for the rug to be pulled out from under his feet.

“Nah,” Zayn says softly, when he’s schooled his features into something more neutral. “That’s, you obviously had something on your mind, man. I wouldn’t have been focused on you either, if it’d been me.” He shrugs then. “I mean, I didn’t know what that call was about, obviously, but it seemed pretty serious. Wouldn’t have time for strangers at a moment like that. It’s cool. I understood.”

Liam nods. “It, um, my mum, she got into an accident, on the way back home from work. It was, they didn’t know what was going on.”

As relieved as Louis is at finally hearing what had happened that night, he almost wishes that he hadn’t. Because he doesn’t think Liam is telling Zayn because he actually wants him to know. It’s almost apologetic, the way he tells it. Like he needs Zayn to understand he had a genuinely good reason for being so ‘rude’.

“Oh.” Zayn nods, frowning. “Is she alright now?”

That coaxes a smile from Liam’s face. Louis is probably exaggerating only a little bit when he says he can hear Zayn hold his breath at the way it transforms his face. Louis glances at him, finds Zayn smiling back despite himself, enough to cause small crinkles by his eyes. “Yeah. It wasn’t that bad, apparently. By the time I got to the hospital they’d checked her out and it wasn’t anything worse than a broken wrist and a few bruised ribs. Painful, but, nothing really all that dangerous.”

Louis shares a quick look with Harry, gives him a feeble smile. It feels almost wrong, to hear what had happened, to know that Liam had no clue that they’d been witness to his panic. It was bad enough that Zayn had apparently, in Liam’s eyes, because he remembered about him and had felt like he owed him an apology.

“I’m glad,” Zayn says softly, sweet and sincere. He seems to waver for a moment, then extends a hand to him. “Seeing as this is the first time we’ve officially met - I’m Zayn. Hi. It’s nice to meet you and I’m glad your mum is ok.”

Louis is pretty sure their work here is done.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, Harry won’t let him get out of exercising so easily. And Louis knows that their work isn’t really done, because although Liam and Zayn have now officially made each other’s acquaintance, they aren’t anywhere near in love yet. Honestly, Louis isn’t sure how easily they’ll fall for one another. Yes, they’re both single, yes, they’re both into men, which does make their job a lot easier, but even then, actually falling in love can take a long time. It isn’t as easy as bringing them together over and over, but that’s the only thing they can do. That, and trust in the fact that since they’re soulmates the feelings will end up developing themselves over time.

They seem at least a little attracted to each other though. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but where Harry seems adamant on helping Louis out - mostly because that’ll give them a chance to observe Liam and Zayn - Liam is keen to offer Zayn his assistance when he needs it. And Zayn, Louis is fairly sure, is entirely that person who will pretend to be just slightly worse at this than he actually is. He lets Liam explain all the equipment to him, laughs at the jokes he makes, and the thing is, it’s not even flirting. It’s genuine. Zayn is genuinely charmed by Liam, and even if it’s just because Liam looks good in gym wear and has these adorable puppy eyes, it’s a start.

Liam, on his part, seems shy around Zayn at first, but eager. Eager to make a friend, to leave a good impression. Louis doesn’t think he’s even thinking about anything beyond that. He’s probably entirely the type to think in leagues and assume that Zayn is well out of his. But slowly the shyness eases, which has everything to do with the fact that Zayn responds to him with kindness and genuine interest. Even when Liam rambles on a bit, Zayn doesn’t cut him off, just listens to him patiently, with his tongue pressed to the back of his teeth and an almost fond smile on his face.

It’s almost gross, how adorable it is. And what’s worse is that whenever Louis turns to look at Harry he’s looking so endeared. Like he’s a proud mum, ready to hug his babies and make it official. It’s sickening, and Lord help him, it’s sweet. Louis thinks everything about him is sweet, and it’s really unfair. He gently elbows Harry, when his fond frog face is about to attract stares, and makes a face at him. “Be more obvious, will you,” he whispers at him, but even then it’s so clear that he’s teasing. “You look like you’re about to ask if you get to be his best man.”

Harry cocks his head. “Whose?”

“Harry. That isn’t the point.” Louis sighs.

“But, Lou, think about it!” Harry insists, with a soft laugh. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful? You could be Zayn’s best man and I’d be Liam’s. I bet their wedding would be wonderful.”

Louis shakes his head. He doesn’t actually want to think about that. Because yes, it would be. It’d be amazing, he’s sure. And while he has no illusions that he’d ever be Zayn’s best man (he had other friends, people that had been in his life forever), he can entirely see himself being a part of his wedding, or at least attending. The thought that he never will, that Zayn won’t know why he’s suddenly disappeared from his life.. He swallows. He knows it’s going to happen, that it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean that the thought doesn’t make him sad from time to time.

He blinks when he suddenly finds Zayn at his side, looking up at him as though he’s expecting Louis to answer a question he’s clearly missed out on. “Um,” he says, mentally shaking the thought of Zayn and Liam getting married, of the sadness that makes him feel a little hollow inside. “Sorry, I kind of zoned out for a bit. What were you saying?”

Zayn gives him an easy smile, a shrug. “Just wanted to know how you were doing. You didn’t look too happy there for a moment.” He pauses, bites his bottom lip. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t like, annoyed with me for kind of ghosting you. It’s just, you know Harry, and Liam’s been feeling a bit bad about what happened, and I know there’s no reason for him to, but, I think he’s trying to make it up to me by talking me through all the exercises.” He makes a face at that. “Which sounds like it should be dreadfully boring, if I’m honest, but somehow when he does it, I don’t really mind.”

Louis can’t help but grin at that. “Well, I did say I’d deliver pretty, sweaty, half naked boys, didn’t I?” It’s sweet, Zayn checking in on him, being so conscious of the fact that their friendship was a new one and that he didn’t know whether or not Louis would be ok with being ditched. Louis wishes he could tell him he knows him, knows that Zayn isn’t like that. But that would likely not go over well. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. H has been going easy on me, so far.” It’s not a lie. Louis hasn’t even broken a sweat yet. He still makes sure he isn’t too loud. Wouldn’t want Harry taking it as a challenge.

Zayn nods. “Ok, cool.” He pauses, then grins. “Maybe Harry just invited you over so you’d be impressed by how good he looks, sweaty and half naked.”

Louis snorts. “I don’t know how many more times I can tell you it’s not like that between me and Harry.” He glances over at him, watches the way he scrunches up his face in concentration as he lifts weights. Had his biceps always been that big?

“You sure?” Zayn asks, just as Louis frowns and says

“You think Harry’s good looking?”

He’s not sure why Zayn laughs at him for it, but he’s shaking his head and looking at Louis in fond amusement. “Uh, yeah.” Zayn says. “He’s pretty fit. Not my type, but, I don’t need to be attracted to him to see that he’s hot. I just need eyes.”

There’s so much in that statement that Louis wants to address, but all he can do is cock his head and look at Harry. It’s not that he doesn’t know that Harry’s handsome. He knows. Harry’s got dimples and full lips and he smiles easily. He’s got these lovely green eyes and a good physique. Louis knows that people will find him appealing, will even be attracted to him, during their short time on earth. Maybe someone already has been attracted to him. It’s just. It’s sort of weird? Because where part of Louis is proud, in a sense, he also feels really protective? He wants to wrap him up in a blanket and hiss at anyone who looks at him like that. Because Harry’s more than just his looks, and also, he’s sort of Louis’?

Which is a ridiculous thing to even think because he’s not. Harry doesn’t belong to him - and Louis wouldn’t want him to, because he believes that first and foremost people should belong to themselves. But also, he knows that he doesn’t have a claim to him. If someone were to find Harry attractive and they’d come up to him to ask him out, Louis has no right to want Harry to say no. He doesn’t even have the right to veto anyone, because the only reason he would is because they don’t know Harry as well as he does, but that goes for the entire world. And Louis can’t be that selfish. Harry deserves all the good things and if that includes finding out what it’s like to fall in love, well. He knows he once promised him he wouldn’t, that he’d keep his heart safe, but it feels naive to have promised that, even though he knew back then that it wasn’t the kind of thing they could control.

He tries to shake off those thoughts, glances up to Zayn, who just looks at him with an amused sort of smile. Louis swallows. Feels suddenly as though Zayn’s looking right through him, staring into his soul. Louis doesn’t really like it, because he’s not even sure he knows all that he’s feeling, and he’s spent eighty years trying to figure it out. It’s not fair if Zayn can understand him in just a few short conversations. “So,” he tries, a poor attempt to steer the conversation away from himself and how bare he feels, “who is your type then?” Out of habit he glances over at Liam, who is doing a spectacular job of pretending he isn’t listening in on their conversation. Louis turns back to Zayn, only to find his eyes skittering away. He’s doing everything he can not to look directly at Liam. Score.

Zayn coughs, mutters something incomprehensible, and Louis can’t for the life of him remember why he thought that Zayn was cool. He’s not. For all that he’s wearing leather jackets, for all his smoking and the tattoos inked onto his skin, Zayn is a dork. A shy, awkward dork who can’t even reply to what Louis is saying because he’s too busy trying not to stare at Liam. Louis would almost feel sorry for him, except that this is completely the point of why they’re here and he’s too busy trying not to literally shove them together and tell them now kiss. He just grins at him instead, nods. “Cool,” he tells him, then, under his breath (because Liam is listening in and Louis doesn’t want Zayn to completely die of mortification), “I’m pretty sure you’re his type too.”

Zayn’s clearly embarrassed at Louis’ words, but he’s also trying to hide a smile, so Louis doesn’t feel too bad. There’s a moment where he contemplates telling him this is why he’d lured him to the gym, but that feels, weird? Like he’d be putting pressure on them to figure it out, like it has to be A Thing. Which it does, of course, but they’re soulmates. They’ll get there. “You wanna see if maybe the four of us can catch a movie sometime?” he ventures, still quiet enough that Liam can’t overhear. He wonders what it looks like to Liam, the two of them whispering, but he can’t exactly speak up when Zayn already seems this awkward. How on earth he’s ever managed to seduce all those boys he’s brought home Louis has no idea. Maybe it’s false confidence from alcohol or weed, or maybe - Louis finds himself thinking, hopefully - it’s because Liam wouldn’t be just a hookup. He’d mean something more.

His response is a shrug that’s trying way too hard to be casual, and Louis has to try really hard not to grin. “Maybe,” Zayn tells him, like he doesn’t care either way, but he’s still biting down on his bottom lip and God, he’s so cute. Louis wants to hug him and squish his cheeks and feed him sugar cubes. He doesn’t, of course. He’s much more suave than that.

“Cool,” he tells him again, giving him a grin and finally breaking away from him, much to Liam’s - albeit slightly surprised - delight. To drive home the point that he’s absolutely not hitting on Zayn in any way, Louis sidles up to Harry, wraps an arm around his waist. “Hi,” he tells him, beaming up at him. He gives Liam a smile too. “Mind if I steal him for a minute? I need him to tell me what I’m doing wrong.” On any hypothetical machine. Louis hasn’t really done much except for standing around and talking to people, exercising his mouth more than anything else, but Liam nods like his explanation makes complete sense. Probably is just excited to talk to Zayn again. Louis hides a smile against Harry’s bicep, pulls him away from the other two. “Hi,” he tells him again, when it’s just the two of them.

“Hi,” Harry replies, sounding amused. Louis resists the urge to make a face at him. “That wasn’t very subtle.”

Louis does make a face. “I wasn’t trying to get them to talk. They’re doing fine without us meddling, if you hadn’t noticed.” He sort of laments the loss of Harry’s arm around his shoulder, but they’re still stood fairly close so he doesn’t think he can really complain. “I just didn’t want Liam thinking I was hitting on Zayn.”

For a moment, Harry’s face is blank, but then he smiles. “Is that why you’re impersonating a clingy octopus right now?”

Louis takes his hands away from Harry’s shirt, that he’d been toying with.

Harry laughs. “Hey, it’s okay. I don’t mind. There’s worse things than having you cuddled up under my arm.” He makes it sound as though he thinks Louis is adorable. Louis wants to protest, but then he also wants to take it as an invitation and curl into Harry’s side. So he just does that instead. Harry rests his arm around his shoulder, fingers brushing slowly up and down his bare upper arm. It feels nice. “Is it working?” he whispers, his lips practically brushing Louis’ ear.

“I don’t think they’re paying all that much attention to us, to be honest,” Louis mutters, determinedly not shivering when Harry’s breath ghosts over his skin when he chuckles. “We should go to a movie. The four of us. Think you can convince Liam?”

Harry hums. “Probably. Did you see the way he looked when I told him we were friends? He still doesn’t expect that.” It sounds a bit sad. “I really like him, Lou. He’s a good guy. I need him to believe that, before we-”

Louis nods. “He will. If not through us then through Zayn, yeah? That’s what soulmates are for, right? To make each other better.”

Harry looks down at him, smiles. “If that were true then I’m pretty sure you’re my soulmate.”

There’s a warmth in his stomach that makes him feel strange. Not in a bad way, really, but still, Louis finds it almost unbearable to stay still and bask in it. “Well, yeah, except for how, like, soulmates also fall in love with each other. Obviously.” He’s not sure why it sounds defensive. It’s not even true, really, because aromantic people can have soulmates too. It’s rare, but then soulmates are rare to begin with.

“Ah,” Harry’s voice sounds light, but there’s something about him that makes Louis want to hug him, or take back what he’d just said. He’s not sure why though. “Yeah. Platonic soulmates, maybe.”

He doesn’t move away from Louis, but something in his demeanor makes Louis think that perhaps he wants to. So he lets go of him, determinedly not feeling sad about it. There’s no reason to be sad, not when they’ve made such progress in finally getting Liam and Zayn together. “Definitely,” he tells Harry, but the smile on his face doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

*

They don’t stay in the gym much longer after that. Louis actually tries a few machines and he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t completely hate it. He still prefers playing football but it isn’t as pointless as he thought it would be, and his muscles are burning in the most delightful way. It’s only awkward when they have to take a shower, but thankfully this gym has cubicles and they don’t have to see each other naked. He thinks Zayn might have run if he’d had to face his crush - because Louis is fairly confident in calling it that - naked.

True to his word, once they’re dressed and out the door, Louis takes Zayn out for burgers. There’s a moment where he contemplates inviting Liam and Harry out with them, but he sort of wants a chance to talk to Zayn about Liam a bit, and he doesn’t want to risk making things too obvious or awkward by insisting they do everything as a quartet.

So instead they say their goodbyes. Louis initiates a round of hugs by wrapping his arms around Harry, and then surprising Liam with a light hug. It takes Liam a moment, but he hugs Louis back by the end of it, and even accepts a hug from Harry and Zayn. It’s sweet, the way they fumble a bit with where to put their hands, the way they break apart before it can possibly become awkward. The tips of Liam’s ears are red when they finally say their goodbyes.

Louis doesn’t immediately start in on Zayn when they’ve sat down with their burgers, but that’s mainly because for as much as it all feels natural, him and Zayn haven’t actually been friends for that long. Louis is pretty confident that Zayn classifies him as a friend, but still, it’s all new, and he doesn’t want to ruin anything by being unable to bite his tongue.

“Thanks,” he tells him instead, swiping a fry through some ketchup. “For coming with. That was cool.”

Zayn nods, somehow managing to eat his burger without dripping sauce all over himself. Louis is kind of impressed. “It wasn’t completely awful.”

Louis grins. “I didn’t totally hate it either. Don’t think I’m gonna go and get a membership, or anything, but, it could’ve been worse.” He pauses for a moment. “Liam was nice.” Did that sound pointed? By the way Zayn glances up at him, it sort of did. “I mean, obviously Harry was nice, but, y’know. It’s Harry. I’m pretty sure he’s been genetically enhanced to be that way, or something.”

There’s a light snort from Zayn. “Maybe you’re just a little biased, Lou.”

He likes that Zayn calls him Lou. “Probably,” he agrees lightly. “But then, we’ve known each other for-” he only barely manages to stop himself from saying decades, shrugs instead. “Forever, really. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in my life.”

“You met in school, or whatever? Grew up as kids?” Zayn takes a sip from his soda. “That’s cool. I’ve got a few friends like that. It’s nice that you both ended up in Bradford together.”

Louis is more than happy to let Zayn assume whatever he wants about their past. Even when part of him wants nothing more than to admit the truth. He knows Zayn wouldn’t believe him though. Who would? “We’re kind of a package deal,” he agrees. “It’s just sort of always been that way. I’m a bit older than him, so obviously by the time he came around I felt like I had it all figured out. Sort of took him under my wing.” It’s more or less true, even though there’s more than just a few years of age difference between them. Technically anyway. But here on earth Harry is eighteen and Louis is turning twenty one.

Zayn nods again. “It’s nice, having people that have known you all their life.” He falls silent after that, and Louis isn’t too sure why, but he can sense that there’s more to this than Zayn’s telling him. He doesn’t want to pry though, so he just nods, makes quick work of his burger.

“It’s also nice to meet new people though,” he says, like they haven’t spent the past few minutes working silently on their food. “Harry seemed to like you. So did Liam.” He gives him a grin, hopes Zayn won’t be too embarrassed. “I’m pretty sure he’d have explained things to you all afternoon, if you’d let him.”

Zayn’s ears go slightly pink. “I might’ve let him,” he aims for casual and misses by a mile, but Louis decides not to call him out on it. He just nods instead.

“He is a very good teacher,” he teases, swiping his finger through the last of the ketchup on his plate. “I mean, he looks it. I don’t know.” Because he’s technically not supposed to know that Liam is a teacher, and he certainly doesn’t want Zayn thinking that Liam’s taught him anything. Not when that inevitably sounds dirty. “Maybe you’re just a good student.”

That earns him a small snort. “Not particularly. I don’t think I would be even if all my teachers looked like Liam.”

Huh. Louis glances up at him. “You don’t like art school? You’re in art, right?” Have they discussed this? Louis is pretty sure that they have, but he still hurries to think of an excuse in case Zayn tells him that they haven’t.

“Yeah, I am. I mean, it’s ok? I like art. I’ve always liked art. I’ve always been like, in my own world, drawing and painting and shit. But it’s different, doing it in school? I dunno man, I don’t know if I want to give up on it because I don’t like it or if I’m just scared that once I finish school I’m not gonna be good enough to do something with it.” Zayn looks sort of embarrassed at telling him all of this, shrugs like it’s no big deal, even though Louis can tell by his tone that it is.

He wonders if he’s told anyone that. He’s sure that he must have, it’d be strange if Louis was the first person in his life that he confided in about this. But from the way he sounds it’s not something he talks about a lot, and Louis is reminded of when they watched him from Heaven, heard him talking to his mother about helping out with tuition. He’s pretty sure that Zayn hasn’t told his parents about his doubts and fears. “That’s shitty,” he says quietly. “Feeling like that. Especially when it’s something you always used to love. It’d suck if like, you didn’t anymore.”

Zayn nods. “That’s sort of where I’m at, sometimes. Wanting to just give it all up.” He shreds his napkin, shrugging again. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. I’m sorry man. Today’s been good, I didn’t mean to mope all over it.”

“That’s alright. I’m glad you told me.” Louis tells him sincerely. “I mean. I get it, sort of. I like drama, but it’s like, do I like it because I’m good at it, or do I really want to pursue it as a career?” He shrugs too. “Sometimes it’s like, you do something because that’s what you’ve been always told you should do? And you think, people know you so well, they must know. Or, it’s just something you’ve always done, so it makes sense that you keep doing it?” He’s trying to relate to Zayn, doesn’t want to lie to him because he didn’t actually choose to do drama. But the rest is all true. He’s certainly felt that way about the job that he does. It’s all he’s ever known, until he came back to earth.

“Yeah.” Zayn doesn’t say much more than that, but he doesn’t look so sad anymore, so Louis figures that perhaps it’s time to leave this topic be.

“Hey, do you want to see if maybe we can catch that movie sometime? It could just be you and me, if you want. Or we can invite Liam and Harry.” It’s completely up to Zayn. Louis is pretty sure they’d have a great time regardless. And he knows for a fact that Liam and Zayn like the same type of movies.

Zayn replies with another “maybe”, just like he did at the gym, but this time he follows it up with “that’d be nice.”

*

When they say their goodbyes, Zayn gives him a light hug, tells him a teasing “say hi to Harry for me,” and Louis has all but turned the corner before he’s fully processed those words. It makes him feel, weird is not entirely the right word, but it’s about as good as he has. Because he was planning on seeing Harry. Obviously he was. They have to talk about their strategy, and figure out the next step. But if Louis is being truthful with himself (which he sometimes likes to avoid, not because he’s not an introspective person but because he has so much on his mind that he can get lost in analyzing his thoughts) then he wouldn’t really be going over to Harry’s just for that. It just feels natural to. His own apartment isn’t quite home yet, for all they made it look like his place. Somehow, home is wherever Harry is. When they get back to Heaven, Louis is going to have to have a serious conversation with Harry about finding a place together. There’s something so nice about knowing his best friend is always around.

He sort of feels odd about it now though, wonders if Harry minds that he’s around so much. He’s practically laid claim to most of his evenings, and while Louis is already being honest with himself, if it weren’t for him attending classes and Harry working at the bakery he’d spend most of his daytime with him too. Zayn obviously didn’t mean anything bad by it, but maybe he’d picked up on something Louis hadn’t? Maybe Harry would like a bit of space now and again and just doesn’t know how to tell Louis?

He waffles between going home and giving in to his desire to go to Harry’s place, ends up texting him because communication is key, or something to that extent. It’s late, ish, so he should probably head on home, because Harry starts early at the bakery and tomorrow’s a school day, but. It just feels weird, having spent time together without actually spending much time together. They hadn’t cuddled all that much, not wanting to make Liam or Zayn uncomfortable, and shit, now Louis is overthinking everything. Had that really been why? Or had Harry just felt uncomfortable being too tactile when people might misinterpret their friendship?

You still up? He writes, biting at his bottom lip, wondering what to text him. It’s so strange, he’s never wondered about that before. We should probably discuss our next step. And toast to our recent success :)

His stomach is sort of in knots, cheeseburger feeling like it’s going to make a reappearance, especially when he sees that Harry is typing. It’s late, he tells himself, if Harry’s going to tell me no it’s not a big deal. He’s probably just tired.

Hiiiiii, Harry’s reply reads. I’d love to, but can we do it tomorrow? I’m too tired to really talk strategy now x

Oh. Louis nibbles at his bottom lip again, breathing in the fresh air and feeling like a bit of a fool. Of course Harry doesn’t want to talk strategy now. Louis doesn’t really want to either. But he also doesn’t want to tell him that he just wants to come over for a cuddle because that just sounds needy.

No worries, he texts back, I’ll see you tomorrow. Get some sleep Haz.

By the time he’s gotten home he still hasn’t received a reply, and he tries not to feel upset about that.

*

Waking up alone isn’t anything out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is that Harry hasn’t texted him back. Louis had figured, by the time he’d crawled into bed, that Harry had likely fallen asleep before he could reply - despite it not being that late - but he’d at least have expected a text in the morning. It’s not like Harry to leave him hanging, even though Louis technically knows that he hadn’t texted him anything that needed a reply.

He’s just a bit needy, is all. He’s not sure if that’s why he dreamt about his family last night, but he’s spent all night lost in his childhood, seeing faces that ought to be familiar and almost are, come morning. It makes him feel some type of way. Fragile and raw and kind of like he needs to cry. He contemplates getting up, knowing that he ought to get ready for school, but in the end he just turns off the sound on his phone and goes back to sleep.

This time he’s woken up by a rather insistent knock on his door. He mutters a curse into his pillow, considers just letting whoever’s at the door be, but there’s honestly not that many people that it could be. So he grumpily gets up, doesn’t bother with anything but slippers on his feet as he makes his way over to the front door, his eyes barely open.

In the hallway stands Harry, looking frantic, his fist moving forward as though to knock on the door again. Louis ducks out of the way just in time, scratches at his bare stomach. “Hi?” He ventures, confused. What time is it? Isn’t Harry supposed to be at work?

“Hi?” Harry echoes, “that’s all I get? Hi?”

Louis blinks. “Come in?”

Harry huffs, crosses his arms as though he’s about to tell Louis no, just out of a desire to be contrary. He seems to decide against it though, but makes it clear he’s none too happy by the way he brushes past Louis on his way inside.

Louis just follows him into the living room, feeling a bit dazed, unsure of what’s going on. Judging by the tight set to Harry’s jaw he won’t have to wait long for an explanation.

“You didn’t text me back.”

Louis blinks again. “What.” Is that really what this is about? Harry left work to come over to his place just because Louis didn’t answer a text? Which, last he recalls, Harry didn’t answer his. “You didn’t answer mine.”

The scowl on Harry’s face is impressive. “I texted you at eight thirty this morning.”

“Ok.” Louis will take Harry’s word for it. “What was in it?”

“That’s not the point!”

He arches an eyebrow. “Well, if it’s important enough to have you ditch work to berate me about it, I’d say it sort of is the point, Styles.”

It’s clearly not the right thing to say. Harry’s jaw twitches and for a moment Louis isn’t sure he won’t actually leave, or throw something at him (granted, it’d likely be something harmless like a pillow, because Harry isn’t the type to resort to violence), but instead, he ends up with Harry’s arms around him, grip so tight Louis can barely breathe. “Um,” he lets out, struggling a bit to free his arms which only causes Harry to hold onto him tighter. He finally manages to free one hand enough to rest it on Harry’s back. “Ok?” He’s not sure what the hell is going on anymore, but it’s clear that Harry’s upset, and Louis’ first instinct is never to withhold comfort from Harry when he’s upset. “Haz.” It’s soft. “Hey. Talk to me?”

Harry mumbles something into his shoulder. It’s followed by a soft shudder, and Louis really wishes he could’ve deciphered more of that than ou u ea. “C’mon,” he coaxes softly, fingertips brushing up and down his spine, hoping to release some of the tension that’s so obvious in Harry’s body. He also hopes it’ll make Harry realize that he doesn’t need to hold on quite so tightly, and that Louis would quite like to breathe at some point. “Baby, tell me.”

At this, Harry moves his face just enough that his mouth isn’t pressed against Louis’ skin. Louis’ bare skin, that responds in the oddest way when Harry speaks, warm breath ghosting over it. “I thought you were dead.” Is what comes out, and it sounds small. His hands are still tight on Louis’ back, and Louis is pretty sure he’s going to leave marks on his skin. But at least he can breathe a little bit, can move enough to wrap both of his arms around Harry’s waist.

He counts to ten in his head before he does something as awful as laugh at his words, because it’s obvious that Harry’s honestly upset. Louis doesn’t understand where the thought would come from, but Harry’s clearly worked himself up into a panic. “Why?” He asks softly, biting down on a shiver when Harry huffs out in response, his mouth still so close to the skin of his shoulder.

“You didn’t text me back. And then I called and you didn’t answer. And Sam told me you weren’t in school. That he couldn’t get a hold of you either.” He tells him quietly. Then, in a sad voice. “It sounds stupid now.”

It sort of does, but Louis thinks he might have overreacted too. He loves Harry so much, the thought of losing him - he can barely breathe just thinking about it, even with Harry safe and sound and alive in his arms. “I’m sorry,” he tells him earnestly, “I didn’t mean to scare you. Or Sam. But mostly you.” He pulls back a little, makes Harry look up at him. “I’m very much alive, I promise.” He brushes Harry’s fringe from his forehead.

Harry just looks at him for a minute. Swallows then, before nodding. “You can’t die, ok?” He sounds pleading.

“Baby,” Louis shakes his head. “We can’t die, while we’re here. Not unless we choose to stay after we’ve set Liam and Zayn up. We don’t become mortal until then, so yes, I promise you, I won’t die. I won’t be able to. I could go out onto the highway and stand in the middle of traffic and wait until a car hits me and-”

Don’t.” Harry sounds pained now and oh, fuck. Bad example. Very bad example. Louis winces.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” He knows better than that. Knows how sensitive it is. “The point is, Haz,” he cups his face, looks up at him, “you won’t lose me. Ok? I was tired and a little sad because of the dreams I had and because you weren’t there with me, so I put my phone on silent and fell back asleep. I won’t do it again, ok? I’ll make sure you can always reach me.”

“You’re babying me.” It sounds a bit petulant.

Louis shakes his head. “No. No I’m not. I’m making sure that you don’t feel so panicked again. Because it feels awful to see you like this and I can’t imagine how frightened you were, and if me keeping the sound on my phone on is going to make you feel more comfortable then why shouldn’t I? It’s a really simple thing for me, it’s literally zero effort, and it means a lot to you. There’s absolutely no reason I shouldn’t do this for you.”

Harry breathes in shakily. “I love you.” It sounds quiet. It sounds different from any I love you that Louis has ever heard before. Like he means it in a new way.

Louis smiles at him. “I love you too.”

*

Harry’s still a bit needy, and Louis is secretly pleased with that. Not because he likes seeing Harry this way, but really, he’s felt needy ever since he left the gym last night so having Harry so adamant about spending his afternoon with him is not something Louis is going to complain about. He does ask “Don’t you have to go back into work?” when Harry’s brought him over to the couch, is snuggled into his side like he wants to crawl inside of Louis. It’s nice. Especially since Louis hasn’t turned the heating on yet and is in just his sleep pants.

“Told ‘em I had an emergency,” Harry sounds sheepish, and this time Louis actually dares to laugh. It’s a soft chuckle, and Harry’s fingers spider over his side in retaliation. It’s too soft to really be ticklish though, so Louis doesn’t move away.

“Well, it sort of was, wasn’t it?” He hums. “I mean. In your head, it definitely was.” He cards his fingers through Harry’s hair, wonders how long it will be before he looks like the Harry he used to know. It makes him wonder if they’ll get to a point where Harry will look that way before they have to head back. Or if the Harry he’s come to know on earth will always look differently in his memory than the one he’s spent decades being friends with.

There’s a quiet sound from Harry, but nothing more than that. At least, not for a bit. Then it’s a timid, “this is okay, isn’t it?”

Louis frowns. “Is what?” is his first question, and then, immediately, “of course it is.” Because while he’s not too sure what Harry’s referring to, he knows that he’s never going to deny him any comfort. And besides, there are far worse things than having Harry pressed up against him, holding onto him like Louis is the most important thing in his life.

“I don’t know.” It’s soft. “It’s just, sometimes I feel like, I’m holding you back, or something?” Harry doesn’t look at him, and Louis won’t make him. “Like I’m making you spend all my free time with me, and that’s not fair, is it? I know that you were excited, to come here. To find out what it was like.” He can hear him swallow. “I know that part of you at least, it, you wanted to know what love was like.”

He’s not wrong. That had been on his mind, once upon a time. But, he’s not sure now. He’s not sure if he wants to know when it might make it harder to give it back up. And he never wants to be faced with a choice between love and Harry. Even though he’s pretty sure he knows what he’d choose. He doesn’t think there’s ever going to be anyone that’s going to mean as much to him as Harry does. He’d have to break his own heart just to be able to give him up, and then what good is that heart going to do him? Who would want it, anyway?

“I feel the same way sometimes,” he admits. “Not that you’re holding me back, that’s not. I mean. But that I’m kind of hogging your attention? I don’t know if it’s just because you’re the one thing that’s familiar and safe, or if it’s something more, but-”

Harry glances up at him, still tucked against his side. Like he isn’t taller than Louis is. He’s not that much taller, but still, Louis can’t help but wonder if it isn’t uncomfortable. But Harry doesn’t look like he’s uncomfortable. He just looks, is that hopeful? “Something more?” He asks quietly.

Louis shrugs helplessly. He hasn’t really thought about it much, or at least not about how to put it into words. “I know we’ve always been close, and we’ve always seen each other pretty much every day at work, but-”

“But?”

“I don’t know.” Louis admits. “Lately it just feels like no matter how much time we spend together, it’s never enough. You’ll be gone for all of five minutes and I already miss you. It’s like, time doesn’t really stop, but it feels meaningless when you’re not here? Like my entire world is just..holding its breath, waiting for you to come back.” It’s probably a bit melodramatic, but then Louis tended to speak before he really thought his words through sometimes. And, he has to concede, it’s true. He’s the best version of himself when he’s around Harry. “I don’t know,” he says softly. “I just love you, I guess.”

He’s close enough to Harry that he can practically count his eyelashes. But he’s more focused on the way Harry looks at him. Like he’s some sort of eighth world wonder. Like there’s revelations in Louis’ eyes. “I love you too.” There he goes again, saying it the way he had before. It’s doing something odd to Louis’ heart, making it feel heavy and light at the same time. It sort of aches.

He swallows. “Yeah?”

“I feel the same way. All of those things you just said. It’s like, everything makes sense when you’re here. No matter how confused or scared I am, it’s all okay when you smile at me.” Harry says in a low voice. “I guess part of me has always felt that way, even before we came here. But it’s different now. And maybe it’s just, like you said, it’s because you’re safe and familiar and nothing else is. Maybe that’s all it is. But-” he bites his lip.

This time Louis is the one to prompt him. “But?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. Not just that. And that’s scary all on its own, but somehow, none of that matters when you’re here.”

Louis isn’t entirely sure what they’re talking about here, but then he’s not sure Harry knows either. It feels.. fragile, somehow, this conversation. While at the same time, he agrees with Harry’s statement. None of it matters, because they love each other and they keep each other safe. They accept one another, it’s as simple as that. But he’s not sure that it feels all that simple. His heart certainly doesn’t seem to think things are simple, because it feels like it’s twisting around in his chest. It’s making his stomach feel strange too.

“I don’t know,” Harry repeats. “Does any of what I just said even make sense?” He looks up at Louis, a small self-deprecating smile on his face.

“No,” Louis admits. “But also, weirdly, yes. I don’t think my brain quite followed what you were saying. But- I don’t know.” They’ve been saying that a lot. Louis typically doesn’t like not knowing. But it’s a little less bad when Harry’s in the same boat. “It still sort of sounds right.”

Harry gives him a smile. “You’re just humoring me.” He accuses him mildly.

“No,” Louis shakes his head. “I mean. Neither of us knows why we are the way we are. That’s, we know that. But, I guess, it sort of doesn’t matter? Because if you want to be around me and I want to be around you, then, that’s all that really matters? I don’t care if it’s because it’s safe and familiar or if it’s because you’re my best friend and I’d want to spend time with you regardless, or-”

“Or because maybe I’m more than just your best friend?”

Chapter Text

Louis’ brain stops in its tracks at those words. He blinks. Is that it? Is that why he wants to spend all his time with Harry? Because they’re more than best friends? And if it is, then, what does that mean? What does that make them?

“Like what?” He asks, and he’s not sure why he sounds so cautious. “Platonic soulmates?” It’s not meant to be a joke, but Harry still frowns, pulls away from him.

“Can you not joke about this?” He asks him, and there’s so much hurt in his voice that Louis wants to apologize before he’s even consciously processed his words. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, we established that pretty clearly. You don’t seem to have any idea either. But would it be so completely out of the question that now that we’re on earth, now that we can fall in love, we might actually like each other in some different, new way?” He frowns at him, then shakes his head. “I mean, we’ve spent decades almost literally in each other’s pockets. You’re the one person that I trust with my life, with everything. I’ve always felt like no matter what was going on in my head, I could tell you and you wouldn’t judge me. Is it so unfathomable that now that we’re able to fall in love, we fall in love with each other?”

Louis doesn’t know. How is he supposed to know? He doesn’t know what love feels like, or if that is what’s happening here. He just knows that the thought of Harry leaving right now is so painful that he can hardly breathe. Which is a little ridiculous, considering Harry hasn’t even gotten up off the couch yet. “I don’t know,” he says quietly, knowing it isn’t the answer Harry wants to hear. But it’s the only one he’s got.

Harry deflates at those words, shifts a little bit closer again. “I know,” he says, his voice soft, almost soothing. “I know you don’t. And I don’t either. This, it’s all just, a theory. Something my brain came up with to try and make sense of what’s going on. I-” he exhales a shivery sigh, “I’m scared, Lou. Of a million things. Of losing you, of losing what we have. Of falling in love. Maybe it’s just that I know that my heart would never be safer with anyone than it would be with you. Maybe that’s why I’m, maybe I’m just overthinking this.” He pauses, bites his lip. “But then lately, all I want is to be closer.”

That, at least, Louis understands. He nods. “Me too. Like I can’t breathe when you’re not there. Like even when you’re right there, you’re too far away. It was, at the gym, Zayn told me you were attractive, and it got me thinking, right, about what other people thought of you. If they’d look at you and want to be near you, the way I do. And it got me so- I don’t know. On the one hand I thought, you deserve all that. You deserve everyone looking at you that way, wanting to be near, wanting to know you. But on the other hand - I don’t want anyone knowing you the way I do. I don’t want - and I don’t know if it’s just that I’m scared someone will take my place, or if it’s something else, but. It’s not that I mind people liking you, wanting you, but I mind people thinking they can have you? Which is ridiculous. Because you’re not even mine.”

Harry frowns a bit. “I could be,” he says quietly. Then, more confidently, “I am.” He nods, like that makes any sense at all. Louis’ heart hurts.

“You’re not though,” he whispers.

“It’s not like I’m anyone else’s,” Harry looks at him. “I’ve never been anyone else’s. Except for my own. But I’ve never felt like anyone else got me the way you do. You know my thoughts, my fears, you know everything about me. Most of what makes me me, you know. So how could I not be yours, when all of me is inside you?”

Louis bites his lip, the unintended innuendo such a stark contrast to this fragile conversation that they’re having that he’s momentarily taken aback, and then has to try his hardest not to laugh. He glances up at Harry, lip twitching, only to find his nostrils flaring, a clear attempt to suppress his own laughter. He loses it at that. “Inside me?” He hiccups, “out of all the imagery you could’ve used, that’s what you’re going with?”

Harry barks out a laugh, falls forward, his head against Louis’ shoulder. “I didn’t mean-”

“I know,” Louis snickers, “that’s what makes it so funny.” It’s not really that funny, even when they’re totally immature. But he’s just so keyed up from this conversation that his stress is bubbling over into this fit of laughter. “Inside me. Honestly. Freudian slip, much?”

Harry’s fingers are quick to retaliate, tickling Louis’ sides. He squirms, but the armrest of the couch prevents him from escaping his touch. “I was being honest!” Harry huffs. He gives up on tickling him just as Louis is about to beg him, and wraps his arms around him instead, pillowing his head on his shoulder.

“About wanting to be inside me.” Yes, Louis is milking this as much as he can. He understands the sentiment, but he can’t say with a straight face that he’s inside of Harry too.

“Lou,” it’s a soft whine. And, right, ok. He should probably try not to joke about this. Not when the topic is sensitive and Harry’s clearly feeling vulnerable.

“Sorry,” he squirms a bit, to free his arm, his fingers automatically finding their place in Harry’s hair. “That was very sweet, what you said. Badly worded, but sweet. And, I get it. I get what you’re saying, but that’s not, those things don’t make you mine, Hazza.”

Harry hums. “Then what does?”

Louis stays quiet for a moment. “I don’t know.” He wants to say kissing, and sex, but that’s not true either. Because there are relationships that don’t include kisses or sex, and they’re still very valid romantic relationships. He’s learned that much from his time as a Cupid, from Niall and his different coloured strings. “I mean.”

“I can’t imagine my life with anyone else.”

“You’re used to me. We’ve been friends forever.” How many other people has Harry met, here or in Heaven? Sure, there are new arrivals, but with Louis practically monopolizing his attention (which, granted, hadn’t been that bad in Heaven, but then, they also couldn’t fall in love in Heaven), Harry hasn’t really had a chance to get to know someone else the way he knew Louis.

“Why are you so against the idea of me falling in love with you?” Harry asks softly. “What would be so wrong about it?”

“Nothing, that’s not, I’m not saying that it’s wrong, just. I don’t know if you are, is all. You could just be confused.”

Harry nods. “Yes. So?”

Louis frowns. “It changes things. If we- if we went there, and then it turns out that it’s not, it’s not real, then, it changes who we are. I don’t want us to change. I don’t want to lose you.” It’s quiet, barely more than a whisper. He still feels the silence weighing on him, once the words are out.

“Lou.” Harry shakes his head. “It changes it regardless. Because if I feel something, or you feel something, or we both feel something -- we’re not just friends anymore. Things have been changing. Pretending it hasn’t, that’s not going to make it go away. We both know that it’s different, here.” He reaches for him, fingertips gentle on his face. “Change doesn’t have to be bad. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re losing me. It could bring us closer.”

And then what, Louis wants to ask. What happens if they fall in love, actually fall in love, and then go back? They’d have to give it back up, whether they were ready to or not. They’d lose the way they’d felt for one another. He frowns. But even then, he knows, they’d still have this. Their friendship. So really, what is so wrong about it?

“I’m scared,” he says quietly. “Of all those things you’re scared of.” And of a million more, probably. There’s very little he’s not scared of. Except for- “but I’m not scared of being yours. Because you’re right. I already am.” In the way Harry thinks that counts.

Harry smiles, drops his hand to lace it with Louis’. “So,” he says softly, “what now?”

*

It’s a question that Louis can’t answer, but it’s a question that Harry apparently doesn’t need an answer to right away. Louis doesn’t even get to tell him I don’t know, because as soon as Harry had asked he’d shaken his head. “We don’t have to figure it out right away. If it happens, it happens. Until then, we’re just enjoying our time together, yeah?”

And that was definitely true. With Louis skipping school and Harry ditching work they have a glorious afternoon ahead of them, filled with nothing but whatever makes them happy. Which, really, is very simple. It’s cuddling on the couch, watching TV, giggling into each other’s shoulders. It’s the same as it’s always been, but it’s also not, because this time they’re holding hands. It’s Harry’s fingers threaded with his, for no other reason than the simple pleasure of being able to touch each other. It’s his thumb brushing over Louis’ knuckles, Louis’ fingertip tracing the lines on his palm. It’s such a simple thing but it makes Louis’ heart ache. The sky grows darker around them, but for the longest time they don’t bother turning on a light, because that means having to get up, having to break this fragile spell they’re under.

Eventually, when not even the faint light from the TV is enough for Louis to be able to see the expression in Harry’s eyes, when his stomach growls to remind him he hasn’t eaten all day, he reluctantly untangles himself from Harry, his skin immediately sparking up goosebumps because oh, right, he forgot to turn on the heating and he’s still not wearing more than the t-shirt he quickly threw on before snuggling with Harry on the sofa. “We should eat,” he whispers, because that seems to be the right thing to do. Whispering. Everything feels so soft, he doesn’t want to mess that up.

That’s what stays with him, all through the night. How he doesn’t want to mess anything up. But for as much as his brain tries to get him to panic, he can’t, not when Harry’s right there, not when just his smile or the easy way he tangles their fingers again calms his nerves more than any spoken promise would. They have dinner, and afterwards it’s an unspoken agreement that since Harry cooked, Louis washes the dishes. Harry almost hovers around him, finds little excuses to touch him, nothing more than a light hand on the back of his waist, a soft kiss brushed against his shoulder. Eventually he picks up a dish towel even when Louis tells him he doesn’t have to, dries the dishes and puts them away. And then they make tea, and go straight back to the sofa, falling into each other like they’ve done a million times. It’s odd, how things feel familiar and so brand new at the same time.

Louis thinks about what it would be like to kiss Harry. The thought scares him, partially because he’s not sure he should be thinking about it, and also because kissing someone is such a foreign concept, something he’s never really felt any desire to do. Even right now he’s not sure if he wants to because he can, because he wants to know what it’s like, or because it’s Harry. If maybe he just wants to kiss him because the thought of not knowing what it’s like to kiss him is unbearable. He thinks Harry deserves better, deserves for him to know whether or not it’d be more than just an experiment. They only have one first kiss together.

But then that concept is also frightening. That they only have One Kiss. One chance to get it right. One memory that they’ll carry with them forever. He wants to make it good, but how can it be when he’s never kissed anyone? Maybe Harry was right and he should’ve paid more attention to Zayn, when they watched him from Heaven, half naked with a boy in his bed. Maybe he should ask him about it, but then, how would he explain that he’s never been kissed? Zayn would laugh at him, probably, or maybe he would say that it’s not that big of a deal. But it is. Because Louis knows it is, to Harry, just as much as to himself.

So he doesn’t kiss him, knowing that he shouldn’t simply because convention dictates that people who are more than friends usually kiss. But when the clock strikes eleven and Harry has made no move to get up, Louis does turn to him. “Stay,” he asks him, feeling like his whole heart is in that one pleading word. He wants to ask him please, but can’t catch his breath, not with Harry looking at him that way. This isn’t something they do. Harry’s spent the night a few times, but Louis has never asked him before. Even if he has, it’s never been like this. This heavy with possibility. He hasn’t ever asked and felt like his heart was in his throat, the mere thought of Harry saying no almost enough to make him choke up.

Harry doesn’t say no. Harry doesn’t say yes either. He just gets up off the couch, holds out his hand to Louis. Palm to palm, and it feels like he can breathe again. His nerves haven’t fully faded by the time they’re in bed, Harry’s arm around him (his whispered is this okay that Louis could only nod to because yes, yes it’s okay, whatever Harry’s asking he’s not going to be able to give him a different answer than yes, and maybe please), but with Harry holding onto him so sweetly, Louis feels safe and warm and loved. And like he doesn’t ever want to be anywhere other than right here.

*

His alarm goes off far too early for his liking, and when he glances at the clock he understands why. It’s four in the morning. “What the fuck,” is what comes out, before Harry shifts, reaches out to mute his (oh) phone. “Harry. It’s four in the morning. What the fuck.” Except he’s so tired it’s slurred, and he thinks the only reason Harry understands him is because he’s known Louis for so long. Or because Louis’ eyebrows are doing a fabulous job of communicating his utter dismay.

“Work,” Harry tells him softly, pressing a kiss just behind his ear. Louis thinks that that shouldn’t make up for the fact that he’s being woken up in the middle of the goddamn night. He’s slightly bitter about the fact that it does.

“I hate you,” Louis mumbles, turning his head into his pillow, not wanting to even open his eyes because Harry will inevitably turn on the light and if Louis actually wakes up enough for his brain to start working then there’s no way he’s going to be able to fall back asleep.

There’s a soft laugh, an arm that slips around his waist, Harry a warm presence at his back. “No you don’t,” it’s soft, just a hint of doubt, like there’s any universe in which Louis could say those words to Harry and mean them.

He sighs, rests his hand on the one on his stomach. “No,” he says softly, threading their fingers. “I don’t.” He hates, more than anything, that Harry will have to leave. That he’ll end up missing him, unable to fall asleep. Which is ridiculous, since he’s more used to sleeping alone than with Harry. He contemplates asking him to stay, again, but he knows that Harry can’t skip work two days in a row. He also knows that Harry would, if he asked him to, and while that’s way too much power to hold over anyone, he thinks Harry only lets him because he knows Louis would never take advantage of it.

“I have to go,” Harry whispers, but he’s brushing his lips over Louis’ bare shoulder in such a sweet, unhurried way, that Louis can tell he’s just waiting for him to tell him he doesn’t have to. Just looking for any excuse to stay close for a little while longer.

“I know,” Louis whispers back, but it still takes him another minute to let go of Harry’s hand. When he finally does, it’s only to turn around in his arms. He holds his breath when he comes face to face with Harry, their noses barely an inch apart. “Hi,” he breathes out, his hand landing awkwardly on his waist. “Good morning.”

Harry’s looking at him in a way that makes him feel funny inside, but Louis doesn’t want to joke about it, not even when it’s making him feel vulnerable. He just gives him a soft smile. “What?”

Harry shakes his head, brushes his fingertips through Louis’ fringe. “Nothing,” Harry says softly. Then. “Just. I thought I’d seen everything about you. That I knew exactly what you looked like, no matter the circumstance. But, I didn’t. I’ve never - I had no idea.” He traces his cheekbone, the faint blush Louis can feel on his cheek. “You’re lovely.”

Louis wants to duck his head and hide against Harry’s chest. He doesn’t, because Harry’s only wearing underwear and Louis can barely remember to breathe now, let alone when he’s pressing his face against Harry’s bare skin. Instead he looks at him, at his eyes, the curve of his lip. He leans in, presses a kiss to his cheek. “You’re doing a great job at making me less upset about the fact that it’s four in the morning.” He admits, voice too soft for it to come across as a joke. The last thing he wants is to make Harry feel like he can’t say those kind of things to him. Even when they make Louis feel all sorts of strange. Not bad, just, new, and strange, and scary and exciting all at once.

A soft chuckle ghosts over his skin, Harry’s lips following suit, brushing a tender kiss against his temple. “I’ll let you sleep some more.” He murmurs, finally making a move to pull away from him. Louis tucks the blankets around him once Harry’s finally gotten up, eager to keep some of his warmth wrapped around him. “I’ll text you,” Harry tells him, one leg in his jeans and his hand reaching for his phone. He still manages to lean over to press another kiss to Louis’ hair. Louis falls asleep before Harry’s left the bedroom, knowing he’s never felt more loved.

It crosses over into his dreams, that feeling of warmth and love and safety. They might be memories, might not be, but Louis wakes up with that same feeling still intact, with the faces of his family in his head, their voices in his ears. It’s drowned out by the alarm on his phone but he can’t complain, not when he feels more whole than he’s ever done in his life.

Is this what love is?

He decides on breakfast before he showers, shuffles into the kitchen in nothing more than his underpants, wearing his blanket like a cape. It doesn’t smell like Harry, doesn’t have much of his warmth in it anymore, but Louis still likes having it wrapped around him. Harry hasn’t left coffee, or breakfast, but Louis hadn’t really expected him to, not when Harry had tried to keep from making so much noise he’d wake Louis up. He does that all the time. Caring for him seems to come so naturally to Harry. He wonders if the same goes for falling in love. It makes him wonder about soulmates, about how naturally it’d be for Liam and Zayn. If it’s as easy as breathing or if they’ll have to work for it. It’s heavy thoughts for seven in the morning, but they’re not bad thoughts. If last night and this morning were any indication, he could wish nothing better and happier for two of the loveliest people he’s ever met in his life.

It’s Louis’ last day of school this week, which is usually enough on its own to put him in a good mood - not that he dislikes school, if anything it’s a nice change from work, and he’s used to getting up early, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys it. He’s not a freak like Harry is. He likes sleeping in and if that happens to come with breakfast in bed from one curly haired Cupid then he’s not about to complain. He might be getting a bit ahead of himself though. He doesn’t even know if Harry is coming over tonight, let alone that he’ll spend the night. He knows that it might be a mistake, spending so much time together at the start of a relationship, has seen it go wrong so many times that it’s become this kind of inside joke - Harry would ask him how his charges are going and Louis would only have to say they spent the last three days together and they’d know it was time to come up with a plan for when things inevitably turned sour - but then, it’s different with them. Because it’s Harry, and he’s known Harry forever, can’t think of a happier future than spending eternity together. Plus, they’re not actually in a relationship.

Yet.

That one word is both terrifying and exhilarating. Louis tries not to analyze things too much, doesn’t want to ruin anything by labeling it too soon, but he can’t help but catalogue all the ways in which things are different, now.

For example, the way his heart just jumps when he can feel his phone vibrate in his pocket during class. The way he can’t focus on anything the Professor’s saying, because there’s a text waiting to be read and it might be from Harry and he wants to know what he’s saying, wants to know if he’s thinking of him the way Louis can’t stop thinking about Harry.

He’s not ashamed to admit he almost runs out of the classroom when the bell rings, has his phone open and his messenger program loading before he’s even crossed the hallway. It’s really divine intervention that he doesn’t end up bumping into anyone, because he’s staring at a text from Harry and it says movie tomorrow??

They’ve done movies before. Loads of them. There’s absolutely no reason why it should make him nervous this time.

He texts him back quickly: Is this a date?

Except for that. That it might be a date. That he might be dating Harry. He’d feel a lot more nervous and insecure if it was anyone else. But it’s Harry and Louis knows that Harry probably loves him too much for his own good. Has him up on a pedestal despite being all too aware of Louis’ flaws. But then Louis is one to talk because he will fight anyone who claims that Harry doesn’t belong right up on a pedestal of his own.

Because he’s had to wait for class to end before he could actually answer Harry’s text, he spends most of his smoke break anxiously checking his phone while telling himself that Harry’s probably elbows deep in flour and it isn’t unreasonable to expect that he might not get a reply until his next class is underway. It doesn’t stop him from unlocking his phone over and over just to check.

Thankfully, the world is kind to him, and he’s got about five minutes of break left when he watches Harry’s status turn from last seen: 10:37 am to Harry is online to Harry is typing. It takes another minute before his reply comes through, a minute Louis isn’t too sure he actually manages to breathe in once.

Oh, I was actually thinking we’d invite Liam and Zayn out? We’ve got some momentum going, it’d be a shame not to capitalize on that.

It’s really rather rude how Louis can feel disappointed on the one hand and feel so endeared by him at the same time. Because only Harry would kindly turn him down while using words such as momentum and capitalize. He stares at his phone for a moment, wondering what to reply.

But it could still be a date :) comes through while Louis is still contemplating his reply. A double date.

As much as Louis’ heart wants to jump for joy (seriously, doesn’t he have some sort of ribcage to prevent that exact thing? Then why does it feel like his heart is about to jump out of his chest by way of his throat?) he doesn’t know if it’s a great idea to force a double date on Liam and Zayn. That might just be too much, despite the ‘momentum’ they’ve got going. Yeah, they’d seemed to like one another, but they’d really only talked once. Turning a friendly meeting into a date might just be jumping the gun a little bit.

As much as I’d love that, I don’t know how comfortable they’d be. Maybe we can just hang out instead? Keep some of the pressure off? He texts back, contemplating his words before he sends them, adding an awkward feeling we can always go on a date some other time. The four of us. Or just the two of us.

The bell rings before Harry has a chance to reply, and for a moment Louis seriously considers just skipping class. He’d already been thinking of Harry before, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to make it through a whole lesson now that he’s pretty much put it out there that he’d like to go on a date with Harry. Which is ridiculous, because it’s not like it’s a secret. It’s not like they haven’t actually talked about this thing, and Harry’s pretty much made it clear he’d like to date him too. Then why does he feel nervous, and why does it suddenly feel like there’s all this pressure? Calling hanging out a date doesn’t mean that they’re doing more than figuring this out. It’s not like they’re planning their wedding or something as ridiculous as that.

Keeping one eye on the teacher, he sneaks his phone from his pocket, mutes the sound before he opens up the reply Harry’s sent.

I’d like that :) is all it says. Louis reminds himself that squealing in a full classroom of his peers is probably not the best thing to do. If he has to bite his lip until he tastes blood to actually keep quiet then that’s no one’s business but his own.

*

He doesn’t risk replying until he’s out of class, until it’s lunch time and Louis has only got one class left after that. And rather than texting Harry he tries for a call, hoping that lunch time is lunch time at the bakery too.

It takes a bit, but just as Louis is about to hang up Harry picks up. “Hi!” He sounds sort of out of breath, and Louis finds himself beaming at a brick wall. Fuck his life. “Louis?” Oh, right, he should probably say something.

“Hi curly,” he lightly kicks his shoe against the pavement, trying to keep the smile off of his face. “What are you up to?”

“Thinking of you,” is Harry’s immediate reply. Then, “making chocolate chip cookies. Want me to bring you some later?”

The fact that he doesn’t even ask if he’s coming over later, that it’s almost implied right now, shouldn’t make Louis feel so damn happy. He can’t even fool himself and say that it’s because of the cookies. It’s just a nice bonus. “Yes please. You do know the way to my heart.”

Harry chuckles. “I’m assuming that’s not why you called though.” It’s not a very subtle way to get the conversation going, but Harry is probably quite busy and Louis should’ve just texted him. But he’s a very weak non human being and he just wanted to hear his voice. It’s been nine hours since he heard it last, which makes it absolutely understandable.

“Not exactly. I just wanted to know if you wanted me to ask Zayn if he wants to catch a movie tomorrow, or if you’d changed your mind.” Harry’s reply text, while sweet, had been a bit lacking in detail. His text could’ve just meant that he wanted a double date with Zayn and Liam. Which is technically still a work thing. But it’s also a date thing, so, Louis really can’t complain.

“Look at you, all business,” Harry teases, which, really, he’s the one that started it. Louis would’ve been happy just going to the movies together. Harry is the one that had to make it all about work. Louis tries to communicate all of that with a small sound. It just makes Harry laugh. “Okay, point,” he agrees easily. “Yeah. I haven’t asked Liam yet, so I don’t know if he’s got any other plans yet, but I think you said Zayn wasn’t working this Saturday? So maybe if we catch an early showing it’d be alright, what with him working Sunday and all?”

Louis hums. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll see if I can’t catch Zayn in school. I think he’s got a break coming up soon too. If not, I’ll text him. Meet you at my place after school? I’ll be done at three.” He’s aiming for casual, just confirming, really, considering Harry’s already implied he’d come over when he said he’d bring cookies. It still makes him happy when Harry says yes.

*

It’s nice, that he can just head up to Zayn and grin at him. That they know each other now, and he doesn’t have to pretend that he doesn’t, while knowing so much more than he should. He can just head over, wrap a friendly arm around his shoulders as a way of saying hello, and know that Zayn will be grinning up at him.

He’s got paint on his nose and a smudge of charcoal on his forehead, and Louis almost wants to snap a picture of it, knowing that if Liam saw this Zayn he wouldn’t feel intimidated by him. He’d just feel endeared and probably attracted, because even with charcoal and paint on his skin he’s still one of the most gorgeous men Louis has ever laid eyes on. “Wrestled with your work?” he teases, nodding towards Zayn’s face.

There’s a smile on his face just like he predicted, his tongue pressed against the back of his teeth. Though it fades somewhat at Louis’ words. “Don’t tell me, I’ve still got paint on me?” Zayn sighs, drags a hand through his hair, succeeding in leaving another smudge of charcoal on his forehead. Louis bites his lip.

“Among other things. Haven’t looked in a mirror in a while, have you?” He almost wants to reach out and brush it away, but he figures wetting his thumb with his own saliva to use it to clean Zayn’s skin is probably something that’s reserved for family. Or very, very intimate friends who might or might not have already swapped saliva in some other way. “Have to say, you’re breaking all kinds of stereotypes here.”

Zayn snorts lightly, covers his hand with his sleeve and rubs it over his face. “Better?”

It is. Somewhat. At least it’s blended in a bit more. “Moderately.” Louis allows, grinning at him. “You pull it off though. Might make a new fashion out of it. Like the Bradford Regina George.”

“I’ve got a big assignment to do over the next couple of weeks,” Zayn tells him, scrunching up his face. “I can’t figure out what I want to do. Pencils or paint or charcoal. I haven’t completely ruled out ink yet either.” He explains.

Louis ponders that. “Can’t give you any better advice than whatever you do, don’t wear it on your face,” he likes how that makes Zayn smile again, makes the slight edgy pinch around his eyes disappear. He remembers their conversation after the gym, what he’d said about studying art being so different from doing it just because he loved it. “It probably doesn’t help if I tell you that whatever you come up with, it’d probably be brilliant?”

Zayn considers that, before shaking his head. “Nah, but I appreciate it all the same. Thanks.”

Louis smiles. “Welcome,” he tells him, giving Zayn a light squeeze. He likes how the other hasn’t moved away from him yet, how he’s just casually standing there with his arm slung over Zayn’s shoulder and it’s normal. Comfortable. “Hey, how about a distraction? I was thinking we could catch a movie tomorrow?” Subtlety, thy name is Louis Tomlinson.

Apparently not, because Zayn’s eyes narrow a little. “Define we.”

While Louis wants to tell him that it should definitely be the four of them, he is also committed to being a good friend to Zayn. And Zayn looks like he needs a distraction, something to cheer him up. It’s not necessarily compatible with first date nerves, regardless of whether or not they call it a date. So he just shrugs. “We is whoever you want it to be. Could just be me and you. Could be me and you and Harry. If you’re feeling very adventurous, it could even be me and you and Harry and Liam.” He should probably also include the possibility of inviting Sam or Lily, but he hopes the way he trails off makes that clear. “Whoever you’re comfortable with. I just thought it might be fun to hang out. I don’t even really care what’s playing, it’d just be nice to have a lads night out.”

He really, really hopes Zayn won’t ask him if he’s trying to set him up with Liam. He’s not sure what he’d say if he asked. He’d probably try to stick as close to the truth as he could. That yes, he’d seen the way they’d looked at each other, and he figured they might want to explore that. But no pressure. Because he can’t exactly tell him that the duration of his stay on earth is heavily dependent on how quickly Zayn and Liam got together.

(Which means that the amount of time he’s got left to figure out this thing between him and Harry is also determined by when Liam and Zayn no longer need Harry and Louis to meddle in their love life. He almost wants to back out and tell him that tomorrow it should just be him and Zayn. Because he’s not sure there’s enough time, to really explore how he feels. Not unless -- but that can never happen.)

Zayn nods, tension draining from him. “That’d be nice,” he says softly. “I could use a distraction. I’m not sure if - it wouldn’t be a date, would it?” He looks up at Louis. “I mean. Liam’s nice and all. And I’m not saying I’d be entirely opposed to going on a date with him, at some point. But. Tomorrow’s very, um, soon? It’s so formal. A date.” He makes a face. “I’m not even making sense.”

If he’s not making sense then Louis isn’t either. Because it all makes perfect sense to him. Something about the word date just amps up the pressure. It makes every touch, every look, sound so deliberate. He doesn’t want Zayn to feel like he has to impress Liam. He definitely doesn’t want Liam to feel like he has to impress anyone, because he’s already spending too much time doing that.

“Not a date,” he assures him. “It’d just be the four of us hanging out. We wouldn’t - I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. Or Liam. You’ve only met once. If you two like each other, cool. If not, who cares?” Besides Niall and him and Harry and, oh yeah, Grimshaw and Walsh. And God. “I’m not trying to marry you off, mate. Besides, it’d be a bit awkward if it was a date, and you guys would end up snogging halfway through the movie while me and Haz just sit there, pretending not to notice.” He jokes, probably going a little overboard in emphasizing just how much of a Big Deal this isn’t.

That earns him another soft snort from Zayn. “Just as long as you promise you won’t start snogging Harry halfway through the movie.”

Louis considers telling him that it isn’t like that, between them. He’s done it before, but that’s when he actually thought that was true. Arguing it just for argument’s sake seems like a bit of a waste of his time. He can’t actually imagine himself snogging Harry though, at least not in a crowded cinema while two of their friends were there. Just the thought makes him go a bit pink. “I doubt that’d happen.”

Zayn’s arched eyebrow tells him he picked up on the non-denial. “But you want to,” he sounds a bit too gleeful for Louis’ liking. “You do, don’t you? Oh my God, I knew that whole ‘we’re just best friends’ thing was bullshit. I’ve never seen friends hang all over each other the way you do. And then there’s the looks.”

“Hey!” Louis grumbles. “That wasn’t-” he hadn’t been lying, really. Just -- unaware of how things were? In denial? It’s probably a mixture of the two. “Wait, what looks?”

He gets a blank stare from Zayn. “The looks? The ones where Harry looks at you like you’re made of starlight? Where you look at him like the sun shines out of his arse? Where the two of you are quite obviously in love with each other? Those looks? Ring a bell?”

Louis is definitely blushing now. “I do? We do?”

Zayn’s sigh is both long-suffering and endeared. “Yes, Louis, you do. Are you saying you really didn’t know how you two look at each other? Honestly, it made me feel a little jealous. I mean, not of - I don’t see you that way and I definitely don’t see Harry that way, don’t worry, but, it’d be nice, having something like that? The way you two love each other… You’d have to be blind not to see how special it is.”

There’s a small part of Louis that wants to protest, that wants to tell him that it’s just him and Harry. That anyone would act the same way if they’d been friends for decades. That he, of all people, would know what love looked like. But then he thinks of Harry, of the way his eyes had looked this morning, all tender and a bit overwhelmed. And all he can think is that Zayn might be right, and that he’d be so very lucky to be loved by Harry.

“You will,” he says finally, his voice a little croaky. “You’ll find something like that.”

It sounds perhaps a bit more confident than he should be, but Zayn just smiles, bumps his shoulder against Louis’. “Thanks.”

*

There’s a tense moment, right as Louis is about to head home, where Harry texts him that Liam isn’t sure he can come with them to the cinema tomorrow. Louis figures it’s probably not that he doesn’t want to, even when Harry seems to fret over that being the case. His worry is more about how awkward it’d be to have it be the three of them at the movies. Somehow that feels a lot more like a date (and Zayn third wheeling) than it would have done if it had been the four of them. He knows he can get sort of caught up in Harry, and if Liam can’t come then the point of going out is to give Zayn something else to focus on besides art school. But he’s not sure he can stop himself from being caught up in Harry, because everything is so new right now. It’s like he’s meeting him for the first time all over again.

Thankfully, by the time he comes home - it’s still an hour before Harry is done with work - he has a text waiting for him, that tells him that Liam can come as long as they make it to the early showing. Louis sends back a string of thumbs up emoji’s before letting Zayn know that he’ll meet him at the cinema tomorrow at six.

Because he has nothing else to do and sitting on the couch, waiting for Harry, is making him feel all sorts of things, he decides to get his homework out of the way. Sure, he’s got all weekend to do it, but if he knows himself, he’ll end up leaving it to the very last minute. There’s always better things to do on the weekend.

Thinking about his plans for the weekend makes him realize just how much he misses playing football with Niall though. Misses being able to text him, or just see his face. It’s weird, knowing he’s so close to having everything he’d ever wanted - this job brought to a successful ending, remembering who he is and where he came from, even finding out what it’s like to be in love - but he still can’t be completely happy, because he’s missing one very important person. He wishes he could just talk to him. Tell him about everything that’s been going on, about Harry and how earth isn’t as scary as he thought it’d be. How much he likes Zayn, but that he’d never be able to replace Niall as his best friend. He wants to hear what things are like in Heaven too. If Perrie and Cara have been behaving. If Niall’s gone to the shelter, to greet the new arrivals. He even wants to know if he’s kept an eye on Nick, if the two of them have made each other feel a little less lonely.

His thoughts distract him to the point where he doesn’t do much of his homework, and is brought out of his reverie by a soft knock on the door. It’s only when he gets up from his chair that he realizes he’s been crying a bit, and he quickly wipes the tears from his cheek before heading towards the door. It’s not that he’s trying to keep this from Harry, in fact, he could do with a bit of a cuddle, but at the same time he wants to keep this to himself. Because he knows Harry would understand all too well, and he wants to spare him the pain.

His good intentions are shot to hell when Harry just frowns the moment he sees him, and wraps his arms around him before Louis can even say hello. “What happened,” he whispers, warm embrace making Louis let out a soft sound, his face buried against his shirt. “Lou?”

Louis swallows. “I miss Niall.”

Harry is quiet for a moment, his hand rubbing Louis’ back. He gently moves him forward so he can close the door, not letting go of him. It’s like he can sense Louis might just break if he doesn’t physically hold him together right now. “Me too,” he says quietly, eventually. “I’d say I know how you feel but I know we aren’t best friends the way you and him are, so, this is probably a hundred times worse for you.”

Louis makes another soft sound, tightens his arms around him. “I haven’t got a monopoly on missing Niall. Doesn’t matter how close you were. If it hurts, it hurts.” He doesn’t like when Harry does that, just brushes aside his own feelings because he thinks someone else is going through something worse. It’s something he’s guilty of to an extent as well, but he never claimed not to be a hypocrite. “D’you miss Nick?”

This time it’s Harry’s turn for a soft sound, his mouth landing somewhere in Louis’ hair. He can feel when he exhales, both through the air brushing against his scalp and the way Harry’s chest expands against his own. “So much.”

Where Louis would be a bit jealous in the past he doesn’t feel any of that now. He just feels sad, for Grimshaw, for Harry, for all of them. Mostly for Grimshaw, actually, because at least Louis still has his Harry. His better than best friend. His home. Grimshaw has friends, sure, the same way Niall does, but he’s not as close to any of them as he’d been to Harry. At least with Niall Louis knows that there’s a lot of people that are going to go out of their way to cheer him up. He talks easier than Nick does. Louis knows that Niall misses him, that it’s not like someone could replace him, but he also knows that it’s more difficult for Nick. “Do you wish we could go back soon?”

Harry seems to think this conversation is better suited for the couch than the hallway, because he takes Louis’ hand and tugs him towards it, not saying anything - or in fact looking at him - until they’re sitting down. They’re on opposite sides of the couch, but it’s small enough that Louis can tuck his toes under Harry’s thigh, and their hands are resting on top of one another on the backrest.

“I don’t know if we can’t,” Harry says eventually. “I mean. It was our goal to get Liam and Zayn together, and, in a way, we already have? They’ve met, they’ve taken a liking to each other. We’re all going out to the movies tomorrow. They might not really need our help much more after that.”

Chapter Text

They might go home.

Louis thought he’d be ecstatic, but truthfully, he’s not sure how to feel. “Huh,” he says quietly. “I didn’t, I hadn’t actually thought about that.” He supposes Harry is right though. They’re soulmates, they’ll work things out. They’ve established contact, which is why they were sent here in the first place. Anything else could probably be done from up in Heaven. “Do you think they’d be okay, without us?”

Harry shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to say no because I think they might still need us or because I’m not ready to go back.”

Louis nods. He can understand that. There’s a ton of things that could still go wrong. Liam might be too insecure to reach out to Zayn. Zayn might get too caught up in his schoolwork - with all his conflicting feelings towards art - to realize how much time has gone by and how much he genuinely liked Liam. There’s no guarantee that they’ll actually work it out once Louis and Harry are no longer there to push them together. But there’s also no guarantee that they won’t.

“Nick said he’d contact us if he thought we were done,” Harry continues, but from the way he’s frowning, Louis can tell he’s not a hundred percent sure he believes that. He wonders if Grimshaw is the type to let them stay beyond what Walsh wanted, just because he thinks it’s important to Harry to experience love. As much as they’ve always been jealous of each other, Louis thinks he just might, even if the person Harry’s potentially falling in love with is Louis.

“Should we just wait then?” Louis asks, his fingers brushing over Harry’s of their own accord. It’s strange, how quickly this hand holding thing has become normal. It’s the new normal now, to brush his thumb over Harry’s knuckles when he can see the creases in his forehead, the tense set of his jaw. “Do you want to go home?”

“Of course I do,” Harry answers, but it’s more or less automatic. Louis squeezes his hand. “I mean. We always said we would. And we have to, I know that. There’s no place for us down here. We don’t belong here. Not the way everyone else does. We-”

“We belong up there. Together.” Louis finishes for him. He swallows. “Don’t we?” He doesn’t know what prompts him to even ask that. He knows the answer. “Wherever you are is the place I belong.”

He might not know much but he knows that. “We do,” Harry smiles then, squeezes his hand back. “We do belong together. That won’t change though, when we go back. We’ll still be together up there.”

Not like this, Louis thinks. He’s not sure why he wants to argue that though. Because he does want to go home. He wants to see Niall again. He wants to spend eternity with Harry at his side. Even if it’s not the way they are right now. He’ll still have him at his side. “Then I’m ready, whenever you are. Whenever we’re done.”

Harry stays quiet for a moment, before nodding. “Part of me hopes it still takes a while though,” he confesses in a whisper, like it’s a secret that Louis isn’t meant to overhear. “I hope I get to discover what it’s like to kiss you. To fall in love with you. I hope we get the time.”

Louis’ heart aches. Me too, he thinks. He doesn’t say that, doesn’t say anything in fact, just shifts to press close, laying down with his ear pressed to Harry’s chest. I don’t think we’ll need a lot of time, his own heart tells him, fingers tapping out the rhythm of Harry’s heartbeat on his thigh. I don’t think we’ll need a lot of time at all.

Harry wraps an arm around him, and for a while they just stay like that. Close, in silence. Louis lets his thoughts wander, his fingertips still on Harry’s thigh, tracing aimless patterns. He’s never been one to really enjoy silence for too long, both because it leaves him with his thoughts and because he likes having people’s attention on him, but not when he’s not doing anything. Not when silence leaves him inevitably vulnerable.

Yet, as so many things are, it’s different with Harry. It’s different with Harry now, because in Heaven he’d still make a joke, fidget, find something to do. He didn’t think things had changed that much, but apparently they have. “Do you think this’ll last?” He asks softly. “I know that it won’t,” he continues, realizing he’s answering his own question, “We won’t feel this way for each other, but, the things we’ve learned, the ways we’ve changed, do you think that’ll last?” He wants to look up at him but he doesn’t want to move, so he stays put, relishing the feeling of Harry’s fingers carding slowly through his hair. “Or will we go back to how we’ve always been, eventually? When we’ve been back long enough to forget what it was like?” He’s not sure he likes that thought. Doesn’t know if he won’t miss this Harry terribly, won’t miss the effect earth-Harry has on Louis.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget what this was like,” Harry answers in a similarly soft voice. “I won’t forget what it was like to not be able to wait to see you. To feel this ache whenever we’re apart. Sometimes when we’re together too.”

Louis looks up at that. “You feel an ache when we’re together?” He frowns.

Harry laughs softly. “Not in a bad way. Just in a, I can’t believe I got so lucky kind of way. When you’re like this - I never thought you could be so soft. Not that you were hard, up there, but, I feel like I’m a lot closer to knowing you, now. Maybe it’s because you know yourself now. Your past, your memories, the things that make you you. But, just sitting here, like this, in silence, that’s something we never would’ve gotten to do if it weren’t for coming here. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that.”

Louis nods, bites his lip. “Or enjoy it the way you do here.” He counters quietly.

Harry nods too. “It’ll be different. But it’s still going to be enough. It’s always going to be enough, Lou. Having you for the rest of forever - that’s not such a bad deal.” Even as he says it, Louis can tell he’s on his way to not fully believing it anymore. As much as he seems to want to. He can’t help but wonder - does Harry really want to go back? Or would he give up eternity for the chance that this would never become a memory?

He knows what Harry had said, but that was after watching Louis relive the last moments of his life. Had things changed, now that those memories weren't so fresh?

Call him a coward, but Louis doesn’t really want to think about that too much. Doesn’t want to have to be faced with the decision, give up everything he’d ever wanted or make Harry return to Heaven, the love they felt for one another forever stuck in the past.

*

Luckily, Harry doesn’t make him continue the conversation. They sit in silence for another while, and then Harry makes him dinner, Louis helping. Which means that he’s dipping his pinkie into the sauce, stealing a slice of cucumber, and generally hovers around Harry until he laughs and shoos him out of the kitchen. Louis leans in the doorway then, watching him, and he knows what Harry meant by saying he felt this ache even when they were together. Because watching him cook in this apartment that looks so much like the one he’s got in Heaven, it’s a painful sort of pleasure. It makes him want this, forever.

Louis jolts. It makes him want.

“Harry.”

Harry glances at him over his shoulder, still continuing to chop something for the salad he’s making. Louis wants to scold him for taking his eyes off his knife, but he can’t make his mouth work beyond those two syllables. “Harry.” It’s about all he manages, softer now, his voice trembling.

Something in his voice makes Harry turns around then, properly meeting his eyes. What he sees makes his fingers go slack around the knife but Harry’s already crossed the kitchen before it’s clattered onto the ground. His arms go around Louis’ waist, as Louis’ move up to wrap around his neck. “Louis” he responds, and to Louis’ ears it sounds like yes.

It’s a bit of a fumble, their noses bumping together, but Louis doesn’t care anymore. He doesn’t care that this is his first kiss and that he wanted to make it good for Harry, that he’s so scared that what he’s feeling is not enough, that he promised himself he’d take the time to really analyze whether it’s love or lust and that he’s still got so much figuring out to do - he doesn’t care. Because Harry’s in his house and Louis never wants him to be away from him, because he’s looking at him like he’s all he’s ever going to want and Louis can’t die but he feels like he actually might if Harry doesn’t kiss him right now. His fingers tangle in his hair and finally -- finally.

It’s just this side of too painful at first, teeth clacking together, lips almost bruising each other, neither of them sure what to do with this passion they feel. It’s messy and for a moment Louis wonders if this is worth it, if he really wants this. If anyone really wants this, because the thought of it still sort of grosses him out. But then, Louis’ mouth shifts a bit, and Harry’s lips press just a little gentler, and suddenly it’s not at all bad or gross anymore. Suddenly it’s just another way of expressing their love, sharing the same air, the same breath.

It’s not perfect but it’s perfect. Harry’s hands on his waist, feeling so warm that Louis is sure his core temperature is raised by at least a thousand degrees. Harry’s hands are so hot that he’s convinced he could burn through his clothes with them, but they are so gentle too, holding him like he’s the most precious thing he’s ever touched in his life. Their lips brush sweetly now, Louis’ fingers letting go of the tight grip they’d had on Harry’s hair before he actually rips some of it out.

“You don’t have to,” Harry mumbles against his mouth, and Louis thinks, what. He doesn’t have to do what? Kiss him? Because that’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard coming out of Harry’s mouth. He doesn’t think he knows how to not do this, right now. He tries to convey that with the way he shifts closer, his heart aching as he tries to muster up the courage to brush his tongue over Harry’s bottom lip.

“I liked it,” Harry continues, and Louis is all for communication but he’s also very much in favor of not doing that right this second because it means they can’t kiss and he’s almost confident enough to deepen it. But Harry seems to think that it’s vital that he tells him this right now, so Louis doesn’t kiss him and shut him up, gives him the barest hint of space so that he can speak without Louis kissing the words right out of his mouth. “The tugging,” Harry clarifies, and it’s like he’s a bit embarrassed about admitting it, because as soon as he’s said it he moves back in, and Louis’ hands tighten in his hair instinctively.

Harry reacts beautifully. He lets out this soft sound, almost a whimper, or a moan, Louis isn’t sure but he knows he wants to hear it forever. Wants to make Harry make this sound forever. He presses closer, though there’s not much closer to go, but his brain can’t convince his body of that fact. They kiss until Louis’ lungs ache, until it’s almost easy to part his lips for Harry’s tentative tongue, until the stench of something foul permeates his senses.

He makes a face even when he hasn’t pulled back from Harry. Harry, who doesn’t seem to have noticed anything yet, because he makes another sound, this one less happy and a little more desperate. Louis is almost tempted to ignore the awful smell, because he never wants to hear Harry this miserable. But then Harry stills, leans his forehead against Louis’. “Shit,” he groans. “I forgot to turn off the stove.”

The fact that the world had somehow still continued to turn while they were kissing is almost incomprehensible for Louis, but it’s clear, when they break apart to go look at the pan still on the stove, that it has. Because what was once a wonderful meal - Harry made it, so even though Louis had no idea what he was actually cooking he knows there’s no way it wouldn’t have been wonderful - is now a terrible smelling black mush.

Harry almost looks close to tears, and it’s second nature for Louis to rest a hand at the small of his back. “Hey,” he says softly, “it’s alright. We’ll just order in something.”

Harry sighs. “I really wanted to make you dinner.”

“You make me dinner all the time, H.” Louis counters, wrapping an arm around Harry’s waist when he leans into him. “You can take one night off from cooking for me. Besides, I can’t exactly be sad about it, after what happened.” It comes out almost shy.

To his relief, Harry smiles. It’s not a full one, there’s only the barest hint of a dimple, but it’s a smile nonetheless. “Yeah,” he echoes, and he suddenly looks shy too, and perhaps a little starstruck. “That was-” he trails off, apparently not sure how to put what just happened into words.

“It was,” Louis agrees. He feels warm and all at once too big and too small for his body. He feels shy but like he can take on the world. So he decides to go for broke. “What do you say we order a pizza, get on the couch, and do a little more of that?”

*

They spend their evening even closer than usual. It’s not that they kiss all the time, but there’s definitely a lot of kissing going on, and every new one is better than the last. They talk a lot too, the way they’ve always done, but every so often one of them will lean in and -- it’s just so natural. Like they’ve always been doing this, like they should have been always doing this. Louis knows that isn’t true, that if they hadn’t died he wouldn’t have met Harry, or he’d have been middle aged before Harry had even reached the age of consent - and he’s sure that Harry wouldn’t have looked at him twice, even if he had somehow managed to become a silver fox. But when Harry kisses him, looks at him like Louis is the sun (Zayn was right, the bastard) it’s hard not to believe that things happen for a reason and that maybe this is just meant to be.

Louis wonders what that means, for when they go back. Wonders, in the middle of the night, with Harry snoring softly in his ear, if that means they aren’t meant to go back. It’s a scary thought, one he doesn’t like to contemplate for more than the time it took his brain to come up with the thought. Because fate is all good and well, but he still wants to be in charge of his own destiny. He wants to make his own decisions, and what he wants is to go home, to see Niall, to live with Harry at his side. He can’t lose them. And with his family’s last goodbyes still fresh in his mind, he can’t make either of them say goodbye to him either.

His heart aches, but he knows this is how it has to play out. He has to make the most of his time with Harry here, and break his own heart by going home. Because he’s pretty sure, after a night of kissing Harry, that this is far more than just lust. This is it, and Louis won’t get to keep it.

*

In the light of the morning, it’s hard to dwell on such dark thoughts. Because Harry is so happy, and it’s because of Louis. He seems much more free with his affections now, touching him more often than before, but somehow it never feels like too much. Or even enough, to be honest, and Louis tells him over breakfast that he’s dreading going to the movies tonight, because how does he not touch Harry now, now that he knows? Now that he can.

(While he still can)

Harry laughs, tells him eyes on the prize Tomlinson and Louis shakes his head and looks at him and thinks I have my eyes on the prize.

Their afternoon is so domestic. They get groceries for Louis’ apartment, and then Harry actually encourages him to do his homework for a while, while he cooks them lunch slash an early dinner. Louis fully intends on gorging on snacks at the cinema, but the smells coming from the kitchen are still tempting enough that he knows he’ll eat a generous helping of whatever Harry’s making. He thinks - as he attempts to focus enough to do his homework - that he should maybe feel bad about Harry doing all the cooking, but then he watches him shake his hips in the kitchen and hum a song under his breath and he knows it’s one of the places that Harry is happiest.

And, well, Louis might sort of like being spoiled a little bit. It’s not that he’s incapable of taking care of himself, while he’s not a world class chef by any means he does hold his own in a kitchen, when he doesn’t get distracted. But Harry likes cooking and making Louis happy, and Louis likes Harry and seeing him happy, so, this little arrangement they’ve got is working out quite well for him.

Of course he doesn’t manage to do more than half ass his homework, because Harry’s shimmying his hips in the kitchen, his arse looking fantastic in those tight jeans he’s got on, and Louis is only so strong. It’s still somewhat finished, by the time Harry’s made him fajitas, and while Louis is more hungry for another kiss, and maybe to get his hands on that arse, he obediently sits down at the kitchen table.

They get all their touches in, now that they still can, because Louis promised Zayn that he wouldn’t snog Harry at the movies, and while he foolishly made that promise before he knew just how amazing it was to kiss Harry he fully intends to stick to it. After all, he has to keep his focus, and he’s a man on a mission. By the time they’ve left the movie theater he’s hoping Zayn and Liam will at least have exchanged numbers. He knows that might be getting his hopes up a bit, but he’ll settle for sneakily creating a group chat so that they have each other’s number even when they haven’t technically given it to one another. He’s got his goals, is the point, and he can’t let Harry, with his stupidly luscious lips and his adorable curls, distract him from them.

So of course that means he spends all his time snogging Harry on the couch before they inevitably have to go. He probably looks proper snogged, but he doesn’t care, he only promised Zayn he wouldn’t make out with Harry while they were together as a group, he hadn’t said anything about not kissing Harry all the way up to the movie theater.

The little peck in the lobby probably doesn’t count, seeing as that Zayn isn’t there yet. But as they break apart, he can hear a small gasp from somewhere to Louis’ left, and he looks right in the fact of a startled looking Liam.

“Um,” Louis says.

“Hi.” Liam sounds a little bewildered, but the way he smiles at Louis, his scrunched up face, he’s more happy shocked than appalled. Which, Louis hadn’t really considered anything else, since Liam isn’t terribly straight himself, but still. “I didn’t know you were-”

Harry sticks his hand in Louis’ back pocket, which is so brazen that Louis nearly jumps, but it also feels good so he sort of melts into it a little bit. “It’s new,” Louis says, and he hates that he sounds a little bit breathless. “Like, um, very new. Last night sort of new?”

Liam beams at that, like there’s no happier news he could’ve heard. “That’s great. I had a feeling Harry’s crush wasn’t as one sided as he claimed it was.”

“Liam.” Harry sounds impressively disgruntled at that, his face doing the oddest thing, while Louis looks up at him and tries his hardest not to laugh.

“Aw, darling,” he rests a hand against his heart, fluffs up his hair with the other. He hopes Liam doesn’t take Harry’s obvious unhappiness, at having a private conversation between the two of them shared with Louis, too much to heart, but he tries to deflect any possible tension all the same. “Very much not one sided. But I can’t blame him for thinking it was, to be honest. It took me far too long to get my head out of my arse.”

“Can’t blame you, it’s a fantastic arse,” comes a slow drawl from behind them, and Louis squeaks at the way Harry pinches said arse in response to Zayn’s words. He only slowly withdraws his hand after that, apparently remembering the no contact rule that they had agreed on. “Hi Lou. Harry. Liam.” Is it just Louis’ imagination or does his voice sound a little deeper when he says Liam’s name?

A glance at Liam and he thinks no, it’s definitely not his imagination. Because Liam’s blushing a bit, even when he looks conflicted. Probably because Zayn complimented Louis’ arse and Liam is entirely the type to interpret that as that Zayn is never going to be interested in him. Louis knows he has a great arse but that is really giving it too much credit in this situation. “Zayn,” Liam says, “hi.”

“Hi,” Harry pipes up, his hands in his own pockets now, though he takes one out to wave at the both of them. “Nice to see you two again.”

With that incredibly awkward situation over with, the four of them head to the ticket booth, getting their seats and then raiding the snack stand, getting far too much food for the four of them to eat no matter how long the movie would end up being. Zayn ends up being the one to decide the seating arrangement, and much to Louis’ (dis)pleasure, he decides that if they’re all going to enjoy the movie, there’s no way Harry and Louis are going to be sat together. So Zayn settles next to Louis, with Liam on his right and Harry on Liam’s other side. As much as Louis hates to admit it, it’s probably a great seating arrangement, especially because it means Liam’s got Harry to talk to as well as Zayn.

He starts to regret it just a few minutes into the commercials, when Zayn prods his elbow into Louis’ side. “Sooo,” he drawls, and Louis knows it’s too dark to make a face at Zayn but he still does. “You and Harry, huh? That was some pretty possessive touching that was going on there earlier.”

Louis is not blushing. He’s not. “Um, yeah,” he says softly, hoping that Harry isn’t listening in. He thinks he’s talking to Liam though. Which is good. And not good, because he kind of wants Zayn and Liam to interact. And not just so Zayn will stop smirking at him. “Me and Harry. Yeah.”

“I’m happy for you guys,” Zayn says, soft and sincere, and all the grumpy thoughts Louis had about him disappear. They’re replaced by this warmth in his chest. He knows that Zayn wants something like what he thought Louis and Harry had - what they do have, at this point - but he doesn’t sound jealous at all. Just happy, like he’d said, that one of his mates has found love. “D’you guys want to sit together? I was only joking about keeping you two apart. Though, might just be a tad awkward if you two did end up snogging while me and poor Liam are sat next to you.”

Liam’s in earshot so Louis doesn’t tell him that ‘poor Liam’ would probably not be averse to Zayn snogging him to make him feel less left out. He just shakes his head. “Nah. It’s fine. Like, ‘s really new still? So it’s not that weird to not snog him for a few hours.” But it also really, really is. Because now that he knows what it’s like to kiss Harry it feels like such a waste of time to not be doing that.

“Alright,” Zayn tells him, “if you’re sure.”

Louis is not, but he still nods. He’s about to say something else, something about how he hopes Zayn doesn’t feel too awkward, because they did sort of break their no physical contact rule, but before he can, a trailer for an upcoming movie starts playing, and he can hear a soft “siick,” under his breath that he’s pretty sure Liam echoes.

He glances at them, can see Liam grinning at Zayn, hears his “I definitely have to see this,” and, yeah, Zayn’s definitely not feeling awkward. Louis sort of is though, meeting Harry’s eyes over the two boys separating them. Liam and Zayn are staring at the screen in rapt attention, shoulders almost brushing, and it really feels almost too private for them to be there.

*

While the movies might not be the best place for a first date (that isn’t a date), because of the no talking thing going on, Louis still thinks that it’s a success. By the time they’re half an hour into the movie Liam and Zayn look completely comfortable next to each other, sharing an arm rest and passing snacks back and forth. There’s even the occasional moment where Zayn leans in to whisper something in Liam’s ear - they really picked a good movie, but then, Louis and Harry had prior knowledge, having seen what kind of movies the two of them like. They definitely seem into it, and maybe it’s just wishful thinking, a little bit too much optimism, but Louis also feels like they seem into each other.

He has a bit more trouble focusing on the movie though. Not that it’s not good. It’s really good, but movies have never been able to hold Louis’ attention for long, not when he can’t do other things in the meantime. Like move around, comment on what’s going on on screen. He’s really only still when Harry’s cuddling him, or when he’s had a few beers and his tummy is full with pizza and Niall’s carding his hands through his hair. It’s weird being this far apart from Harry, especially now that that itch to touch him is even more present than it usually is. It’s not even about kissing him. He just wants to be close, wants Harry’s arm draped over his shoulder, his fingertips brushing the skin on Louis’ upper arm. He fidgets a bit, meets Harry’s eyes over the two boys separating them, biting down a giggle when he blows Harry a kiss and gets a surprised face in response.

His Harry’s so sweet. Louis is pretty sure that he’s his Harry now. He knows that Harry said he’s always been, but it’s all so different now. He wonders if he should make it official, somehow. Besides the snogging not that much has changed, and Louis wonders if Harry wants it to. They did throw around the idea of a date for just the two of them, and Louis thinks he might like that. Might like to pick Harry up on a day he’s not working, bring him flowers, take him somewhere. He’s not too sure where though. Dinner and a movie seems standard for this sort of thing, but nothing about their situation is standard. Besides, he doesn’t want Harry thinking he’s not trying. He wants him to know just how much Louis cares, enough that he’s actually making an effort. The last thing he wants is for Harry to feel as though Louis takes him for granted.

Maybe he can ask Zayn. Though, he doesn’t think Zayn’s actually dated a lot. So they might both be out of their depth here. But then, that might just mean they’ll be able to help each other come up with ideas. Louis likes that thought. He likes having a friend he can talk to that sort of thing about. While they’re not going through exactly the same thing it’s still similar enough.

It’s going to help him, too, he thinks, when they get back. Knowing what it was like. He used to sometimes wonder why people just didn’t get a move on, but now he understands. The fear, of not being good enough. Of the feeling not being enough. Of taking that step forward and knowing that it was inevitable, that once you did you couldn’t go back. Sometimes staying in the same place, in your comfort zone, seemed safer and the right thing to do. Not that Louis thinks Harry would ever hurt him on purpose. But still. Opening up your heart was a lot more scary than he’d ever once considered. Because he’s not just opening up his heart, he’s giving part (if not all of it) to Harry, and once he does he has no more control over what happens with it. It’s a huge leap of faith and Louis isn’t sure he’d be able to do it with anyone else. He’s known Harry for decades and it’s still scary with him.

So, once he goes back, he likes to think he’d be a bit more patient. Wouldn’t rush his charges, wouldn’t get frustrated with their inability to take that leap. He wonders how long it’ll last though. If in a decade or two he’ll have stopped remembering what it was like. It’s already happening now, because he can’t fully remember just what Niall looked like. He can, but, it’s different. He used to only have to close his eyes and he’d be able to conjure up his face, his response to any situation. Now, with so much that has happened that Niall hadn’t been a part of, he’s not sure anymore. He can’t recall him as vividly as he once could, and it makes him feel guilty and scared.

“Oy,” it’s soft, to his side, though Zayn’s elbow isn’t as gentle as his voice. “Stop daydreaming about Harry and focus on the movie.”

Louis gives him a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, he’s well aware. It’s not Zayn’s fault, obviously, but the other still looks a bit taken aback. “Sorry,” he whispers, “I didn’t-”

“It’s fine,” he tells him in a hushed voice, gives him a more sincere smile that turns into a bit of a scowl when they get shushed. He contemplates giving whoever’s shushed him the finger, but Zayn just gives him a bit of a smirk and Louis lets it go. “It’s really fine,” he mouths at him, shifting a bit to show that he’s going to be paying attention to the screen now. There’s really no point in being melancholic right now. He’s here with two good friends and his partner (for lack of a better word, and besides, it’s true, seeing as how they’re working this case together), and the movie’s pretty good if the way Liam’s paying rapt attention to the screen is any indication. Though, he thinks, Liam would pay attention even when it was a two hour video of paint drying, because he’s just that type of boy. He wouldn’t want to bother anyone else by being too distracting.

Ok, no more sad thoughts, Louis tells himself. If he wants to allow his thoughts to drift - and honestly, they do with or without his permission - then he might as well use his focus to figure out what kind of date he’d like to take Harry on.

*

It ends up being a nice movie, once Louis can finally convince himself to pay attention, and while he’s sure he’s missed quite a few details that matter to the plot, he still enjoyed himself. He thinks that goes for all of them, because once the credits roll Liam and Zayn both seem a bit reluctant to leave their seats. There’s no after credit scene apparently, because they do file out of the room before the lights properly go on, trudging mindlessly along with all the other people that have left.

“So,” Louis starts, clearing his throat. He’s not really decided on how to end this night, whether he should push for Liam and Zayn to hang out again. “That was nice. Thanks, lads.”

Zayn shoots him a look, one that’s almost panicky, and Louis realizes that it sounded like he was about to leave them alone - because of course, if Louis went, so would Harry. “You guys, um, got any plans for the upcoming break?” There was a one week break from college at the end of the month, and he’s assuming that Liam will be having time off too, considering he’s working in a school. Not that he knows that. “Liam, are you in college too?” There, nice save.

Liam, as Louis knew he would, shakes his head. “Nah. I work in a school though, so I’ll have the week off. I’m thinking I might go home for a few days, but I’m not sure yet. Haven’t seen my family in a while.”

Zayn is doing an impressive job of trying not to make it seem like he’s disappointed in that, and Louis bites on his lip to keep from laughing. “That’s cool,” he says, nodding. “How’s your mum?”

“Yeah, she’s good,” Liam nods, smiles at Louis, clearly glad that he remembers what had been more or less a throw away comment at the gym, an explanation meant for Zayn instead of Louis. “How about you? You gonna go back home, see your parents?”

Louis can feel Harry shifting closer, swallows, because he should’ve realized that this question might come up sooner or later. Especially once he’d broached the topic of their fall break. “Um,” he stalls, winces a bit. “No. I mean. I haven’t spoken to them in a while.”

The sympathetic look on Liam and Zayn’s faces is almost too much to bear, and Louis is desperate for someone to change the subject before they ask more about what’s going on with his family. Luckily - or really, predictably - Harry comes to the rescue. “Well, I won’t be going anywhere either, because unlike you lucky sods, I don’t actually have a week off.” He sounds impressively grumpy, and Louis feels warmth bubbling up in his chest. He loves this boy.

“Maybe we can hang out though,” Louis suggests innocently. “Harry’s off nights. We could catch another movie, maybe go out for drinks. With whoever’s around.” He’s really hoping Liam won’t spend all of his week long break in Wolverhampton. Not that he begrudges him time with his family - at least he still has family - but he wants to keep Zayn fresh in Liam’s mind. Though, he’d give anything to be able to see Liam gush about him to his sisters. Liam’s happy face is one Louis is very fond of.

“Maybe, yeah,” Zayn says. “I might be working a bit, pick up a couple extra shifts at the supermarket. But I might be able to make some time for you guys.” He sounds fond, teasing, and Louis is hit with another wave of that warmth, this time for Zayn. He’s made space in his life so easily for the three of them, and Louis remembers not seeing him go out much during his summer. He thinks Zayn might be pushing himself out of his comfort zone just as much as Liam is. They really are perfect for each other.

“That’d be nice,” Louis tells them, giving them all a warm smile. “Anyone fancy going for a pint now, or are we calling it a night?”

Liam shakes his head. “I’d love to, but I agreed to meet my roommates in the pub. They’re already waiting for me. So I’d better go.” He shrugs his jacket on, seems to waffle a bit, his body angled towards Zayn as though he’s about to ask him something. “Um,” he says softly, “this was fun.”

“Definitely,” Zayn agrees, in the same soft voice.

Louis knows there’s no subtle way he can actually leave Liam alone with Zayn, so he doesn’t try to, just shifts a bit, wrapping his arm around Harry’s middle and resting his head against his shoulder, thereby giving Zayn some privacy. He crosses his fingers behind Harry’s back, hoping for .. something. Anything.

“Um. Have a nice evening?”

Anything but that.

With Liam making an awkward exit, Zayn’s left staring at him, only looking away when Louis turns back towards him. “I should get going too,” he mumbles, the set of his shoulders just a tad dejected. Lord knows what’s going on in that head of his, but Louis still finds his heart aching. He wraps a casual arm around Zayn’s shoulder, brings him in for a one armed bro hug.

“Thanks for coming out tonight, Z,” he tells him sincerely. “We could still grab that pint, if you’d like? The night’s still young, we could get up to all kinds of mischief.”

That calls a small smile to Zayn’s face, but he shakes his head. “Nah. I should go home and work on my project. Besides, I’ve got a shift at work tomorrow. And I’ve been keeping you and Harry apart long enough tonight.” By the end of his sentence he’s actually smiling a bit more widely, his voice teasing. “Thanks though. This was a nice distraction, just like you promised. And, um, thanks for not making this awkward and snogging Harry.” Now he’s definitely teasing Louis, but one glance at Harry and Louis can tell he’s blushing, so, he’ll let this one slide. He loves anyone making Harry blush, after all.

“Anytime,” he tells him, ignoring the slight huffy sound coming from Harry. “I’ll see you in school on Monday, yeah?”

Zayn nods, gives him a hug, and after a short pause, Harry moves in to hug Zayn too. It’s a bit awkward, until it’s not, and Zayn just melts slightly into Harry. Louis can’t blame him, Harry is an excellent hugger. He gives Zayn a smile and a wave when they break apart, finding himself in Harry’s arms before Zayn’s even left the cinema. “So, it’s just us then,” he mumbles, his heart finally feeling like it’s calmed down, now that he’s in Harry’s arms again, right where he belongs. “You wanna go somewhere?” It’s not that he doesn’t want this night to end. He just doesn’t want it to end without Harry. And for some reason it’s still a bit difficult to ask him to come home with him.

Harry seems to have no such qualms. “I’m thinking we should get ice cream, on our way home.” He taps Louis’ nose with his fingertip, making him wrinkle it. “Are we sleeping at yours or mine tonight?”

There’s butterflies in his stomach, Louis is pretty sure. “I don’t care,” he replies, and he’d hate how soft his voice is, but he knows it makes Harry feel the same way he’s feeling right now. “As long as I’m with you.”

Harry smiles at that, leans in to kiss him, soft and sweet and almost reassuring in a way. “Always.”

*

It’s so much like a date. Walking through the park, holding hands, eating ice cream. It’s making Louis think about taking Harry out again, and as a result they spend much of their walk - to Harry’s apartment this time - in silence. It’s a nice silence though, Harry seems happy just to be near him, to spend time with him without feeling the need to fill the quiet. They only make a small stop, at a convenience store, to buy a toothbrush, and Louis really shouldn’t feel so much at that.

But it’s just. His toothbrush. At Harry’s place. What’s next? A drawer? He knows Harry would make space for him in a heartbeat, if he asked, and that just makes him feel so overwhelmed and in love that by the time they’ve made it to Harry’s place he’s barely patient enough to wait for Harry to close the door behind them before he backs him up against it, kisses him deeply.

Harry, despite his surprise, responds in kind, his arms sliding around Louis’ waist as he hauls him in, until Louis is pressed flush against him, his trembling fingers finding their way under Harry’s shirt. He just wants to feel him, close and warm and steady, but he savours the soft gasp that his cold fingers cause when they come into contact with Harry’s skin.

“Louis,” Harry mumbles, and Louis has a stray thought that his name had never sounded so sweet, but it doesn’t register beyond that, not with the way Harry is pressing soft kisses just underneath his ear. “Louis,” he breathes it out, arms tightening around him as though he’d disappear if he held on just a little less tightly. Louis can’t really fault him for that thought, because he thinks he just might melt into a puddle onto the floor if Harry keeps up this sweet assault. “Come to bed with me.”

It’s such an odd thing to ask. Because where else would Louis go? He thinks he’d follow him anywhere regardless, but it’s not like he was going to spend tonight on the couch, with only a blanket to stave off the cold he’d feel from missing Harry next to him. But then Harry presses closer, and Louis can feel him, hard against his thigh. And oh. That question has suddenly become a lot more loaded.

His answer hasn’t changed though. He doesn’t think it ever will.

Neither of them really know what they’re doing, of course, but that’s okay. Louis knows they can figure it out together. He’s not terribly sure what he’s ready for, either, nor does he know what Harry’s ready for. There’s so many questions but all that matters is that it’s Harry, and that no matter what happens, it’ll be alright because they’re together.

The passionate kisses - only interrupted by the necessary night time routine of brushing teeth and emptying his bladder - eventually smooth out into something sweet, something not necessarily lighter but more tender, intimate. They’re both on their sides, arms around one another, bare chests pressed together. Louis can feel Harry’s heaving against his when he finally gentles their kiss, his fingers carding aimlessly through Harry’s hair. “I love you,” he tells him, once his tongue stops feeling like it’s made of rubber.

Harry makes a soft noise, something so content that it almost makes Louis’ heart ache. He thinks it means I love you too.

“What do you want?” he whispers, brushing their noses together, and that causes a soft shivery exhale to fall from Harry’s lips.

“Just this,” he whispers back, and Louis’ heart is definitely aching now. Just this, for the rest of my life, he agrees. He doesn’t say that though, just nods and kisses him again. They fall asleep like that, wrapped up in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

It’s over breakfast the next morning - Harry, always the earlier riser, had gone down to the bakery to grab them something to eat while Louis tried to hold onto the tendrils of sleep in their bed - that Louis broaches the subject. “Haz,” he picks apart a chocolate croissant, usually preferring something more savoury in the morning (when he’s not having cereal), but having felt unable to resist the buttery and flaky treat. “Do you think you could take some time off, when I’m on break?”

He’d been thinking about it, is the thing. He’d woken up sometime during the night, Harry slumbering peacefully by his side. It had made him look at him in a way he hadn’t been able to do in a while, and maybe it was just a trick of the light but he’d seemed different. A little older. It had started to make him think about their lives, their pasts. And while dinner and a movie was still not completely off the table, Louis had come up with a plan for their first date. One that he knew would make Harry emotional, but hopefully not in a bad way.

Harry glances up from his breakfast, absently brushing crumbs from his mouth. There’s one still caught in the corner and Louis seriously contemplates leaning in and kissing it off. Especially when his mouth looks so shiny and inviting from the sweet glaze on his cinnamon bun. “Maybe. I’d have to ask.” He frowns a bit at him, curious more than anything. “Why?”

Louis shrugs a shoulder. “Just thought, while we’re here, I’d like to take you out somewhere. I know we’ve been, like, only dating for a short time, but. I figured we could go away for a couple days. See some sights, do the touristy thing.” He knows Harry likes that. Knows that he’s so happy when his charges meet on holiday, because he’ll get to see all those things that humans have on their bucket list. Louis is usually a bit more focused on the people he’s meant to bring together, but he appreciates the beautiful sights nonetheless. It’d be nice seeing some of it in person, even if that’s not completely what he has in mind. They could possibly pop down to the beach, or maybe see Stonehenge. Though, seeing as they’re not able to drive, they’ll have to rely on wherever they can go by train or bus. Maybe a taxi, if they really need to. Louis isn’t above spending too much money if that makes Harry happy.

Harry’s face has gone all fond at the mention of dating, and Louis feels that warmth in his stomach again that he’s yet to get used to, despite the fact that Harry’s making him feel like that pretty much constantly these past few days. “I’d like that,” he says, and even his voice is so soft that Louis can barely stand it. He caves then, leans in over the table to kiss him, soft and sweet and earnest.

“We will then.” If he has to get on his knees and beg Harry’s boss to let him off for a few days, he’ll gladly do it.

*

Luckily Harry’s bosses are these sweet ladies that take one look at him and tell him sure dear, not a problem, Harry deserves a bit of time off. As much as Louis wants to say that it’s because of his incredibly effective puppy dog eyes, he thinks it’s mostly because Harry looks so hopeful and because he’s got an arm around Louis’ shoulder as if to say this is the boy I’m dating, please give me a few days off to do datelike things. Louis can’t blame the women, Harry is very charming and his puppy dog eyes are definitely more effective than Louis’ own. Plus, he is sweet, and he does deserve everything good in life.

“Thank you so much,” he tells the ladies, freeing one arm from where it was around Harry’s waist to shake their hands. “And may I add, your pastries are wonderful. Haz brought me some for breakfast and they might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

He’s definitely charming them, even if it’s not as much as Harry’s sheer existence is doing. The elder of the two - Louis thinks, he’s not sure there’s too much of an age difference between them to begin with - smiles at him, at them. “That’s a lovely compliment, dear. Made all the more lovely for the fact that you didn’t mention this until after we’d agreed to give Harry some time off.” She winks at them as she says it, and Louis grins back at her. He can understand why Harry likes this place. It might seem like an odd combination, Harry and a pair of elderly ladies, but it works.

“Now, Harry,” the other woman says, “why don’t we discuss the exact days you’d like off tomorrow when you come in for work? So that you can take this nice gentleman out for a date today?” She smiles at Harry, who in response just pulls Louis in closer, beaming at his boss. Louis slips his arm back around Harry’s waist, barely resisting the urge to dip his fingertips under his waistband so he can feel soft, bare skin against his own.

They leave the bakery like that, arms around one another, though instead of going out they just head back to the apartment, end up wrapped up together on the couch. “Where are you taking me?” Harry murmurs, leaving sweet kisses to Louis’ collarbone. Louis might be a puddle on the couch but he’s still not going to let that affect his decision to keep this trip a surprise to Harry.

“You’ll see,” he whispers, hand carding through Harry’s hair. “Just get as much time off as you can. Maybe Wednesday through Friday? Then we’d have the weekend after that too.” They can take as much time as they need, see some sights and spend time together, away from anything that’s ever been familiar to them.

“You’re really gonna keep this a surprise?” Harry pushes himself up on his elbows, looking down at Louis, who is blanketed by Harry’s body. He looks amused. “You’ve never been very good at keeping secrets.”

Louis scoffs at that, digs his fingers into Harry’s ribs to tickle him. “Rude,” he tells him, not giving up until Harry squirms and squeaks, crying uncle. Harry collapses on top of him, cheek resting against his heart, and Louis smiles at the ceiling, goes back to dragging his fingers through Harry’s hair. “The difference being,” Louis continues, “that I’ve never actually tried to keep a secret from you.” He doesn’t think he’s ever purposefully kept anything from Harry. He just likes sharing excitement, is all. But this? He’s not too sure Harry would be completely on board, is the thing, though he knows that Harry would give into him if he was adamant. But the main reason he’s not telling him is because he’s not sure they’ll manage to do what he’s planning, and he doesn’t want to disappoint him and hurt his feelings that way. “Just let me surprise you for once, yeah? Can I do that, for the man I’m dating?”

“Boyfriend.” It’s muffled against Louis’ shirt, causing his brain to need a moment to process what he’s just heard. Harry’s gone still on top of him, only his fingers tightening minutely against Louis’ waist. Louis isn’t sure Harry’s even breathing.

He carefully releases the breath that has been stuck in his throat, brushes his fingers through the soft hair at the nape of Harry’s neck. “Yeah,” it’s quiet, barely more than a whisper. “For my boyfriend.”

He’s well aware that things are moving at lightning speed, that they’ve gone from their first kiss to calling each other boyfriend in barely more than a day, but there’s not a cell in Louis’ body that is screaming that this is too fast. The word boyfriend doesn’t fill him with fear. It just makes him warm, and slightly teary eyed. It makes sense.

Harry shifts, resting his chin on Louis’ chest, looking at him. “Yeah?” He asks him, sounding a little unsure, but quietly hopeful. “You want to-?”

Louis swallows. “I want to if you want to.”

Harry’s smile is small at first, then grows, dimple slowly starting to show, until he’s practically beaming. “I want to,” he manages despite the way he’s grinning at him. “I really want to.”

“Alright.” Louis is pretty sure he’s grinning back at him just as widely, this warmth inside of him threatening to burn him up, but it’s a pleasant all encompassing kind of warmth. He doesn’t think he’s ever been so completely happy as he is right now. The only thing that could make it better is if Niall were here with them. Maybe not right this moment though. This moment is too private for anyone but the two of them to witness. “Boyfriend then. So, can I take