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Consequences

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movie poster style image of Harry and Louis in winter with a car and trees

# Prologue #

 

December 15, 2017

 

 

Louis stares at the exposed brick wall of their expensive penthouse condo and knows a wall exactly like this has been building itself between them for months. Brick by brick it has built into something impenetrable. The clock on the mantle ticks on, minute by minute, hour after hour that Harry doesn’t come home. He hasn’t even bothered to text with an excuse this time, which is fine by Louis. He’s tired of hearing Harry’s excuses.

He finally walks over to the large windows that overlook the Mississippi River with views of the bluffs on the other side. It’s not much to look at this time of year, the water steely grey as it rushes cold and stark below the great steel beams of the immense bridge that crosses it. When, not if, the snow comes, the scene will look quite picturesque, but until then, it stares back at Louis, bleak and unforgiving.

A packed bag sits in the hallway waiting for Louis to grab quickly, but he waits for one last chance to talk things through. Not that talking has helped much or maybe the problem has been that the right words never came, but he simply can’t go without speaking to him. He stares around the space that he’s lived in for six years and can hardly believe this is where these years have led them. The framed photographs of pictures Harry once took still hang in their places of honor on the walls, but that Harry, the one who took those photos, seems all but lost to him now.

A text comes through.  

You still there?

It’s Zayn. It’s where his packed bag will go with him if Harry comes home in any shape to talk to him. Scratch that. He’s going to talk to him no matter what condition he comes home in.

Yeah. Still here. He hasn’t come home yet.

He says a silent thank you to the universe for a friend who always has his back. He knows Zayn’s got a second bedroom in his apartment made up for him and pizza on standby. In his head, he keeps thinking, only if I need it, but at this point, he can’t imagine this conversation going well, especially if Harry has been drinking. He’s grateful to have somewhere to go that isn’t his mom’s house. The thought of telling his mom that it’s over would make it more real than he can deal with right now.

I’ll be expecting you unless you say otherwise.

Louis texts back a thumbs up and pockets his phone.

He’s had his shoes on for hours. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to take them off. In the back of his mind, he still has one small shred of hope left that Harry is going to give him a reason to take his shoes off, some reason to stay.

The black Vans he wears to work everyday tap out a rhythm on the gleaming hardwood floors. He places his hands on his knees and leans forward trying to keep his breathing even, trying to keep himself as calm as possible, but his heart revs up its pace when he hears the key in the door.

Harry stumbles through the doorway in a way Louis would have once found endearing, but now knows it’s because Harry’s been drinking after work again. The keys drop to the floor with a clatter that startles them both. Harry finally turns and notices Louis sitting on the couch.

“Waiting up for me, Lou?”

“It’s eight-thirty. A little early to go to bed, don’t you think?”

“It’s only eight-thirty?” Harry asks, squinting at the clock. He huffs out a breath, and Louis swears he can smell the alcohol from here. “Felt later I guess, especially because you’re sat there like my mother waiting for me after I’ve missed curfew.”

Louis ignores the taunt. He may as well keep going now that he’s been accused of mothering him. “I hope you didn’t drive.”

Harry snorts. “‘Course I didn’t. Grabbed an Uber.”

“Good.”

He follows Harry as he heads into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of water from the refrigerator, drinking it great gulps as though he’s suddenly parched for something. Louis refrains from making a comment about it. He’s used to taking care of people, but not like this. He doesn’t want to be Harry’s scolding parent anymore.

“I think we should talk.”

Harry gives him a hollow laugh and tosses the bottle onto the counter, folding his arms across his chest. He leans back against the sink behind him and says, “Is that right? What do you want to talk about this time? How much time I’m spending at work? You think I’m drinking too much again? We haven’t had a date night lately? What’s the point, Lou?”

“There probably isn’t one,” Louis acknowledges, his stomach twisting into a coil. “But I don’t know how else to work on us if we don’t talk about it. And yes, all those things you mentioned are things we should talk about. You’re self-medicating with alcohol, and you’re unhappy, and I don’t know--”

“I’m unhappy?” Harry sneers. “What about you? Are you happy?”

“I don’t think we’ve been happy in a while,” he whispers to his shoes. “Not since you started working for--”

“Well, where the fuck else am I gonna work, Louis?” Harry interrupts. “Most of this town works for my family anyway. Of course, I’d fucking end up working there.”

“You don’t have to work for your mother, Harry. I know I sound like a broken record, but what about your art? Your photography? You haven’t touched your camera in months.”

Harry’s eyes seem to dim, the light going out of them. Louis would do anything to give that light back to him. “It doesn’t fit in my life anymore.”

It hits Louis like a ton of bricks. Even though it’s been obvious for a long time. “Do I?”

“What?”

“Do I fit in your life anymore? Because I feel like maybe I don’t.” Louis braces himself for the answer.

Harry makes a dismissive noise, and his jaw twitches as he uncrosses his arms and stands up straight. “What? You don’t want to be a society hostess? Hang off my arm and host galas?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You don’t have to work, Louis. It’s not like your paycheck could pay even a fourth of the mortgage on this place. Not that my mother even has a mortgage on it.”

“I’m not an occupational therapist just for the paycheck,” Louis bites out. It irks him beyond belief that Harry could belittle his career like this. His job has always been more than just a job to him. “What the fuck, why is everything suddenly about money with you?”

Harry shrugs. “It’s always about money. Don’t be naive. Don’t you see what everyone our age is doing? Don’t think so small.”

“Everyone our age doesn’t have shit figured out. We’re twenty-six. Now who sounds like your mother?”

“Just save it. I’m going to bed.” Harry’s face shuts down, and he scrubs a hand over his face. He starts to stalk down the hallways and freezes. “What’s this?”

Louis’ heart races. Harry’s spotted the large Adidas bag, clearly full nearly to bursting. “I--I’m going to stay at Zayn’s for a while.”

“Are you?” Harry picks up the bag, his face thunderous. “And why is that?”

“Christ, Harry. Why do you think? How about because of every single thing you’ve said since you walked through the door?” He walks towards him, grabbing the bag out of Harry’s hands.

Harry relinquishes it reluctantly. “So you’re leaving me?”

“I can’t be with you like this. I can’t stay here watching us fall apart. I think we need--” He takes a breath. “--a break.”

“A break?” Harry laughs, a hollow, cold sound. “Fine. Yes. Leave. Don’t come crawling back when you can’t make rent.”

His heart squeezes into a tight knot that begins to shrivel to dust. “It was never about your money. It will never be about your family’s money for me. Maybe you want to forget, but I loved you when all you cared about was your art and your photographs and not fancy cars and private planes and status with your family’s rich friends.”

Something flickers across Harry’s face. Was it that he said loved as though loving him was in the past? The flicker dies and is replaced with the mask he’s grown used to seeing on the face that is still so dear to him.

He slings the bag over his shoulder. “Goodbye, Harry.”

Harry stays silent as he walks back down the hallway, past the life they lived between these walls, and through the door. Louis shuts it firmly behind him to the sound of breaking glass where he can no longer reach. He takes a shaky breath and walks away from the love of his life.



Chapter Text


December 6, 2019

 

Two years later...

 

Harry nods his head at someone who looks vaguely familiar in a well tailored tuxedo, flashing his dimple. His smile is practiced enough that he’s sure no one can tell whether it’s real or not. Well, almost no one. Definitely no one here will notice.

He glances up at the ropes of lights strung across the ceiling of the River Center ballroom in wide, grand arcs imitating the look of an enormous chandelier. The light glitters over the jewels shimmering on the fingers and ears and throats of wealthy women who eye one of the heirs of the Selley fortune hungrily. It’s not a secret he’s gay, and yet some persist. Not that some of the men are much better. He keeps his distance when he can.

If you had a boyfriend...his mother likes to remind him, implying that he’d have less hassle from the predators in their midst. She usually has some wealthy relative of someone in mind when she says this--the nephew of the governor, the son of the owner of a chain of sporting good stores, a developer who is the brother of her plastic surgeon.

He has almost zero desire to find a relationship. He has physical desires that he can fulfill outside of having a boyfriend. How could anyone else ever measure up to the love of his life? What would be the point in trying? All these men might have his mother’s seal of approval, but that’s how he knows he wants absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

His family might see worth in these men, but they couldn’t see how valuable Louis was to him and to so many others. Every child Louis helped in therapy, every clerk he ever smiled at, every friend of his he stood by, every family member lucky enough to call him one of their own all knew his worth. And once upon a time, Harry knew it, too.

But that relationship ended years ago. He can’t undo what’s been done or who he’s become now. Although, sometimes he feels like he’s gone backwards to a time before he knew Louis. Back to the boy who partied his way right out of Northwestern and had to come home. The Selley prodigal son. He knows that isn’t true though. He’s moved forward, but he still has some work to do before he can try again.

He shakes his head at the lights above him. How did his family not see that meeting Louis was what changed him for the better? Louis and his band of merry men. They’re who gave him acceptance and a place in the world. And yet, he’s been lured back into the thorn filled thicket that is his family. Not lured, coerced. He has more than a few regrets about that. Maybe Louis had been right. No. Not going to think about him again.

He sees his mother holding court across the room towards the makeshift stage that will later show a presentation of all the good The John Selley Foundation has done this year. It should make Harry feel proud, most days it does, seeing as how he’s the director of the foundation now. Today, it’s still leaving him a bit empty inside.

As he makes his way across the room towards the bar, he looks past projections on the wall of his family’s namesake company sponsoring this winter fundraising gala--John Selley & Company. Another says, Safe as a Selley, the famous slogan and lock icon prominently displayed.

He gets stopped numerous times to chat. He tries his best to schmooze, but it’s not really his forte. It turns out that most people just like to hear themselves speak though, so Harry just pretends to listen. It generally does the trick.

He makes it just past the towering Christmas tree adorned with the Selley trademark green and white colored decorations and small Selley tractor ornaments. He’s almost to the bar, when an arm cuffs him around the neck. “Harry! We did it!”

Harry extricates himself from under his fairly tipsy assistant director of the foundation. “Liam, I see you’ve found the open bar.”

Liam presses a finger to Harry’s lips. “Shhhh--don’t tell your mother, but they have signature shots over there.”

Harry smiles, a real smile for the first time tonight. “Really? Guess I’ll have to try one.”

“They’re green.” Liam smacks his lips. “Tastes a bit--melony. Melonyyyy. Is melony a word?”

“I don’t think so, but it should be.”

“You’re right! It most definitely should be!” Liam shakes his finger at him, and then seems to lose his train of thought on the melon flavored shots. “My presentation is going to start soon. I think your mom is about to--”

Harry turns to look towards the stage and sees his mother ascending the stairs and up to the microphone. He makes a beeline for the bar and grabs a glass of champagne to toast to the foundation. He looks back just in time to see his mother flash a glittering smile at the crowd, the black sparkles of her gown shimmering in the light.

“Welcome to the John Selley Foundation Winter Gala. I’m Anne Selley, CEO of John Selley & Company. I’m so glad all of you could attend even through the snow and ice tonight. It’s a typical Midwestern winter, so I suppose we’re all used to the cold by now. The only green we’ll be seeing until March is on our tractors plowing the snow.”

A few chuckles ring out through the ballroom.

“I’d like to start by introducing two of the members of the Foundation board. My son and director of the foundation, Harry Styles, and the assistant director, Liam Payne.”

She pauses for the applause that follows their announcement. Harry nods his acknowledgement at the people around him who have noticed him standing nearby. He’s not sure where Liam is, but hopefully, he’s not too tipsy yet as the night has just started.

“Our goal as a foundation has been to be the catalyst for the change we wish to see in the world, in particular by focusing our resources on solving world hunger, empowerment through education, and the development of our home communities. Throughout the history of John Selley & Company, we have continuously helped to meet the challenge of feeding the world through our products and services. As demand for food grows, we are working on improving the sustainment of small farms by increasing their production and use of mechanization. By supporting community partner programs in Africa and Asia, we have improved farming and business skills that result in increased productivity and income for many as well as helped to improve the quality and quantity of food, which results in an increase of revenue and economic power.”

Photographs of farmers helped through the foundation flash on the wall behind her as she speaks.

“Another aspect of our philanthropic efforts is youth education. We continue to support endeavors that increase the graduation rate of at-risk youth in our home communities and to help the youth of our communities attain engineering and information technology degrees, which are vital in today’s world. We, of course, also provide scholarships for those interested in pursuing degrees and careers in agriculture.”

Photographs of high school and college students in their schools flash from the projector.

“We also focus on the development of the communities in which John Selley & Company has a presence, and obviously, this, the city in which our world headquarters is located is of utmost importance to us. We cultivate economically thriving, vibrant home communities by strengthening the business environment and supporting social safety nets necessary for the development of our communities.”

Harry stares at the photos of the downtown businesses flashed on the screen as well as the places he now knows so well. Food banks, homeless shelters, Planned Parenthood, ARC, Gilda’s Club, RiverAction, GiGi’s Playhouse, the Autism Society, and--there it is--the Quint Cities Therapy Center. The flash of the therapy gym is a punch to the gut. How many times had he seen Louis in that gym before he no longer had the right to see it? He wishes he’d known at the time to look his fill at Louis in his element, known that one day he would no longer be able to.

“And now we have a short thank you video prepared by our assistant director of the Selley Foundation, Liam Payne. Thank you all again and again for your incredible generosity on behalf of the foundation and John Selley & Company as well as all the amazing people you’re about to see on the screen.”

A loud round of applause greets the end of his mother’s speech, and then Liam’s video projects onto the wall.

Harry doesn’t know what he expected, but he didn’t realize there would be sound. It’s lovely in a way to hear the voices of all these people across the world saying thank you, some in their native languages. He begins to see local non-profit employees that he knows personally and smiles at Jenna’s broad grin at RiverAction and Miles’ dimpled smile at the food bank and Audrey’s polite one at Gilda’s Club. And he realizes what’s about to come on just before it happens. How stupid not to expect to see him in this. He’s sure his mother hasn’t taken the time to see this video, and Liam would have no idea not to include him. He wouldn’t even know who he was.

Harry’s heart pounds as his eyes search out the faces that appear. There through the magic of a projected image is Louis smiling at him again, surrounded by the children he works with and the other pediatric therapists. He’s wearing the clinic t-shirt in a bright blue that somehow makes his eyes pierce right through the screen, and he makes a funny face before flashing a thumbs up with the little boy beside him.

The images are gone too soon. Harry wants to scream to bring them back, to give him another chance to look at what he’s lost. Instead, he turns back towards the bar.

“I’ll take one of those signature shots now.”

“Of course, Mr. Styles.”

He orders another as soon as the first sears down his throat. And another after that. He can’t get them down fast enough. He’s got to make that image disappear as quickly as possible. He can’t do anything about the images inked across his body that still tie him to Louis, but maybe he can make the rest disappear just for tonight.

People come by to congratulate him, and he thinks he says thank you in return, but after a while it’s hard to tell. The lights and flashes of color make him woozy. He hasn’t had a drink in over a year, and the alcohol is hitting him hard.

Liam appears, and he can’t follow what he’s saying, but they’re laughing anyway. But now it’s his mother standing in front of him. Where did she come from? Is that Gemma beside her? He hopes so because he puts his head on her shoulder. It’s too hard to hold it up right now. And his mother is saying something but it all sounds like Charlie Brown’s parents, which makes him giggle.

Bits of words and phrases are coming through the fog, but he can’t quite catch them. “--people--honestly Harry--this drinking--don’t even think about--where is--Gemma do you know if--sending you home.”

“Home?” He thinks of a compass inked on skin that points home instead of north.

“Yes, Gemma is getting an Uber for you right now.”

He doesn’t remember getting into the car, but then suddenly, he’s in the backseat of one staring out the window into the darkness. He recognizes River Drive, and the black water of the Mississippi River watches him back ominously. He feels a prickle of sensation on the back of his neck. A premonition of some sort, though he won’t remember it later.

They’re going through an intersection now, and he can see the car sliding on ice through the stoplight about to hit them, and he thinks he screams. But it’s too late.

Everything goes black.

 

###

 

December 7, 2019

 

After dinner, Louis plops onto the couch and puts his feet up. Stuart trots over and lays between the couch and the ottoman, squeezing his bulk between the two. He seems to have the idea he’s a much smaller breed than a yellow lab.  He absently pats Stuart’s head a few times as he opens his book. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He rereads the entire series every December. It’s his own little reading ritual that gives him a tiny bit of structure amidst all the holiday distractions.

An hour passes by peacefully, and he sighs as he closes the book and sets it down. He should really start getting ready for their night out. Zayn’s having dinner with his family, but when he comes home, he’s going to want to use the bathroom to do his hair. He’d better take the bathroom time when he can get it.

They’re going out with their friends and the rest of the Autism Society board for drinks to celebrate the big donation to the therapy center. Going out for drinks isn’t usually his idea of a good time unless it’s just a beer with Niall at Mac’s Tavern. That’s not what this night will be though. They’re going to a martini bar downtown to celebrate, so it’ll be a whole ordeal now. God knows what Niall will convince him to drink tonight.

Stuart follows him into his bedroom and hops up on his bed as he stares into his closet and starts pulling out sweaters and button up shirts--things he never wears anymore. He pulls out a soft, maroon sweater that doesn’t have too many memories attached to it and finds a dark pair of jeans that he thinks looks okay for something like this before heading into the bathroom.

He stands in front of the mirror above the sink and tries to piece something together with his hair. It’s a bit long now. He should really get it cut. He uses way too much product to try and get it to swoop up and away from his face, but it looks as good as it’s going to get at this point.

He stares for a few more moments at his reflection and thinks he looks pretty good really. Not sure who he’s looking good for, but it’s nice to look more like himself again. It’s taken a while really. He’s spent a lot of time looking at himself and seeing a stranger with tired eyes and his cheekbones too sharp for his face. He admits for a brief second that there’s still something missing in the reflection, but he doesn’t want to think about that now. He tries to tamp it down, but this night in particular can’t help but remind him of the past.

No one ever discusses why The John Selley Foundation suddenly took an interest in the Autism Society and their therapy center in the last few years, and he never offers up anything about it. Zayn and Niall probably talk about it behind his back though. He tries not to think about what it means, if it means anything at all besides a tax write off and a chance for good publicity for John Selley & Company.

His phone buzzes continuously on the edge of the sink, and he wonders who is calling him. He doesn’t expect to see it’s Zayn.

“Hey, what’s up?” He answers.

“You at home?” Zayn asks quickly.

“Yeahhhh. Why?”

“I’m on my way there. Just--I know you don’t talk about him anymore, but--”

Louis watches the reflection in the mirror look a bit distressed at what Zayn might be about to say. Why would he want to talk about Harry now of all times? “What are you talking about?”

“Lou--Harry’s been in an accident.”

He’s not sure if Zayn keeps talking. If he does, he doesn’t hear it. All he can hear is a buzz in his head as though all his brain can produce is white noise.

“Lou? Louis? Are you there?”

“What?”

“Did you hear me?”

“I don’t--know. You said--you said--he’s been in an accident.” His voice sounds funny, stilted like he can’t seem to produce words correctly anymore. They stick on his tongue as he tries to force them out.

“He’s alive,” Zayn says quickly. “At least for now. It’s on the news.”

Louis’ feet are carrying him out of the bathroom quickly and into the living room. It feels like he left his stomach back in the bathroom though, and it churns from having been whisked away so quickly. He hears Stuart bark at him as he run through the apartment, but it’s as if he hears it from far away.

He fumbles with the remote as he tries to navigate towards a local news station. He turns it to 704. Just a talking head saying something about crop prices. 706. Images cross the screen of a totaled car flipped onto its back like a turtle, helpless and crushed. He recognizes the background as being close to downtown near the river.

He must have been going home.

The cars don’t look like one of Harry’s--not expensive enough, but they’re so mangled it’s hard to tell. The voice of the newscaster finally registers in his head, and he begins to hear the words.

“In news out of West Island County, River Drive was shut down for hours as investigators pieced together a grisly scene of a two car accident due most likely to icy conditions overnight. Two people lost their lives, and one was seriously injured and taken to a nearby hospital. We have our reporter, Amanda Gutierrez, on the scene.”

The footage cuts to a dark haired woman in front of a police car. Louis tries his best to listen over the blood rushing loudly in his ears.

“Well, Melanie, River Drive was blocked here from Main Street to Bix Street. I spoke to a woman who arrived at the scene moments after that crash. One person had been ejected from the vehicle, and she as well as others who stopped to help checked the breathing and pulses of the three men involved in the accident. Both drivers were unresponsive, but the third, a passenger, was taken from the scene in an ambulance. We are hearing word now from one of our sources that the man who is now in critical condition is Harry Styles, heir to the John Selley Company and current director of The John Selley Foundation. Last night was their annual foundation winter gala held at the River Center, and it’s believed he was on his way home in an Uber--”

He wonders if this is what shock feels like. His fingers and arms are numb, and everything looks hazy like this must all be a dream--no, a terrible nightmare. He’s going to wake up, and this will all go away. Stuart whines at his feet.

The door to the apartment flings open and bangs shut.

“Lou? Jesus, man. You okay? You stopped talking on the phone.”

Louis looks around him confused. “I must have left it in the bathroom.”

A commercial for Lexus blares on the television screen, and Louis looks back at it, startled. A man stands beside a luxury SUV with a giant red bow on it as fake snow falls down around him. Zayn grabs the remote and clicks it off. He throws it on the table and sits down next to him on the couch, his eyes worried.

“Louis, are you okay?” Zayn repeats.

“Um--” He feels like he might throw up. He answers honestly. “No.”

Zayn’s eyes grow tighter. “Are you gonna go see him?”

“And say what?” Louis asks him helplessly. “We broke up two years ago, and it sounds like--”

The words stick in his throat again. “--sounds like he’s probably not conscious.”

Zayn lays his head back on the coach and lets out a loud sigh as he runs his hands through his hair. “Yeah, but Lou, he’s--you know.”

“What?” He desperately wants to know the answer.

“He’s Harry,” Zayn says quietly.

Louis runs a hand over his face. “Yeah. He is.”

Zayn sits up. “You know. He’s one of the most stubborn bastards I’ve ever met in my life, so I’m giving him favorable odds on surviving.”

“I guess he does have that going for him.” Louis snorts a painful laugh of sorts. “His family won’t want me there.”

Zayn’s face hardens. “Who gives a fuck what they want? Do what you think is best though, Lou. For you and for him.”

He’s sure Harry wouldn’t want him there either. He feels like his body is deflating, and he sinks further into the couch. They haven’t spoken in so long. Harry surely wouldn’t want to wake up and see him there, especially not after the last time they’d seen each other. If he even wakes up. Louis shakes the morbid thought from his head and notices he has a pounding headache.

No matter how much Louis’ instincts scream at him to get in his car and speed towards the hospital, he knows he can’t. He no longer has the right to show up and be by Harry’s side now.

“We don’t have to go tonight,” Zayn says, still watching his face.

“Tonight--” Louis had almost forgotten. He looks down at his sweater and jeans, and it feels like ages ago that he’d been getting ready to go out tonight. His clothing is such a departure from his clinic t-shirt and the sweatpants he wears to work every day, and now they itch and cling to his skin in a way he can hardly stand.

He stands up abruptly, and Stuart moves just quickly enough to avoid being stepped on.

“Sorry,” he says to his dog. He looks back at Zayn. “I can be ready in five minutes. I just--I can’t wear this.”

Zayn looks alarmed, and Louis wonders briefly what he must look like to make Zayn look at him like this. “Lou, really, I don’t think we should--”

“We have to. It’s important the board members know how grateful we are for their support.” He might be trying to convince himself as much as he is Zayn. “How would we explain that we aren’t there because my ex-boyfriend was in a car accident?”

“Lou, I mean, it’s not like they don’t already--know.”

“Know what?” Louis asks sharply although he already knows the answer.

“We all know why we get this donation,” Zayn says flatly.

“Oh, really?” Louis hates the tremble in his voice. “You all talk about it, do you?”

“We don’t need to. It’s that fucking obvious that you’re not just some ex-boyfriend either.” Zayn stands up from the couch. “But if you’re not going to the hospital, you’re right that we should go out with the board. If anything, it’ll keep you from tearing out any more of your hair.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Go look in the mirror, Louis.”

Zayn walks in the direction of his bedroom and shuts the door. Louis makes his way back towards the bathroom with Stuart right at his heels. His phone is laying in the sink where he apparently tossed it in his haste to get to the television. He looks up at his reflection again and sees what Zayn sees. His face is pale and his eyes wet. His hair that he so carefully styled now sticks up in odd places as though he had gripped it in fistfuls.

It’s honestly a bit scary to not remember doing it.

He whips the sweater off over his head and throws it to the floor. He looks back at his reflection, the stark black ink on his skin still etching his connection to Harry across his body.

He and Zayn leave for the martini bar, and the mood of everyone is somber as their benefactor lays across town in a hospital bed. They leave early, and as Louis lies awake staring at the ceiling, he can’t recall a thing anyone said all night.

His phone buzzes next to his head.

“Mom?” he answers, his voice cracking.

“Lou? Are you okay? You didn’t answer any of my texts, and I knew you were busy tonight but--”

God, he swears he didn’t even realize he’s had any texts as though his body has been as numb as his mind to not feel the vibrations of his phone.

“Yeah, Mom. I mean, I’m not the one who--”

“I know, honey. All I know is what’s been on the tv. Have you called anyone? Do you know anything else about how he’s doing?”

He inhales a shaky breath. “No. I don’t know anything else. I--I haven’t called. I don’t think I have the right to.”

And it’s as if the cracks in the dam finally break through. Tears slide down his cheeks as he curls himself into a ball. His mom stays on the phone, saying words of comfort and assurances, until he calms down. The tears only release the shock and numbness and leave fear and uncertainty in their wake.

He finally says goodbye to his mom with promises to try and get some sleep and to call tomorrow. When he does fall into a fitful sleep, it’s to the memory of a pair of green eyes wide and clear, gleaming with stars in them.

###

 

December 13, 2019

One week later...

 

Harry’s eyelids feel heavy. They flutter a bit as he tries to open them. He hears something.

Voices. Noises. Beeps.

And then there’s pain.

It sears through his arm and shoulder and across his chest. His head feels like it’s on fire. He gasps, and his lungs ache as though he hasn’t had a deep breath before.

More beeps. Many beeps.

More voices.

Noises.

He tries harder to open his eyes, and this time they do.

The lights are bright. Too bright. They hurt his eyes, so he closes them again.

He couldn’t see anything, but the voices and noises and beeps grow louder and more intrusive. He tries to open his eyes again. He needs to know what the fuck is going on.

The light is only slightly better now, and he wishes he could tell everyone to shut the fuck up and turn the damn lights off. He can’t seem to keep his eyelids open for more than a second at a time.

He’s so tired.

Groggy.

But he persists in trying to see.

His eyelids flash open. His sister. Flash. His dad. Flash. A white coat. Flash. A machine. Flash. Tubes. Flash. The ceiling. Flash. His mother.

He lets his eyes slide closed again. Why would his mother be here?

Too tired to think about it.

Louis.

Where’s Louis? He forces his eyes open again. They flash open and shut so quickly, and he can’t seem to find Louis in the room. Where is he? Louis, he tries to say. He doesn’t think his lips even move.

He’s so very tired.

His eyelids slide closed again. He’s too tired to open them.

Sleep. He sleeps.

 

The noises return and wake him up. The pain sears through him again, but he wants to stay awake. He doesn’t want to give in to it. At least not yet.

He struggles to open his eyes again and manages to force them open only to be blinded by the fucking bright lights again. He blinks through it again and sees Gemma staring out a window. She looks to be the only one in the room.

Why is his sister here?

Louis.

Where is Louis?

His eyes find medical equipment. A hospital. He’s laying in a hospital in pain. What the fuck happened?

The beeps start getting more rapid, and Gemma turns at the sound.

“Harry?” She rushes to his side. “Harry! Shit! Fuck! You’re awake! Stay awake. Please, please--just--”

She runs to the door of the room and flings it open. “Nurse! We need a nurse! His doctors! He’s awake again! Harry Styles is awake! Someone come!”

Her yelling is making him feel worse. The beeping is loud and annoying. He tries so hard to make a sound. He wants to tell her to stop yelling.

A nurse rushes in past Gemma and begins checking his vitals or something. He isn’t sure really what she’s doing, but she’s checking for something. A light is deliberately flashed in his eyes, and he flinches. What is with all this horrible light?

He wishes he could tell someone that his arm hurts. And his shoulder. His chest feels--bruised? But worst of all might be his head.

People are talking to him. He can’t listen. Their voices blend together into a cacophony of buzzing. Everything feels fuzzy and odd, and his breathing feels weird. He tries to keep looking though. Gemma is talking to the nurse and waving her arms around, and then his mother walks through the door.

He closes his eyes.

Maybe if he pretends to be asleep, she’ll go away. He hears her voice and wishes he could find the energy to roll his eyes. He opens them again though to find Louis. He needs to look at Louis’ face, and then he’ll feel better.

He’s not here.

Where is he? His dad comes in the room again. And a woman in a white coat. Maybe a doctor. They’re all talking, and making his head hurt even worse. The buzz of their voices is awful.

He does keep trying to keep his eyes open though, so he won’t miss when Louis walks into the room. It doesn’t work. He’s too tired. Sleep.

 

The noises have returned. He hates them so much. Beeping and buzzing.  He doesn’t want to open his eyes because then more noises come. Loud voices will come back. But maybe Louis is here. He opens them. Gemma. She’s at the window. He closes his eyes again, but he hears more noises. A door. Voices. He opens his eyes again and this time they see him.

“Harry?” Gemma says loudly. “I’ll go get mom!”

He wishes he could tell her not to. His ears ring with the sound of her shouts down the hall with the door open. There’s someone in the room still though.

A woman’s face he doesn’t recognize suddenly appears close to his own. She’s wearing a beaming smile as though she’s utterly pleased to see him. “Hello, Mr. Styles. I’m Dr. Ahmad. I’m the neurologist on your case. How are you feeling?”

He thinks she might say something else, but loud voices drown her out. Her face disappears, and he closes his eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Dr. Ahmad is speaking loudly enough and closely enough that he can finally discern one voice out of the many.

The voices all stop and then start again when he doesn’t answer.

“You’ve been in an accident, Mr. Styles. That’s why you’re in the hospital. I expect you’re in pain. Can you blink three times if you’re in a lot of pain? Just twice if there’s some pain. Once if there’s no pain.”

Harry blinks as many times as he can. She smiles. “I hear you loud and clear, Mr. Styles.”

She walks over to the nurse and seems to give some directions. The nurse injects something into a tube that’s presumably connected to him, not that he can see much in his range of vision right now.

Dr. Ahmad’s face is back. “I know you can hear me, Mr. Styles. Don’t worry about speaking back or moving around right now. I’m just going to tell you what’s going on and then let you get some rest. Can you blink twice if you understand what I’m saying?”

Harry blinks twice, and she smiles again. “Good. Mr. Styles, you were in a very serious car accident two weeks ago. You were in a coma for about a week, and you’ve been in and out of consciousness for a few days now. The injuries were serious, but I must say, I’m pleased you can communicate at all with me as you did sustain a concussion from head trauma. Your other physical injuries were less serious than that one. You do have some rib fractures from wearing the seat belt although I can tell you that wearing it saved your life.

A week. Fuck. Louis must have been terrified that he’d been out that long. The pain makes sense now. He swears he at least might feel better if there was less noise in the room.

Harry lets his eyes flicker to his family standing nearby arguing with each other. Dr. Ahmad follows his eyes.

“Ah. Them. Yes.” She begins to speak a little more quietly. “Shall I ask them to leave? Twice for yes, once for no.”

Harry blinks about ten times.

She nods her head. “Got it.”

Dr. Ahmad clears her throat. “Mr. Styles really should rest. I must insist that he have quiet in the room for at least the next few hours. You are welcome of course to stay in the family room down the hall or if you’d like, someone can call you when he awakes.”

Harry notices that he does feel more and more drowsy.

“But he’s just woken up!” Gemma shrieks, and Harry wishes he could cover his ears. “He can’t possibly go to sleep again!”

“He’s in some pain,” Dr. Ahmad explains. “I’ve given him some pain medication that is likely to make him even more sleepy than he already is.”

His mother steps forward and clasps Gemma’s arm. “Of course. Harry, we’ll be just down the hall. Just let us know if you need anything.”

Harry wonders if she’s even speaking to him, seeing as how it’s clear he’s having trouble speaking. She probably enjoys that he can’t tell her what he wants.

Louis still hasn’t appeared, and he’s afraid somehow his family is keeping him from the room. Although that seems like a bit much, even for them. He wishes he could tell Dr. Ahmad to let him in. Surely, he’s just down the hall in that family room she mentioned. It’s a bit hard to tell someone to let in your boyfriend when all you can do is blink your eyes.

Fuck. They’re starting to move towards the door, and he’s fairly bursting with Louis’ name in his head. What the fuck is wrong with them that they’re keeping Louis from him? Surely, they know he needs him, especially right now.

His mother’s hand is on the door handle.

Pressure builds in his head, in his mouth, on his tongue. “Nghhll--Lou--” he croaks out.

His mother whirls around her eyes wide. Gemma steps in front of her and makes her way closer to his side. “Did you say, Louis?”

He blinks twice.

Dr. Ahmad says, “He blinked twice for yes. Who is Louis?”

“His ex-boyfriend,” Gemma says, her eyebrows drawn together.

Why would she say that? He wants to scream at them all to leave and let Louis in. He blinks twice at Dr. Ahmad, willing her to understand.

The beeping is growing loud and fast again, and Dr. Ahmad is herding them out of the room quickly before turning back towards him. “It’s okay, Harry. Just calm down. Stay calm. You need rest. You need to heal.”

He blinks at her furiously.

She seems to understand. “I promise you that I will see what I can do.”

His last thought is that she doesn’t look that happy about it. He wishes he could stay awake long enough to tell her that she’ll understand once she meets Louis. Louis is nothing like his family. He’s sure she’ll like Louis. Everyone does.

###

 

December 20, 2019

 

Louis didn’t sleep well last night.

It’s been a few weeks since he’s really had a good night of sleep where he didn’t toss and turn unable to shake the feeling that he was wrong. Every day and every night since he first heard Harry had been in a car accident has been spent wondering if he should go to see him.

Rumors spread that Harry was in a coma, and his family finally addressed it last week via an official public relations spokesperson for John Selley & Company, saying that he had not yet regained consciousness. Not the best sign, Louis knows. He also knows it’s pointless to show up there at the hospital.

Harry won’t even know if he’s there or not, and it would just likely upset his family. Definitely, Harry’s mother wouldn’t be all that pleased to see him. He’s sure when they broke up, she had dreams of marrying Harry off to some business associate, so they could all go golfing in Hawaii together or something.

Not that he keeps close tabs on Harry’s life anymore, but it’s hard not to overhear things about someone like him from time to time. In any case, it didn’t appear he’d yet settled down with any of his mother’s choices. Not that that mattered to Louis really. It’s no longer any of his business. Although it did mean that no one would be there for Harry besides his family and whoever his friends are now.

He pulls into a parking space next to the clinic and sees the huge hospital looming just beyond the large retention pond that separates most of the hospital from the many clinics that surround it. The hospital curves in a large arc as though following the water line of the pond. If you didn’t see the large sign out front proclaiming it to be Aurora Medical Center, you might mistake it for a business headquarters. The only bigger building around here is the John Selley headquarters across town.

As Louis stands in the shadow of the hospital, he can’t help but think that somewhere inside Harry is there, unconscious and injured. He tries to put it out of his mind as he walks up the ramp towards the front door of the clinic.

He says hello to Cynthia at the front desk, and he could swear she’s given him an odd look. Maybe he’s just paranoid. He walks back to this desk and flips open his work laptop and prints out his schedule for the day. Then, he heads back through the waiting area to peruse the newspaper while he waits for his first patient to show up.

It’s right there on the front page. No wonder Cynthia was looking at him strangely. She probably wasn’t sure if he’d seen the news yet. He stares again at the headline.

Selley heir wakes up

Louis feels his stomach turn over, and he could almost cry he’s so relieved. He has no time to decompress though because the door to the clinic opens, and Tyler barrels across the room towards him as his mother calls out after him to be careful as she signs him in at the front desk.

He’s so elated at the news that his smile must be extra big today because Tyler says, “Mr. Louis’s happy!”

“I am, buddy. I am. Let’s go to the gym and get started.”

He has a busy schedule, and he works with some of his favorite patients today building core strength, working on handwriting and scissor use, zippers, buttons, and shoe tying. He hardly realizes it’s his lunch break until he walks out to the waiting area and sees Niall.

He checks his watch. “Hey, didn’t even realize it was one yet.”

“Yep. Let’s hit up Qdoba for lunch. Zayn says he’ll meet us there. I guess he’s running late today.”

They walk out into the cold, but Louis notices the sun is out and it seems to have warmed up a few degrees since this morning. He burrows his face into his scarf as they walk towards Niall’s new Honda.

Niall pulls out of the parking lot and onto John Selley Road towards the closest area of restaurants clustered together in a strip mall.

“So I’m guessing you heard the news then?” Niall asks, his breath puffs out in white wisps. The car still hasn’t heated up much yet.

He’s not sure he wants to admit he knows exactly what Niall is talking about, but maybe it’s pointless to pretend it’s not important to him. This is Niall after all. He’ll just immediately call him on his bullshit anyway. “Yeah. Yeah, I saw in the newspaper this morning. He’s awake, which is--it’s good--I’m glad.”

“Yeah.” They stop at a red light, so Niall’s eyes drift to him. “You okay?”

“I’m not the one who was in a car accident.”

“Right, well. I’m here if you want to talk about it. I mean, it’s Harry, you know?”

Louis sighs. “Yeah, I know.”

“I’m just really fucking relieved he’s okay,” Niall continues. “Not gonna lie. It didn’t sound so great for a while there. But if he’s awake that’s great news.”

Louis can feel tears of relief welling up in his eyes. “Yeah. It is.”

They pull into a parking spot just as the car finally begins to heat up and see Zayn pull up alongside them. He makes a beeline for Louis and wraps him up in a huge hug that nearly knocks him off his feet.

“You okay?” Zayn asks, his words muffled into Louis’ coat.

“Yeah, I’m--yeah, okay.”

“I’m just so glad he’s okay, you know?” Zayn says. “I mean, he has a long recovery ahead of him, but--”

“Wait, do you know how he’s doing? Have you heard things at the hospital?”

“Can we go in?” Niall asks. “It’s freezing balls out here.”

They head into the warmth of the restaurant and stand in line.

“I can’t say in here,” Zayn says quietly, glancing around. Louis knows he’s right. Even though Harry isn’t his patient, he wouldn’t want to be caught gossipping. It doesn’t stop Louis from desperately wanting to know what he’s heard though even if it is just gossip.

He has a fairly short afternoon of patients and gives the hospital a long look before driving home. Zayn’s got a full schedule today at the hospital, so he won’t be home until tonight. The sun is already low in the sky even this early in the afternoon, and Louis wishes it would stay just for a little longer.

He bangs in the front door and doesn’t bother to take off his winter gear, just calls for Stuart and grabs his leash. They walk towards the park and wind their way through Stuart’s favorite neighborhood spots. The earlier warmth of the day seems to be fading, and he walks a bit more quickly as he feels the cold begin to seep in through his sweatpants. He walks up the flight of outdoor stairs of the duplex, talking to Stuart before he turns the corner towards the entryway and freezes.

Harry’s sister is standing outside the door of his apartment. Her hand still on the door as though she’s been knocking. He feels like he can’t breathe all of a sudden. Why is she here? God, no. He’d thought Harry was going to be okay. He was awake. He couldn’t be--

“Gemma,” he manages to croak out.

Her head whips towards him, a curtain of perfectly styled hair swings over the shoulder of her pristine white coat. “Louis.”

“Is he--” He can’t say it. He can’t get out another word.

Her eyes widen. “No! I’m not here because he--Sorry. Harry’s fine. Well, not fine, but he’s going to be fine.” She says it as though she can force him to recover by her own sheer will.

He sinks against the wall. He doesn’t even care that she’s watching him. Today’s just been a lot. Stuart is tugging at his leash now, trying to go greet the newcomer, but he holds his leash tightly. He’s sure Gemma doesn’t want dog fur on her coat.

She stands aside to let him open the door, and he gestures for her to follow. She walks in as he lets Stuart off the leash and grabs out a rawhide for him to keep him distracted from their guest.

“I won’t keep you,” she says. “Actually, I’m hoping you’ll come with me.”

He stares at her confused. “Come with you?”

“I hope you don’t mind me showing up like this. You’d already left work by the time I went there to find you. But I happened to see Niall leaving the hospital, and I convinced him to give me your address.” She looks around the small apartment politely. “It’s nice.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, it is.” It’s not even half the size of the condo he once shared with Harry. It’s the size of just one of the rooms in the Selley mansion that sits high on the bluffs.

“Really though, it’s very--” She stops herself. “I’ve come to ask a favor of you. A big one.”

He honestly can’t think of what Gemma Styles could possibly need from him even if it does have something to do with Harry. He’s wary enough of her not to immediately agree. “What’s the favor?”

“He’s been asking for you.” She watches his reaction avidly, looking for something.

“What?” Whatever he thought Gemma was going to say, this wasn’t it.

“I’m here to ask if you’ll come and see him. I can take you there and get you past the armed guard.”

“There’s an armed guard?”

“What else would you call my mother?”

“Fair.” Louis huffs out a laugh. “I’m just surprised. Are you sure he wants to see me? You say he asked for me, but--”

“I promise he would like to see you, Louis. He became very agitated and was asking for you almost as soon as he could speak.”

“So he’s that responsive? That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Mmm. Yeah, it is.” She doesn’t meet his eyes though and walks over to pet Stuart as he chews a rawhide. “I know this is a little awkward, but for whatever reason, you’re the one he wants to see. I know it’s not the same anymore, but I think he once meant a lot to you. Please.”

Meant a lot to him? They were together for six years. He doesn’t point that out though. “I’ll come.”

He refuses her offer to drive him there and instead follows behind her Mercedes back towards the hospital. In all his thoughts of what might happen were he to show up to visit Harry, none of them included the idea that one of his family members would come to personally ask him to come.

When they come in sight of the hospital, his nerves kick up a notch. By the time he silently walks through the entrance with Gemma and follows her into an elevator, his nerves dance along his skin like pin pricks. They reach a door, and Gemma hesitates. Louis’ blood pumps frantically through his veins in some sort of fight or flight response, but she begins to open the door before either of them can run.

As the door opens, he hears a voice he doesn’t quite recognize say, “Louis.”

He briefly sees Harry’s mother, Anne Selley Styles, sitting beside his bed before he steps more fully into the room and looks hesitantly at Harry. It’s more than a punch to the gut.

The first thing he notices is the way Harry’s stubborn expression leaves, and his face lights up with a bright smile. His eyes gleam, and he just looks so incredibly happy to see him that Louis feels like his legs might give out right here.

Whatever confusion he feels at the way Harry is looking at him becomes entirely unimportant as he begins to assess his injuries. They’ve had to cut back his hair even shorter in places in order to stitch into his scalp though they all look like they’re healing at this point, and he’s connected to various IVs and machines next to the bed.

“How are you?” Louis asks, still keeping his distance, only just coming into the room. Harry’s face crumples into a frown.

“Louis.”

“Hey, H. I’m here. Um--are you doing okay--”

Anne stands up. “Louis, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Louis would really rather not, but he nods yes and looks at Harry whose frown has grown deeper, anger radiating from his eyes. She takes his arm and ushers him out of the room, leaving Gemma with Harry and the scent of expensive perfume in her wake.

“I’m glad you’ve come.”

“You are?” Louis feels like he’s in an alternate universe where Harry’s family actually wants him around.

“Yes, he’s been asking for you, which I assume Gemma mentioned in order to convince you to come.”

He flushes a bit. It’s true that he wouldn’t have shown up had it not been for her saying just that.

“I didn’t know she was going to try and convince you to visit,” she continues. “I suppose she assumed as you did that I would interfere.”

Louis honestly has no idea what goes on in the minds of any of Harry’s family, so he just shrugs.

“Well, she may have neglected to tell you a few rather important details.”

Louis hasn’t the slightest clue as to what she’s referring to. “Okay?”

“We believe Harry may be asking for you because he doesn’t remember that you’ve broken up.”

Louis is pretty sure his jaw is on the floor. “Wait--what?”

“He woke up just yesterday, and he’s still very groggy and on pain medication. He’s really only started talking a little bit today. However, he’s been very insistent about only one thing--seeing you.”

“Oh. I--don’t really know what to say.”

“Louis, I’m asking you to play along a little. Harry got very agitated yesterday about why you weren’t here, and they nearly had to sedate him when we mentioned you were his ex-boyfriend. We don’t really know for sure what’s going on. His doctors don’t want him to be stressed at this point. So today, we’ve been telling him you were at work or getting food or rest whenever he asked for you.”

“Christ.” His heart hurts thinking that Harry has been here injured and distressed that Louis wasn’t here, and his head tells him that this entire thing is fucked up and not his problem. He rubs a hand across his face. “Okay, so what you’re telling me is you want me to go in there and lie to him and pretend we’re still together? I just want to be clear.”

Anne frowns at his tone. “It’s what’s best for him.”

“You always like to think you have the best intentions, don’t you?” Louis doesn’t know why he’s choosing this moment to have it out with Harry’s mother, but he’s sort of freaking out right now.

“I’m going by medical advice, Louis,” she says coldly.

“Really? I’m sure he’s going to appreciate that when he realizes what you’ve done. When he remembers what really happened or you have to tell him the truth.”

Her lips purse in a wholly unattractive way. “I need your word that you’ll play along before you go back into that room. The most important thing here is Harry’s health.”

Louis doesn’t answer her, just swings back through the door. His annoyance must show on his face because Harry looks from Louis to his mom and back again.

“Out,” Harry rasps.

Louis stops in his tracks.

“No. Her.”

Anne smiles brightly as though Harry hasn’t just told her to leave. “I think I’ll go and get a Starbucks, and then I’ll be right back, sweetie!”

Gemma looks briefly between them and then leaves the room without being asked.

Louis walks slowly to Harry’s side. Harry stares up at him, his bright smile returning. “Hi.”

“Hey, H,” he says softly. “You scared me, you know?”

Harry nods, brows furrowing together again. “Tired.”

Louis scoots a chair next to the bed and takes Harry’s hand in his. “Get some rest then. I’ll just stay here a while.”

Harry smiles and closes his eyes. He thumbs over the small cross tattooed on Harry’s hand and stares at the anchor that begins at his wrist and climbs up his arm. What good is the strength of an anchor without the rope to lift it from the depths?

Louis watches him sleep, this man he once loved more than anything else in the world. When he wakes up, it’s entirely possible he’ll remember why Louis no longer has the right to sit by his side, but for now, he’ll let himself have these few moments to remember what it felt like when Harry was his.

###

 

Harry with nearly blank eyes

December 23, 2019

 

Harry’s getting pretty fucking tired of waking up to the sounds of people talking and doors opening and buzzing and beeps and other shitty hospital noises. The room is still relatively dark, not that hospital rooms ever go completely black he’s noticed. He misses his blackout shades.

He wonders when Louis will come today. Is he working? What day is it? He wishes that he would be here when he wakes up, but Louis probably used up all his time off already.

He’s still so groggy, but at least he can move around a little. He stayed still for the last nurse to check on him because he doesn’t want to be fussed with just yet. He tests out trying to change his position in bed. It’s difficult. It seems like his right side is moving better than his left.

He’s too tired to do much else. He closes his eyes and thinks about Louis and what he wants to ask him when he comes today. There’s something that tugs at the back of his mind. Something that isn’t quite right. He’ll ask him when he comes.

Too tired now. Have to sleep.

 

He wakes up to the sound of more voices. Great. His family is probably here. He opens his eyes though to see if Louis is here yet.

He’s not.

Why isn’t Louis at his side? Work. He must be at work, he reminds himself. It must be a weekday. He seems to remember someone saying it was Monday yesterday. He can’t be sure though. Things are still weird and hazy in his head. They told him that was normal because of his head injury and the coma.

He hears his mother’s voice again. The door is half open, and she’s standing just inside the door as she speaks to whoever is in the hallway outside his room. He thinks he hears Dr. Ahmad’s voice again and someone else, too.

“I don’t know how good of an idea it is, but I do want the very best therapists for him.”

His mother doesn’t sound pleased as she argues about therapists with Dr. Ahmad, and Harry can’t help but think that Louis should be the one deciding on therapists. He’d obviously know who was best.

“I can assure you that he’s one of our very best acute care neuro physical therapists,” Dr. Ahmad says. “Dr. Collins is also excellent, but she’s off this week for the holiday. You did say you wanted to start as soon as possible.”

“Guess you’re stuck with me, Mrs. Styles.”

The voice sounds familiar. Niall?

A huge sense of relief floods him when Niall walks into the room. He struggles to sit up and his mother and Dr. Ahmad gasp. It’s not like he even manages to sit more upright. Apparently, just him moving around is enough to get them excited.

“Oh, so he is moving around a bit on his own then,” Niall says, consulting the laptop that presumably has his chart on it.

“He wasn’t until now,” his mother replies stiffly.

Harry snorts.

His mother gets an awful, brittle look on her face like she’d love to berate him, but she of course wouldn’t want to do that in front of other people. Can’t possibly look anything but under control at all times.

Dr. Ahmad hurriedly walks over to him and begins talking as though to head off whatever Harry might be about to say in response. She already understands him well apparently. “So what we thought we knew is right there in his chart, but obviously, Mr. Styles has a few surprises in store for us.”

He thinks he sees Niall hide a smile.

“Niall.”

The smile emerges properly across Niall’s face, but then disappears again quickly, which is a bit weird. Niall clears his throat. “Hello. How are you doing today? Seems like you’re moving a bit more than expected.”

“Yeah. Hard.” Maybe Niall is talking like this because he’s in physical therapist mode or whatever.

“Okay, well, I’m just going to assess a few things today and see where we’re at, and then we’ll talk about what you can expect from me.”

Harry’s just honestly so happy to see a friend’s face at this point, but he feels a bit odd that he’s only come to see him in a professional capacity. Niall asks him questions that he does his best to answer and puts him through a series of tests in which it’s clear his left side isn’t working nearly as well as his right. He thought it was just because of his ribs, but it seems like Niall thinks it’s something more.

“Okay, Harry. Based on what I’m finding, the head injury is likely responsible for the left-sided weakness. It will improve as the swelling in your brain continues to get better, but we’re going to need to work on strengthening to get you back to doing what you need to do. It’s going to be baby steps. Seeing as you’re already wiggling around over there, we’ll start with continuing bed mobility and getting you sitting up better. From there, we’ll start working on standing. Once we get you down to the gym, we can start the fun stuff with walking. Like I said, baby steps. Everyday.”

“Everyday?” Harry knows he sounds pathetic, but he’s feeling pretty desperate at this point to see people other than his family. He wonders when Louis is coming back, but he doesn’t want to nag either.

“Everyday,” Niall confirms. “You have a lot of therapy in your future, I’m afraid. But we’re going to work together to get you back to yourself, Harry. You’re coming into this young and healthy, which really helps our chances of a good recovery. Next time, we’ll talk about some long term goals, but for now I want us to focus more on the short term. Sound good?”

“Sure,” Harry replies.

He wants to say more. He wants to ask why Niall is being so--polite. It’s throwing him off, but he’s honestly just so tired that he doesn’t have the energy to start a weird conversation like that. He can see his mother hovering in the doorway, and he just doesn’t get why she’s here so much. Obviously, they’re family, but they’ve never been close. His sister is okay, but again, why is she here so much? Apparently his accident must have changed some family dynamic or something.

Something else tugs at his mind.

Where’s Zayn?

He hasn’t stopped by at all unless it was while he was sleeping. Maybe that’s what’s been happening. He narrows his eyes at his mother as Niall says, “See you tomorrow,” as he exits the room. Maybe his mother just isn’t telling him things. She’s infamous for that.

“Zayn? Louis?” He immediately asks her. She clearly hears the accusation in his tone and pauses. He can see the cogs in her head turning. What’s she hiding from him?

“They’re both at work,” she finally says.

Harry frowns, opens his mouth to protest, but his mother cuts him off.

“I think you should get your rest,” she says firmly. “We’re arranging the rest of your recovery team, but we felt that physical therapy was at the top of the list. Of course, we didn’t know how much you were moving. It’s important you tell us how you’re feeling.”

“No. You’re--not doctor. Back off.”

Her eyes widen and her mouth hangs open a bit. She looks stunned. She’s apparently not used to him talking to her like this, but Harry really doesn’t give a shit. She’s using his injuries against him, trying to take over his life just like when he was a kid. It makes panic well up in his chest. He just wants her to get away from him. He’s exhausted and for fuck’s sake he just wants Louis. Fuck all this other stuff.

“Louis--Louis. Now.” He can feel his agitation building.

His mother looks alarmed and freezes for a moment before gathering herself. “Harry. It’s okay. Just calm down. I promise not to--I won’t interfere. I’m just trying to get you the best medical attention, that’s all.”

“Louis,” Harry says again, raising his voice until his chest hurts. “He knows.” He’s not going to have his mother making these decisions when it’s Louis who should be making them.

She looks so alarmed at the thought for a moment and then a very familiar determined look crosses her face. “You’re right. That’s fine. I’ll absolutely have him decide on your therapists. In fact, I’ll have us all meet together to talk about your recovery. He can have as much input as you want him to have. I know he’ll be very knowledgeable about all this. And after we meet, you can make some further decisions. It’s clear you have a lot of your faculties back, Harry. But not all of them.”

Harry knows this. His body isn’t working quite right. And things feel oddly off somehow. He wonders how he’s going to explain that. Maybe it’s just how everyone is treating him. Things just don’t quite add up, and he’s not sure if it’s just because something has gone wrong in his head, but he wants to find out.

His energy is completely spent at this point. He can’t keep talking about this.

“I’m going to let you get some rest, Harry,” his mother says, turning towards the door. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this all out.”

He closes his eyes. There’s only one person he wants to help him figure this all out, and it isn’t his mother.

###

 

December 24, 2019

 

Louis has one patient today. He really doesn’t mind going in for an hour on his birthday especially not for this client. Not many therapists work Christmas Eve, so only Cynthia seems to be in when he gets there.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”

She frowns. “Paperwork. Trying to get ahead. We’ll have so many days off, I know I’ll get behind.”

Louis laughs. “Okay, but surely you didn’t want to work on Christmas Eve.”

“True. Well, you’re seeing Nino today then?” she asks.

Louis nods. “Yep. He really needs to keep his schedule as best he can especially during the holidays. It’s a better fit for him.”

“Is it a better fit for you though?”

“I don’t mind it,” Louis says as he walks back into the office area. “I didn’t have anything planned anyway.

He hears Cynthia sigh. “Louis, you’re so young! You should be out having fun! I know how serious you are about your job, but--”

“It’s not just a job, and you know it.”

“I do. I do know that. But it doesn’t mean your entire life should be--this.”

“It’s not. I’m going out with the guys tonight for a birthday thing. You should come if you don’t have family plans.”

Cynthia snorts. “You want your fifty-three year old coworker to come hang out for your birthday? You really do need to get out more.”

“Hey! I’d like my friend , Cynthia, to come out for my birthday. If she wants to.”

“It’s lovely of you to ask, Louis, but I’m taking Aaron to see a movie tonight.”

“Star Wars?”

“Star Wars,” she confirms.

“I’ve been meaning to go see that, maybe I could tag along--”

“Louis! You are going for a night out on your birthday with other young people and dancing and having fun until at least midnight. Promise me.”

“You’re not old ! And Aaron definitely counts as young.”

“Aaron is twelve.”

“See? Young.”

He hears voices outside the door and the sound of Nino’s mom saying, “Okay, but let’s hold off on the climbing until we’re inside the gym.”

“Hi!”

“Hi, Nino! How are you today?” Louis asks as his favorite patient nearly runs into him.

“Went to Grammy Ray’s and Grammy Maria’s.”

“Nice! Did you eat something today?”

“I like Goldfish.”

“I know you do, buddy.”

“He did drink his green smoothie today, too,” his mom adds with a shrug. “We start feeding therapy again next week.”

“Good, good. Maybe can get some more protein into his diet.”

“Let’s hope so,” she replies.

“Gym, first, okay, Nino?”

“Gym! I want to go to the gym.”

Louis leads them through the waiting area and the hallway, stopping for Nino to name all the animals in the murals on the wall as he chats to his mom about how his week has been going. They start on an enveloping fabric swing that Nino can curl up in, feeling pressure all around him as Louis swings him from side to side and then a bounce that makes Nino giggle. Then, he’s ready to go through an obstacle course of climbing and tunnels and slides that lead to a small chalkboard and chalk.

“Oh, we’ve been doing chalk at home, too,” his mom says. “I don’t know why, but he seems to prefer it.”

“I’m using the fat sidewalk chalk, so he’ll hold it properly in his hand,” Louis explains as he guides Nino through the steps to make a letter D. “Big line down, jump, big curve to the bottom. You try.”

Nino dutifully makes his letter D, and then he’s off back through the obstacle course. They have a good session, and Nino completes every letter they’ve been working on. Definitely worth coming in on a Saturday. He gives Nino a high five, and they end the session by riding an adaptive bicycle down the hallway.

“Thanks for doing this, Louis,” Nino’s mom says as she takes Nino by the hand.

“No problem.”

He walks out of the clinic with a light heart, but his smile falters at the sight of the hospital across from him. He chews his lip and stares at the building.

Have they told him yet? What if they haven’t told him? What if Harry is laying in that hospital bed wondering where he is? Fuck. And if they have told him, is Harry angry with him? Or does he feel foolish?

He feels the cold wind on his face, but he can’t move, rooted to the spot. Snowflakes begin to fall, and he imagines himself standing here until the snow covers him completely, hiding him away in a wash of white. He honestly has no idea what to do. No one ever tells you that you may need to prepare yourself when your ex-boyfriend suddenly doesn’t remember you’ve broken up.

He starts to shiver, so he forces his feet towards his old Corolla. He climbs in and cranks the heat up even though all it does is blow cold air. He has a sudden memory of the heated seats in Harry’s cars. His Corolla hadn’t got much use during those six years with Harry. Not a lot of reason for him to drive it. It gets a lot of use now though, and he should really replace it with something newer. He can definitely afford to at this point, but something always keeps him from pulling the trigger.

He tells himself that it’s because it still runs fine, and he’s just being practical. He knows that’s not it though. He can still hear the echo of Harry’s mother in his head, and it’s like he’s still trying to prove how wrong she was about him even after this many years.

Maybe Zayn has time to go car shopping with him today.

He heads for home through the snow dusted streets of a town that holds a thousand reminders of Harry everywhere he goes. He thought he’d become immune to them all, seeing as how hard they are to avoid when Harry’s family’s name is plastered everywhere he looks. He thought he’d gotten past it, thought he was ready to move on, but Harry’s crash has destroyed whatever stupid notion he had that he’s fine.

He walks through the door to Stuart jumping around excitedly, waiting for him. “You want to go for a walk? Even in the snow?”

“Hey,” Zayn calls from the kitchen.

“Hey. Gonna take Stuart for a quick walk.”

Zayn wanders out of the kitchen and examines him as though monitoring for distress or whatever else he’s looking for signs of. “You okay?”

“Sure. Just had my session and came home.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“About my session?”

Zayn frowns. “Don’t play dumb, Lou. You still haven’t said a word about visiting Harry. You came home from the hospital saying he looked fine, even though you looked like you’d seen a ghost.”

Louis feels himself deflating. “I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“I did see a ghost. I saw Harry again. The Harry that I knew--before. He looked different, injured of course, and his hair is cut short now, but he looked at me like he still l--” Something catches in his throat. “Fuck. I didn’t mean to say anything.”

“It’s okay, Lou.”

“Is it? Is it okay? He looked at me like he loved me. Like we were still in love.” It hurts to keep these thoughts locked up tight. He thought maybe if he said them out loud they’d lose some of their power, but it feels like he’s just done the opposite.

Zayn’s face tightens. “Lou, what are you saying?”

He runs a hand through his hair. “I’m saying he doesn’t remember. He doesn’t know we broke up.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Harry--he seems to not remember--some time. I don’t know how much or what memories he’s lost, but he was asking for me. His sister came to ask me to come see him because he was so distressed.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“I wondered why you finally decided to go see him when you seemed so set against it.” Zayn sits heavily onto the arm of the couch. “So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to take Stuart for a walk.” As if on cue, he bounds over with the leash in his mouth.

“Lou--”

“I’ll be back.” He hurries out the door clipping the leash to Stuart’s collar.

Snow continues to fall as he walks Stuart through the now white streets. Stuart follows the path of paw prints of some other dog along the sidewalk, and they somehow both let that be their guide today. It’s cold, but at least there isn’t much wind. Their neighborhood looks fairly stark with skeletal trees, but if there’s any kind of accumulation, it will all start to look lovely with snow weighing down the pine boughs and shimmering over the ground.

The quiet of the snowy streets is broken only by the occasional passing car and Stuart’s snuffles. It’s quiet enough to think. He knows when he goes back to the apartment Zayn will have more questions for him, ones he likely has no answer for. He can feel the pull of Harry across town, reeling him back into thinking he has some place in his life. He needs to remember that he doesn’t. How many times must he learn that lesson? He only feels like this because Harry doesn’t remember everything that went wrong between them. Another thing to remember.

He can’t help but wonder if texting Gemma would be appropriate or not. He’s not even sure the phone number he has for her is the same. He supposes if he was really needed, they’d find him. He still wishes he’d thought to give Gemma his number though. Just for an update on the situation.

The wind starts to pick up as they get closer to home. It’s a quiet wind that encounters no leaves to rustle, but it cuts right through him, bone deep. They both shake the snow off of themselves in the entryway of the duplex. He’s not ready to talk about any of this out loud, but he probably doesn’t have a choice.

Zayn is waiting for him with tea and one raised eyebrow. He sighs and hangs up his coat and lets his boots thump onto the mat. Zayn gives him a small smile as he approaches and sinks into the chair beside him.

“You gonna tell me what happened now? Or are you really going to leave me with, oh hey by the way Harry has amnesia.”

Louis coughs. “Amnesia? I think that’s a little dramatic.”

“Well, he doesn’t remember a break up that happened two years ago, so I don’t know what else you call that.”

Louis warms his hands on the hot mug. “His memory is just a little--confused or something.”

“You said he looked at you like you were still in love.”

Louis winces. “Yeah, he didn’t say much. Just wanted me to be there. He was quite tired.”

“What did he say exactly?”

“Well, he did kick his mom out of the room,” Louis snorts. “And then I told him that he scared me.”

Zayn huffs out a breath. “Lou--”

“Well, he did, you know?” Louis says a bit defensively. “I don’t know how to not care about him.”

“Of course you still care about him. Just remember that you can care about someone and also know you shouldn’t be with them.”

“I know that. I do. I just--it was hard to remember when he looked at me like that, and I held his hand. He fell asleep after that. And I just waited a little while. You know, just until he was really asleep.”

“Right.” Zayn can probably tell he sat there like a fool watching Harry breathe and listening to the sounds of the snuffles he makes when he sleeps.

Lous sips at his tea. “I told his mom that I didn’t think he’d appreciate not knowing what was going on. So I don’t know if she listened or not. I just--I’d feel badly if he thinks I’m going to be there and then I’m just--not. What must he be thinking when I’m not there beside him? Maybe she’s already told him then.”

“Mm. Yeah.” An odd look crosses Zayn’s face. “I’d probably guess not.”

“You don’t think she told him? I mean, maybe he remembers already anyway, and this is all a moot point.”

“Ummm--”

Louis narrows his eyes. “What are you not telling me?”

“Niall called while you were out walking Stuart. Seems he got a new patient today.”

“Fucking hell.”

“I wouldn’t normally discuss this, but he was giving me a heads up that they’re going to need an occupational therapist on his recovery team.”

“Oh.” His mind is reeling at the thought of both Niall and Zayn working with Harry’s recovery.

“Well, they can see if Angie’s available. She’s probably the best at working with traumatic brain injuries, so--”

“Zayn, you’re the best acute rehab OT they have,” Louis interrupts.

“Lou, I’m not the only OT in the world, he can have Angie or Greg--”

“No. It’s okay. If they ask you to do it, don’t let me be the reason you say yes or no. We may not be together anymore, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want him to get better. He’d be in great hands if he has both you and Niall.”

“If you’re sure--”

“I’m sure.”

###

 

December 29, 2019

 

Harry wishes he had his phone.

The terrible tv only plays a few cable channels and local stations. He can’t remember the last time he watched any of these stations. His only company seems to be his mother, who he sends away on pointless errands, and his sister, who he makes awkward conversation with and of course, the various doctors and nurses and people coming to take vitals and blood draws in a constant parade.

His speech therapist comes twice a day and says he’s doing exceptionally well. He’s got no problems swallowing and his verbal skills are coming back faster than anticipated. He’s still only able to speak short sentences, gets words mixed up sometimes, but he’s getting much better able to communicate with each passing day. His physical function is still the biggest challenge.

He’s thrilled when Niall comes in to interrupt Family Feud.

“Hey, Harry. How are you feeling today? It looks like you’re sitting up more comfortably.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, a little surprised. He honestly hadn’t noticed, but he is able to sit up a little better. “TV, too.”

“Ah yes, Family Feud, huh?” Niall says with a grin.

“No Netflix here.”

“Ooh, yeah. Sucks. Maybe someone could bring you an ipad or laptop. The hospital has wifi.”

“Tell Louis please.”

Niall gets a funny look on his face. “Um, sure. Now, let’s get started with some things to get you out of this bed.”

During the session, he manages to sit up completely without support, but it’s still fairly depressing to feel so immobile. When Harry gets tired, Niall helps him lay back down and they do some simple exercises for his legs, to get them working again. He pumps his ankles, bends his knees, marches his hips. The right side does everything just fine, but moving the left side leaves him sweaty and breathless. He thinks back to the times when he used to go to the gym, bench pressing and squatting and crunching his way to a decent physique, or at least one that could keep up with Louis and his legs that wouldn’t quit.

Niall must be able to see the frustration on his face. “It’s gonna get better, you know. You’re already way more alert today, and you sat up really well for having some weakness on your left side. By tomorrow I think we’ll have you transferring to your wheelchair on your own, maybe. Then you can get to the bathroom on your own, sounds pretty good, huh? A little more dignity at least. Don’t be discouraged. You’re already doing great.”

Harry manages a smile for him. “Thanks, Ni.”

“Hey, you’re like the second most stubborn person I know,” Niall teases. “You’re going to be fine, Harry.”

Harry manages a bigger smile for him. “I know first.”

Niall’s smile falters for a second, and Harry wonders why. He really doesn’t like this unsettled feeling he has in the pit of his stomach.

“Why so--weird?”

“What’s weird?” Niall asks.

“You--everyone. Something wrong?”  

Niall clears his throat. “I know you’re frustrated, Harry. It’s not really my place to say anything, but some members of your medical team are here and your family. They’re just waiting for our session to be done to meet with you about your recovery.”

“Yikes.”

“I’ll just go get them.” Niall scurries from the room like he can’t get out of there fast enough. His little speech would make anyone nervous, Harry thinks. He knew something was off. What aren’t they all telling him? He can feel his legs, even though moving them is still tough, so it’s not like he’s paralyzed or something.

Dr. Ahmad enters the room with a kind smile on her face followed by his mother and sister and dad. Niall steps just inside the door with a woman he doesn’t recognize and closes it behind them.

“So Harry, your PT tells us you have some questions for us,” Dr. Ahmad begins.

“What’s wrong? Where’s Louis?” He sees his mom and sister exchange glances. His dad looks a bit pained. Niall looks like he’d rather be set on fire than be in this room right now. He looks directly into Dr. Ahmad’s face because she’s the only one who isn’t looking at him like he’s crazy.

Dr. Ahmad continues though. “Harry, we’ve been assembling a team for your recovery. You obviously know Niall will be your physical therapist, and this is Dr. Hausman. She’ll be your neuropsychologist going forward. We are in the process of finding the right occupational therapist, but we wanted to meet with you and let you know exactly what’s going on as we don’t want anything to be sprung on you.”

“What’s wrong?” Harry repeats.

“Well, you have some obvious physical injuries and a traumatic brain injury. You’ve already met some of the doctors on your team. Dr. Lang is your Physical Medicine and Rehab doctor to handle function. Dr. Henke is your Orthopedic doctor who will follow up with you about your rib fractures. We’d also like you to see an occupational therapist to assess your functional performance of fine motor tasks, and you’ve already been seeing your speech pathologist, Sterre Levinson. And of course, Dr. Hausman will be here for your emotional needs as well as any other needs she might be able to help with, in particular--your memory.”

“Memory?”

“Yes. Harry, we believe you may have some memory loss as a result of the accident.”

“Okay, where’s Louis? Need Louis’ help.”

“Harry--” Dr. Ahmad begins.

He can feel his heart rate pick up. Everyone is looking at him with pity, and it’s freaking him the fuck out.

“--we suspect you’ve lost quite a bit of time.”

“Coma?”

“Perhaps more than that. I’d like you to think back and if you can, tell us what the last memory you have is from before the accident,” Dr. Ahmad asks gently.

He squints his eyes closed for a moment. He can feel a headache coming on. “Louis. Farmer’s market. Cubs on. It’s Cubs’ year. Thai food. New place.”

He sees everyone exchange glances again. Did he miss something Cubs related? “Cubs, okay? Rizzo? Bryant? Ross--”

“Oh shit,” Niall says, meeting his eyes for a moment before dropping them to the floor again. “Sorry.”

“What?” Harry can hear the panic in his voice. “Louis? Louis’ not hurt?”

“Louis wasn’t in the car accident,” Gemma says quietly.

The pressure in his chest lightens a little because this cryptic meeting doesn’t have anything to do with something being wrong with Louis.

“What year is it, Harry?” Dr. Ahmad asks.

What a weird question. “2016.”

“Well, you were right about it being the Cubs’ year,” Niall mutters. He’s not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but before he can ask, his mother steps in front of everyone else.

“Harry--”

“Yeah?”

“It’s 2019.”

“What? Joke--”

“It’s not a joke, Harry,” Gemma says, her face pleading as she moves to stand at the end of his bed. He notices that she’s wearing a winter coat, long and white.

“Not summer,” he says to her dumbly.

“No, it’s December. December 2019.”

“The accident?”

“You were on your way home from a John Selley Foundation fundraiser. You were a passenger in an Uber that was hit after someone slid on the ice.”

He’s reeling from all this information, and his breath is coming out oddly in short pants. His chest feels tight. It won’t expand enough to breathe properly. All he can think of is who is missing from the room.

“Where’s Louis?” He asks them, these faces of deep concern.

“He’ll come if you want him to.”

“Gemma--” Niall interrupts softly.

“He will,” she says firmly, quelling Niall with a look. “He came before. He’ll come again if you want him to.”

“Why not? Why--” And then it hits him. He feels like his chest is on fire. “Please. No. We didn’t.”

He feels like he’s pleading with them to tell him this was all a bad dream. Impossible. What they’re implying is impossible.

“Harry, you--broke up,” Gemma whispers. She looks stricken, and then he can’t seem to breathe at all now that someone’s said it.

He gasps for air, and then Dr. Ahmad is at his side and so is Dr. Hausman. They’re trying to tell him to count and breathe as though that was going to help. Counting and breathing and focusing doesn’t seem to make Louis appear, so what good is it really?

“Harry, either follow Dr. Hausman’s instructions, or I’m going to sedate you,” Dr. Ahmad says sternly.

He looks Dr. Hausman in the eye as he tries to follow her and focus on her. He can’t afford to be sedated. Not when he’s got to find out what happened. Not when he’s got to figure out how to make Louis come back.

 

###

 

December 30, 2019

 

Louis scrapes the wide yellow shovel against the driveway as Stuart bounds around the front yard jumping into piles of snow as excited as a kid. It snowed a good few more inches last night, and it’s his turn to shovel. He doesn’t mind it so much really. A little exercise and the quiet of a snowy Midwestern morning. Well, fairly quiet if you don’t count Stuart.

He’s got to finish up and get to work, so he tries to shovel a little more quickly. He’d like to have time for a cup of tea and some breakfast. He hears the sound of a car down their quiet street, but he doesn’t bother to look up until it parks right in front of their house.

Stuart bounds over to the car, barking, and Louis instantly recognizes the Mercedes as Gemma’s. She carefully climbs from the car, and he watches her warily as she crunches through the snow in tall leather boots. She doesn’t meet his eye, instead keeping her eyes on the snow and ice until she reaches him.

“Hi, Louis.”

“Hey. Um--is everything--” He coughs into his gloves. “--okay? Or--”

She knows what he means. “Yeah, he’s okay. Well, sort of--can we go inside and talk?”

“Oh, uh yeah,” he says, unsure of why she’s come. “I have a little time before I have to go to work.”

He starts leading her towards the house with Stuart at their heels as she says, “I know. I talked to your receptionist at work. She said you’d be in at nine today.”

He almost makes a joke about how his work shouldn’t give out his whereabouts to stalkers, but it doesn’t seem like the right time or person. He supposes she pulled the “I’m-a-Selley” card with Cynthia. Or maybe she just said she’s Harry’s sister.

They walk up the steps carefully. They’re clear, but it’s still a little slippery. “I still need to leave some salt out on them, sorry.”

“Don’t be. I clearly interrupted you.”

He stamps some of the snow off his boots on the outdoor welcome mat, and Stuart shakes the majority of the snow off himself before he lets him in first. Stuart runs towards the kitchen, probably for his food and water. He holds the door open for Gemma, and lets her into the apartment.

“I was going to make tea, if you’d like some.”

Her shoulders relax and she takes a breath. “If you’re making it anyway, I’d love some.”

He puts a kettle on and fishes out some tea bags from the box he keeps on the counter. He doesn’t hear anything from Zayn’s bedroom, so he must still be asleep. Gemma says nothing as he makes the tea, and he keeps his back to her as he grabs two mugs and honey and milk. He finally turns around when he’s got nothing left to do besides wait for the water to heat up enough.

She’s sitting stiffly at his table with her coat still on. He’s not sure whether to ask to take her coat or how long she’ll be staying. She finally notices him watching her, and she offers him a wan smile.

“I guess you’re probably wondering why I’ve come to see you again,” she says hesitantly.

“Yeah--I mean, I thought about texting you to ask how he was, but I didn’t really feel like I had the right to ask that of you.”

She looks at him sharply. “You could have. I wouldn’t have minded. I’m actually here to update you on Harry’s--situation.”

“Oh. I don’t know if he’d like that actually. Not that I know what he wants, but--”

“I know my mother told you he was a bit disoriented and missing some pieces of his memory, but now we know how much time he’s missing.”

Louis feels his pulse pick up. What is she getting at? “Okay. So he still hasn’t remembered anything? Has he been told that he’s missing some time?”

“Yes. He’s been told.” She sighs heavily. “Louis, he’s missing three years.”

“Three years?” The kettle whistles, and he jumps. “Fuck.”

“The last thing he seems to remember is the two of you going to a farmer’s market and planning to watch a Cubs game at home.”

“Holy shit.” Louis slumps into the chair across from Gemma. “So he--he still thinks--”

“He knows the truth now. He knows that you’re not together anymore. He just doesn’t remember anything past that until he woke up in the hospital.”

Louis is reeling. He knew Harry had been confused before, but this is so much more than just being a little confused.

“He thought it was summer,” she says, a hitch in her voice. “He looked at me in my coat and boots, and he said, ‘Not summer.’ God, can you imagine? One second it was summer, and then he wakes up and there’s snow on the ground. And it’s not just months he’s missing, but years. He can’t even remember the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.”

“I don’t know that remembering the accident is such a great thing to remember anyway.”

“I didn’t mean the accident.”

Louis wants to ask what she means, but she stands up and walks over to the kettle. She pours them each a cup of hot water and places a tea bag in each before she walks them back to the table and sets them down with a clink.

“We have a team of people working on his recovery including Niall and a neuropsychologist, Dr. Hausman. He’s already seeing a speech pathologist and a physical medicine doctor and an ortho doctor, but we also need an occupational therapist. And we--well, Harry, actually--felt that you would be the person to know who would be best for him.”

Louis feels his fingers tremble as he grasps his mug. Harry still wants his advice. Even after knowing they aren’t together. “To be perfectly honest, Zayn Malik is probably the best OT for this.”

Gemma nods, but her face remains serious. “Is that going to be a problem though, Louis? Zayn’s name came up as a candidate for this, but I know he’s your roommate and your best friend.”

“Zayn is a professional,” he insists. “He’s the best there is, and clearly, you’re looking for the best care for Harry.”

“We are.” Gemma studies him thoughtfully for a moment. “You still care about him.”

“Of course, I care. He was the love of--” Louis chokes back down his wayward tongue. “He’s in for a long recovery. He needs the very best.”

Gemma nods. She takes a few more sips of her tea before she stands. “Thank you for your advice--and the tea.”

“You’re welcome, on both counts.”

She walks towards the door, and Louis follows her. “Louis?”

“Yes?”

She turns back to him and looks at him with pleading eyes. “Do you think you could possibly--visit him soon?”

“What?” To say he’s unprepared for this request would be an understatement. He’s floored that she’s asking him to come again, especially now that he knows the truth.

“Gemma, I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I’m sure he doesn’t want to see me.”

“Of course he wants to see you! His head is back in time three years ago. All he can think about is how much he wants to see you.” She closes her eyes for a second to regain some composure. “I know it isn’t fair to ask this of you. I do know that. It’s just that he’s my brother, and he’s injured and desperate. And I’m desperate to help him, I guess.”

Louis wishes that closing her out of the apartment would also close her request out of his mind.  He hears the desperation in her voice, but he just doesn’t know if showing up at Harry’s hospital bed is truly the right thing to do for any of them. “I’ll think about it.”

She seems to deflate a little at the non-committal answer. “He said you were going to a new place for Thai food.”

Louis stares at her.

“In his head, it’s 2016,” Gemma says, her voice thick with emotion. “The Cubs are having a good year and it’s summer and he’s going to the farmer’s market with his boyfriend. He was going to go eat Thai food. And then, he woke up, and it was all gone.”

He feels her words, each one an arrow shot straight through his heart.

“How much have you told him?” He asks.

“Not much. He didn’t exactly handle the news well.”

‘What happened?”

“He seemed to have some kind of breathing trouble, and the doctor told him to either calm down or she was going to sedate him. He did a breathing thing with Dr. Hausman to calm down.” Gemma takes a breath. “I’m sorry to lay all of this at your doorstep, Louis, but you are the only person he wants to see.”

Louis presses his hand to his mouth. “I’ll think about it. Like I said.”

He watches her go and can’t help but vividly remember what he thinks was the last day that Harry remembers. A warm, sultry August day. Laughing and eating beignets from a food truck at the market. The Cubs won. That Thai restaurant became Harry’s favorite.

It was a good day.

If only that was all he remembered from his relationship with Harry, but of course, it isn’t. He remembers all the bad days, too. All the days he stopped grabbing his camera as he walked out the door. Every day Harry walked back in, miserable after work. The cutting remarks. The drinking. The arguments that went nowhere but just circled back to where they started.

Louis remembers all those days, too.

He leaves before Zayn ever emerges from his bedroom. He takes the long way to work, along the river. When they were together, they always took this road to get across town rather than the faster expressway. Why not take the path with beauty, Harry would say. And Louis had always agreed.

He doesn’t drive this way anymore unless he’s headed downtown. It’s out of the way. Inconvenient. The beautiful parts of his life left him long ago, and he hasn’t seen the point in trying to recapture any of it himself. But maybe he needs to. Maybe he needs to stop shutting it out.

In the bitter cold of a late December morning, the river churns between the snow covered trees that line the banks and a bike path that won’t get any use until spring. His Harry would have seen the beauty in it. He would have taken a photograph that would capture something that not everyone notices. The gleam of light on the ice. A black and white shot of the fast moving water. The sun rising over the steel arches of the new bridge.

As he heads back through town towards the clinic, he tries to convince himself there’s a right and a wrong thing to do. He just needs to figure out which is which. He parks his old Corolla in it’s same familiar spot, but he pauses before he heads into the building to look across at the hospital complex beyond. This time, when he feels the gravitational pull of Harry, he knows it’s real because Harry is lying in that hospital bed waiting for him, wanting him.

And nothing feels more wrong than trying to resist gravity.

###

 

December 31, 2019

 

“Harry, I feel like you’re not really trying here,” Niall grunts as he tries to push Harry into a standing position next to the exercise mat he’d been sitting on down at the rehab gym. They’ve got the walker in front of him and a gait belt cinched around his waist. They had used the standing frame at their last session up in Harry’s room this morning and Niall had deemed Harry ready to progress to standing on his own at their afternoon session. Harry’s not so sure he agrees as his legs tremble beneath him.

“Oh, right.” Harry puts a little more muscle into trying to get his weight over his legs. He can still feel how his right side seems so much stronger than his left. His left knee keeps buckling. Niall even threatened to brace it.

Niall frowns a little at how he’s moving.

“I can do it,” he says a little defensively.

“I know you can. That’s why we’re moving on from the frame. I’m just trying to decide how much we need to work on strengthening your weaker side. I really need to consult with the neurologist on it.”

“Why? More things wrong?”

Niall sighs. “Harry, we’re all just trying to help you move forward. You’re going to get there. I know it. But to answer your question plainly, yeah there’s some stuff that’s gone wrong with you, or you wouldn’t be here with me trying to get your legs underneath you.”

Harry snorts. “Talk to--to everyone--like this?”

“Nope. You’re special.” Niall grins as Harry shifts his weight, holding onto the walker for dear life. A bit wobbly, but standing nonetheless.

Harry returns his grin.

“Big plans--tonight?” Harry had seen the date, New Year’s Eve, written on the whiteboard opposite his bed this morning.

The smile on Niall’s face grows wary. “Uh, nothing too big really.”

“Autism--Society?”

Niall flushes. “Yeah, might stop by that.”

It had been their tradition. All of them out together on New Year’s Eve at the annual Autism Society New Year’s Eve ball. Even when they’d been in college they’d attended, since everyone but Harry had clinicals with people who benefited from the society. And now they’d all go tonight--without him. He supposes they’ve been going without him for a while now.

“Thought so.”

“Hey, since standing is going well, let’s try walking a little with the parallel bars, huh? Just a few steps.”

He knows Niall is trying to head off the conversation, but he’s not the second most stubborn person Niall knows for nothing. “Fine. I walk, you talk.” He sits back down on the table with a plop and they get him transferred to a wheelchair to move across the gym to the parallel bars.  

“You writing poetry now?” Niall rolls his eyes as he gets things ready, adjusting Harry’s gait belt again. They get him standing again, much easier this time, and then Niall starts coaching him through a step.

“Maybe.” He tries to shrug but it’s hard to do that when your body is straining to walk without falling down. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know,” Harry pushes, gripping the bars tightly. “Me and Louis?”

“Christ,” Niall mutters as he stoops to assist Harry moving his left leg. “It’s not my place to interfere.”

“Why not? We’re friends,” Harry scoffs.

Red splotches creep up Niall’s neck.

“Oh.”

“Harry--” Niall begins.

“So not friends?”

“Harry, I need you to focus on your steps and not on anything else. I’m here as your therapist right now, not as your friend.”

“Not friends,” he mutters.

He gets through the rest of the session only half paying attention. He’s trying not to let it show how much it hurts that he and Niall aren’t friends anymore just because he and Louis broke up. Is this why Zayn never came to see him? Are they no longer friends either? Does he even have any friends anymore? No one else has shown up at the hospital either. What the fuck has been going on?

He grunts as Niall helps him back into the wheelchair with instructions on another bed mobility exercise to try. “See you tomorrow, Harry,” Niall says as one of the transport team members starts to wheel Harry back up to his room.

“Have fun.” He can’t help it if he sounds a little bitter. It’s not very comforting imagining his ex-boyfriend and all his former friends out having fun without him. New Year’s Eve had always been special between them. He doesn’t even remember what he used to do on New Year’s Eve before he met Louis. He must have done something, but it just wasn’t at all memorable, not without Louis.

Later, once he’s back in his room alone and wallowing deep in self-pity, his sister knocks at his door. “Hey, H. How are you today?”

She’s dressed professionally with her hair perfectly styled, and Harry knows she must have come from the headquarters’ office where she works. He really doesn’t have much desire to talk to her. It feels a little off somehow with how much she comes. He’s hasn’t felt close to her since they were kids really, but her dedication to visiting him is starting to suggest that maybe they talk more than they used to. She seems sort of--relaxed around him in a way he can’t remember her being.

“I’m--okay.”

She nods and sits down on a chair next to the window. “So how is Niall working out for you?”

He shrugs. “Fine.”

“And you’re good with Zayn as your occupational therapist? I know you wanted to go with--well, Louis’ choice, but if you feel differently now, we can find someone else.”

“What happened?” He can’t quite ask the question without it sticking in his throat.

“With asking Zayn? He’s on board. I don’t know if anyone told you or--”

“No. What happened--me and Louis?”

Gemma’s movements are so calculated, just like everything else about her, or so Harry always thought. But now, she freezes completely, taken aback by his question. “Well, I don’t actually know, Harry.”

He watches how she changes in just that one moment, from someone controlled into someone much softer. He feels like he doesn’t know her at all. Did the Harry that he became, the one who lost Louis, know her? He suspects he did. “You know--anything?”

She opens her mouth, but then hesitates. “I do,” she finally says. “You’ve never spoken to me about it though. But yes, I have an idea of why.”

“So why?”

She doesn’t answer him though. “Would you like me to tell you what I know of your life the last few years?”

“Lost--everything.” Great, he doesn’t sound pathetic at all. He must be the most pathetic man in Milltown.

“You haven’t lost all your friends,” Gemma says quickly.

He motions his arm stiffly around the empty room. “Yeah, where?”

Gemma actually laughs. He gives her a startled look. “Oh, shut up. Don’t make some comment about my laugh.”

“I wasn’t,” he denies. “Don’t remember--laughing. You--”

“Were uptight?”

“Serious.”

She nods to herself. “Sorry. It’s a little hard sometimes for me to go back three years in my head and remember how we were.”

“Different now?”

“Yeah, we are,” she says a bit sadly. “Well, we were anyway. As for your friends, H. You may not have the ones you remember, but you do have friends. You have a few golfing buddies, but mostly you have Liam.”

“Wait--golfing?”

She nods, a wry smile on her face. “Surprised?”

“I golf?”

“You do.”

“What the fuck,” he mutters more to himself than to her.

She ignores that and continues. “Liam is actually pretty anxious to see you. He’s been really worried.”

“Who is Liam?”

“Liam Payne? From high school? You two work together, so you’ve grown pretty tight again. Kind of like back when you were kids, really.”

“Liam Payne--Jesus.”

That name really brings him back in time to when he was a closeted high schooler, playing baseball and dodging the homecoming queen’s advances. Liam was always a good kid though. They’d made a good team anyway, Harry pitching and Liam catching. They’d gone to state their senior year. For being a popular guy, he hadn’t been very happy back then, pretending to be someone he wasn’t. The only time he’d felt real happiness back then was in art class.

He feels the start of a headache building behind his eyes. This is both a lot of information to process and the tip of a fucking iceberg of the memories he’s lost. He presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose.

“Harry, I know this is a lot. Probably enough talking for one day anyway. I actually came by just to ask if you needed anything from home.”

“I want my phone.” He really wants to ask for his camera, too, but he’s not ready to hear that it had exploded into a thousand pieces in the crash.

“Harry, you know your phone got broken in the accident.”

“Millionaire--buy a new one.”

Gemma stands up. “You’re right. I’ll--go get you a new phone. You probably won’t even be able to use a Z plus, but I can stop by with it later and help you use it if you need any help.”

“Z plus?”

Gemma smiles. “It’s a phone, Harry. The latest iphone model.”

“Oh.” He feels like an idiot even though he obviously couldn’t have known that.

“Well, I’ll go get it now actually, and then I’ll be back later if I can. As long as there’s nothing pressing at work, I should be able to go and figure things out and be back in an hour or two, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” he says as Gemma rises from the chair. “Thanks.”

“No problem, H.”

When she leaves, someone comes in with a tray of food for lunch. He sighs and attempts to eat it even though it’s completely bland and disgusting. Just because he’s got injuries doesn’t mean his taste buds suddenly stopped working. He’s still clumsy with eating, but he waves the person away who’d come with the food. He only eats the pudding, but manages to spill some when he jostles the tray.

The girl returns for the tray. “Um, Mr. Styles? You really need to eat. They keep track of everything around here, you know.”

He frowns at her, and she winces. “No. It’s shit.”

As soon as she scurries away, he regrets snapping at her. It’s not her fault. She was actually trying to be nice and give him a heads up. So apparently, he’s the worst boyfriend, the worst friend, and now the worst patient. Just fucking great.

His stomach rumbles, and he’s reduced to watching daytime talk shows while he waits for his sister. He should have told her to run home and get his iPad or something for him before she went to get him a phone.

She finally returns with a bright smile on her face. “Got your phone!” She holds up a bag and waves it around.

He tries to return her smile. “Thanks.”

“Do you want some help with how to use it? The guy at the store said that he was able to transfer things from the cloud, so you should have most of your stuff on it.”

He opens up the bag and picks up the oddly large phone. “It’s big.” Are all the phones this big now? It isn’t even going to fit in his pocket.

Her nose crinkles in thought. “I guess they were probably smaller in 2016, but yeah, they just keep getting bigger it seems.”

He holds the bulky thing in his hand and realizes there’s a passcode on it.

“Oh, I had him do a passcode until you got it. You can reset it as a fingerprint or facial recognition scan.”

“Ooookay.”

“The passcode is just 111111 right now.”

He punches it in and peers at the screen. Some of the apps look familiar, but some don’t. “Huh.”

“Well, I can stay if you want or--”

“I need lunch. It’s shit--here--scared girl--with food.”

Gemma sighs. “Great.”

“I’ll say--sorry--sorry later.”

Gemma stands up. “Where do you want food from? I cleared my afternoon, so I can go get you whatever you want. I could probably have something delivered here, but if you don’t mind being on your own, I could go pick something up and stop by your condo for anything you want from there. I know no one has been forthcoming about bringing you anything.”

“Laptop--iPad.” A thought occurs to him that they’re likely completely different than the ones he remembers. “Different--ones?”

Gemma gives him a sympathetic look. “I’m sure you’ve got newer stuff than from 2016.”

“Right.” He feels suddenly tired. “Thai food--Lemon--grass. Lemongrass”

She looks surprised. “I thought your favorite place for Thai was Rainbow Thai Cafe.”

“New--place?” He asks before realizing. “Not new.”

“Um. Not really new, no. Guess you hadn’t tried it before--yeah.”

“Last memory,” he says, remembering the last glorious day that his memories stop at. “That’s where.”

He wonders why his brain decided to stop there at that moment. It wasn’t a particularly memorable day. Just one of many Saturdays that looked like any other. But it was a happy day. He wonders if that’s the last truly happy day his brain could think of. When did it all start to go wrong anyway?

“Well, I’ll call something into Lemongrass and go grab it. It’s right by your condo anyway.”

He nods. Something tugs at him as important that she said earlier.

“I work with Liam?”

Gemma turns back from the doorway. “You work together at the foundation. I guess no one’s mentioned that yet.”

Harry’s heart slams against his chest. “I work for Selley.”

He can see the look of concern on her face as she walks back across the room to his bed. “Yes, you work for John Selley now. It was--rough going at first. But I think you really like what you do now. For the most part anyway. You’re in charge of the foundation now. You do a lot of good, Harry.”

He feels like he might need that sedation just now. How the fuck did he end up working for his family? “I’m fine. Just hungry.”

She doesn’t seem to believe him, but she leaves anyway. He’s got a good idea of when his life started to go wrong now. What the hell made him want to start working for his family? He knows only something disastrous could have made that palatable to him. He has a feeling he knows exactly who found a way to coerce him into it.

He tries to do the breathing exercises that Dr. Hausman taught him because he could use some calm at the moment. It helps a little. But then there’s the problem of his phone.

He stares at it as though it’s a bomb. He’s been relentlessly hounding people for it, but now that it’s here, he’s afraid to look through it. What will he find? Will it help him remember? Every new piece of information he gets about himself just makes him want to remember what happened less. Maybe he isn’t ready to go through his phone just yet.

He turns the tv back on to watch Ellen. It’s fairly mind numbing as he waits for Gemma to return. But then, there’s a commercial that twists his stomach into knots. It’s just a cheesy Kay’s Jewelry commercial. The happy couple whirling around in soft light, a ring on a finger, but it still stabs a dagger through his heart.

New Year’s Eve. What a mind fuck.

He’d let himself think about how Louis and their friends would be off having fun tonight, but that certainly isn’t the only reason he feels sick about tonight. He wonders what happened to the ring. Is it still there in his sock drawer? Does he ever take it out and look at it and wonder how things could have ended up like this? Or did he throw it into the river when they broke up never to be seen again beneath the waves?

He knows New Year’s Eve was his plan. In his stupid fucked up head, he’s waiting for a few more months to propose to Louis on New Year’s Eve. He’d thought it was symbolic, ending one chapter and beginning a new one with Louis as his fiance. He’d even thought maybe they’d be married the next New Year’s Eve. A shimmering, silver fantasy of a wedding had filled his mind. God, he doesn’t even know if he proposed. Maybe that happened. Maybe Louis is the one who flung the ring into the river.

A tear slides down his cheek, and he wipes it away roughly. He has no idea how bad of terms they’ve ended up on, but if he goes by the reactions of Niall and the absence of Zayn, he’d guess it must have been pretty bad.

He lays his head back on the pillow. Maybe sleep will find him, and he can have a moment of peace. Or even better, maybe he can dream about what his life was before it all went to hell. Is Louis ever going to show up again to visit him?

“Happy New Year’s, Lou,” he whispers as he closes his eyes.

 

###

 

“They did a nice job,” Louis says as he enters the banquet room of the convention center with Zayn at his side. The room is decorated with a multitude of shining silver candles and swaths of shimmering fabric over the tables. There’s a large projection on one side that shows the Milltown Autism Society’s logo and the area next to the hors d'oeuvres has large silver balloons proclaiming 2020.

The room is already fairly crowded although it’s only nine o’clock. Three more hours to go before midnight, and then the party will last at least an hour or two more. He sees some familiar faces in the crowd, therapists and benefactors of the Society and therefore, the clinic. He notices there’s a large thank you banner to the John Selley Foundation. He quickly casts his eyes away from it.

They pick up some silly party hats and noisemakers off an entrance table and try to find their seats before going to mingle with the other fundraiser guests. He starts to pick out some of the therapists from his clinic as well as some of the Society’s board members with whom he’s friendly.

He hears a low whistle just as they find their seats.

“You clean up nice, Lou!” Niall says, his eyes twinkling. “I like when you do that fancy thing you do with your hair.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he can’t help but grin a little at the compliment. “Yeah, I better not wear the hat or I’ll mess it up.”

“I doubt anyone’s going to be looking at his hair when he’s wearing those pants.” Zayn waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Shut up,” Louis laughs.

Niall walks around him in a circle, eying him. “Hmm...yeah, I see your point. This reminds me that I need to up my squats game.”

“Not fair really that Lou’s is all natural,” Zayn says as he gives Louis a playful slap on the ass.

“Hey, now, don’t damage the goods.”

Zayn puts his hands up. “Would never.”

“So who’s all here, Ni?” Louis asks as he looks around the dimly lit room.

“Eh, the usual. I talked to Cynthia and her husband. I saw Eve and Michelle at the bar.” Louis turns towards the bar and sees two of the OTs from his clinic still there sipping martinis. “And I walked in with Angie and Greg. Which by the way, you think they’re hooking up?”

“Nah,” Louis says, looking around the room for Niall’s coworkers. “I’m almost sure Angie’s into Kaila.”

“Really?” Niall says, considering this piece of information. “Nice.”

“I thought Greg was hooking up with Emily, but he’s currently staring at Louis’ ass so now I’m not so sure.” Zayn shrugs.

Louis turns around and does indeed catch Greg checking out his ass. Interesting. Well, his ass does look pretty good in these dress pants. A slim fitted pant on him shows off his assets pretty well if he does say so himself.

He looks back at their group, smugly, and says, “Well, let’s go get a drink, and I’ll give Greg a little show.”

He starts sauntering away towards the bar, swinging his hips just a little too much, to the sound of Niall’s cackles as he and Zayn follow him. They’re all giggling by the time they get to the bar and order a round of drinks, chatting with Eve and Michelle about whether or not Kaila’s interested in Angie.

“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaila’s got a wedding Pinterest board she hopes to put to good use,” Eve says with a sly smile.

They all ooooooh in response.

“How long they been together then?” Zayn asks.

“I don’t know how long they’ve officially been together, but I started thinking something was going on between them around Valentine’s Day.”

Louis scans the crowd looking for the people in question and spots them talking at a table alone. He must not be the only one looking because Angie seems to notice and flicks them off. They all turn back to each other and laugh.

Louis finishes his gin and tonic and decides to go grab something to eat. He fills a small plate with some things wrapped in bacon that he thinks might be dates and some small toasts with some kind of spread.

“If you haven’t tried the chocolate strawberries, you really should. I think they’re from Lampariello’s.” He turns towards the sound of the voice to his left and his eyes meet a pair of pale blue ones watching him with a twinkle in the soft light.

“Well, if they’re from Lampa’s, I guess I have to.”

The man smiles, and Louis gives him one in return. He’s quite handsome actually, dark blonde hair curled into a frame around his face and stubble that seems suggestive somehow.

The man sticks out a hand. “I’m Jake. Jake Olson.”

“Louis Tomlinson,” Louis says as he shakes his hand.

“Tomlinson? The therapist?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“My dad’s on the board, Jerry Olson. He thinks very highly of you, you know.”

“Oh, well, thanks. Your dad really helps us a lot at the clinic I work at, so I think pretty highly of him, too.”

Jake motions towards a table. “Hey, can I pick your brain about something?”

Louis glances in the direction of his friends and sees them all staring. He rolls his eyes, and Niall flashes him a thumbs up sign. “Sure. My friends are still at the bar anyway.”

He sits at a table with Jake who looks thrilled that Louis has agreed to sit and talk to him. It’s a bit odd really. He’s always been able to pick up when men were interested in him, but for so long he had a reason not to encourage them. Now, it’s only himself who stands in the way.

“So what did you want to talk to me about?” Louis asks.

Jake looks at him, his pale eyes shimmer a bit in the candlelight. “Sorry, forgot for a second. Your eyes are really beautiful, which I’m sure you’ve heard a million times before, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”

Louis gives him a small smile. “Thanks. I get a compliment on them from time to time.”

“I’m sure you’re just being modest,” Jake says, sitting back in his chair and looking directly into Louis’ face. “You’re gorgeous, so I hope whoever you’re seeing tells you at least ten times a day.”

Louis huffs out a laugh at this blatant flirting and attempt to find out his relationship status. “Well, if I was seeing anyone, I guess I’d enjoy that maybe.”

“So you’re gorgeous, modest, and you spend your free time volunteering for the Autism Society. I can’t believe my good luck that you’re single right now. I did want to talk to you though about more than you being beautiful. I’ve been thinking about becoming more involved with the Autism Society myself.  But maybe we could talk while we dance?”

Part of Louis just wants to be back with his friends at the bar, but this is the first time in a while that he’s met someone that seems like the right kind of person for him. He simply isn’t interested in one night stands or casual flings. Jake seems a little different maybe. He knows Jake’s dad and likes him a lot. Maybe Jake is a good guy, too.

He let’s Jake lead him out onto the dance floor. The music is too fast and blares too loudly to talk much through it, but he lets Jake touch his waist and his hips as they move to the beat. It’s been so long since he’s let someone touch him. It feels foreign and not altogether pleasant, but he forces himself to keep going. It’s not that bad, he thinks.

When a slower song begins to play, Jake draws him in a bit closer. It doesn’t feel right to be in a stranger’s arms, but at least they can speak and be heard.

“So you probably know my dad works for John Selley.”

Louis tries not to stiffen in his arms. This is something he thought he’d get used to eventually. Everyone works for John Selley. “Yes, he’s quite high up, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he does alright,” Jake smiles. “I just got hired on as an auditor.”

“Oh, that’s--great!” He hopes Jake can’t hear the false sincerity in his voice. Jake must not detect anything amiss in his tone because he begins to tell Louis all about the travel he does for his job and how he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. Apparently doing charity work is part of his plans to rise through the ranks like his dad.

He knows they just met, but he can’t help but let that rankle a little. As though Louis’ life’s work is just a way for someone to look good and score points with their boss. He knows Jake’s dad doesn’t feel that way at all, but he can’t help but feel like that’s what Jake’s aim is. He tries to let it go. He doesn’t know this guy, maybe he’s great, but he can feel the bitterness rise up in his throat as he hears a different voice sneering that his job can’t pay for a penthouse condo and envisioning himself as a pretty accessory on a rich man’s arm.

He looks across the room to see Niall still holding court at the bar, but Zayn is nowhere to be seen. Probably out having a smoke. He extricates himself from Jake’s arms at the end of the song.

“I’m going to go check on one of my friends. It was nice meeting you, Jake.”

Jake looks disappointed for a moment, but he recovers quickly. “You, too, Louis. Would you mind if I texted you sometime? I could get your number from my dad if that’s okay.”

Louis smiles and nods before he turns and heads towards the exit. He walks out of the venue’s back exit and wedges a doorstop under it to keep the door from locking behind him. He looks around for  Zayn, but all he sees is a bit of a hill that leads down to the river. He lowers himself to the concrete and leans against the building and just watches the dark waves for a while. The cold seeps through his clothing fairly quickly, and he knows he should go back to the party.

Before he can get up, Niall appears through the door. “Thought I might find you here.”

“Yeah, was looking for Zayn. Thought he’d come out for a smoke maybe.”

Niall plops down next to him. “Nah. He’s all over some dude he met tonight.”

“Really?” Louis says, surprised. “Interesting. Who was it?”

“No clue. He looks sort of familiar though. Can’t think of where I’ve seen him before though.” Niall shrugs. “So what’s the story on your guy?”

Louis snorts. “Not my guy. He’s Jerry Olson’s son though.”

“Niceeeee, Tommo! You always get the fancy ones, don’t you? Shit, I didn’t mean that like how it sounded. Really, it just came out--”

“Niall. It’s fine.”

“Sorry.”

“I said it’s fine.” He knows Niall didn’t mean anything by it, even if it stung a little.

They stare at the river, shivering a bit now. They’re at least protected from the wind a bit here though.

Niall finally breaks the silence. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I just--feel a little guilty, I guess.” As soon as he says the words, he knows they’re true, even though he isn’t sure where they came from.

“What do you have to feel guilty about?”

“Well, I’m off having fun at a party when Harry’s stuck in the hospital.”

Niall stands up and sticks out a hand to help him up. “Doesn’t really look like you’re having a lot of fun out here, Lou.”

“Yeah, not really.”

“You know, Harry isn’t your responsibility. Not anymore. If you want to go back inside and chat up Jerry Olson’s hot son, that’s entirely your right. I mean, I know you’re not a one night stand kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go get coffee with him sometime.”

“It doesn’t feel that way though.”

“What doesn’t?”

“It doesn’t feel like I have the right to do that while Harry still thinks we’re--you know--together.”

“He knows you’re not together, Lou. Technically anyway. I know to him it still feels like--” Niall closes his lips tightly.

“Did Harry say something to you about me?” His heart races a little at the thought.

“He wanted to know what happened between you two. I didn’t say anything though. I told him I was there as his therapist and to focus on his therapy.”

“I bet he loved not getting an answer.”

Niall laughs as he holds the door open for him. “I may have mentioned he was the second most stubborn person I know.”

Louis nods his head at the implication that he’s the most stubborn person Niall knows as they walk back towards the party. Sometimes, he still stares at the ceiling and wonders how he ever let Harry go, and sometimes he still feels like he hasn’t.




Chapter Text

 

January 1, 2020

 

Louis feels the bed sink down next to him, but he doesn’t open his eyes. If he opens them, the headache he can feel behind them will really burst his head right open. His mouth is so dry and disgusting though. He should really get up and drink some water and take some Advil to at least attempt to head off this hangover. He rolls over onto his back and feels the press of the body next to him, and then the hot breath panting in his ear just before a sloppy lick across his cheek.

“Ugh. Nothing like dog breath in the morning to jolt you awake,” he mutters as he opens one eye to see Stuart’s happy face. “You know you’re not supposed to sleep in here.”

Stuart nuzzles his cold, wet nose into his neck, making him yelp. “Fine, fine. I’ll get up.”

With a multitude of groans, he sits up and swings his legs off the bed. His stomach doesn’t seem to completely follow him, and when it tries to right itself, he nearly pukes right there. He takes a deep breath though, and it passes for the moment. He stumbles into the bathroom to take a piss and rinse his mouth out a bit.  

He glances in the mirror and quickly looks away again. A bit rough there. His eyes are bleary and puffy underneath, his hair sticking up in every direction. He resists the urge to look back at the reflection.

Instead, he heads into the kitchen and almost calls out to Zayn to see if he wants any coffee or tea, but then he remembers that Zayn isn’t here. A sly smile crosses his face as he remembers him sneaking off with that cute guy from the party. That guy had looked vaguely familiar, but Louis still can’t quite place where he’s ever met him or seen him.

He makes a cup of coffee and drinks it quickly even though it’s a bit too hot and burns his tongue a little. Stuart finally gets fed up enough to bring him his leash and lay it on his lap.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it,” he laughs. “I’m drinking it as fast as I can.”

He feels slightly better, but he wishes he had time for a real breakfast before heading out into the cold. He grabs a protein bar instead and goes to get his coat. “Come on, Stuart. Let’s just do a quick walk, okay? I’d really like to make something greasy for breakfast.”

They both hop down the steps quickly and out into the cold morning. He watches his breath come out in white puffs until he wraps his scarf more firmly around his mouth and nose.

“Where to, Stu?” He asks, his voice a bit muffled. Stuart heads down the sidewalk towards the park. Louis doesn’t intend to go much further than that though. It’s pretty bitterly cold out and hangovers don’t really go well with long walks.

The snow is no longer recent enough to look pretty, the streets slushy with salt and sand. The sidewalks are all clear though, which is a plus. When they get to the park, they walk around the fenced edges peering in at the skeletal metal bars and quiet red slides. The swings sit frozen, and the merry go round barely peeks through a mound of snow.

He wishes for something to think about other than what day it is. He thought about Harry enough last night if his hangover is anything to go by, so he tries to not let his mind go there. Just as he and Stuart reach home, snow has begun to fall again, and he can’t help but think he’d like to see it cover everything. Give everything a fresh start. He wishes it could do the same for him. He could use a fresh start.

Just as he stomps his boots on the welcome mat, his phone buzzes in his pocket, but he waits to check it until they’re in the house. He takes off his gloves and stuffs them in the pocket of his coat and hangs it in the closet before fishing his phone out of the pocket of his sweatpants. It’s just Zayn.

Heading to my parents for lunch

Straight from a hook up to your parents? Nice ;)

Yeah well maybe you should try it sometime

Go straight from a booty call to my mom’s? No thanks :P

The phone rings in his hand. He can hear Zayn’s turn signal on in the background.

“Maybe you should try hooking up at all or like go on a date sometime, fuck’s sake you live like a monk.”

“Happy New Year to you, too, Zayn.”

“I’m just saying.”

“I don’t live like a monk,” he says as he flops down on the couch. “I went out for coffee with that one guy my grandma set me up with.”

Zayn audibly snorts. “That barely counts. It was months ago, and you never saw him again.”

“All he talked about was Pokemon,” he mumbles.

“Exactly. So are you going to let Pokemon addicts that your grandma sets you up with keep you from ever dating again or what?”

He lets himself sink sideways onto the couch. “I don’t know if I’m really ready.”

“Lou--” Zayn sounds exasperated.

“What?”

“It’s been three years. Don’t you think it’s time?”

“Time for what?”

“Time to move on.”

“You know I hooked up with someone last New Year’s.” He cringes just thinking about it.

“Yeah, and you never told me who it was, so I’m guessing he wasn’t so great.”

He closes his eyes. “It was--just--not important.”

“Exactly, and that was an entire year ago,” Zayn says insistently.

“Yeah, well, I was with Harry for six years, so doesn’t that mean I get at least that long to get over him?” God, he sounds pathetic. He must be the most pathetic man in Milltown.

“God, Lou,” Zayn mutters. “Isn’t it like half the length of the relationship or something? I think they figured it out on How I Met Your Mother once.”

“I don’t know,” Louis groans. “Anyway, it’s kind of hard to forget him when he’s lying in a hospital bed and can’t remember we broke up, and his sister keeps showing up at my door asking me to come see him.”

Zayn sighs. “I suppose your best friends being his therapists doesn’t exactly help.”

“It’s okay. Really. It’s not like I could forget him anyway.”

“There’s a difference between forgetting him and getting over him, Lou. I’m asking you to try to move forward, not forget he exists.”

Louis doesn’t respond.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, fine. Well, as fine as I can be with a hangover. When will you be back?”

“Late this afternoon, unless you need me--”

“No. I’m fine. Go see your family.”

He thinks about showing up at his own mom’s, but he decides against it. He’s not in the mood to tell her everything that’s wrong today. The holidays probably kept her from probing too deeply, but she knows he’s been visiting Harry. But that’s the good thing about his mom; she’ll wait until he’s ready to talk about it.

He spends the afternoon watching a Harry Potter marathon on tv, but he can’t shake the unsettled feeling in his gut. It’s not like he hasn’t thought about the things Zayn said today a thousand times before, but he also hasn’t had to think about getting over Harry while knowing that he still cares this much.

The absolute torture of not knowing if Harry would live or die or if he would ever wake up has  definitely been enough to realize he isn’t anywhere near over him. He tries to tell himself that it’s normal he’s concerned, that Harry had once meant a lot to him. But the truth is he found he’s terrified at the possibility that he might have to live in a world without Harry in it. The truth is that Harry had once meant everything to him, and he isn’t entirely sure how to live like he isn’t.

Fuck. Zayn is right. He needs to get laid, except that’s not really how Louis does things. He should probably go on a date once in a while though. How is spending all his time with his dog going to help him get over Harry? He’s certainly never going to forget Harry, but maybe someday he can move on. It’s just not that simple though. He just doesn’t have much interest in anyone physically until he actually knows them.

At some point, Harry is probably going to remember those forgotten years. He’ll remember all the arguments, all the nights he chose to spend drinking with his friends instead of being home with Louis. He’ll remember all his great reasons for giving up on photography, for giving up on them. It won’t matter anymore that he had an accident that made him forget all that for a while.

And yet, a deep sense of wrongness floods him at the thought that he’s sat here on the couch while Harry lies in a hospital across town. Harry’s always had this kind of hold on him, he tells himself as he stands up and puts his coat on. His car is horribly cold, and yet he doesn’t mind the drive so much. When he arrives and parks his car, he looks up at the hospital and tells himself that maybe this isn’t the right thing for himself, but it’s the right thing for Harry, at least for now.

He knows the Harry who is waiting for him up there. That’s the Harry who was everything to him, and he deserves Louis’ compassion.

The sun sits low in the sky and casts an orange glow against the glass of the hospital windows as Louis slowly walks towards the building and in through the automatic doors. He makes his way to the seventh floor slowly and down the corridor to the nurse’s station.

He clears his throat to get her attention. “Hi, I’m looking for Harry Styles’ room.”

The nurse looks at him surprised. “Oh, I’m sorry, but his visitors are restricted to family--”

Louis almost feels relieved. He tried his best. He did. He’s here, but he wasn’t allowed in. Nothing he could do.

“--unless you happen to be Louis Tomlinson?”

His heart nearly drops to the floor. “What?”

“Are you Louis Tomlinson?”

“Well--yes.”

“Great! Could I see your driver’s license or ID, please?” She smiles at him broadly, inspecting the ID he provides for validation. “His list just says only family and Louis Tomlinson. Can you sign in here, and I’ll give you a visitor’s sticker?”

He signs in as he tries not to panic as she gives him a visitor sticker that he slaps onto the hoodie he’s wearing beneath his coat. He looks down for a moment and wishes he’d actually worn something nicer. Not that it matters. It shouldn’t matter what he’s wearing. He’s only here to see how Harry’s doing and hopefully provide a little comfort.

He’s starting to wonder if this is a terrible idea.

He knocks quietly and hears Harry’s voice respond. “Come in.”

The utterly familiar voice causes his traitorous heart to leap at the sound, and he pauses for a moment to collect himself. He’s got to keep himself together. He can’t fall apart so quickly.

He opens the door wide and tries to walk in calmly, but Harry looks up to see who it is and drops the phone he’s holding. It falls off the bed and clatters to the floor. “Hey.”

“Hi, Harry.” He’s proud of how steady he keeps his voice as he walks over to pick up the phone, already closer to Harry than he intended to come. All the composure he’d tried to fortify himself with instantly crumbles when he looks at the phone screen.

It’s a photograph of them.

Harry must have been looking through his photos, and the one that stares up at him from the screen is of the two of them sitting on Harry’s boat. He’s pretty sure he remembers Niall taking that photo. They’re both squinting in the sunlight that gleams across the water, smiles on their faces and their arms wrapped around each other.

He looks up then at Harry’s flushed face. He obviously knows what photo is on the screen. Great, he’s been in the room for thirty seconds and already everything is horribly awkward.

“Um--iCloud,” Harry says, embarrassment written across his face. “Saved my photos.”

“H--you--Harry, you don’t have have to explain. Really. I just came to see how you were doing. Thought maybe it would be okay if I checked in with you.”

“How I’m doing?” He gives a hollow laugh that makes Louis stiffen. “Great. Alive.”

Louis’s hands tighten to fists in his pocket. If they were together, Louis would have been here every second Harry was in that coma. He would have been here when Harry woke up and was distressed. He would have been here when they worked out a plan for his recovery. Hell, if they were still together, he would probably have been here as Harry’s husband. He chokes a bit on this thought and clears his throat.

“I hear you’re getting the best PT and OT the world has to offer,” he says finally.

“Zayn told you?”

“Uh, no. Your sister did actually. They can’t really discuss patients with me...”

Harry snorts. “You’re gossips.”

They both laugh before they remember that maybe they shouldn’t be, and the laughter dies an early death.

Harry looks down at his phone, and Louis watches his thumb scroll in large swaths through the photos in it. His eyebrows furrow together, and his lips curl into a frown. “Cut my hair?”

“Um, yes?” He says surprised. “I mean, it’s cut right now--”

“Before the--accident? Why?”

He looks so honestly devastated that Louis doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know why Harry cut his hair, but his first thought is that he did it because he knew how much Louis had loved it. “I don’t know.”

Harry’s eyes shoot to his, searching them for the truth. “After the breakup?”

“Um, yeah. After that,” he replies helplessly.

“Bad one, yeah?” Harry whispers, hurt filling his eyes.

Louis wants to run away and never look back. In all the times they argued and even the last time when Louis finally walked out the door, Harry had never looked at him like this. Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t even have been able to leave.

“I messed up?” Harry asks, hoarsely. “What happened? We were happy.”

He can’t stay here. He can’t. He fumbles backwards towards the door. “Harry, I--I don’t think this is a good time to talk about it. When you’re feeling better--more recovered--or maybe you’ll just remember.”

“What happened?” Harry asks in his most stubborn tone.

“Not tonight Harry, okay?”

“When?”

“I’ll come back,” Louis says, instantly regretting his loose tongue.

“Promise?”

Louis tries not to think about all the broken promises between them, and then he says, “I promise.”

 

###

 

January 2, 2020

 

Harry scrolls through the photos on his phone as he waits for his first occupational therapy session. There are thousands of photos, so many of which he distinctly remembers. It appears that he hasn’t deleted many of the photos from the time he and Louis were together. They’re all still here, their happiness frozen in time.

He wonders if it was a glitch of some kind. Maybe they all somehow got stored in the cloud even though he had deleted them off his phone because surely he wasn’t still walking around with a phone filled with photos of his ex-boyfriend from three years ago. Was he?

He stares at the photo of them on his boat, the one that Louis caught him looking at yesterday. Is it as hard for Louis to look at their smiles as it is for him? He snorts. Of course it isn’t. Louis has had years to get over him. He lets out a deep breath and slumps back against the raised bed. To be fair, he’s also had years to get over Louis. Maybe he is over him and just can’t remember. Somehow that doesn’t make him feel any better.

He thought it would help to have Louis come see him, but if anything, he’s got more questions now than answers. Louis did promise to come back, but he isn’t sure if he will. He’d seemed so rattled by Harry’s questions. Maybe he needs to find answers elsewhere.

A knock at the door precedes Zayn entering the room, his eyes sharply finding Harry’s before scanning him from head to foot. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but it’s a bit of a jolt to see him looking at him with a wary look in his eyes. It’s not dissimilar to the one Niall gives him, calculating and professional. It’s not what he remembers them being like with him.

He wonders if it will ever get easier. If he never regains his memory, will he just eventually grow used to their careful looks? Hell, they’ll both probably disappear as soon as he can get out of the hospital, and he’s no longer their concern anymore.

“Hi,” Zayn says, setting down his laptop on the counter. “I guess you know why I’m here?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Water skiing?”

Zayn actually smiles a little. “A little cold for that, don’t you think?” He glances out the window at what Harry knows is a blanket of white.

Harry shrugs his right shoulder. “Not been outside.”

“Right.” Zayn actually looks a little sympathetic at this. “Well, I’m here to help you work on that actually. Today is just going to be an evaluation, and then we can decide on some goals to better plan your recovery process.”

“You live with Louis?”

Zayn’s eyebrows shoot up as his fingers freeze mid-way through opening his laptop. “I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”

“It is.”

Zayn looks at him even more curiously but doesn’t answer. “I need you to answer some questions for me first, so we can figure out what we need to work on. I can see your mobility is already better than I expected. As is your speech.”

Harry shrugs. Big deal, so he can transfer himself from his bed to his wheelchair to take a piss on his own. Doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment to him no matter how many times Niall gets excited about it. He’ll feel better once he can get himself out of this hospital.

Zayn runs through a checklist of some sort asking about work and communication and his mood and memory. He does a small series of physical tests to evaluate Harry’s ability to use his hands as well and notes things on his laptop.

“I’m actually quite pleased with some of your cognitive results, considering the injuries you have,” Zayn says as he clicks through things on his laptop. “You’re doing well with your speech pathologist and making good gains. I’ll discuss everything with your neurologist of course.”

“Louis came here. To visit.” He can see Zayn jolt back from his professional demeanor for a moment.

“Harry, I think we should go over your goals for treatment,” Zayn says, ignoring his question.

“Everything’s great.”

“Yeah, that’s not what I said,” Zayn explains patiently. “I said, I was pleased with some of your cognitive results. We still need to work on a number of things. We need to also discuss what your own recovery goals are, so that we can make sure we’re addressing those as well.”

Harry glares at him. What the fuck does he think his goal would be? “Get out of here. Get my life back. Lost everything.”

Zayn frowns. “Has no one told you about how the accident--”

“Not the accident.”

“Oh. So do you mean--”

Harry interrupts him. “Working for Selley. Lost Louis. Lost friends.”

“Fucking hell,” Zayn drops all pretense of just being his OT and sinks onto the foot of the bed, scrubbing a hand over his face.

Harry’s lips curl into a self-deprecating smile. “No one will tell me.”

“I thought you said Louis came to see you.”

“Didn’t talk--not about that. Did he talk--to you? About me?”

Zayn flushes. “We’re still roommates, if that’s what you’re asking again. But I’ve been a little busy the last few days. Anyway, we should talk about your goals.”

Harry pretends to think about it, a finger to his chin. “One: Find out how--I lost Louis. Get him back.”

Zayn sighs and looks at the ceiling as though asking a higher power for strength. He speaks aloud as he types, “Client-centered goal setting to improve self-awareness and interpersonal communication. Anything else?

Harry stares him down. “Goal two: Punch everyone--won’t help--with first goal.”

Zayn’s jaw clenches. “Physical activity to improve depression and anger. Next?”

“Remember how I lost everything--lost Louis.”

“Restorative and compensatory strategies to improve memory recall.” Zayn says in a clipped tone and then claps the laptop shut. “That’s probably enough for today.”

He can tell beneath Zayn’s cool surface that he’s gotten to him. Not everyone would be able to tell, but Harry knows Zayn well enough to know that he’s hanging on to his temper by a thread. What the fuck did he do in the past that has Zayn acting like this? The Zayn he remembers would have hugged him when he came in the room. He would have come as his friend and talked about art to take his mind off all his problems, not this clinical bullshit.

“I’m going to be scheduling two hour sessions.”

He can tell by the look on Zayn’s face that he seems to already regret this schedule. “Excuse to see me?”

Zayn lets out a huff of a laugh that he quickly stifles. “See you on Monday, Styles.”

“See you.”

He watches Zayn go reluctantly. Even though he wasn’t the best company in the world, it was still better than nothing. He realizes Zayn never did really answer his questions. The only thing he does know now is that he and Louis live together. He’s not sure that it’s smart to put too much hope on that, but at least Louis isn’t living with a boyfriend or something. He’s got to cling to the smallest of things for now.

He wishes a tiny bit that he’d paid more attention to the things Zayn was talking about therapy wise. What kind of physical activity can he even really do to combat his ‘depression and anger’ as Zayn put it? He hadn’t really thought of himself as depressed or angry, but fuck if that doesn’t describe exactly how he’s been feeling. Something to discuss with Dr. Hausman. It was apparent he needed a psychologist as part of his treatment. He suspects he needed one long before he ever got in a car accident.

All this shit with the accident, all the therapy and his body not working properly is frustrating for sure, and not being able to remember the last three years of his life definitely adds to his frustration. But nothing is more frustrating than to feel like in those years he can’t remember, he became a person he doesn’t recognize. He became a person who lost everything, and that feels like it’s much more worthy of needing a psychologist than anything else he’s been going through. He’ll have to make sure to ask for a recommendation for a therapist when he leaves this place.

He sighs and remembers that before Zayn came in, he’d been looking at photos in his phone again, thinking maybe they’d jog some errant memory or something. He scrolls back to his most recent photos and stares at the man in some of the photos. He’d been so shocked when he realized he had actually been responsible for cutting off his own hair. It hadn’t even occurred to him that he could have done it himself.

It feels like he doesn’t know this man in the photos. Selfies at a golf course? Really? He looks at the man in the photos and shudders. There are a lot of golf course photos. After a while he realizes there’s one man who keeps showing up in the photos. At first glance he’s unfamiliar, but then something pricks at the back of his mind. He zooms in on the man’s face and beneath the scruff and tidy haircut he suddenly recognizes him. “Liam?”

He lets out a loud cackle that hopefully no one hears. It’s Liam. It is. Looking much more sophisticated in his golf pants and polo shirt than he did as a high school catcher in his baseball uniform. He looks through the photos that include him again, remembering what his sister had said. He and Liam are pretty close now. Had she said he had wanted to visit? Maybe that would help him remember something, too, to have someone from the past he doesn’t remember come to talk with him. Might be nice to have someone visit who doesn’t act like he’s some pariah, too.

He tries to remember what else his sister has said to him. It’s difficult to remember. He’s been pretty emotional and not up to listening to much of anything she says that doesn’t have to do with Louis. He flicks through a few more photos. He’s smiling in some of the more recent ones with Liam.

There’s one that’s clearly taken at the Great River Brewing Company. He knows that bar is fairly close to the downtown offices of John Selley & Company. Is that where he works? He has no clue where the Foundation is located. He’s never bothered himself with anything Selley related, so he’s not sure. And hadn’t Gemma said he and Liam worked together?

There are photos of him dressed in tuxedos and suits, with locally famous faces and some actually famous ones. He looks closely at his own face and can see that there’s something not quite right with his smile. No, it’s his eyes. They don’t--look right. His eyes look out blankly to the camera. It’s a bit creepy to be honest. He looks back at the ones with Liam and compares. He definitely doesn’t look as dead inside with these of him golfing. What a mind fuck. Since when does he like to golf?

He goes back a little further where there seems to be a large gap in time. Maybe those are all photos he deleted. He wonders what they all were. He seems to have left so many photos of his life with Louis, so what could possibly be on here that he didn’t want to see anymore?

Maybe it’s of the man who lost him. He has a feeling he wouldn’t like to know that man anyway. He doesn’t have much choice though, not if he wants to regain any of what he’s lost. He’s going to either have to remember what the fuck went on or find out what happened and find some way to fix it. Maybe his family and his former friends and boyfriend aren’t the place to find those answers.

He taps out of photos and onto a text screen. He finds a conversation with Gemma that he doesn’t remember having and texts, tell Liam he can visit anytime. He tosses his phone to the side, but then he has a thought. He hadn’t thought to check old text conversations, so consumed by looking through the photos on his phone. Maybe they have more clues than the photographs do.

He picks the phone back up.

 

###

 

Louis puts his feet up on the coffee table, and Stuart rests his head in his lap. “You’re the best doggo, aren’t you, Stu?”

He pets Stuart and tries to keep his mind from straying to a hospital room across town. It’s been a few days since he promised Harry he’d return. He never said when he’d return though, he reasons with himself. Guilt sits heavily upon his chest at the thought.

He hears Zayn’s key in the door.

“You’ve been seeing him,” Zayn accuses as soon as he walks through the door, shutting it a little too forcefully.

“Hello to you, too. I’m doing fine, thanks. Who’ve I been seeing?” Louis replies from the couch, still absently petting Stuart’s head as Zayn throws his bag to the floor and stalks through the living room and into the kitchen. He hears Zayn rummaging through the refrigerator. Fuck. Maybe he should have said something.

“You know who. I could have used a heads up, Lou.”

“Sorry,” Louis mutters as Zayn walks back in with a beer in his hand. He flings himself dramatically into the recliner, a hand over his face. “I went the other day. I didn’t stay very long. We didn’t even talk very much.”

“Really?” Zayn says, sarcasm dripping from his voice. He removes his hand from his face. “Because he seems to have gotten a lot out of your talk.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, his entire session was about you.” Louis’ heart twists in his chest. “I reviewed his file and found that he’d signed a HIPPA release, so I can discuss his treatment with you. And when I got in there, all he wanted to discuss were goals on how to get you back and find out what happened between you. Maybe you ought to just fucking tell him.”

“What--I--” Louis’ mind reels with this information. Harry’s thinking about how to get him back?

“Let me tell you, I had a hard time not throwing it all back in his face. I think he knows he fucked up somewhere along the way though.”

Louis stares as Zayn takes a long swig from the beer bottle. “He didn’t though.”

Zayn’s eyes pierce him. “He didn’t what?”

This Harry. He didn’t fuck things up.”

“What the fuck are you on about?”

Louis sits up straighter on the couch.

“The Harry sitting in that hospital bed didn’t fuck anything up. That Harry is still a photographer who doesn’t work for John Selley, and he doesn’t golf and he’s upset his hair is short and--” Something wells up in his throat. That Harry is his Harry. The one who always came home to him. The one who loved him so much that nothing else seemed to matter. “He didn’t fuck things up.”

He cringes when he sees the incredulous look on Zayn’s face. “Are you fucking kidding me, Lou? That most certainly fucking is the Harry who fucked things up. Just because he doesn’t remember that right now, doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Louis sighs. He’s probably right.

“At some point he’s going to remember the last three years, and then you’ll be back where you started. Don’t do this to yourself, Louis. Don’t fall for him again like this.”

“I’m not falling for him, Jesus. I’ve barely spoken to him.”

“Yeah, but you’re probably going to keep talking to him, aren’t you?” Louis doesn’t respond. He just sits mulishly listening to Zayn rant. “It became strikingly obvious today that you’re a part of his recovery. All his goals are about you, and you’re too wrapped up in some kind of bizarre guilt trip to leave him alone. You’re letting his family and him manipulate you.”

“You know I told him that you and Niall wouldn’t tell me about his therapy, and he said we were gossips. He must have signed the release after I said that.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, I’d rather you stayed out of it, but that’s clearly not going to happen. And he obviously wants to draw you in.”

He’s pretty sure he can’t stay out of it, too. Louis stands up to Stuart’s displeasure. “Tea?”

Zayn sighs. “Yeah, sure.”

Zayn follows him into the kitchen and tosses his beer bottle into the recycling, and Louis busies his hands, pouring water in the kettle and taking out the tea and mugs. He can’t help but think about all that Zayn’s just said. He doesn’t know what to do about any of it, and his head hurts just thinking about what the right thing to do even is. When he looks back at Zayn, he sees him scrolling through his phone, his lips curling into a small smile.

“Let’s talk about your life for a change,” he says. Zayn’s eyes dart to his. “So tell me about this guy you met on New Year’s.”

Zayn’s smile grows a little bigger. “We’ve been talking a little.”

“So who is he anyway? He must be connected to the Autism Society, I guess.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess so. I actually hadn’t thought about that much. He works for Selley like everyone else in this town.”

“What’s he do there?”

Zayn shrugs. “Dunno exactly. Assistant Director of something.”

Louis waggles his eyebrows. “Guess there wasn’t a lot of talking going on.”

Zayn snorts. “We’re going out on Friday again. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“What’s his name, so I can stalk him on social media?”

“Liam Payne. I actually don’t know all his social media yet. His Facebook is pretty devoid of any recent info.”

The name rings a bell for Louis, but he isn’t sure why. Maybe they went to high school together or something. “His name sounds familiar. Did he go to United High?”

“Nah, he was a private school boy.”

“Ooooooh, really?”

“Oh, shut up,” Zayn says, but he’s still smiling. It’s nice to see him smiling like this. He’s been going through a bit of a dry spell in dating. Not as bad as Louis’ dry spell, but still, it’s been a while since he’s seen Zayn really interested in anyone.

“So what do you know about this guy? Give me all the details.” He puts a tea bag in each cup and pours the water over the top before he turns around to face Zayn again.

He’s delighted by the look of excitement on Zayn’s face. “Well, I don’t know a lot about him yet. We’ve mostly been texting about just little things. Like how our days are going and silly stuff.”

Silly stuff? Louis is already amazed that Zayn is texting with a guy about silly stuff.

“I’m glad you like him,” he says simply as he sets the mug in front of him. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you excited about anyone.”

Zayn shrugs. “Yeah, I’m not saying this is going to last or anything, but we have a few things in common.”

“Like what?”

Zayn blows at the surface of the hot tea. “Comic books. We’ve talked a little about that. He’s got an interest in art. He said one of his friends is an artist, so they’ve gone to shows and galleries and that.”

“Oh, do we--know him? His friend, I mean.” He hesitates to ask, but the local art scene is fairly close knit. Odds are that they’ve at least heard of Liam’s friend from back when they were more a part of the scene with Harry.

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask his name.” Zayn sips at his tea. “I mean, Liam’s also into golf and baseball, so maybe we’re not a match made in heaven.”

Louis’ laugh rings out in their kitchen, and Stuart comes to investigate the situation, resting his head on Louis’ thigh. “Yeah, I can’t really imagine you out on the golf course. I mean, me either. Seems really boring.”

“Talk about the two most boring sports to be interested in,” Zayn says with a sly smile.

“You take that back, Malik. Baseball is not boring. I’ll give you golf, but you denigrate the Cubs at your own risk.”

“Oh, come on, Lou,” Zayn scoffs. “Sometimes the pitcher just stands there, scratching his ass for minutes on end.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t think it’s so boring when Bryant’s up to bat.”

“I admit only to ogling the players.”

“Fine.” Louis smiles.

“So were you ever gonna tell me about who you met on New Year’s Eve?” Louis’ smile fades as quickly as it came.

“It wasn’t a big deal. So no, I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Niall says you danced with him and talked to him half the night. That’s a pretty big deal for you.”

Louis shrugs. Sadly, it is a big deal for him to have spent that much time with Jake Olson. Of course, his friends would be interested in it. “You all gossip too much.”

Zayn huffs out a noise of disgust. “At least tell me about him, Lou. Even if it’s just the reasons why you don’t want to see him again. I told you about Liam.”

“That’s not the same thing at all,” Louis warns. “Fine. He’s--handsome, I guess. He’s Jerry Olson’s son, and he, of course, works for Selley. He seemed kind of ambitious for being so young. I don’t think he’s been out of college long. I suppose he’s looking to follow in his dad’s footsteps.”

“Wow. He sounds terrible. I can see why you wouldn’t want to see him again,” Zayn says in a deadpan tone.

“I never said he was terrible. I’m just not--” He doesn’t even know how to finish his sentence. Interested? Ready? He’s not sure he wants to analyze why he isn’t either of these things. “I mean, maybe I’d see him again if he calls me.”

“Woah, woah, woah. Hold up. Did you give him your number?”

Louis huffs out a laugh at Zayn’s incredulity. “I didn’t. But his dad has my number obviously, and he sort of mentioned that.”

“Well, well, well. Huh. Very interesting. So what are you going to do when this dude texts you?”

“I kind of blew him off to hang out with Niall, so I don’t know that he’s going to text me ever. But if he does--yeah, I don’t know.”

“He’s going to text,” Zayn says, confident. “Niall said the dude was really into you.”

Louis shifts in his seat uneasily. “Yeah, I don’t know about that. I’m not sure it was really me he was interested in. I know that doesn’t make sense, but--”

“How so?”

“You know how dedicated Jerry is to the Society. Apparently, he’s been talking me up to his son.”

Zayn’s eyes widen. “So Jerry was playing matchmaker? Interesting. I knew he liked you, but damn, he wants you to date his son? I mean, it’s kind of nice though, isn’t it? That he thinks so much of you?”

Louis stares into his tea. “Yeah, I guess it is kind of nice. It just felt a little like--I fit into some piece of Jake’s puzzle or something.”

“Is it such a bad thing to fit well into someone’s life though? I don’t mean to be harsh, Lou, but when you felt like you didn’t fit, it didn’t end so well.”

Louis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. It still hurts to be reminded how he eventually just didn’t fit into Harry’s life anymore. He wonders now if he ever did. Maybe he had just ignored all the signs that he didn’t until they couldn’t be ignored anymore.

“Yeah, maybe it would be nice to fit into someone’s life easily.”

 

###

 

Tuesday, January 7

 

Unbearably familiar noises wake Harry far too early. He tries to hang onto the scrap of a dream that’s playing at the corners of his mind, but it vanishes with the sounds of carts and voices and footsteps that intrude. He hates being used to these noises.

His eyes open reluctantly to glance up at the whiteboard to check the date. Five days since Louis visited. No use pretending that’s not how he’s keeping track of time here. He promised to come back. He just never said when.

He sucks in a long slow breath, holds it, and lets it out again. He does it a few more times just to try to keep himself calm. He does his bed mobility exercises in anticipation of Niall’s session with him later that morning, but he’s just so sick of this shit. Niall keeps telling him he’s progressing, but it feels like he’s trying to move through huge drifts of snow and moving an inch at a time.

The speech pathologist will be here in an hour, so he knows breakfast will be arriving shortly. He can’t expect Gemma to bring him food for every meal. He’s certainly not going to ask his mother for help, so he resigns himself to eating the bland food that’s brought to him three times a day. It doesn’t improve his mood to have to eat it or risk being told that they’re watching his every move and noting down all his behaviors. He feels like a research animal stuck in here. He wishes he had someone to complain to about breakfast. He knows it’s a petty complaint, but fuck if he doesn’t wish there was someone to just talk to about everything.

His session with the speech pathologist goes well. She’s the only one who seems entirely optimistic about his progress. Words come more easily to him now, and he’s able to push out complete sentences with less pauses. So if he could just find someone to talk to, he’d almost be able to have a proper conversation.

He reaches for his iPad and concentrates on not dropping it again. Gemma’s put a kid proof case on it that makes him feel like an idiot, but it’s better than having to buy a new one every time it clatters to the floor. He scrolls his favorite artists’ Instagrams for a while. There’s so much to see when he has years worth of their work to catch up on. It’s also quite depressing.

His mind wanders to thoughts of his own work. What will he find when he finally goes home? His laptop hasn’t held many clues to his photography, which has made him anxious. Where is everything that he’s worked on for the last two years? An external hard drive? He’s not asked anyone about it, a bit afraid of the answer.

There’s a knock at the door before Niall’s sunny face peeks in. It rubs him the wrong way right from the start.

“How’s my favorite patient today?”

Harry stares at him, his lips pursed in displeasure at how easily Niall moves through the room. “I wouldn’t know. How are they?”

“Psssh. Looks like he’s in a shit mood, but otherwise looking okay.” Niall smiles as though Harry’s said something pleasant. “Ready to hit the gym?”

This irks him, too. Hitting the gym was something he used to do a lot of from what he remembers. What he’s about to do with Niall, is not ‘hitting the gym.’ When a wheelchair has to bring you to the gym, the activities there shouldn’t be called ‘hitting the gym.’ “Stop saying it like that.”

Niall turns a curious look at him and pauses as he was about to come closer and help him into the wheelchair. “Saying what?”

He stares Niall down. “Hitting the gym like we’re about to go work out.”

Niall cringes. He’s always been terrible at keeping a straight face. “It’s definitely a work out, Harry. Try and stay motivated. We’re almost to a point that I think you can say goodbye to the wheelchair. Just using a walker is in your near future.” Niall moves forward and helps him into the wheelchair.

He grunts as he tries to move with Niall’s help and position himself properly. “A walker. Hurray.”

Niall keeps his mouth shut as he wheels him towards the gym, and Harry’s thankful for a reprieve from his optimism today. He’s not in the mood. The wheelchair doesn’t stop at the parallel bars. Are they doing something new today? Instead, they stop at a walker just past it.

“We’re going to work on using a rolling walker today, Harry. You’re ready.” Niall’s tone doesn’t invite comment on this, so Harry just warily eyes it as Niall fetches a belt off a bench.

“Let’s get the gait belt on you and get started.”

Harry scoots forward a bit so that Niall can wrap the belt around his waist. As Niall pulls up on it to help him out of the wheelchair and towards the walker, he can’t help but feel like he’s on a leash. He grips the walker tightly as Niall stays at his left side, now holding onto the belt from behind.

Harry grits his teeth as they move forward a pace. “You’re walking me like I’m a dog. Take this thing off me.”

“No way, buddy. The belt stays. But look on the bright side, I managed to snag us the pretty blue belt. Stylish, huh?”

Harry dignifies this only with a snort.

“Come on, Harry. Blue’s your favorite color, right?”

“Louis’ eyes are blue.” He takes another step and glances towards Niall. He looks visibly uncomfortable. Good.

They continue to try walking up and down the gym floor, taking frequent breaks to rest, but Harry just can’t shake the feeling of being led around like someone’s Labrador retriever. It’s not his best session.

“It’s clear you’re not trying today,” Niall huffs. “If you ever want to leave your hospital room of your own volition, you’re going to have to try harder.”

Harry grunts an acknowledgement. He’s just so frustrated with everything. Therapy, this hospital, his life. “Maybe if Louis would come visit me, I’d have motivation to get better. Maybe you could tell him that.”

Niall snorts. “I’m not telling him that, asshat.”

“Are you allowed to call patients asshat?”

“I am when they’re being one.”

A bark of laughter escapes his throat and catches them both by surprise. Niall grins. Harry tries a little harder.

A transport team member peeks into the gym when it’s time for Harry to head back to his room.

“Hey, H. Before you go, I know you’re frustrated, and you have every right to be. But I’m right here with you, and so is the rest of your team. I’m going to consult with Zayn about what you’re working on as far as improving your motivation and mood goes. I’m sure we can integrate some of it here.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, thinking of what he and Zayn have been working on. Maybe it would help. He admits if only to himself that the things he and Zayn come up with have kept him fairly motivated.

Even though he had a piss poor mood with Niall today, he’s reluctant to say goodbye. His muscles are screaming, but he still wishes the session was longer. Niall and Zayn are the closest thing to Louis that he’s got right now, and at one time, they were his friends. It messes with his head to talk to people who were his friends and have them not behave the way he remembers them, but seeing them at all is still a comfort when everything else feels so disorienting.

By the time he’s helped back into his bed, he’s already had time to wonder for the thousandth time how he ended up working for his family. He’s always sworn to himself he would never be involved with John Selley. He knows his mother well enough to suspect she’s done something to warrant him working for her. But what? Blackmail? What could he have ever done that would even allow her to blackmail him? No, that’s too dramatic even for her.

If he could just fucking remember, that would be great. He knows he’s being a pain in the ass with his therapists, but it’s just so fucking frustrating. He can’t move properly with Niall, he can’t remember shit with Dr. Hausman, he runs his mouth too much with Zayn. At least he’s fairly certain Dr. Ahmad doesn’t hate him and his speech pathologist thinks he’s a star patient, so at least he has that.

His phone buzzes on the tray. He startles, and he can’t help the leap of his heart that it’s Louis on the phone. Of course it isn’t, he tells himself as he grabs the phone. It’s Gemma. Disappointment sits in his gut heavy as a brick anyway.

“Hey.”

“Hey, H. Thought I’d try actually calling you. Since you can actually--well--”

“Talk?”

“Er--yeah. Sorry. I was just calling to tell you that Liam is going to drop by after work if that’s okay?”

“Oh.” His mind races a bit at the thought. “Yeah, sure.”

“Add him to the list, okay? Or they won’t let him in.”

“Right. I’ll do that.”

She seems to be in a hurry, so he lets her off the phone a little reluctantly. He may not remember being close to his sister, but at least she’s someone to talk to who doesn’t work at the hospital.

He’s not sure when Liam will be by. He has no idea what kind of hours he must have kept at the foundation. Maybe nine to five? How is Liam doing without him at the office? Not that he has any clue what to do even if he was there. His eyes fall on various items in the room to try to keep himself from losing his mind with boredom.

The dumb games on his iPad provide little distraction, since he’s terrible at all of them. He rubs his thumb and forefinger at the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off the headache he feels building behind his eyes. Maybe he’ll just watch terrible daytime television again.

A knock at the door rescues him from his despair. “Come in.”

A man enters the room, hesitation clear in his movements. It’s definitely Liam, but not as he remembers him as a high school baseball teammate. No mop of curls on his head any longer, but now short hair and a close shaved beard. He’s grown taller and filled out, no longer the baby face in his memories and instead the rather handsome man on the golf course in those photographs on his phone.

“Hey, Harry. Hope it’s okay I came to see you?” Liam asks as though he’s questioning whether Harry wants him there. If he could jump for joy at the sight of a friendly face right now, he would.

“Liam. Hey. Yeah, of course, it’s okay.”

Liam settles himself into a chair and smiles brightly. “Glad to see you looking so well. You know, I would have come earlier but--well, to be honest when I heard you didn’t remember me I wasn’t sure you’d want me to come.”

Well, apparently Liam is as subtle as a brick. He thinks he maybe appreciates that though. “Actually, I’m really glad you came. To put it bluntly, you seem to be my only friend.”

Liam has the grace to look awkward. “Nah, you’ve got friends, Harry. Maybe not any closer than me though.”

There’s a stretch of silence between them that Harry isn’t certain how to fill. He decides to just plow on ahead. “So I have some questions. A lot of questions actually.”

Liam leans forward in his chair as though eager to tell him answers. “Go ahead. I’m sure you’re really confused about a lot of things. I’ll answer whatever I can.”

“I don’t even know where to start,” he says, disoriented by someone’s willingness to talk. “Maybe--do you know how I ended up working for John Selley?”

“Oh,” Liam looks taken aback by the question. “I dunno. I know you worked in other departments before taking over the foundation, and I know you weren’t, well, very happy before we worked together.”

“So I like working at the foundation?”

“Yeah, I think so? I mean, it seemed like you really threw yourself into running it. I don’t think you love everything about it, but there are parts of it you seem to find rewarding, especially meeting with the people it benefits. You haven’t really said all this. It’s just my interpretation.”

“I see.” He’s not sure why he’s so surprised. Gemma had implied the same, but somehow it seems more legitimate to hear it from Liam. “So what’s with all the golfing? I don’t know shit about golfing.”

“You don’t?” Liam opens mouth and then shuts it again, looking puzzled. “Well, that was like the first thing you wanted to do when I started working for the foundation.”

“Huh. So I guess you don’t know the origin of my golf fixation then.”

“Nope. But you got me into it, too. I guess I assumed you played because of the whole corporate thing. Don’t important people all golf?”

Harry snorts. “Probably. I can see how it would be useful to talk to donors out on the course or whatever.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what we do. It’s your sure fire way of closing the deal. Get people out on the golf course, relaxed with a drink. Suddenly, they’re signing over giant checks to the foundation. You’re really good at it.”

Harry finds this image of himself hard to imagine. Louis was always the talkative one, the personable one that made everyone feel at ease. It’s odd to hear himself described this way. While this is all fairly enlightening, he doesn’t really want to talk about golf.

He takes a breath.

“So since we’re good friends, does this mean you know about Louis?”

Liam looks a bit puzzled. “Your ex?”

“Yes, my--ex. Do you know what happened between us?”

“Not really.” Harry’s face must be giving away how disappointed he is because a line forms between Liam’s eyebrows. “Sorry, Harry. I know you have an ex named Louis, but you don’t talk about him much. I’ve heard you mention him a few times when you’re--well, arguing with your mother.”

“Really? What do I say?” Maybe Liam has more clues than he knows.

“It’s generally when she’s trying to set you up with someone,” Liam admits. “You say something like, if Louis wasn’t good enough for you than no one is.”

“I see.”

Liam looks a little abashed to be telling him this. “It’s not exactly a secret, but you don’t ever really want to talk about it afterwards.”

Harry sighs and leans back against the bed. “Thanks. I’m just trying to figure out what happened even if I don’t ever remember it.”

“Don’t people usually remember after a while? Maybe that’s just in movies or whatever though.”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, they keep telling me I’ll probably remember eventually. So I guess someday I’ll know, but by then it might be too late.”

“Too late for what?”

Harry shrugs his right shoulder. “Too late to get Louis back.”

Liam’s eyes widen almost comically, and he sits upright in the chair. “Woah. So it’s like that then?”

“It’s like that,” he nods.

“So what happens if you remember everything and that’s not what you wanted after all?”

Harry’s brain can’t even compute this. How can there be a universe where he doesn’t want to be with Louis? It’s not possible. Even if he remembers everything, the one thing he’s certain of right now is that the person he became still wants Louis back.

“Have I been dating anyone? Since we became friends again?”

Liam flushes a little. “Well, I don’t know if dating is the right word.”

“So I’m fucking someone? That’s what you’re saying?”

Liam clears his throat. “Well--I guess I don’t know if it’s just one person--or--um--”

“You think I’m fucking a bunch of people?”

“I didn’t say that! Just that you’ve sort of let it slip a few times that you’re not interested in getting involved in a relationship, and that you can get your needs taken care of elsewhere.”

“Jesus, I sound like an asshole. Why are you even friends with me?”

Liam relaxes into a chuckle. “Harry, I think you might have the wrong impression of what you don’t remember. You’re not an asshole. I’d go as far as to say you’re quite well liked by everyone at work. I’m pretty sure Jenna thinks you walk on water.”

“Who’s Jenna?”

“She’s our contact at RiverAction. I’m just saying that you’re very well respected in the community. Oh god, you should see your face right now.”

Harry crinkles his nose in disgust. “Well respected in the community? That’s like my worst nightmare.”

They both surprise a laugh out of each other at that. “Okay, that does sound like you.”

“Oh thank god. So I’m not big on being the face of John Selley then?”

“Not at all,” Liam says. “But you work hard to raise money for the organizations we sponsor. And you’re very hands on. Well, for the most part.”

“What am I not hands on with?”

“Well, you let me handle the Autism Society stuff. I’ve never really asked you why, but I always thought it was a little strange. You’re so involved with all the other organizations.”

“Oh.” He runs a hand through his hair, his fingers sliding too easily through air instead of the long curls that no longer exist. Fuck, that’s still weird. “Yeah, Louis is probably still pretty involved with them, so--I guess I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.”

“Ohhhhh. That all makes more sense now. I feel like I’m finally getting answers, too,” Liam muses. “Maybe I should have asked you about some of this stuff before, but you just didn’t seem like you wanted to talk about it. You um--always set aside the most money for them, and I didn’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be involved in the organization you’ve clearly made the foundation’s priority.”

“Guess I’m still holding out for Louis then.”

“I guess you are.”

###

 

Wednesday, January 8

 

Louis wraps himself up in his coat and scarf as he opens the door of the clinic and into the blustery wind whipping the snow around him in whirls of white. He opens the door to his car and climbs in, willing it to heat up quickly and cursing himself again for not getting a new one yet. He dreams of the luxury of remote start. He’s definitely getting it when he gets a new car.

He checks his rearview mirror as he begins to back out of his parking spot, and his eye catches on the sprawling hospital complex behind him. It’s not like he hasn’t seen it every day this week, but this time he’s leaving work fairly early. He doesn’t have the ready excuse of it being late and needing to get home to let Stuart out.

He fully pulls out of the spot and wills himself to just leave and go home, but the promise he made Harry pricks at the back of his spine like a needle. He slowly drives from the clinic parking lot and into the hospital visitor’s lot. Fuck. He can still leave.

The retention pond in front of him is partly iced over now. Harry’s window faces it. Is he looking out at it right now? With a groan he rests his forehead against the steering wheel. Harry can barely move around. Of course, he’s not at the window looking outside at this very moment. Actually, he has no idea how Harry is moving around. He’s not asked Niall or Zayn a thing about him even though he knows they’re allowed to tell him. They’ve both stayed mum about Harry, not offering anything up to Louis voluntarily.

Guilt gathers in his stomach, eating away at him. He’s both guilty of inserting himself back in Harry’s life where he doesn’t belong anymore, and guilty of not being there for him every day. He just can’t fucking win. He leans back against the headrest again and pounds his fist once against the steering wheel.

Fuck it. He’s here, and there’s no way he’s going to be able to go home now and not think constantly of Harry now that he’s sat here like an idiot for ten minutes. The decision made, he turns the car off and walks quickly towards the gleaming glass doors that slide open so quickly. Too quickly. He makes his way to Harry’s room and past the nurse’s station where he checks in, but he hesitates outside the partially open door when he hears voices.

He’s not sure if he should wait or knock, but Harry’s radar appears fully intact. Harry abruptly stops talking and calls out to him. “Louis?”

He rolls his eyes at himself at being caught out like this, lurking, and enters the room. He can’t help but flinch a bit at the sight of so many people crowded around the bed. He feels like the worst kind of intruder into what is clearly a family meeting of some kind. Harry’s mom glances at him coldly, but Harry’s dad and sister give him small smiles. The other person in the room looks so familiar but it takes him a moment to place him.

“Liam Payne?”

“Yes?” Liam looks a bit perplexed.

“What are you doing here?”

“Uhhh, I work with Harry? And we’re friends? How do you--”

“What the fuck,” he says under his breath. This town is entirely too small. “You’re dating Harry’s OT.”

Harry who had been laying back against his propped bed, sits up fairly quickly. “What?”

“I am?” Liam looks confused for a moment before it all comes together. “Oh, shit. I think I am. Is your OT named--”

“Zayn Malik,” Louis answers for him.

Liam’s eyes dart from Louis’ to Harry’s and back again. “Uh, yeah. Zayn.”

“YOU’RE WITH ZAYN?” Harry asks, a giant grin on his face right before he cackles with delight. “Why didn’t you tell me you were seeing anyone?”

Liam gives him a lopsided grin at his obvious enthusiasm at the news. “Well, I mean, it’s not like really official but I--you know--”

“You really like him,” Harry declares still beaming. Louis can’t stop the twitch of his nose or the smile that pulls at his lips as he watches Harry.

Anne clears her throat loudly. “I think we should probably get back to why Harry’s asked us to meet with him. We clearly hadn’t gotten to the point before we were interrupted. Perhaps Louis can wait in the hall until we’re through.”

“Maybe you all can go wait in the hall, and I’ll just talk to Louis,” Harry snaps back.

Anne’s nostrils flare for just a moment before she keeps her temper in check. This is nothing new though; she’s used to getting her way in all things except with her son.

Harry closes his eyes and inhales deeply, slowly releasing it, before he opens his eyes again to speak. “If you’re willing to stay, Lou, I’d really appreciate it. I’d like for you to join us if you would.”

Louis nods and steps a little closer to the bed, but still outside the circle. Harry’s eyes narrow as though he can sense Louis still trying to keep space between them.

“Dr. Hausman, that’s my psychologist by the way, wants me to ask the people who know me best to bring me something comforting while I’m here. Everyone seems fairly concerned about my mood.” Harry rolls his eyes. “But whatever, I guess I agree I’m not exactly thrilled to still be stuck here.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Anne declares. “We should all be off to bring you something by tomorrow.”

Gemma ignores Anne’s dismissal of them all. “Should it be something from the last three years? Like to help you remember?”

“No, I don’t think it has to be,” Harry answers, his forehead creasing as he thinks about her question. “Just something you think is important to me or is something that might remind me of something happy.”

“Well, we should all get started then,” Anne says briskly. “We’ll all report back tomorrow with something for you, Harry.”

Everyone begins filing out of the room at Anne’s orders, and Louis wonders if he should follow suit.

“Can you stay?” Harry asks quietly.

Louis turns to make sure Harry’s speaking to him, even though he knows he is. That tone is one that Harry only ever uses with him, soft and reverent. It nearly brings tears to his eyes to hear it again.

“Yeah, I can stay for a bit.”

Anne purses her lips and gives him a hard look before shutting the door behind her.

And then, they’re alone.

“You don’t have to bring me anything.”

“I will.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I know.”

There’s a silence between them that Louis doesn’t know how to bridge. It’s been years since they were easy with one another, even if it doesn’t seem that way for Harry.

Harry swings his legs out around the side of the bed as though to move closer to him. “Yes, I can move better now,” he says as if to answer Louis’ raised eyebrows. “Haven’t Niall and Zayn been keeping you in the loop? I signed some paper about--”

“I haven’t asked.”

“Oh.” The hurt on Harry’s face cuts through him, and he wishes he’d kept that to himself.

Louis sighs. He decides to go with the truth. “It’s confusing. It still feels like I shouldn’t. I don’t have the right to intrude on your recovery.”

“Lou?” Harry’s voice wavers, and Louis feels it in his own chest.

“Yeah?”

“It’s really hard to be without you.”

“Fuck.” He slides his hands over his face in reaction.

“I’m sorry. It’s just--can we start over? As friends. At least for right now. I know it’s not fair to you, but it’s just really hard when the last thing I remember is that we were together and in--” Harry stops and takes another long breath. “Sorry. It’s okay if you can’t, but if you’re going to leave and not come back, I want to know what happened between us.”

Louis steps closer to the bed and swallows down the guilt that threatens to come up his throat. “What do you think happened?”

He’s a coward. He knows it.

Harry gives him a piercing look. He knows Louis is stalling. “I’ve pieced some of it together, I guess. I’ve seen the photos in my phone, and I’ve spoken with Liam. I know that I lost you. And I lost Zayn and Niall. So I can only conclude that I did something wrong for that to have happened. My only friends now are my sister and someone who knew me as the star baseball pitcher in high school. I work for the one place I swore I would never work for, and I apparently speak to my mother on a regular basis. I can guess at a few reasons for all this, but damn if I don’t feel pretty sorry for myself right now because this person that I’ve become isn’t looking like the happiest guy. Oh, and to top it all off, I’m apparently obsessed with golf. What the fuck is that about?”

Louis can’t help the laughter that bubbles up and out of him, and Harry seemingly can’t help the lopsided smile that appears at his reaction. The moment fades eventually, and Louis knows he owes him an explanation at least.

He walks over to the window and stares down at the icy pond below. He really doesn’t want to look at Harry as he tells him this. “I didn’t know how to help you anymore. That’s always been my role, you know? Helping people. But in the end, I couldn’t help you anymore. I failed.”

“Failed at what?”

“I lost you long before you lost me, Harry.”

“What does that mean?” Louis chances a glance at him. He’s sitting upright and looking so angry and frustrated, too much like the Harry he walked out on that it sends a shiver of dread down his spine, so he looks away again.

“It’s complicated, but it has a lot to do with the pieces you’ve already worked out. You were really unhappy with working at John Selley and frustrated with your mom. At least, that’s what I worked out for myself. You wouldn’t actually talk to me about it. I tried to support you with it all. I had a hard time understanding though--why you would give up on your art, but you didn’t seem to want my support anyway.”

He pauses remembering the cold night he left, but Harry stays silent, listening.

“You--started drinking a lot. Coming home late. You just pulled so far away that I felt like I couldn’t reach you anymore. And we had an argument. A big one. And I--I left.”

“That was it? Over for you pretty quick then, don’t you think?”

“No, Harry. It wasn’t quick at all. It was months. Months and months of arguing and not communicating. I don’t think I ever understood where you were coming from with--well, the money thing or why you’d go work for your family when you hated it. It seemed to mean so much more to you than I ever thought it did. I think there was something more going on there that you never told me. So yes, I left, but you let me go.”

“That’s really hard for me to imagine now. Any of that. I don’t understand how I came to work for my mother, but the only thing that I can think of is that I didn’t think I had a choice.” He hears Harry sigh. “You know, she cut me off once.”

His eyes dart back to Harry. He’s still watching him. Harry always did though. He always saw Louis like no one else ever has, both the good and the bad.

“No, I didn’t really know that. I knew you’d come home and gone to St. Augustus with all of us after being away at Northwestern for a year. You always said--”

“I was homesick,” Harry finishes with a hollow laugh. “Did you ever really buy that though, Lou? When I never actually went home and spent all my time with you?”

Louis can feel his face flush. “I guess I just thought that you--that we--”

“Fell in love. Yeah. That, too, I guess.” Harry runs a hand through his hair and makes a face. “The only thing I can come up with is that she was cutting me off again. I don’t think I would ever have gone voluntarily to work for John Selley unless I didn’t think I had a choice.”

“But--we could have worked through that, Harry. Why wouldn’t you have just told me and we could have just gotten a cheaper apartment or sold one of our cars or something?”

“I don’t know. Except everything I have is hers. You know that don’t you? The condo, the cars, the money in my bank account. Well, I guess what’s there now is mine after working there for years. But back then, none of it was mine. I already knew my mother doesn’t make idle threats. Do you know that when she was disgusted with my grades and the partying at Northwestern, she came and packed me up in one day? She’d already signed me up at St. Augustus, all business classes of course. Then, she just showed up with movers and they packed me up and she told me to get in the car, told me what a disappointment I was. And that was it. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it brought me you.”

There’s so much hope in Harry’s eyes that Louis has to look away again. He’s not sure coming here was the right thing to do if Harry is somehow getting the impression that there’s still hope for them. When he looks back out the window, he’s surprised to see how dark it’s already become, the light already fading in the late afternoon.

“I should go.”

“When will I see you again?”

The plea in Harry’s voice is a lot to handle.

“Tomorrow. I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ve got to bring you some happy things, don’t I?”

“I’ll text you my therapy schedule, so you know when I’ll be in my room.”

Louis hears the statement as the question it is. “My number is still the same.”

“Okay, I’ll--text you then, so you’ll know when to come.”

Louis nods and heads towards the door.

“Thank you.”

Louis freezes. “For what?”

“For telling me the truth.”

Louis stares at him for a long moment, searching his face for a sign. He doesn’t see anything there though, so he opens the door and escapes.

###

Thursday, January 9

 

Harry glances at the clock. He has a few minutes before Zayn will be here. His thumb hovers over the arrow to send the text he’s carefully typed out. He’s still working on being able to type and text well, something he’ll probably work on with Zayn today, but he’s managed to type what he hopes is a casual message to Louis.

Hi just letting you know therapies are in the morning today and my afternoon is free

He refrains from saying how tedious his afternoon is likely to be or how frustrating his morning is panning out. He knows there’s a silent plea there to come see him, and he hesitates for one more moment before he presses down to send it just as Zayn knocks on the door.

Zayn’s session goes about as well as Niall’s had the other day, but Zayn refrains from calling him an asshat at least, although he gets the feeling he’s thinking it. The fine motor shit is so fucking frustrating though. Somehow it’s more humiliating to have to practice buttoning a shirt and writing his name than practice walking although he’s not sure why. Just one more thing to add to the list of things he should talk out with Dr. Hausman.

He knows he’s doing well though because people have started to talk about him going home. It’s about damn time; it’s been over a month since he’s been here, unable to do anything about this daymare of a life he seems to be stuck in. Not that going home sounds as great as he’d hoped. They keep talking to him about home health nurses and a new PT and OT until he can do outpatient therapy. He hates the idea of some nurse with him twenty-four seven, but apparently that’s standard for head injuries.

“What if I don’t want a new PT or OT? Why can’t I stay with Niall and Zayn?”

His mother fluffs his pillows as though that helps him somehow. He can fluff his own damn pillows. “They work for the hospital, so unless you’d like to stay here longer, you need new ones that do home health care.”

Harry’s jaw clenches, but he knows there’s no use in lashing out at her even if she is relishing the fact that he won’t be speaking to Niall and Zayn on a regular basis anymore or maybe at all. “Why haven’t they said anything about it?”

“I’m sure they’ll be talking to you about it soon.”

He hates the reasonable tone she’s using with him. “So why can’t I go home now then?”

“Weren’t you listening at all?” He was. He knows. He just wants her to stop using that voice, the one that pretends she’s in control at all times. It’s worked. There’s annoyance there now. “They said as soon as you can get yourself around with a walker, you can go home.”

That’s not what Dr. Ahmad said. She said as soon as he could use the walker to get himself to and from the bathroom, he could go home. Leave it to his mother to find that too crass to speak of. He considers saying something, but decides against it. He’d rather she just leave than stay to argue with him. “So don’t you need to get back to work?”

She clears her throat, but doesn’t say anything at his less than subtle hint to leave, just collects her Birkin handbag from the small chair near the window. She opens it and pulls out a set of keys that she wordlessly hands to him.

“What’s this?”

“The keys to your car.” She pauses. “This was the thing I brought you that your therapist said might help. Something happy. Comforting.”

He stares at the unfamiliar, sleek, black and silver key fob with a bull emblem.

“A Lamborghini?” He can’t help the incredulous tone of his voice.

“Yes, a Lamborghini.”

What kind of ass is he that he drives a Lamborghini? He would chuck them right out the window if he had the strength to get himself to the window on his own. Not that hospital windows open anyway. “What happened to my Range Rover?’

“You still have your Range Rover, but I thought you might like to think about your Lamborghini and how good it will feel to drive it again someday soon.”

His shoulders relax from their tensed position. At least he still has his Range Rover. He wonders whether it’s the same one or a newer model, but he isn’t really up for those details at the moment. The brittle smile on his mother’s face betrays that she suspects her item wasn’t very comforting. The lame thanks he offers only receives a nod of acknowledgement before she swishes through the door with her expensive perfume leaving a trail of scent behind her.

His dad and sister show up at lunch.

He turns the baseball over in his hands, examining the signatures. “Very cool.” He glances up at his dad who gives him a nod and a smile.

“Thought you might like to see that. It’s got most of the line up on there and it’s from Game 7, so it’s really quite special. One of the few things besides your art that I’ve seen you get excited about.”

Harry keeps his eyes on the ball. “Talk about some shit luck, huh? Wait my whole life for a Cubs’ World Series win, and now I can’t even remember it.”

“You will. It was a good day, that day. You’ll remember it. You’ll get back there. I know it.”

The absolute certainty in his dad’s voice surprises him into looking up. He’s never thought of his dad as being firm about anything, always overshadowed by his mother and her controlling nature. The fierce look in his father’s eyes is one that he’s rarely seen, if ever. It makes him feel like there’s yet another thing he doesn’t understand. There’s so much to figure out, it makes his head spin.

He doesn’t even know what question to ask to get the answer he needs when Gemma hands him a box. “Lampariello’s. Nice. Thanks, Gem.”

He opens the long white box, revealing an assortment of beautifully decorated chocolates. He gives her as genuine a smile as he can muster. He truly is grateful. Even if he can’t remember the change in their relationship, it’s clear there’s been one. She didn’t bring him Godiva; she knows him better. He’s always loved Lampariello’s, the confectionary and hundred year old soda shop feels like a step back in time.

He wonders if she knows that’s where he and Louis had their first date. He’d known by then that Louis was it for him. From the first bite of his hot fudge sundae when whipped cream tickled his nose and made him sneeze, he’d known. Louis’ laugh had bubbled up from inside until it spilled out in a burst that squeezed his eyes nearly shut, and Harry had known he wanted to keep that moment alive forever. Give this amazing boy in front of him everything he had to give.

He shuts the moment away in his heart. He doesn’t need to start crying in front of his sister and dad right now. “Thanks for bringing me these. They both mean a lot.”

His sister looks a bit concerned as she hugs him goodbye, but he turns up the volume of his smile as he sends them back to work. He checks his phone, but there’s no reply to his earlier text even though he can see Louis has read it. By three o’clock he’s been done with this therapies for hours and is bored out of his mind, so Liam is a welcome face to see pop in the door.

“Hey, Harry. Brought you something. I can’t really bring you stuff from when you remember, so I brought something more recent.”

Liam hands him an entire stack of golf magazines, all current issues. How can there even be this many different ones? Who the hell is reading all these? He looks through them politely though.

He stops at a thinner one. It’s more of a brochure.

Liam comes a bit closer and gestures to it. “Oh, yeah, I had them print up a prototype of this year’s tournament brochure for you.”

Harry had forgotten about the John Selley Classic. Of course, if he was into golf, he would be interested in the company’s PGA tournament. “Thanks, Liam. That’s really kind of you to go to that much trouble.”

Liam smiles, his eyes crinkling a bit in the corners. “No trouble. They were happy to do it. Everyone’s hoping for your speedy recovery. Um--I don’t know if you realize, but the Birdies For Charity event is one of our biggest fundraisers for the foundation.”

“Right. Of course.” Harry nods. Maybe the golf thing makes a little more sense now. He still doesn’t open any of them when Liam leaves though. It still seems like a stretch that he loves golf. He’s still thinking about the utter strangeness of his golf obsession when there’s a knock at the door, and his heart stutters in his chest. It’s got to be Louis. He’s glad his heart rate is no longer being monitored or it could be embarrassing to have everyone hear it jumping every time Louis enters the room.

“Come in!”

Harry drinks up the sight of Louis before him. His hair peeks out from beneath a woolen hat, and his nose and cheeks are pink from the cold. He wants to wrap him up and never let go. He takes a breath instead, steadying himself.

“Hey, Harry.” Louis gives him a careful smile that doesn’t reach his eyes, but Harry will take what he can get.

“Hey, Lou.” He sits up a bit straighter in bed, leaning forward as though the closer he can be to Louis, the better. Louis hesitates before he walks a bit closer as though he was nervous about something, and Harry finally realizes he’s got a large plastic Starbucks drink in his hand. It wouldn’t be so unusual except that it’s the dead of winter, and Louis is holding a cold, pink drink that fades into white towards the bottom.

Harry’s eyes dart to Louis’. It’s a simple thing to bring him, he knows that, but he also knows it’s a lot more than that. It’s a thing only someone who spent a lot of time with him would bring. The only thing he ever orders at Starbucks regardless if it’s July or February is the drink in Louis’ hand. They only ever went to Starbucks on the weekend, usually a morning treat of a latte and a pastry for Louis and a pink ombre drink for Harry. They’d walk the few blocks to the nearest one hand in hand and sip them as they sat and chatted at the counter seats that looked out onto the street behind the glass.

Louis takes another step closer and sets the drink on the bedside tray as if he’s too afraid to hand it to him directly.

“Thanks,” he says, trying to control the tremor in his voice. “I haven’t had one in--well, I guess I don’t know how long, do I?”

The joke falls flat when Louis doesn’t laugh.

“I know it’s nothing big, but I just thought maybe--” Louis runs nervous fingers through the front of his hair that isn’t covered by his hat. Harry wishes he could still his fingers with his own. If he could move more than he can, he might not have been able to stop himself.

“It’s a lot.” Harry carefully takes the cup so as not to spill it and takes a long sip. He savors the cool creaminess of the coconut milk with the hint of lime and the fruitiness of the tea. When he glances up as he sucks through the straw, he sees the spark in Louis’ eyes that he’s been so used to seeing, and the feeling of a triumph of some sort rushes through him. He’s not unaffected. Even with Harry looking a mess in this hospital bed. He can barely hide the smirk as he takes an exaggerated slurp through his straw.

He expects a roll of Louis’ eyes or to be called out immediately, but instead, Louis looks away, his cheeks still pink from the cold or maybe from something else. Probably just wishful thinking. He sets the drink back on the tray before he can spill it all over himself.

“I brought you something else,” Louis says, his voice quiet.

“You did?”

“Yeah, um--” Louis clear his voice and his cheeks burn a deeper color as he slips an envelope from his coat pocket. He hesitates a moment and then hands it to Harry before turning to take off his coat and scarf. He leaves the hat on, and Harry smiles knowing Louis would never want to be seen with his hair astray. “Are you going to open it?”

He jolts back to the present and tries to keep his eyes off of Louis and back on the envelope. It’s not sealed, so he opens the flap and slides the small photograph out. He feels the pressure at the back of his throat and behind his eyes warning him that his emotions are getting the best of him, so he tries to study it as though he’s looking at it for the first time.

It’s hard to be objective about one’s own work, so he lets himself instead think about how the light hits the ornate curves of the ceiling making it glow, gold and bronze. The blue and green frescoes on the walls immediately identify it as part of the Gallery of Maps within the Vatican Museums and as one of the larger photographs that hangs in his living room. At least it always had since he’d taken it. This smaller copy he knows used to sit in Louis’ small cubicle at the clinic.

He tries to hold back the tears that are choking him as he stares at the photo, not daring to look at Louis. “Thank you.”

The air Harry tries to pull in and out of his lungs feels heavy and thick. The tunnelled perspective of the photo brings him to a small figure in the very heart of the photo. His back is turned and to anyone else the figure means nothing, a faceless silhouette, but to Harry that person is everything.

“Do you remember--”

“I remember every moment of this trip.” Harry knows his voice sounds harsher than he’d like, but it’s either that or break down in front of him.

Rome had been when Harry had known he would marry Louis. He’d known in that soda shop that he was falling for him, but a year later in Rome had been when he knew he’d never love anyone more than he loved Louis. He knew it was too soon. Hell, he hadn’t even told Louis until years later when marriage seemed a more reasonable topic, but he knew then. He knew.

This feels like Louis giving it all back to him somehow, as though he can somehow make him take back all the pieces of his heart that he’d given Louis over the years. He knows that doesn’t make sense. Maybe Louis felt like this was just some nice photograph that reminded them both of a happy time.

He senses rather than sees Louis recoil back from him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--I overstepped. I should go.”

He pushes through the mess in his head because the last thing he wants is for Louis to go. No matter what, he knows that much. “Please don’t. Stay. Please.”

Louis nods and sinks into the chair closest to the bed.

###

Saturday, January 11

 

Louis stomps the snow off his boots onto the mat as he lets Stuart back into the house. The frigid air sears right through his bones. Stuart would barely walk around the block. He peels off his layers right there at the door, the house quiet but for the sound of Stuart lapping up water from his bowl.

Zayn hasn’t come home from his date, so apparently that’s going well. Louis smirks into the coffee cup he places beneath the Keurig. He definitely needs warming up. As he waits, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

Hey, Lou. Are you busy today?

Louis’ heart flutters in his chest. He dismisses it as nerves as he wonders what Harry wants. They text a bit now, but he hasn’t been to see him in a few days. He debates whether to text an excuse not to come, but he knows he won’t do that.

The coffee trickles in a stream into his cup, breaking up the quiet. He thinks for a minute before he gives in.

Too cold to do much of anything

He takes the cup to the kitchen table and plops into a chair, his phone in his hand. He can’t even be bothered with pretending he’s not waiting for Harry’s reply.

Was just wondering if you could run by my condo and grab me a few things. I’m so bored I could scream

Louis chews his bottom lip as he stares at the text. The thought of stepping foot in that condo fills him with dread, and yet, he knows in an instant that he’ll give in. He’s never been as weak for anyone as he is for Harry. It’s fine. Harry needs his help, and he’s just helping. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.

Sure, what would you like me to grab?

He sips at the hot coffee as he watches the flashes of ellipses as Harry replies.

My laptop. No clue where it is or what it looks like. Sorry. Could you grab me a couple cookbooks as well?

I want to dream of what I’m going to make once I get out of here.

Maybe grab any books on my bedside table. Even if I read them already I won’t remember haha

This isn’t a lot of information, but it’s the kind of information that makes Louis want to lay his head down on the table. So he’s going to have to rummage through Harry’s entire condo, searching for things. He can do this. He knows Harry must be losing his shit being in the hospital this long. The self-deprecating joke also doesn’t go unnoticed.

Sure thing 👍

An hour later he’s about to leave when he realizes that he shouldn’t have a key to Harry’s condo. He’s stunned into standing frozen in his entryway with his heavy winter coat already on. He leans his forehead against the door and wants to bang his head against it, though he doesn’t give in to that particular thought. He pulls out his phone with a sigh and scrolls to Gemma’s phone number.

Hi, Gemma. Louis here. Harry wanted me to pick up some things from his condo. Would you mind letting me in? Let me know if you can sometime today. Thanks

He only has to stand there for a minute before he’s got a reply.

I can meet you there in fifteen minutes if you’re free now

He sighs in relief that he won’t have to wait long to get this over with.

I can be there in fifteen. Thanks

He watches the ellipses move across the small screen for a while as though she’s texting quite a lot. It starts and stops and starts again. Just when his nerves are about to get the best of him, the text sends.

Thank you for doing this for him

He blows out the breath he’s been holding and just stands at his door, waiting another few minutes before he leaves. He pulls the air in and out of his lungs as he counts to four. In for four seconds, hold for four seconds, out for four seconds. He feels a bit calmer now. He checks his phone for the time again and heads out into the bitter wind that blows the freezing cold straight through him again.

The drive downtown isn’t long enough to even heat his car up much by the time he arrives outside the luxurious high rise condos near the river. It’s been a while since he was here. He’s driven past many times, every time he’s needed to cross the bridge really, but he hasn’t actually been here at the place where he lived with Harry in a while.

He finds Gemma in the lobby waiting for him, somehow looking glamorous and controlled despite the below zero windchill. He tries to keep his teeth from chattering, but it’s the kind of cold that makes you feel like you’ll never be warm again. He supposes if you keep your Mercedes in a heated garage that probably helps.

“Hi, Louis.”

“Hey,” he replies as he approaches. His nose is running a bit, and he wishes he had a Kleenex. “It’s a cold one.”

She smiles briefly and falls in step with him towards the elevator. The silence on the ride to the top floor is not an uncomfortable one, but Gemma breaks it just as the doors slide open.

“I’m glad he texted you.”

Louis isn’t sure how to respond, so he just nods. Gemma opens the door with a key card.

“I know he’s been bored, but I have no idea what he’d want me to bring him. He didn’t seem thrilled by anything I brought him before.” They walk into the penthouse condo, and Louis tries not to flinch as Gemma continues speaking. “I don’t really know this Harry very well, but I know you do.”

She’s watching him closely when his eyes dart to hers. “Uh--yeah, I guess I do. He gave me specific things to look for though, so--”

“Did he now?” Her eyebrows raise a bit before she turns to shut the door.

“His laptop? And some books. Told me to pick out a few cookbooks, too.”

She murmurs an assent and then walks towards the large windows as though to look at the view, leaving Louis to find the items Harry asked for. He looks for the laptop first, since Harry’s desk sits out in the open living area. It’s fairly obvious it’s not on his desk though. Just a few pens and a bound photo journal of some kind sit on the gleaming white surface.

He tries desperately to not think about how much everything looks the same. The same photographs on the wall, the same coffee table, the same rug on the floor.

He knows the cookbooks will be on the large black bookshelves against the wall, and he finds an even larger collection than he remembers there ever being. Makes sense, he supposes. Harry clearly has been acquiring new ones in the time they’ve been apart. Louis flips through a few and decides to bring him a few older ones that he remembers, and just one new one. He isn’t sure which Harry would prefer.

As much as Gemma says she doesn’t know this Harry like Louis does, he stands in front of the bookcases and realizes no one knows this Harry. This Harry is the one who has been injured and who woke up with part of his life missing. It’s stupid to have only just thought of this, but it nearly brings him to his knees to think about how alone Harry must feel. He’s not sure how much time ticks by as he stands there before the bookcases, staring at nothing.

“You finding anything?”

He nearly drops the books in his hands.

“Yes.” He clears the hoarseness from his throat.  “I’m just--he wanted some books from his bedside table. Just gonna go grab those and see if his laptop is in his bedroom.”

He hurries down the hall before she can see the emotion on his face. His hand is on the doorknob of Harry’s bedroom-- their bedroom --and his hands start to shake. He tries to breathe in and out, four seconds at a time. He has to go in. He has to. He’s got to get ahold of himself. He can’t fall apart in front of Gemma.

He wills himself to open the door. The curtains in the room are open slightly, allowing light to filter into the room, illuminating the dust motes into sparkles of glitter that reminds him of the ice outside. Harry’s bed must look just as he left it the morning before the accident, haphazardly made, a pair of grey sweatpants laying at the foot of the bed. The door leading into the closet is open, and Louis walks over just to close it.

It’s strangely intimate to be in this room again, intimate and wrong. If that Uber had made it here safely that night, Louis would not be standing here. It feels like he’s living in some alternate universe where something has veered off from what was supposed to happen. Of course, in another life this would still be their condo, and this would be Louis’ bedroom, too. He shakes the thought from his head.

Harry’s laptop lays atop the bedside table, still plugged into an outlet and charging. It all looks like what it is--a life interrupted. A book sits beneath it on the open shelf, a bookmark stuck part way through. Harry had always liked the aesthetic of real books--no e-readers for him. Louis unplugs the laptop and grabs the book, a Ross King historical. The red dome on the cover only serves to remind him that they’d once planned to vacation in Florence before everything fell apart. Was Harry planning a trip there?

He hesitates about bringing Harry the book, but there isn’t another in the room. He unplugs the laptop and grabs the book. Probably best he just not think about it all too much. He walks out of the room, shutting the door behind him and wishing he could shut out everything about this place.

How can Harry bear to stay here in this place they once shared? Sleep in the same room they slept in? Sit in the room where it all ended? Did it just not mean as much to Harry as it does to him? He wants to run out of here and never come back to revisit these thoughts, but first he’s got to go face Gemma. He tries to school his face and walks back through the hall and into the living area.

She’s standing at Harry’s desk when he walks back in and slams shut the bound book on it, looking up at him. “All done?”

“Yeah, um--this is it. He only had one book in there, so I guess I’ll just bring him this one.”

The smile on her face looks a bit strained, but maybe she’s having trouble being in this place without Harry. He glances into the kitchen, and he feels his face flush with the memories of the last time he was in it--Harry carrying him roughly to the counter, his mouth at his neck and his fingers frantically pulling at their clothes. He looks away.

The elevator is just as silent as it was on the way up, but the quiet feels different, maybe they’re just uneasy after having been in the condo.

“Are you going to head to the hospital now?” Gemma asks as they step out of the elevator. All traces of strain gone from her face.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll go now. Nothing better to do.” He winces at the implication. “I meant, I might as well bring him this now since he’s so bored, not that I don’t want to go. I mean, not that I want to go, but--”

“Louis.” Gemma gives him an odd, almost wistful look. “Thanks for being here. And for being there for Harry. I know it can’t be easy, but I want you to know that I appreciate it--he appreciates it. I know he’s a little--prickly right now, but I know he’s grateful that you understand how much he needs you even though you’re not together.”

“Oh, I--don’t mind. Really. It’s no problem. He was--” He doesn’t finish the thought, but they both hear his unsaid words.

He leaves her in the lobby as she waits for her car to warm up and heads back out into the frigid air. His tires crunch through the snow and ice as he drives slowly and carefully across town, and yet, it somehow seems to take no time at all. Definitely not enough time to process anything he felt back in the condo.

As he walks into the hospital with his arms full of Harry’s requests, he takes calming breaths and talks himself off the cliff. Harry needs a comforting visit and not to be confronted with Louis’ issues with a man Harry doesn’t even remember being.

He knocks and walks in to a hugely dimpled grin on Harry’s face.

“Gimme, gimme,” Harry says, his voice teasing as he reaches for his books and laptop. Louis hands them over, returning the grin with one of his own. He finds some of the nerves he’d felt since Harry’s text this morning begin to evaporate with Harry’s obvious pleasure over the appearance of a few comforts from home.

After Louis’ realization at the condo, he finds himself studying this Harry whom no one really knows. Harry examines the covers of the Ross King book and the newer cookbook with his eyebrows drawn together slightly. The Harry he knew would have nearly squealed with excitement over a new historical book or a brand new cookbook. This Harry seems almost wary of them or maybe just subdued.

A hint of a smile hovers at the corners of his lips as he flips through the more familiar, older cookbooks Louis has brought him.

“Thanks for this, Lou.”

“You’re welcome, but it was no problem, really.”

Harry’s smile fades. “You don’t have to say that. It must be hard for you to go back there. I would have asked Gemma to go, but I didn’t think she’d understand what to pick out for me the way you would.”

Another thing that this Harry does, communicates directly. This Harry speaks what’s on his mind.

Louis just nods. “I found everything fine. Gemma met me there and let me in.”

Harry’s face falls. “I didn’t think of that. Sorry. Didn’t realize you wouldn’t be able to get in.”

“It’s okay, Harry. Really. Yes, it was hard to be in there, but also I was happy to go and get you some things to make it slightly more tolerable to be here.”

“Well, I really appreciate it.” Harry sits up straighter in bed and moves his legs to hang over the sides to better face him. The way he moves is so different, more stiff and awkward than the confident Harry he’s always known. He knows the accident and his injuries are to blame for the way he moves, but it seems like the accident has changed more than just his memory and his physical movements. “You know they’re talking more about sending me home soon.”

“They are? That’s great, H.”

“Yep.” Harry smiles brightly, his dimples creasing his cheeks deeply and reminding Louis of the way Harry looked in college with more excitement and less burdens. “I can’t wait to get out of here. Maybe I’ll cook you something out of this new cookbook here when I get there. You know, as a thank you, I mean.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Harry.”

“Just as a thank you. Does that sound okay?” Louis can hear the slightly anxious tone of Harry’s voice. Yet another difference to be catalogued about him.

“Yeah, Harry. It sounds okay.”

 

###

 

Monday, January 13

 

“Harry, stop checking your phone.”

“Well, isn’t using my phone one of the fine motor skills you’re obsessed with me mastering?”

Zayn doesn’t look impressed by this. “I’d hardly say I’m obsessed. You’re the one who won’t be able to button your shirt if you don’t practice, not me.”

“When have I ever buttoned my shirts much anyway though?” Harry thinks this is a fair point, but Zayn continues to look unimpressed.

“Looks like you’ve been practicing plenty with your phone, so probably time to move on to buttons.”

“Fine.” Harry sets the phone down and lets Zayn help him shrug a shirt on to practice buttoning again. “I hate buttons.”

Zayn actually huffs out a laugh at this. “I know, but I figure that you actually dress appropriately at work. Figure you’ll need this skill back.”

Work. A minefield that Harry isn’t ready to deal with to be honest. He’s thought so much about leaving the hospital, but no one has really said much about him returning to work. He wonders how far into the future that really is.

Harry’s phone buzzes again with a text. He reaches for it, but a withering look from Zayn keeps him from actually picking it up. “What if it’s--never mind.”

“Important?” Zayn asks as though he knows the answer.

He pauses for a second before saying what he’s thinking. “What if it’s Louis?”

Zayn stills. “Didn’t realize you guys were texting a lot.”

“I don’t know if a lot is the right words for it, but yeah we text a bit. He hasn’t--” Harry clears his throat a bit and fiddles with the first button. “--he hasn’t mentioned that to you?”

Zayn’s face gives nothing away. Stony bastard. “No. But you still need to learn to button your shirt on your own because texting Louis doesn’t help with that particular goal.”

Harry rolls his eyes.

“Actually--”

“Actually, what?”

“Maybe it does.” Zayn looks thoughtful for a moment. “How about as soon as you finish buttoning this shirt, you can check your phone?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Motivation for an unpleasant task.”

Harry buttons the shirt as fast as he can, his fingers fumbling at the small buttons of the shirt. He grins briefly at Zayn when he’s finished and snatches his phone up.

I know you’re a good cook, but I’m still not sure I trust anything made entirely of cauliflower

He’s about to text Louis back when Zayn seizes his phone out of his hand. “Never said you could text back.”

“Wha--”

“Unbutton the shirt, and you can text him back.”

Harry grumbles as he unbuttons the shirt clumsily. He’s had to concentrate on the shirt and hasn’t noticed Zayn looking at his phone until he finishes and looks up.

“Speaking of cooking…” Zayn begins.

“We weren’t speaking of cooking. You’re reading my text messages.”

“Take that shirt off, and you can text him back about your cauliflower thing. Then, we’re going to speak about your goals going forward.”

Harry grabs the phone out of Zayn’s hand and nearly drops it, but manages to hold on before it clatters to the ground again. He quickly types a response.

I’ll test the recipe out before I try to make it for you. If I don’t respond it’s because Zayn is holding me hostage

Zayn holds out his hand for the phone. The look on his face holds no sympathy. Harry sighs and hands the phone back. “Now what?”

“You’re going to button that shirt one more time, while I ask for your input on your goals for the next OT.”

Harry stops mid-button, letting the shirt hang open. “Sure you don’t want to just stop by once and a while and make me practice tying my shoes?”

He sees a flash of pity cross Zayn’s face before he answers. “You’re going to need a bit more care than that, Harry. Our last session will be in a few days, which is a good thing. Means you’re going home. Not going to need this kind of acute care, but I think you know it’s still going to be a long road to a complete recovery.”

Harry shrugs one shoulder. “So people keep saying. I’ll just be glad to be out of here.”

“Yes, it will be good for you to be home, but it will also be a pretty big adjustment. I think it will important to find some things to keep you motivated especially with your therapy.”

“I’ll just do what we did here. I can text Louis after I do every task I’m supposed to do. Easy.”

“Harry--” He can see Zayn struggling for the right words. “Everything can’t be about Louis, especially not your recovery.”

“What else is there to recover for?” He mumbles.

There’s a touch of sadness in Zayn’s eyes as he responds. “Do it for yourself, Harry. Recover and change whatever you want about your life, but do it for you.”

Harry doesn’t say anything. He knows what Zayn is saying is important, but he can’t really wrap his mind around his point, though he nods to keep Zayn talking.

“Okay, let’s talk about some of the things you want to be able to do first. I’m assuming based on those texts that you want to work on cooking tasks.”

Harry can feel his jaw drop. He hadn’t even considered he wouldn’t be able to cook properly.

“I can see you may not have thought about this. Your new OT can help you with that, so don’t panic. I’ll go through a few more goals, and you can see if you think they’re appropriate or if you want to add anything.”

“Okay.” He’s still feeling floored that he needs help with cooking.

“So your goals will be quite similar, but they’ll be adapted to your home environment. So your goal about communication we can change to include some social outings rather than just communicating through your phone. Fine motor can continue to include things like dressing yourself but we’ll add things like cooking and laundry and cleaning.” Zayn pauses. “Do you do your own laundry anyway? Or is it all sent out to be cleaned? Do you have a housekeeper?”

Harry snorts. “Yes, I do my own laundry, but yes, I also have a housekeeper. Er--at least I think I do?”

“Right, well, we can see how that goes, I guess. For your physical activity goal, obviously PT will be a part of that, but I was thinking you should add something to that. There’s a physical activity group in the aquatic therapy pool at the clinic where Lou--well, at the clinic you’ll go to for outpatient care.”

Swimming does sound kind of nice. He can probably move a lot more easily in the water. “Yeah, that sounds okay.”

Zayn’s face betrays a certain amount of unease. “I’m not sure how much you do with your photography now, but handling your cameras can also be a part of this.”

These words jolt Harry a bit. “Uh--yeah. Put something about that in there.” He’s still recovering a bit from this last statement when Zayn continues with something he dreads hearing.

“We’ll need to know what kind of tasks you might need to help you with returning to work as well. That’s something you and your new OT can discuss though.”

“Shit. Yeah, okay. I--don’t actually know what I do at work really. Not like on a daily basis anyway. Guess I’ll talk to Liam about that.”

Zayn nods. “Sounds good. I also want to talk to you about transitioning home. I know you’re really eager to leave, but I think we should talk about what to expect. It can be very frustrating to go home and feel like you can’t do all the things you’re used to being able to do there. When you’re in the hospital, people are doing so much for you that you might not even realize it until you’ve got to do those things for yourself.”

Harry frowns. “Okay. How do I not put my fist through a wall about that then?”

Zayn blinks back his surprise. “Well, if you can put your fist through a wall right now, I’d say your PT is going really well.”

“Fucking great, so I won’t even be able to do that. Better make it a goal,” Harry says with a smile.

Zayn returns the smile. “The walls in your condo are brick, so I’m afraid that goal would be rather unrealistic. One that might be a little further down the road though is driving. Obviously, getting from place to place won’t be a hardship for you financially, but eventually, you’ll probably want your independence back rather than calling for a car every time you want to go somewhere.”

Harry nods as he glances towards the keys to his Lamborghini that are sitting atop a pile of golf magazines beside him. He knows he won’t be going anywhere in that car ever, but it would be nice to have his Range Rover back and be able to get around well in this snow.

“Well, we have one last session after this, and then we’ll be done. I--” Zayn clears his throat. “I hope you’ll keep in mind what I’ve said, Harry. Your recovery--I hope you’ll work towards it for yourself. You deserve to get your life back.”

After Zayn leaves, he thinks about all he’s said. His words have a ring of truth to them, and yet, Harry still isn’t sure he can believe them. Everyone keeps talking about getting him his life back. What if he doesn’t want it back? What if what he wants is a new life? One where he doesn’t fuck everything up with Louis.

This thought turns over in his mind as he flips his phone back and forth across the surface of his tray table. The screen brightens, and Harry sees he has a missed text. Louis has sent him a gif of a cartoon character tied to a chair.

Do you need me to come rescue you from my roommate?

Harry can’t help the little jolt in his stomach every time Louis texts as though he’s getting texts from his teenage crush. He’s disregarding everything his psychologist has told him about going slowly and building a new friendship, but he’s never just wanted a friendship with Louis, and he can’t imagine starting now.

My tormentor has left finally. Only one more torture session with him left

Ellipses immediately appear as Louis replies.

One more? Does this mean what I think it means?

Harry’s heart hammers a bit in his chest as he thinks about what he’s going to say.

Yep. Getting the hell out of here on Wednesday. Do you think you could come? Just to help me get settled?

He’s so nervous he accidentally sends the text too soon by mistake. He curses under his breath as he tries to text again more quickly, but it still takes him a while to text back. His fingers fumble over the letters as he tries to key in some convincing reasons why he needs Louis. He nearly drops the phone when it begins buzzing with an incoming call.

He stares at Louis’ name flashed across the screen for a moment before he quickly answers.

“Hi.”

“Hey, H. Hope it’s okay that I called.”

“Of course. Call anytime. I’d love that.” Jesus. Pathetic much?

“Er--yeah. Okay. Uh--well, that’s great news that you’re getting out of there, Harry. I’m really glad. I know how much you hate it there.”

“Yeah, Zayn keeps telling me it will be harder than I think to go home, but I can’t really wrap my head around that. I just want to get the hell out of here.”

“Yeah, that makes sense though. You have all your home care set up?”

“Um--I wanted to talk to you about that. I think I do? But uh--I thought maybe if you came home with me, just that first day you know. It might help me figure things out properly.” This explanation sounds feeble even to his own ears.

There’s a brief pause, and Harry’s heart lodges in his throat. “Yeah, I can do that. If you need me--”

“I do. I need you.” Fuck, he knows he’s saying too much, but he just can’t stop himself.

“Are you sure you don’t want your--” Louis stops as though trying to think of someone, anyone, who would make more sense to bring Harry home. “--sister?”

“No. I’d rather have you if you can. You know what you’re doing with all the medical stuff and maybe helping me figure out how to move around the condo well.” He doesn’t even know what he’ll need help with, but this seems logical.

“True. I’d be good at that, I suppose. I’ve got an early day on Wednesday, so I’ll come as soon as I’m done at work if that’s okay.”

“It is.” He feels relief wash through him. “And Louis?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

“Of course. I’d do anything for y--I’m always here to help a friend.”

He knows what Louis is saying is true. Louis would always be there for a friend, and he knows he’s taking advantage of that, but he just can’t care about that right now. If he ever regains his memory, the one thing he’s certain of is that he never stopped loving Louis Tomlinson, and he never stopped hoping he’d come back to him.

 

###









Chapter Text

 

Wednesday, January 15

 

Cynthia glances up from the front desk as Louis enters the waiting area. “Niall hasn’t shown up yet for lunch.”

“Oh, I’m not meeting him for lunch today.”

She looks up again at him, clearly surprised by this unusual turn of events. He and Niall are very predictable, apparently.

“Uh--Harry is being discharged from the hospital today.”

“Oh.” She looks like Louis just told her he’s moving to Antarctica.

“So I--he asked me to--just gonna help him get settled.”

“Right.” She’s still staring at him like he’s got three heads.

“Figure I know some things about accessibility and making sure he has what he’ll need--”

Cynthia’s eyebrows are practically at her hairline.

“So I’m just gonna--” He points at the door as though he needs Cynthia’s permission to leave. “--go.”

“Mhm. See you tomorrow, Louis.”

He stares at her for a moment, almost asking her about her reaction, but then thinks better of it. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know. Just because they didn’t ever discuss his breakup with Harry doesn’t mean that everyone at work didn’t know. He knows he’d worn his devastation openly, purple skin beneath his eyes, clothes that hung off his shrinking frame, cheekbones slashing his face too prominently.

She glances up at him, and he reads in her eyes the memories of that Louis, the broken one. He turns away though. There isn’t a choice to be made right now, and even if there was, he doesn’t know that he could make the one for his own self-preservation.

The sting of the outside air catches him by surprise. The temperature has dropped even just from a few hours ago. He huddles down in his coat and hustles to his car as quickly as possible. There’s no point in waiting for it to warm up when he can basically see the hospital from where he’s sitting.

He stomps through the ice in the parking lot that’s beginning to form from the freeze and thaw effect of the weather lately. Lucky he wore his boots today. He’ll have to be really careful with bringing Harry home. The walkways nearest the entrance are all salted heavily, crunching under his boots. At least he won’t have to worry about Harry slipping here.

Harry’s door flings open at the first rap of his knuckles against it. The man in the doorway looks irritated beyond belief.

“Thank you, Jesus, you’re here,” the man says as he turns back towards the other occupant in the room. “Mr. Styles, your boyfriend’s here.”

Louis steps into the room, his face reddening at the mistaken notion that he’s Harry’s boyfriend. As the man pushes the wheelchair to Harry’s bedside, he doesn’t say anything, and he notices Harry doesn’t correct him either. Probably just easiest to say nothing. He spots Harry on the bed dressed in a red sweater that looks soft and expensive, probably cashmere, and closely fitted jeans. His feet are already in boots laced up and ready.

“I don’t really need a wheelchair.”

“Hospital policy, Mr. Styles,” says the man who has apparently been sent to transport Harry. He turns to Louis. “He made me come up here an hour ago just in case you were early.”

The irritation makes sense now. Harry doesn’t look like he cares that he’s been testing this man’s patience for an hour. He’s having a hard time keeping his eyes off Harry, the genuine smile so much like how Harry used to look at him, joy written across his face at the thought of leaving this place. And yet, there’s something different there, too, something new that began with the still slightly visible scar on his head.

It’s such a visible reminder that he lost the Harry he loved years ago, and now he’s also lost the one who broke his heart. The man moving slowly and being helped into a wheelchair is someone else entirely from the Harry who had let him go. Louis needs to remember that, remember and treat him as the man who is working on recovering from a devastating accident and not as just a ghost from his past.

Something unfurls in his chest, light and warm, heating him from the inside out. Maybe he can do this. Maybe this is their chance to get back what they’d lost. He can’t quite block out the thought that if Harry were to regain his memory this chance would all fall apart. It’s a brutal reminder that whatever he thinks they could still build together isn’t really possible. He needs to remember this and keep his expectations in check.

Harry shrugs on the dark wool coat laying beside him on the bed, eager to leave as quickly as possible. He walks alongside him as he’s wheeled to the first floor of the hospital, and he tries to rethink these sudden expectations that have flooded his mind. What he needs to do is focus on helping Harry get home and reintegrated into his life. All his own expectations need to be set aside for now.

He rushes back out into the cold to bring his car up to the front entrance of the hospital where Harry waits for him. There’s a sense of purpose running through him now, and for the first time in a very long time, he knows what to do when it comes to Harry. He knows how to help him, and it feels pretty damn good.

He can tell Harry wants to shrug off any help getting into the car, but Louis has already stowed his walker in the trunk and the wheelchair can be wheeled right up to the car.

“It’s slippery out here, Harry,” Louis warns as he takes Harry’s weight, wrapping an arm around him. Harry snorts at his concern, the salted walkways clearly not slippery. “You know how stubborn I am, so just humor me.”

Harry doesn’t offer any arguments and leans into the support as Louis carefully helps him into the front seat. He quickly makes his way around the car and into the driver’s seat, already shivering from the cold.

“Same car,” Harry says with what sounds like approval.

“Yeah, I really should get a new one, but you know how I get attached to--” He stops already feeling like he’s stepping on a landmine. “I really need a new one. I’ve been thinking I could really use remote start with how brutal winter is around here.”

“Mmm. Yeah. You’re always cold even when it’s seventy degrees out.” A hint of fondness touches Harry’s face as he teases, and it makes Louis look away and buckle his seatbelt.

Louis drives carefully across town through the slush of salt and sand and ice on the roads. How many times had they driven this exact route? Many, many times over the years they were together, but never with Louis at the wheel. It’s an odd change, but not an unpleasant one.

There’s a comfortable silence in the car as Harry stares through the window, and Louis assumes he’s taking pleasure in the scenery even if it’s covered in snow and ice. Surely anything is better than his hospital view at this point.

They reach a red light, and he chances a glance at Harry, tensing at the frown on his face. “There’s an Olive Garden there.”

Louis doesn’t have to look to know there must be differences in what Harry remembers and what he sees now. “Yes, uh--maybe a year ago it opened?”

“Does it stay as busy as the one on the other side of the river?”

Louis cracks a smile. “Yeah, it does. You know how people love Olive Garden around here.”

Harry snorts. “Not us.”

“Nope, not us. Once you’ve been to Italy, you’re spoiled for all eternity, I suppose.” A memory of the two of them eating in a trattoria tucked away through a labyrinth of Roman side streets flashes through his mind for a moment. He wonders if Harry is thinking the same or if he’s continuing to catalogue the differences between his memory and the reality he sees through the glass.

They reach the crest of the bluff that gives a wide view of the river just before the road dives steeply towards downtown, and Louis hears the sudden intake of Harry’s breath. For a moment, he doesn’t realize why.

“What--how--the bridge--” Harry croaks.

Louis’ eyes dart towards the huge, steel arches that lead cars across the wide expanse of the river, and he knows that the last time Harry lay eyes on the river a smaller, green bridge stood in its place.

“I mean--I knew--I just--” Harry stutters.

Louis tries to recall what it must have looked like two years ago. “Harry, it’s okay. That’s kind of a huge change from what you remember. Wish I’d thought to warn you about that.”

“No. Don’t be sorry, Lou. I remember the construction beginning, but it’s just--it’s just a lot to see something this enormous be--be--”

He can hear the choked tears even if he doesn’t dare look over at him. They’re nearly to Harry’s condo now, but he wonders if he should pull over right now and comfort him. He looks quickly for a side street, but Harry must realize what he’s considering.

“Don’t stop, Lou. Please. Just--I want to go home.”

Louis just nods and continues as quickly as he dares towards Harry’s place. He pulls up to the front entrance, not daring to let Harry walk through the parking lot even if it looks to be mostly clear.

“I’ll just help you inside and then go park the car.”

“I don’t need help getting inside. Just get me the walker.”

Louis sighs that he could be this stubborn even when he’s upset. “Humor, me okay?”

Harry grunts what Louis decides to consider an assent, so he quickly grabs the walker from the trunk and then places it just to the side of the door. Harry swings it open, and Louis bends down to help him up before he can try to on his own. The last thing anyone needs is for him to get hurt just trying to get inside.

Harry grabs hold of the walker, determination set in his features as he slowly makes his way through the automatic doors of the condo complex. Louis hears him say hello to the doorman and points him to a bench near the elevator before he runs back outside to the car. When he returns, it’s to the sight of Harry standing stubbornly beside the elevator.

“Thought I told you to sit.”

“I’ve done enough sitting.”

Louis punches the button to go up. “Okay, Harry, but you’ve still got a lot of recovering to do. Not that I don’t want you to be as active as possible, just make sure you’re moving under supervision.”

“Like a child,” Harry mutters as the doors slide open.

Louis keeps his hand in place, so Harry has time to enter the elevator without it shutting on him. “No, like a person with a head injury.”

Louis tries to keep his composure as they enter Harry’s condo, the last memories of being here in this place haunt him, but he knows this can’t be about himself right now.

“So we’ve got about an hour before your nurse gets here. I’ll just start--” He drifts off as he sees that Harry has made his way to the large windows and is staring out at his spectacular view of the river, the huge silver arches of the bridge prominently on display. He walks to Harry’s side. “You know, it lights up at night.”

“Yeah, well, people need to be able to see when they drive over it, don’t they?”

“Don’t be an ass,” Louis scoffs. “I mean the arches. They have LED lights in them that turn colors. It looks spectacular from here--I’d guess.”

“What the fuck? It turns colors?” Harry shakes his head. “How fucking weird. Okay. Anyway, enough about the bridge--I’m sure I’ll get used to it or whatever. What were you saying?”

It takes Louis a moment to remember what he’d been saying. “The nurse. She’ll be here in an hour. I thought I’d have a look around the place with you and see what we can do to make sure everything is accessible enough for you.”

Louis moves to begin checking the basic areas that Harry will likely need help with, when Harry speaks. “Lou?”

“Yeah, Harry?”

“Thank you. For this--and for everything.”

 

###

 

Friday, January 17

 

Harry has only been home a few days, and it’s not that he didn’t know it would be an adjustment. He just didn’t know how big of an adjustment it would be.

There are of course a lot of good things about being home. He can sleep better without the sounds of a hospital around him. Less people in and out of his room. No disgusting hospital food. All the comforts of home around him.

He thinks about the cons of this situation as he eyes Lacey, one of his home health nurses, emerge from the bathroom. She’d insisted he still take a bath instead of a shower. This continuous monitoring is driving him insane. Louis had put down a non-slip mat in the shower. He’s sure it’s probably safe to take a shower.

“Can I at least try a shower tomorrow?” He calls out to her from the living room couch as she makes her way into the kitchen, probably to get his meds.

“Nope. Not until you’re standing well on your own, Mr. Styles. You know this. Keep working on your balance with your PT,” she calls back. “You’ll be glad to know that this is your last day of round the clock care though. Just check ins after this. You need to eat something before your PT gets here though.”

He grits his teeth as he clutches the walker in front of him and heaves himself up. He slowly makes his way to the kitchen, grumbling under his breath about people telling him what to do.

“I’m not here to make friends, Mr. Styles.”

“Clearly not.”

He does do as she asks though and makes himself a sandwich from things he finds in his refrigerator. He’s not sure who stocked it with easy to prepare foods, but he suspects Louis is the only person who would have thought of such a thing. It’s cumbersome to try and prepare food when he’s not quite steady enough to do it properly. He does manage to slap together a sandwich though, Lacey eying him critically the whole time. She doesn’t offer to help though. She knows by now that he doesn’t want it.

He shuffles his ass back to the couch like an old man to wait for his PT. He’s already sick of the walker, but at least he’s not stuck in a bed all the time. He flips on the huge television screen mounted on the wall and pulls up HBO.  The entertainment is decidedly better at home.

His account says he’s already watched part of this series, although he of course doesn’t remember seeing it. He can’t help but be curious and wonder if while he watches anything seems familiar. It’s probably futile at this point, but he stubbornly hits play.

The futuristic Western storyline definitely captures his attention, but it gives him an awful nauseous feeling. He can’t imagine wanting to watch this, and he doesn’t think he remembers it. When his PT shows up, he’s actually glad to be able to click it off and tries to shake off the odd feeling it gave him.

The session leaves him feeling drained. The PT certainly isn’t Niall, that’s for sure. He thinks he prefers Niall’s no nonsense approach, but maybe it’s harder to be firm with one of the Selleys when you don’t know them. Maybe it’ll get better the more the guy gets to know him.

He lowers himself back down to the couch and tries to ignore Lacey’s presence in the condo. Thank fuck he’ll be done with round the clock babysitting after today. He turns the television back on and then back off again. He glances over at his bookcases. Boredom sets in quickly.

With a groan, he reaches for his phone. Resisting the urge to text Louis when he knows he’s working, he instead scrolls through until he reaches Liam’s contact info.

You at work?

He can see Liam is replying immediately.

Yes! How is being home?

Harry chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment.

Good but boring

He wonders how long he can keep Liam texting before he has to get back to--whatever it is Liam does. Whatever it is he does, too, he supposes.

:(  sorry you’re bored but it’s better than being in the hospital I’m sure?

Guilt flashes through him for keeping Liam from his work, but he pathetically has no one else he wants to talk to besides Liam right now.

True. Can I ask what you’re working on?

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to know a little bit about what he does.

Of course you can ask, I’m doing your work ;)

Okay, now he feels like a bit of a jerk. He’s interrupting Liam at work when he is in fact doing Harry’s job for him. Before he can respond, he sees Liam is texting more details.

Sorry, that’s a joke btw. It’s actually a fairly slow time of the year for us what with the holidays being over. We ramp up again in the spring. Mostly just doing paperwork on where the donations are going and looking over grant applications.

He chews a bit on his thumb nail, wondering what he should say next to keep Liam texting.

What do we do in spring?

His phone starts buzzing with an incoming call from Liam.

“Hi.”

“Hey, Harry. Thought it might be more helpful to just call. I have to say, I’m glad to hear you asking questions about work.”

Liam truly does sound pleased. Maybe he’s not being quite that truthful when he says he’s joking about doing his work. “Yeah, well don’t get too excited. I have no clue what we do. So unless my memory decides to show up, you’re going to have to teach me how to do everything all over again.”

There’s a long pause. “Liam?”

“Yeah, uh--to be perfectly honest I’m about to cry in relief to hear you say that you think you’re going to come back to work at some point. I wasn’t sure if you’d ever want to come back, especially if you don’t remember anytime soon.”

“Oh,” he says, a little surprised by Liam’s bluntness. “I mean--I suppose that’s an option, but it sort of sounds like I liked the job or that I at least found it somewhat rewarding. So I guess I was hoping that if I got back to it I’d--I’d find something--worthwhile about my--”

He’s choking on his words now. Just a few days at home and already he sees how empty his life is without something to do or someone to share it with. He still can’t use his camera properly or maybe he could have let that be his crutch to reenter his life, but as it stands, he’s got nothing.

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“You know it would really help me out if you could start looking over some of these grant applications. We don’t need to notify anyone until the end of March if they’ll receive the grant, but we usually start gathering some preliminary research into the requests in January.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I mean, that sounds like something I could do.”

“Great! I’ll send you the link to the files. You can just go ahead and write in any additional comments about each one right in the document comments. Once we’ve read through them well, we usually choose about half to do additional research on.”

“I guess I didn’t realize how that worked. We have to reject half of them?”

“We reject more than half actually. You always did hate that part of it. But even with the amount of money we’re talking about, we’re a large foundation. We get a lot of grant requests. Not to mention the groups that will solicit us throughout the year or the groups we sponsor outside of the grants or--”

A thought crosses Harry’s mind, and he can’t help but interrupt. “How much money are we talking about?”

“The foundation gave thirty-eight million dollars last year.”

“THIRTY-EIGHT MILLION?”

He can hear the smile in Liam’s voice. “You’d think you’d be used to money like that by now.”

“I just--I mean, it’s not like I don’t know my family has money, but I’ve never really had much to do with it.” He shifts on the couch, a bit uncomfortable somehow. His voice lowers. “Obviously, I lived off of it though.”

“That wasn’t a jab at you, Harry. Some of that money comes directly from John Selley, of course, but you’re the reason the foundation is sponsoring and funding things to a level never seen before. You’re the one who is the relentless fundraiser.” Liam clears his throat. “Your goal was to get to forty million this year.”

“Ambitious,” he responds lamely, running a hand through what’s left of his hair. It’s hard to imagine himself that way.

“Yeah, when it comes to the people we help, you’re definitely ambitious.” Liam sounds as though he’s defending Harry to himself. Maybe he is.

He’s suddenly anxious to be off the phone to try to process this new information about himself. “Yeah, well, hopefully my recovery doesn’t put us too far behind. I guess you probably have my email address to send me the file.”

“I’ll send it right now. If you have any questions, feel free to call me or text me. Really, anytime, okay?”

“Okay. Will do.”

After they hang up, he stares out the window at the view of the huge arches of a bridge he’s still not used to seeing. There’s so much to get used to, too much, he thinks, but the only way he can go is forwards. He spends too much time looking back, he knows this. It’s something that needs to change.

And he can start right now by opening that file.

It’s a lot to read through. The jargon isn’t anything he’s dealt with that he remembers, but things begin to make more sense even just an hour into looking through the proposals. He’s so engrossed in what he’s doing, it takes him a good fifteen minutes to realize that when Lacey said goodbye tonight, no one came in to take her place. He’s actually alone.

A huff of a laugh leaves him as he soaks in the feeling for a moment before he’s back at the next proposal. At first he tried to leave comments as Liam suggested, but he realizes early on that he doesn’t know what he’s doing yet. He decides instead to commit to reading through them all one time and then going back to see which ones he thinks sound like they fit the mission statement of the foundation, which Liam has helpfully included as one of the documents in the file.

The rumble of his stomach alerts him to the fact that it’s well past dinner time and he hasn’t eaten anything since that sandwich many hours ago. He’s a bit stiff as he manages to get himself up to the walker and back into the kitchen. He finds a microwave meal in the freezer that he pops into the microwave. As he waits for it to heat up, he feels a a small sense of pride in the work that he does.

He knows he isn’t the same person that got into that car accident, but he’s beginning to see that that person wasn’t all bad. Maybe that Harry had some things to be proud of, too.

Suddenly, he can’t stand to wait even one more minute to tell Louis what’s happening. He tries to balance the food on a plate to take back to the living room couch, but he quickly realizes that’s never going to happen. He eyes the dining area, but even that is probably too far to balance this thing. He sighs and leaves it on the island to eat sitting on a stool there.

He rattles his walker across the hardwood floors as fast as he can to the couch where he’s left his phone. He pockets it and heads back to the kitchen where he plops onto a stool and takes a bite of the microwave Thai noodles.

He fumbles to get his phone out and then places it on the surface to text Louis. Even he’s a bit surprised by what comes out.

Hey I have a proposition for you

###

 

Monday, January 20

 

The text that came in around lunchtime burns a hole in his pocket. Between patients, he takes out his phone and stares at it and then slides it back in his pocket. It’s a simple text is the thing. He’s not sure what his own feelings about it means precisely.

Just before his last patient of the day, he finally gives in to typing a response.

It’s been a while but of course I remember you

He pockets his phone again, but he feels it buzz almost immediately. He resists the temptation to check it and instead walks out into the waiting area to greet his patient. He tries his best to stay present during therapy. He can’t really ever afford to be off his game with kids, but he finds his mind straying a little, wondering what the text might say and wondering what he might say in response.

As soon as the hour is up, he scurries back to his desk and slides his phone out of his pocket. His heart rate picks up at the thought of what it might say.

I’ve been traveling for work a lot but now that I’m home I’d love to take you out sometime if you’re free

Louis’ stomach churns a bit, just nerves he tells himself. It’s been some time since he’s done this--whatever this is. He pockets his phone again and shrugs on his coat and hat and scarf. He’s half lost in thought as he says goodbye to Cynthia and walks into the wind, head down.

He starts the car, shivering, and lets the cold be the only thing he feels. As he heads off the expressway and into the residential streets towards home, he finally feels the warmth of the heater begin to sink beneath his skin.

He’s just not sure how to feel is the thing. And it’s a weird thing, a troubling thing, to not know how to feel. He doesn’t bother taking his coat off when he gets inside the house, instead whistling for Stuart and putting his boots on to take him around the block at least.

The wind stings his face, and he huddles down into his scarf a bit more as he walks. His face isn’t the only thing that stings. Something has begun to happen in Louis’ head and heart, and he only now sees how numb he’s been for--a while. Harry’s accident, his renewed presence in his life again, has awoken something in him that he’s tried to suppress for far too long.

He’s always known that what he once felt for Harry was different than anything he’d ever felt before or since. He’d tried so many times before Harry to just be like everyone else, fall in and out of bed like a normal young guy, but he could just never go through with it. None of it felt appealing with a stranger.

Harry had been different, patient. Harry had looked at him like the whole world was right there in his eyes from the very beginning, but he didn’t push. He was steady and constant until Louis became comfortable, and then one day Louis found himself looking back at Harry in just the same way. The electric spark he’d been waiting for was finally there, crackling between them.

He and Stuart have made it around the block before he’s even noticed they were back in front of the house. He lets Stuart pull him towards the door and back into the warmth. He peels off his top layers and goes to make himself a cup of tea, hoping to drive out the chill.

He stares at the phone he’s set before him on the table and realizes he wants to let someone be patient for him again. He wants to be in love again even though it hurt so badly the last time. Maybe he’s finally ready to try. He can’t say he’s given a lot of thought to Jake Olsen since he met him, but he thinks that’s not how it works for him anyway. Instant chemistry isn’t really how his brain works. It’s not how his heart works.

He presses his phone back on and clicks on his texts, replying before he can talk himself out of it. And then he notices the text conversation below it.

It’s the last thing he’d texted to Harry.

Wednesday works for me. I’ll come over after work. I’m curious about what you mean by proposition, but I guess I can wait until Wednesday since you said it would make more sense in person.

His stomach sinks a little. He’s fairly certain though that whatever Harry’s proposition is, it’s nothing to do with their relationship, whatever their relationship even is--friends, he supposes. Hopefully, the transition to home hasn’t been too awful, but visitors would probably be welcome for anyone who is basically trapped in their own home.

The sound of the key in the door brings some relief from his own thoughts.

“Hey, Lou. Cold as balls out there--again,” Zayn says as he wrangles a boot off his foot. “Just gonna take a shower, and then I’ll be ready to go.”

“Go?”

“Yeah, it’s Monday. Niall said not to be late for kick off this time, or he’ll eat all the nachos himself.”

“Right. Monday Night Football. Right.”

Zayn stops in his tracks and wheels around to peer at him closely. “You okay?”

“Hmm? Yeah. Fine. Good.”

With a sigh, Zayn plops down into the other chair at the table. He motions with his hands. “Give it to me.”

“What?”

“Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m fine. Go take your shower.” Zayn doesn’t move, so he adds, “I’m hungry. Don’t want Niall to eat all the nachos.”

“You’re lying, but okay.” Zayn frowns, but he slides back from the chair and walks off to take a shower.

The cup of tea in front of him has grown cold, but he sips it anyway until it’s gone. Then, he changes out of his work clothes into sweatpants and a sweatshirt and wishes he’d taken a shower before Zayn got home. Not like Niall will care though. He flops back on the couch to wait for Zayn and plays games on his phone, intermittently scratching Stuart behind his ears.

The silence in the car on the way to Niall’s apartment makes him uneasy. They’re nearly there before he forces himself to break it.

“Why do we even keep torturing ourselves by watching football?”

“Because Niall loves football, and we’re his friends.” There’s a slight pause before Zayn adds, “And also he makes us food.”

“True. The food is a pretty good incentive.” Louis nods. “Wait, is Niall bribing us to watch football?”

There’s a snort from the driver’s side. “You’re just now figuring this out?”

Louis shrugs as they pull into the parking lot of Niall’s apartment building. He can feel the buzz of his phone in his pocket as they walk towards the door, and he resists the urge to check it until they’re inside the apartment.

He slides his phone out as he throws his coat on back of a chair. He smiles at the text.

“Ohhhh, Tommo’s smiling? Harry texting you some bullshit joke or something?”

Zayn snorts at Niall’s comment as though in agreement. “Yeah, what’s he say anyway?”

The smile melts off his face. Fuck, they think if he’s smiling at his phone it must be Harry. It’s so reminiscent of how they would tease him when he and Harry were together that it comes as a punch to the gut.

“It wasn’t Harry.”

He can tell by their faces they don’t believe him at first, and then, the odd look that passes between them makes him even more uncomfortable. As if they’ve talked about this or something.

“Okay,” Niall begins as he takes salsa out of the refrigerator. “So who is it then?”

“Jake. Olson. From the New Year’s party.”

“Oh. Cool.” He can tell how hard Niall is trying to keep his voice light. “You seeing him now or something?”

Zayn sits stiffly in a chair, and Louis’ eyes dart from one to the other of them. He can hardly fucking believe this.

“No, I haven’t been seeing him. You both know damn well that if I was, I would have said something before now.”

Niall holds his hands up in defense. “Okay, just asking.”

“He’s just asked me out, and I’ve basically just now said yes.” He hates the way he just said this as if he’s defending himself. Why is he defending himself about this?

Zayn’s still sitting there silent and rigid.

“What?” He finally asks, his voice raised louder than he intended. “Aren’t you always after me to get over it? Stop living like a monk?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“It most certainly fucking is what you said!”

“Hey, let’s just calm down--” Niall tries to interject.

“You’re both acting like I’m doing something wrong when both of you have been telling me for months to go out with someone new and stop living in the past.”

“I never said you were doing something wrong,” Niall insists. “I think it’s great. Jake seems like a good guy. And we all think the world of Jerry, so I’m sure his son is aces.”

Zayn snorts.

“You didn’t even meet Jake,” Louis snaps. “You were busy making out with Liam in a corner all night.”

Zayn’s lips press together in a thin line. “I just thought Niall’s use of the word aces was interesting.”

Niall shrugs, but there’s an odd look on his face.

“What? You had a problem with Jake?”

“No! I swear, you said he seemed nice. I mean, you didn’t seem sold on him really at the party, but if you want to go out with him now, I think it’s fine. Good. Great.”

He turns away from Niall who clearly doesn’t think it’s fine. “Just fucking say it, Zayn. You clearly want to say something.”

“I just think you’ve spent a lot of time telling us you’re not ready, and now I just find it interesting that you suddenly think you are.”

“What. The. Fuck.”

“You know, kick off starts in ten min--”

“You let his recovery and his therapy revolve around you, and now you’re putting it at risk.”

“So this is about Harry? Thought you were on my side.”

“I’m his fucking therapist.”

“Was. You’re done now.”

“Fine. Former therapist. You know how he feels about you, and you let him--”

Niall slams the salsa on the counter. “OKAY, STOP!”

They both swing towards the sound.

“It’s clear that this situation is--”

“Bullshit.”

“Fucked up.”

“Volatile,” Niall finishes the sentence. “Lou, you are absolutely allowed to go out with whoever you want. Zayn and I are not impartial because we’ve been spending more time with Harry than you have, and no, it’s not at all the same as when you come to visit him. We were there to do our jobs, but things are muddled because we knew him--know him. We probably shouldn’t have taken him on as our patient, but that ship has sailed. All we can do is move forward.”

Niall turns towards Zayn. “You’re forgetting yourself. You told me yourself that Harry needs to recover for himself and not for Lou. He’s not our patient anymore, and we can’t be in charge of that for him.”

Zayn’s arms cross over his chest, but he nods slightly in agreement. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have--I know I’m not being fair. I probably let myself get too involved in Harry’s treatment. I think maybe you don’t know how fragile he is though.”

“Believe me, I know he’s fragile.” Louis pictures the way Harry could barely get around the condo when he brought him home. “I don’t really know what I’m doing in case you haven’t noticed. I don’t have some grand master plan over here.”

Zayn deflates. “I know you don’t. I know you’re doing your best. I’m just worried about him.”

“You think I’m not? He’s my--he was my--” The words stick in his throat.

“I know, Lou. I know. Listen, this Jake guy, if he’s a good guy, you should give him a chance. If you want to see someone, if you’re actually interested in him, that’s a really, really good thing.”

Louis has to resist the urge to squirm a bit at these words. He doesn’t really know if he’s interested or not yet.

“I just want you to keep in mind that maybe you should be clear with Harry that there’s nothing left between you. That you’re only there for him as a friend. He could really use a friend, I think.”

“I mean, I think he knows.”

“He doesn’t.” Niall frowns. “Just be clear with him like Zayn said. Don’t let him get his hopes up.”

He can’t help but bristle at both of his friends trying to protect Harry, but he understands the bond you sometimes form with your patients.

“You both know that I can’t be with Harry again, right?”

Zayn sighs and leans back against the counter. Niall just glances towards Zayn.

“You guys were there--you know,” he chokes out the words. “Zayn, you warned me yourself not to fall for him again because he--this Harry--he’s temporary. He’ll remember someday and then he probably won’t even want to be friends.”

“Lou--this Harry isn’t going away, not completely. Even if he remembers, he’ll be different, changed by what’s happened to him. This kind of trauma changes a person. You know this.”

“There’s no way to really know though how he’d feel if he remembered everything,” he says it more to himself than anyone else.

“No, there’s no way to know,” Niall agrees quietly. “And we do remember what it was like for you, Lou. And you’re right that it might be something you couldn’t ever get past. I wouldn’t blame you for that at all. You deserve to be happy, Louis. If you’re ready to try again with whoever you decide, I think it’s a great thing.”

He’s not sure Harry could ever get past what he’s done either, but he doesn’t say it.

When his phone buzzes during the game, he doesn’t mention it’s Harry.

I’ll order us Thai food for Wednesday if that’s okay. Might as well have dinner while we talk over my proposition. Pretty sure you’re going to be up for it! :)

###

 

Wednesday, January 23

 

Harry’s living room couch and coffee table are littered with notepads and pens and printed out files as he sits with his laptop open. For a moment, he longs for the surface area of his desk, but he knows it’s not comfortable enough for him to sit at a chair without more support.

He sinks back into the couch and closes his eyes, giving them a little rest from the screen. When he opens them, his gaze focuses on the rainbow arrangement of the books on his bookshelves on the wall in front of him. It brings a small smile to his face to remember Gemma’s face when she’d first seen how he’d reorganized them by color. He can’t place exactly when that was. Before the breakup? Must have been. Which is a little odd considering she hadn’t been over to their condo much that he remembers. In any case, it gives him pleasure to see them arranged in a visually appealing way.

His stomach rumbles, and he sighs as he glances up at the clock. He forgot to stop for lunch. He stretches his arms out above his head and wonders what he’s got to eat. He moves in his slow pace across the room into the kitchen, slightly less frustrated by his walker because at least he’s on his own and sort of walking.

He stands beside the open refrigerator and tosses things to make a sandwich onto the island countertop close by, and then shuffles to grab the bread and a knife and plate. He sits on the stool to put it together. He’s really fucking sick of sandwiches, but he just can’t much get the hang of cooking with one hand while trying to balance with the other.

Maybe he should work on this more with his OT, but he just doesn’t want to spend time on learning something that he hopefully won’t need to know for that much longer. It all just makes him more determined to get stronger and walking on his own again.

He tries to mentally check through the things he wants to show Louis tonight as he eats his sandwich, but his mind is shit for that these days. He knows he wrote it down in the planner Zayn gave him though. He’s left his phone on the couch, but instead of hobbling over to get it, he lets himself daydream of the Thai food he’s going to order tonight.

He’s going to order from the place that everyone says is his favorite even though he doesn’t remember. There’s a small shred of hope that it’s one of the things that will trigger some memories.

If he’s honest with himself, he had hopes of remembering more being in his own home. So much for that idea.

When he’d looked at the menu earlier, pumpkin curry stood out as something that sounded good. He wonders if he’s ever ordered it before.

He’s still sitting at the island when the doorbell buzzes. He glances at the clock and realizes the PT must be here.

He can feel his strength now as he works through his exercises today. It’s a good feeling wrapped in relief.

“Nice job today, Harry,” his therapist says as he makes his way to the door after the session. “You’re making a lot of progress. I’ll check in with your neurologist and OT about how much stronger your left side has grown. I suspect you’re going to eventually regain full use. You may not have noticed, but I can see you’re using the walker more easily, not needing its support nearly as much as when you first came home.”

“Thanks, I guess some of the changes have been gradual. I haven’t noticed them as much, but you’re right.” He shoots him a smile that doesn’t leave his face as he settles back in to look through the paperwork that’s been scanned into the file for a group that works on cleaning the river of garbage and debris. It fits in nicely with the foundation’s mission.

The doorbell buzzes again, and he’s surprised by how dark the room has become. He hadn’t even realized how long he’s sat here going through a few of the longer grant proposals. He’s stiff as he levers himself up to his walker and makes his way to the door to answer it.

He can’t stop the grin that spreads over his face at the sight of Louis in his work clothes at his doorstep. It just looks so very right. The only difference would be that if things were really right, Louis would have opened the door of his own volition and kicked off his Vans and dropped his coat at the door. He would have slid in his sock feet across the wood floors towards the kitchen and asked what was for dinner or asked if Harry had remembered to buy him tea.

He shakes the memories from his head and finds his voice as he backs up to let Louis into the condo. “Hey, Lou. I haven’t ordered the food yet. Wasn’t sure what you were in the mood for.”

“Thai sounded fine.”

“Cool. I’ll just pull up the menu for Rainbow Thai on my phone for you in a second.” He starts moving towards the couch, where his phone lays strewn amidst his work as Louis wanders over towards the windows.

“Aren’t you just going to get pumpkin curry?” Louis asks with a laugh as he looks out at the view of the bridge, the lights of the bridge changing from green to blue beyond him. As though suddenly remembering something, he whips his head back around to look at Harry. “Sorry. It’s just--that was always your favorite there.”

“Yeah, I was kind of thinking of having that actually. Sounded good anyway.” He doesn’t like that Louis feels the need to apologize just for mentioning things he doesn’t remember.

There’s a hint of awkwardness hanging in the air. It’s been easier to pretend things are fine between them when their only communication is by texts and they have time to think about what they’re going to say before they say it.

He fumbles with his phone to pull up the menu. “Uh, here...choose what you want, and I’ll call.”

When their orders are in, he gathers up his files and his thoughts to present them in the most palatable way to Louis. He looks up to see Louis eying everything curiously. “Are you working on something?”

“Yeah, um--Liam gave me some things to work on.” He clears his throat. “Which is what I wanted to--what I asked you here for. To talk about.”

“Okay.” Louis lets the word draw out long and cautious, but he sits down on the chair beside the couch strewn with his work.

“So I don’t know how much you know about what I do, but--” He runs his fingers through his hair, catching a bit where the stitches had been. “What am I saying? You probably know more about what I do than I do.”

Louis snorts, and Harry continues. “Liam asked me to help him go through grant proposals. And it’s not that I can’t do it. But it’s just--” This maybe means a little more to him than he expected. He’s having trouble spitting out what he wants to say. Louis says nothing, waiting patiently for him to finish.

“I was hoping you’d help me go through the proposals that have to do with children--um, I guess in particular the ones that have to do with autism or occupational therapy of some kind.” He can’t help the pleading tone of his voice.

“Oh.” Louis looks surprised even though he’d imagined it was obvious by the state of his couch even though he stumbled through his request.

“Uh--so it’s just at the stage now where we’re gathering research on the proposals coming in. We won’t make any decisions until March. But I just figured--I just thought that--you might--”

“Hey, yeah,” Louis interrupts. “It sounds great, Harry. I mean, obviously I need to recuse myself from anything for the Autism Society specifically since I’m on the board, but everything else--”

“Oh, that’s separate,” he says with a wave of his hand.

Louis stills. “What do you mean it’s separate? Doesn’t the society write in for a grant each year?”

Christ, how does Louis not know this? “Um, no? I mean, I can see in the records that they used to write them, but it looks like not in the last few years--”

“What? How are they getting all this money then?”

Harry pulls at his bottom lip between his fingers, and Louis’ eyes narrow in on the movement. One of his many tells. He sighs and resigns himself to the truth. “Well, it looks like we raise money independently of the grants for the Autism Society. Apparently, I had put Liam in charge of it, but we had a separate fundraising entity specifically for the Autism Society.” He decides to leave out that he’d seen that there’s a stipulation for a certain percentage to go directly to Louis’ clinic.

“Oh, I didn’t know--” Louis trails off, his voice growing quiet. “I guess obviously I didn’t. But um--why?”

“Are you really going to make me say it? You know why, Louis.”

His heart thumps a bit harder in his chest, wondering if Louis is going to make him explain further. As though they don’t both know what Harry’s been doing for what looks like years according to the records, raising huge amounts of money to the organizations that mean most to Louis. Louis opens his mouth, but there’s a buzz at the door. The food.

Harry takes the reprieve gratefully and hoists himself to his feet with his walker, but Louis jumps up and motions for him to sit. “I’ll get it.”

Louis says something to the delivery person and takes out his wallet. “I already paid.”

“The tip,” Louis explains.

“Paid that, too,” he mumbles.

Louis whisks the bags into the kitchen and presumably begins plating things. He wants to help, but he knows he wouldn’t be able to carry the food in anyway.

“Everything’s ready,” Louis calls out, and he realizes he’s put everything out at the dining table. By the time he makes his way over to it, Louis has begun helping himself to the brown rice.

Something inside him squeezes his lungs, and he almost can’t breathe. He wants this back so badly. Louis back in their condo. Louis’ shoes back at the door. Louis’ place at the table, scooping food onto his plate. He only breathes again when Louis stops abruptly.

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Mmhmm,” he says, afraid to let anything else leave his lips lest it come out cracked and betray the emotions running through him. He drops a bit unsteadily into the chair opposite him, both of them in their places.

The first bite of food provokes an instant response. “Woah, this shit is good.”

Louis’ smile. There’s another thing he wants to keep in this condo.

“It is really good. Our--your--they have good food there, yeah,” Louis finishes lamely.

They eat the rest of the meal in silence, and even though Louis has already agreed to help him, he can’t help but feel like maybe he’s changed his mind.

He needn’t have worried.

Louis stands up from the table. “Hey, I’m gonna clean this stuff up. And no, don’t argue with me about it. You can go get out the first of the proposals you wanted to show me. We can probably get through one or two before I need to go. Zayn is walking Stuart for me, so I can stay for a little bit.”

Harry feels like he can breathe again.

 

###

 

Sunday, January 26

 

Even though it’s only been a few days since Harry asked him about helping with the grant proposals, Louis finds himself itching to get back to him--back to the proposals, not Harry. At least that’s what he’s telling himself as he sips his tea and scratching under Stuart’s ear.

“Hey.”

Zayn wanders out of his bedroom with a yawn and a ruffle of his hair. “Hey.”

“Surprised you’re here,” he says with a grin.

Zayn grunts. “I live here.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Fine. Then, are you hiding Liam somewhere because you two have been pretty inseparable.”

“No.” Zayn stands in front of the coffee pot and fills it with water.

“Well, okay then.”

“Stop scuttling around in my love life. It’s fine. Worry about yours maybe. Where were you out so late last night?”

Louis flushes a little. “Don’t have much to report on a personal life. But I went to a late movie with Lottie last night.”

“Ah--thought maybe--” Zayn trails off and reaches for a mug.

“Nah.” Louis’ not even sure what Zayn’s implying but either way, he supposes it’s a no. “Gonna go walk Stuart before I go--get coffee.”

Zayn plops into a chair and glances up, his eyebrows raised. “You just drank tea.”

“Yeah, I’m going to go have a coffee and maybe some lunch with--Jake.”

“So maybe there is a personal life to report on.”

Louis just shrugs and heads for his bedroom. He pulls on some jeans and a sweater and plops a beanie over his hair and heads out with Stuart as Zayn still eyes him closely. His mind turns back to thoughts of the grant proposals. There’s an underlying sense of excitement and purpose to thinking he has a chance to help find funding for really great initiatives.

No wonder Harry had said he thought he’d enjoyed his job. Not that he truly remembers the job, which maybe is why he’s asking for Louis’ help. He suddenly has the urge to look through all of Harry’s medical reports. He shakes his head at himself. No matter what Harry says about it, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy to look at them.

Someday, if Harry regains his memory, he doesn’t want to have to explain looking through them.

If. That’s a big if now. The longer Harry doesn’t remember, the more likely he never will. Louis isn’t quite sure what that will mean for him, or Harry, or them. He needs to stop thinking about this.

When he makes it back to the house, he realizes it’s far later than he’d thought. He hadn’t even noticed how long he’d been walking Stuart, lost in his own thoughts. He quickly hangs up Stuart’s leash and calls out a good-bye to Zayn who waves from the couch.

“Have fun.” He doesn’t sound like he means it, but he doesn’t have time to get into this with Zayn again.

“Thanks. See ya.”

He shuts the door a little too forcefully behind him and heads to Milltown Coffee. It’s a newer place along the river, a renovation of an old warehouse with an entire large wall of glass windows. And by newer he means a few years, but the grey wood and modern silver lighting make the place look upscale and inviting. He’s only ever been here once or twice when it first opened...with Harry.

They’d preferred the smaller cafes near their condo. Not theirs. His. Harry’s condo now. Louis winces at the thought. He’s had plenty of time to get used to that idea, and yet here it is intruding as he gazes over the tables looking for Jake. For a brief second, he has the terrible thought that he won’t recognize him. It’s been almost a month since they met after all, but then a very handsome blonde man stands up from a booth near the windows and strides towards him with a gleaming, white smile on his face.

Louis has an awkward moment where he isn’t sure whether to shake his hand or just say hello, but it’s taken care of when Jake envelops him in a brief hug. He smells nice, like some kind of citrus smell that’s probably just his shampoo.

“Hey, I grabbed us a seat over there, but let me buy you a drink first.”

“Oh, no. That’s fine. I’ll get my own.”

“No, really. I insist,” Jake says with another bright smile. “I asked you to come, so I should pay. What’re you having?”

It doesn’t feel worth arguing over, so he glances up at the menu. “Uh, how about an amaretto latte.”

“Anything to eat?”

Louis glances over at the table and sees that Jake hasn’t ordered anything for himself yet. He looks back at Jake and sees the hope there on his face. “Yeah, sure. I’ll have that caprese sandwich.”

Jake looks back. “Yeah that looks good. Think I’ll get one, too.” Louis isn’t sure whether to go to the table and save it or stand here beside him while Jake orders. It’s not terribly busy at this time on a Sunday, so he figures he can just stay next to Jake. Why is he overthinking everything already?

As they eat their sandwiches, he has the thought that Jake is a good first date. Not pushy, keeping the conversation light for the most part. Through the glass he can see the ice jams on the river’s edge and the chunks of ice that keep churning through the current. It reminds him of a grant proposal for a group involved in cleaning the Mississippi River. He’s sure they’re much further down the river this time of year. It wasn’t Louis’ area of expertise, so Harry was handling the research on that one.

Just in time, he catches the end of Jake’s question. “--do for fun?”

He opens his mouth to say, visit art exhibitions and scout scenic locations to photograph, but he stops himself in time. It unnerves him though that his first response was to say things he doesn’t do much of anymore. “Uh--went to the movies with my sister last night. Saw the new Marvel movie.”

It seems to be a safe topic. But again, it bothers him that that’s all he can come up with off the top of his head. He forces himself to think of other things he does for fun: walking his dog, reading, going for a drink with Niall and Zayn, Monday Night Football. He almost mentally added looking over grant proposals, but that doesn’t even make much sense even if he did enjoy the hour he spent researching with Harry a few days ago.

Jake gives him a hug goodbye and says he’ll text him, maybe go to a movie. Probably because that’s the only thing Louis ever said he liked to do.

He finds Zayn still home, his sketchbook out in front of him. “Quick date.”

Louis sighs. He doesn’t really want to do this right now. “I guess. Just coffee and a sandwich, so I don’t know how long that can really take.”

“Can take all day if it’s going well.”

“It was a first date.”

“Is there going to be a second?”

“I don’t know.”

He hops in the shower and blow dries his hair, styling it carefully. He looks through his closet, and even though he’s just going to sit around Harry’s condo, he finds himself having trouble deciding what to wear. Maybe the blue sweatshirt that brings out his eyes a bit. He should probably dress comfortably if he’s going to be a while there. He has a fairly comfortable pair of black jeans with some stretch to them, so he puts them on and checks the mirror to make sure it looks okay.

“Woah, it must have went better than I thought,” Zayn says as Louis grabs his keys and shrugs on his coat.

“What went better?”

“Your date earlier. You going to see him right now?”

“What? No. What are you talking about?”

“You look like you’re going on a date,” Zayn says flatly.

“Well, I’m not. Gonna go to Harry’s and work on researching those grant proposals.”

Zayn’s eyebrows have reached the ceiling. Great. “Huh. Okay, then. Have--fun?”

“Yeah.” He leaves quickly before Zayn can pry any further.

He spends the drive over thinking about the files that he’s itching to get back to. The chance to really help mold the resources available in the area has him more excited than he’s been in a very long time. A little voice in his head says, a lot more excited than about his date earlier, but he pushes the thought from his mind.

It’s just that as a therapist he knows some of the obstacles that these kids face and that their parents face. Zayn may think something else is going on, but he knows that he’s also the right person to help Harry with the task.

Part of him also likes the idea of unburdening Harry as best he can, which when he thinks about it is absurd. Harry asked Liam to work. But he also knows how stubborn Harry can be. If he’s asking Louis for help, he probably really needs the help. It dawns on him that he trusts this Harry to tell him what he wants, what he needs. This Harry doesn’t hide his feelings and problems from Louis.

It’s like he’s been slapped across the face. He’s not sure what to do with this revelation, but he gets out of the car anyway and heads into Harry’s building.

Harry greets him with a huge smile as though nothing makes him happier than to see Louis walk through the door. He tries to swallow down his own response to him, but he’s not sure how successful he is.

“Hey, Lou. Come on in.”

He swears he can see improvement in the way Harry is moving and it’s only been a few days since he’s last seen him. It’s remarkable really. He’s not sure if he should mention it though, so he just lets Harry lead him to the couch.

“So how long do you have?” Harry asks. Louis can hear the eagerness in his voice, and he can’t help the swell of his heart at the sound.

“I could stay for a while--a few hours.” He’s not sure he wants to say right off the bat that he’s cleared his schedule for the rest of the evening.

“Cool. Just thinking that when you get hungry, we can order something. I thought by now I’d be up and cooking things--” A disgruntled look passes over Harry’s face. “But I’m still a bit too unsteady to stand in one place cooking for the amount of time I’d need to make anything decent.”

“It’s fine. Ordering in sounds good.” He settles himself into the chair he sat in last time and motions to the paperwork Harry’s got sitting on the coffee table in front of them.

“Yep, that’s for you,” Harry answers the question he hadn’t yet asked.

He settles in with the first proposal that Harry’s printed out for him as Harry sits back with his laptop, presumably researching proposals for everything else. He flips open his own laptop to Google a few things on a group that wants to install therapy swings in elementary schools, which honestly sounds fantastic at first look.

He takes a few notes along the side on that proposal and the next before he even glances up from his work to find Harry watching him. He smiles, and Harry smiles back. “Thanks for your help, Lou. I can tell you’re--” He seems to search for the right word. “--dedicated, I guess.”

“Yeah, I guess I am. I mean, I think I’m the right guy--” Harry’s eyebrows dart up at his words. “--for this, I mean. Obviously, I have the background knowledge.”

Harry nods. “Why don’t I order us something so it’s here when we’re ready to take a break?”

“Sounds good.”

“Pizza? Mexican? Burgers?”

Louis’ spine tingles at the memory of Harry sitting just where he is now and asking what he wants to eat. Harry, it’s your birthday week. You should pick. That’s what he’d said.  It feels like just yesterday and a hundred years ago all at once.

“Your birthday is coming up.”

“Oh! Uh, yeah it is. Surprised you--well, not surprised just--” Harry huffs out a laugh and runs his fingers through his hair. His hand falls short as though still missing the length he must have remembered. “Kind of weird though. Doesn’t feel like I’m gonna be twenty-nine. Yikes.”

“Hey, now. You’re talking to a twenty-nine year old.”

Harry barks out an achingly familiar laugh. “Right, right. Sorry. It’s still stuck in my head that I’m--younger.”

“Anyway, uh--you choose what to eat. Birthday week and all.”

“Cool. Mexican, it is then. Seems like a good night for caldo de res.”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds good for me, too.”

He watches Harry’s face screw up in concentration as he eyes the options on the online form of his phone, probably for Las Rosas. He tries not to think back to that day again, Harry had picked Mexican food that day, too.

He regrets that day more than he can say.

 

###

Wednesday, January 29

 

Twenty-nine.

God, it’s a weird number to think about. He’s almost thirty years old, and he doesn’t remember three years of it. It’s really fucking weird.

With a groan, he turns over in bed onto his right side. Although his left side is much stronger now than it was, he still turns to his right to use his right leg and arm to push himself into a sitting position. He rubs a hand down his face before he grabs hold of his walker to pull himself up.

He’s been starting to try using just a cane sometimes, which he knows is a good sign, but this early in the morning he needs the walker until he’s loosened up a little and had some coffee. He sits at the kitchen island and checks his phone. He’s got a text from Gemma about what he wants to do for his birthday, and he just sighs and clicks out of the conversation for now. He knows he doesn’t want to spend it with his sister if he’s being honest with himself.

He sips his coffee as he looks through his planner and sees his PT and OT appointments today and a psych appointment tomorrow, but it’s a bit of a jolt to see new names listed for PT and OT starting tomorrow.

An odd feeling settles over him, maybe something close to pride. He’s come pretty far, and now they think he’s ready for outpatient therapy. He knows there’s still a long way to go though. An actual, full recovery, if it ever comes, is not in the near future, but even this is so much better than when he was stuck in the damn hospital barely able to move without getting dizzy and having trouble even speaking well enough to be understood.

His phone buzzes with a text, and his heart leaps.

Need me to take you to your appointments tomorrow? I could take the day off work.

He rolls his eyes at his sister’s words. No. I’ll take an Uber

He watches the ellipses flash across the screen. She can’t just take no for an answer apparently.

Are you sure?

He sighs. Yes. I’m sure.

Do you know what you want to do for your birthday?

He guesses she isn’t going to let that go. Definitely nothing with mom. Probably just have friends over.

He’s had to see his mother much less now that he’s home, which has been a big benefit to his mental health at least, but he certainly doesn’t want to spend time with her on his birthday.

Which friends?

He knows what she’s thinking, does he even have friends to invite. It’s a bit insulting really. He could always just invite Liam if he had to. I don’t know. I haven’t asked anyone yet.

She sends back a smiling face emoji. Well I’m available if you need me.

He knows she means well, but he does not want to spend his twenty-ninth birthday with his sister. He knows exactly who he wants to spend it with, he’s just not sure if he’ll be willing. This thought leads him to the work he wants to get done before Louis comes over later, so he’d better get started before his therapy appointments interrupt him.

 

“Just be extra careful on the ice, Harry.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve told me a million times,” Harry answers his PT with a grin. “I barely need to set foot onto the sidewalk to get into an Uber. And they salt things pretty well around here anyway. So I’ll be fine, assuming the clinic’s sidewalks are clear.”

“Well, it’s been a pleasure working with you. Keep up with your motivation and exercises, and you’ll keep making great progress.”

“Thanks,” he says as he shakes his hand at the door.

He’s a little sore from today’s PT, so he pops an ibuprofen and hits the couch with a groan.

He’s got a few emails from Liam with questions about a few specific grant proposals that his mother has apparently involved herself in. He notes them down, but resolves not to let her influence the choices. He wonders if he used to let her have input or not. It doesn’t seem like something he’d allow, but there are still too many holes in the information he has about his missing years to know for sure.

 

“How’s therapy going?”

Harry glances up from the pages he’s about to print for Louis. “Pretty well. I’m done with in home PT and OT now. Gonna start out patient tomorrow actually.”

“Really? That’s great, Harry!”

Louis sounds so genuinely enthused that Harry can’t help but smile. Louis has probably been dying to ask about therapy. He should have realized by now that it would be a topic they could probably discuss quite a bit, and now he notices he just hasn’t needed to bring it up to keep the conversation going.

He lets his eyes keep contact with Louis and feels his heart skip unsteadily for a moment. “Yeah, I’m pretty happy about it. Getting around with a cane at home, but I’ll probably use my walker to get to and from. Don’t want to faceplant on the sidewalk or anything.”

Louis smoothes the hair at his forehead, and Harry’s eyes catch on the movement. “Yeah, yeah. Probably a good idea. How are you getting there? Gemma? Your mom?”

Harry snorts. “No. But you sound like Gemma. Just gonna grab an Uber.”

Louis face scrunches up adorably. “Is that a good idea?”

“It’ll be fine. I already told Gemma not to take off work. Unless you’re offering of course,” he teases.

Louis looks taken aback, and Harry almost wishes he hadn’t said anything. “I mean, if you need me to I can--”

“Lou. I just said I could take an Uber. It wouldn’t be very fair to make all your patients inconvenienced tomorrow. And it’s not like you can take me to all of them anyway. Gemma shouldn’t either. Uber should be fine. More than fine.”

“Right. True.” Louis’ shoulders remain hunched up a bit. “Just--it feels like someone should--I mean, never mind. You know what you’re doing.”

Harry eyes him curiously. What exactly does he mean by that? “Hey, you don’t like--feel guilty or something do you? Because Lou, really, this isn’t a problem that needs solving.”

Louis shrugs.

“I’ve got plenty of other problems,” Harry jokes.

“Like what?” Louis says, but he looks less concerned than he had a moment ago.

“Like that I’m getting old. Almost as old as you soon.”

“Oh, shut up.” Louis throws a pillow his way.

“Hey, are you attacking an invalid?” Harry gasps dramatically.

“You’re not an invalid,” Louis laughs.

“Fine. But speaking of my getting old, I was wondering if you’d want to drop by sometime on Saturday. Maybe have some dinner or something. If you’re not busy, I mean. Not sure I’m really up for going anywhere just yet.”

“Oh. Your birthday.” Louis looks surprised, but at least he doesn’t look like he’s dreading the thought. “Yeah, I--could probably drop by.”

“Cool.” He tries to play off that it’s not a big deal, but he’s grinning like a fool at his laptop screen. He looks up and sees Louis watching him. He can’t stop smiling though. Louis’ lips turn up at the corners as though he’s trying to control his own reaction to him. Not for the first time, Harry wants to launch himself at him and kiss his stupidly cute face.

He takes a breath.

These feelings have been coming on harder and stronger lately, and he isn’t quite sure why. The desire to still be with Louis has always been there since he woke up and obviously from what he remembers before, but this still feels--new somehow, or maybe just different.

He looks back at the screen and tries to concentrate.

“So you gonna print that out or--”

Harry’s face heats up. “Right. Yes.” He clicks print and looks up again to see Louis hiding another smile.

His gaze refocuses just beyond Louis on the large photograph framed and still hanging on the wall, the larger version of the one Louis had brought him in the hospital of a gorgeous, ornate ceiling of the Vatican Museum’s Hall of Maps. Part of him still longs for the moment he snapped that photo, when they were seemingly so solid and in love, but as he listens to Louis go over a proposal and tell him about the benefits of having certain types of playground equipment at elementary schools, he can say that he still finds some happiness right here and now.

 

###

 

Saturday, February 1

 

Louis groans. “What am I doing?”

“Lou?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you talking to yourself in the mirror again?”

“No!” He pauses. “Maybe!”

“Stop freaking out,” Zayn calls out from the living room.

“I’m not!”

“Then, why are you talking to yourself in the mirror?”

Louis sighs and goes back to carefully putting a touch of product in his hair and sweeping it to one side. Zayn knows where he’s going tonight. It’s obvious he supposes. Not like Zayn doesn’t know when Harry’s birthday is. He’s a little surprised though that Zayn doesn’t appear to be invited. He hasn’t heard anything from Niall either, and now, he’s wondering if it’ll be just he and Liam. Maybe he’s inviting Gemma. In any case, he doesn’t feel like drawing more attention to this by asking either Zayn or Niall.

He smooths down invisible wrinkles in his soft blue sweater as he eyes himself now in the full length mirror. When he’d opened it at Christmas, his mom had said she bought it to match his eyes. It does maybe make his eyes appear more blue than usual. He’s pulled on the dark trousers he wore on New Year’s Eve with a darker tuxedo stripe along the sides. It’s probably too dressed up for a birthday dinner just at Harry’s, but they’re flattering and maybe paired with the sweater, it’s okay.

When he walks out into the living room, Zayn is just pulling on his coat. Maybe he is invited to Harry’s. “Where are you headed?”

“Date. With Liam.” Zayn gives him a goofy smile that warms his heart a bit. It’s still a shock to see Zayn like this--happy though, he thinks.

“Ah, of course. Cool. Have fun.”

Zayn gives him a once over. “Yeah, you too.”

He waits for Zayn to say something about how he’s dressed or something about Harry, but he doesn’t, just smiles and heads out.

Nerves flutter in his stomach now. If Liam is on a date with Zayn, he’s certainly not at Harry’s. Unless he’s mistaken and they’re going to stop in at Harry’s first. Why didn’t he ask? That doesn’t quite add up, but he checks the time and decides it’s probably time to head out.

The scarf he wraps around himself soothes with its softness and warmth, and he tries not to think about the tag that’s labeled with a designer’s name he could never afford. A birthday gift from years ago that he couldn’t seem to let go of. It makes the gift in his hands seem insignificant in comparison. He reminds himself that it wouldn’t be appropriate to gift Harry something extravagant anyway, even if he could afford it.

Although it’s still fairly early in the evening, the sky darkens quickly with the long winter nights. His boots crunch through the salted steps and pavement as he heads for his car. It was always at this time of the winter that Harry would take him away from here, when the cold had stretched on for endless months and it felt like warmth would never find its way through to his bones again.

Harry always did like to be away on his birthday. As he drives towards the water and Harry’s condo, he thinks about why that was. He’s thought about it before of course, but he’s not sure he ever gave it the proper amount of thought. Louis’ birthday has always been a time with family and celebration with it being so close to Christmas, and his friends always managed to carve out time to make his day or some successive day a fun one. But not Harry. He’d always wanted to be away--the Dominican Republic, Spain, Italy. It had always just been the two of them for as long as they’d been together. He wonders where Harry spent his last few birthdays.

When the door opens and reveals this to be a birthday dinner for two, he shouldn’t be surprised. Harry never did want birthday parties for himself. He tries to hide his reaction, but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t quite pull it back in time. Harry has a line between his brows that Louis wishes he could smooth away with the press of his thumb. Harry moves towards him as though to take his coat with the hand not holding his cane, but Louis gives him a slight shake of the head and slings it over the chair in the living room.

“Hey, Lou.”

“Happy birthday, Harry.”

“Thanks,” Harry says, one side of his mouth curling into a small smile.

That’s when he notices the dining table out of the corner of his eye.

It has been painstakingly set, even Harry’s mother would have had a hard time finding fault with the loveliness of the crystal wine glasses and gleaming, stark white Wedgwood place settings. The absence of candlelight seems to be the only nod to this birthday dinner looking anything other than romantic. Louis tries to swallow down the thought.

He sets the gift on top of his coat, unsure what to do with it. He would have handed it over immediately, but Harry’s already turned his back and is leading him towards the dining area.

“Go ahead and take a seat. I’ll just take the lasagna out.”

He doesn’t sit though, moving to follow him. “Maybe I should help--”

“I can do it,” Harry says firmly. “Really.”

“I--” He can see the determination, so he relents. “--okay.”

“I’ve been working on all this--the cooking stuff--with my therapist, and I’m fine. I swear.”

Louis doesn’t go sit down at the table though and follows, watching Harry move himself towards the oven, determined if still a little unsteady. He leans back against the kitchen island and slides the oven mitt onto his hand, covering the ink of the anchor on his arm. His eyes follow the dark lines up Harry’s forearm to the rose that curves over it and finds his fingernails have begun to trace along the lines of the dagger inked onto his own skin.

He closes his eyes to stop himself from reliving the day he tattooed this declaration onto himself, and in this moment, he’s grateful that Harry doesn’t know when it first appeared. His hands grip the kitchen island for support, feeling a little unsteady himself. Not for the first time, hell, not for the thousandth time, he thinks of how bad this will be if Harry remembers.

Harry steadies himself again, leaning on the cane as he opens the oven door with his mitted hand and wobbling a little, and carefully places the hot pan on the stove top. The strain of Harry’s muscles against the thin fabric of his t-shirt makes him look away until Harry’s voice draws him back.

“See?”

Harry’s grinning in triumph, and truly, it is one. He notices the mess of dishes and pans in the sink from Harry’s efforts and the salad bowls and bread ready on the counter. Something in Louis’ chest begins to claw at him from the inside as though trying to break free.

“Yeah, H. I see.”

Harry turns a helpless look upon him now, and it takes everything in him not to close the space between them. “I forgot about how I was going to get the food to the table.”

“Oh. Hold on.” He turns and quickly gathers up their plates off the table, returning to see Harry sitting at the kitchen island tearing off chunks of bread.

“Thanks. Maybe um, take the salads to the table?”

“Sure--”

“And we can put the lasagna and bread on the plate, and if you wouldn’t mind--”

“I’ll grab them. It’s fine.”

Harry sighs but says nothing, and Louis stops midway to the oven. “Harry, please let me help. It’s your birthday, and this is some pretty minor help, taking food to the table.”

“You’re right. I just wanted things to be--right.”

“They are. They are right.” He doesn’t even know what Harry means by that. Things aren’t right. They’ll never be right. Surely, he just means the meal though, and Louis just needs to calm the fuck down. He plasters a smile on his face, but Harry is watching him closely. Can he see right through him?

Harry seems to have given in to the help, so Louis busies himself with pouring the wine he finds on the counter and grinding some black pepper into the olive oil and grated parmesan. He takes a gulp of wine before bringing the glasses to the table as well as the plates of oil and food.

“Thanks.”

“I barely did anything. But you--this is amazing, Harry.”

“It’s just lasagna.”

“It’s delicious,” Louis says his mouth full. “Hot--hot--”

He opens his mouth a bit to try and let the air cool the lasagna on his tongue before giving up and taking a gulp of wine as Harry barks out a laugh across from him.

“How will you know now that you’ve burned off your taste buds?”

“Maybe it’ll be better that way.”

“Heyyy!” Harry balls up his napkin and throws it across the table. It lands directly on top of his small plate of oil. “Whoops.”

Louis can’t stop the giggle that escapes.

“Take it back. I’m a great cook, and you know it.”

Louis holds his hands up in defeat. “I do. I do. Just jokes.”

“Mmhmm.”

Louis stares at Harry’s happy face for a second before deciding he’ll do whatever he can to make this a comfortable night for Harry. He deserves this--a nice birthday that’s whatever he wants it to be. It doesn’t matter that Louis feels slightly awkward that he’s the only guest at this party, it only matters that it’s what Harry wants, which is something he can unpack at a later time--definitely not tonight. He falls back on what’s comfortable--Harry’s work. Their conversations wind themselves through the glasses of wine and bread and pasta.

“So there’s cheesecake in the fridge,” Harry says eventually, at the first lull in their conversation.

“Oh?” Louis stands immediately. “I’ll grab it.”

He dutifully brings back the cheesecake and places it in front of Harry. “It’s just from the bakery up the street. It was a little too much for me to try and make that, too.”

“It’s fine, Harry. It’s your birthday. You shouldn’t have to make the cake anyway. Got any candles?”

Harry shakes his head. “Nah. I don’t need to make any wishes.”

Louis doesn’t ask what that means. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, Lou.” Harry’s eyes gleam brightly, reflecting light from the kitchen, and they blind Louis for a moment with what he thinks he sees there.

“I’ll grab some plates and a knife,” he says hoarsely, turning away from the sight.

He tries to catch his breath as he grabs plates and forks and a knife to cut the cheesecake, and he catches it again when he turns and sees Harry has moved in front of the windows, staring out at the lights glowing orange on the arches of the bridge. They change to yellow by the time Louis cuts two slices and carries them over to the window. He wordlessly hands one to Harry, and Harry leans back against the glass to support himself as he eats.

It dawns on Louis just how much stronger Harry must be to be able to do this. He’s so so proud of him, but it seems like the wrong thing to say. So he forces himself to look away and take a bite of the cake. “Delicious.”

“Yeah, it is.” He looks up and locks eyes with Harry who makes it clear he’s watching him. His gaze was always this intense, but it’s been a while since it looked quite like this.

Something has changed in the space between the dining table and the windows that look down over the rest of the world. Suddenly, the night feels too real, too intimate. He blames nostalgia and the sparkle of the lights outside the window and the darkness of the night, anything rather than the pull that’s still between them. The buzz in his pocket from an incoming text jars him, but he’s almost thankful to have an excuse to break the spell that’s somehow wrapped itself around them.

He doesn’t unlock his phone, just stares down at the incoming message that pops up.

When am I going to see you again?

“Who is that?”

Harry’s looking down at the text too, reading it upside down.

He takes a beat too long to say, “A friend.”

Guilt washes over him, he’s fairly choking on it. It’s not fair.

“A friend?” Harry’s voice still harsh on his ears in the quiet.

“Just a friend, if that.”

Harry’s face shutters closed for a moment, his eyelids sinking closed with his jaw taut, and when he opens them, there’s something there that Louis hasn’t seen in many months.

His heart beat jumps, his pulse thrumming a quick paced rhythm beneath his skin as Harry leans back off the wall and looms closer. Harry sets his plate down and reaches for Louis’, too, placing them on the nearest side table. He sees the twitch in Harry’s cheek and finds his flight response to be in perfect working order. He nearly falls backward over the nearest couch as he backs up from the window much more quickly than Harry could ever have followed.

“Your gift,” he croaks out as an excuse, silently thanking his brain for thinking of it in the moment. He fumbles with the box as he grabs it off his coat and walks it slowly back over to Harry. “Uh--it’s getting late. I should probably go--”

“Aren’t you going to wait until I open it?” Harry’s voice has deepened and the odd tone sends alarms ringing through his head.

“Of course. I just meant--I--hope you like it,” he manages to spit out.

Harry’s long fingers carefully pop open the tape at the bottom of the box as though he’s going to preserve the shining silver wrapping paper. The lump in Louis’ throat grows somehow larger as Harry opens the top of the box and looks inside. It’s nothing, he reminds himself. Just a box with a few things--small things--that Harry might like.

Harry’s fingers brush over the maps of the nearby state parks nestled inside, reminding them both most likely of their memories strewn throughout the trails they’d once walked and lived and breathed, Harry’s camera hanging around his neck. He hadn’t thought about what the maps might mean to Harry. Fuck.

Harry hasn’t looked at him.

Instead, he grasps the membership for the art museum with his name printed on it. “They said your membership had lapsed, so I thought--you might--and the maps, I thought when it’s nicer--you could--”

“Louis?”

“Yeah?”

Harry finally looks up.

Louis only has a split second to see the flash of Harry’s expression before he finds himself pressed roughly against the glass. Harry’s kiss tastes of red wine and want and desperation. His large hands hold his face in place as Harry’s lips ravage his own, hard and punishing. He’s leaning all his weight against Louis to hold himself up.

Everything in him screams to respond, to kiss him back just as desperately, but instead he pushes against his chest with the palms of his hands, grabbing ahold of his arms to keep him from tumbling to the ground. He only manages to force Harry to back up the smallest of spaces, his breath harsh against his cheek.

“I’m sorry.” Harry’s words are soft and warm against his skin.

“God, don’t be. Don’t be sorry.” His fingers clutch at Harry’s shirt as though he’s holding Harry close. Maybe he is. “Please--”

His words sound like a plea for more to his ears and that must be what Harry hears as well because his lips find his again, softer this time, but maybe just as desperate. There’s so much confused in his head, who this Harry is, what this Harry means to him, but he knows nothing feels as right or as good as Harry’s soft lips against his own. His tongue finds a way to pull him in, closer, deepening the kiss.

Harry leans into him again, his hands finding Louis hips and then slipping up beneath his sweater. The touch of his fingers against his skin makes him gasp as electricity pulses through him. Desire. He remembers this. Harry. Only Harry has ever made him feel like this.

And then suddenly, Harry pulls away, gasping. “Louis--”

With his body no longer touching Harry’s, his reason returns quickly. He’s still catching his breath, but he’s got to get out of here. “I should--I should go.”

He grabs his coat off the couch and looks back to see Harry still leaning against the windows, the lights of the bridge just beyond him. He looks just as shell shocked as he feels.

“Happy birthday, Harry.”

 

###



Wednesday, February 5

 

Harry presses his hands to the window, the glass cold against his fingertips.

He finds himself here a lot lately, looking down at the world below him. Cars streaming across the bridge, people walking swiftly through the cold streets below, lights in the buildings nearby blinking on and off. It’s hard not to feel like everything and everyone is passing him by as he stays caged up high above them.

He drops his hands, one of them clutching onto his cane. The smell of sweat on himself from PT today needs to be showered off, so he can get some work done before Louis arrives. But first, he needs to eat something.

The phone in his pocket buzzes.

Will be over after lunch! Niall and I are going to a new Greek place. Do you want me to pick anything up for you?

Harry stares at the text, one of many sent casually since Saturday as though Louis hadn’t pressed himself back against him, as if he hadn’t moaned into Harry’s mouth, clutching at him. As if he hadn’t ruined him again.

He knows Louis can see he’s read the text, so he types out a response.

No, I picked up a salad after PT but thanks! See you after lunch

The casual tone makes it feel like a lie.

With his body sore from therapy, he hobbles a bit as he makes his way to the kitchen to sit at the island and eat sat at the stool there as he always does. He scrolls through his emails and deletes all the ones from his mother without reading them. If there’s anything related to work in them, Liam will let him know.

His finger stills over one from his sister, and he presses down on it. An invitation to an event at the art museum fills the screen. Her message at the top says, would you want to go? He takes a few more bites as he stares at the invitation. She’s never been one to have any interest in his photography, but she’s trying. He knows she’s trying. So he sighs and types out a response.

Yeah, looks cool. Louis just bought me a membership since mine had lapsed

He sends it before he can overthink what he’s admitted. She’ll definitely have questions for him. He takes a few more bites before he makes his way towards the bathroom, where he stands under the hot spray as long as he can, which isn’t nearly long enough. He holds the bars they’ve installed, but it’s only a few minutes before he’s tired enough to sit on the tiled ledge at the back of the shower.

He used to do much more fun things on this shower ledge. Not that shower sex was really one of their usual things, but he wouldn’t ever say no to Louis sitting on his lap anywhere. His head starts to hurt again, so he rinses off the shampoo in his hair and carefully dries himself off. He knows if he slips or hurts himself, there’ll be another 24/7 nurse in here again. He definitely doesn’t need that in his life. He manages to pull on some sweatpants and a t-shirt before he goes looking for the ibuprofen. Hopefully, he can make do without the stronger stuff that leaves him drowsy and fucked up. He tries to only take that stuff at night so he can sleep.

Even though his head’s still pounding a bit, he heads back to the couch and his files, but when he opens his laptop, he notices the date. Nearly two months then. Two months since a car crashed through his life, upending everything in it. His finger trembles over one of the bookmarks just before he clicks it. How many times has he visited this article? He stares at the aftermath of the accident in photographic form, willing himself not to watch any of the many videos of the scene again. Even in the photographs, the ice on the road gleams like glass in the flash of the camera. He knows that two men lost their lives that night, the drivers of both cars. He knows that he was the lucky one, even if some of the blood spattered amidst the ruin of the cars is his own and the pain lingers on in his bones and muscles.

A text comes through from his sister or he might have spiralled into the videos and links and obituaries. He’s already done what he could for the families of the two men who’d had their deaths overshadowed by a Selley being injured. In any case, his therapist says he needs to stop from the spiraling when he notices he’s doing it.

He taps out of the text conversation with his sister and instead opens his conversation with Louis. He scrolls back to look at all the texts since his birthday and doesn’t need to read between the lines to see that Louis has no intention of beginning something between them again. Louis isn’t going to kiss him at the doorstep today. He isn’t going to smile so widely that his eyes crinkle into slits just before he reaches for him.

Jake. That had been the name he’d read on Louis’ phone screen. Just a friend, Louis had said. Harry had been just a friend once. He knows friends don’t have to ask when they can see you again, and Louis’ discomfort with talking about it to him, confirms it’s not as simple as just friends. Is Louis lying about it? Why would he lie? His hands clench into fists on his thighs, and he has to make an effort to stop and release each finger one by one.

He takes a deep breath inhaling to one, two, three, four and then releasing it slowly. He does this a few more times, trying to calm the anger in his gut from rising up any further. Anger can not be allowed to get in his way right now. He can’t give in to it, or it will ruin everything. He can’t be careless about this.

He doesn’t get far with any of his work before his doorbell buzzes. The press of the cane in his hand as he makes his way to the door helps ground him in the present. The kiss threw him off, it probably threw Louis off, too, but he’s not going to let it derail everything.

As soon as he opens the door, his lungs seem easier to fill with air. The unease that’s been sitting just under the surface calms a bit just at his presence. He can see that it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated.

“Hey, Harry, I--uh brought you some baklava.” Louis hands over a small bag that Harry clutches in his free hand. “I know you said you didn’t want anything, but--I mean, if you don’t eat them, I will.”

He watches as Louis slips off his shoes with the tips of his toes and throws his coat on the nearest chair. He’s swiping his hair off his forehead and bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet as he heads towards Harry’s living room, his voice pitched strangely as he asks what he’s working on.

Harry might have a brain injury, but he knows when Louis is on edge.

He closes the door with his knuckles, trying not to crush the baklava.

“Sorry, should have got the door.” Louis’ cheeks flush pink.

“It’s fine. I can shut the door, Lou.”

“Right. Of course. I just--right.”

He walks as quickly as he’s able with the cane, trying to show how fine he is, even if the ibuprofen has just dulled the pain a little. He’s probably not fooling anyone, least of all Louis. He stifles a sigh as he lowers himself to the couch.

“So what do you have for me today?”

Right to business apparently. Yet another of Louis’ best distraction techniques. “Liam’s emailed me a bunch of stuff, so we could look through that and see if any of it pertains to you.” Harry pauses. “Do you want me to forward them all to you, or do you just want to look at them with me?”

Louis looks at him, eyes widening for a moment, before he clears his throat. “Uh, yeah I’ll just--read over your shoulder. That’s fine.”

Harry stills his fingers on the touchpad and waits. He doesn’t look at him as Louis stands and slowly walks the few steps towards him as though he were an uncaged tiger instead of a guy with a brain injury. He keeps his eyes on Liam’s email, unseeing, as Louis settles himself carefully next to him leaving a few inches of space between their thighs.

It’s an oddly intimate position, Harry’s legs stretched out before them, his feet just reaching the ottoman in front of the couch and Louis’ legs next to his, not quite reaching the same distance. Harry inhales slowly, breathing in the feeling of having Louis beside him again.

He tries, he really tries, to read Liam’s emails, but he finds himself instead studying the way Louis’ fingers tap out a rhythm across his thigh and how his toes wiggle in his socks.

“You know that’s a good idea.”

“Hmmm?” Harry tries to clear his mind a bit. He needs to understand what Louis is saying.

“Liam’s suggestion. Not everyone knows they can apply for foundation grants, but maybe if some money was delegated to organizations, they can create scholarships or grants with the money.”

“Oh.” Harry’s eyes dart back to the screen, trying to skim Liam’s email. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“The Autism Society is an obvious choice, of course, but I’m sure you two will be able to come up with a lot more. You know who might have some ideas though? Zayn and Niall.”

“Yeah, they probably would.”

“I’ll talk to them tomorrow. We usually go for dinner or a drink on Thursdays--uhm--” Louis flushes, probably because Harry knows this. There was a time he was included in Thursday night dinners.

Memories flash through his mind of Louis shedding his clothes through the condo on his way to shower and change, Harry stealing kisses and running his fingers through Louis’ still damp hair as they’d make their way to meet up with their friends. The memory still holds comfort for Harry even if what came after it no longer does.

“Maybe you’d want to come? Talk to them about it yourself?”

“What?” He’s still a bit lost back in time.

“Tomorrow. At dinner. Would you want to join us and talk to them about it?”

“Oh. Yeah. Yes. I could--do that.”

Emotions roil through him that he tries to keep in check. The last thing he wants is to scare Louis off more than he already has with that kiss the other night, but it feels like something important. That they’re getting back something they’d lost. Maybe he’s making too much out of being invited back to dinner with friends. It’s still work related after all.

Louis must be done reading Liam’s email over his shoulder because he scoots forward and off the couch to flee to the other side of the sitting area where he grabs his phone and starts texting. “Just gonna ask the guys where we’re going tomorrow, so you’ll know.”

“Or you can just text me when you know.”

“Oh, um, yeah. Okay. I’ll do that.” Louis sets his phone down and begins looking through the pages he’d printed out for him.

He watches him for a few long moments, hoping Louis won’t look up and see any of his thoughts, which are probably written across his face for anyone to see who’s looking. Confusion, lust, anxiety, anger and dare he think it--hope.

Louis doesn’t look up.

 

###

 

Thursday, February 12

 

“I have to piss, Lou. Stop fucking around with your hair.”

Louis frowns at the reflection of his lopsided quiff in the mirror and sighs.

Zayn pounds on the bathroom door. “Come on! I gotta go.”

Maybe he’ll just wash out all the gel in the sink and start over. He opens the door. “You know, it was unlocked.”

“Oh.” Zayn looks slightly chagrined. “Well, not like I’m gonna piss while you’re watching.”

“Performance anxiety?”

“Shut up and get out of the bathroom. You act like you’re going out to the clubs instead of with us to the shitty bar around the corner.”

“Don’t let Niall catch you saying shit about his favorite bar.”

“Favorite bartender more like,” Zayn grumbles as he shuts the door in Louis’ face.

Niall does seem to have some sort of crush on the bartender at Mac’s. Maybe they can all play wingman for him. He wonders what embarrassing things they can do to Niall as he rinses his hair out in the kitchen sink.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Starting over on my hair.” He’s leaning over the sink, dripping into it and realizes his clothes are going to be soaked if he stands up straight. “Can you get me a towel?”

Zayn doesn’t respond, but he hears footsteps walking away. In a moment, Zayn returns with a towel, which he quickly wraps around his head before standing up. Zayn’s eying him, his lip curled up on one side into a smirk.

“Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“I could hear you thinking it.”

Zayn shrugs. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Louis rolls his eyes just as his phone buzzes.

Hey, I’ll be a there a little late. Liam’s still here and I need to take a shower.

“I like seeing you smile.”

He jerks his head up at Zayn’s voice. He didn’t even know he was smiling. He doesn’t even know why he’s smiling at a simple text. He decides to ignore what Zayn’s just said. “Harry says he’ll be a little late. Your boyfriend’s been keeping him busy.”

Now Zayn is the one with a smile on his face at the mention of his boyfriend. “Yeah, he said Harry’s really doing pretty well with the stuff he’s given him to do. He said lately, he’s almost back to his normal workload for this time of year.”

“Really? That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Warmth floods through him at the thought of all the progress Harry has made. Proud of him, he supposes.

“Yeah, it is. Listen--” Zayn begins, and Louis tenses. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about something. I mean, feel free to tell me to mind my own business, but somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of all your shit.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Zayn runs a hand over his face. “I’m not actually supposed to say anything, but damn, I just--”

“What?” Whatever it is Zayn is talking about is making him really nervous now.

“I talked to your Jake.”

My Jake?”

“Yeah. He got my number from his dad and called me asking what kind of flowers you like. Valentine’s Day, you know?”

He’s pretty sure he can’t keep the look of surprise off his face. He honestly hadn’t for a moment thought of this happening. Fuck.

“By the way, what kind of flowers do you like? I told him sunflowers, but honestly I didn’t have a clue.” Zayn shrugs, but his eyes are searching Louis’ face for answers.

His mind races, and it takes a second to realize that Zayn has asked him a question. “Sunflowers. Yeah, that’s fine.”

He plops into a kitchen chair and scrubs the towel over his hair a few times before letting it fall to his shoulders. He’s--confused. Jake has texted him a few times since their coffee date, but Louis somehow got the impression it was still very casual. He’s read this kind of thing wrong before though.

Scrolling through Jake’s texts reveals that maybe Louis has seen what he wanted to see from them. He tries to read them in a way that would mean Jake was still interested in him romantically, and he has to admit that they could be interpreted that way. So the flowers shouldn’t really be a surprise then.

“Ugh, I’m an idiot,” he mutters.

“Pretty much.” He’d forgotten Zayn was still standing there against the kitchen counter, watching him. “Thought you told me you were interested in Jake though, but seems like you’re texting Harry all day and going to romantic birthday dinners and shit.”

He really doesn’t appreciate Zayn’s tone. “I’m allowed to take things slow.”

The dismissive noise Zayn makes isn’t helping his temper any. “Slow with who exactly? Any slower and you’d be stopped. Oh wait, you are. Stuck right in place. Maybe make up your mind about it and stop stringing them both along.”

“We’re not talking about Harry.”

“Aren’t we?” Zayn lets out a long breath. “Listen, I’m here if you want to talk this out. Really. You’re my best friend, Lou. I feel like you think you can’t talk to me, and I know I’m maybe pushing things too much with you. But it just feels like you’re keeping everything to yourself. You don’t have to, okay?”

Would it be a relief to just tell Zayn everything? He feels like a shit best friend right now. He chews at his lip for a minute, thinking about it. Would it really help anything though? There’s no going back to fix any of the decisions he made in the past. All he can do is move forward. He’s just not sure that he can do that with Harry.

Zayn sighs, taking Louis’ silence for a no. “Better fix your hair. Niall will have a meltdown if we’re not there soon.”

“Right. Yeah. Okay.” He stands up and makes a break for the bathroom.

 

He ends up giving up on his hair for the most part, leaving it soft and unstyled, as though it’s a statement of some kind. See? He’s not trying too hard. Except Zayn already knows he’s spent a lot of time on it even if it doesn’t show anymore.

Niall’s nursing a beer at the bar when they get there. He looks Louis up and down “What took you guys so long? It definitely wasn’t Louis’ hair.”

“Hey, now.”

“Just saying. I’ve been sitting here alone for like--” Niall checks his phone. “--seven minutes.”

“Ohhhh, so sorry,” Zayn says with a roll of his eyes. “Seven whole minutes by yourself.”

“Harry used to be so punctual, too,” Niall mutters.

“He said he’ll be a little late tonight.”

Niall nods that he’s heard Louis, but his eyes immediately are drawn back to the tall,  handsome bartender. “You get his attention at all tonight?”

“No. Shut up. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Sure you don’t,” Zayn says. “Let’s go grab a booth.”

“Maybe we should wait for Harry at the bar,” Niall says as innocently as he’s able while still being completely obvious.

Louis turns to look at the bartender. “Hey, Shawn--”

Niall stifles a yelp.

“Could we get a pitcher? Whatever’s on draft.”

“Sure thing,” Shawn shoots a blinding smile towards them. Louis thinks his eyes may have lingered on Niall’s face a bit longer than the rest of them. A good sign probably.

There’s an even better sign when Shawn brings the pitcher to them instead of sending the waitress. As soon as he walks away, Niall watching him as he goes, they really lay in on the teasing. To be fair, he’s pretty sure Shawn shook his ass a little as he sauntered away. Their laughter drowns out Harry’s approach, and so Louis ends up being caught off guard by the hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, Lou.” Harry’s long fingers close over his shoulder. Warmth spreads from his touch along his neck and spine. He suspects it’s not just the warmth from his hand. He hesitates a moment too long before scooting over to let Harry into the booth. Without thinking about it, they naturally settle into their long held former seating pattern with he and Harry on one side and Zayn and Niall on the other.

Well, Louis is thinking about it now. It feels so oddly familiar and yet everything has changed. He’s not sure if he wants to desperately cling to the spaces that have grown between them or slide back into the past. Probably a little of both. Last Thursday had been different, a less familiar restaurant for one, and they’d sat in chairs and discussed the foundation as though they were all work colleagues.

This week is a completely different beast of old habits and memories that sneak back into the empty crevices they’d left behind years ago.

He tries to steady his breath and resume the conversation, the thread of which he’s lost in the wake of Harry’s touch. The last time he’d been this close, they’d sat side by side on Harry’s couch, and it had taken everything in him to not close the distance between them. He can smell Harry’s shampoo, clean and lavender scented. He glances up at Harry’s still slightly damp, short curls as though he’d rushed to come here before his hair was even dry.

He swallows down the feelings fluttering through him at Harry’s nearness and tries to recapture the comfort that he generally feels now in his presence. Louis lets the conversation flow around him, listening but not engaging as his friends go from teasing Niall to discussing possible organizations that could handle forming their own grants and scholarships.

Harry pulls out his phone to type notes to himself about the groups they’re discussing, and Louis notices the wallpaper. He looks away quickly before Harry catches him. He wonders if it’s an old photo or a new one.

When he looks away, Zayn catches his eye. The look on his face is a bit inscrutable, and Louis wonders what his own face is giving away.

There’s a brief lull in the conversation, and Zayn looks at Harry thoughtfully for a moment. “Liam says you’ve been talking about going back to work at the office.”

Harry nods. “Yeah, figure I can hobble around there as much as I hobble around my condo.”

Niall turns a serious look on him. “As long as you’ve cleared it with your physical therapist.”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “Don’t worry. I’ve been going to out patient for a little while now. I’m obviously allowed to leave the house.”

“Your occupational therapist working with you on a plan for work?”

“Yes, Zayn.” Harry tries to attempt some humor in his voice at placating Zayn, but Louis catches the small glimpse of something odd that crosses Harry’s face just before he replies. He can’t imagine what it must be about though. Does Harry actually not have a therapist’s approval to go back to work?

“Just saying,” Zayn says with a grin. “You been getting your camera out at all? I know that was one of your goals. I was hoping that your OTs would push you a little with that.”

“Yeah, actually. I’ve been working on it. Mostly just practice stuff for now. When it gets warmer, I’ll try taking some things outside. Obviously, I’m a little hampered by my mobility at the moment.”

Harry shoots him a brief look, and he can’t help but feel slightly ashamed of never having asked him these questions himself. It honestly shocks him to think of Harry with his camera again, bringing a wave of longing for bright days of Harry healthy and happy. He’s not sure if he’s longing for the past or the future.

He feels his phone buzz in his pocket, but he doesn’t check it. It will be hours yet before he reads this particular message.

Wish I’d be in town for Valentine’s Day! I’d love to take you out. Can I see you when I get back?

 

###

 

Sunday, February 16

 

When the Uber pulls up in front of his building, Harry awkwardly lowers himself into the front seat of the Audi that arrives.

“You okay, bro?”

Harry’s smile probably looks more like a grimace. “Yeah. Fine. Anywhere along the river is fine as long as there’s a bench nearby.”

The driver looks at him as if trying to take his measure. Probably not a lot of people looking to spend time outside right now, although much of the snow has melted it’s still February and cold. Maybe the camera hanging around his neck makes it obvious enough what he’s doing because he doesn’t say anything further, and Harry tries to focus on the parkway and finding a decent spot to sit.

There’s a spot near where the water taxis will dock come spring, so the Uber driver pulls into the parking lot. “Sure you want me to leave you here?” He looks skeptically at Harry and his cane and then out at the rising river, ice jams still evident along the banks.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll get another Uber when I’m ready to go back.” He tries to keep resentment out of his voice, but he’s sick of the coddling. The driver doesn’t pull away until Harry’s sat on the bench, waving him off. At least he keeps his temper in check.

He takes a breath, cold air filling his lungs, before he tucks his scarf back around his face. His parka keeps out most of the chill, but his legs are already growing cold against the wood of the bench. He slides his camera off his neck and holds it carefully in his hands. He’s fairly steady with his hands these days, but just to be safe, he holds it firmly as he takes a few test shots for light. It feels really damn good to have his camera in his hands.

It’s overcast today, dull and grey, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to find the beauty. He knows he lost his way on that search, but he’s back on the right path now. He can feel it.

He takes a few shots of the bridge from this distance, but they’re nothing special. Instead, he finds himself intrigued by the sharp angles of the ice stuck in enormous jams along the riverbank. The shots almost look graphic, patterned. He’s sure he can do something with these in editing.

When the cold bites too harshly at his fingertips, he gives in and pulls up his Uber app. As he waits, he considers the situation he’s created for himself, one where he’s sat alone in the cold, broken but healing. When he gets home, he’s going to begin cooking Louis dinner and wait for his chance to push Louis ever so slowly forward into getting back what they’ve lost.

He wonders if the tulips he sent on Valentine’s Day were going too far. Louis hasn’t mentioned them in any of their texts. He’s not sure what to think about that, but tulips have always been Louis’ favorite, reminding him of spring after a cold Midwestern winter. Louis must know they’re from him. A brief flicker of anger ignites at the thought that Louis is simply ignoring them, but he needs to keep himself focused on moving forward. That’s all he can do.

A black Mercedes pulls into the water taxi’s parking lot. The chill makes him stiff as he tries to get up, but with a groan, he manages to stand with the help of his cane and find his way to the idling car. The driver jumps out when he sees the cane and opens the back door for him.

He both resents the implication that he can’t do it himself and is thankful for the bit of help. “Uh--I’d rather sit in front if that’s alright?”

“Yeah, no problem,” the driver says, quickly opening the front door instead.

He watches the river as they drive back towards his building. The water has always beckoned to him, its rapid current promising him an escape. He’d always taken this road across town, no matter where he was headed. His family could never understand, always insisting that the expressway was faster, and he could never understand why you’d want to look at strip malls and big box stores with concrete consuming your vision instead of the waves of the life blood of this town. They’d probably argue that John Selley is the life blood of Milltown. They’d always felt they were somehow more powerful than nature. He snorts in spite of being in a car with a stranger.

The driver is out of the car to open the door for him before he can tell him he doesn’t need the help, so he accepts it without comment, walking more swiftly than in the parking lot now that he’s not so stiff from the cold. He makes his way past Charles at the security desk with a wave and a smile, and he doesn’t take the smile off his face until he’s safely alone in the elevator where he can slump against the side and bite back the discomfort.

He’ll have to take some pain meds to even attempt to make Louis dinner. Maybe he shouldn’t have gone out today, knowing what else he wanted to accomplish, but the pull of creating something was just too strong today, overpowering his desire for comfort.

 

As he sautees the mushrooms, enjoying the aroma of garlic and butter, he hears the door buzz. He almost calls out to come in before he remembers he has to actually answer the door. He turns the heat down a bit, so they won’t burn and grabs his cane.

“Hey, H. Something smells good,” Louis says with a bright smile, his nose tilted up and sniffing the air dramatically.

His lips twitch, trying to hold back the bark of laughter that wants to escape. He has to remind himself not to throw himself into Louis’ arms and kiss him. For one thing, he’d probably knock them both to the ground. For another thing, he’s got to play this a lot more cool.

The tulips were definitely a mistake, definitely too far. He’s got to move more slowly, give Louis time to fall in love with him again. It’s so hard to remember when Louis smiles like this, shining so brightly it blinds him senseless.

As Louis helps him plate the steak with mushrooms and takes the fries out of the oven for him, he tries to pick up scraps of safer conversations. Work, Niall, therapy, the Autism Society. But when they sit and Louis moans over how good the food is, Harry can’t help the pleasure that floods through him at the sound, and the topics shift to shakier ground.

“Looks like I gave you that art museum membership at just the right time.”

“Hmm?”

“I hear they’re getting a French Modernists exhibition soon. Pretty cool even if it’s not really your thing.”

“Oh! I--yeah, that’s really cool actually. A Monet in Milltown.” He huffs a small laugh. “Who’d ever have thought?”

“Yeah,” Louis’ eyes twinkle a bit in the dim light. “Bit used to Grant Wood around here.”

“Gemma was just trying to get me to go to a photography exhibit actually.”

“Oh.” Louis seems to chew on this for a moment. “Gonna go?”

“Yeah, probably.” Harry shrugs. “Might as well.”

“Yeah. Uh--been meaning to ask you about that actually.”

“About what?”

“Your photography--” The words seem to stick in Louis’ throat, and Harry feels ashamed of the hesitation and maybe fear that Louis seems to feel about bringing it up.

Harry quickly responds to relieve the tension. “I went out today with my camera.”

“You did?” Louis looks surprised and less wary now.

“Yeah, went and sat out near where the water taxis dock and took a few shots. Felt really good to have some natural light even if I couldn’t stay out too long.”

“I mean, I know you mentioned it before--the other night with the guys. But I’m just really happy for you that you have it back.”

Louis doesn’t define it , but Harry knows what he means. There was a lot Harry lost about himself before he ever lost his memory.

“You must be doing really well to have that one out.”

Harry turns to look in the direction of Louis’ nod and sees the camera he hadn’t put away, sitting on a side table. “Yeah, well, just a matter of practice, I guess.”

“Right. I just meant, that one’s newer so you wouldn’t remember it. Was surprised you didn’t grab out your old Canon.”

“Mmm, yeah.” Louis almost never mentions things like this, never referencing the years he didn’t remember. “Well, some of my cameras seem to have a lot of emotions attached to them. Can’t always handle it very well. So--thought I’d give this newer one a whirl.”

Louis smiles. It irritates him because there’s something about the smile that doesn’t look quite right. “You used to hate that one. Said it had no soul.”

“Did I? Well, maybe I used it more after we broke up.”

“Didn’t use much of any camera for quite a while before we broke up, H.”

Harry doesn’t know why he’s even arguing this point. “How do you know I didn’t take it up again after that?”

Louis’ fingers fidget on top of the table. “I--I don’t. I didn’t mean anything by that, just that you hadn’t been interested anymore. It’s--well, it’s good to hear you’re creating something again. You deserve to have that back in your life.”

“Thanks.” He tries to smile, but isn’t sure he succeeds. He wants to say it isn’t the only thing he wants back in his life, but the conversation has tipped sideways and away from him. He’s got to get it back on track, but he lets his emotions sway him even further off. “Maybe I should take some shots of your tulips.”

Louis eyes dart to his as color diffuses rapidly into his cheeks. “How did you--oh, they’re from you.”

He feels his entire body stiffen. “Who else would they be from? Who else would know your favorite flowers?”

“No one--” he stutters, eyes wide. “There was no card, so I--”

“Assumed you had a secret admirer?”

The color in his face darkens. “I didn’t know. I thought maybe--it doesn’t matter. I guess, thanks then for the flowers. You didn’t need to do that.”

Harry runs a hand through his hair, trying to cool off, regain control, even if Louis had suspected someone else had sent his tulips. “There was a card. Must have fallen off.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

Fuck. He’s got to salvage some of this night. “I guess you liked the steak.”

They both look at Louis’ empty plate, and Louis laughs, probably surprised at the sudden change of subject. Maybe a little relieved too. “Yeah, it was really good. Haven’t lost your touch on that at all.”

“Thanks. Would you want to--stay and watch a movie or something? Not sure I’m up to going to the movie theater yet. Not super comfortable for me, unless you want to go to the ones across the bridge. They’ve got those recliner style seats.”

“Yeah, they do, but I’m fine with staying in--with you.” Louis’ voice trails off so quietly, he wonders if it’s just his own wishful thinking.

“Great, I’ll pull up Netflix.” He tries to stand, forgetting in the moment that he can’t quite do that so easily and has to quickly grasp the table for support.

Louis instinctively jumps from his seat as though to keep him from falling, although there’s no chance he would have made it in time. “You okay?”

“Yeah, just--forgot for a second.” Maybe this is stupid. How can he possibly convince Louis this is all a good idea when he can’t even stand on his own two feet? So much time’s already been lost, wasted. He’s got to try.

He grabs his cane and staggers a little but keeps upright, facing away from the table as he makes his way towards the kitchen. “Popcorn? Or dessert?”

“Dessert?”

Harry smiles as he calls back. “Ice cream?”

He can hear the sweet hope in Louis’ answer. “Mint chocolate chip?” As though something as simple as his favorite ice cream could fix what’s passed between them tonight. Maybe it can.

###

 

Saturday, February 29



Milltown Cafe is bustling this morning, but there’s one small table near the window still vacant. Louis takes his tea from the barista and heads for it. Only one chair sits at the table, someone having taken the other for another table perhaps, and so he manages to have somewhere to sit in the crowded cafe.

He watches the deceptively calm river for a minute while his tea cools enough to sip it. It’s strange to think that beneath the surface is a churning current, drawing you closer until suddenly you’re in too deep.

The buzz of his phone in his pocket pulls him from his thoughts. It’s just a text reminder for an appointment, and he can’t stop the brief disappointment that it isn’t Harry. He takes a sip of his tea. It’s still too hot and burns his tongue. He sets it aside in favor of thumbing back through to his text conversation with Harry. He scrolls for a moment and realizes how much there is here just in the past week.

It’s natural, he tells himself. Harry is his friend, and it was his first week back at work. It’s only natural that he keep Louis updated on it. The little voice in the back of his mind says it’s maybe a little too much for a friend to send this many texts. Friends don’t usually kiss the way they did on Harry’s birthday. Friends don’t send each other enormous bouquets of tulips on Valentine’s Day either. Probably no one is just friends with their ex boyfriends who broke their heart even if they don’t remember it.

He lets out an exasperated sigh and sets his phone on the table.

“Is this a bad time?”

His eyes dart to the handsome man who’s approached his table without him even noticing. “Jake. Hi. Uh--no not a bad time really.”

He glances around for a chair, but he doesn’t see one nearby to offer Jake. Jake seems to be doing the same, and then sets his drink on the table and says, “Be right back.”

Louis watches him walk towards the front of the cafe as his phone buzzes again. Guilt settles in his gut at the message from Harry asking if he’s free tonight. He tries to remind himself that he’s doing nothing wrong. Sitting with Jake in a cafe isn’t wrong and neither is reading a text from Harry. It feels wrong though.

The guilt swirls uneasily as Jake appears with a chair hoisted above his head as he moves through the crowded room. He draws the eyes of many of the other people around them, and Louis knows that objectively Jake looks like a daydream, styled blonde waves and pale blue eyes. His shirt rides up as he lifts the chair and his tall, strong body probably makes a few hearts skip a beat. Just not Louis’.

It’s just that Louis has never daydreamed over the way someone looks. He’s not entirely sure why, but he suspects it’s just the way it all works for him. And maybe he’s still too attached to soft brown curls and clear green eyes. Maybe it’s who those features are attached to that makes more of a difference to him.

Jake flashes him a white toothed grin. “Glad I ran into you here. Was going to call you today, actually. I just got into town yesterday.”

Louis nods, a little uncomfortable. It’s not that he feels like he’s been stringing Jake along. He’s definitely only been friendly if anything. “So how did your work trip go?”

“Well, I was helping train people on the new accounting software. So it wasn’t spectacularly exciting. But I did get in some good golfing days in Arizona. A lot warmer there.”

Louis smiles. “Yeah, I bet. My friend--friends haven’t been able to play golf in months. It’ll probably be a good month before the courses open here.”

“You play?”

“Absolutely not,” Louis says with a laugh. “Not my thing. I suppose you’re required to play golf if you work at John Selley though.”

Jake nods with a smile, his eyebrow raised in agreement. “Fair.”

His phone buzzes on the table, another text message flashing across the lock screen. Thought I’d cook something new tonight if you want to taste test it for me.

He reads it, feeling a flutter in place of the earlier guilt. When he glances up, it’s to a slight frown on Jake’s face.

“I was going to see if you wanted to get dinner tonight, but I guess you’re busy.”

Louis can feel the blood rush to his face.

Jake sighs. “I guess I waited too long to really make my move. Work sort of gets in the way sometimes.”

Louis honestly doesn’t know what to say. Should he explain? Too bad he doesn’t even know how to explain this to himself. “I--I don’t--”

“Louis, really. It’s okay. I understand. I couldn’t really expect a guy like you to stay single for long.” Jake gives him a rueful smile. “Do you mind if I still sit here with you for a while? Just as friends.”

“Um, yeah. That’s cool. Friends.” He runs his fingers across the front of his hair. “I don’t know how to explain, but it’s just kind of complicated right now.”

“Ah. Complicated,” Jake repeats, leaning back in his chair but watching him closely enough to make him feel slightly uncomfortable about it. “If you don’t mind me asking, is it too complicated? Maybe you could move on from complicated and find something that works more easily. Just saying. Doesn’t have to mean me, but it is leap day after all. Maybe it’s time to take a chance.”

The grin on Jake’s face says that he does in fact mean himself, but Louis lets himself think about the question as though it’s a serious one. Whatever is between he and Harry is most definitely complicated. And he would have said a thousand times before this that it was too complicated to ever truly right that sinking ship.

And yet, here he is sitting next to a man who catches everyone’s eye but his, a man who could be his new start, and he’s thinking of Harry. He’s thinking of what Harry means by cooking something new. He’s thinking if Harry should be standing at the stove very long. He’s thinking of the way Harry’s eyes flash when he looks at him. He’s thinking of the Harry he lost and the one he’s found again.

Yes, it’s complicated. “I have to figure it out,” he answers simply.

It’s not much of an answer, but it’s enough. Maybe he really is ready to take a leap.

 

The thought that he’s made some sort of decision frightens him as he watches each floor light up as it passes on his way to the top floor, on his way to Harry. He’s known for a while he’s been allowing himself to be drawn back into Harry, just like Zayn warned him off from doing months ago.

When the door opens to Harry’s flushed face, all he can think of is how dear his face was to him--still is to him. He knows his attempts to keep Harry at arm’s length were tepid at best because he’s never really gotten over Harry, and now, he wonders if he ever even wanted to get over him. Maybe all this really can be a new start for them.

Harry ushers him in, and Louis smiles as he eyes Harry’s sweatpants and stained t-shirt beneath an apron. “Nice apron.”

Harry turns in order to fully show the entire pun written across it, and he can’t help but note how much smoother Harry’s movements are, how much less he seems reliant on his cane. His eyes travel back to the apron.   No roast for the wicked.

Harry grins. “Only fitting, since I’ve made a roast.”

“That was your something new you’re cooking me?”

Harry’s face brightens even more, and he wonders what his own face must be giving away. “No, of course a roast isn’t new, but it’s your favorite. I’ve just tried some different things with it this time. Gave it a Caribbean twist. Reminded me a bit of--well--”

“St. Lucia?” He asks. He can smell the roast now, garlic, orange, maybe even a hint of cinnamon.  They’ve both stopped speaking, Louis lost in his memories of lazy warm days high on a cliff side overlooking the blue sea and the Piton mountains. When his eyes refocus on the present, he recognizes the hazy look in Harry’s.

“Yeah, St. Lucia,” Harry finally answers.

They’d had other vacations, traveled a lot at Harry’s insistence, but St. Lucia had been special for them. He knows they both feel the ghosts of the past whispering words of love between crisp linen sheets.

He clears his throat.

“Well, it smells delicious.”

Harry’s eyes refocus. “Yeah, it is. You’ll love it.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“I’ll be right back,” he says as he glances down at his apron. He returns wearing jeans and a soft green sweater, his hair rumpled from tugging his shirt off and on. Louis feels his breath catch again.

Harry plates the food, and Louis’ mouth waters as he carries everything to the table. Sweet potatoes spiced with some type of pepper, fried plantains, and black beans all just to accompany the roast.

“You really went all out here. It looks amazing. Smells amazing.”

Harry shrugs, but he can tell he’s pleased by the praise. “Well, you’ll have to taste it first. It’s my first time making any of this.”

Everything is as good as it smells, and every compliment deepens the dimples in Harry’s face, making him remember how much he’s always enjoyed making people happy with his words, making Harry happy.

And as they sit there, speaking of friends and food and family and work, he sees how happy they could be. No, how happy they already are with each other. The way Harry looks back at him, eyes sparkling in the candlelight.

Candles. His eyes dart to the small flames atop the thin tapers, suddenly seeing this dinner for what Harry intends for it to be, and he feels ready again. He thinks Harry can tell he’s ready. He hopes for it. Even though he’s always seen himself as determined, when it comes to Harry, things have been so complicated. He hopes to not have to say the words.

And then somehow it starts to go wrong.

“What were you up to today?” Harry asks, sipping his sparkling water and glancing over towards the kitchen.

“Not much. Hung out with Stuart, got tea at Milltown Cafe.”

“With Zayn?”

“No, uh--I went on my own actually, but ended up sitting with--a friend for a while.” He couldn’t have said this any more suspiciously. He could honestly kick himself.

Harry sits up straighter, his eyes focusing directly on his own. “A friend? Does your friend have a name?”

He really doesn’t like Harry’s tone, but he answers anyway. “Jake. Olsen. His dad is on the board for the Autism Society, and he’s hoping to be more involved with it, too.”

“Jake.” Harry says his name like a curse, the consonants clipped and harsh. “He just wants to be involved, does he? With the board or with you?”

“Probably both,” Louis admits quietly.

Harry’s lips press together into a line as he rises from the table too abruptly, and he has to catch the side of it with his hands to steady himself. He grasps his cane and starts moving towards the kitchen.

“Harry?”

“I’m getting the dessert,” he bites out.

Louis’ out of his seat and following him as Harry opens the refrigerator and pulls out a pie. The glass of the pan clatters loudly as it hits the surface of the hard quartz of the countertop. Harry reaches for something else in the refrigerator, but Louis reaches out to still him.

Harry freezes, his eyes locked on him, the clear green now storming.

“Harry?” He tries again.

Harry doesn’t speak but he doesn’t pull away either. They both stand in front of the refrigerator’s open door, inches apart. Louis can feel his heart beating in his chest, willing himself to say something.

He takes a breath, but before he can speak, Harry deflates. “I’m sorry. I’m not being fair. You can have coffee with whoever you want. It’s just--I can’t pretend I don’t feel upset that you’re spending time with someone who wants something more than friendship with you.”

“Why?”

Harry raises an eyebrow and huffs out an exasperated snort. “Let’s not pretend that I didn’t plan a romantic, candlelight dinner that reminds us of when we were happy, back when you were finally falling in love with me. It’s hard for me to think of you falling for someone new.”

“Harry, how could I fall for someone new when I’m not over you?”

A beat of time passes silently as it sinks in for both of them. They both want the same thing. The air between them thickens with anticipation, and he can’t help but let his eyes drop to Harry’s pink lips.

Harry reaches for him first, pulling him towards him as he leans against the counter to steady them. The first touch of his lips feels like the first time, hesitant and soft, sweet and heady. They pull away just far enough that their lips no longer touch, but their breaths intermingle between them and he can smell the scent of berries from the sparkling water.

“Lou?”

Louis doesn’t respond. He simply closes the small distance between them. His nose nudges Harry’s as their lips find each other’s again, and the careful kiss that starts gently, deepens into something more intoxicating, something Louis can’t get enough of.

It surprises him how a kiss that should feel so familiar, doesn’t, and their lips explore as though trying to relearn something precious that’s been forgotten. Without thought, he finds himself pressed between Harry’s legs, one large hand splayed across his back and the other at his jaw as Harry takes control of the kiss.

It feels so good to let go, to let Harry lead his tongue into his mouth, his lips slanting more firmly against his own now. Harry cups his chin and moves him to accommodate his kiss. Harry’s hand lowers down his back, and then back up beneath his shirt, touching the bare skin he finds and then back down again until he can caress over the curves of his body, cupping and then pressing them further together.

Louis can’t help the moan that escapes him at the feeling of being pressed against Harry again after all this time. Passion begins to rise within him, that flicker that only ignites like this when he’s in Harry’s arms.

Harry pulls away again, releasing the tightness of his hold only slightly. Harry looks at him with such reverence, it almost makes him want to look away in embarrassment, but Harry doesn’t let him. He traces the outline of his lips with his thumb, a feather touch that makes Louis’ knees weak. He can’t stop the sigh of longing that escapes him as Harry leans in again, pressing kisses along his jaw.

“Lou, tell me what you want.” Harry’s voice whispers against his ear.

“You,” he says simply.

Harry reaches out again and takes his hand, softly rubbing his thumb against his knuckles. Just this simple touch sends electric pulses up his arm. And then, he’s drawing him forwards down the hall. Louis vaguely takes in that Harry’s got his cane, but it’s enough to register with him that they must be careful. His mind begins to spin with what he should or shouldn’t do. He doesn’t want to risk hurting Harry or for him to accidentally injure himself.

Harry closes the door behind him. “I can hear you thinking.”

Louis gives him a weak smile and a small shrug.

“I promise to tell you if anything hurts. I mean, I can tell you that I feel pretty good right now,” Harry says, a huge sideways smirk on his face.

Louis rolls his eyes, but his breath catches when he feels Harry tug him towards the bed. Harry sits at the edge and pulls him forwards until he’s forced to press his knees into the mattress and sit atop him.

“You okay?”

“You can probably feel how okay I am.”

Harry’s hands slide beneath his thin sweater and caress his back for a moment before he begins to tug it up and over his head. And then, his long fingers trace along the dark ink of his tattoos as if he’s memorizing their shapes all over again. Louis wants to do the same, so he grabs fistfulls of Harry’s sweater and slides it up and over his head.

The scars jolt him back into reality. In the moment, he’d somehow forgotten these new lines that criss cross Harry’s body, reminding him that not long ago he’d almost lost him for good. He traces along their lengths instead of his tattoos, something new to memorize about Harry’s body. Harry tenses beneath his touch, but he doesn’t speak, just allowing Louis to learn him again.

He glances up into Harry’s questioning face and lets his fingers glide across the muscles of Harry’s arms and shoulders and up into his hair as he leans forward to capture his lips in a kiss. His fingers find the scar beneath the hair that’s grown long enough to cover it, and it reminds him that this is the injury that has caused the most turmoil, the most grief and the most joy all at once. It’s the reason he has Harry again, and the guilt pools in his stomach at the thought that he has long stopped wishing for Harry to regain his memory.

Harry pulls away again. “Stop thinking, Lou. You’re always taking care of people, taking care of me. Let me take care of you now.”

Harry uses his arms to move them further back onto the bed, pushing Louis off his lap and onto his back. His hand presses against his chest as though he can feel the frantic beat of his heart and then it caresses down further to the button of his jeans. Harry slowly unbuttons it and slides the zipper down before peeling them down and off his body until he’s laid out before him in just a bit of black fabric that his hardening cock juts out of.

Harry moves himself between his legs, moving them further apart until Louis can feel his breath against his still clothed cock. He looks down between his legs to see that Harry is watching him as he takes hold of the band of his boxers and slides them down his legs as well, tossing them to join his clothes on the floor.

Moving carefully, more slowly than he might normally move, Harry reclaims his place between Louis’ legs. He props himself up on his elbows so he can see Harry properly. It’s nearly more than he can bear to watch. Warm, wet heat surrounds him and makes him gasp out his name. “Harry.”

Harry’s still looking at him, though his eyebrows raise at the sound of his name. His skilled tongue presses against the underside of his cock, and Louis moans again. He can’t keep propped up anymore as Harry’s lips slide up and down, his hands pressed to Louis’ thighs. The pressure mounts.

He doesn’t want to come like this.

“Harry.”

Harry’s eyes are closed now and he doesn’t respond.

“Harry, Harry, Harry,” he says as he grasps  hold of Harry’s hair, making him still his movements. Harry looks up now, his eyes dark with want.

“I want to come with you inside me.”

Harry sits up a little too quickly, and Louis catches him wince.

“I want you to lay back against the pillows.” Harry doesn’t respond, but he lets Louis help place him just so. “I know you said you want to take care of me, but you’re not properly healed yet.”

Harry opens his mouth to protest, but he interrupts him with a grin. “Believe me, when you’re strong again, I’ll let you manhandle me all your want.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “Okay. What do you have in mind then?”

He knows he’s just implied that there will be a next time, many next times. Even though that’s presumably what Harry wants, it still makes him look away. He crawls over the bedside table and finds a condom and lube where it’s always been. He has a moment of hesitation, not knowing whether they need a condom or not, but he decides now isn’t the time to ask.

When he looks back, Harry’s got his jeans off and a hand wrapped around himself, touching himself as he stares at Louis.

“Come here.” Harry’s voice rumbles deeply from his chest and Louis shivers at the sound.

Louis flips open the lube, but Harry reaches out a hand to stop him. “Let me.”

“I was going to--”

“I know what you’re going to do, Lou. Come over here.”

Louis crawls over and slings a leg on either side of Harry’s body, handing over the lube, but he sets it beside them and instead looks his fill of Louis’ body sat atop his own. He lets his hands smooth over his skin from his thighs and up his torso, thumbs flicking against his nipples, sending pleasure through his veins. His cock stiffens against Harry, and he can feel Harry’s doing the same beneath him. He slides back against his erection and Harry groans.

“You want the lube yet?” Louis asks with a grin.

“I’m trying to--make it good.”

“It’s always good with you.”

“Is it?” Harry has an odd look on his face, but it’s hard to decipher it when he wants him inside. Harry turns away to reach for the lube and slicks up one long finger that he teases against his hole, making him squirm. He has to actively try to support himself a bit so he doesn’t hurt Harry in any way.

“Please, Harry.” He says as he tries to sit back a bit on his finger.

“What do you want?” Harry asks again although he already knows the answer. Apparently, he wants to hear the words again as his finger slides inside him. He gasps and takes a slow breath, relaxing around the intrusion.

“Want you, Harry. Want you inside. Please. Please,” he babbles. “I need you.”

But Harry seems determined to take his time. He slides his finger inside him, searching until he finds Louis’ reaction to be the one he’s looking for, the one that makes him cry out Harry’s name over and over, pleading for release.

It’s too much. He frantically grabs for the condom and tears it open. He slides back, catching Harry against his rim, making them both gasp. And then he’s sliding the condom onto Harry and carefully lowering himself down.

“Louis,” Harry groans. “Fuck you feel so good.”

He can’t respond. It’s been so long. He could cry for how good it feels to have Harry filling him up again, looking at him this way like he’s everything. Harry stirs beneath him, and he knows he doesn’t want Harry to set the pace. He wants him to let him take over now, so he doesn’t have to strain himself. He braces himself on his knees and his hands on Harry’s chest and can’t stop his mouth from falling open as he begins to move.

Harry’s pleading becomes as desperate as his own had been. Harry’s fingers dig into his thighs as he moves, and Louis lets himself give in to the night, give in to Harry. Waves of pleasure crash over him, different than it’s ever been before. There’s something very desperate about it that he thinks must stem from knowing that Harry’s accident almost separated them forever.

The tension begins to build, his body clenching around Harry.

“Fuck!” Harry calls out, and Louis knows he must be as close to coming as he is. He feels Harry’s fingers clasp around his cock and begin pumping around him. Louis can hardly breathe as he gasps his breath rocking back and forth between Harry inside him and Harry around him. He feels when Harry comes, his body tightening beneath him.

He comes with Harry’s hand still around him, and Harry’s voice in his ear, telling him how beautiful he is, how wonderful he feels, how good they are together.

And when they’ve haphazardly cleaned themselves up, he falls asleep wrapped around Harry, still protecting him.

###

 

Sunday, March 1



Light filters in through the sheer drapes, casting the room in a soft haze. There’s a body pressed behind Harry in bed, strong arms wrapped around him. It takes a moment to sink in that this isn’t a dream. Louis is really here, right beside him where he belongs. He settles back into the embrace and drifts off again.

When he wakes again, it’s to the soft touch of fingertips at his hip that slip softly along his skin, leaving a shiver of sensation in their wake.

“I’ve missed this,” Louis whispers, his breath warm against the skin of his neck.

He wonders what Louis misses. Sex? Sleeping in? Harry? “Hmm?”

“Waking up here--with you.”

Soft lips press to the skin of his shoulder, and he can’t stop his heart from filling with hope. He knows this isn’t as simple as he would like it to be, and a sigh falls from his lips. Louis must take it as a sign to continue his exploration of Harry’s body because his fingers slide up his chest, tucking himself against Harry more closely. It feels even better than he remembers, even if he’s a bit stiff from how he’s slept in Louis’ arms.

“Maybe I should make us some breakfast,” he mumbles. He needs an excuse to get up and stretch a bit, even if he’d like nothing more than to continue where they left off last night. He doesn’t really want to admit this to Louis though, would rather Louis not be thinking about his injuries and instead thinking about them.

He tries his best to sit up and grab his cane where it’s sat next to the bed without showing any signs of pain, but his pain medication wore off hours ago. He can hear the rustle of sheets behind him, and he turns to see Louis looking around the floor probably for his clothing from last night.

“No rush,” Harry says. “I’ll make pancakes.”

He takes a few pills before he even attempts to get out pans and ingredients. Louis is slow to make his entrance, and he’s grateful for this reprieve to try and get his head on straight. He could make pancakes in his sleep, so he lets muscle memory gather everything he needs without thinking about it.

When Louis saunters in, his hair delightfully rumpled and wearing Harry’s sweatpants and looking like the Louis that had been his, he can hardly catch his breath.

“You’re gonna burn that,” Louis says with a grin as though he knows what Harry is thinking. Harry knows he couldn’t possibly know the myriad of emotions crashing over him right now.

Harry flips the pancake. It’s a little darker than he’d like, but he’ll just save the better ones for Louis.

“It looks fine. Don’t scowl,” Louis says as he walks up behind him and places a kiss on the back of his neck. Harry watches him out of the corner of his eye as he gets out orange juice and starts making coffee.

Fuck, if it all just feels like everything sliding right into place, right where they left off. No, this isn’t where they left off though. Where they left off wasn’t anything like this. Where they left off was angry and bitter.

He’s known for a while that he couldn’t keep it up forever, and yet, he still doesn’t realize his mistake when he makes it.

“What are your plans for today?” Louis asks, his mouth full of pancake.

He sighs. “Probably just sit around, watch some tv.”

“What have you been watching?”

“Great British Bake Off lately.”

Louis laughs, nearly spitting out some pancake. “No more Westworld, eh?”

“I should have listened to Cynthia when she said I wouldn’t like it.” Harry takes a sip of his juice thinking about how dark that tv show gets. He’s not really a fan of orange juice, but the vitamin C is good for healing supposedly.

“When did you talk to Cynthia about Westworld?”

“At her 50th birthday party.” He eats a bite of pancake and chews before he senses Louis’ stillness.

He looks up into Louis’ eyes, wide and shocked. “Harry--I think you--well, that party it was--yes, it was definitely during the time you don’t remember! I think you remembered something!”

He looks so excited, and it all happens so quickly that he doesn’t have a chance to control his reaction, the panic that wells up inside him, and then, suddenly, Louis’ face drops. “You remember. And you don’t look--Harry?”

“Yes?”

“How long have you remembered?”

The absolute quiet of the room presses in on his eardrums. Harry’s sure Louis can hear the frantic beating of his heart. “I--I’m not--” But the guilt is eating him up inside, and he doesn’t have it in him to lie.

“How long have you had your memory back, Harry?” And now Louis’ voice trembles with emotion and something else--anger, maybe, as he stands up from the table abruptly, nearly knocking over the chair. “Days? Weeks?”

Harry’s mouth goes dry, and he can barely choke out a word. “A while.”

“You lied to me,” Louis says, so quietly it’s almost as if he’s said it to himself. But then, Louis looks at him, eyes flashing and says it more firmly this time. “You lied to me. How long were you going to keep pretending, Harry? Just until I couldn’t give you up anymore? Or is this your way of getting back at me? Is that what this is?”

Harry’s temper flares at the words. “I’m a liar? What about you, Louis? Why didn’t you just use the key to my condo that I know you have? The one you always let yourself in with?”

Louis’ face pales, but Harry plows ahead. It hurts that he’d be so ready too accuse him. Well, Harry’s not the only guilty one here.

“You don’t know what it was like,” he hisses. “To have you call me when you were lonely, and ask to see me. Then, you’d cure yourself on my body and leave. And every time I let you. And you--you knew I’d never say no to you, that I’d never stop letting you use me.”

“It wasn’t like that.” Louis looks like he might be sick.

“Then what was it like, Lou? Because that’s how it felt. And if it wasn’t like that, why didn’t you tell me the truth when you had the chance? Why did you lie to me and pretend that we never saw each other after we broke up?”

Louis shakes his head, staring down at the table. “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“So it was fine to hurt me before I was injured, just not after.”

“No. I don’t know what I could have been thinking.” His eyes meet Harry’s, and he sees a panic there that’s very familiar. “I have to--I have to leave.”

“What? No--we have to talk!”

Louis darts down the hallway and into the bedroom.

“Fuck.” Harry stumbles up from the table and grabs his cane, but Louis is already fumbling with his shoe as he’s tries to make his way down the hallway before Harry gets very far.

“I have to go.”

“Louis, wait! Please, we should talk about this. Talk about us.”

“There’s no us, Harry. I should never have--I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I thought this was--something it wasn’t.”

“Look at me. I’m still here, still fighting for you, and I still love you.”

“You don’t. You don’t.” Louis gives him one last anguished look. “Goodbye, Harry.”

 

###



Sunday, March 8

 

He doesn’t want the dream to end, the one where he wakes up with Harry in his arms and they’re happy. They’re so so happy, and Harry kisses him again, his eyes shining in the morning light. But someone is calling his name and jostling him around, and he’s going to lose it all again.

“Lou! LOUUUUU! LOUIS! Wake up!”

He groans and tries to put a pillow over his head to block out the sound of Niall’s shrill voice. The pillow gets ripped away. “Go away.”

He hears Zayn’s much more mellow tone from the doorway. “Get up, Lou. We’re taking you to brunch.”

He tilts his head sideways to look at them blearily. “Not hungry.”

“He’s barely eaten in days,” he hears Zayn say to Niall as if he’s not right in front of them.

Someone jostles his shoulder. Probably Niall. “Lou, you have to eat.”

“He basically hasn’t left his bed since he got home from work on Friday,” Zayn murmurs.

Niall sits on the bed and starts shaking it. “Lou, get up and take a shower for fuck’s sake.”

“I’m not walking Stuart again for you, so you’re gonna have to get up,” Zayn announces.

Niall sits on top of him. “Your dog needs you, Lou.”

“Can’t get up when you’re sitting on me.” Niall slides off and back onto the bed, and Louis sits up, rubbing his eyes. “What time is it?”

“It’s eleven. But you’ve basically just slept for twelve hours, so I think it’s probably time to get up.”

“Yeah.” He looks down at his hands, his fingers twisting in the sheets, not wanting to see the pity in his friends’ faces again. It’s happening all over again, and they’ve got to deal with the fall out again.

Zayn’s voice is softer now. “We’re just worried about you. We gave you a week to come to us about whatever has happened, so now this is an intervention of sorts.”

Louis huffs out a sad laugh. He’s so pathetic his friends need to stage an intervention. “I’m sorry.” They’ll never know just how sorry he really is for putting them through this again.

“We all care about you, Lou. I just wish you’d let us help you.” He looks up into Niall’s earnest face and just feels even worse.

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

“Don’t be sorry. Fuck, Louis, we just want to know what’s going on. Do we need to go punch Harry in the face for you?”

His eyes fly to Zayn’s now. “No. I mean, why do you think this is about Harry?”

Nial groans, and Zayn rolls his eyes and flops himself backwards onto the bed. “When isn’t it about Harry?”

“Fine. It’s about Harry. But don’t go punch him in the face. He has enough injuries.”

Niall snorts. “Well, what’s a few more then if they’re deserved.”

“I thought you two were all about defending Harry these days.”

Zayn reaches out a hand from where he’s laying in front of him and tangles their fingers together. “We’re your best friends. We know what your heart looks like when it’s been broken. And we’re here. Right here, with you.”

“Thanks.” Louis’ voice wobbles a bit with the word.

Zayn squeezes his hand a bit. “We’re not the only ones either. I know you haven’t been answering your phone because I’ve gotten calls from your mom, your sister, and Cynthia this week.”

“Oh, god. Guess I’ve been pretty obviously--”

“Sad?” Niall provides.

“I don’t know if sad really covers it. Listen, I’ll--get up. Take a shower. And I guess I owe you guys an explanation.”

“You don’t owe us, Louis. We just want to be here for you though.”

Louis sighs. “I kind of do owe you though. I owe you the truth.”

He crawls off the bed, and Zayn sits up as Niall hops off, too. “I’ll go grab us some Starbucks instead of brunch, okay?” Niall says with a smile.

Louis nods. Zayn still watches him from his bed. “Take your time. You stink.”

“Shut up.”

Zayn shrugs, but with a small curve to his lips as he gets up and leaves the room.

He does take his time as he lets the rush of water run over him, letting it wash away a small amount of the despair he feels. His stomach twists at coming clean with Zayn and Niall about everything that’s happened--everything that really happened before Harry’s accident. He feels like a liar and a fraud, and he supposes he is.

He doesn’t have much energy, but he pulls on some sweats and a t shirt though he can’t manage to dry his hair beyond just rubbing it roughly with a towel a few times. He feels exhausted even though he’s slept more this weekend than he’s maybe ever slept in his life. He walks out into the kitchen to find Niall and Zayn speaking quietly, sipping huge Starbucks’ drinks.

“Got you a latte,” Niall says as he pushes one across the table in his direction. “Thought you might need more fortification than tea.”

He sits where the coffee indicates and tries to smile his thanks. It probably looks more like a grimace. Niall’s brought a few pastries, so he picks at a croissant. They all sit and sip their drinks, anxiously waiting for Louis to start talking.

“So--” He actually sees Zayn and Niall tense at the sound of his voice. “I know you said I don’t owe you an explanation, but I sort of do owe you one because there are things that I never told you--either of you--that I probably should have. I just knew what you’d both say and think about it, so I kept it to myself.”

Niall’s face is scrunched into one of consideration. “Lou, what the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Harry. I’m trying to start at the beginning of all this.”

“Okay, yeah, start at the beginning,” Zayn says, his voice soft and encouraging.

He lets out a slow breath, trying to keep himself calm enough to speak.

“After Harry and I broke up, I would--see him sometimes.”

An awkward silence fills the space separating them. Niall and Zayn exchange a glance.

“What exactly do you mean by see him?” Zayn asks.

Louis looks down at the croissant that he’s tearing into a thousand pieces. “I mean that sometimes I just--missed him. Missed what we had. And I just couldn’t seem to move on. Sometimes, I let the loneliness, the missing him, get to me, and I’d--I’d call him, ask to see him.”

“Oh, shit,” Niall whispers.

“He always said yes. He never ever told me no. And he--he gave me back a key so I could come in whenever I wanted. And I used it--once in a while.”

“But you weren’t actually together anymore?” Zayn asks.

“No. We weren’t really together. And I didn’t tell either of you because I knew you’d say how stupid it was. How really fucking stupid I was to keep sleeping with him.”

“New Year’s,” Zayn says, putting together some of the pieces. “New Year’s Eve. Last year. You were with Harry. There was never anyone new.”

Louis just nods.

Zayn sighs. “Fucking hell, Louis. I mean, yeah I probably would have tried to talk you out of it, but I still wish you’d trusted us enough to tell us.”

“It wasn’t about trusting you,” Louis says firmly. “It was about knowing I was doing something absolutely dumb, but I didn’t want to be talked out of it.”

Niall finally bursts out with questions. “If you still wanted to be with him, why weren’t you? Why didn’t you just try again?”

“Ni, you’d all helped me through the worst of it. And it was clear Harry and I were a mess together at the end. I don’t think--it wasn’t really like that anymore. It was just me sleeping with the only man I had feelings for. And him letting me get away with it.”

“So I guess you didn’t tell him about all this. When he asked about what happened between you?”

“No. I didn’t. I let him think--that we’d stayed away from each other. I just expected him to regain his memory, and then it would all be over anyway.”

Niall nods. “So that’s why you tried to stay away at first? You thought he’d remember and what? Hate you?”

“Yeah, like he probably hates me right now.”

Zayn swears. “Shit, so you told him? That’s what this is about?”

Louis covers his face with his hands. “No. I didn’t tell him. I was a coward right to the end.”

“What the hell is going on then, Lou?”

“He remembers.”

They both freeze, mouths hung open in surprise.

“Remembers what exactly?” Niall asks cautiously.

“I don’t know. Everything, I guess?”

Zayn stands up and starts pacing the room. “Okay. Fuck. Okay. I mean, this is good, great that he regained his memory, but--”

“WHEN DID HE REMEMBER?” Niall says at the top of his voice.

“Yes, yes, that’s the crux of it,” Zayn adds, pointing.

“I don’t know that either. A while, he said.”

“Shit.”

“Shit.” Zayn sits back in the chair. “Why didn’t he say something?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Niall stands up now. “So I’m assuming something went down last weekend then? You were going over there for dinner. What happened?”

He can feel his face heat up under their stares. “Um--”

“Listen, I don’t need the details of your sex life, Lou. I meant what did he say?”

“Well, in the morning when we woke up, we were eating breakfast, and he sort of let slip something about Cynthia’s birthday party, which was definitely during the time when he had said he didn’t remember. And first, I was so excited, so happy for him that he’d remembered something, but he just didn’t look happy. He looked--panicked.”

“I don’t understand why he didn’t say anything,” Niall mumbles.

“I didn’t really stay long enough to find out. I got upset, and I accused him of lying to me.”

“Guess that didn’t go over well,” Zayn snorts.

“No, he--he threw it back at me for lying to him, too, which I obviously deserved.”

Niall plops back into the chair. “Well, this is quite the mess and not at all what I thought happened.”

“What happened after that?” Zayn asks.

“Nothing. I basically threw my clothes on and left as fast I could get out of there.”

“Didn’t he say anything?” Niall almost sounds desperate.

“He said--” Louis swallows. “He said that he wanted me to stay and talk about it, but I just didn’t see the point. I just wanted to get away from the mess we’d made of everything again. I just had let myself believe we had a chance again. So stupid.”

“Nah, not stupid,” Niall says. “I thought you did, too. Of course, I didn’t know what idiots you were both being, but yeah I still kind of think you can both fix this.”

“What?”

“Well, do you still love him?”

“I--I don’t know. I--”

“Pshhh, yeah he does,” Zayn states plainly.

Louis starts to protest, but Zayn continues. “I know you, Lou. You never would have kept sleeping with him if you didn’t. That’s sort of your deal, isn’t it? I can see how it would be hard to move on when the only person you’ve ever had feelings for is Harry.”

Part of him has always knows that what Zayn is saying is true, but it feels different to have it said aloud.

“Well, then there’s still a chance for you two,” Niall says stubbornly. “How do you think he feels about you?”

“He said--before I ran out that he--that he still loves me,” Louis admits quietly.

“Great. Get your coat. Let’s go see him,” Niall says.

Louis’ laugh is hollow. “I don’t think it’s quite that easy, Ni. Look at what a disaster we made of things again. We just keep hurting each other, and I think we just need to stop.”

“Is that why you’ve been a fucking wreck then, Louis? Because you really think it’s over this time?”

“He hasn’t called,” Louis whispers. “He hasn’t texted. I think maybe he thinks it’s over this time, too.”

“You could text. You could call.”

“I know, I just--don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I should just--let him go. For real this time.”

The pounding at the door startles them all, and Louis turns a panicked look on his friends. He knows they’re all thinking the same thing--Harry.

“Louis Tomlinson, open this door! I have a few things I want to say to you!”

“Gemma,” they all say at the same time.

Louis rushes to the door and flings it open.

“Oh good, you look like a wreck, too,” she says as she walks past him. “Hi, Zayn. Niall.”

“Hi,” they both parrot back to her.

“I’ll just--” Zayn begins.

“We’ll just--” Niall says.

“My room,” Zayn finishes, grabbing Niall by the arm and dragging him out of the kitchen and down the hallway towards his bedroom.

Gemma watches them go and then swings back to him, her hair swishing in a perfect arc as she faces him. “So I’ve brought you something.”

“Okay?”

“It’s a photo journal. Harry’s photo journal.”

“Why are you giving me this?”

“I think you’ll understand when you look at it, but when you’re done, please just talk to him, Louis. Don’t you think you owe him that at least?”

Louis looks down at his bare feet against the floor. “Yeah, I guess so. Um--did he tell you everything then? That he--well--”

“Remembers? Yes. He says things came back gradually, but he didn’t really realize it at first.”

“How can you know he’s telling you the truth now?”

“I trust him.”

“Even though he’s been lying to you? Lying to everyone?”

“Yes. I do. He’s not a liar. No, I bet there’s only one person he’d lie for--you. I think he’d do just about anything to keep you, Louis. I think he knew how very fragile what you two had, and he didn’t know how to protect it any other way.”

“Do you think he made the right choice then?”

Gemma laughs. “Absolutely not. I would have confronted you immediately if I were him, but let’s not pretend you haven’t been lying by omission, too. Why have you been lying, Louis? Isn’t it for the same reason?”

He doesn’t answer, but she takes his silence as answer enough. “Here.” She hands him a brown leather book, apparently the photo journal she mentioned.

She gives him one last long look. “I hope you choose happiness, Louis. Whatever that might mean for you.”

“How do I know which choice will bring me that?”

“If you look at that and still don’t want to talk to him, I think you have your answer. Take care of yourself, Louis.” She gives him a small smile as she lets herself back out the door.

He takes the journal over to the couch and sits down opening the first page. Just inside the front cover is an inscription: To my Louis, just in case I ever give you this. I still love you and always will. Love, Harry.

His fingers fumble on the pages, and his hands shake as he turns to the first photo. He doesn’t look at the caption just yet and flips through a few more pages to see that each one has a photograph marked with dates that seem to all be after they had broken up. There are words beneath each photo, and he flips back to the beginning.

The first one is simple, just one of his living room dated just after he’d left.

My life is empty without you. I wish I’d told you that before you left.

Louis takes a breath and turns the page. There’s one that’s a photo of his hand on Harry’s bare chest, taken while they were still in bed, Harry’s hand clasped on top of his own.

I developed this photo after you’d gone, but this is my proof that you loved me once. There was this morning when the sun shone through the bedroom curtains onto your face and woke you. You wrapped your arms around me, and all I can remember is that we were so happy. You loved me then. You did. Look at this photo. It’s my proof that I didn’t imagine it all. That we were happy once and in love.

Hot, wet tears slip down Louis’ face, but he keeps going, page after page of Harry’s love for him spilled into photos and words. Harry hadn’t stopped taking photos after all, it seemed.

There are empty pages at the back, waiting for more of Harry’s pictures and words, but the last one dated just before the accident is of ice frosted onto a window.

What am I supposed to do with the love I still have for you? Where is it all supposed to go? Do I pretend it isn’t still there? Do I keep hiding it, push it deep down into my soul? Am I really supposed to move on and give it to someone else?

Louis’ heart clenches, and he gasps at the words. Even though he knew there was always the possibility that Harry would move on and find someone new, to see that he’d thought about it burns straight through him. He remembers the feeling each time he’d text Harry or call him asking to come over, there was always a brief moment before Harry responded when Louis would hold his breath, waiting to hear the words that would either break him or offer him a small reprieve.

Harry never got the chance to move on. The accident took it away from him, took away all of their sins against each other, and gave them what had felt like a chance to start over. Now they were back in a place where they’ve broken each other again, and Louis wonders whether what they have is strong enough to survive it. But he knows he has to try.

 

###

 

Thursday, March 12

 

Harry looks around him at the first signs of spring. The grass is almost green beneath his feet, the air is almost warm, the sun is almost shining through the clouds, and Louis had almost been his again. He sighs and heads back up to the large porch that wraps around the historic Selley mansion sat high atop the bluffs overlooking the river valley.

The river’s beginning to flood, spring rains and snow melt from upriver sending it up and over the banks a bit. He knows it will only get worse the further into spring they get, but he still feels relieved to have made it through the cold and ice of another Midwestern winter, particularly this year when he almost didn’t make it through.

He sits on the porch swing, swaying a bit as he rests his cane on the swing with him. He wipes a hand down his face. He’s so very tired, sleeping in fits and starts, waking up to a cold bed again and again. He knows his mother will comment on the dark circles beneath his eyes, a reminder that he still hasn’t managed to gain back what he’s lost.

He used to feel such bitterness for what his mother once convinced him to do, to give up on the only thing he ever loved besides Louis, but he also knows that he made the choices that came after that. He chose what he thought of as the easier path, but he sees how much the ‘easy’ way cost him.

He knows he’ll never make that mistake again. He’s learned from it though, and he’s gained something from it, too. He’s on a path he never considered for himself, but it’s one that fits him well, and he’s proud to be a part of the foundation. There’s more that he’s gained though, too--a relationship with his sister and a reconnection with an old friend.

He knows he lost himself for a while, but he was already heading in the right direction again when the accident took his memory and gave him back Louis. Maybe things have gone off course again, but what he doesn’t intend to do is give up. With a sigh, he heads into the house to have dinner with his family before he and Gemma head out to the opening of the photography exhibit they’ve planned on seeing.

“Finally decided to come in and join us, I see,” his mother says crisply.

Harry doesn’t bother to respond as he takes a seat next to Gemma. As soon as he’s seated, soup is immediately served. He forgoes the wine for water and concentrates on the food. Most of the talk at the table revolves around the company and work, and Harry feels free to tune most of it out.

They’re through with their steaks and awaiting dessert when his mother finally can’t hold back any longer. “Harry, you look exhausted. What’s wrong?”

Gemma shoots him a look, but he honestly doesn’t care what his mother thinks. “Louis broke up with me.”

“Again?” Anne’s body stiffens.

“Thanks for reminding me that this is a regular occurence, but there’s no need. I remember the first breakup perfectly clearly now, down to every last detail. Well, every detail I can recall since I was pretty drunk that night.”

“What do you mean you remember?” Anne asks, her voice shrill.

“I mean, I started remembering things about a month ago, and I’m fairly sure I remember almost everything now.”

“Oh my god, Harry!” She covers her mouth with her hand in astonishment, but she doesn’t miss Gemma’s lack of surprise. “You knew?”

“Yes,” Gemma says. “But only since I found him wallowing in despair last week.”

“Oh, good Lord, is this why Louis’ broken up with you again? You hid it from him, too?”

“What do you care what happens between Louis and me? Thought you’d be glad to hear it.”

Anne has the trademark Selley look of stubborness on her face now. “Of course I’m not pleased that you’ve made a mess of things again. Go and beg his forgiveness until he takes you back.”

“Wait--what?” He’s thoroughly bewildered now by her reaction.

“Selley’s are persistent. We don’t give up easily. I know Louis is who you want, and no one else will do, clearly. So go out and get him back.”

He’s still a bit in shock by her reaction. “He’s not entirely blameless, you know. It’s not that simple.”

“Of course it is. He still loves you. If you’d seen him at the hospital, especially that first time he came to see you, well--you wouldn’t have these doubts. You can’t let your insecurities keep you from what you want in life.”

Harry’s head is spinning. “Well, I hadn’t planned on giving up, but I’m sort of regrouping right now. Giving him some space while I try to figure out what to do now.”

Anne raises an eyebrow. “Well, I wouldn’t wait around too long. You’ll let him slip through your fingers again.”

The dessert arrives at the table.

He gives her a bemused smile. “I won’t.”

He glances at Gemma’s beaming face and wonders what she’s thinking that’s making her this happy.

 

Gemma pulls her Mercedes into one of the reserved spaces outside the museum, and Harry looks up at the huge glass building that towers over the downtown from the north and the river to the south. He hasn’t been here since before the accident, but there’s a small measure of happiness that comes over him just at being back at one of his favorite places.

He has a lot of new plans for his life, and his passion for art and photography is going to have a place in it.

“Thanks for thinking of this, Gem. I really love Lucas Foglia’s work, and this exhibition is supposed to be amazing.”

“Mmm. You’ll have to explain because I know nothing.”

“Well, the main concept is about human connection to nature,” he says as he steps out of the car with his cane and they begin making their way up the walkway. “His photography’s aim is to show how important that connection is for both the environment and for our own happiness and health. I’ll show you what I mean by--”

He stops just inside the entrance, shocked by the sight of Louis watching him, his eyes wide and blue. He looks so very beautiful. Even though Louis looks just as beautiful rumpled from sleep, eyes drooping heavily, wearing nothing but sweatpants, the Louis before him has put some effort into the way he looks. His hair swooping away from his face. A soft blue sweater that matches his eyes. Dark fitted trousers that complement his body. The touch of Gemma’s hand to his arm startles him out of his reverie.

“Well, I just remembered I can’t stay,” Gemma says, a soft look on her face. “Love you, Harry. Sorry about strong arming you into this, but I am a Selley after all. And I want you to be happy. And what else do you need to make you happy besides art and Louis?”

She gives him a quick kiss on the cheek, and then she’s gone. He turns back to Louis.

Color sits high on Louis’ cheeks, pink and pretty. “Hey, Harry.”

“Hi. Uh--what are you--did Gemma--” He stops and clears his throat. “How are you?”

Louis shrugs a shoulder, and Harry steps a little closer to see the slightly purple skin beneath his eyes. He’s still stunning to look at, as stunning as the first day Harry spotted him on campus, but his eyes look sad and his cheeks a bit hollow. He wants so badly to touch him and take all the sadness away, if only he weren’t part of the reason for it in the first place.

They stand awkwardly amidst a sea of people entering the museum, and he’s briefly jostled by someone trying to pass by them. Louis jumps forward, steadying him and shoots the person a dirty look.

“Sorry,” they call back when they notice Harry’s cane.

“Maybe we could walk over where there are less people?” Louis suggests, motioning towards the larger foyer.

He still has no idea why Louis is here or what’s happening, but he’d follow Louis anywhere. They don’t stop in the foyer, and instead he leads him through the wide space to the windows overlooking the river, away from the exhibit and the crowds.

“I hope it’s okay that I asked Gemma to do this.”

You asked Gemma to do this?” He’s truly astonished now.

Louis doesn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah, I think we should probably talk, but um--you didn’t call, so--”

Louis was waiting for him to call? “I was giving you space. I didn’t think you’d want to talk to me.”

“Oh. Yeah, I thought maybe that was it. Wasn’t sure you’d really want to talk to me either. Gemma came to see me though.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, came to talk some sense into me, I suppose.” He looks at him now, a half smile on his face.

“What did she say?”

Louis fingers fiddle with the bottom of his sweater. “It wasn’t so much what she said as what she gave me. Did you know she had your photo journal?”

“My photo--? Oh. God. It’s been months since I’ve even seen it. She had it? And you--you looked at it?”

“I did. I’m sorry, I know it was very personal, but it was also addressed to me. She shouldn’t have given it to me without your permission though.” Louis frowns.

“I’d let her give you anything of mine if it meant you’d give me another chance.”

His heart beats erratically and so hard that surely Louis can see it beating against his chest. Louis glances at him and then turns to face the windows, looking out at the river below. He speaks quietly, so Harry steps in a little closer.

“Before you, I didn’t know that I could even feel this way for someone else. I’d never let anyone into my life the way I let you in. You were my friend, but you crept into my heart little by little until it felt like there wasn’t room for anyone else. That’s the way I loved you.”

He turns back to face him now, and he can see Louis’ eyes welling up with emotion. “You broke my heart, Harry. You broke me. You broke us. And I spent all this time away from you, rebuilding myself into a friend and a brother and a son, but I never really let you go. And I really am sorry for that.”

“Please, please don’t be sorry for that, Lou. I’m not sorry. I’ll never be sorry that you still needed me. I’m not saying it didn’t hurt to watch you keep leaving, but I clung to the hope it gave me.”

“I let you in again, Harry. And when I found out you remembered, it just felt like I was making the same mistakes all over again. Am I making a mistake again, Harry?”

“I hope not. God, I hope not, Louis.” He steps in close enough to touch him now. “I hope you’ve seen the man I’ve become now, the one who before the accident was on the right path to becoming a man you could be proud of.”

“Harry, I was always proud of you.”

“I messed up though, Lou. I let my mother get into my head, and I was afraid. I was afraid she was right. That I couldn’t get by without her and the money. That I didn’t know how to live without it. That I’d somehow lose you if I couldn’t give you everything, and then I went and lost you anyway.”

“God, Harry. It was never about the money for me. You know I don’t care about the money. I would have been just as happy--happier to have lived in a small little place somewhere that we could afford and come home and find you editing your pictures and smiling. You don’t know how many times I wished for just that.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Louis. I just couldn’t see it then. It took you leaving for me to really begin to understand. But I started to find my way. I was so miserable working for John Selley, which you obviously know, but Gemma thought of the foundation and things started changing when I began working for the foundation instead. I started thinking that I could become someone who deserved you again. It felt like I needed to prove it to myself first before I could prove it to you.”

Louis reaches out a hand, and he takes it in his own.

“Lou, it broke my heart every time you laid in my arms and then left my bed cold before morning, but I knew that the day you stayed would be the day I’d finally done enough to show you who I’d become.”

"I was so afraid that one of those times when I needed you, you'd turn me down. Say that you'd found someone new. That you were tired of waiting around for something that was bound to break again anyway. But I just couldn't seem to stay away."

“Of course I waited. I’d wait forever for you. Louis. Does this mean you’re willing to give us another chance?”

Louis closes the distance between them. His kiss tastes of love and redemption and promise. They pull away, but Louis rests his forehead against Harry’s, keeping him close. “Yes, I want to try again, Harry. Maybe not here though.”

They both pull away, suddenly realizing they’re in a crowded museum. Harry barks out a laugh, happiness radiating through him. “Well, I’ve been ditched, so it looks like I need a ride.”

“Maybe we should go somewhere more private where I can kiss you again,” Louis says as they walk back through the museum, hand in hand.

“That sounds like a very good plan.”

As they make their way into the parking lot, Louis opens his door for him to his old Corolla. “You know I’ve been meaning to get a new car. I’d ask for your help picking one out, but I’m not sure I want you to talk me into some neon Lamborghini.”

“Heyyy! I’ll have you know that there’s a very good explanation for my Lamborghini.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Oh really?”

“Yes, there is. I was really confused about it when I didn’t remember why I had one, but now it all makes sense of course.”

“Sounds like a good story.”

“It is. Guess I’ll have plenty of time to tell you about it.”

“All the time in the world.”

 

###




Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

###

 

December 31, 2020

 

 

Morning light filters through their bedroom window, softly illuminating Louis’ face as he sleeps. There is no face on earth more dear to him than the one before him, quiet and at rest, his long lashes brushing against his cheeks in the faint light. He watches him for a few moments before warming his cold nose against Louis’ chest and listening to the snuffling noises he makes as he wraps an arm around Harry drawing him nearer.

Outside the walls of their small house atop the bluffs, snow falls in fat flakes blanketing the world. But for now, they’re tucked beneath the warmth of a down comforter, and Harry is happy to stay right here at home in their bed.

He shuffles forward, throwing a leg over Louis’, so they’re entwined together from head to toe. He presses his ear to Louis’ chest and listens to the thrum of his heart, beating a steady rhythm that eases something deep within him. Louis’ heart is his, and his own belongs to Louis. If this year has taught them anything, it’s that simple fact.

He closes his eyes even though he knows he won’t be able to go back to sleep, wanting to luxuriate in the ability to sleep in with Louis on a Thursday morning. Any extra morning with Louis is a gift he doesn’t take for granted, and he knows Louis feels the same.

This particular morning is special though.

There was a time when Harry wondered if he may not ever spend another New Year’s Eve with Louis, although he never entirely lost hope that they’d find their way back to each other. As if he can sense Harry’s thoughts, Louis’ fingers begin to dance along his spine, surprising his eyes back open.

He lifts his head to stare into his favorite shade of blue, just slits peeking between Louis’ lashes.

“Morning.” Louis’ voice is still raspy with sleep. It might be his favorite sound in the world.

“Happy New Year’s Eve.”

Louis answers him with a sleepy grin, his eyes closing as he pulls him in for a kiss. “Happy New Year’s Eve to you, too,” he says against his mouth.

The brief press of their lips turns to something more. Louis’ nude body entangled with his does tend to perk him up. His tongue begs entrance to his mouth, and Louis’ quiet moans tell him that he wants the same--to touch him, feel him, love him with the promise of forever hanging in the air around them. He’s so wrapped up in Louis, a haze he wishes to never leave, that he’s surprised when Louis pushes him down against the mattress.

His eyes fly open to the sight of a gorgeous smirk and a much more alert Louis than he expected who begins pressing kisses across his chest. His stomach muscles tighten as Louis’ tongue finds the ink of his butterfly tattoo before moving across the scars on his body as if to somehow soothe them, though they’ve long stopped bringing him pain.

His recovery hasn’t been entirely painless, of course, but the cane is gone now at least. His body is not the same as from before the accident, but he’s got most of his former faculties back. He doesn’t mind the scars, not when Louis’ first instinct is to lavish them with his attention. He groans when Louis’ tongue flicks across a nipple. “You tease.”

Louis’ grin turns wicked. “I never tease.”

“Tommo the Tease,” he grumbles as Louis’ fingers caress his thighs as he moves farther down his body. He turns his attention to his abs now, so close to his cock, hard and ready for whatever Louis has planned. He admits it’s a beautiful sight to see him there. “You look like a dream.”

Louis presses his lips to the leaves tattooed on his skin just below where he trails his kisses, and he sucks in a sharp breath in anticipation. The eyelashes fanned over Louis’ cheeks lift until their eyes meet, and the intensity he sees there takes his breath away in an entirely different way.

“What do you want, Harry?” Louis voice is husky but no longer from sleep.

“You.”

“You already have me,” Louis smiles just before he licks one stripe up the length of him.

“Oh, fuck.”

His lips curve into another smile before he takes him into the wet warmth of his mouth. Nothing will ever come close to this feeling, this new knowledge that the world can literally take years away from him, and he’ll still love Louis just the same. No, not the same. He loves him even more now. There’s strength between them where there was once weakness, communication where there was once silence and resentment.

One of Louis’ hands closes over what doesn’t fit in his mouth as he begins a slow and steady rhythm with his mouth while the fingers of his other hand press into his thigh, and while the sight of this much less the feeling is enough to make him come quickly, he knows he wants something else.

He threads his fingers through Louis’ soft hair. “Lou?”

Louis doesn’t stop.

He tugs a bit. “Lou? Come here--ahh ahh--Lou, please--”

Louis’ lips pop off a bit as he releases him, and Harry’s body isn’t particularly pleased with the loss of his mouth. But he motions for him to return to him for a kiss, and when he does, he changes their positions, letting Louis rest against the pillows.

He lays just to the side of him and wraps his hand around both their cocks. Now, he can feel Louis and stare into his eyes as he watches pleasure wash over his face. It makes him feel so powerful, so important that Louis choses him always.

The friction is a bit rough without lube, but the moisture there already from Louis’ mouth and both their cocks is just enough for him. It’s enough for Louis, too, based on the panting noises Louis makes into his mouth as his hand slides up and down the length of them. He leans forward to capture his lips again, rough and deep.

His heart pounds triple time as they break away from the kiss only to gasp words of love and pleasure into each other’s mouths as they come into Harry’s hand. The look on Louis’ face is one he wants to keep forever locked in the recesses of his heart, his parted lips and darkened eyes, the flush of his skin against the white of the sheets.

“Harry?”

“Yes?” He whispers, not wishing to break the reverence and quiet of the afterglow.

“I love you.”

The smile that spreads across his face is one that appears every time Louis tells him as though it’s the first time instead of the hundredth, maybe thousandth time he’s heard it.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” he responds as Louis tucks a curl behind his ear. Louis does know though. He’s seen the images and words of his love left to bear witness in the pages of a journal when they weren’t together, and he’s felt the love that Harry tries so hard to show him now that they are.

“I think I have some idea,” Louis says, a grin just as wide as his own.

It’s never enough.

It will never be enough to simply tell Louis these words. He shows him in every way he knows how though. He cares for him and looks after him, he makes sure he’s eating well and getting enough rest. He gives him small tokens of his affection, little things that remind him of him just to show that he thinks of him whenever he’s not there. He gives him his time and makes sure he knows he’s his first priority.

They’ve moved from the high rise condo owned by his mother into their own home, a small one made of stone that sits high on the bluffs with a nice yard for Stuart. Harry’s stepped down from his role as director of the John Selley Foundation, but gladly accepted the position of assistant director under Liam, leaving him time for his photography.

There’s just one more way he can think of to show Louis how much he loves him. And even though this isn’t the plan, he knows it’s the right choice.

Louis stretches out in the bed, nude and lovely, eyes closed with a satisfied smile on his face, but he doesn’t let that distract him. He half sits up and says, “Stay here, okay?”

“Mm,” Louis agrees.

He takes a breath and throws his legs over the side of the bed to walk purposefully towards the dresser on the other side of the room. As he opens his sock drawer, he can’t stop the ridiculous smile that crosses his face. He thought when the time came, he’d be nervous, but he doesn’t feel that way at all.

This is just right . It’s just he and Louis in their home, together and happy on a cold winter’s morning. He plucks the small black box from the drawer and pops open the lid, taking the platinum band from its depths. When he bought this ring, he was a different man. He’s always been the man who loved Louis, but he bought it long before they’d been through hell and back.

He smiles at it and remembers wondering if he’d chucked it in the river, but he knows now that he’s kept it all this time because it reminded him of the hope that one day they’d be together again. The accident that broke him physically began a type of healing between them that he could never have foreseen, and for that at least he can be grateful.

He closes his hand over the bit of metal, clasping it tightly, as he makes his way back to the bed. A small coil of nerves unfurls itself in his stomach, but he refuses to give in to it. Either way, now or later, today is the day he asks Louis to marry him.

He sinks into the bed on his knees, but has to sit back on his heels. He hopes this counts as being on bended knee. Louis still has his eyes closed, so he takes a calming breath and holds the ring before him like an offering. It is one of sorts. The offering of his heart. The promise of the joining of their lives.

Louis’ eyes open, narrowly at first and then widely at the sight of him. There’s something very vulnerable about proposing to the love of your life while not wearing a stitch of clothing.

“Harry?”

“Yes?” He croaks.

Louis’ eyes dart from the ring between his fingers and back up to meet his eyes. He raises one eyebrow.

“Uh, right.” Harry huffs out a nervous laugh. “This isn’t at all how I planned this, but I just don’t think I can wait even one minute longer. I love you, Lou. Even more than when I bought this ring years ago.”

Louis’ eyebrows shoot up even farther in surprise.

“Yes, I had planned to ask you this question almost exactly three years ago. We’d fallen apart by then, but I never lost hope that one day I would get to hold this ring in my hands and ask you to be my husband. I could never have imagined then what I know now. Now, I know what it was like to lose you, to lose my memories of us both good and bad, to lose so much of what I once was. But we both learned how to do better by each other, and I know how lucky I am that we found a way to grow together again. Lou, I fall in love with you more each day. And at this point I think I’ve proved that literally nothing can keep me from loving you.”

Louis’ snorts at that, but his eyes tell the story of his happiness, his smile so wide that his eyes are nearly creased shut.

He can hardly believe the moment has arrived without all the fanfare he had dreamed up for it. He feels his eyes well up with emotion, and his voice shakes a little as he speaks. “I can think of only one thing that could make me any happier, and I hope it will make you happier, too. Louis Tomlinson, will you marry me?”

He’s not sure what he thought Louis’ reaction would be, but he’s somehow unprepared to be tackled back onto the bed, kisses pressed to his cheeks, his nose, his forehead, his lips. Their laughter rings out loud enough to wake Stuart in the living room because suddenly there’s barking and scratching at the door.

He somehow manages to barge into the room, jumping up on the bed to join in the cuddles and kisses. “Don’t want to be left out, do you, Stu?” Louis asks as Stuart licks his chin.

Harry lays back against the pillow and lets Stuart squish himself between them as though he thinks he’s a much smaller dog than he is. “Maybe I should have asked Stuart for your hand in marriage first.”

“Maybe,” Louis says, eyes shining. “Wait. Where’s the ring?”

“Can’t have it until you say yes.”

“Harryyyyy, of course I say yes! What did you think all the kisses were for?”

“Just thought maybe you liked kissing my face.” He shrugs one shoulder, smirking.

“Hand over the ring, Styles.”

“We’re going to have to find it in the sheets, Tomlinson. You knocked it out of my hand.”

Louis yelps and sits up as they begin sifting through the comforter and sheets looking for the ring, Stuart still dancing about the bed as they search. He finally hears the faint sound of metal against the wood floor, and he hangs over the edge to grab it, ass in the air.

“Nice view.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Louis cackles until Harry sits up with the ring between his fingers. He slides the ring onto Louis’ finger, and they both stare at it for a few moments, letting it sink in.

“Happy New Year’s, Lou.”

 

###

 

Louis can’t stop staring at the lovely platinum band that now circles his ring finger as he sips his tea. He also can’t stop his lips from constantly twisting into a smile he tries to hide. It’s not that he doesn’t want Harry to know how happy he is, it’s just that he feels a little silly to be grinning like a fool this much.

Harry’s whistling a familiar tune as he flips pancakes for their very late breakfast that they’re going to eat for lunch. It seems that Louis could ask for just about anything today, and Harry would give it to him. He lets the smile free as he glances up at Harry and sees a very similar look on his face as well, his nose scrunched up fondly.

“We’re both ridiculous.”

“Whoops.” Harry flips a pancake onto the stove instead of the pan. “Not ridiculous. Just happy.”

He abandons his tea to slide up behind Harry to rest his head on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around his stomach. Harry hums a noise of contentment at his touch.

“Can’t stop looking at it,” he murmurs.

Harry turns off the stove and turns around in his arms, grabbing Louis’ hand to look at the ring himself. “Looks really good on you.”

They grin at each other until laughter bubbles out of them at how absurdly happy they are, sitting in their small kitchen and eating pancakes on the day of their engagement. It’s a good feeling.

Snow whirls past the windows as they spend the remainder of the day bodies entwined together, tangled roots taking hold in the ground that weave their happiness into something strong and everlasting. He’s almost sorry to have somewhere to be this evening. He groans when Harry makes him take a shower.

“I’ll walk Stuart while you’re in there. Don’t want to be too late.”

“Fine,” Louis huffs as he heads towards the bathroom. Better Harry than him walk Stuart in this weather, except-- “Be careful in the snow!”

“I can walk just fine now, Lou!” Harry calls back. Stuart barks in excitement, probably Harry’s just grabbed the leash.

“You were always clumsy though, H!”

“Go take a shower!”

He hears the front door shut and heads into the bathroom.

It’s nearly seven o’clock by the time they manage to dress themselves for the New Year’s Eve party, brief kisses between each item they button up or zip.

Harry looks him up and down as though he hasn’t been looking at him all day. “God, Lou. You look--delicious.”

Louis hides a laugh behind his hand. “Thanks. Knew my ass looked pretty good in these pants. Didn’t realize you’d want a taste.”

Harry’s smile turns sideways. “Always want a taste.”

“Stop or we’ll never get there.”

“Fine.”

“You look pretty delicious yourself.” And he does. Although Harry’s dressed all in black, the half unbuttoned shirt beneath his suit jacket invites him to do more than just look.

Harry groans. “Don’t look at me like that.”

He licks his lips. “Like what?”

“Louuuu--stop,” Harry whines.

Louis cackles at this and pulls him from the room. “All our friends are waiting, so you’re gonna have to keep it in your pants for a few hours.”

As they drive through the snow in the Range Rover, their neighborhood glistens white beneath the street lamps, only turning to something less quiet when they drive below the hill towards the bridge. They listen to soft Christmas music on the radio, still playing one last night before the station switches back to its regular programming, but the silence between them is a comfortable one.

Harry drives slowly and carefully, his brows furrowed in concentration, and Louis watches him rather than the familiar views of the bridge and the river. The snow and cold still remind him of Harry’s accident, and trepidation colors his reactions at times. But this night in particular will always be a special one, even more so now than before.

They arrive a little after eight, so the party will just be starting. There are already quite a few cars parked in the museum parking lot, but Harry gets to pull the car into the members only parking. The art museum looms before them, the immense glass building lit up and sparkling in the cold, New Year’s Eve night. He feels Harry’s hand take his own as they walk towards the party.

Harry takes his coat as soon as they enter, brushing stray snowflakes from his scarf before taking it from around Louis’ shoulders. Harry glances through to the enormous foyer and then blocks Louis’ view. “Do not laugh.”

“What?” He peeks around Harry’s shoulder and laughter bursts from him hard and fast as he throws his head back. Harry rolls his eyes as Louis slaps a hand to his shoulder for support. “God that thing is ridiculous. Can’t believe you ever thought you drove it around.”

There in the foyer sits Harry’s bright green Lamborghini to be auctioned off tonight during the Autism Society’s annual New Year’s Eve fundraiser. The society had changed the location purposely just to be able to house the expensive car that people are currently taking photos of as Harry looks on.

Harry shrugs. “I mean, I’d lost my memory! And everyone was treating me like I was some asshole now. It sort of fit. How was I supposed to know I’d bought it to auction off?”

Louis snorts and slips his arm between Harry’s. “Come on. Let’s go see if they have any Lampariello’s this year. Last time, they had chocolate covered strawberries.”

They don’t get very far into the museum before Louis stops in his tracks. Gathered at the bar across the room, he spots his mom, his step dad, and his oldest sister, and they’re talking to Anne and Gemma as Harry’s dad appears at their side. They seem to be laughing at something Gemma is saying.

He can think of only one reason why they’d all be here, but he asks the question anyway. “Harry, why are our families here?”

Harry shrugs one shoulder. “Told you my proposal this morning was spontaneous. Doesn’t mean I didn’t have a different one planned. Hope they’re not too disappointed that I’ve blown it.”

“Not the only thing you blew today.”

Harry lets out a loud honking laugh that nearly echoes across the open space. Apparently the sound is too familiar to miss, and both their families’ heads turn at the sound. “Whoops. Guess we’ll have to go talk to them.”

“They should be the first to know anyway.”

Harry nods his agreement before leading the way through the maze of people.

It takes his mother about ten seconds to notice the ring. She gasps and snatches his hand to examine it immediately, causing a furor from the rest of their families as they realize what’s happened. “It’s gorgeous,” she declares, her eyes shining with emotion.

Harry just shrugs as everyone teases him for his impulsivity. “What can I say? I couldn’t wait a moment longer to ask him to be my husband.”

Harry plants a kiss at his temple as everyone “aww”s in response.

“What’s going on?” Niall’s arrived with Liam and Zayn at his heels.

Louis face is still flushed from all the attention from their families, but he holds up his hand to show Niall the ring.

Niall grabs his hand and stares at it with his jaw dropped open. “DAMN IT, STYLES! I HAVE A BANNER!”

“Sorry, Ni. I just couldn’t wait.” Harry’s arm slips around his waist as he pulls Louis in close to his side.

“Aw, you can still use the banner,” Liam says with a clap to Niall’s shoulder.

“Won’t be quite the same effect,” Niall grumbles as Shawn appears at his side with a drink for Niall from the bar and congratulations to them on their engagement.

Zayn pulls Louis away for a hug before he releases him to give Harry one, too, only briefly warning him not to screw it up.

“I won’t,” Harry promises him.

“Hey, as Harry’s friend I think I should be asking for reassurances from Louis he won’t screw it up,” Liam interjects, and Zayn’s lips purse a bit.

“I also promise to not screw it up,” Louis laughs as Harry tucks him back to his side.

The night unfolds before them in sparkling lights and a river view, fine works of art and a garish Lamborghini to the highest bidder. Laughter and dancing, friends and family, food and champagne (although Harry opts for sparkling water).

Cynthia and her husband toast to their happiness with bright smiles and sincere wishes for their happiness. He says a quick hello to Jerry Olsen, introducing Harry as his fiancee for the first time, and Harry’s hand squeezes his a little tighter. Although that may have been when Jerry introduced Harry to his son, Jake giving them a wistful smile and a congratulations. Kaila and Angie discuss honeymoon plans with them and insist on Croatia, bombarding them with information about Dubrovnik versus the islands of Hvar or Bisevo until Harry whisks him away onto the dance floor for one last dance before midnight.

The dj plays ‘One and Only,’ and Adele’s words wash over them as they smile beneath the stars outside the windows. They countdown to midnight, and fireworks blast sparks of color into the night sky. Outside on the balcony, Niall unfurls a large banner that hangs down before the enormous windows overlooking the Mississippi. It simply says, ‘Will you marry me, Lou?”

They laugh together as Niall runs back inside out of the frigid cold, blowing warm air into his fist.

“So what’s your answer?” Harry whispers into his ear.

“I’d marry you today, tomorrow, yesterday. It’s always been you, Harry. It’s always been you.”