When The Lights Go On
Chapter 2 - We’re only getting older baby (Night Changes)
Reece couldn’t tell Louis how he had managed to get home and Connor and Nathan had been just as shit-faced as Louis himself, so these two idiots couldn’t remember anything either. Though Tate was almost sure, he’d seen Louis climb into a cab around midnight. There hadn’t been any articles or posts on social media so far, so Louis was sure he’d gotten away quite easily.
During the following week, he spent every day at the studio again finally able to fully concentrate on completing his solo album. It could be a real pain in the ass sometimes, being such a perfectionist regarding his music. But it was the first time that a whole album was just him, speaking for him and only him, representing him - and he wanted nothing more than to give the right point of view there.
When the next weekend approached, Connor contacted Louis to ask about Sunday evening. The lads apparently planned another get together to celebrate twenty-seven years of Louis Tomlinson. Or rather the last day of being twenty-six.
Louis didn’t plan on letting his friends down, though he told himself multiple times to keep the number of pints reasonable and stay away from the shots completely. He was supposed to drive up to Doncaster on his birthday to celebrate with his family after all. So he had to be kinda sober on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Arriving at the first pub at around eight o’clock, his four best friends outside of One Direction were already waiting in front of the entrance. After a quick greeting for every one of his lads, they entered the pub and Nathan went straight to the counter to order the first round of pints.
“I really have to cut back on the booze tonight, guys,” Louis told them while sitting down in one of the booths, “Have to drive to Donny t’morrow morning.”
“Gonna remind you of that, when we hit the first club and take the first round of shots,” Connor laughed heartily, helping Nathan to carry their pints to the table.
“I mean it. I still can’t remember what happened the other night and I’m not interested in repeating this particular incident,” Louis replied firmly, nipping on his glass instead of downing it in one go.
“I’ll keep an eye on you then,” Reece grinned at him widely taking a first sip of his beer as well.
Louis just shook his head no in resignation, “Thanks, mate.”
“You’re welcome!” Reece laughed loudly and raised his pint in cheers, animating his friends to do the same.
“And who’s gonna watch out for you?” Tate teased their bleached-blond friend after bumping his own glass against Reece’s.
“You’d love to do that, just admit it,” Reece countered without hesitating and Louis had to keep himself from grinning like an idiot. On a night like this, he asked himself if he was the only one seeing their connection. He wondered if they would ever act on the attraction they held for each other or if idiots like Connor and Nathan would always hold them back with their dumb jokes on anything that was remotely … gay.
“Get a room,” Connor joked like on cue, nudging his elbow into Louis’ ribs and repeating the movement on his other side with Nathan, when Louis just wouldn’t laugh at his words.
“Whatever,” Reece just muttered while Tate tried not to blush too furiously.
Louis made a mental note then to talk to Reece about that thing that wasn’t a thing - for now. Someone had to tell his friend that he shouldn’t keep his feelings to himself. It was obvious that Tate felt the same. Well, it was obvious to Louis at least. Connor and Nathan never had the eye for such a thing.
They were working through their pints slowly this evening and Louis was really glad about it. He would hold his liquor a lot better this way. And he definitely didn’t want to repeat that fucking blackout from last weekend.
When Connor got up to order a second round of pints some time after nine o’clock, Louis excused himself to have a quick cig just outside the pub. His friends never got addicted to the calming feeling of smoke filling your lungs like he did. They did the occasional drag but they never craved it like Louis felt it more often than not.
He lit his cigarette and took a deep pull, calming himself down by concentrating on the feeling of the smoke engulfing his lungs like a warm hug from a friend. He knew very well that it wasn’t a healthy thing to do but it had helped him coping with all the stress that came along with being part of the world’s biggest boy band all those years. The stress had been reduced since they went on their hiatus, but the cigarettes had kinda stuck with him.
The cold December air hit his heated skin, since he hadn’t bothered with taking his jacket with him, leaving him in nothing but one of his white t-shirts. So Louis wrapped his left arm around himself, while he held the cigarette with the right hand, taking drags in quick succession.
Upon hearing the door behind him open, Louis looked over his shoulder to see Reece leaving the pub as well, holding his jacket out to him: “Thought you might need it. It’s freezing out here.”
Reece underlined his words by shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, after Louis had grabbed his jacket with a quick “thanks, mate”. The blond man just watched on while Louis held the cig between his lips to slip both arms into the soft fabric of his sweater. He felt warmer in an instant.
“So,” Reece started speaking, while Louis took another pull from his cigarette. Both of them staring up into the clear night sky.
“So,” Louis repeated when Reece didn’t say another word.
“You’ve spoken to Harry lately?” Reece voice was soft and calm, making Louis feel like he was talking about the chances for snow on Christmas Morning instead of the most sensible topic for Louis to think of.
He couldn’t stop himself from laughing dryly and taking another deep drag from his cigarette. If his friend wanted to talk about this, he definitely needed a second cigarette right after the first one. That was for sure.
“Do I look like I’ve talked to him?” He finally replied with a question of his own.
“Maybe you should,” Reece answered immediately, shifting his gaze to look right at Louis.
“Maybe you should speak with Tate,” Louis snapped back, taking a last pull and grinding the butt of the cigarette on the ground afterwards. He avoided Reece’s stare and fumbled around with his pack of smokes instead, trying to get another one out.
When he didn’t get a response right away, Louis looked up from his hands and over to his mate, who was fixing his gaze on his shoes now, making Louis sigh softly. He stuffed the cigarettes back into his jeans’ pocket - not the one that was already occupied by his phone obviously - and took the few steps remaining between them, to sling an arm around Reece’s shoulders.
“’m sorry, Reece,” he whispered next to his friends ear, “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. It’s just … I’m sure you two are on the same page. You just need to speak up, talk about it. I bet it’ll work out then.”
For a moment, Louis was convinced that Reece would just ignore him, but then he noticed the blush creeping up the blond’s cheeks. A small smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
“Well,” Reece started to splutter, “we ehm, we kinda like fooled around last weekend.”
The small smile on Louis’ face turned into a bright grin instantly: “It’s about time, pal.”
The resigned sigh falling from Reece’s lips told Louis that there was more to come and he was right about it: “But since then Tate hasn’t acknowledged it once. It’s like it has never happened at all for him and I have no idea how to behave around him now. It’s really frustrating to be honest.”
Louis just looked at his friend for a while, before he tightened his grip around Reece’s back: “Sounds like you haven’t said anything either so far. I bet Tate feels just as unsure as you do. Just make the first step - and talk to him.”
He really wanted to help his friends sort this out. They were way too cute together for this relationship not to happen. Maybe he had to tell them just that.
“What about Connor and Nathan?” Reece asked sounding more than a bit unsure.
“What about them? They can be dickheads from time to time, but deep down they're good guys. D’you think I’d be friends with some homophobic arseholes?” Louis raised a single curved eyebrow at him, making Reece giggle lightly.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he finally managed to agree between giggles.
“’m always right,” Louis mused nonchalantly, receiving even more giggles from Reece.
“I’ll talk to Tate,” Reece announced eventually after he had calmed down from his Louis-induced laugh attack, “under one condition.”
Louis already had a feeling what kind of condition that would be. Said feeling was confirmed when Reece resumed speaking: “You have to pull out that phone of yours and call Harry. Or maybe just write him a message that you wanna talk. I don’t care how you contact him but you gonna do it. And don’t tell me it’s okay how it is, ‘cause I can see how miserable you’re without him.”
Another sigh left Louis’s thin lips while he worked his right hand through his hair: “It’s complicated between us, Reece.”
“Then un-complicate it,” his friend’s words had a finality to them that kinda shocked Louis, leaving him speechless for just a moment.
“I’ll try, okay?” He managed to get out after a few seconds which felt more like an eternity to him.
Reece looked him in the eye before hugging him to his chest, mumbling “okay” right next to Louis’s ear. When they let go of each other again, Reece started grinning: “Let’s go back in, I’m freezing.”
Louis followed the blond into the pub, where his second pint was waiting for him. Sitting back down in the booth, he noticed Tate’s gaze switching back and forth between him and Reece and Louis decided to give him just the slightest of nods to indicate him that he would have their backs no matter what.
Connor and Nathan were laughing about some joke one of them had just made before Louis and Reece had joined them again and they just laughed along to keep the conversation flowing. It took them another half hour to finish the second round of pints and Tate suggested to change location.
The next pub was mostly the same and they spent another hour as well as another round of pints at this bar, before Reece announced that they couldn’t spent midnight in a boring pub. Upon that, Tate pulled out his phone and ordered an Addison Lee to drive them to their favourite club, which happened to be the one where the curly haired stranger hallucination had taken place. But since Louis had been persuading himself last weekend that it was just that - his imagination - there hopefully wouldn’t be the same paranoia he’d felt last time.
It was actually kinda fun, hanging with his friends at the club when he wasn’t too pissed to remember anything afterwards. They had ordered another round of pints and Louis slowly felt comfortably tipsy without being already drunk off his face.
He couldn’t tell what it was that shifted his attention over to the other side of the room. But when his gaze landed on another mop of dark curly hair, his breath got caught in his throat and his friends’ laughter faded into background noises just like the music playing around them did.
For just a millisecond, Louis was sure to imagine things again - then the curls moved around, revealing the most kissable lips and stunning green eyes Louis had ever seen in his entire life.
Harry’s gaze locked with Louis’ immediately and Louis still couldn’t breathe properly, his heart running a mile a minute, almost pounding out of his chest. It felt like the world stopped spinning around them. Like nothing else existed besides the two of them.
Louis was still caught in some kind of trance when Harry finally moved, lifting his hands and signing a short message to Louis: Are you alright?
Everything in Louis screamed at him to tell Harry the truth, that he was far from being alright. That he missed him so damn much. But instead his hands lifted of their own volition, signing back an even shorter message: I’m good.
Then, after another moment or two, he lifted his hands again, this time more conscious of the words he was signing to the other end of the room: How are you?
Louis thought to see a small flicker of something in Harry’s eyes but due to the dim lightning of the club he couldn’t tell what kind of emotion it had been. Then he was distracted by Harry’s lovely, big hands signing their answer: I’m doing fine.
Harry looked like he wanted to say more than that but their eye contact was interrupted by Connor and Nathan who were pulling Louis into a bone-crushing hug, shouting “Congrats on being old now!” into his ear. Tate and Reece were hugging him right afterwards with congratulations of their own.
Even while hugging his friends, Louis’ gaze searched the room, trying to find Harry again - until he did. He was still standing at the other end of the room, smiling that heavily dimpled grin Louis loved so much. The younger man moved his hands again in front of him: Happy Birthday, Lou!
Without thinking, Louis replied while still being embraced by Reece and Tate, drawing their attention across the room as well: You can come over, you know. And on a second thought, adding Thank you to his message.
It’s okay, Harry signed back, enjoy your birthday with your friends.
I want you to though, Louis told him through his hands.
Do you? Harry asked right back and Louis could see the hurt on his face even in the black and neon lights of the club. Or do you just feel obligated to ask me over?
Louis didn’t know how to respond to that question. In this moment, he wanted nothing more than to pull Harry into his arms, bury his face in his shoulder, breathe in his unique musk and never let go again. But he also knew, as soon as Harry would stand right in front of him, he would be somehow paralysed, unable to move or speak to him.
Thought so, Harry signed when Louis took too long to reply to him.
I’m glad to see you though, Louis finally managed to move his hands again, even though there was so much he wanted to say that he just couldn’t put into proper words.
That small, honest smile returned to Harry’s plush lips. “Me too”, he mouthed at Louis and it somehow felt like he wanted to put an end to their conversation with these two syllables.
Louis couldn’t move his gaze away though, not even when Harry already turned around to talk to whomever he was with at the moment. So after a moment of longingly staring at the back of Harry’s head, he eventually turned back to his mates, who were looking at him expectantly.
Great. Now he had to explain that conversation in sign language in a totally platonic way - which felt quite impossible if Louis was completely honest.
He didn’t have to though, because Reece nudged his arm and waved his hand towards Louis’ pocket afterwards. The one confining his phone. His blond friend then mouthed “do something” at him.
So Louis pulled out his phone and opened his messenger, staring at Harry’s name for another few seconds, thinking about what he wanted to write. His eyes moved back to Harry who still stood at the other end of the room, laughing about something someone had just said to him.
And without thinking it over too much, Louis typed away on his phone: You going to Holmes Chapel for the holidays?
He pressed send before he could change his mind. He couldn’t act like Harry wasn’t in the same room or even the same city as him. And he didn’t want to as well.
Just when he wanted to slip his phone back into his pocket, he felt it buzzing in his hand. He tried to recall the last time he’d felt this nervous. Which had to be his audition for the X Factor in 2010. Almost a lifetime ago.
Looking at Harry’s message, Louis let out a slightly relieved breath he didn’t know he had been holding in: Yeah, why?
He had to act fast, before that small sliver of bravery left him again, so he typed out his response and hit send right after: ’m driving to Donny later today. You need a ride up there?
Louis felt like a complete idiot now. What had he been thinking just now? Why should Harry even consider being trapped with Louis in such a small space like a car for over three hours? This was ridiculous. He should write an apology for making that suggestion.
Though when he looked back down at his phone, Louis’ heart just skipped a beat upon seeing Harry’s reply: You don’t have to go a long way round over Holmes Chapel just for me. That’s an additional two hour ride for you to finally get to Donny.
At least he wasn’t declining his offer. It was also a very Harry-esque thing to say, which made Louis smile nonetheless.
And so Louis answered with the only thing, he knew would convince Harry - the truth: I wouldn’t have offered if I’d mind the detour, Haz.
It felt strange and right at the same time, using Harry’s nickname again.
Louis couldn’t stop himself from looking in Harry’s direction one more time, meeting his green eyes when he turned around to look at him as well, Louis’ phone buzzing with another message at the same time. He didn’t want to break the connection between their eyes, but he also had to know Harry’s answer so he looked down after another few seconds. An honest smile was spreading on his face, crinkling up his eyes at last.
Okay, let’s do this then.