Actions

Work Header

It's the Climb

Work Text:

Louis crashed out of the meeting room, barely holding onto his temper.

This had been happening more and more lately. Louis had always been the dramatic one in the band, but he was nothing on those jerks. Logan, Brock, and Mike were being ridiculous. Why would they turn down gigs? Just because 28 to Heartbreak had made it big didn’t mean they could ride the coattails of the success from their second album. Not Heartbroken had done fantastically well, but they still had to go out there and work for it. Promote. Do what they love and play music for their fans. What kind of band didn’t actually perform their music?

“William, come on,” Brock said, following Louis down the hallway.

“I don’t want to talk to you right now, Brock,” Louis said as he angrily pushed the button on the elevator. Spinning around Louis went directly against what he’d just said, and continued talking about it. He couldn’t help it, he was beyond angry. “You guys discussed this without me and then ganged up on me at the label and I’m supposed to be okay with it?”

“Man, Drew left. We have to figure out what we’re going to do from here.”

“I know Drew left!” Louis screeched, his arms flailing above his head. “I figured that out when the four of us showed up for the gig two weeks ago and he wasn’t there.”

“So why is this such a surprise for you?” Brock asked, sounding exasperated. He had no right to be exasperated. Louis was the one who had the right to feel that way. “Why don’t you think we should have some time to regroup and figure things out from here?”

“Because a paying gig is still a paying gig,” Louis argued. “We lost our rhythm guitarist, yes, but we still have everything else. I know some of the songs already, as you guys have seen, and I would do my best to learn the rest. Or I could just fill in with the keyboard or something. We can make it work.”

“It’s going to take more than two weeks for that. We’ve gotta cancel what we’ve got set up and give ourselves time to figure our shit out. We aren’t up-and-coming sixteen year olds anymore.”

Louis rolled his eyes and almost praised God when the elevator sounded its arrival.

“I know we aren’t, Brock. That’s exactly why I think we need those gigs.” Louis backed onto the elevator. “When you guys are ready to actually talk with me instead of blind siding me in a meeting, let me know.”

Louis backed into the elevator as Brock flipped him off and headed back to the meeting room. Sending his own middle finger towards the now closed doors of the elevator, Louis allowed himself a little growl in frustration. He couldn’t wait to get out to his car to really yell and let off some steam. It wasn’t like he needed to save his voice for anything since all their gigs had been cancelled without his knowledge.

Louis let his anger stew as he drove out to his favorite beach. It was about two hours from LA and a little further from his own house, but it was secluded and empty. It wasn’t the nicest beach - a bit rocky and dirt-covered rather than sandy and smooth - but that was also why no one really cared about it.

It was the perfect hideaway.

Screaming along at the top of his lungs to whatever Kelly Clarkson CD his mom had left in the car, Louis’ voice was completely shot by the time he parked. He didn’t even know if she remembered the CD was still in there, since they usually listened to music off of their phones. For all he knew, she’d popped the CD in two years ago and forgotten about it as soon as she had. As it was, Louis had shut his phone off as he left the meeting and therefore his music selection had been restricted. Kelly Clarkson had done just the job.

Louis was sure there were multiple texts waiting for him to answer from the guys, their agent, their manager, but mostly from his mom. Unable to deal with that right now, he kept the phone turned off and threw it in the glove compartment. He pulled on the hoodie he always left in the trunk of his car, grabbed a couple of the blankets saved for moments like these, and walked out onto the sand.

One blanket on the ground and two around his shoulders, Louis sat down and started the process of decompressing as he watched the water roll in and back out again over and over and over.

 

XXX

 

Not any less angry about the situation, but definitely feeling more in control of his emotions now, Louis pulled into the garage around midnight. He was exhausted and hungry and definitely didn’t want to deal with his mom looming in the doorway.

“Fuck,” Louis sighed as he grabbed his phone out of the glove compartment and made his way towards the house.

“Louis William, what you did to me today was completely unacceptable.”

“Not right now, Mom. I’ve kinda got a lot on my mind at the moment.”

The silence in response to Louis’ answer wasn’t a good sign and he knew it. Hell, he could feel it. He also couldn’t bring himself to care much at the moment.

“You sit yourself down at the table right now before I start to treat you like the child you’re behaving as.”

Louis still didn’t look at his mom. Instead, he made his way to his bedroom upstairs. He was nineteen; an adult. He didn’t need to follow her instructions anymore if he didn’t want to. Besides, if he didn’t figure out what to do about the band, then she would be out of a job too since she was his personal manager.

“I don’t really feel up to a lecture. The band ganged up on me today. They’d totally discussed everything without me before heading in there and-”

“I know what the band did,” Jay interrupted.

Louis froze partway up the stairs and finally turned to look at his mom. “What?”

“I knew before you got to the meeting what their plan was. They reached out to me.”

Louis studied his mom’s face. She showed no remorse or guilt over the decision she had made, and yet she had played a role in his bandmates turning on him. When had his own mother decided to go against him as well as his bandmates?

“They tried reaching out to you beforehand, but you wouldn’t listen,” Jay said once Louis started making his way back down the stairs. He hadn’t wanted to discuss this anymore tonight, but he supposed he didn’t have a choice now.

“What do you mean I wouldn’t listen? The only time anyone reached out to me since Drew left was to talk about whether we were still rehearsing or not!”

“Exactly,” Jay said, as if Louis was proving her point. “You never gave them an opportunity to speak, Lou. You just said yes to the rehearsals and then went and made them all focus on the music instead of actually talking about what had happened. They weren’t ready, honey. They need some time to recover from the hurt of Drew leaving.”

“No,” Louis said, shaking his head. “The music is the perfect way to focus our emotions and make the most of the situation. Our biggest song was Not Heartbroken, right? So let’s prove we aren’t and keep going! This could just make us stronger.”

“Honey, the shows for the rest of the summer have been cancelled. I told them I’m taking you home for awhile.”

Louis scrunched his nose in confusion. “I am home.”

“No, Louis. Home home. As in Tennessee.”

Louis stomach dropped. “What? No. I don’t want to go to Tennessee. I want to stay here and work on music.”

“Lou, you haven’t been home in years. The last time you went back for Christmas was three years ago, and that was only for a couple days! You’ve lost yourself.”

Louis reared back, feeling like he’d been smacked. “What? I have not ‘lost myself’,” he said using air quotes. “What are you talking about?”

“Those tattoos are fake. The piercings are as well. Those clothes and your eye color and the makeup style and all of this,” Jay motioned around Louis’ entire body, “was created specifically so you could be someone who is not actually you on stage. To protect yourself. To allow Louis the chance to live a normal life. But now it seems like you don’t care about Louis. You’re more William than yourself these days.”

Louis couldn’t bring himself to say anything. What she was saying was true, for the most part, but he hadn’t gone and decided to just be William or whatever she was trying to say. He was still Louis. Nothing would change that.

Jay looked at Louis, sadness emanating from her eyes. “You haven’t been to Tennessee to see your family or friends in years,” she said gently. “You get mad and throw tantrums when things aren’t just handed to you. You work hard, but it feels like if it doesn’t have to do with the band, Liam, or Niall then you just don’t care. You go out more as William these days than you do as Louis, and that is what worries me the most.”

Louis’ jaw was hanging open. “I don’t… That doesn’t… I do not throw tantrums.”

“Oh, you absolutely do,” Jay said in her no nonsense tone. “But no more. You’re all packed, I did that while you were scaring me half to death this evening, which we will discuss on the plane. We’re leaving in a few hours for Livingston.”

“No we aren’t,” Louis scoffed. Turning back around to head upstairs for real this time, Louis said, “We’ve got shows lined up, the guys only cancelled the ones for the next couple weeks.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said before? Those have all been cancelled. That was decided as soon as you stormed out of the meeting and turned off your phone. We fly out on the jet tonight.”

“For how long?” Louis asked, getting angry again. “Why does no one think I can make decisions on my own? This is ridiculous. I’m not a damn child!”

“Then stop acting like one!” Jay yelled back. “We’re going home for the whole summer. If you prove to me you can behave like the adult you supposedly are, then we will invite Liam and Niall back as well.”

Louis was incredibly tempted to scream and punch the wall, but he settled for stomping up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door behind him.

“And watch your damn language!” Jay yelled after him. “I let a lot slide, but you aren’t a punk rock star inside this house! You’re just my son, Louis Tomlinson!”

Louis snorted in the irony of her own language. Where did she think he learned it from anyway? Anger still flowing through him, Louis kicked the leg of his bed before realizing he wasn’t wearing a pair of his “William” boots, just a pair of vans. Damn, that really hurt.

Okay, fine. Maybe he did sometimes act like a child, but he wouldn’t be forced to resort to such behavior if people would just let him voice his opinion from time to time. Things were so messed up.

 

XXX

 

Louis put on his sunglasses because Tennessee could rot in hell for as sunny as it was at the moment. He’d only gotten a few shitty hours of sleep on the plane and now it was late enough that he was going to have to go be social once they’d made the drive to Livingston.

“Grab the bags, will you, honey?” Jay asked as she flounced off the plane (she obviously slept better than he did during the flight) and climbed into the driver’s seat of the waiting rental car. Which was actually a minivan. Rock and roll, baby.

It ended up taking three trips between the plane and the van for Louis to get all the stuff both he and his mom had packed for the summer. Okay fine, mostly him. As soon as he’d realized the trip was non-negotiable he’d immediately gotten to work packing up the rest of what he deemed necessities. So yeah, it had taken three trips. But why couldn’t she help him with her own, at least?

Louis finally climbed into the passenger seat and immediately got the air conditioning set on high before then directing as many of the air vents directed towards him.

“Was it always this bad around here?” Louis complained, pulling his shirt away from where it was stuck to his sweaty chest and sides.

“Yes,” Jay said, sounding unamused. “You used to complain about how dry it was in California when we first moved there. Welcome back to summer with humidity.”

“This sucks,” Louis mumbled before putting his ear buds in and leaning his head against the window. It was incredibly difficult to stay mad at his mom, but he wanted to be sure she knew how angry he was about all of this. He wasn’t some spoiled kid who got everything they wanted handed to them. He worked hard for what the band had achieved and the money he had made.

The scenery flew by in a haze of deep, rich greens, red brown soil, and hills. It was beautiful, but Louis didn’t want to see beautiful. He wanted to see his bed at home and have his band get along again so they could go back to making music.

His thoughts about how to fix things with the band swirled through his head as his music lulled him fast asleep, which made him even more disoriented when the car stopped and his mom shook his shoulder.

“Louis, we’re at your nan’s now. Time to wake up.”

Louis rubbed at his eyes and yawned, but everything was a bit bleary. His contacts were not handling the random sleep very well. He should have taken them out hours ago, especially since they were the contacts that changed his eye color to brown for when he was William.

Not even bothering to look at his surroundings, Louis rolled out of the van and to the trunk where he dug around in his bags until he found his contact solution and glasses.

Able to see again, Louis stretched out his back and turned around, startled to see the most beautiful man he’d ever seen in his life riding towards him on a horse.

He had to still be asleep. This was one of those super weird dreams people had where the knight in shining armor (or in this case, red sleeveless flannel) literally rode up to them calling their name.

“Louis, oh my God. I haven’t seen you in years! I didn’t realize you were coming!”

Louis didn’t really mind the dream, especially because the flannel bedecked knight had just tripped out of the saddle before wrapping Louis in a too warm, horse scented hug.

“Harry, I was hoping you’d be here when we arrived,” Jay said sounding pleased, and Louis froze mid-hug.

Harry? It couldn’t be the same Harry. No way.

“Harry Styles?” Louis choked out and the awkward squawking laugh confirmed it for him easily.

“The one and only,” Harry said with a wide, lopsided grin. “It’s been so long, you probably hardly recognize me, but yeah. It’s me.”

Louis choked out a laugh because, yeah. The Harry he remembered was scrawny with ears far too big for his head and only slightly curly hair, cut far too short. He wore loose jeans with tight polos and a bucket hat unironically. Now he was… that. Louis never would have ever guessed that Harry would grow up to look so at home in skin-hugging ripped denim, heeled boots, and a barely buttoned flannel shirt.

“Louis, let’s get all of this inside. You’ll be staying in your old room upstairs, okay?”

Louis turned to see his mom was already walking into the house. Turning back to Harry, Louis asked, “Where’s my nan?”

“Oh, she had to go into town for some more feed,” Harry said nonchalantly as he easily lifted Louis’ two heaviest bags out of the trunk like it was nothing. “Mice got to it before we were able to run them out of the loft, so she’s having to buy some to last until the next order comes in next week. She said to let you know she’ll be back soon.”

Blinking quickly in an attempt to focus on something other than the biceps Harry had been blessed with as well as the quick peek of his defined abs as he turned, Louis gave what had to be a weak smile. This was too much to take in when he was jet lagged and sleep deprived.

“So you’re around here often, then?” Louis grabbed the last of the bags out of the trunk and was embarrassed thinking Harry was going to consider him a diva with as much shit as he brought. In Louis’ defense, he had packed for a last minute two-month vacation.

Laughing, Harry managed to hold the door open for Louis while his hands were still occupied with the luggage. How the hell did he do that? Was he magic or something?

“I’ve been working for your nan after school and during the summer since I was sixteen, but she hired me on full time once I graduated last year. The plan is to save up as much as I can in two years so I can hopefully afford at least an associate’s to better prepare me for helping her run the farm in the future.”

Louis struggled with the bags up the narrow stairs. It was easiest to get to his room in the attic if he went through the back flight in the kitchen, but he was regretting his decision now. Especially since he’d always thought himself to be in pretty good shape. The way he was sweating and having a hard time catching his breath said something else.

“You’re taking over Nan’s farm?” he puffed out. Blowing air up his face in an attempt to get his fringe off of his sweat sticky forehead and out of his eyes, Louis turned to find Harry’s eyes very quickly moving from the region of his bum up to his face. Interesting.

Clearing his throat, Harry gave a smile and said, “Well, yeah. She wants to retire here in the next five years or so, and with you and Jay being her only family and sounding like you don’t plan to return permanently anytime soon, she needed someone to learn the workings of the place.”

“You never did care for the general store much,” Louis said with a smile.

Harry used to hate hanging around the store while his mom was working, so he would come spend pretty much every spare moment with Louis on the farm. Now that he thought about it, Harry really was the natural successor in this case.

“I’m glad it’s you,” Louis said quietly before continuing to fight his way up the stairs.

“Thanks,” Harry said, matching Louis’ tone.

Once everything was shoved into the small room that would be Louis’ for the summer, Harry rubbed his hands on his jeans and looked around.

“I haven’t been up here in years.” Walking over to the bookshelf, Harry picked up a picture frame and turned it towards Louis with a bright smile. “Remember this? You’d pushed me into the river, but I held onto your shirt tight enough I pulled you in with me. We stayed wet the entire rest of the day, it was so humid.”

Louis chuckled and walked over. That had been a great summer. It was only a few months before Louis had been accepted by the talent agency and they decided to move to allow Louis the best chance at making it in the industry. Their smiles were bright, even with their wet, scraggly hair and soaked clothes.

“Yeah,” Louis said softly. “I remember.”

Looking back up at Harry, their eyes met and he felt a heat and familiarity he never had with anyone else.

“Well,” Harry said as he put the photo back on the shelf, “I should head back out. Got a lot to do around here still before I’m done for the day.”

“Yeah,” Louis said, staying exactly where he was as Harry made his way back to the stairs. “It’s really good to see you again, Harry.”

With his smile just big enough to show the hint of a dimple, Harry said, “Same, Lou. It’s good to have you home.”

Once Harry had made his way back outside, Louis closed the door to the stairs and groaned before landing face down on his bed. Things were already more complicated than Louis had been hoping for.

Since when had Harry made Louis feel like that? Then again, Louis hadn’t seen Harry in something crazy like three years, so he supposed it made sense. Louis had only started to realize he liked boys like that the last summer he had spent here.

All the same. Louis really hadn’t anticipated Harry. He wasn’t sure if he was happy about the fact he would be on the farm pretty much daily or not. He supposed if he was stuck in Livingston for two months, he might as well spend as much time as possible with Harry. That was what old friends did when they came back home, wasn’t it?

 

XXX

 

“What I wouldn’t give to be young again.”

Louis blinked awake and rolled over to see his nan sitting on the bed beside him. Feeling around his pillow for his glasses - he was about ninety-nine percent sure he didn’t take them off before passing out - Louis asked, “What time is it?”

“Oh, about six.”

Louis finally found his glasses sitting on the nightstand beside his phone, which was now dead since he hadn’t unpacked anything before falling asleep. Putting them on so he could see clearly, Louis looked out the window and saw the light was dim. Too dim for six at night.

“Did you just wake me up at six in the morning?” The last time Louis woke up this early when he wasn’t on tour or doing promo was probably… well. High school, he supposed.

Nan shrugged her shoulders and gave him an innocent grin. “Well, you fell asleep so fast that Harry’s the only one in town who has even seen you. The way I see it, you have some time to make up for after three years of living large out in Los Angeles. Might as well start by having breakfast with your grandma.”

Louis gave her a weak smile before stretching out in bed.

Standing up, Nan said, “Alright. You smell rather strongly of unwashed boy. Clean up and then make your way down. I’ll do the chickens myself since you aren’t in any state just yet and it needs doing, but know I’m having you take over that duty along with some others.”

“What?” Louis squawked as she let herself out of the attic.

No one ever said he would be put to work while he was here. It didn’t seem quite fair, in his opinion. He’d already been uprooted from his entire life for two whole months against his will. Wasn’t that enough?

Grumbling about how unfair everything about the entire situation was, Louis finally found his phone charger and got it plugged in so it could charge up a bit while he was showering.

The only problem was, after thirty minutes of charging while Louis got clean and dressed, his phone had battery, but was entirely without signal.

“Ahh shit,” Louis whined.

He’d forgotten what it was like living somewhere that cell phones couldn’t even reach. Sighing in frustration, Louis unplugged it and dropped the phone with it’s cord in one of his bags. It wasn’t going to be much use to him over the next couple of months. Nan didn’t have WiFi either, dial-up was the only option out here since cable and satellite internet hadn’t made it out to Livingston yet. Louis had thought he would be fine since he had his large data plan, but now it seemed he’d be going completely old fashioned with regards to technology for the entire summer.

“Louis,” Nan called from downstairs. “Did you slip and fall to your death? Come on down, honey. The bacon’s getting cold.”

Tamping down the slight panic that was rising up as Louis realized he didn’t have any good way of contacting his bandmates much less Niall or Liam now, he headed down to have some breakfast. He really was hungry now that he thought about it, and if she really was putting him to work, he was going to need the energy.

There was something soothing about his nan’s kitchen. He supposed it might be familiarity. It looked and smelled the same as it did when he lived there as a kid. The yellowing wallpaper, the faded floral curtains at the windows, even the clock on the wall spoke of a time long past. A time before Louis was born and maybe even back to when his mom was a girl.

Nothing in LA felt like his nan’s kitchen. Everything there was minimalist. Clean. Sleek. Modern. His nan’s house was functional and neat, but it was anything but sleek or modern. Based on the smell every time someone used the toaster, he was pretty sure it was at least thirty years old and the table had scratches covering most of the surface that spoke to a lifetime of use. Louis enjoyed being surrounded by so much newness in LA, it had a life to it that helped him feel like he could achieve anything, but there was something about eating eggs and bacon at an old worn table as the sun rose across the fields of the farm that helped him feel like he was finally breathing fully again.

“Oh, yes. There he is,” Nan said.

Swallowing his mouthful, Louis gave her a questioning look.

Patting his cheek, Nan leaned back in her chair and took a sip of coffee. “Sometimes I have a hard time seeing the boy I used to know in the videos and photos your mother sends me, but I got a glimpse of him just then. He’s not completely lost. There’s still hope.”

Unsure what he was supposed to say to that, Louis focused on eating his breakfast and was nearly done when Harry came walking into the kitchen and offered Nan a kiss on the cheek. His hair was damp and he smelled like the dewy grass he probably walked through to get to the farm.

“Morning, Pete. Morning, Lou.”

Louis focused on breathing. Breathing was important, even if Harry had somehow been elevated to the status of farm God. It really wasn’t fair. Louis was sitting here, probably looking pale and exhausted, and Harry had truly never looked better.

“Morning, darling,” Nan said, fondness obvious in her gaze as Harry helped himself to breakfast. “I was hoping you could reacquaint Louis with some of the chores around the place today. Just the easier things that a city boy like him could handle. I was thinking later today, mucking the stalls and helping groom the horses would be good.”

“Nan,” Louis mumbled, pushing his glasses further up his nose. If he really was going to be working on the farm, Louis was going to regret not bringing regular contacts along. “Mucking the stalls? Really?”

Nan raised her eyebrows and blinked once. “They’ve got to be done, Louis. Are you saying you’re above anyone else around here and shouldn’t have to deal with horse shit? From the sound of it, you dole out quite enough of it yourself. You should see what it’s like to clean it up, too.”

Harry had gone quiet, chewing slowly as his eyes darted between Louis and his nan. Huffing a sigh, Louis threw himself back in his chair.

“I’m not above anyone,” Louis said, pouting and pushing the last piece of bacon around his plate with his fork. “I just don’t like mucking out the stalls.”

“I… can go if you’d like?” Harry offered.

“No, it’s fine, Harry dear,” Nan said, reaching out and patting his arm. “Louis, your favorite part of the farm has always been the horses. You used to muck out the stalls just so you could be near Strawberry Fields.”

“I was nine,” Louis said rolling his eyes. “I didn’t know how disgusting horse shit was yet.”

Harry snorted before quietly apologizing and getting up for a cup of coffee himself.

“Well, I’m about ready to get started. How about you, Lou?”

Louis nodded and shoved the last piece of bacon in his mouth. “I need to see if I brought any clothes that’ll work for manual labor. I’ll be down in just a second.”

As it turned out, his mom had packed an entire bag full of his old, worn out clothes that Louis had stopped wearing years ago. There was a bit of a worry as to whether Louis would still fit into the jeans, but they buttoned and zipped up, so he prayed they wouldn’t split at the seams while he was out there working.

That prayer held over the course of the next five hours, which was great because Harry was working Louis hard.

“You’re doing great for a city boy,” Harry teased, laughing as Louis heaved another bale of straw down from the loft in the horse barn.

“I’m not going to be able to move for days,” Louis complained. “This wasn’t what I had in mind when my mom said she was bringing me back to Livingston, but I should have known.”

“Why’s that?” Harry asked. “I mean, I’m curious what you had in mind with coming back to Livingston, but mostly I guess I’m asking about why you should have known working for your supper would be part of the deal.”

Louis looked at Harry through the speckles of dust and hay that had landed on his glasses. He seemed genuinely curious, so Louis sighed and figured out how to explain it without giving everything away.

“Let’s just say things have gotten a little complicated in LA and my mom didn’t really like how I was handling everything,” Louis said after a moment. “It’s why she made me come back for the summer instead of staying out there and working, like I’d planned.”

He wished he could complain about it all like he used to with Harry, but it had been years since they’d had that kind of a close relationship. Louis had moved to LA and he and Harry had texted for a little while, but as usually happens, their communication faded until they just didn’t talk anymore. After probably three years of no communication, Louis wasn’t really ready to lay his biggest secrets out there. Even for someone as trustworthy as Harry. They just hadn’t gotten there yet.

“That must be rough,” Harry said as he finished raking the straw over the edge. “Was work okay with you leaving last minute? Your nan is always talking about how demanding your job is.”

Louis snorted. “Eh, work was part of the issue really. But yeah, that’ll be fine.” Louis focused back on the straw because his heart began racing as he thought about the band and how much was up in the air regarding them. He didn’t really know if they were fine at all. With that thought, Louis whispered an added, “I hope.”

“Well,” Harry said once he’d reached the floor. He started shoveling the clean straw into the stalls with a smile. Only Harry Styles. “My favorite band has a song that says when you’re a VIP you get whatever you please. They talk about how great fame sounds, but the whole point of the song is that everything fame can bring you is the surface stuff. It sounds nice, and everyone tries for it, but in the end it probably isn’t what you really need. Or at least that was my opinion on what it meant.” Harry paused, leaning on his rake before saying, “I don’t know what exactly you were doing out there, and it probably wasn’t anything that made you famous in the way the song talks about, but I’d imagine it still gives the same kind of pressure and mixed up of priorities. Maybe that’s why Mama Jay wanted you out here for a little bit. A reminder of what’s really important, you know?”

Louis could hardly focus on the incredibly deep point Harry had just made because of the song he had quoted.

“Your favorite band is 28 to Heartbreak?”

Harry blushed. With a scrunch of his nose, he rubbed the back of his neck before getting back to work. “I was hoping that quoting one of their lesser known songs would keep you from recognizing who sang it, but yeah. Their stuff might be thought of as teeny bopper pop-punk or whatever it was that Rolling Stone said in their shitty article, but I love their stuff. Not Heartbroken was incredible, but it’s some of their unreleased songs that I like best.”

Louis swallowed harshly. He’d written most of their unreleased songs, the ones they would play as filler every once in awhile during their shows but had never been cleaned up after being recorded.

“They are pretty good,” Louis said with a smile before he started hauling bales down to the other end of the barn. “What are your favorite songs of theirs then? How do I listen to them if they’re the unreleased ones?”

Harry poked his head out of the stall he was working in and asked, “Seriously? You’re not just pretending so you can make more fun of me later like you did with Pokemon, are you?”

Huffing a laugh and dropping a hay bale by the barn doors, Louis turned and started walking back to the others. He pulled his t-shirt up to wipe away his sweat so it would stop going into his eyes. It stung like shit and he had sweat through the shoulders and sleeves of his shirt hours ago. Louis dropped the shirt back down and fussed to make sure it lay right before looking back at Harry.

Harry was staring at him in a way Louis had never seen before. His eyes eventually rose to Louis’ face again and his cheeks turned bright red before he went back into the stall. Louis was disappointed, even as it pulled him back to reality. He liked the warmth that spread through him with Harry’s focus on him like that.

“I promise it isn’t to make fun of you,” Louis said sincerely. Thinking quickly, he kept going and said, “I have a friend who is a proper fanboy of theirs, my best friend Niall? Anyway, he knows all their songs and often forces me to listen to them as well, so I’m curious if I’ve heard them or not.”

“Oh,” Harry said, sounding strange. He quickly continued, though, and moved to the next stall before saying, “I think my favorites are Alive and Through the Dark . They just take these lyrics that could be too melodramatic and find a way to portray them so you really feel them on a deeper level. Does that make sense?”

Louis nodded. “ Alive is one that I think is often misunderstood, and some were pushing for it to be a faster tempo song, but the way it’s stripped down so it almost sounds contemplative makes it so much more powerful. Especially once it has built up to the last chorus where it’s so loud, like a celebration.” Louis blinked and realized he’d just spoken probably too powerfully and maybe with too much knowledge about a band he hadn’t even admitted to liking or knowing himself. “I mean, I would imagine. Niall really likes that one too.”

“That’s really cool insight, Lou,” Harry said.

They were quiet for most of the rest of their time working on the barn, but now Louis couldn’t stop humming Alive. He would have to watch himself and how he talked about the band if Harry tried talking about them some more. Louis couldn’t let him find out about his secret, at least not yet. Maybe later.

 

XXX

 

“So do you know anyone famous?”

Louis was brought out of the haze he had fallen into while brushing down Blue Jeans, one of the horses. He’d named her right before leaving, so he felt more than okay taking care of her now. It was a way for him to build a relationship with her that he wasn’t able to before. Plus, the grooming was rhythmic and soothing. It made Louis feel like he was going to fall asleep after everything Harry had made him do that day around the farm. His eyes had gone so unfocused that he hadn’t even realized his glasses had slid almost all the way down his nose.

“What?” Louis asked, nudging them back up where they belonged. He also noticed he had been brushing the same area of the horse on repeat, so he moved on to the next to be sure he was actually making progress.

Harry laughed before repeating himself. “I was wondering if you knew anyone famous.”

“Oh,” Louis said, blinking quickly. What should he say? He probably should just say no because that would be easiest, right? But Louis really did know a lot of famous people. Some that he even considered friends. But that felt like bragging, and how would he ever be able to explain how he met them? “Uh, yeah,” Louis said slowly, an idea coming to him. “I know William Thibedeau, actually.”

“What?” Harry squeaked. After clearing his throat he said, “You know him and you let me just go on and on about his music earlier? How long were you going to let me talk about 28 to Heartbreak before you told me that?”

Louis shrugged before switching out the brushes he was using like Harry had instructed. The more Louis worked with the brushes, the more that came back to him. He wished it was that way with the rest of the chores.

“I didn’t wanna make it a big deal of it or anything, especially since we met ‘cause I basically saved his life and everything.”

Harry made a choking sound and Louis was incredibly glad he had his back to him. There was no way Louis could hide his smirk when Harry’s surprise was so obvious in response to what he was saying.

“You saved his life?” Harry asked, voice a bit higher than usual. “How’d you do that?”

“Oh, it wasn’t a big deal,” Louis said, putting together a basic story as he spoke. “It was just this weird freak surfing accident. I don’t wanna get too into details. But we’ve been friends ever since.”

“I’ve seen photos of him surfing,” Harry said, not adding anything else.

Louis peeked over his shoulder to look at Harry. He looked a little flushed, a little sweaty, and incredibly embarrassed. Why would he be embarrassed over those photos? Louis remembered how much press they’d gotten. It had been ridiculous and hilarious and very much did not warrant Harry having this kind of a reaction.

“Okay, there’s something more to that than what you’re saying,” Louis prodded. “Come on, Harry. You can trust me, I’m incredibly good at keeping secrets.”

It wasn’t a lie. Harry would be shocked out of his skin if he knew what Louis was hiding from him, but Harry snorted.

“Yeah, like you kept the secret of stealing the ostrich egg from old Mr. Gose back in middle school? I was so sure Pete was gonna come after me with her shotgun, I almost pissed my pants. You know what a good shot she is!”

Louis squawked. “I didn’t tell her on purpose!”

“How did you tell her by accident?” Harry asked, laughing but voice still sounding appalled Louis was fighting him on this. “Hey, Nan,” Harry said in a very sad approximation of Louis’ voice. “Harry and I kinda went to Vinny’s farm to see if we could pet his alpacas while he was out and found an ostrich egg. We wanted to see how big the yolk was, so we took it!”

Laughing so hard he was bent over and the horse was getting restless, Louis forced out, “That is not how it went and I sound nothing like that.”

“Whatever,” Harry said.

Once Louis was able to stand again, he got back to work calming Blue Jeans and finishing his grooming. “Come on, Haz. I won’t tell. Promise.”

Harry remained quiet for a few more moments, just the sounds of birds, bugs, and a tractor from a few fields away breaking the peace.

“William was… well… he was kind of my big gay revelation, I guess.”

Louis froze. Nothing else was processing except Harry’s gay. Harry’s gay. Harry’s gay.

Until, suddenly, I helped Harry realize he was gay started going on repeat, and Louis realized he was kinda sorta maybe not breathing as much as he should be.

Trying for a calm chuckle but instead sounding like a hysterical witch from a Halloween cartoon, Louis said, “Oh, hey. That’s funny. He was kind of mine too.”

Technically, Louis had experienced what Harry called his big gay revelation while he was William rather than because of him, but semantics.

“Fuck, I was worried you were gonna never speak to me again or something with the way you stopped moving,” Harry said, sounding relieved. “I didn’t realize you were…”

“Yeah,” Louis said quickly. “I figured it out a year or so after moving to California.”

It hadn’t been easy or fun, what with starting the band and getting a recording contract on top of all of that, but it had to have been easier coming to terms with it in a place as accepting as LA instead of the Bible Belt.

“Was it okay for you?” Louis asked softly. “On nights where I had a hard time sleeping because it had been a rough day for me, I would sometimes think about what it might have been like to figure it out if I still lived here and how hard it might be.”

Harry shrugged. “Sometimes people are awful, but I didn’t come out to anyone other than my mom and Pete until after I’d graduated.”

“Nan?” Louis asked, surprised. She didn’t seem like the natural choice for Harry to come out to. “Really?”

“Yeah, well...I think she already knew,” Harry said quietly. He’d started leading the horse over to the barn, but he said, “She’d been planting not-so-subtle pride flags around the house and farm by the end, so to stop her from embarrassing both of us, I told her one afternoon.”

Louis laughed. That did sound like his nan. Old fashioned in so many ways, but always ready to love everyone.

“I’m glad she was there for you,” Louis said.

“Yeah,” Harry said as he passed Louis to get the last horse from the pasture that needed to be groomed. “Same.”

 

XXX

 

“Lou, honey,” Nan said as Louis stared down at his scrambled eggs the next morning.

He’d collected the eggs to be able to make them, but now was wondering if he could raise his arms in order to shovel them in his mouth. His entire body was so sore after yesterday, he wasn’t sure he’d ever hurt quite like he did today. And that was still nothing compared to the bone deep exhaustion he felt too. He’d only been in Livingston for two days, and one of them he’d slept the entire time. What was the rest of the summer going to be like?

Once Louis looked up, Nan said, “I doubt you’ll be much good around the farm today, so I want you to come with me to run errands in town.”

Sitting in a car. Walking around town. Not doing really hard physical labor around the farm. Yes, that sounded perfect.

Once Louis had been able to work up to eating the breakfast Nan had so kindly made for him, he put on his now destroyed pair of Vans and walked out to the truck. It was covered in dust so the pale blue paint barely showed. Rust outlined the bumpers and Louis remembered thinking the truck was old as a kid. As he climbed in, it smelled the same, still harboring hints of his grandad’s pipe tobacco even though he’d passed away when Louis was five.

As Nan drove them into Livingston proper, Louis smiled to see “Sarah’s Flapjacks” was still open across from the bait and tackle shop. He’d have to go and eat there sometime soon.

Nan waved and shouted hello out the window to everyone they passed, and soon enough Louis was roped into it as well. Once they had gone across the bridge that led to the other half of Main Street, including the hardware store that was their end destination, Louis saw what looked to be a fairly weather worn wooden sign that had the fundraising efforts to “Save Livingston”.

“What’s that mean? Why would Livingston need saving?”

“Oh, well you know how Mr. Gose owned most of the forested land surrounding Livingston as well as some of the shops?”

“Of course,” Louis said nodding. Everyone who had lived there knew that Livingston was essentially owned by Mr. Gose. He came from a long line of Livingstons who had founded the town and kept it growing and thriving through the years. He wasn’t a very well-off man, but Mr. Gose had done what he could to ensure everyone was able to make ends meet and was taken care of.

“Well he passed away last fall,” Nan said as she pulled into a parking space, “and his will gifted the land both on Main Street as well as his farm and the whole woods to the town of Livingston, so it’s now public land and the plots belong to the shop owners. It was very generous of him.”

“Okay? I don’t see what that has to do with saving Livingston.”

Nan sighed. “It was very generous, but the taxes on the land and shops aren’t cheap, especially with the inheritance taxes we’ve got to cover. We’re trying to raise the money needed to bring the town back out of the red by the middle of August. If we can’t by then, the state is going to take control of most of the land. They want to commercialize it, draw more people to the area.”

Louis turned in his seat and looked at the sign. The red hadn’t left the little bulb at the bottom of what looked like a thermometer.

“Doesn’t look like much progress has been made.”

“No, we’re all doing the best we can, but it’s slow going,” Nan agreed before sighing. “ Too slow. We’re doing a hoedown in a few weeks time, though. Several local bands and bakeries are donating time and efforts to try to draw people from neighboring areas so hopefully we can raise some more money that way.”

Louis’ mind was whirling with ideas of things he could possibly do to help when Nan interrupted his thoughts.

“No,” she said. “Your mother already forbid it.”

Eyes wide and looking as innocent as possible, Louis asked, “Forbid what? I’m just trying to think of ways to help Livingston!”

Nan shot Louis a glare and said, “The whole point of bringing you out here was to get you away from that other life. You’re not going to get up on a stage and perform or sing at all while you’re here, alright? William is not welcome in Livingston this summer.”

Louis climbed out of the car and scrambled after Nan as she walked towards the entrance to Jones Hardware.

“But just think of how much it could help with funds,” Louis argued. “Isn’t this for a good cause? It doesn’t have anything to do with me!”

“Nope,” Nan said shaking her head. “Jay made it very well known what her wishes were for this summer and, to be honest, I support her in them. You can help in other ways, but William isn’t one of them.”

Louis rolled his eyes and pouted for the rest of their trip in town.

XXX

 

Louis had waited. He’d been on his very best behavior and enthusiastically threw himself into the farm work, even slipped back into his southern twang, all in the efforts of softening his mom on the whole no-singing, no-performing rule.

Louis had been in pretty good shape before coming to Tennessee. 28 to Heartbreak had a personal trainer for the band and while the other guys weren’t as enthusiastic, Louis and Logan had taken full advantage of Mark’s services.

It didn’t seem to matter how much soccer or boxing or running or ballet or anything Louis had done the past couple of years. Louis had felt a constant ache in parts of his body he didn’t even know existed for the past three weeks.

Especially after helping Harry with a broken fence. Louis hadn’t realized how difficult it was to mend one of those. He had always thought it was pretty straight forward, actually, but he was fairly certain he had worked muscles he didn’t even have a month ago.

And now, a week before the hoedown everyone in Livingston was attending and helping with, Louis was ready to attack and try to garner his mom’s blessing.

“Hiya, Mama,” Louis said, kissing Jay’s cheek as he sat down beside her at the breakfast table. He’d gotten up extra early to wash up before getting the eggs and making some french toast for her to enjoy when she woke up.

Every day when he walked into the chicken coop he thanked God that the chickens were kept only for the family’s use and not for business purposes. Louis couldn’t imagine having to spend more time in there with those nasty, loud birds.

Jay shot him a sideways glance as she accepted the french toast and the warmed maple syrup he slid towards her.

“What do you want?” she asked, obviously suspicious.

Furrowing his brows and trying to act confused, Louis innocently nudged his glasses a bit and said, “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been acting weird for awhile now, but you’re acting especially strange right now.”

“I am not,” Louis argued.

“You are,” Jay said, taking another sip of her coffee before cutting into the french toast. “You’ve also been talking like you are best friends with Jim Ketchum and Marge Smith. What is going on with you?”

Louis sighed. “I’ve just been trying to think of ways to help Livingston so the state doesn’t get to take the land.”

Chewing the first bite of breakfast, Jay said, “This is delicious, thank you. But how else are you thinking about helping? You’re already helping Sarah cater the hoedown.”

“Well, we’ve sold a decent amount of tickets for that and hopefully food sales and other donations during the event itself will help, of course, but what I think the hoedown could use is something to draw even more people and more ticket sales. Something big. A name people will recognize.”

“No,” Jay said immediately, putting her fork down, bite of french toast forgotten on the prongs. “No way, Louis. I told your nan there would be no singing.”

“But mom, singing is who I am and always has been! Why not use that to bring more people and help the town?”

“No, Louis!” Jay said forcefully. “I was getting really scared this spring. I felt like I was losing you. I’d been seeing changes in you for awhile now, but your behavior escalated those last few months before coming out here and I wasn’t going to watch you forget. Forget where you came from or who you are or why we came up with William in the first place. I came out here with you as a last ditch effort to save that and help you remember yourself. I’m not going to ignore that just because Livingston is in trouble.”

Louis felt desperation clawing inside him. He knew he could help raise the money. He’d even battled the dial-up internet and reached out to the band manager asking if it might be possible to do a solo charity performance. Vita was so okay with it, she had even offered to come out with Liam or anyone else Louis might require for the performance, if Jay was on board. Why was she so desperate to keep this from happening?

“But-”

“No, Louis. And that’s the last I’ll say on it.”

Without finishing her breakfast, Jay stood from the table and walked right out of the house.

 

XXX

 

Louis fixed the bandana he had used to hold his hair out of his face. It had been difficult to get it tied tight enough to hold his hair back without falling down but still loose enough to not hold his glasses too tightly against his head. He hadn’t had a haircut or trim since leaving LA over a month ago and his hair was growing insanely fast, so it was definitely necessary. In addition to health code, he had to keep it held back somehow so he could see while he was helping Sarah cater the hoedown. It wouldn’t do to trip over someone or something while carrying someone’s order all because he couldn’t see past his bangs.

Louis was already a bit sweaty after just the first forty-five minutes, but he had a break coming up soon, so he was grateful.

He turned around to take another round of plates to where Sarah had directed him when a very familiar voice came on over the speakers.

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to Livingston. I’m Harry Styles and our band for the night is called White Eskimo. We hope to get you up and dancing as we sing some classics for all of you.”

Louis froze as he watched Harry, looking fresh and beautiful in double plaid and incredibly tight jeans paired with sparkly, heeled boots.

“Go on,” Sarah prodded.

Louis jolted a little, but started walking over to table eleven as best he could, distracted as he was by Harry on stage. All he had to do was deliver these meals and he could take a break for the rest of Harry’s set.

Focusing as best he could, Louis handed out the various meals and made sure they had all they needed. Once he was done, he looked up at Harry. He just wanted another glimpse before returning the tray to the kitchen.

It had been ages since he’d gotten to go to a concert and truly enjoy himself. There was always some sort of networking or promotion to be done, even while attending the show of an artist he personally enjoyed.

This definitely beat all of that. Harry was on stage, strumming a guitar as he closed his eyes and belted into the microphone. He swayed from side to side and made connections with the audience in a way that made it obvious. Harry was made for this, maybe even more than Louis was.

Which was why it was such a surprise when Harry started talking more than just to introduce the next song.

“Thank you,” Harry said, smile wide and taking a ridiculous bow. “I’d like to invite one of our own to join us on the stage now for an impromptu number. As I’m sure many of you remember, back in Middle School and High School, Louis Tomlinson used to grace us with his performances on a regular basis. Since he’s back in town for a bit, the guys and I thought it would be nice for him to do it once again. Come on up, Louis!”

Louis looked, searching for Jay and Nan. This had to be a test to see if he would follow orders, right?

“Oh, come on, Lou,” Harry teased, waving his hand in an attempt to cajole Louis onto the stage. “We all know how much you love performing. This isn’t a matter of being shy.”

Louis snorted. It sure wasn’t. It was a matter of worrying if people would recognize his voice if he sang and the fact he might be an adult by now, but he still worried about his mother’s temper.

His mom wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and his Nan was just watching him with a daring look on her face, so he shrugged at her and made his way up to Harry, who was now applauding.

“Yes! The prodigal son returns to grace us with his voice once more.”

Louis rolled his eyes and once on stage, he looked at Harry. “So, what exactly am I singing?”

To the crowd, Harry probably looked exactly the same, but Louis saw a daring glint in his eye. That could only mean one thing.

“Wait wait wait, I haven’t practiced! I don’t know that I even remember all the words!”

Louis was still complaining to Harry when Sarah counted off the beats and Harry started the familiar opening chords to Hoedown Throwdown.

Shaking his head ruefully, Louis shook out his limbs and stepped up to the microphone.

“Boom, clap, boom de clap de clap. Boom boom clap, boom de clap de clap,” Louis said, trying to infuse his voice with energy and get everyone to clap and sing along. Somehow, the members of the band knew the stupid backup vocals Harry used to sing while Louis would put on his singing performances for their friends back then.

When Louis turned to look at him, Harry laughed and took a stance further back with the rest of the band. Louis made stupid faces, but he realized Harry really wasn’t going to sing with him.

Fine. If it was going to be that way, Louis would take over the show for this one song only.

“Alright everybody, come on, get off your seat!” Louis called, clapping along to the music Harry and the band were playing behind him. “I’m gonna tell you ‘bout a beat that’s gonna make you move your feet.”

Harry had to have planned this. There’s no way the rest of them would know the song already if he hadn’t. Louis sang the first verse while people he recognized from High School who happened to remember the dance helped get everyone set up in their rows for the line dance. By the time Louis hit the chorus, the words were easily coming back to him, as was the dance, so it was no problem for him to lead it.

“Pop it, lock it, polka dot it. Countrify, then hip hop it. Put your hawk in the sky, side to side. Jump to the left, stick it, glide.” Taking a deep breath, Louis did the best he could to keep singing without having to pick up the microphone himself. It was an old school corded microphone and he just knew that would cause issues. Louis kept calling out the instructions for the dance as he demonstrated them and at the end he sang, “Do the hoedown!” and the crowd yelled back at him, “Throwdown!”

As the song kept going and people were getting the hang of the steps, the band was amazing behind him and Louis felt more energized on stage than he had in awhile. It felt so freeing to be able to perform as himself rather than William, even if it was just to a crowd of a few hundred people.

“Throw it all together, that’s how we roll!” The ending chord was hit, and Louis heaved for breath as the crowd cheered. He smiled and took a bow, but as he was coming up from the third one Harry insisted he do, he looked to the back and saw his mom.

He’d seen her angry before. Louis always had been one to push her buttons and test his boundaries. He’d never seen her like this, though.

Before he was even off the stage to go rushing for her, she’d turned around and left. Louis could hear Harry talking in the background, having taken over his position on stage once more, but it wasn’t until his Nan said, “And what are you doing here?” that Louis realized everyone had gone quiet.

“Hello, Pete,” an older man said, walking in with his fancy cowboy boots and an obviously new hat perched on his head.

“Don’t you dare call me that,” Pete said with so much vitriol, Louis could feel the heat coming off of her. “We aren’t friends. We haven’t been since you abandoned this town years ago, much less now that you’re actively working with the state to move up their plans for Livingston.”

Holding his hands up in a defensive pose, he said, “Alright, Mauvry. That’s fine. I didn’t come here to burn your biscuits.”

Folding her arms and instantly assuming a sassy pose that Louis had never seen out of her before, Nan said, “Now what exactly are you doing here? Wanted to see how a real community works? See how much people care for the place they’re from?”

Louis winced. He knew she didn’t mean it, but it did feel like a slight dig at him. He’d technically abandoned Livingston just like this man he didn’t even know, though he wasn’t actively working against the town.

The silence was incredibly loud as everyone watched how the man would respond.

“Oh, come on,” the man said with a laugh. Stretching out his arms as he looked around, he said, “Do you really think small fundraisers like this is going to be enough to save the town? You have tens of thousands left to raise, Mauvry. You need nothing short of a miracle to ‘save’ Livingston.” The man even used air quotes around save.

“What a dick,” Louis mumbled.

“What is that miracle going to be?” the man continued, this time turning around and looking various townspeople in the face. “Are you going to just magically raise some massive amount of money and be able to hold off progress?”

“Louis knows William Thibedeau from 28 to Heartbreak,” Harry suddenly said from the stage.

Harry’s slow drawl had caused a lot of feelings within Louis these past few weeks. Mostly longing and desire and want, but never before had it caused him to freeze and have ice shooting through his veins.

“Yeah!” Harry cried as everyone turned to him in surprise. “Louis knows William! Saved him in a surfing accident or something. Maybe he could get William or even the whole band to come and do a charity concert or something!”

Louis couldn’t even turn to look at Harry, his wide eyes were frozen on his Nan. He shook his head minutely and hoped she understood that he had tried a lot of things this summer, but he absolutely had not planned this.

There was a slight rumble starting to rise from the crowd, and Louis knew he couldn’t just ignore Harry’s suggestion.

Letting out a nervous chuckle, Louis finally turned towards Harry. “Oh, I dunno, Harry,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure I have that much sway with William or anything.”

“It’s worth a try, though. Right?”

Even with the entire length of the dance floor and several tables between them, Louis could see the pleading in Harry’s eyes and Louis knew he was fucked. There was no way he’d be able to say no to him that way.

“I’ll definitely reach out to him and see,” Louis said, nervously fiddling with his glasses, and immediately a cheer went up.

“See?”

Louis’ neck whipped back to his nan when he heard her smug tone. Her slight frame had an actual swagger as she walked up to the old pompous idiot.

“This is what it looks like when a town comes together,” she said. “Miracles can happen, and William Thibedeau will be just the proof to show you that.”

At least Louis was pretty sure this meant Nan was on his side. Now he just had to convince his mom.

 

XXX

 

“How did Harry even know about William?” Jay asked. She was obviously trying to stay calm, but this wasn’t the first time in the conversation she had gotten louder or her voice had risen in pitch before she’d caught herself and brought it all back down again.

“That’s a great question, actually,” Nan said, turning to Louis. “How did Harry know? I sure didn’t tell him.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “I was stupid, okay? I found out 28 to Heartbreak was his favorite band and I was trying to show off for him. Told him some stupid story about saving him while surfing.”

“That’s the story of how you met Niall,” Jay said, voice sounding flat for the first time this evening.

“I know,” Louis said, scrunching his nose. “I told you it was stupid.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t solve the predicament we’re in now,” Nan said. “The town is relying on us to not only raise those funds because they’re needed, but also because we need to show up awful Mr. Runyon. We need this, Jay.”

Louis turned from his nan, standing in her kitchen and for the first time Louis could remember, she truly looked old.

She had always been a feisty woman who was better with a shotgun than most men in town, and she’d proved it from a young age, earning her the beloved nickname of Pete. When she was growing up, she’d been one of the boys. If there was ever a time when she wasn’t able to defend herself, there were any number of people who would stick up for her.

Then, her parents died when she was only sixteen, leaving her and her older brother to run the farm themselves. When her brother had died only a few years later due to a farm accident, Pete had been especially grateful for her long time beau, Sam. He helped her keep herself together and soon they were wed, running the farm as a partnership.

There was one last misfortune for her, though, when her husband died in his sleep at the young age of twenty-four. He left her with their only child, Jay, and a farm to run herself and she’d never looked back.

Because of that, Pete knew how to hold herself up and keep her head held high. She was a woman who got a job done, no questions asked, and demanded the same of others. But now Louis realized that maybe her age was catching up to her. Maybe she knew better than to demand more of the fates than what they’d already graced her with; a long life of her own. Maybe that’s why she was so insistent on teaching Harry to run the farm for her.

And now, Louis saw her exhaustion from all those years of being strong. He knew his mom did too. If Pete thought this was the best way to save the town, Louis knew his mom wouldn’t fight it.

“We’re going to have a lot of organizing to do,” Jay said, Pete immediately hooting and hollering up a storm as she bounced around the kitchen. “Don’t get too excited, this is going to be messy!”

“What do you mean?” Louis asked, laughing. “No one in town is going to suspect a thing!”

Jay gave Louis a look that was far more accepting than he was expecting but still less than he would like. “They’re going to expect you at the same events they expect William.”

Louis’ heart sank. There had only been once or twice he’d had to navigate something like that, but it had turned out fine, mostly because he had Niall and Liam running interference for him and it was incredibly well planned out.

“Well, shit,” Louis said softly.

“Watch your language, but in this case I have to agree,” Nan agreed.

 

XXX

 

A week later and not only did they have a plan, but Liam, Niall, and Vita were all scheduled to come in and help. There would only be about a three day span where William would be there as well. Vita had wanted it to be a much larger thing, a week or two long charity promotion kick for William, but in the end had been talked down by Jay.

Which was great, because Louis was already nervous enough about having to switch back and forth between Louis and William without being caught by anyone. He had a niggling feeling in his chest that there were going to be a lot more close calls than he would like.

All the same, there was an electric feeling of excitement in the town over the next week leading up to the arrival of the entire crew. Everyone seemed to feel like William Thibedeau could be the person to save the town, and Louis hoped and prayed they were right.

“You excited for William to get in tomorrow?” Louis asked Harry the afternoon before the entire entourage was expected to arrive.

The two of them had been tasked with getting Nan’s guest room ready for Niall and Liam since they’d be staying there while Vita would be staying at the lone available room at the Bed and Breakfast in town.

Harry shrugged as he and Louis shook out the sheet over the double bed. “I dunno. I guess.”

Louis snorted. “What an impressive endorsement. Here I thought you’d be excited to finally meet the person you’d been crushing on for a few years now.”

Blushing, Harry tried to give Louis a hard glare. Of course it only turned out looking like a slightly upset kitten, especially with his hair windblown and fluffed about his head even more than usual today.

“Shut up. I can play it cool in front of a celebrity, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Smirking, Louis teased, “Nah. I’m mostly worried that you’ll be distracting him and asking him out on dates while he’s here, and where would that leave me?”

Louis had considered that with William having a reason to be here, he might finally get his chance to win over Harry. Maybe, if Harry was interested in William and things worked out well, Louis could eventually tell him the truth about the fact he lived two very different lives. Harry might then somehow magically realize he loved Louis all along.

Yeah. It was an incredibly flawed plan, and not a very likely one, but Louis still had hope for it.

“I’d never do that to you,” Harry said, shaking his head adamantly. “He’s your friend. That would just be rude.”

Louis furrowed his brow. “What do I have to do with any of it? If you like the guy, go for it.”

Harry muttered something under his breath, but Louis couldn’t make it out before Harry was shaking the quilt out and hitting Louis in the face with the edge of it.

Squeaking a bit as he flailed and hit the wall behind him, Louis pulled himself together and pointed.

“That was on purpose and very rude. If not for my glasses you could have taken out my eye! You’ll pay for that.”

Harry arched his brow. “Just like I paid for making you come on stage and sing against your will, you mean? Yeah. I paid horribly for that.”

Louis’ jaw dropped at Harry’s overly sarcastic tone. “You think you can get away with anything, don’t you?”

Shrugging again, and back to his nonchalant self, Harry said, “Well, nothing’s really happened to make me think otherwise, so...yeah. Kinda.”

Louis slowly started rounding the end of the bed as Harry focused on folding the quilt around the pillows. Harry turned around and jumped a little in surprise at Louis being right beside him just in time for Louis to pounce.

“You’re gonna pay this time!” Louis cried as he lunged into Harry’s personal space and made use of all his ticklish spots he knew like the back of his hand. Harry’s hands that were protectively out in front of his chest were no use when Louis was going for his right side, just above his hip and the sensitive skin on the side of his neck. If Louis was able to manage also getting right behind Harry’s knees, then he knew Harry was essentially ticklish everywhere and would be a giggling, hiccuping mess in no time.

Harry toppled over onto the bed, leaving Louis with little choice but to climb up on top of him to continue the attack and not allow Harry any space to leave.

“Regret your decisions now, Styles?” Louis teased as Harry’s honking laughter and manic giggles were quickly turning to wheezing laughter and the beginnings of hiccups. Louis had him right where he wanted him.

“Lou, stop. Oh my God!” Harry was weakly pushing at Louis’ arms and chest in an attempt to get him away from him. It wasn’t a threat, but he was also starting to tickle Louis back, and that was not okay.

“Come on, you,” Louis said, laughing himself, as he tried to catch Harry’s hands which were moving much faster now that Louis wasn’t actively tickling him. Once Louis finally got ahold of Harry’s hands, he had to put his whole weight into pushing against Harry in order to pin his arms against the bed. He used to be able to do that so easily, but the time spent on the farm had definitely made Harry far stronger than he had been while they were in school.

Finally getting Harry’s hands down beside his head, Louis realized he was now in a position crouched above Harry with their faces much closer than he’d expected.

“Oh,” Louis said softly.

“Hey,” Harry whispered back.

They were both still and while Louis knew Harry wasn’t fighting him anymore because he didn’t have to work to keep his hands in place, Louis also felt like an entirely different tension had filled the room.

Harry licked his lips, and Louis’ eyes glanced down. God, his lips were sinful. He’d always liked how they seemed just a touch too large for his face, but now that he’d gotten older, they fit him perfectly. Louis wanted to kiss them, taste them a little, and maybe even give them a tiny bite to see if they’d turn a darker shade of pink than they were already.

Glancing up at Harry’s eyes to see if he could figure out if that would be okay, Louis realized Harry was already focused on Louis’ own. If that wasn’t permission enough, then Louis wasn’t sure what was.

He started leaning down slowly, making sure to give Harry plenty of time to object if he wanted to, Louis could feel Harry’s gentle puffs of breath on his lips. It was tantalizing and he felt a physical draw to be closer, closer, closer. He closed his eyes and expected to feel Harry’s mouth against his own any second and he thought he might die if it didn’t happen soon.

“You boys are awfully quiet in here, are you nearly done, yet?”

Louis jerked back and his eyes popped open at the sound of his mom’s voice. Harry’s eyes were wide and when Louis looked at the door of the room, which he’d forgotten was wide open, he saw his mom standing there.

Smug grin in place and arms folded over her chest, Jay popped a hip and said, “Well. What’s going on here, boys?”

“Shit,” Louis muttered as he realized he was still pinning Harry down and keeping their rather precarious position in place in front of his mother.

“Nothing,” Louis said, getting his glasses back in place. He hadn’t noticed them sliding down his nose as he was above Harry. He’d been a little distracted. “Just had a tickle fight cause Harry couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”

Harry squawked and said, “I’m not the one who couldn’t keep his mouth shut! That would definitely be you, Mr. Sass Master.”

Louis made his own sound of protest at that before he turned to Harry, putting his hands on his hips. “How very dare you turn this around and say it was my fault! At least it was clear that I was winning the fight!”

“I’d say you were both winning that fight, no matter how you look at it,” Jay said.

God, his mom was still there. Harry had some sort of an effect on Louis that made him forget other people were around and that was dangerous.

“Anyway,” she said, sounding all to happy about what she’d just witnessed. “Louis, you need to come with me to run some more errands before tonight. We won’t have time to do it before everyone gets here in the morning.”

Harry had finally stood up off the bed and was trying to fix all the work they’d just put into making it earlier before messing it up with their tickle fight turned almost kiss. Fuck, Louis really wanted that kiss.

“Yeah, alright,” Louis said. “You good to finish here, Haz?”

“Yep,” Harry said, nodding quickly. “No problem.”

Louis walked to the door and paused before fully leaving. He looked over his shoulder at Harry. He was a little too concentrated on re-fluffing the pillows, but he also had a small smile on his face.

Louis would take that as a win.

 

XXX

 

Louis’ leg was bouncing ridiculously as he sat on the porch waiting for the rental minivan to pull back in. This was it. The plan was going to begin and Louis was scared out of his mind about how it was all going to go. He’d started pretending to cough while around Harry and a few others so that they could use the excuse he had stayed home due to being under the weather whenever he needed to be William, but still.

A cloud of dust kicked up at the end of the long drive to the farmhouse, and Louis stood up holding his hand above his eyes, hoping the sun wouldn’t reflect off his glasses and allow him to see a little better.

Once he could make out the van through the dust, he saw Niall sitting in the front seat and Louis immediately began waving frantically and jumping up and down. Once he realized what he was doing, he felt ridiculous, but he didn’t care. He was just so excited to see his best friends and people from home again.

As soon as the van stopped, the passenger door and the sliding door nearest Louis opened and soon enough Louis, Liam, and Niall were all hugging each other tightly in a big mess of limbs and slightly rank boys.

“Lou! I knew you lived in the country but I didn’t realize it was like this!” Niall practically yelled in his ear at the same time Liam said, “I can already tell you haven’t been moisturizing or using sunblock, and don’t think you aren’t in trouble for that.”

Louis just laughed and pulled them closer to him. “God, I really missed you guys.”

“You should grab your bags and get inside,” Jay said, interrupting the reunion. Louis looked over at her and she nodded towards the field where Louis knew Harry was out working with one of the tractors that had broken down. “Need to make sure no one sees that a certain celebrity didn’t arrive at the same time, hm?”

“Good call. Thanks, Mom!” Louis grabbed Liam and Niall’s arms and dragged them towards the trunk where he began to quickly unload their luggage.

“Louis, slow down,” Niall said laughing. “Look at you go! Have you been working out? Some of Liams bags feel like they have weights in them.”

“I had to bring my work gear, thank you very much,” Liam protested as he smacked Niall on the shoulder. “Not my fault some of that weighs a lot.”

Shrugging, Louis stood up and slammed the trunk shut once it was empty. “Not working out, just working around the farm. I have muscles I didn’t even know existed before, so I’ve gotta complain to Mark when we get back. He hasn’t been working me nearly hard enough and now I know it.”

All of them laughed a little and picked up enough bags to not have to make more than one trip between the three of them before Louis guided them to the guest room as well as dragging the bags holding all of William’s necessities up to his small room in the attic.

Niall whistled once Louis found a way to fit all the bags in his room beside the bags he’d already brought for the summer. He’d tried to organize them enough so that he could still maneuver around, but it was a bit of a tight fit. Good thing the bed was a queen size and the only real benefit to the attic room, or no one would believe William would agree to stay there.

“Why do you keep reacting like that,” Louis asked, arching his brow. “I told you the first week I was here that the only reason I was actually calling you was because cell phones are useless out here and WiFi doesn’t really exist. I’m getting the feeling that this entire time you thought I was just overreacting or something.”

“Nope,” Liam said with one of his wry smiles. “He just thought you got your phone and computer confiscated by Jay.”

Niall punched Liam in the shoulder and flopped onto the bed. “You weren’t supposed to tell! God, you’re the worst secret keeper ever.”

Liam laughed as he unzipped a couple of cases and threw an outfit at Louis. “Yeah, the makeup artist for one of the biggest names in music right now who happens to have a fake identity is the worst secret keeper ever. I believe you.”

“You guys, shut up. We need to talk about everything, right?” Louis had already started stripping out of his old ripped clothes and began wiping down with the cleansing cloths Liam required him to use before getting the William makeup put on. “I mean, I’m supposed to go to that big dinner with the mayor tomorrow night and take an official tour of the town in the afternoon and all of that. We have to plan outfits and details about the concert on Friday and all of that. Do you guys know anything about how ticket sales are going?”

“Doesn’t Jay tell you anything?” Niall asked, laughing. “Tickets sold out within an hour of them being available. It was a really great idea to have them go for a lower price so more people could afford them and have all the proceeds go to the benefit.” Niall turned on his iPad and started switching between apps and scrolling around. Louis wondered how any of it was working considering there wasn’t an internet connection. “There have been some really great articles written about it, actually, and almost all of the response has been positive. Since Vita was able to get bottled water donated for the event in order to have those proceeds also go to the town, we should easily be able to help Livingston hit goal with this.”

Niall turned the iPad around, and once Louis had finished shimmying into his distressed skinny jeans, he leaned over to take a look. Niall had downloaded several articles for Louis to be able to read, which was nice.

“Oh, I forgot Vita was going to have them really draw on the reason William would agree to the event being because he’s also from Tennessee,” Louis said slowly.

“I’m taking the makeup downstairs,” Liam said as he zipped a few cases back up and dragged them to the door. “The lighting in here is awful but there’s also not enough space to set up my lights. Meet us in the spare room in like fifteen so we can get you made up and have your contacts in by then, please.”

“Thanks, Li,” Louis said with an exaggerated smile. At least there would be a little more room to move with them keeping those with them.

“Yeah, there’s been speculation about William’s hometown and the fact it might actually be Livingston, but no articles have been printed or posted as of yet about it, so we’re hoping it remains a talking point with the fans and nothing else.”

Louis sighed and looked around the room. He’d avoided the topic of his bandmates the entire summer, figuring it was pointless asking about it anyway since there was nothing he could do at the moment. His time in Tennessee was almost over, though, which meant a return to his real life and his career and he needed to know what he would be returning to, if anything. Niall had figured it out quickly when Louis dodged a comment he’d made the first few times they’d talked on the phone and never brought it up again, which was great, but Louis needed to hear it now.

“What’s going on with the Band, Ni?” Louis turned to him and Niall looked sad. “Vita keeps making comments about how easy this was to set up and get approval for and that’s nice, I’m glad, but that doesn’t sound right. We’ve never been able to approval to do things on our own without the rest of the band, so why now?”

“There’s not really a band anymore, Lou.”

Louis blinked. He’d thought he had come to terms with every possibility, but somehow the band breaking up entirely had never even crossed his mind. Breaking up? He knew when Drew left that things would be rough and a lot of bands didn’t make it through something like that, but a lot still did and Louis had always believed they would be one of the lucky ones. He thought they were stronger than that.

Niall continued when it was clear Louis wasn’t going to say anything. “Brock wanted to wait for you to get back in order to make an official decision, but Logan and Mike already got personal representatives and said they’re done. They want out and refuse to perform with 28 to Heartbreak anymore.”

“I’m assuming the announcement hasn’t broken yet,” Louis said quietly.

“No,” Niall said. “Not yet. Vita implied a statement would be made on the band’s official accounts next week, I can only imagine Tuesday so it receives the most coverage. Your charity event is the focus of all of that right now, and they didn’t want to take attention away from that, not even Mike or Logan.”

Louis forced himself to swallow and he closed his eyes. Everything he’d been working towards for the last three years was gone just like that. Well. At least he was going to have one last chance to perform before having to figure out where he was going to go from here.

“Thanks, Ni,” Louis said, leaning into Niall’s side. “You’ll stick with me, even though you were 28 to Heartbreak’s biggest fan, right?”

Niall snorted. “You’re stuck with me. Maybe you’ll be even bigger as a solo act than you were with that dumb band and can pay me better. I mean, think of everything I do for you. I deserve it, Louis.”

Louis pinched at Niall’s leg, but didn’t do anything else. He knew Niall was being stupid and trying to cheer him up, but it wasn’t going to be that easy.

“William!” Liam shouted up the stairs. “Get your ass down here, you punk ass bitch!”

“Liam Payne I will not have you using such language in this house!”

Louis and Niall burst out laughing at Jay giving Liam a talking to. Things might be rough, but he really was lucky to have the people surrounding him that he did.

Standing up, Louis put in the color changing contacts, grabbed the shirt Liam had tossed at him earlier, and began his descent of the stairs. No use putting it on when he’d be taking it right back off again for Liam to work his magic.

“I wasn’t joking though, Lou. You’re ripped now. Way better shape than ever before, you look great.”

“Thanks,” Louis said over his shoulder. “If only it helped.”

Jay shot a glance in Louis’ direction when he walked into the kitchen. He just gave her an innocent smile before heading to where Liam was waiting.

Once the door was closed, Niall asked, “What are you talking about? I thought you had a plan for Harry? That’s who this is about, right?”

“Harry? Who’s Harry? Sit here.” Liam pointed at a chair he had set up with lights surrounding it and all of his brushes, makeup, and other various products laid out on the bed. “This is not the ideal environment, but we’ll make do.”

Louis filled Liam in on everything he and Niall hadn’t told him already and Liam made the appropriate sounds as he painted on all of Louis’ tattoos.

“Sorry this is going so much slower than usual,” Liam apologized for the fiftieth time. “I’m a bit rusty after two months off.”

“Yeah, longest break you’ve ever had from me, right?” Louis joked. Liam had just finished the last tattoo on Louis’ arms and was about to get started on the chest piece they’d added this spring.

“Pretty much,” Liam said as he focused on his strokes. “Would it kill you to wax your chest while you’re out here? The hair makes my life so much difficult.”

“You’ve done just fine on my arms, why is it any different on my chest?” Louis asked as he tipped his head down while trying to keep out of Liam’s way. “Besides, I like the hair there. Makes me feel more manly. Tough. I was thinking of stopping waxing my chest permanently.”

Liam snorted. “Your arm hair isn’t nearly so coarse or thick as your chest hair apparently has become over the years. Please either stop wearing scoop necks or wax your chest. That’s all I’m saying. Anyway. Everything you’ve told me sounds like Harry is just as into you as you are into him.”

Louis shook his head, making Liam curse at the movement. “Sorry,” Louis said. “But no. I really don’t think he is. Or, maybe a little? I don’t know. But I do know he likes William, so I’m going to use that to my advantage.”

Niall hummed. “Just show him your newly defined abs and flex your arms. He’ll swoon right into you.”

“Those won’t impress him,” Louis countered. “You haven’t met him yet, but he’s far more built than I am. I needed something else, and I’m hoping some tattoos and a celebrity persona will help.”

“Just be yourself and that’ll be enough,” Liam said, sounding distracted. He probably was. He had the hardest time making sure the script on William’s chest piece was always exact.

“Sure,” Louis agreed just to let Liam know he was heard. Louis of course didn’t believe him, but that could be dealt with later. “Are we doing more makeup or just the tattoos and piercings today?”

Liam sat back and observed his work. “That’s up to you. I think we can skip the brow piercing if you want, say you decided you didn’t like it anymore, and stick with the ears and then we could do some eyeliner and call it a day, yeah?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, good idea. Let’s do it.”

Once the transformation was finished and the tattoos were dry, Louis pulled the shirt Liam had chosen on and realized he was still barefoot.

“Did you pack shoes too? All of my tennis shoes are pretty much destroyed from all the work I’ve been doing and won’t work for William.”

“Yeah, they should be in the medium sized blue one,” Niall said, messing with his phone. “I keep pulling this out, expecting it to magically be able to conjure a signal. I’m gonna go through withdrawal, aren’t I?”

“Yeah,” Liam and Louis both said, before turning and laughing.

“Grab your shoes, then let’s go meet this Harry guy. I wanna see what the big deal is,” Liam said as he put everything away and cleared the bed off again.

Louis ran back down the stairs, now wearing the brand new high tops Louis had been excited about before they left. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to wear them before leaving, so he was glad he had the chance now. They looked great with his outfit, too.

“Well?” Louis asked, clapping his hands together and rubbing them a bit. It was fun putting his William gear back on. It was like slipping into a well worn stage costume and he had missed it. “Let’s go. We can pretend like we’re just wandering around the farm or something.”

Liam and Niall stood up and they all made their way to the door, Jay reminding them what time to be back for dinner.

Louis had just opened the door and been pushed out harder than he’d expected to be by Niall when he looked up and realized Harry was in the front yard.

It looked like he’d been loading Nan’s truck with something and had worked up quite the sweat. He’d peeled off his usual flannel shirt and was left wearing an old, worn, almost sheer white shirt. Louis had seen the shirt plenty of times, but he had not seen it completely sweated through, showing off everything Louis had been trying not to obviously drool over for the past couple of months.

“Damn,” Liam whispered. “Is that him?”

“Hey,” Louis said, ignoring Liam and trying to get his William persona back in place. Harry flustered him so much he almost forgot he wasn’t himself. “You must be Harry. Louis’ told me a lot about you.”

Louis tried to stand in a way that he knew showed off his shape and would hopefully make Harry want to look even more, but Harry barely glanced his way, offering a short wave before continuing to load Nan’s truck.

“Hey, yeah. I’m Harry. Nice to meet you, William.” He nodded at Liam and Niall a little too, then turned back to the truck.

“That’s it?” Niall asked Louis softly. “Why isn’t he coming over to talk more? I thought you said he loved William?”

“Maybe he’s trying to play it cool to the point that it seems like he doesn’t care,” Liam said. “You’ve seen other fans do that too. Overcompensating and shit.”

“Maybe,” Louis said, biting into his lower lip with his teeth. He hadn’t been expecting this, especially after he’d practically told Harry to go for it with William. What was he supposed to do now?

“Hey, you know, since you mentioned Louis…”

Louis spun around to face Harry again, finding him looking at William and looking a little nervous. Harry glanced around, like he was looking for something before coming closer and asking, “You said he talked about me?”

“Yeah, sure did,” Louis said, perhaps a bit too fast because he was eager to keep the conversation going. It was harder than Louis had expected to completely get rid of the drawl he’d gotten used to speaking with again, but William had been in LA enough it wouldn’t be nearly so strong. He needed to be careful about that. “Why do you ask? He said only good things, I promise.”

“Did he ever give you the idea that maybe he might be interested in me? As more than a friend?”

Oh. Oh.

Louis’ eyes had grown wide and his jaw dropped and he was really glad that Harry was embarrassed enough to be asking the question from a famous stranger that he was looking at the ground as he finally put the pieces together.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think he absolutely is interested in you as more than a friend.”

“Yeah, he really is,” Niall said, with a laugh. “You should have heard him going on and on about you. It was ridiculous…” Louis elbowed Niall in the side, so he quickly tacked on, “-ly cute!” before glaring at Louis and rubbing his ribs.

“Yeah?” Harry’s face was bright with a wide smile and he looked so hopeful. Louis’ heart was racing over the fact he was able to make him so happy. “Do you think he’d say yes if I were to ask him-”

“Yes,” Louis practically shouted, cutting off Harry entirely. Clearing his throat and readjusting his volume, Louis said, “Yes, I think he would love to be asked out on a date by you.”

“Great. Do you know where he is? I haven’t seen him since lunchtime.”

Liam finally stepped in and said, “Hi, I’m Liam, by the way. He was saying he wasn’t feeling very well, but he expected to be down for dinner. Are you joining us for that?”

Harry shook his head. “Nah, I’ve gotta get all of this into town and then I’m busy the rest of the evening. Gotta make sure everything’s ready for tomorrow and Friday, right?”

“Right,” Louis said, nodding. “Sorry for making you work so hard.”

“No, it’s really more than fine,” Harry said, his smile smaller now, but just as genuine. “We are so grateful you were willing to come out and help us save Livingston. It means a lot to the town, but especially to me. I’ve followed 28 to Heartbreak pretty closely through the years, I’m a huge fan, so to have you here doing this makes it even more meaningful for me. I’m absolutely willing to put in the extra work required.”

Louis smiled softly. Harry was such a good guy. Louis couldn’t have chosen anyone better to pine after.

And now, it turns out it was mutual! Which was great. Oh God, he would have to figure out what to wear for their date.

Niall nudged Louis in his side, harder than strictly necessary, probably getting him back for earlier.

“Oh, right. Well, thank you, all the same. I’m happy to help.”

Harry waved, closed up the truck bed, and said, “Well, I’ll be seeing all of you later. Let Louis know I was looking for him, and if he could I was hoping he could join us at our favorite place later tonight. I’ll be there around nine if he feels up to it.”

“I’m sure even if he doesn’t, he’ll still be there,” Niall said with a smile. Louis was going to kill him once Harry was gone.

Harry smiled, climbed into Nan’s truck, and drove down the long driveway.

“Holy shit, Lou,” Liam said spinning around and shaking Louis’ shoulders. “He’s fucking gorgeous and he likes you back, just like I said, and he’s going to ask you out!”

Louis blinked as Liam forced him out of his thoughts he’d spiraled into watching the truck drive away. “What are you shaking me for? I heard him just fine! And you need to be careful and call me William while I’m dressed like this. There are others out here and they might overhear you.”

Flattening the shirt over his tummy, Louis took a steadying breath, and then led the way off the porch.

“Come on. Let’s walk around and make sure at least some people see William so they can start the excited chatter.”

 

XXX

 

After their walk - that was successfully seen by Nan’s nosey neighbor, Candy - the boys headed back to the house so Niall and Liam could rest and unpack before dinner while Louis tried to undo all the work they put into making him William so he could be back to looking like Louis in time to meet Harry.

Halfway through dinner, Jay reached over and placed her hand firmly on Louis’ knee.

“What in the devil’s name has got you so worked up?” she asked, only removing her hand once Louis was sitting a bit more still. “You’re going so fast you were shaking the table.”

“Harry’s finally going to ask him on a date tonight,” Liam said with a wicked grin. “They’re meeting up at nine and that’s when it’s going to happen.”

“Liam,” Louis groaned, kicking out and getting his shin. “I swear, if it wasn’t for the NDA we had you sign when we hired you, there’s no way you’d have ever kept quiet about William for so long.”

Shrugging, Liam flashed a wide smile then went back to shoveling in the casserole Jay had made.

“Well,” Jay said, sounding smug. “It’s about time.”

Louis turned to her so quickly he felt his neck hurt a little. “What does that mean?” he practically squawked.

“Oh come on, Lou,” Jay said, smirking. “You two have been hardly functional around each other from the moment he came riding up to the car our first day. I’m surprised you didn’t act before now, honestly. Usually you’re the one to take initiative.”

Opening and closing his mouth, Louis just sat, silent. He could not for the life of him get his brain to function in a way that would allow a full sentence to come together in rebuttal.

“Then again, if Harry makes you like this, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising to me that he’s the one asking you out.”

Louis narrowed his eyes and turned back to his dinner plate. The sooner he was finished the sooner he could head out to their favorite place by the river.

Forty five minutes later, after Louis had helped with clean up from dinner and finished fussing in front of the mirror, Louis found himself at their special spot a couple of hours early. He didn’t mind. He hadn’t felt like he’d truly been alone since they’d come to Tennessee.

He was itching to do some writing, but he hadn’t thought to bring his ipad with him. He had plenty of time to come up with something, and after the news about his band from Niall, he needed to get his emotions out in a way that wasn’t brushing down a horse or gathering eggs from the coop.

He pulled his phone out from his pocket - he’d decided to bring it along to help him tell the time as well as to use as a flashlight even if it didn’t have signal here - and pulled open his notes. That would have to do.

Louis looked around where he was sitting. There was an old house that used to be owned by someone back when Nan was a girl and had been deserted pretty much since then sitting right in the crook of the river. Most of the house was unsafe these days, but the porch was still sturdy. When they were younger, Harry and Louis used to sit on the porch for hours every day, just sitting and talking as they watched the river go by.

Surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature and the water brought back so many memories and old feelings. Louis hadn’t expected it, but he was glad Harry had suggested they meet here. Louis hadn’t made it out yet this summer and his time here was almost done. Seemed fitting to meet Harry at this special place to hopefully begin something more than friendship when it was so important to them as kids.

As Louis contemplated his past as well as the fact that his future had been entirely upturned in a matter of weeks, a phrase his Harry used to say came to him.

“Life’s a climb,” Harry would always say. “It’s the climb, Lou.” He’d usually imitate his mom or grandad when he said it like that, but sometimes it was just him. He had said it a couple of times this summer too, but Louis hadn’t really thought much of it. Harry had been teasing in those times, but Louis needed to remember it now.

Now that things were tough. He’d already thought they were when he got here, but dealing with fighting members of his band as he was forcefully brought to the other side of the country for a couple of months was nothing compared to starting over entirely when it came to his career.

It’s the climb. Louis always had been one to focus on the struggles to get where he wanted to be. He was constantly complaining and talking about all the time he was wasting, the things he could be doing if only he wasn’t stuck there. This summer he’d had exactly the same attitude, but that wasn’t the point, was it? The entire point was the climb, just like Harry used to say. Not where Louis was going or where he had been, but the journey itself.

With that, Louis got to typing fervently on his phone, words pouring out of him. He’d worried that he would be rusty getting back into songwriting again, but it didn’t feel that way. Even some of the chords were coming to him, and he really wished he’d brought his guitar with him.

Louis was so wrapped up in getting the chorus just right after figuring out the verses so quickly, he jumped when Harry sat down beside him and he almost dropped his phone into the river.

“Careful,” Harry said, lunging forward to grab the phone, safely handing it back to Louis with his brows arched. “Imagine everything you could have lost to the river if that had gone wrong.”

Louis was still gripping his chest, his heart rate only just coming back down to normal. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have missed it much other than the song I was just writing when you scared the living daylights out of me.” Louis punctuated his phrase with joking smacks on Harry’s arm.

Swaying out of reach, Harry chuckled and brushed Louis’ hands away. “Whatever. So, did William or the others tell you what I wanted to talk about?”

Louis looked up at Harry’s face and smiled. He looked so nervous, far more nervous than he had when he met William, Liam, and Niall. Louis had been excited, but not nervous leading up to this. Then again, for him it was much more of a done deal because he already knew how Harry felt right from the source. Harry couldn’t say as much.

“They might have mentioned something,” Louis said softly, pushing his glasses up a little. He bit his lip and looked out at the river in an attempt to help Harry not feel so nervous.

Harry let out a heavy breath and Louis could see him lean back, his hands on the old wood of the porch. “I’ve been wanting to ask you out all summer, but it’s almost time for you to go. I figured I should get myself together enough to ask before you left for another three years.”

Louis looked at Harry, surprised. “All summer? Really?”

Snorting, Harry gave Louis a disbelieving look. “You cannot actually be surprised. I could hardly string a sentence together after following you up the stairs with your luggage that first day. I was so obvious.”

“You were not!” Louis said emphatically. “I was the obvious one. You came riding up on that horse wearing that sleeveless flannel shirt, showing off your muscles and your tan and your dimples. My jet lagged self was all gross from traveling and so sleep deprived I thought I’d made you up!”

Harry let out one of his honking laughs before clamping his mouth shut and looking at Louis with pink cheeks. It was Louis’ favorite laugh of his, he felt honored to hear it.

“So when are you gonna actually ask me on that date?” Louis asked, when Harry stayed quiet, just studying his face.

“I just did!” Harry said, sitting up straight. “Are you saying yes?”

Louis shook his head, “No, I’m not saying yes until you stop talking about asking me out and actually do it.”

Harry pouted, and Louis would believe it if it hadn’t been for his dimple peeking out from his attempts to cover up a smile as well.

Bowing a little and acting like a formal idiot, Harry asked, “Louis Tomlinson, will you do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner tomorrow?”

Chuckling a little, Louis said, “I would love to go to dinner with you tomorrow, Harry Styles.”

Scrunching his nose a little in yet another attempt to hide a smile, Harry said, “Good. I’m glad.”

“Me too.”

 

XXX

 

“You didn’t even kiss him?” Niall asked, smacking Louis’ upper arm. “The man asked you out on a date and you sat there and flirted and talked and didn’t get home until after I’d already passed out from jet lag, and you didn’t even kiss him?”

“I was a little busy talking and making plans for our date, Niall,” Louis argued. “Now please do what your job is right now and help me pick out an outfit for our date.”

“When is it, anyway?” Niall asked as he started sorting through the clothes Louis and Jay had packed. He was doing an awful lot of making disgusted and unimpressed faces as he tossed Louis’ clothes into the corner.

“Tonight,” Louis said, raising his shoulders and bouncing a little in excitement. They were going to meet at Sarah’s and then possibly go see a movie in the next town over if there was a movie that caught their fancy. Louis felt stupid, but it had been a really long time since he’d been on a date with someone he was really excited about.

“Tonight? Lou, it can’t be tonight.”

“Why not?” Louis asked as he vetoed one of the pairs of jeans Niall was obviously leaning towards. Since Louis had been building more muscle on the farm they didn’t really fit his thighs anymore and he wanted to look and feel his best on this date.

“Tonight’s when William is expected to have dinner with the Mayor,” Niall said and Louis froze.

Shit. Louis had completely forgotten about that. The entire reason Niall and Liam were here was so that William could happen. How had he forgotten?

“Oh my God,” Louis said as it felt like ice was flowing through his veins. Looking up at his best friend with wide eyes, Louis said, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Niall looked at him like he was crazy as he continued to sort through Louis’ clothes. “Tell him you’re not feeling well or something like you were saying yesterday and ask to postpone it. Easy.”

“He’s not going to believe that when I was out there with him for hours last night and didn’t act sick at all!” Louis practically screeched. “He’ll think I changed my mind or avoided him or something!”

Now looking thoroughly unimpressed, Niall threw one of William’s scoop necks at Louis and said, “Wear that. He’ll love it. And just talk to him about it, okay? He’ll get it.”

Louis pouted. Fine. He’d ask Harry to postpone it and he’d come up with some sort of an excuse, but first he had to track Harry down. Which would be fine. He was always at the farm this time of day. The only reason Louis was out there with him today was because he was supposedly helping William, Niall, and Liam while they were in town.

Standing up and flattening his shirt on his stomach, Louis made his way out to the barn to begin his search.

Forty five minutes later and Louis still hadn’t found Harry. Not only that, but it was time for him to start getting ready to be William. He was supposed to have a tour of the town with some members of the Livingston Council before the meal, so he had to start preparing now. How was he meant to tell Harry he couldn’t make it to the date?

“Mom?” Louis called out as he entered the farmhouse. She wasn’t in the kitchen, so Louis called out again as he headed towards her room. “Mom?”

“Your mom’s not here,” Liam said, poking his head out of the spare room. “And you look awful. Definitely going to need to shower before we get started on you in here.”

“I need to talk to her or Nan. Where’d they go?”

Liam shrugged. “Something about doing some errands for tomorrow with Vita. Said they’d be back when it was time to leave for the tour.”

“Dammit,” Louis said as he punched at the wall. He didn’t do it hard, but it still smarted a little. “Liam, I need to get ahold of Harry but I can’t find him anywhere. How am I supposed to get ahold of him if cell phones don’t work and he’s not here and I have to get ready to be William?”

Liam’s eyes were wide and he shrugged. “Try calling his house?”

Louis jabbed a finger in Liam’s direction in excitement as he said, “Yes. Yes, that’s a great idea. Maybe for whatever reason he’s home!”

Louis ran over to the phone hanging on the wall on the other side of the kitchen and quickly dialed Anne’s number from memory. The phone only rang once before going to voicemail.

“Hey, Anne. And Harry. Uh, this is Louis. Tomlinson. Of course Louis Tomlinson, don’t know how many Louis’ you know around here,” Louis said with a nervous chuckle. “Anyway, I was just really trying to get ahold of Harry about tonight? I really need to talk to him. Please give me a call or come...no. No don’t come by, just please give me a call? I’ll be home until about two thirty. Please call. It’s important.”

Louis hung up and groaned, his hands dragging down his face.

“I’m a disaster!”

Liam started giggling. “That voicemail was a disaster at the very least. Now get your disaster ass up in the shower so we can start your transformation from farm boy to superstar, okay?”

“Answer the phone if it rings!” Louis called out as he began running up the stairs. His entire life was a mess.

 

XXX

 

Louis tried to pretend like he was paying attention. He really did. It was just the information these poor people were giving him about the town he’d grown up in was not interesting. It wasn’t interesting or new or important. Why did they think some punk pop singer would have think it was vital information to know about the history of their Mayor’s offices? Louis had no idea.

Meanwhile, Louis was still biting his nails because he never had heard from Harry. He’d tried calling Sarah’s to see if he could leave a message and they said they’d pass it on, but what if they didn’t? Louis was out of options, of course, but he really wished he could just head over to Sarah’s after the tour and have a nice dinner with Harry instead of having to sit with a bunch of old men who didn’t know good conversation if it hit them in the face.

Then again, Louis was still hoping that Mr. Cranston would show up drunk and provide some entertainment. If he did, like probably half the town expected him to, that could be fun at least.

Louis’ hand was pulled down from his mouth by Liam at the same time his mom nudged his side. God, could the people who were supposedly there to help him just get the tour over with already and somehow get the fact he was worried about Harry? He didn’t care about the tour. He just wanted to be sure Harry got the message and was alright.

“And now, we’d like to escort you to the Town Hall where our meal tonight will be served.”

“Thank God,” Louis muttered before pasting on a smile and saying louder, “That would be great.”

He could feel Jay’s glare on him, so he knew he would have to be careful, but two hours. Two hours of walking around town in the July heat and humidity with no sun block because they were worried it would interfere with the tattoos while listening to boring people talk about Louis’ town that he knew like the back of his hand already. Talk about a practice in patience.

Louis checked the expensive watch Liam had forced on him telling him all the stars have started wearing bulky, flashy watches lately and saw it was still only five. Maybe, if Louis struck some luck, the dinner would go quickly and he could still somehow go over and meet Harry! He’d be dressed as William and probably still a little late, but he could figure it out. Maybe he could even tell Harry the truth tonight about it all. That seemed like a good idea. Get it out in the open before they get too serious. Yeah, that was perfect.

 

XXX

 

Yeah, it could have been perfect. It really could have been, if the dinner with the Mayor hadn’t taken another two and a half hours. They had nine courses to serve in the most fancy style Louis had ever seen anything done in Livingston. Not only that, but they had practically grilled him with questions about what his plans were for the concert. Luckily Vita had fielded most of those, but still. Louis - well, William - was here to do them a favor, and they were trying to, what? Make sure he wasn’t going to magically decide he wanted to keep the money for himself? That wasn’t going to happen, so Louis wished they would just let him go home, take yet another shower, and die in bed coming up with ideas of how he could make tonight up to Harry.

He finally made it home after another hour or two of groveling done by various members of the town council and then some autographs and fan photos done with people on his way back out. He didn’t think people in town cared that much about William or 28 to Heartbreak outside of Harry, but he was proven wrong. It was kinda sweet to be able to interact with fans again. Louis’ favorite part of the job outside of the music itself had always been the fans. It was nice to be able to remind himself of that.

Louis got home and dragged himself up the stairs, promising himself he would just shower the rest of the tattoos and makeup and everything off in the morning. He couldn’t manage more than a half-assed face wash and removing his contacts before he got to his bedroom. He flopped down on his bed, pulled the covers over himself, and was asleep within a minute.

The next morning Louis was finally starting to wake up to the smells of breakfast when he heard his nan yelling downstairs. Why was she yelling?

“Harry, I really don’t think that’s a good idea to surprise him like that!” she called and, was she yelling up the stairs? Did Louis hear footsteps on the stairs?

Louis nuzzled down further into his pillow and pulled the blanket up further when he was surprised by the door to his room opening.

“Oh, good. So you are alive, then.”

Louis’ brows furrowed and he blinked awake, wiping the sleep from his eyes a little before sitting up to look at Harry.

“Why are you so surprised?” Louis asked. “I should be surprised you’re okay. I tried looking for you all around the farm yesterday and even called your house and Sarah’s trying to leave messages and get ahold of you. Where were you yesterday?”

“I needed to help with some issues they were having out by the stage, so Pete said it was okay for me to go over and work on that and…”

Louis put his glasses on and looked at Harry in confusion. Why had he cut off halfway through his rant?

Harry was staring at Louis’ arms, which didn’t make any sense except…

Fuck. The tattoos. Louis looked down and the night before came back quickly, reminding him he hadn’t bothered to remove all the work Liam had put into his William transformation before going to bed, and now here Harry was, witnessing Louis halfway made up, so to speak.

“Harry, I can explain.”

Harry was shaking his head, running his hands through his hair, and backing out of the room. “Explain what? Standing me up on our date last night or the fact that you’ve been hiding the fact you’re a member of my favorite band? Both maybe? Either way, I’m not sure I really wanna hear it, Lou. Or should I call you William?”

Louis felt his heart sink into his stomach as Harry’s words grew more and more cold, accusing, and piercing as he went on.

“All of it,” Louis said, scrambling out of bed despite the fact he was only wearing his boxers and a ratty shirt right now. “Please give me a chance.”

“No,” Harry said, turning around. “Not now. I’ve got work to do.” And with that, Harry slammed the door before making his way down the stairs and back out of the farmhouse, if the kitchen door closing loudly was any indication.

“Dammit,” Louis groaned, flopping back on his bed. Checking the time, Louis saw it was time to be getting up anyway. He definitely needed that shower and Liam needed to touch up the tattoos and everything before they went to the stage for the remainder of the day. They had staging to check out, a sound check, a couple of interviews, and a meet and greet that all needed to happen before the concert started at seven.

His broken heart would have to wait for later, he supposed.

 

XXX

 

The idea had come to Louis while he was in the shower. In the craziness of the day before, he’d entirely forgotten about his song he’d been working on before Harry joined him at their spot. The song had so much meaning to Louis, but it also had meaning for Harry. Or Louis hoped it would. Maybe even enough meaning for Harry to hear it and decide to listen to what he had to say.

Louis strummed his guitar in the car as he made more and more notes on his phone while they drove the twenty minutes to where Louis would be performing that night.

“What song is this?” Vita asked from the front seat. “I thought I was familiar with all the songs you’re singing tonight.”

“This is going to be a last minute addition,” Louis said, biting his lip as he made another chord change to the notes. “It’s important to me and personal.”

“Good. We’re going to need that, since news just broke thanks to your former bandmate, Mike.”

Louis’ head snapped up. “What? What do you mean? What news?”

Vita turned her phone to him. “Apparently up on this hill I got enough reception for my phone to get several messages. I’ll have to verify once we have the WiFi that is set up at the venue, but Mike definitely tweeted against the recommendations of the team, so it seems it’s official. 28 to Heartbreak is no longer together.”

“That fucker,” Jay spat from the drivers’ seat.

Louis laughed and said, “Mom! And you wonder where I get my mouth from.”

Jay just shook her head and said, “He deserves it. Taking the attention off the charity concert like that and expecting you to perform with that kind of pressure. Now everyone will expect you to make a statement.”

Louis hadn’t thought of that. What kind of statement was he going to make? He didn’t think he was going to have to do anything like that for ages, because he wasn’t going to have William be active on social media outside of his team’s tweets and he wasn’t going to go anywhere until he’d settled on what to do. Now, thanks to Mike, he was going to have to say something or everyone would be disappointed. He couldn’t have that and have it potentially hold back donations the town needed so desperately.

Taking a deep breath, Louis closed his eyes. “Life’s a climb.”

“What was that?” Vita asked, turning in her seat.

“Nothing,” Louis said, opening his eyes and giving her a wan smile. He looked at Liam and Niall, both of whom were watching him nervously. He gave them what he hoped was a more genuine smile before turning back to his iPad.

He needed this song to be ready for tonight more than ever now. He felt like as long as he had the song ready, he could take on anything else required of him. He could talk to Harry, he could make a statement, he could start figuring out what his next career move was. Just get the song ready, and the rest would fall into place.

“Life’s a climb,” Louis said again to himself, and then he got back to work.

 

XXX

 

Louis didn’t know why he was doing this.

Okay, fine. He did know, but he didn’t know why he was so nervous about it. The meet and greet had gone well as had the rehearsal with the backing band and sound check. Really, outside of the few hiccups that were expected with something like this, everything had gone perfectly and it looked like they would raise more than enough money to save Livingston. And that was why he was doing the charity concert in the first place.

But the reason it was able to happen was because of Harry. Stupidly brilliant Harry putting Louis in a tight spot at that hoedown by informing the entire town that Louis knew William. And now, here he was. Getting ready to go on stage and do an entire show as a solo act for charity mere hours after his former bandmate announced 28 to Heartbreak has officially broken up. And planning to sing a brand new song Louis only finished writing two hours ago.

And now, he wasn’t even sure Harry would be there to witness any of it.

If Louis was being honest with himself, and he was trying to be, Harry was why he was nervous. Louis had gone and hurt Harry unintentionally because of a secret he wasn’t sure he was ready to tell him, and now he was ready to put it all on the line. Even while standing on stage in his full on William gear, Louis knew Harry would get it if he could just hear the song. Or, at least he hoped Harry would get it.

Peeking around the corner he was currently standing in, waiting the last fifteen minutes before it was time to go on stage, Louis searched the crowd. He knew it would be impossible to see Harry if he had come, but Louis had to try. He had to hope.

“There you are,” Vita said, coming over in her heels that looked ridiculous in the middle of rural Tennessee. She put her hands on Louis’ shoulders as she looked him over and nodded. “You look great. You look perfect. Are you ready for this? Have your statement memorized and know when to say it and everything?”

Louis rolled his eyes. “I’ve got all my talking points memorized. And the show’s only going to be seven songs, I can handle it.” Ignoring the nerves that were roiling at the thought of doing seven songs on a stage without his bandmates to talk with and banter back and forth with, etc. Taking a deep breath and trying to solidify himself, Louis said, “It won’t be anything crazy. I think I can handle it.”

Vita narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure you can. Just don’t mess this up for yourself, okay? Not only is this for your town, but this is also quite possibly the jumping off point for your solo career, alright?”

Louis nodded and began lifting his arms so the crew could get him all wired up with his mic pack and in ears. Once they were done and gave him a thumbs up, Louis began bouncing about and trying to loosen up his muscles. They were too tense and tight and he didn’t like that. He always felt at home on the stage, but this time something felt different. Maybe it was because he was alone. Maybe it was because it felt bigger in front of not only a home crowd, but where so much was riding on his performance.

Screams were suddenly piercing the air, and Louis knew the band had entered from the other side of the stage and the Mayor was about to introduce William.

“Break a leg,” Vita shouted before walking away.

Louis nodded and closed his eyes. He felt like he might throw up. God, he wished he didn’t have to do this alone. When Louis had been daydreaming about tonight, he had hoped Harry would be backstage with Niall and Liam or something so he would feel a bit more support. It was silly to think that, considering Harry didn’t know about William when Louis had been dreaming about all of this, but too late now.

The mayor’s voice was clear in Louis’ in ears and when he opened his eyes, he found Liam and Niall standing and waiting to give him high fives and hugs before he went to step on stage. Louis tried to smile, but the weight in his stomach wasn’t lessened with their close proximity.

“And here he is, the man of the evening, William Thibedeau!”

Louis grasped on tight to the two of them and then ran on stage, microphone in hand and band playing the introduction to You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home. Ironic choice, or so Louis had thought at the time, but now it just made the weight in his stomach worse.

He was home, but dressed up as William and putting on a show like this, he’d never felt further away. Maybe his mom was right to bring him back to Tennessee. LA was home, in a way, but not in the same way as Tennessee and now that he’d been here for a couple of months he did feel more anchored in a way.

That anchor had all but left him now as he stood in front of a large, screaming crowd. Louis started singing along, sounding unsure even to himself. This was not a great way to kick off a concert. He kept trying to move about the stage, engage the fans, and keep going. Maybe if he kept faking it, eventually he would make it.

Halfway through, though, Louis knew he couldn’t keep going. He felt like the music was all wrong now that he was standing there with the crowd in place and he couldn’t continue performing as part of a lie. What had been a protection for him before, a way to continue living his own life in as normal a way as he could, had now become a heavy shroud and he didn’t want to continue like that if he didn’t have to.

And Louis realized in that moment, staring into the crowd, that he didn’t have to.

28 to Heartbreak had broken up. He wasn’t a teenage kid still growing up anymore. He, of course, wasn’t completely grown up and was still prone to mistakes, but he felt like everything he had learned with the band had led him here where he could finally go up on stage and be true to himself.

Pursing his lips and turning around to the band that was backing him and was, by now, entirely confused as to what was going on, Louis shook his head and apologized before turning around to the crowd.

“Sorry about that, everyone,” Louis said. He sounded out of breath, but it was just due to nerves. He slowly walked up to the mic stand and mounted the microphone on it so he could take care of business while still talking. “There’s just something really weighing on me, and I need to get it off my chest.”

Louis glanced to the side of the stage and saw both Liam and Niall standing there looking shocked. Liam was standing stock still, Niall was biting nervously at his nails, and Louis gave them an apologetic smile.

“See,” Louis continued, as he started to remove the flannel long sleeve shirt he was wearing on top of his white t-shirt, “My name isn’t really William Thibedeau.”

The crowd had gone mostly quiet and the confusion was almost palpable, but when Louis removed the layer, they could see that Liam had only painted on his tattoos to his forearms. They had decided it was a short enough set with an extra layer, so the tattoos on his biceps as well as his chest piece wouldn’t be necessary.

“The tattoos are all fake,” Louis said. “Same with the piercings.” He slowly took off the different piercings and stuck them in his pockets. “Even my eye color isn’t right. My eyes are blue, and these are just color contacts. I won’t take them out right now to prove it, but it’s true.”

Louis raised his arms, one hand still clutching his flannel as if it would somehow save him.

“So yeah. This is me. I’m just your run of the mill, every day kid from Livingston, Tennessee, and my name is really Louis Tomlinson.”

The crowd started speaking more and more, the buzz growing, so Louis took his chance to say the rest of what he had settled on as he was trying to make his way through the opening song.

“My mom and I came up with William to help me be able to continue living as a normal kid. I was young when things started up with 28 to Heartbreak, and I wasn’t ready to give up my life of anonymity. I loved my time with the band and I loved being able to connect to all of our fans, but last night I hurt one of my closest friends because he didn’t know. He should have, but I didn’t know how to tell him.”

Pursing his lips, Louis kicked at the stage. He finally looked back out at the audience, which he had specifically been avoiding since he’d started revealing the truth. When he looked up, against all odds, his gaze landed on a very familiar head of curly hair and piercing green eyes.

“I’m so sorry for causing that pain,” Louis said, as sincerely as he could. “I didn’t mean to, I promise. But that’s not all. The band has broken up, as I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, and I wasn’t sure what to do next, but tonight has taught me that whatever I choose to do from here, I’m going to do it as myself.”

A cheer came up from the crowd, and Louis smiled and waved. “Yeah, thank you! I am so incredibly thankful for all of your support. Not only of the band and myself, but for coming here and supporting the town of Livingston. My town.” Louis smiled, relieved.

He still felt nervous, but it was a positive nervous. A buzzing under his skin that usually meant amazing things. Louis looked stage left this time and saw Vita, Jay, Pete, and a stagehand named Chris, waiting with an acoustic guitar. All of them looked shocked, but if Louis was reading her expression right, Jay looked proud. That was most important, anyway.

Louis nodded to Chris, hoping he would know to bring the guitar on stage. The man immediately lept into action, and Louis took the guitar off of him.

“To start off this new found life as only Louis Tomlinson, I’d like to play all of you a brand new song. It’s one that I only finished writing a couple of hours ago, so please be gentle with me. It means a lot to me personally, and hopefully a certain someone out there will understand it is for them as well.”

Louis shyly looked up at Harry, who had a small smile on his face. He hoped that meant Harry was beginning to forgive him, even if he didn’t necessarily deserve it yet. They still had a lot to talk about, but it would have to wait until later. Hopefully the song would help ease the way.

Once Louis had the guitar situated just so, he said, “Life’s a climb.”

Harry’s eyes widened in shock, and Louis began plucking out the beginning notes of the song. It was softer and more raw than anything 28 to Heartbreak had ever officially released, a song much closer in style to the ones Louis wrote that were inevitably cut. That only made it that much more scary.

But, even with all of Louis’ revelations and everything that had made him feel sick to his stomach before, Louis felt free now.

I can almost see it, that dream I’m dreaming, but there’s a voice inside my head saying, ‘You’ll never reach it.’ Every step I’m taking, every move I make feels lost with no direction. My faith is shaking.” Louis felt a lump growing in his throat, which wasn’t a great sign before he was supposed to sing high, but he fought it down and continued past it as best he could. “ But I gotta keep trying. Gotta keep my head held high.”

Louis was finding a rhythm and a groove now. He was still having a hard time remembering all the chords for the guitar, but it didn’t matter because the song was flowing from him in a way it hadn’t done earlier, and he was so relieved. If there was a time for it to go well, now was it.

There’s always gonna be another mountain. I’m always gonna wanna make it move. Always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Louis put his whole heart into the song and when he finished it, he finally realized how quiet the crowd had been. The silence was ringing in his ears after the final chord drifted away. Panting from the effort he’d put into the song, Louis looked around nervously, and as the crowd began to cheer, the fear that had started growing within him dissipated.

Laughing a little - probably because his body had been put through so much stress and worry in the past twenty four hours - Louis looked to his mom and found her and Nan both crying. Hopefully that was a good sign.

The crowd was still going, and Harry was whooping and hollering just as much as anybody.

“Alright!” Louis called out, kicking his flannel shirt to the side and raising his eyebrows at the band. “I think I’m ready to finish the show. Wanna pick it up from Spotlight now?”

The drummer counted off, and after that the concert went off without a hitch. Louis felt at home with his guitar, on his own with the backing band in front of the crowd. It seemed like once he’d come clean about who he really was and the fact he didn’t really know what was going to happen next for himself, the weight and pressure of the entire evening had lifted from him.

At the end of the night, Louis waved at the crowd and took a bow, for the first time as himself.

Running off the stage, he wrapped Liam and Niall into massive, sweaty hugs and kept bouncing off his performance high.

“You guys! I’ve never felt so alive. I mean, I have, I love performing. But it has never felt so incredible as it did out there tonight,” Louis said, clapping and bouncing off to the tents that were set up as his VIP area. “Did you think it went alright?”

“Dude, that was fucking amazing,” Liam said, before his eyes went wide and he said, “Totally amazing. Sorry, Jay.”

Louis spun around and launched himself towards his mom and Nan. They all probably hated him since he reeked, but he needed their love and affection right now. He’d just done a big and, what felt like, amazing thing, but he needed their support.

“Baby, I’ve never been so proud,” Jay whispered in his ear. “I would have liked a heads up, but that was incredible.”

Louis laughed with relief and pulled back in time to see Vita annoyed and smashing her finger against the screen of her phone.

“The WiFi here is horrible and my messages aren’t going through,” she mumbled in frustration. “One of the biggest nights for my clients in a long time, and of course nothing is connecting!”

“So you haven’t dropped me yet?” Louis asked, surprised. “I was kinda sure once William was gone and I announced I didn’t know what was happening for me that I’d be dropped like a hot cake.”

“Dropped like a hot cake?” Vita asked, looking amused. “You’ve gone native, Louis. Of course we haven’t dropped you! Especially with that song! My God, that was brilliant.”

Louis’ eyes widened, as did his smile. “Yeah? You liked it?”

Vita nodded quickly, remaining focused on her phone and cheering when something happened. “Okay, Louis. We’ve got to get things figured out. This is going to be big news, especially once the videos start going viral, and you know they will. We must be prepared.”

Vita continued talking, going into details Louis honestly didn’t care about at the moment. All he wanted was to talk to the man who was standing nervously in front of the tent marked “WT”.

“I’m sure you’ve got it taken care of, but I’ll talk with you more about that later, okay?” Louis said, effectively brushing her off. She made a discontented sound, but Louis heard his mom starting to respond to her. He loved his mom. “Hey, Harry,” Louis said softly.

Harry smiled and did an awkward wave. “Hey.”

Louis walked up close to him and held open the flap to the tent. “It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I can offer by way of privacy.”

“That’s fine, Lou,” Harry said quickly before walking in and looking around. “It’s bigger than it seems like it would be.”

“Oh yeah, I love these fancy tents. It’s similar to what they use for music festivals.”

Louis stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. Now he was here, he didn’t really know what more to say.

Taking a breath, Louis decided repetition in this case couldn’t hurt. “I really am so sorry, Harry.”

Harry shook his head and waved his hand. “No. Really, it’s...you have no reason to apologize.”

“What?” Louis asked, scrunching his face up in confusion. “Of course I do. I hurt your feelings and I didn’t tell you the truth about William like I should have. Instead I spent the whole summer pretending like I knew him as a way to try to impress you and that was all just so stupid.”

“But it wasn’t really my place to be mad at you for not telling me,” Harry said quickly. “I mean, it hurt. Yeah. Not gonna lie about that, but it was a protection for you. We hadn’t seen each other in years. I get why you didn’t want to tell me. I was just caught off guard when I walked into your room and put the pieces together.”

Harry made a frustrated sound and spun around, running his hands through his hair. “I was just so worried about you when you didn’t show up. I went to your house after an hour and found it empty, and then I tried our special place and you weren’t there either, so when I got there the next morning and Pete was trying to keep me away from you and you were obviously fine and when I got up there and saw you still like William, it was just a lot.”

Louis nodded. “That makes sense, but I really am sorry. I tried to get ahold of you and even left a message at Sarah’s saying I wouldn’t be able to make it. I had completely forgotten about the dinner with the Mayor when I said yes to the date. I would have much rathered gone with you than have sat through that long and horrible dinner.”

Harry was smiling as he looked at the floor, Louis was so pleased to see his dimple.

“You seriously wrote me a song?” Harry asked, looking up at Louis and walking closer. “A beautiful song.”

Louis’ heart was pounding in his chest, causing the sound to drown out almost everything else in his ears. If it hit his chest much harder, he was pretty sure Harry would be able to see it.

Louis licked his lips, Harry’s eyes tracking the movement. “I did. I needed to get my feelings about the hard spot I was in with the band and the summer and you out somehow and that song was the best way I could do it.” By the end, Louis wasn’t sure his voice was loud enough for Harry to hear, but he wasn’t sure it mattered.

Harry was now standing so close to Louis, he had to tilt his head up a bit to see him still.

“Can I please kiss you now?” Harry asked as he touched Louis’ cheek gently with his fingertips. “I’ve wanted to all summer. Please say I can.”

Louis didn’t take the time to say yes. He needed Harry’s lips on him as soon as possible, so he surged forward and connected their lips himself.

He felt Harry gasp before he reciprocated, but once he did Louis felt one of Harry’s arms wrap around his waist and pull him in closer. Louis was entirely enveloped by Harry, and it was the best feeling in the world. He wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck and relaxed into the kiss.

His lips tingled as they worked against Harry’s, but it was a soft and wonderful feeling. He felt warm all over, and it was that thought that made him pull away finally.

Harry leaned forward, trying to chase Louis’ lips, but Louis giggled and dodged him quickly.

“I’m sorry, but I’m disgusting right now. I need a shower and another layer of deodorant and-”

“I don’t care,” Harry said, leaning in and kissing Louis firmly enough to make Louis’ knees go weak. “I’m around sweaty and smelly animals all day. This is nothing compared to that. Besides, now that I have permission to kiss you, I don’t want to stop.”

Louis giggled and said, “Well we’ll have to sometime. After the stunt I pulled on stage, there’s a big mess I need to clean up.”

Harry arched a brow and said, “So? Kiss me until they force you to clean it up.”

Louis leaned forward until his lips just barely brushed against Harry’s. “You make a compelling argument.”

“Thanks,” Harry whispered before connecting their lips again.

It turned out they had a whole seven minutes and thirty seconds before the mess needed to be dealt with, and Louis loved every moment of it.

 

XXX

 

“Louis, five minutes and you’re on!”

Louis pulled back from Harry, eyes wide. How was it already five minutes until showtime?

“Better get ready,” Harry said, smirking. “The people wait for no man.”

Gasping, Louis said, “And who exactly distracted me to the point of not realizing it was time to be on stage?”

“You’re super hot farmer boyfriend who just got into town this afternoon, obviously.”

“You are so right,” Louis said, leaning forward to peck his lips one more time before standing up and righting his clothes as well as cleaning his glasses. “Have I said I’m so glad you could be here for this?”

Harry nodded his head, knowing smile on his face. “You have. Glastonbury has only been your goal since forever. Now that you’ve finally gotten here, I wouldn’t have missed it.” Harry stood up and turned Louis towards the door, marching him towards where his team was waiting for him. “You’re going to kill it, and I’ve got the best seat in the house.”

Louis winked at Harry as he was escorted by security to the VIP section. Louis bounced and gratefully took his guitar as he greeted his band. He was lucky to have found some great people to tour with him and now, grace the Glastonbury stage with him.

“And now, making his Glastonbury debut, Louis Tomlinson!”

“Let’s do this,” Louis said, climbing on stage. The crowd went wild, but Louis was only looking for the man standing on the balcony, with dimples that could be seen from stage. Louis counted off and the band started the song that had launched Louis to solo fame, an upbeat love song with a punk edge called Strong.

Ever since he learned he still had a record deal available to him, even as a solo artist and going by his own name, Louis jumped in head first. He and Harry had slowly worked on figuring things out together, and having him there the whole way helped Louis feel like he had an even better support base when things got rough.

Now, three years, one album, and a world tour later, Louis was pleased with the progress he had made in his career and there was only one thing left in his personal life he wanted to take care of in order to count himself as a perfectly happy man.

He hoped the ring in his pocket would take care of that later tonight.