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Talk is Cheap, My Darling

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Sometimes challenging shows sneak up on Louis.

 

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then he’ll walk onto the soundstage feeling confident and prepared, an enthusiastic audience cheering him on, a fantastic line-up of guests booked to sit on his couch, and it’ll all just go wrong. Maybe one of the guests will overindulge in the free alcohol provided to them before and during the show, moving way beyond the happy and relaxed vibe the producers aim for, right into sloppy and incomprehensible. Maybe Louis will tell a joke that falls flat, leaving the audience and guests feeling uncomfortable or angry for the rest of the show. Maybe one of the segments involving the audience will go awry, with all the participants being too shy or too boring to possibly put on television.

 

The point is, hosting the number one chat show in the United Kingdom is no fucking walk in the park, ok? Louis may be very good at his job, he has the BAFTAs to prove it, but there are about a million and one things that can go wrong on a good day and it’s Louis who has to account for, navigate and avoid every single one of them.

 

Basically, Louis’ job is hard enough without adding any unnecessary complications, having Harry Styles and Amber Hazelwood booked to appear on the same show seems like a very unnecessary complication.

 

Louis doesn’t actually understand how their respective management lackeys could have allowed this to happen. Particularly on a show like Louis’ where all of the guests are interviewed at the same time on the same couch, and (very public) interaction is guaranteed.

 

Harry and Amber’s relationship had been explosively huge. The media had latched onto the pair in the way they sometimes do when two unbelievably attractive, stratospherically famous people dare to try and forge a romantic bond. They’d been dubbed ‘Hamber’ and obsessively stalked by the paparazzi every time they were together. Articles were written every time they so much as went out to coffee together. There’d been engagement and cheating rumours every other week. There’d been rampant speculation about Amber desperately wanting to settle down, about Harry being unwilling to fully give up his lothario (God, Louis hates that word) ways.

 

It’s no wonder their relationship had cracked so spectacularly in the end. The break-up had been as public as the rest of their relationship; a massive fight at the after-party of one of Amber’s movie premieres, a series of cryptic, bitter tweets from Harry’s twitter account, followed by a joint statement from their publicists announcing that the pair had ‘decided to go their separate ways’ but remained ‘the very best of friends’. Louis remembers his sisters being heartbroken at the time.

 

Why the pair have now decided to be seen together so publicly, is totally beyond Louis. All he knows is that it’s going to be awkward as fuck out there, and he’s going to have to be the one to smooth it all over. It’s bound to give Louis’ show spectacular ratings and worldwide exposure, or at least that’s what his chief producer, Liam, tells him every time Louis groans and moans about how awful the show’s going to be, but Louis couldn’t really give a fuck. He wants to have a good time out there, he wants the audience to have a good time and he doesn’t understand how that could possibly be the case when two of his guests are shooting barbed remarks and daggers with their eyes at each other.

 

So Louis’ not looking forward to the show tonight, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to act professionally. He’s showered, feeling well rehearsed, and halfway through his pre-hair and makeup routine of greeting all the guests, making sure they feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. He’s already said hi to Jerry, the sixty-something year old comedian who’d been hot shit back in the 80s, and is now going through a bit of a career resurgence thanks to winning the most recent series of I’m a Celebrity. Louis likes to think he’d never be so desperate to reclaim some modicum of fame that he’d eat kangaroo bollocks on national television, but who knows what anyone would be willing to do under the right circumstances.

 

Amber is all Hollywood smiles and careful media training when Louis visits her dressing room. Her platinum blonde hair falls in perfect waves, and she stands a full two inches taller than Louis in her platform heels. She has this way of talking, her tone light and playful. She says a lot, without actually saying anything at all. She seems nice enough, and relaxed, and not at all like someone who’s about to see her ex-boyfriend for the first time since their breakup in less than an hour. Then again, Amber is one of the most lauded actresses of her generation, on track to win an Oscar before she turns twenty-five. She’s perfectly capable of hiding whatever she’s feeling from Louis’ untrained eye if she wants to. In fact the only sign of tension in Amber’s dressing room comes from an incredibly beautiful, dark-haired young woman who sits haughtily in the back. She’s glares menacingly at Louis, and everyone else in the room, as if they’ve done her some kind of personal wrong. It’s only when her eyes drift to Amber (which they do frequently) that her features soften and a ghost of a smile graces her face. Louis’ not too sure what to make of the mysterious woman, whether she’s some kind of publicist, or personal friend? In any case, they’re never formally introduced so Louis quickly dismisses her from his mind.

 

Louis’ just about to knock on the door to Harry’s dressing room when he hears raised voices coming from inside.

 

“This is so stupid, Zayn! I thought we were done with this kind of media baiting shit for a while. You promised we were done!”

 

That’s Harry’s voice, definitely Harry’s voice, any self-respecting Briton would recognise it anywhere. Especially Louis, who’s vaguely followed Harry’s illustrious music career since he was a sweet sixteen year old on The X Factor, fuck, ten years ago now.

 

“I know what I said, H,” Another voice responds with a heavy sigh, “And I don’t like it any more than you do, but you know how this works. We’ve all got shit to promote. You don’t even have to do anything, just look sad and let Amber do all the work, ok?”

 

The next words are said so quietly Louis has to strain to hear them, practically pressing his ear against the door now.

 

“I hate this,” Harry mumbles dejectedly.

 

“I know, mate. But it’s just one little talk show, ok? It’ll be over before you know it.”

 

“I know,” Harry sighs, “Still…”

 

“Still.” The other voice agrees seriously.

 

There’s silence for a beat, and then Harry’s voice comes again, “I’ve still got a little time, right? Before taping starts I mean. I’m just gonna…”

 

And then before Louis can react, the door to the dressing room is swinging open and hitting him directly in the face.

 

“Oops! Fuck! Are you ok? I am so sorry!” Harry sounds so concerned Louis immediately feels terrible. It’s entirely his own fault he got hit in the face after all. It serves him right for eavesdropping really.

 

“Hi, yeah, I’m totally fine mate. My face just got a tiny bit in the way of your door.”

 

“So I see,” Harry replies, worry still laced in his voice, “Let me just have a closer look. You’re not bleeding are you?”

 

Before Louis can protest, his face is being cradled in massive guitar-callused hands. Harry thumbs lightly over Louis’ cheek where the pain is at it’s sharpest, tutting softly at what he finds.

 

“You’re not bleeding,” Harry finally pronounces, “But it’s very red. You might have a nasty bruise on your cheek in a couple of hours. You should put some ice on it straight away, reduce the swelling.”

 

Harry’s looking at Louis directly now, hands still lightly holding his face. His eyes are kind of spectacular up close, the most clear and light shade of green Louis’ ever seen in real life. Louis feels his breath catch in his throat a little. Harry’s disarmingly beautiful. Suddenly Louis’ acutely aware of how close their lips are to touching, which is ridiculous. Harry’s a guest, one of the most famous people in the world. Not to mention by all accounts, straight. Louis literally just met his ex-girlfriend. He needs to pull himself the fuck together.

 

Louis takes a giant step backwards, out of Harry’s reach and putting a respectable distance between them.

 

“Who knew?” Louis says, plastering an easy smile on his face, completely ignoring the moment he just had. Louis’ a professional at smoothing over awkward situations after all, “Harry Styles: Grammy Award winning singer, and part-time first aid professional. You’ve not got a secret medical degree, have you? That’d be quite the story. I could probably sell the exclusive to Hello! for a cool hundred thousand if I played my cards right.”

 

Harry actually giggles, and if that’s not the cutest thing Louis’ ever seen.

 

“No, nothing like that, I’m afraid,” Harry gets out once he’s regained his composure, “I just have a lot of experience with bumps and bruises. I may be the tiniest bit clumsy.”

 

“Where’s the scandal and intrigue in that, Styles?” Louis scoffs dramatically, “How am I supposed to feed my wife and kids with that kind of dross.”

 

Harry laughs ridiculously, before clapping a hand over his mouth, “If you’ve got a secret family hidden away somewhere, then I think I might be the one making some money from the tabloids, Tomlinson.”

 

And like, yeah, it’s common knowledge that Louis is both incredibly gay and spectacularly single, but he’s not entirely sure how he feels about Harry knowing that.

 

Not that it matters, because Harry’s straight.

 

Just then, one of the interns, whose name Louis cannot remember for the life of him, comes careening around the corner, visibly sighing in relief when he spots them, “Fuck, there you are Tommo! Lou’s about to have a fucking aneurysm. You still have to get your hair and makeup done, and… Fuck! What the fucking fuck happened to your face? Lou’s gonna kill me. Please tell her that you were like this when I found you. I really don’t want to get yelled at again today.”

 

“Stress less, mate,” Louis assures the intern (Scott maybe?), placing a placating hand on his shoulder, “It’s all good. Let’s go see Lou.”

 

“Don’t forget to put ice on your cheek!” Harry yells helpfully down the corridor as Louis and the intern make their retreat.

 

 

*****

 

 

So, this may be the most awkward episode of The Louis Tomlinson Show’s five-year run.

 

Amber seems to have undergone some kind of personality transplant in the past hour and a half. All traces of the sweet, collected young woman Louis met earlier in the dressing room are gone, leaving a snide, broken-hearted mess of a thing in her place. Every time Harry talks, which, you know, is part of the deal seeing as he’s on a talk show, Amber will very obviously roll her eyes, or groan, or sigh loudly. Consequently, Harry is curling up into himself, seeming smaller and speaking less as the show progresses. It’s kind of depressing to watch.

 

Louis’ not letting it affect him though, it’s his job to bring Harry out of his shell, to cut through the awkward tension in the air. He’s determined to succeed.

 

“So,” he begins, gracefully ignoring Amber’s most recent biting remark, “I read a little story about you the other day, Mr. Styles. Something about you joining a new religion and taking up a life of celibacy.”

 

The audience laughs raucously at that, thankfully overpowering Amber’s eye roll and little scoff of derision.

 

“I don’t know why they’re laughing, this is a very serious question,” Louis continues, putting an exaggerated thoughtful expression on his face, “So, any truth to the rumours? Are you going to come onto my show tonight and break the hearts of a million little sexual deviants who dreamed of getting into your pants?”

 

Harry smile is easy and genuine, the tension he’s been carrying in his shoulders since taping started, easing slightly, “I don’t know why you seem to think only sexual deviants want to sleep with me.”

 

Louis shakes his head immediately, a cheeky grin spreading onto his face, “I don’t think anything of the sort,” he denies, “But I know for a fact that the only the most perverted sexual deviants watch this show, so…”

 

The audience bursts into laughter again. Louis turns to them and points theatrically, “That’s right I’m talking about you. Dirty buggers, the lot of you!”

 

Harry giggles a little before regaining his composure, “But to answer your question: no, that particular rumour isn’t true. No religiously imposed sex-ban for me.”

 

“What a surprise,” Amber mutters sarcastically, just loud enough for the studio microphones to pick up.

 

And just like that, the tension is back. Harry’s curling back in on himself and the audience is feeling uncomfortable. Perfect.

 

“So Jerry,” Louis starts, turning his attention to the older comedian who’s been forced to sit between the two warring exes, going relatively unnoticed and unacknowledged until now, “Must be nice to be back in civilisation again? The Australian jungle looks like no joke.”

 

“It is very nice to be back, yeah. Think I’ve had a nice relaxing bath every day since I came home. Luxury. Still, the jungle did have some advantages.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Louis asks, raising an eyebrow in intrigue, “Such as?”

 

“Well,” Jerry replies conspiratorially, “Cindy and Alison did very much seem to enjoy spending time in their bikinis, didn’t they? Not that you would have noticed, hey Tommo. Harry here knows what I’m talking about.” Jerry sends Harry a lecherous wink.

 

And now it’s Louis barely repressing the urge to roll his eyes and sigh. Because of course, he’s gay, so the female body is automatically invisible to him, verging on repulsive. He’s constantly too distracted by his never ending quest for cock to notice, let alone appreciate anything at all about the female form. Ha ha ha.

 

Louis grins and bears it though. This show is barely hanging by a thread as it is, it would do absolutely no good for Louis to get sensitive and pissed off about some has been comedian’s out-dated brand of humour.

 

Harry apparently didn’t get the ‘keep the peace’ memo though, “Don’t you think that’s a bit of a stereotype, mate?” he exclaims questioningly.

 

Surprisingly, it’s Amber, not Louis who derails that particular line of conversation, leaning back to touch Harry’s elbow behind Jerry’s body, completely out of sight of camera.

 

“Leave it, babe,” she whispers, just loud enough for Louis to hear, definitely too quietly for any of the studio microphones to pick up.

 

“Sorry,” Harry whispers back, then louder, “Sorry, forget I said anything. Sorry Jerry. Carry on about the jungle, mate.”

 

The comedian seems a little discombobulated by what just happened, but continues valiantly, veteran of the industry that he is. He goes on to tell a relatively amusing story about emus and tennis balls, and the show gets back on track, as much as it ever was.

 

Louis’ still internally reeling a little bit though. What was that moment? Amber had seemed almost fond and tender as she’d reprimanded Harry, a complete contrast once again to how she’s been acting throughout the rest of the show. For two exes who are supposed to hate each other’s guts, that moment had been… odd.

 

Thankfully it’s about then Liam gives Louis the signal that it’s time to wrap up this particular segment of the show, time to move on to the musical performance. And thank god for that. Louis feels like sleeping for a year after the confusing, disaster of a show he’s just gone through.

 

Harry’s the one performing of course, the new single from his latest album, and Louis’ perfectly happy to just sit back and let the music wash over him.

 

Harry’s beautiful when he performs. He’s beautiful all the time, but particularly now. He puts so much of himself into the song, you can tell he feels every single word he sings, passion and earnestness oozing out of every pore. The song has a cheerful enough melody, simple and lovely. There’s something so sad about the lyrics though, all about hiding and masks. Louis’ not entirely sure he understands everything Harry’s trying to express, it is the first time he’s heard this particular song after all, but he does know it makes his heart feel heavy somehow just watching Harry as he performs it.

 

Once Harry’s finished, Louis rushes through the wrap up. All he knows is he’s never been happier to end an episode in his life.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Well that was a disaster,” is how Louis chooses to greet his producer as the audience clears out.

 

“I’ll tell you what that was,” Liam responds enthusiastically, his grin bordering on maniacal, “That was guaranteed ratings, mate. That was your show getting mentioned in all the major rags. That was segments of your show being played on gossip shows around the world. That was fucking brilliant. Christ, I can’t believe they fought like that on national television.”

 

Louis finds himself frowning at Liam, “They didn’t actually fight though, did they? They barely said a word to each other really.”

 

Liam waves a hand dismissively, “Details. It’s all in the subtext, Lou. There was definite animosity is the point.”

 

“Maybe,” Louis replies doubtfully, “Don’t you think it was all a bit odd though? Like inconsistent almost?”

 

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, mate,” Liam answers distractedly, “Listen, Jack’s calling for me. Good job today Lou. Why don’t you go home and have a well earned glass of wine?”

 

“Ok,” Louis says doubtfully, “Guess I’ll see you on Monday?”

 

“Sure,” Liam shouts over his shoulder, already walking away, “See you then! Have a good weekend!”

 

Louis moves towards his dressing room in a bit of a daze, still taking everything in. It’s probably because he’s feeling so out of it that he ends up walking straight into Harry, who’s apparently been loitering outside of Louis’ dressing room.

 

“Oof,” Louis exclaims at the unexpected contact, ”Hey! What are you doing here? Did you get lost? Don’t worry about it mate, this studio can be a bit of a maze. Took me weeks to figure out where I was going. If you need help finding your people I can direct you back to the guest dressing rooms.”

 

Harry shaking his head forcefully though, curls bouncing slightly at the motion, “No, I’m not lost. I was actually, um, looking for you. I got one of the interns to direct me to your dressing room. I’m hope that’s ok. Like, I hope you don’t think I’m overstepping any boundaries here.”

 

Louis can only stare back for a while, processing the information. Harry starts to shuffle nervously on his feet, obviously uncomfortable in the face of Louis’ silence.

 

“I can go if you want?” Harry says finally.

 

That successfully jolts Louis out of his stupor, “No, don’t go. Sorry, my brain always works a bit slowly after a show. It’s nothing personal. Now what can I do for you, young Harold?”

 

“Um, well actually,” Harry begins slowly, looking down at his own pigeon-toed feet, “I kind of wanted to ask for your help with something.”

 

“My help?” Louis asks in shock.

 

“Yeah,” Harry responds quietly, “Not now, but I was hoping maybe we could catch up some time over the weekend? Somewhere private.”

 

“Oh,” Louis says, because he can’t really think of anything else to say right now.

 

“So I was thinking maybe I could give you my number, and we could arrange a time and place to meet?” Harry continues.

 

“Ok,” Louis replies, at a total loss as to anything else to say.

 

“Ok, great!” Harry says brightly, looking Louis in the eye for the first time in a while, a radiant smile taking over his face, “Thanks, man. You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ll see you this weekend then, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Louis agrees numbly as Harry thrusts a folded slip of paper into Louis’ hand, his number presumably.

 

Harry’s disappeared around a corner before Louis can say anything else.

 

Ok, what the fuck was that? Everything about today has been so confusing. All Louis’ able to process right now is that somehow, he seems to have come out of the day with an internationally famous popstar’s number, and the beginnings of a massive migraine.

 

That settles it, Louis’ just going to drink a vat of wine when he gets home, and then maybe sleep for the next thousand years or so, because real life is confusing and stupid. Yep, that seems like a very solid plan.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes up the next morning to someone poking at his shoulder with an unreasonably pointy finger.

 

“Seriously Niall, it’s Saturday, if it’s any earlier than 10 o’clock, I’m gonna have to cut your balls off.” Louis groans without opening his eyes.

 

“Jesus, Tommo,” Niall replies, recoiling reflexively, “You’re awfully violent this morning. Who pissed in your cereal?”

 

“Nobody touched my cereal, don’t even joke about that.”

 

Louis’ very passionate about cereal, the mere thought of unsavoury bodily fluids defiling his cornflakes is incredibly disturbing, “Maybe, just maybe,” Louis continues, finally deigning to open his eyes and look at Niall directly, “My bad mood might have something to do with the overgrown Irish child currently lying in my bed and ruining my morning.”

 

“Rubbish,” Niall waves a hand dismissively, “You realise you’re talking to last year’s winner of Best Comedy Entertainment Personality at the British Comedy Awards! It’s impossible for me to ruin anything. I bring only comedy and entertainment and personality wherever I go, right up until they crown my successor in December.”

 

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works, Ni.”

 

“I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how it works, Lou. Now stop being miserable and come bask in my certified splendour. Honestly, my friendship is totally wasted on you.”

 

“Well if that’s how you really feel, the door’s right there…” Louis says as he turns over and snuggles back into the warmth of his bed.

 

Louis feels the weight on his bed momentarily disappear, and for one splendid moment, he allows himself to believe Niall’s given up on him, gone to annoy one of his other poor unsuspecting friends. Honestly, Louis should know better by now, because of course Niall hasn’t left, and now Niall’s phone is blasting some kind of death metal directly into his ear.

 

“What the fuck, man?” Louis yells, immediately bolting upright.

 

“Oh good, you’re up,” Niall declares innocently, switching off the offending music.

 

“So it would appear,” Louis stretches where he sits and rubs the residual sleep from his eyes, “Any particular reason you’re being extra annoying today, Horan? Or am I just lucky?”

 

Niall’s face crumples the tiniest bit, and just like that, Louis knows exactly what his best mate’s going to say.

 

“B and I may have gotten into a bit of an argument last night,” Niall sighs, confirming Louis’ suspicions.

 

And then Niall’s bracing himself, waiting for the inevitable onslaught of, ‘Seriously? Again?’ and ‘Are you sure this is the kind of relationship you want to be in?’ but Louis’ probably just as tired of having that conversation as Niall is. It never makes any difference anyway.

 

The thing about Niall and Barbara is that when they’re good, they’re really fucking good. They spark off each other and make each other brighter, the very best versions of themselves. But when they’re bad, Niall ends up in Louis’ bed at 8am, probably after wandering the streets aimlessly all night. It’s so clear how much they love each other, but it’s intense and tumultuous.

 

If that’s love, Louis doesn’t think he’s cut out for it at all. He’ll stick with emotionless one night stands thank you very much. If you keep your heart out of it, it barely even hurts when some of them rat you out to The Mirror the next morning.

 

“Have you eaten?” Louis asks climbing out of bed, picking up a pair of rumpled trackies from the floor and pulling them on over the boxer briefs he slept in.

 

“Nope,” Niall replies, visibly relieved to be avoiding the lecture he thought he was in for, “I don’t dare touch your cereal cupboard without express permission and supervision, Tommo. I value my life.”

 

“Good lad,” Louis praises absentmindedly as he moves towards the kitchen, Niall following along with a slight bounce in his step.

 

Louis’ known Niall for about eight years now, ever since they were both newbies on the tough standup circuit. Honing their routines in the roughest pubs the nation has to offer, being heckled by attention-seeking drunks. They’ve both changed and grown considerably thicker skin since those days, but even so, Louis’ never seen Niall anything less than at least mildly cheerful, regardless of whether he’s been just been booed off stage, or had a fight with his girlfriend.

 

Soon they’re sitting at the kitchen counter and munching some of Louis’ most prized Coco Pops.

 

“So,” Niall starts, mouth opening wide as he speaks, displaying the unappealing chocolaty, milky mush inside for all to see, “How’d tapin’ go yesterday? Is it worth catchin’ the show when it airs tomorrow?”

 

Louis wrinkles his nose in disgust at his friend, but answers nonetheless, “I’d say so, yeah. Liam’s convinced it’s gonna be the biggest show of the year.”

 

“Really?” Niall raises an intrigued eyebrow, “Who were the guests?”

 

“Oh you know, just Jerry Fisher, Amber Hazelwood and Harry Styles.”

 

“No way!” Niall exclaims, mouth opening wide in shock, showing off even more of the disgusting brown mush inside, “On the same show? How was it? Must have been really awkward. Was it awkward?”

 

“I mean, yeah, now that you mention it there was this really weird moment between Jerry and Harry. I think we worked past it though.”

 

“Shut up ya twat!” Niall rolls his eyes and punches Louis affectionately on the shoulder, “You know exactly what I meant. How were Harry and Amber? Any limbs lost? Any blood spilt?”

 

Louis frowns a little, “No, nothing like that. Things were tense though. Amber may have set a new record for the most eye-rolls during an interview. But…” Louis trails off and shakes his head.

 

“But, what?” Niall demands immediately.

 

“But, I don’t know, it all seemed a bit… forced somehow. And there was this one moment, when she was sure the cameras wouldn’t pick it up, that Amber was really sweet with Harry. Like, kind of fond?” Louis sighs and rubs at his temple, “The whole thing just gave me a massive migraine. Celebrities are too confusing, Niall. The more famous they are, the more bullshit there is.”

 

Niall grins at Louis widely, “Good thing you didn’t choose a career where you have to talk to them for a living, or anything. That would’ve really sucked.”

 

Louis just groans.

 

“Y’know,” Niall adds slowly after Louis’ been silent for a while, “M’pretty sure B did a photoshoot with Amber once, for like Calvin Klein, or Prada maybe?”

 

Louis waits for Niall to continue, but apparently nothing more is coming, “Right,” Louis says, “and the point of that little anecdote was, what exactly?”

 

Niall shrugs, “Nothing really. Just always nice to remember I’m dating a model, innit?”

 

Louis rolls his eyes, “I know it’s my main source of joy,” he quips sarcastically.

 

Niall smiles obliviously back at Louis before his face hardens into something more determined, “I should probably give her a call, see if she’s still pissed with me. Babs I mean, not Amber Hazelwood. Don’t exactly have Amber’s number now, do I?”

 

“God, that reminds me of the other weird thing that happened yesterday,” Louis exclaims suddenly, “Harry Styles gave me his number.”

 

“What?” Niall pretty much yells, “And you didn’t lead with that? Fuck, I had no idea Styles swung both ways. Louis Tomlinson, you absolute fox.”

 

“No, no, no,” Louis stops him, “It was nothing like that. He said he needed my help with something, he wants to catch up this weekend. I should probably send him a text actually.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Niall mocks, “He wants you to help with his boner, more like.”

 

Louis chooses to ignore Niall entirely as he goes back to his room to rifle through the pockets of yesterday’s discarded jeans, where he’s sure he put Harry’s number. He grins triumphantly when he finds the little slip of paper, and immediately starts composing a text.

 

To Harry: Hi Harry, it’s Louis Tomlinson from the show yesterday ! If you still want to catch up this weekend I should be free pretty much all day tomorrow

 

By the time Louis comes back to the kitchen, Niall’s staring at him with the biggest shit-eating grin Louis’ ever seen.

 

“Thought you said you were done with popstars?” Niall says with a smirk.

 

“Don’t you have an angry girlfriend to call?” Louis bites back viciously.

 

And that effectively wipes any trace of mirth right off of Niall’s face. Louis only feels a little bit like a terrible person.

 

 

*****

 

 

Sunday afternoon finds Louis awkwardly tidying his flat. He has a very nice Russian woman come by to do the cleaning and laundry once a week, but she hasn’t been around since Tuesday and things have gone downhill rather sharply in the cleanliness department since then. Also, Harry bloody Styles is dropping by in about twenty minutes, and the simple act of chucking dirty boxers into the hamper and wiping off kitchen counters is helping Louis relax.

 

Harry had insisted that they meet at Louis’ flat for their talk, and it probably made sense, what with paps and fans almost certainly staking out Harry’s place and Harry’s insistence that they keep this little catch up as private as possible. Even so, Louis’ not exactly accustomed to entertaining internationally renowned superstars in his Chelsea flat. At least not since…

 

Louis’ startled out of his anxious musings by a distinct buzzing sound. Harry must be here.

 

“Hello?” Louis asks as he answers the comm.

 

“Hey mate, it’s Harry, um, Styles. Can I come up?”

 

Louis smiles to himself as he presses the appropriate button. For some reason, hearing how awkward Harry sounds makes Louis feel more centred and relaxed. So much so, that by the time Harry’s standing at his front door, awkwardly holding out one massive hand for Louis to shake, Louis’ feeling very much in his element. There’s nothing to be nervous about here, Louis talks to celebrities professionally, he’s so good at making small talk with superstars, that people pay him to do it. He’s totally in control.

 

“Hey Harry, mate,” Louis greets enthusiastically, accepting Harry’s handshake with gusto and ushering him into the living room, “So glad you could make it. Hopefully it wasn’t too far out of your way.”

 

Harry anxiousness seems to ease slightly, but there’s still a slight line of tension in his shoulders, “Not too far, no.” Harry replies with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, “I quite like Chelsea, y’know? It’s like, old school, The Beatles used to live here, and The Rolling Stones, back in the 60s, so that’s quite cool, innit? It’s like a historical artistic hub, so that’s gotta be worth a visit anyway, don’t ya think?”

 

Louis smirks, “Oh yeah, it’s super historically relevant. Hope you soaked up all that art when you drove down King’s Road. Did you see the McDonald’s?”

 

Harry frowns to himself slightly.

 

“I’m just teasing,” Louis assures him with a pat on the shoulder, “Basically, I live in a borough that used to be cool, like 50 years ago, and you’re being polite. It’s ok, I’m not too concerned with being cool anyway.”

 

“I think you’re cool Louis,” Harry says with such determined sincerity Louis’ not sure whether he wants to laugh at him or hug him.

 

As has been the case for the majority of Louis’ life, he falls back on humour, “Don’t let anyone hear you say that, Harold! I’m a comedian, being cool is entirely detrimental to my line of work. An endorsement from a popstar like you could ruin me. Do you want to see me living on the streets? Is that why you’re here, to orchestrate the demise of my career?”

 

Harry, who’d been smiling indulgently the whole way through Louis’ little rant, starts frowning slightly again at the last sentence. Louis valiantly supresses the urge to lean over and smooth out the little crinkle that forms between Harry’s eyebrows.

 

“No, that’s not why I’m here actually. I’m here for your help, or like, your advice would be more accurate I guess.”

 

Louis waits for him to continue, but Harry appears to be completely stuck in his own head. Louis’ always been unnerved by hanging silences, so much so he’s made a career out of avoiding them, but this seems like an important moment for Harry so he holds off on talking for as long as possible. Finally, Harry seems to sort through whatever thoughts were worrying him so much. He shakes his head slightly and his eyes focus back in on Louis.

 

“Sorry,” he says softly, “I, um, tend to zone out a little sometimes. Zayn says it’s quite unsettling.”

 

“That’s alright,” Louis says easily, “I once had to interview Tom Cruise, I’m used to unsettling.”

 

Harry snorts loudly, and the crease between his eyebrows finally disappears. Louis tries very hard not to analyse the little burst of triumph that manifests in his chest.

 

“Would you like something to drink?” he asks instead, “Tea? Coffee?”

 

“Tea would be lovely,” Harry replies, “Milk and one sugar, please.”

 

Louis manages to hold back on his usual rant about how sugar ruins the core integrity of tea, and instead directs Harry to sit down whilst he goes to the kitchen.

 

By the time he gets back, armed with tea and biscuits, the frown line between Harry’s eyebrows has returned. Louis’ decided he hates that line, even if it does make Harry look a little bit like a cute, grumpy kitten.

 

“So you date quite a lot, don’t you?” Harry bursts out pretty much as soon as Louis settles on the chair across from the couch Harry’s claimed.

 

Louis gives himself a moment to take in the entirely unexpected question before answering. He has precisely no idea where this is going.

 

“I mean, a little bit, yeah?” Louis replies eventually, unable to keep the question out of his voice, “Nowhere near as much as the tabloids would lead you to believe though. They’ve got this thing where every time I hang out with another dude, they just assume I’m dating him. I promise I’m not as prolific as they make me out to be.”

 

“Does it bother you? Like, that they keep assuming you’re dating every guy you’re seen with?”

 

“No, not really. I mean most of my mates are pretty cool about that kind of stuff, and the ones that aren’t, aren’t worth my time anyway. Better to weed them out early.”

 

Harry’s watching him so intensely now, it makes Louis pause long enough to properly consider the question, compels him to answer it more honestly than he would under normal circumstances.

 

“There was this one time that it bothered me,” he says eventually, and Harry’s eyes seem to focus in on him even more.

 

“Last year, my little sister came to London for a visit, and she brought her boyfriend with her. I thought I’d be a good big brother and show them a good time, y’know, take them to the London Eye, buy them an expensive lunch, all that. Anyway, somehow one of the rags got a hold of the pics, and just, conveniently cropped Daisy out of all of them. They ran these ridiculous headlines like Meet the Tommo’s New Teenage Lover and Louis’ Romantic Day Out With Boytoy. The poor kid was mortified, he was like, 16 years old, and he had to go back to school with his face on the cover of these stupid magazines saying he was dating a bloke 11 years older than him. He broke up with Daise that week, which, y’know, wasn’t the most mature reaction in the world, but then again, teenage boys aren’t exactly renowned for their maturity, are they? Daisy was furious. Didn’t talk to me for weeks.”

 

Harry’s frown line is more pronounced than ever, “That really sucks, Louis.”

 

“I mean, yeah, it did suck. But that wasn’t even really why it pissed me off so much.”

 

“What did piss you off about it then?” Harry asks curiously.

 

Louis’ never really talked about this part of it before so he pauses for a moment, trying to figure out exactly how to express why the whole incident infuriated him so much.

 

“I guess,” he starts, “It was the whole predatory element to it. Like magazine editors, or whatever, saw those pictures of me spending the day with my sister and her boyfriend, and thought, ‘let’s make it look like that 27 year old man is fucking that 16 year old boy’. And people actually bought it! Like, readers, people who’ve been watching my show and following my life for years, looked at all the information set in front of them and thought ‘Yep, I can believe that’. I dunno, I just feel like there’s this perception of gay guys that we’ll like, fuck anything with a cock, and like, this kid barely even looked legal, even though he was technically.” Louis sighs, he’s definitely rambling now.

 

He’s never been particularly good at expressing himself seriously, doesn’t know what to do with himself when there’s no punchline coming, “The whole thing just felt really icky, for lack of a better word. I hated it,” he concludes lamely.

 

Harry reaches out and puts a comforting arm on Louis’ shoulder, “I’m really sorry that happened to you Louis,” he says sincerely.

 

Louis doesn’t know what compelled him to tell Harry all of these things he’s literally not told anyone before, but he’s immediately regretting it. He feels vulnerable and exposed in a way he’s very much not used to.

 

“Oh well, it’s all in the past now I guess.” He says, subtly shrugging out of Harry’s hold, and plastering his best fake smile onto his face.

 

Harry hunches in on himself a little as he puts his hand back in his lap, “So do you regret it then?” he asks quietly, looking pointedly down at his shoes, “Coming out, I mean.”

 

And just like that, Louis gets it. Understands entirely why things seemed so off between Harry and Amber at the taping on Friday. Why Harry’s here now. Why Harry’s asking all these questions. Why Harry’s been watching him with such a fierce intensity. Why Harry looks like the entire course of his life hinges on this conversation.

 

Fuck.

 

Louis finds his body reaching out of it’s own volition, finds his hand gently moving Harry’s chin so that he’s looking Louis directly in the eyes again, “Not for a second.” He declares passionately.

 

“Really?” Harry asks hopefully.

 

“Never.” Louis asserts. He’s so terrible at this, he doesn’t have the right words to express what he’s feeling, he doesn’t even do serious.

 

“I think,” Louis says slowly, putting more thought into every word than he ever has before in his life, “That the tabloids watching you all the time is hard enough without having to hide who you really are.”

 

Harry sighs, and Louis can tell he feels the words on a deeply personal level. How could he have missed this earlier? It seems so blindingly obvious now.

 

“Listen,” Louis continues, “I only really did the closet for like, a year when I was still in school, and never, once I was a public figure. Fuck, half my standup routine was about being gay back when I was on the circuit, and it’s all on YouTube, so there’s no way I would have been able to deny it anyway. What I’m saying, in a really ridiculously roundabout way, is, I don’t really know what it’s like, but never once have I regretted not having to do it. I’ve seen the closet break people.”

 

Louis very pointedly doesn’t think about a certain popstar, very different to the one sitting in front of him now.

 

Harry looks like he’s about to say something when he’s interrupted by his phone ringing loudly. He looks down at it, but doesn’t answer, not moving until it eventually silences again.

 

“That’s my manager,” he explains eventually, “I didn’t exactly tell him where I was going today.”

 

“Were you supposed to?” Louis asks curiously. Sometimes, Louis’ reminded of just how not famous he really is. Like, he technically has a manager, but she certainly could not give a fuck what he gets up to on a day-to-day basis. She’s just happy if Louis turns up to even half the promo events he’s invited to.

 

“I try to keep him in the loop,” Harry says diplomatically, “Stops them from sending out a search party every time I go MIA. Besides, Zayn’s like, one of my best mates so it’s not really a hardship.”

 

“Except you still didn’t tell him you were coming here today,” Louis blurts out before he can get his stupid mouth to shut up.

 

“Except that,” Harry agrees a little guiltily.

 

The phone rings again before either of them can say anything else. Harry lets it ring out again.

 

“That’s probably my cue to leave,” Harry says once the room is silent.

 

“Oh, yeah of course,” Louis replies, standing up awkwardly to escort Harry out of the flat.

 

“Thanks for all of your help though,” Harry says as they walk towards the door, “I really appreciate it.”

 

Louis remains unconvinced that he’s been any help whatsoever, but accepts Harry’s gratitude nonetheless, “You’re welcome, man. Anytime.”

 

“Do you really mean that?” Harry asks halting abruptly, just before Louis can open the front door, “Cause if you do, I think I’d quite like to catch up again. Like you can tell me if you were just being polite, but like, I feel like it’d be quite nice to have a friend who… gets it. D’you know what I mean?”

 

And the thing is Niall hadn’t been wrong when he’d said Louis was done with popstars. He is so fucking done, particularly with the ones with sexuality crises. But Harry looks so lost and unsure, and it turns out, when internationally famous superstars stand in your hallway and ask you to be their friend, it’s very difficult to say no.

 

And that’s all this is anyway. Harry needs a friend, Louis can be that for him. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

 

“I know what you mean,” Louis finds himself saying, “And I do mean it. You’ve got my number now, just let me know when you’re free and we can catch up again.”

 

Harry’s reaction to Louis’ words, is to pull the smaller man into his chest and wrap him in a warm embrace, “Thank you,” he whispers before Louis pulls away.

 

“You’re welcome,” Louis replies as he finally opens the front door, “Now go, before you give your manager a heart attack.”

 

“Ok,” Harry replies with as much carefreeness as Louis’ seen him with all afternoon. Harry’s cheeks are dimpling impressively and he looks more adorable than any 26 year old man has a right to look, “Bye.”

 

“See ya later, Harold,” Louis says as he waves the man off.

 

It’s only once the door closes behind him that Louis even begins to process exactly what just happened.

Chapter Text

Louis never meant to start obsessively Googling Harry Styles, but then again, Louis never meant to do a lot of the shit he’s definitely done.

 

It starts off harmlessly enough, just Louis sitting back on Sunday evening, watching the show they’d taped on Friday. It’s a bit weird watching it back knowing everything he knows about Harry now. The Powers That Be had edited out Harry and Jerry’s awkward exchange about gay stereotypes (and didn’t that make so much more sense now, Harry getting his hackles up about how gay men were perceived? Honestly, Louis feels like a bit of a knobhead for not cottoning on earlier), and consequently, Amber’s oddly affectionate reprimand had gone too. Even so, there’s still an awful lot for Louis to take in.

 

Now that he’s watching closely, Louis can see that’s not the only moment Amber’s hard façade towards Harry drops. Like when Harry tells a truly ridiculous story about eating an orange he found in a lift at the VMAs, Amber has to subtly cover her mouth and turn away from the camera to hide the slightest of giggles. The mask falls again when Harry starts talking with absolute passion about how proud he is of his latest album, of how much of himself went into the writing process, Amber’s eyes soften considerably, and the ghost of a smile crosses her face. Amber’s an incredibly good actress, but even she can’t hide the fact that she’s quite fond of Harry.

 

Which all seems to fit in quite neatly with Louis’ newly acquired view of the world.

 

At the moment, he’s got a working theory that Harry and Amber were never actually together, and everything was just one big PR stunt. Something about that doesn’t sit quite right though. The thing is, Amber and Harry are both massive stars in their own right, incredibly successful and admired in their respective fields. They seem like they should be above petty publicity stunts like that.

 

For Harry at least, it seemed to be about more than getting his name in the papers, namely getting his name in the papers romantically linked to a girl, but what did Amber have to gain from any of this?

 

Maybe the relationship had been genuine, with Harry only recently coming to accept/discover his sexuality, and that’s what caused their breakup. Maybe Harry’s really bi or pan, and the breakup with Amber just wasn’t as bad as the media were lead to believe. Maybe the breakup was really bad, but they’ve since made up, and are playing things up for the cameras. Maybe Louis’ actually completely misinterpreted everything and Harry’s still with Amber, and they’re going to have a thousand multi-talented children and live happily ever after.

 

Maybe Louis needs to get a grip.

 

By the time TV Louis’ announced the guests for next week’s show and the credits are rolling, real life Louis is feeling more than a little confused about everything. Technically, he could just send Harry a text asking him what the deal was with the whole Amber thing, but that just seems a little awkward. They’ve only really been kinda friends for like, twelve hours. It feels a little early in the friendship to be asking for a full relationship history. Besides, Louis’ a pretty perceptive guy when he sets his mind to it, he should be able to figure this one out for himself after a little bit of research.

 

So that’s when Louis pulls out his laptop, and the downward spiral begins.

 

As a casual fan of the Harry’s for quite a few years now, as well as someone who vaguely follows celebrity gossip (for work purposes only of course), Louis’ had this abstract idea of what Harry’s like: Bit of a cad, commitment-phobe, definitely straight.

 

Obviously after actually meeting the guy, he knows at least one of those things isn’t true, and he’s on the fence about everything else until he gets some more information. He’s pretty sure it’s all greatly exaggerated though, the tabloids don’t exactly have an excellent record for reliability.

 

Even armed with a healthy dose of scepticism though, nothing can prepare Louis for the veritable tsunami of bullshit that comes his way when he types ‘Harry Styles’ into Google.

 

Louis falls into a black hole of Harry, clicking on article after article for hours on end until he actually can’t take it anymore.

 

“Louis, what the fuck?” is how Niall answers the phone when Louis calls him up, unable to keep everything to himself any longer, “It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. Don’t ya know some of us need our beauty sleep?”

 

Ok, so it would appear Louis’ been on the computer a little bit longer than he thought. Still, now that Niall’s awake, Louis sees no reason why he can’t talk things out with him.

 

“Did you know there’s an article saying that Harry slept with over 410 women in a year?”

 

All Louis gets in response to this, frankly startling piece of information, is silence followed by a confused, “Harry, who?”

 

Louis rolls his eyes, “Styles, Niall. Honestly, I know you just woke up, but do try and keep up.”

 

“Harry Styles, right. You were supposed to catch up with him today, or yesterday technically I guess. How’d it go?”

 

“It was fine. Illuminating. Complicated. Can we stay on topic though please Niall?”

 

“I thought the topic was Harry Styles? Aren’t we talking about Harry Styles?”

 

Louis’ not entirely sure if Niall’s being intentionally dense, or if Louis’ just not explaining himself well enough. He decides to give his best mate the benefit of the doubt, takes a deep breath and softens his tone considerably, “Yes and no. The topic I want to discuss is a ridiculous article written about Harry Styles.”

 

“Oh, right. The sleeping with 300 women in a year one.”

 

“Not 300,” Louis can feel his tone getting sharp again in annoyance, “410! That’s more than one a day, every day, for a year!”

 

“Ok,” Niall sounds confused, “That’s quite a lot, but I hear that Styles is a bit of a player. There might be some truth to it? Though I wouldn’t trust the tabloids as far as I could throw ‘em. Are you worried about STDs or something? Did he hit on you after all?”

 

Louis feels something very akin to anger creep up on him, “Fuck off Niall, Harry’s gay. I very much doubt he’s slept with that many women in his life, let alone in a year.”

 

Niall seems a little bit taken aback, “Harry’s gay? How d’you know? I mean, I always got a bit of a sexually open vibe from him, s’why I thought he might be into you, but he’s been with so many women. Are you sure he’s gay?”

 

Louis nods before realising Niall can’t actually see him, “Pretty sure, yeah. He kinda told me, or at least heavily implied it when he came by earlier. I think he wanted my advice about coming out.”

 

“Fuck,” Niall breathes, “Now that’d put the tabloids in a tizzy.”

 

“Obviously, this all being said in the strictest confidence. Fuck, I probably shouldn’t even have told you. Like, Harry didn’t actually tell me not to say anything, but you’d assume he’d want this pretty locked down, wouldn’t you? Please don’t say anything Ni, not even to Barbara if you can help it.”

 

Louis knows he can trust Niall with pretty much anything, but he still does not feel great about immediately divulging such privileged information. He really needs to vent though.

 

“Of course, mate,” Niall interrupts Louis’ decent into self-loathing, “I won’t tell anyone, not even B. I promise. Now, you called because you wanted to talk about articles?”

 

Louis takes a deep, steadying breath, and finds his inner rage again, “Right. Articles. The thing about articles concerning Harry Styles, young Niall, is that they’re actually the biggest load of bullshit I’ve seen in my life.”

 

“This isn’t going to be a short conversation, is it?” Niall asks.

 

“Probably not,” Louis admits.

 

“Right. I’m gonna go to the kitchen and make myself some coffee,” Niall replies, surprisingly cheerfully for someone who’s been woken up at 2:30 in the morning by their maniac of a friend, with no prospect of returning to bed in their immediate future. Sometimes, Louis can’t believe how lucky he’s been in finding someone as accommodating as Niall to be his best friend.

 

Almost an hour later, Louis’ finally beginning to run out of steam in his diatribe against the media’s portrayal of Harry, “So basically, according to the tabloids, Harry’s broken up like, seven marriages, and slept with every single blonde model he’s ever met, as well as some he hasn’t. And like, every time he does something that might indicate he’s into dudes, it somehow just manages to further confirm his heterosexuality. Like this one time, right, he was asked a question onstage ‘What’s one food you hate eating?’ and like he went over to whisper something in his guitarist’s ear, and someone caught it on camera, and Harry clearly said pussy. Clearly. And somehow, this one tabloid took it as him making fun of gay rumours, because like, as if the world’s most prolific womaniser would ever say they didn’t like eating pussy. It must all be a hilarious joke! Don’t actually believe what he says, that’d be ridiculous!”

 

Louis’ pretty sure he’s not even making sense anymore, lack of sleep, and an unholy rage at the world having rendered him an incoherent babbling mess, but Niall still hums in acknowledgement like he understands what Louis’ trying desperately to convey.

 

“That sucks, Lou.”

 

“Fuck, it really does,” Louis agrees, feeling himself deflate a little, tiredness finally seeping into his bones now that he’s gotten everything out.

 

“So what are you going to do? Like, are you going to see him again? Because it really seems like the kid could use a friend who understands a little bit of what he’s going through.” Niall says gently.

 

“Of course I’m gonna see him again,” Louis snaps a little defensively, “Harry said he wanted to hang out, I’m not gonna back out on him.”

 

“Ok, Lou, just checking.”

 

Louis groans, and rubs at his temple in frustration, “I’m sorry Niall, I didn’t mean to snap, I’m just annoyed with the fucking tabloids, and with like, the world generally. I’ve only really been seriously written about a few times, you know. Like that bullshit interview they did with my biological father and the hatchet job they did about Daisy’s boyfriend, and the stuff with Wes too I guess. Each time though, it’s felt like losing control, like I had no say in how people perceived me, like being powerless. I fucking hated it. I just feel awful that Harry’s had to go through that, like every other day, since he was sixteen. He seems like such a sweet kid, he doesn’t deserve it.”

 

Niall remains silent for a while before letting out a soft sigh, “Y’know Lou, I spend a majority my life safe in the knowledge my best mate is just a bit of an idiot. Then you have to go and say shit like that, remind me how much you care about people, how much fucking depth you have. It’s very inconvenient to my world view, you tosser.”

 

Louis finds himself grinning a little in spite of himself, “ My sincerest apologies, I promise I’ll be back to my normal idiotic self next time you see me. I guess I’m just in a bit of a mood tonight.”

 

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think Harry could ask for a better mentor in navigating the world of being a gay man in the public eye than you, mate.”

 

Mentor. Louis likes the sound of that. He likes the sound of that a lot. Personally, he’s always thought he exudes the natural authority required to be someone’s mentor.

 

“Cheers bro, and thanks for listening to my insane ramblings. You’re a good mate. I’ll let you get back to sleep now.”

 

“You’re welcome, ya twat,” Niall declares affectionately, “Now step away from the computer and get some sleep. You’ve got work in the morning.”

 

“I know, tomorrow’s gonna be a struggle” Louis groans, “G’night Ni.”

 

“G’night Lou.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis walks into the studio’s meeting room the next morning feeling very much like shit. He collapses onto his assigned chair, and tries to stop his eyes from drooping shut. His mood is in no way improved by Liam bounding into the room like an overjoyed puppy.

 

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the man of the hour.” Liam exclaims, clapping Louis enthusiastically on the shoulder on his way the head of the meeting table. “So,” he begins, “I expect you’re all anxious to know the ratings for last night’s show.”

 

There’s a general murmur of assent around the room.

 

“Ok, so keep in mind these are only the preliminaries, we won’t get a hold of the full ratings report until Friday, but it’s looking good. Like, really good. At this stage, they’re predicting a viewership increase between 19-32%, which is phenomenal. If we can retain even half of that for future shows, we’re going to be in a great position for the rest of the series. Maybe we’ll even have more bargaining power when booking guests for future series, who knows?”

 

Liam’s grinning somewhat manically and it’s making Louis’ brain hurt a little. At least everyone else in the room seems capable of mustering up the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the, admittedly very impressive, viewership figures. Louis’ too exhausted to even feign excitement.

 

Liam seems satisfied enough with the general response though, so that’s the important thing. “Anyway,” he continues, “I’m sure you all know that increased viewership was only one of the goals we sought to achieve with this episode, we also wanted to gain some exposure for The Louis Tomlinson Show in international markets. Well I’m very pleased to inform you, that we’ve managed to do that too. I’ve been on the phone with American and European entertainment shows all morning, asking for permission to use our footage.”

 

Everyone in the room seems very pleased by the news, but it makes Louis feel a bit ill. He’s not too keen on the idea that he’s actually helped to contribute more fodder for the media to use to make up lies about Harry.

 

Louis’ pretty thankful when Liam finally moves on from the ratings rundown, to the plan for this Friday’s taping. It’s definitely going to be a lower profile, and hence less pressure filled show, with Robert Pattinson the only big celebrity booked to appear. But that’s also going to make it more difficult to retain the viewers they gained last week with the Harry and Amber drama. Hopefully the residual draw of Twilight will be enough to bring in a few fangirls.

 

To be honest, Louis doesn’t really pay attention to the rest of the meeting, instead using up a majority of his concentration on trying not to fall asleep and face plant into the table. Note to self: Louis definitely cannot survive on three and a half hours sleep anymore, just another sad reminder that he’s getting uncomfortably close to thirty.

 

Somehow, Louis manages to make it through the whole meeting in at least a state of semi-consciousness. Nonetheless, he’s pretty relieved when Liam finally calls the meeting to a close.

 

He’s just on his way to get started on the research for next week’s guests (and definitely not about to take a midmorning nap on the ridiculously comfy couch in his office), when he’s stopped by a strong arm slinging around his shoulder.

 

“Tommo, you doing alright there?” Liam asks, his concerned mother look out in full force.

 

Louis looks up and gives Liam a reassuring smile, “Yeah mate, ‘m all good. Just tired.”

 

“Aren’t you supposed to come back from the weekend, like, recharged for the work week ahead? What were you getting up to that tired you out so much, Lou?” Liam teases lightly, attempting, but not really succeeding at a suggestive wink.

 

Liam is so lucky Louis’ too tired to give him shit for his inability to successfully close one eye at a time right now.

 

“It was nothing like that unfortunately. Fuck, I wish it was like that, I haven’t gotten a good fucking in ages.” Louis sighs regretfully.

 

There was a time, a few years ago when he first came on as head producer, that talk like this would have made Liam’s ears turn a very interesting shade of pink. Those days are long gone now, Louis having succeeded in thoroughly corrupting his boss to the extent that he can barely extract an eyeroll from him most of the time. It’s both gratifying and annoying. Maybe Louis just has to step up his inappropriate game?

 

“So the ratings are looking pretty impressive, aren’t they?” Louis says, deciding he doesn’t have the energy right now to even attempt to turn Liam into the stuttering, embarrassed mess he used to know and love.

 

Liam grins widely, “I know! And I didn’t want to say this in front of everyone else, but depending on how the big American shows edit the clips, it could be really good for you personally, Lou. Like, if enough of your face makes it onto TV over there, you might be able to make an impression. Recognition is the first step towards becoming the next James Corden with your own big American talkshow, you know.”

 

Louis feels his face scrunch up a little at that. He felt bad enough when it was just the show profiting off of Harry’s shitty public image, for him personally to get anything out of it feels a little bit like exploitation. He’s pretty sure that’s the exact opposite of what mentors are supposed to do to their mentees. Is that even a word? Mentee? God, who fucking knows, in any case, Louis’ almost certain exploitation is a big no-no.

 

“I think you may be getting a little bit ahead of yourself there, Payno.”

 

“Maybe,” Liam concedes, “Just don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way if you ever do make it big, Lou. That’s all I’m saying.”

 

“Of course man, I could never forget about you little people.” Louis replies, pinching Liam’s cheek obnoxiously, “I mean I wouldn’t say that you fostered my genius necessarily, but you’ve certainly given my brilliance a safe space to spread its wings, and for that I’m eternally thankful.”

 

Liam pushes Louis’ fingers off his face, and pokes at Louis’ side in retaliation, “Fuck off, Lou.”

 

“I’d rather if you didn’t touch me actually Liam, don’t want to interfere with my inspired comedic process now, do you?” Louis says in faux irritation, twisting away from Liam’s finger.

 

Liam tries to look disapproving, but he can’t quite keep an indulgent smile from taking over his face, “You’re such a wanker.”

 

Louis nods sombrely, “An unfortunate side-effect of genius, I’m afraid. Now if you don’t mind, this is my office and I have lots of very important work to do.”

 

“Of course you do,” Liam says sarcastically, already turning to walk to his own office presumably.

 

“I’m not just going to sleep on the couch if that’s what you’re implying Leeyum.”

 

“Of course you’re not,” Liam replies disbelievingly, not even bothering to turn around.

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis is woken up from his very pleasant nap by an incredibly annoying buzzing noise. It takes his foggy brain an unreasonably long time to figure out the noise is actually his mobile, and his sluggish limbs an even longer time to cooperate enough to actually pick the damn thing up.

 

“Hello?” he croaks out eventually.

 

“Oh, hey man! It’s Harry… um Styles. I didn’t wake you did I? It’s like 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”

 

“Excuse me Harold,” Louis replies, “I don’t need any judgement from you, alright? If I want to have a tiny 5 hour nap in the middle of the work day, that’s nobody’s business but mine, and I will not be abused for it by the likes of you.”

 

“The likes of me?” Harry questions, amusement colouring his tone.

 

“Yes,” Louis confirms, “energetic tall people in their mid-twenties. You realise it takes us regular heighted folk like, a third more energy to walk the same distance as you giants? No wonder we tire out.”

 

Harry snorts out a laugh, “I’m pretty sure that’s not scientifically accurate, Lou.”

 

“And I’m pretty sure you don’t have a science degree Styles, so I suppose we’ll never know. Now was there a reason you woke me from my very relaxing nap?”

 

“Yes actually,” Harry replies easily, “I was wondering if you’d want to catch up again? Tomorrow maybe, or the weekend works too, I guess.”

 

Louis pauses, to consider it, “I guess I should be free tomorrow after work. Any time after five.”

 

“Cool,” Harry replies, “So I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow then. I’ll text you the details soon, yeah?”

 

“Sure,” Louis says, “See you soon, Harold.”

 

It’s only after he hangs up that Louis’ really able to properly consider the two main thoughts going through his mind:

 

1- It’s a little bit surprising that Harry’s so keen to hang out with Louis again, only a couple of days after they last saw each other. Louis had kind of been working under the assumption Harry wouldn’t have heaps of free time to hang out, what with being an international popstar and all. Louis must have made a bit of an impression on the younger man? It’s not unheard of, Louis can be incredibly magnetic when he sets his mind to it, he just would’ve thought Harry'd be immune to all that after years spent amongst the Hollywood elite. Maybe not though.

 

2- Louis now has slightly over 24 hours to figure out how to become an effective mentor to a young closeted superstar.

 

Excellent. How hard could that possibly be anyway?

Chapter Text

Things start off quite awkwardly when Harry comes around to Louis’ place on Tuesday evening. All of the unspoken shit from the last time they saw each other is still hanging in the air, a big fucking rainbow elephant standing in the middle of Louis’ living room.

 

Harry’s shoulders are tense for the first thirty minutes at least, and Louis flits and manoeuvres himself around his flat, finding pointless little tasks to complete, just so he can avoid the glaringly obvious fact that he’s failing spectacularly at the one fucking goal he set for himself tonight: to make Harry feel comfortable.

 

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Louis’ a terrible mentor, and he’s barely even fucking started. Shit.

 

It’s Louis’ inability to cope with any kind of awkward social situation for a prolonged period of time that prompts him to suggest putting on a movie. He snatches desperately at some no doubt awful romantic comedy Niall’s left on his coffee table and thrusts the DVD case into Harry’s hands.

 

“What d’you reckon Styles?” he asks, faking a confidence and ease he certainly isn’t feeling, “Fancy a spot of Sandy Bullock?”

 

Louis’ false bravado seems to work, the smallest of smiles slipping onto Harry’s face, “Always.”

 

And so they settle on opposite ends of Louis’ sofa and watch the surprisingly enjoyable rom com. There’s still a hint of awkwardness in the air, but it’s nowhere near as prominent now that there’s a distraction in the form of incredibly unrealistic plot twists.

 

“Fuck he’s hot,” Harry sighs wistfully when Ryan Reynolds’ sweaty naked body collides comically with Sandra Bullock’s wet, equally naked body onscreen.

 

It’s that unconscious uttering that finally (finally) breaks the tension between the pair once and for all.

 

And thank fuck for that. Louis was on the verge of tearing his hair out, which probably would have been a poor career move. Niall insists a good 40% of Louis’ loyal viewership only tunes in to see whether Louis’ gone with a quiff or fringe for the night. Louis likes to think it’s only like, 20%, tops.

 

“S’that your type then Curly?” Louis demands teasingly, poking at Harry’s upper arm in what Louis would classify as an endearingly annoying way.

 

“Curly?” Harry questions, turning to look at Louis directly, a somewhat bemused smile on his face.

 

Louis can only shrug in response, not letting up in his jabs at the flesh of Harry’s bicep. Harry’ arms are surprisingly muscular incidentally. Louis has never cared about anything less.

 

“I mean,” Harry continues, apparently satisfied with Louis’ total non-answer, “Isn’t Ryan Reynolds everyone’s type? Like, he’s fit as fuck and he doesn’t take himself too seriously, plus he seems quite funny from what I’ve seen in interviews and stuff. That’s the dream right there.”

 

This declaration prompts Louis to finally stop poking Harry’s arm. This is an important question after all, and it requires Louis’ undivided attention and consideration, “I don’t know,” Louis replies eventually, “He’s definitely hot, incredibly so. I interviewed him once though, right, and he was one of the ones that didn’t look quite real when you looked at them close up. I mean you’ve spent your fair share of time in Hollywood, haven’t you? You know how there are some celebrities that are just too perfect looking? Like, his face was almost too symmetrical to be human. He was really slick too. I don’t know, I just prefer my men to have a little more awkwardness about them, makes them seem more relatable.”

 

Harry’s already shaking his head softly in disagreement, “Sorry mate, but I’d take funny and unearthly attractive any day of the week,” he states confidently, supplying Louis with a very pointed look the older man doesn’t have the energy or inclination to analyse right now.

 

“Well, I guess that means we won’t be competing for the same guys at least,” Louis supplies cheerfully, “You can have free reign on any and all witty Greek Gods, and I call dibs on all the weirdos lurking awkwardly in corners. Sound like a plan?”

 

“I guess so,” Harry agrees hesitantly, a slight downward tilt to his mouth.

 

“C’mon Curly, what’s with the frown? You can’t get a better deal than that!” Louis exclaims, “Tell you what, if there ever comes a time when a certain creepy lurky gentleman catches your eye, we can reassess the terms of agreement as necessary. Nothing need be set in stone, m’not gonna make you sign a contract or anything.”

 

And somehow that makes Harry’s frown deepen even further, the exact opposite effect than the one Louis was going for.

 

Louis feels himself mirroring the expression, “Hey, what’s wrong now mate? Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No!” Harry exclaims abruptly, “No,” he repeats, more sedately, “It’s just… I wasn’t really sure how to bring this up, but like, if you’re serious about wanting to be friends, and it’s totally fine if you’re not, or if this makes you change your mind, but like, if you are, then you might have to, you know, do that…”

 

Louis may have never felt more confused, and he’s been in multiple meetings with statisticians trying to explain ratings and demographic share calculations, so that’s saying something.

 

“What are you talking about Harold?” he says eventually.

 

Harry sighs and looks down at his lap, “Sorry, that wasn’t particularly clear was it? Basically, my manager’s like, quite protective of me, and quite… conscious that some people could take advantage. I think I mentioned before that Zayn’s one of my best mates, and I don’t like keeping things from him. And like, I trust you, I do. But Zayn… He’s gonna insist on it I think. Not in a mean way, he’s just looking out for me…”

 

“Harold,” Louis interrupts, “You’re rambling, love.”

 

“I am,” Harry admits, “Ok, I’m just going to say it. If you want to keep hanging out with me, you’re probably going to need to sign an NDA.”

 

Louis’ mouth drops open briefly in shock before he manages to regain control of his face, “An NDA… as in a…?”

 

“A non-disclosure agreement, yeah,” Harry confirms, looking pointedly down at his lap, “It’s like, a contract that says you can’t go to the press with anything that happens when we hang out, or anything I might say when you’re around, or if I…”

 

“I know what it is,” Louis interrupts, perhaps a little more sharply than the situation calls for. He’s experiencing some very disconcerting flashbacks to the last time a handsome man with the world at his feet mentioned NDAs to him.

 

This is different though. Completely different. Harry isn’t Wes. Things aren’t… like that. Louis’ just Harry’s self-appointed mentor/maybe friend. He’s older and wiser now, things aren’t going to spiral. He won’t let them.

 

“Sorry,” Louis quickly apologises when he notices how wide and guilty Harry’s eyes have become in the face of Louis’ barely concealed hostility, “Sorry, it’s just, I work in this industry too, you know. I’ve come across an NDA or two in my time.”

 

Harry seems to soften a little, but he still looks uneasy, “Oh. Right.”

 

“Oi! What’s with the scepticism? ” Louis continues, now determined to remove every last trace of uncertainty from Harry’s face, “I may not quite be on your level of superstardom, Curly, but I’m not a total novice. I do get how these things work, you know.”

 

Harry’s got the barest ghost of a smile gracing his face now, but he still seems unwilling to give in completely, “So does that mean you’ll sign it?”

 

“If it’s going to make you feel more comfortable around me, then of course I’ll sign it,” Louis reassures him.

 

Harry shakes his head vehemently, “I do feel comfortable with you, Lou, I promise. This really is all my manager talking.”

 

“Then I’ll sign it to make your manager more comfortable. It’s cool, don’t worry your curly head about it.”

 

Harry smile is more genuine now, “Ok, I’ll let Zayn know then. Thanks.”

 

After that, it seems like a weight is lifted off Harry’s shoulders, he’s just a sparkling giggling ball of happiness and dimples for the rest of the night. It makes Louis feel a bit conflicted. The thing is, there’s a big part of him that’s still caught up in his own head, still concerned with really stupid shit from the past that it’s about time he got over.

 

Particularly if letting go means Harry stays as incandescently bright as he is right now. He’s kind of magnetic like this, Louis finds himself caught in his gravitational pull, unconsciously leaning into the younger man more than once. It makes Louis feel a bit drunk and off centre. It should be more disconcerting than it is, probably.

 

And so the rest of the evening passes, with smiles plastered on both their faces, teasing and jokes exchanged. Louis feels light and happy, all thoughts of NDAs just a niggling concern at the back of his mind.

 

Louis’ not sure how effective a mentor he’s being to Harry, but he figures giving the man a safe place where he can be comfortable and himself isn’t the worst start in the world.

 

 

*****

 

When Louis sits down at his desk on Thursday morning, and finds a contract sent courtesy of the office of a Mr. Zayn Malik, he only hesitates a little before signing his name on the dotted line. It’s not like he was ever going to expose Harry anyway.

 

He valiantly ignores the weird feeling in the pit of his stomach for the rest of the day.

 

 

*****

 

 

“So there I was, right,” Harry’s eyes are bright with enthusiasm, but his voice is steady and low, “like sopping wet, sprawled on the ground in the gents, with John Mayer on one side and Jay-Z on the other, and literally all I could think to say was, ‘Fuck, ‘m gonna have to speak to my drug dealer. That was not a good trip.’”

 

“No,” Louis’ eyes widen in horror, “You did not use a pun in front of Jay-Z. Please tell me that never happened.”

 

“That never happened?” Harry repeats completely unconvincingly.

 

“Fuck Harold,” Louis sighs, shaking his head in disbelief, “So what you’re telling me is, you had the chance to impress possibly the most influential man in the music industry, someone one degree of separation away from Beyoncé,and instead you slipped in a puddle and made bad puns.”

 

Harry grins at Louis a little sheepishly, “And I missed out on picking up my Grammy in the process.”

 

Louis cringes in sympathy, “God, I vaguely remember reading about that. The article just said you were in the bathroom when they called your name. Lucky everything else managed to stay out of the tabloids. Pretty sure your ‘I’m a super cool musician’ rep would not have been able to survive a story like that being out in the world.”

 

“Whatever,” Harry replies dismissively, chugging down another mouthful of beer, “John Mayer thought I was well funny. We’re doing a collaboration on his next album.”

 

“Of course you are,” Louis can’t help the fond smile that takes over his face. Harry seems to be getting more endearing by the minute, it’s quite worrying actually. Harry may need to be investigated by scientists, ones with specialties in lovably charming popstars.

 

Louis’ feeling pleasantly inebriated himself, kind of light and swoopy without being totally out of it. It’s nice. Everything’s nice. Harry’s nice.

 

It’s not often Louis clicks so quickly with someone new these days. Normally he can’t seem to let his guard down long enough, can’t quite seem to move beyond the artificial pleasantries.

 

Sometimes he thinks it’s a side effect of his job. Everyone always seems to have something to hide, an angle to exploit. Showbusiness is a complicated world, and Louis’ acutely aware that most people see him as more of an enemy than a friend. A cog in the promotional machine with the power to break a career if you just so happen to say the wrong thing. It can be exhausting sometimes, being around people who are so wary of you.

 

It’s not like that with Harry though. Pretty much from the beginning Harry’s been nothing but totally honest with him, revealing his very biggest secret to Louis, like, the second time he met him. Harry’s always so open, so lovely, so pretty. Wait, what? Louis may be a touch drunker than he thought he was.

 

“You’ve gone awfully quiet over there,” Harry breaks into Louis’ quietly spiralling thoughts.

 

“Yeah,” Louis replies, shaking his head lightly, hoping to remove some of the fog that seems to be taking over his brain, “Just got a little bit lost in my own head. Were you saying something mate?”

 

Harry shakes his head fondly at him, “Nothing really. Just wondering if you were feeling a little bored? You really don’t have to hang out with me in your flat on a Friday night, you know. Like, just because I can’t go out to a club or whatever without at least one security guard doesn’t mean you should have to stay in with me. I bet there’s like, ten better places you could be right now…”

 

“Hazza man,” Louis interrupts, “There is no way anyone’s getting me off this sofa tonight. I’m exhausted, I’m not going anywhere, you can’t make me.”

 

Louis’ not even being dramatic, the taping today really had been quite draining. Louis had been able to feel Liam’s anxiety seeping throughout the set. Long speeches about maintaining audience shares and appealing to key demographics still ringing in his ears. It had made Louis’ job of creating an easy, carefree environment for the guests about ten times harder. He feels like he pulled it off though, thankfully. Hopefully they won’t experience too much of a dip in viewership after the explosive figures from Harry’s show last week.

 

“You promise you’re not just staying in for my benefit?” Harry questions doubtfully, his eyebrows crinkling inwards adorably.

 

“I promise, Curly. I really am just an old man, too tired to go out on a Friday night.”

 

“You’re not old!” Harry protests immediately, “You’re not even thirty! You’re only two years older than me!”

 

Louis smiles condescendingly at Harry’s horrified expression, “Just a joke, Haz. I tend to do that from time to time, you know, being a comedian and all.”

 

Harry only has time to huff a little before Louis’ phone starts ringing loudly, startling them both. Louis reaches for it, 90% sure it’s going to be Niall calling about whatever ridiculous drunken escapade he’s in the midst of. It’s seems a little early in the night for Niall to have gotten himself into too much mischief, but stranger things have happened.

 

Thankfully, Louis opts to check caller ID before answering. He almost drops the phone in shock when he sees who’s calling, because what the actual fuck? That is just about the last person he expected to call him on a Friday night. Just about the last person he expected to hear from ever again.

 

Louis can only stare at the screen in confusion, unable to move.

 

“Are you going to answer that?” Harry asks just as the phone rings for the last time, a missed call notification popping up instead. And fuck, Louis had forgotten Harry was even there, how ridiculous is that?

 

“Apparently not,” Louis replies distractedly, staring unblinkingly at his phone screen, waiting patiently for the words to reconfigure themselves into something that makes more sense. They stubbornly refuse to comply, the little box containing the words Missed Call from Wes remaining exactly where it is.

 

“Ok then?”

 

It’s the confusion in Harry’s voice that finally manages to snap Louis out of his daze. He tears his gaze away from the phone in his hands, and looks at the other man in the room.

 

“Sorry about that,” Louis apologises immediately, “that must’ve looked… odd.”

 

“Who was that?” Harry asks before cringing visibly, “Sorry! That’s absolutely none of my business, you don’t have to answer that.”

 

And Louis really is right on the verge of dropping the subject and moving on when he remembers who it is he’s talking to here. Harry’s shared so much of himself already, been so open. If Louis’ really serious about becoming a mentor worthy of being respected and looked up to, the least he can do is return the favour, right?

 

Transparency isn’t really Louis’ strong suit unfortunately, so it takes a little time before he finds himself able to answer. Once he feels centred though, the words come out surprisingly easily, “That, was my ex.”

 

“Oh,” Harry says, his eyebrows raising a bit in surprise, “Does he like…? Is this a regular thing? Does he call you often?”

 

“Very much not a regular thing,” Louis replies, allowing some of his own confusion to seep through, “In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard from him at all in about two years.”

 

“Oh!” Harry says again, his eyebrows climbing even higher, “Well, like, if you want to call him back, I mean, don’t let me stop you.”

 

Louis doesn’t even think before he replies, “I don’t want to talk to him!” The words are spit out viciously. The anger Louis thought he’d let go of a long time ago, rearing it’s ugly head once more.

 

Harry looks about as taken aback as Louis feels, “So,” the younger man offers slowly, “I gather things didn’t end well?”

 

“Not so much,” Louis agrees in a much calmer tone.

 

He’s tempted to leave it at that, tempted to change the subject to absolutely anything else. He kind of feels like he owes Harry more though, feels like this could be an opportunity to impart his first piece of mentor-y wisdom.

 

“It’s just,” Louis continues, “Remember when I told you if someone freaked out about tabloid speculation, then they weren’t worth your time?”

 

Harry nods cautiously.

 

“He wasn’t worth my time.”

 

They’re both quiet for a while after that, lost in their own thoughts. It’s probably not as awkward as it should be for how short a time they’ve known each other. In fact, it’s strangely comfortable.

 

It’s Harry who finally breaks the silence, “Next time we should go out. Not tonight obviously, but next time we hang out we should do something outside your flat. Like we could go to a restaurant, have a kick about in the park, I don’t know, just, something.”

 

It’s probably the frame of mind that comes from thinking about Wes that makes him say it. Louis feeling small, frightened and vulnerable in a way he hasn’t in over two years, pushing the words out of his mouth.

 

“Aren’t you worried about what people will say?”

 

Harry’s face is set though, he looks determined in a way Louis hasn’t seen him before.

 

“No.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Later, after Harry’s gone home and Louis’ lying in bed by himself, curiosity gets the better of him. He pulls out his phone for the first time since Wes called.

 

This time, there’s a text.

 

From Wes: Give me a call when you get the chance. There’s something important I need to talk to you about.

 

Unsurprisingly, Louis does not sleep particularly well.

Chapter Text

So, it turns out Louis is really good at avoiding things when he sets his mind to it. Like really, really good.

 

For instance, he’s been ignoring Liam explaining the details of the product placement Louis is expected to slip in seamlessly during the next show, for a good twenty minutes.

 

“Louis,” Liam sighs, “Are you listening to a single thing I’m saying?”

 

“Of course I am,” Louis replies easily, “I hang on your every word, Payno. Always.”

 

Liam sighs again and rubs distractedly at his temples in that way he does when Louis’ on the verge of giving him a stress headache.

 

“Right, so in that case you’ll have no problem telling me who our new major sponsor is, will you?”

 

Louis pauses, determined to prove Liam wrong, prove that he is capable of staying on top of everything. He knows it’s a drink of some kind. Not alcoholic, since the new advertising and sponsorship regulations came through, so…

 

“Pepsi?” He asks doubtfully.

 

“Tropicana, Louis. Tropicana,” Liam sighs in exasperation.

 

“Right, of course,” Louis replies easily, “Tropicana. Good juice that. Do you take your orange juice with or without juicy bits, Liam? Not a big fan of them myself. Like, sometimes you have to chew, you know? Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t think you should have to chew your juice. It’s not natural.”

 

Liam stares at Louis for a while before shaking his head and rubbing at his temples more insistently, “Alright then. Other than that, are you feeling prepared for the taping tomorrow?”

 

“Of course,” Louis replies brightly, “Should be a wicked show! Always is when Niall’s on, innit?”

 

“Fuck, you two are going to cause mayhem together, aren’t you?”

 

“Liam,” Louis gasps in mock offence, “How very dare you? Niall and I are the very definition of well-behaved and dignified. Qualities that only become more prominent when we’re in each other’s company. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

 

Liam doesn’t look particularly convinced by Louis’ proclamation. In fact, by the time Louis finally escapes Liam’s office, his producer is mumbling incoherently to himself about how he should have stayed on as EP for North West News.

 

Honestly, Liam can be such a drama queen sometimes. Nothing’s worth staying in local news for.

 

Louis’ just settling down on the sofa in his office, contemplating whether or not he has enough time to fit in a quick afternoon nap before he finalises his prep for the show tomorrow, when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket.

 

Louis freezes. He can feel his heart rate rising.

 

Cautiously, he pulls the phone out, and sighs in relief. It’s Harry. Just Harry.

 

Harry had left for a short album promo tour last Monday, and he’s been texting Louis sporadically from various cities across Europe ever since. It’s a good life for some.

 

Today’s mystery location appears to be Germany if the picture he’s just sent Louis of a huge frankfurter smothered in sauerkraut is any indication. Louis can just make out a giant stein of beer at the very edge of the shot.

 

Valiantly, Louis resists the urge to text back some quality material about Harry enjoying having a massive German sausage in his mouth.

 

To Harry: Bit early in the day to be guzzling down pints, Don’t ya think mate?

 

Harry’s reply is just as quick and indignant as Louis’ come to expect over the course of their recent correspondence.

 

From Harry: Hush you. I’ve been doing stupid interviews all morning. I’m allowed to unwind a little.

 

To Harry: Course you are. Pity everyone in Germany isn’t as good an interviewer as I ammm!!! Then you wouldn’t have to resort to day drinking =)

 

From Harry: Fuck. If I’d had to deal with interviews from 10 German versions of you I would have been knocking back the hard stuff since 9am

 

To Harry: RUUUUDDDDEEE

 

From Harry: TRUUUUUUEEEEE

 

From Harry: I better go though mate. I need to scarf down this food pretty quickly if I want to make it back to the hotel in time for my afternoon session.

 

To Harry: Alright then, I’ll leave you to it. When are you back in London Town?

 

From Harry: Sunday morning!!! We should get brunch or something. I know this place that does THE BEST hash browns you’ll ever have. Plus we still haven’t had that outside your flat hang out I promised you

 

Louis feels his heart clenching unexpectedly at that. It would be so easy for Harry to brush off the conversation they had the last time they hung out. So easy for Harry to just conveniently forget that he promised to do something with Louis in public.

 

As much as Louis hates to admit it, them publicly hanging out together will almost certainly have some real world repercussions. Attractive men who choose to be seen with Louis always lead to questions. It took several grainy photos of Niall with his tongue down Barbara’s throat before rumours about the two of them being secretly together stopped gaining traction. It’s completely unjustified, but it’s the nature of the beast.

 

Harry must be acutely aware of what he’s getting himself into here, what with being intimately familiar with the fickleness of the media himself, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering him at all. Louis’ a little bit in awe.

 

To Harry: Sounds like a plan! Have fun flitting around Europe in the mean time!!

 

From Harry: Will do! See you soon Lou xx.

 

With that, Louis puts his phone down, and resolves to do some actual work. He’s actually walking to his desk when his phone buzzes back to life.

 

It’s a call this time, and Louis feels his heart speed up once again.

 

It could be Harry, Louis lies to himself as he goes back to the sofa and checks the screen.

 

It’s Wes. Of course it is. He’s called every day this week. Louis has yet to answer.

 

He watches his phone ring until the call finally cuts out and waits for Wes to leave a (presumably irate) voicemail that Louis immediately deletes without listening to. Once that’s done, Louis goes to sit in his desk chair, this time bringing his mobile with him, waiting for the final part of this new little routine.

 

It takes longer than Louis’ grown accustomed to, almost twenty minutes, but eventually Louis’ phone buzzes again.

 

From Wes: LOUIS! STOP BEING SO BLOODY FUCKING STUBBORN I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!

 

The routine completed, Louis opens up his laptop and starts working in earnest. He’s startled out of it only a few minutes later when his phone lights up with another text. Well, that’s new.

 

From Wes: Honestly Louis, if you to keep ignoring me, I’m going to have to call your manager.

 

From Wes: I’m just trying to do the right thing here, I don’t know why you insist on making it so difficult.

 

So yeah, Louis may be really good at avoiding things when he puts his mind to it, but Wes is looking increasingly like something that refuses to be ignored.

 

 Fuck.

 

 

*****

 

 

On Friday night, Louis finds himself quite stratospherically drunk. Coincidently, he also finds himself with Niall’s arm wrapped around his shoulders. Funny how frequently those two things happen to coincide.

 

“Mate!” Niall yells directly into Louis’ ear, just managing to make himself heard over thumping music, “How wicked is this DJ?”

 

“So fucking wicked!” Louis yells back enthusiastically, loving the way he can feel the baseline with his whole body.

 

He’s feeling pleasantly floaty and removed form what’s going on around him, but the music beating alongside his heart is keeping him safely tethered to reality. Everything feels in perfect balance, it’s lovely.

 

“Hey, Lou! Thanks again for having me on the show today. I’m sure you know how nervous I am about going back on tour. Haven’t done proper straight up stand up in forever, and like, I’m excited, but also shitting myself a bit. Getting some exposure on a show as big as yours is going to help with ticket sales and stuff so much. So, yeah, thanks man. You’re a legend.”

 

Niall appears to be talking about actual real life stuff. Why would he do that? Now is definitely not the time for that kind of nonsense. Not when Louis’ feeling so perfectly floaty. Real life does not belong in this moment.

 

Louis tries to communicate this to Niall by grasping firmly at the younger man’s lips with his thumb and index finger, ensuring no more annoying real world words can escape.

 

“Shush,” Louis says determinedly, “No talking. Just dancing.”

 

Niall nods and gently prises Louis’ fingers away from his mouth.

 

“Ok.”

 

And dance they do, vigorously and with many people.

 

Throughout the course of the night Louis finds himself pressed up against so many bodies, moving along mindlessly to the music. There’s no intent there, Louis isn’t really in the mood for a quick hook up, but it’s fun and meaningless and lovely.

 

So predictably, that’s when he sees him.

 

Somehow, even though it’s dark and there are several metres of moving bodies between them, it’s still the eyes Louis notices first. Such an iridescent shade of blue, they glow in a very familiar way when one of the strobe lights catches them.

 

Wes. 

 

Louis stands frozen unable to tear his eyes away for a moment. He sees it the moment Wes notices him too, the flash of recognition. In the end, it’s that flash that forces him out of his stupor.

 

“Niall, I’m gonna go get some fresh air,” Louis mumbles into his best mate’s ear before blindly turning towards the exit.

 

The chill London night hits him like a slap in the face, instantly removing some of the fog from his mind. Louis finds himself fumbling in his pocket for his cigarettes, desperate for something calming and routine.

 

He’s struggling with his lighter when he feels a warm hand on his shoulder.

 

“Thought you said you were gonna quit.”

 

Wes’ voice is deep and achingly familiar. For some reason it sends a bit of a chill down Louis’ spine.

 

Louis finally wins the battle against his lighter and successfully ignites his cigarette, gratefully sucking in a lungful of nicotine before deigning to acknowledge Wes’ existence.

 

“Yeah, well that was a while ago,” Louis replies before turning to look Wes in the eyes, “We both said a lot of things.”

 

Wes does that annoying little thing he always does when he’s feeling nervous and trapped, biting down determinedly on the inside of his cheek. Suddenly, Louis vividly remembers what it had felt like to kiss Wes after a particularly gruelling round of promo, how the abused skin used to feel against his tongue, how sometimes he could still taste traces of blood.

 

Wes sighs, “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”

 

Louis nods in acknowledgement, “And I’ve been trying to avoid you.”

 

Wes snorts and then grimaces, “Yeah, I noticed.”

 

“Well you’ve got my attention now,” Louis says dropping his now finished cigarette on the ground and stamping out the butt, “What’s on your mind Wesley?”

 

Wes grimaces again. He always hated it when Louis called him by his full name, said Wesley was a name for a 50 year old librarian, definitely not the frontman of the world’s biggest boyband.

 

“Nope,” Wes says shaking his head, and raking his hand agitatedly through his, up until now, impeccably styled black hair, “We’re definitely not talking about this when we’re both under the influence. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your propensity to throw drunken hissy fits.”

 

Hissy fits? Honestly. Louis can actually feel his blood boiling. He’s determined not to let it show though, to prove the wanker wrong. “Propensity? Still pulling out that impressive vocab I see, Wesley.” He emphasises the name again, hoping to pull another irritated reaction out of the man.

 

He’s disappointed though, Wes instead smiling wolfishly, like he’s laughing at a joke Louis doesn’t understand, “I did always have a gift with words, didn’t I? Not in the same way you do obviously, Lewis,” He gives the name the exact same obnoxious emphasis Louis had used, “But certainly enough to get by.”

 

Louis can only stare back at him, he’s not sure if it’s the alcohol still swimming through his blood that’s making it feel like he’s missed something big here, or if Wes is being deliberately cryptic. Either way, it leaves Louis feeling thoroughly unsettled.

 

Wes must notice the confused look on Louis’ face, as his grin grows wider, “Don’t worry yourself thinking too hard about it, Lovely Louis,” his voice is all mocking tones, “You’ll just give yourself a headache. Besides, my people have already sent your people an email explaining everything, since you refused to speak to me. I expect you’ll be getting a call from your manager sometime in the morning.”

 

He starts walking back towards the club, leaving Louis to his confusion, but then pauses and turns back. The hard look slides briefly off his face, leaving something oddly vulnerable in it’s place, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

 

And then he really is gone, leaving Louis alone and perplexed in a dirty alleyway.

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis wakes up the next morning with a pounding headache and someone poking him insistently on the cheek.

 

“Tommo, make your phone stop buzzing. I’m trying to sleep.” Niall whines, accent thicker than Louis remembers hearing it in quite a while.

 

Louis groans, and cracks his eyes open, only to close them again when he’s assaulted with way too much light. It appears he forgot to close his bedroom curtains before stumbling into bed last night. Excellent.

 

“Louis, please,” Niall begs as the phone starts buzzing again, “I’ll give you my first born if you can make that phone shut up.”

 

Louis can’t help but smile at that, “Not sure if Babs is gonna be too into that idea, mate.”

 

“I promise to talk her into it when the time comes. As soon as I explain just how bad a hangover I had, she’ll understand. It’s for the greater good.”

 

Louis’ grin widens and he finally musters up the strength to open his eyes, answering the phone without checking caller ID.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Louis! I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for the last hour.”

 

It’s his manager. Not the last person he would have expected to be calling him on a Saturday morning, but certainly not the first either.

 

“Kara, love. What are you doing working on a weekend? Has something happened?”

 

Kara sighs, “You could say that. You see, I’ve received a very interesting email. It arrived quite late last night, I only got around to reading it this morning,” She sighs again, and Louis can almost hear her frown, “I don’t think we should discuss this over the phone, Louis. Would you be able to open up some time in your day for a meeting?”

 

Beneath the anxiety this whole conversation is producing, a memory is sparking in the back of Louis’ mind, one involving iridescently blue eyes and wolfish smiles. Vague proclamations followed by surprisingly sincere apologies. So that hadn’t been an alcohol induced dream. Damn.

 

“This wouldn’t have something to do with Wes Jones, would it?” Louis asks, already knowing the answer.

 

“It would,” Kara replies woodenly, “The email mentioned he’d been trying to get a hold of you?”

 

Louis ignores the question in her voice, “I can be at your office in an hour.”

 

Louis hangs up the phone, and collapses back onto the bed, wishing that he could just go back to sleep and ignore whatever it is that’s going on here.

 

“What was all that about?” Niall mumbles in the bed beside him. And fuck, Louis had forgotten his best mate was even there.

 

Louis groans and burrows further into the comfort of his pillow, “I have absolutely no idea.”

 

Niall yawns widely and stretches out his limbs, evidently trying to wake himself up a bit, “Sounded like something kinda important.”

 

Louis contemplates this proclamation for a moment. If Kara’s calling him in this urgently, it probably is quite important. She’s not normally the type to panic unnecessarily; it’s a major part of her appeal as a manager.

 

“I have to go meet my manager for an emergency meeting,” Louis confirms softly.

 

Niall nods, “Ok then. Do you have time for a shower? No offence, but you are not smelling your best right now, mate.”

 

Louis snorts and finds the tendrils of anxiety squirming in his chest easing slightly. He still feels very much like shit though.

 

It’s only 10am, and Louis is already kind of done with today.

 

 

*****

 

 

“That absolute fucker!” Louis doesn’t think he’s ever been this pissed off with Wes before, and that’s saying something considering the volatility with which their relationship eventually ended. “Is he for real with this bullshit, Kara? Tell me this is all some kind of elaborate joke.”

 

“It’s very real, Louis,” Kara replies, irritatingly composed in the face of Louis’ mini meltdown, “They sent the whole thing over as a PDF attachment, and they say they’re going to rush us a hard copy first thing Monday.”

 

“But how’s it even legal?” Louis asks, trying to ignore the monster hangover/stress headache currently making it feel like his eyes are about to pop out of his skull, “Like, I may have signed an NDA when we were together, but I certainly never signed anything saying he could… do this.”

 

Kara frowns, “I mean we’ll comb through the whole thing with a lawyer obviously, but in my experience, there’s not much to be done from a legal standpoint. Basically, as long as he’s told the truth, there’s no defamation of character. You’re already very publicly out, so I don’t think there’s any way we can sue for future loss of income either.”

 

“So what you’re saying,” Louis asks, feeling the last of the fight leave his body, a cold sense of defeat taking its place, “Is I just have to take it? Just sit there and watch as my dirty laundry is exposed to the entire fucking world?”

 

Kara sighs and puts a reassuring hand on Louis’ shoulder, “I promise you Louis, me and my team will do absolutely everything we can to make sure your image is not materially damaged in any way.”

 

Unsurprisingly, Louis does not find that particularly comforting, “Fuck. Why couldn’t he just come out in a normal way? Why has everything got to be such a fucking production? Why do I have to be involved at all?”

 

“His first solo album’s coming out in November,” Kara says conversationally.

 

And of course, it always comes down to fucking money, doesn’t it? Louis has never hated the promotional machine he's inexorably tied to more.

 

“So when’s this big tell-all coming out then?” Louis asks, “How much time do I have to prepare me mum and sisters for the fact everyone in the country’s gonna be discussing my sex life?”

 

“Next Sunday,” Kara replies calmly.

 

Just over a week. Excellent.

 

Louis closes his eyes and sighs, allowing an overwhelming sense of resignation to take over his whole body.

 

He’s kicking himself a little that he didn’t pick up the phone the first time Wes called. He wishes he had more time to prepare, wishes he could’ve had the satisfaction of watching Wes squirm uncomfortably as he explained what was going to happen in person.

 

Most of all, Louis wishes he never fell for a ridiculously attractive popstar.  He won't allow himself to be that stupid again.

Chapter Text

Louis can’t sleep.

 

He’s been trying to shut his mind off for hours, but his efforts so far have been in vain. The words he’d spent all afternoon and evening reading keep swirling in his mind, slowly raising his blood pressure and sending tiny sparks of rage throughout his entire body.

 

It’d been an interesting experience reading about the collapse of his relationship from Wes’ point of view. Interesting and infuriating.

 

Never before has Louis better understood that expression about there being three sides to every story: your side, their side and the truth. Louis knows that he’s probably quite biased about the whole thing, knows that his interpretation of events is almost certainly skewed, but he still thinks it’s closer to the truth than fucking Wes’.

 

Louis sighs and dramatically flips the bedcovers off his body. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be getting any sleep tonight.

 

He pads over to the living room and starts searching through his collection of DVDs, looking for anything to distract his mind from the self-destructive loop it’s on now.

 

His two go-tos for when he can’t sleep are Friends and Homeland. After a moment of deliberation, he goes for Homeland. He’s in the mood to watch people get betrayed by those they trust, and see a few buildings blow up. So sue him.

 

Louis’ not sure how many episodes he’s watched (or exactly when the sun came up and started flooding the room with light) by the time his phone starts ringing, but it’s probably quite a few. His first instinct is to wait for the mobile to ring out, to stay ensconced in his cocoon of isolation and gloom. But then he remembers exactly what happened the last time he ignored a call. 

 

Turns out occasionally, when people call, it’s because they have something important to say. Who would’ve thunk it?

 

“Hello?” Louis grumbles into the phone, voice as gritty and exhausted as the rest of him feels.

 

“Hello!” Harry’s irritatingly bright voice replies. “I’m sorry, did I wake you, mate?”

 

Louis can’t help the hollow little laugh that escapes him, “Difficult to wake someone up when they haven’t slept,” His voice comes out bitter and grumpy. Not for the first time, Louis wishes he were better at hiding his emotions.

 

“Oh,” much of the brightness has abandoned Harry now, Louis tries not to feel too guilty about that. “Do you want to cancel then?”

 

For the life of him, Louis has no clue what Harry’s talking about, “Cancel?”

 

“Brunch? We said we’d go out when I got back to London.”

 

They had said that, hadn’t they, only a few days ago too. Amazing. One little meeting with his manager and literally every other thing that isn’t to do with that stupid fucking book flies completely out of his mind.

 

“So, I’m guessing you’re back in London,” Louis states dispassionately, picking distractedly at a loose thread on his trackies.

 

“I am, yeah.”

 

Louis lets the that statement hang in the air, probably for an unreasonably long time if the way Harry starts awkwardly clearing his throat on the other end of the line is any indication.

 

“Right,” Louis says simply when he realises Harry isn’t going to be the one to break the silence, before going quiet again.

 

“Ok,” Harry says cautiously, “You’re really not sounding up to hanging out today. Raincheck?”

 

It’s a perfectly reasonable out. Louis is obviously in a foul mood; exhausted and generally mad at the world, he’d be awful company. He’s so tempted to just burrow back into his sofa, watch some more Homeland, and silently stew in his own misery.

 

Which is why it’s all the more surprising when he finds himself speaking without ever making the conscious decision to do so.

 

“Nah mate, we can still go out today if you’re keen. I should probably get out of the house anyway.”

 

“Alright, if you’re sure?” Harry questions doubtfully, “I’m still at the airport right now, but if you’d like a lift I could probably be at yours in half an hour or so?”

 

“That sounds fine, Harry,” Louis finds his traitorous mouth answering without his permission once again, “I’ll see you then.”

 

“Ok Lou, see you soon,” Harry replies, sounding only slightly less apprehensive.

 

“Bye Harry,” Louis mutters before promptly hanging up the phone.

 

So it would appear he’s going out to brunch. Fuck. The only explanation Louis has for how that particular conversation went down is that he must be even more exhausted than he thought he was. That or there’s just something particularly heartbreaking about Harry’s disappointed voice.

 

Either way, the why barely matters now. It’s happening, and Louis is going to have to face the world. He should probably make some effort not to look like a man in the midst of an emotional breakdown. Someone could get pictures.

 

With that in mind, Louis peels himself off the sofa and trudges despondently towards the shower.

 

 

*****

 

 

The café’s lovely. The vibe is a little more hipster-ish than Louis would typically go for, but the waiter assigned to their table is surprisingly friendly and the food, when it arrives, is every bit as delicious as Harry had promised.

 

Louis may actually let out a sigh of contentment when he takes the first bite of his hash brown.

 

“You like it then?” Harry asks knowingly, a smile on his face for the first time since he picked Louis up at his flat more than half an hour ago.

 

“S’alright I suppose,” Louis shrugs, shovelling another heaped forkful into his mouth and moaning exaggeratedly.

 

If Harry’s cheeks pink up a bit at that, Louis’ polite enough not to point it out.

 

“I always find,” Harry says quietly, “There’s nothing quite like some delicious food and a good cuppa to make your problems seem a little less overwhelming.”

 

Louis finally manages to swallow his massive mouthful of food and frowns, “Who said anything about problems?”

 

Harry shakes his head slowly, “I mean, nobody. I guess I just assumed something was going on, cause you seem very… not yourself? And like, you mentioned you haven’t been able to sleep. Sorry, I’ve overstepped, haven’t I?”

 

Louis sighs deeply, he’s been ridiculously pissy towards Harry all morning, and the poor guy really doesn’t deserve it. The thing is, sometimes Louis can’t help but let his attitude take over a bit, particularly when he’s feeling vulnerable. Add some serious sleep deprivation into the equation, and it’s no surprise he’s got every single one of his defences up.

 

His mum calls it his ‘self-preservation instinct’. Wes called it ‘being a fucking brat’.

 

And just like that, Louis feels the rage bubbling up again.

 

This is definitely not a good pattern to be getting into. It’s going to be really inconvenient if Louis becomes incapable of holding himself together every time he so much as thinks about Wes. Particularly when the guy’s set to be very big news.

 

This time, Louis takes a deep steadying breath and actively tries to calm himself down.

 

Most of the time, Louis finds he needs to make a concerted effort not to lash out at whoever’s unlucky enough to be around him when he’s feeling like this. Oddly enough though, just one look at Harry’s wide-eyed, earnestly concerned face is all it takes for Louis to feel the knot in his stomach loosening significantly.

 

“You’re not overstepping Harry, you’re just being a good mate,” Louis reassures the younger man. “I’m sorry I’m such a twat.”

 

“S’alright,” Harry mumbles, “We’re all entitled to a few twatish moments, aren’t we?”

 

“Oi!” Louis protests, reaching out to slap Harry playfully on the shoulder. “That’s the part where you’re supposed to say ‘Of course you’re not being a twat, Louis. What on earth could possibly make you say such a categorically untrue thing?’”

 

Harry grins back at him, “Sorry mate, I’ll keep that in mind next time.”

 

“As well you should,” Louis huffs back indignantly.

 

They lapse in to a surprisingly comfortable silence after that, both enjoying their respective meals. Louis’ just gulping down the last restorative dregs of his tea, when Harry clears his throat quite deliberately.

 

“Listen, Lou,” he begins carefully, “feel free to tell me to fuck off obviously. But like, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?” He clears his throat again before ploughing on. “It’s just, you’ve been so good with helping me figure out all my bullshit, yeah? If I can return the favour at all, that’s kinda what mates are for.”

 

Harry looks so sincere in his concern, it makes Louis’ heart stutter the tiniest bit.

 

Ironically enough, the first thing Louis thinks of is that fucking NDA he signed all those years ago. How lovely it would be to tell Harry everything if he weren’t contractually bound not to.

 

Then he remembers. Louis’ no contract lawyer, but he’s quite sure Wes choosing to publish a 500-page autobiography, seven chapters of which deal almost exclusively with the various ins and outs of their relationship, pretty much voids any gag order Louis was ever under. Everyone will know everything this time next week anyway. Why shouldn’t Louis be allowed to vent a little?

 

Even so, Louis glances subtly around the café to make sure nobody else is listening in. Fortunately, they’ve been seated in quite a secluded corner, and nobody seems to be paying them much attention at all.

 

“I’m not really sure where to start?” Louis says hesitantly. “I guess… have you heard of Misspent Youth?”

 

Harry’s forehead crinkles up adorably in confusion, “As in the boyband?”

 

Louis nods quickly.

 

“Louis, you do realise I’ve worked in the music industry for the last ten years, right?” Harry’s looking a little indignant now. “Misspent Youth were one of the biggest things happening in the music world for, like, five? Six years? I mean, they may not have been my cup of tea exactly, but you’d have to be living under a rock to miss them. Didn’t they break up last year?”

 

Louis nods again, “Yeah, they did,” Louis pauses and collects himself a little. “I don’t suppose you’ve met any of them?”

 

Harry tilts his head in thought, “You know what? I think I have. Pretty sure I ran into the redheaded one in the VIP section of a club one time. Luke, right? Must’ve chatted to him for a solid twenty minutes at least, seemed like a nice enough bloke.”

 

Louis takes a deep steadying breath, “What about Wes Jones?”

 

“Wes?” Harry asks, seemingly a little taken aback by the direction this conversation’s going in, “He’s the main one, right? With the eyes, and the hair that goes all…?” Harry does a dramatic swooping gesture with his hands to illustrate his point.

 

“Yeah,” Louis confirms, “that’ll be the one.”

 

“I mean,” Harry’s forehead starts to crinkle again, “I’ve seen him around obviously. Like, we go to a lot of the same awards shows and stuff. Don’t think I’ve ever really spoken to him before. Why do you ask?”

 

“Because Wes is my ex-boyfriend,” Louis tries to say it as nonchalantly as possible, but he’s not sure how successful he is.

 

The thing is, it’s a phrase he’s never had to say out-loud before. There were only about ten people who knew about Louis and Wes back when they were still a thing, all of whom were informed personally as soon as the relationship disintegrated. Louis’ never had to explain this to anyone before, it’s a little bit disconcerting.

 

Harry looks a bit disconcerted too, “Wes Jones from Misspent Youth is your ex-boyfriend?”

 

Louis shrugs, still trying to pull off nonplussed, “Yeah. I mean we broke up a couple of years ago, but yeah… we were together.”

 

Something about Louis’ proclamation seems to register with Harry and his frown deepens, “A couple of years ago… Wait! He was the ex that called the other week, wasn’t he? When we were hanging out at your place, the one who you hadn’t spoken to for ages?”

 

Louis grits his teeth at the memory. That night had been the first time he’d ignored one of Wes’ calls. The very first act that set him on the path to being blindsided in his manager’s office yesterday. He briefly wonders how much more prepared he’d be feeling right now for all that lay ahead if only he’d answered that very first call.

 

He quickly dismisses the thought. It’s pointless to think about now, decisions have already been made and for better or worse, it is what it is.

 

“That’s the one,” Louis replies, trying to make his jaw relax again.

 

“And he’s also the one that’s making you so…?” Harry pulls an exaggerated growly face. He looks like an angry kitten, it’s only the tiniest bit adorable.

 

Louis finds his jaw loosening in response, a small smile finding its way onto his face, “I guess so.”

 

“Does he…? Is he trying to, like…?” Harry sighs and shakes his head seemingly in frustration at himself. “What does he want?”

 

“Well,” Louis starts, “he wants to come out.”

 

Harry’s face scrunches up in confusion, “Isn’t that a good thing? Like, that’s kind of awesome that he wants to be true to himself like that, don’t you think? Brave.”

 

Selfishly enough, that’s the first time Louis’ really thought about what Wes is actually doing in that context. He’s been so caught up in how all of this impacts him personally, how his life is going to be directly effected, that he hasn’t really thought about what this all actually means.

 

Even if Misspent Youth has broken up, Wes is still pretty popular in his own right. He’s taking a risk with all this. Giving queer kids someone to look up to. Making things easier for the next big celebrity who decides it might be time to come out of the closet. Making things easier for Harry, potentially. Louis kind of can’t believe how short sighted he’s been.

 

“Brave,” Louis repeats quietly to himself, feeling how the word tastes on his tongue.

 

“So he was calling to, what? Warn you?” Harry asks, evidently still confused. “Does he want to talk about your relationship publicly? Surely he’s not going to mention you in interviews if you really don’t want him to.”

 

Without his permission, the anger bubbles up in Louis again. Because that’s the thing isn’t it? He doesn’t have a choice. Whether he likes it or not, his private life is about to be everywhere.

 

Regardless of how much good Wes’ decision to come out could do, the way he’s doing it. The way he’s taken any element of choice away from Louis. It just doesn’t sit right with him. He can’t accept it.

 

He’s not entirely sure what that says about him as a person.

 

“Oh no, you’ve gone all frowny again,” Harry comments, worry evident in his voice. “Have I said something wrong?”

 

“No…” Louis says carefully, “It’s just… Like, you’re right. About him being brave and all. I guess. But still, I just can’t…”

 

Louis huffs in frustration, and continues, “He’s releasing a tell all, and like, I’m a pretty big part of it. Seven chapters worth if you want to be specific about it. Seven fucking chapters, all about me, about us, about what we were like together, about how we broke up.” Louis can feel tears prickling in the corners of his eyes, but he holds them back. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if he started crying over breakfast.

 

“Intellectually I know that what he’s doing is probably for the greater good,” Louis continues once he feels like he’s no longer at risk at breaking down in front of a café full of strangers, “That he’s probably going to end up helping a lot of people. But still, I’m just… so fucking mad at him.”

 

Harry’s eyes have widened dramatically. It seems to be taking him a while to process everything that Louis’ just said if the silence that follows is any indication.

 

Louis squirms a little in his seat, he’s never been particularly good at dealing with prolonged periods of silence.

 

Eventually, Harry puts him out of his misery, “That’s um… wow.”

 

Ok, so Harry doesn’t put him out of his misery in a particularly articulate way. Still, it’s better than nothing. Probably.

 

“Wow’s one word for it,” Louis agrees, listlessly pushing the last of his breakfast around on his plate.

 

Harry seems to shake himself a little, “Sorry, sorry! I just… fuck. That’s like, a lot, you know?”

 

Louis can’t help but smirk the tiniest bit at Harry’s obviously flustered state, “It is quite a lot, innit?”

 

“Fuck, sorry. You’ve always been so good with helping me out with my shit. And now it’s my turn to step up to the plate, and I’m just fucking it up royally.”

 

Louis shrugs, “I don’t think you’re fucking anything up, Haz. It’s a complicated situation.”

 

Harry doesn’t seem satisfied with that dismissal. His face becomes set with a new sense of determination, like he refuses to be anything other than entirely helpful, “When’s it coming out then? The book I mean.”

 

“Week from today,” Louis answers promptly.

 

“That’s so soon! When did you find out?”

 

Louis grimaces, “Yesterday morning. He sent an email to my manager.”

 

“That fucker,” Harry exclaims passionately.

 

“To be fair, he had been trying to get a hold of me for a while before that,” Louis reasons. “I was just too fucking stubborn to pick up the phone.”

 

Harry shakes his head vehemently, “Not an excuse. He should have spoken to you way sooner, should have tried harder to get a hold of you. If he’s going to be making money off your name, the very least he can do is make sure you fucking know about it.”

 

Louis shrugs, it’s all irrelevant now anyway.

 

“Have you read it?” Harry asks hesitantly.

 

“Yeah,” Louis answers with a slight crack in his voice. “Well, only the chapters about me, about us,” he amends, “but, yeah. Spent most of yesterday reading everything. Think that’s probably why I couldn’t sleep.”

 

“Was it…?” Harry hesitates for a moment, “Was it bad? What he wrote? I think you mentioned the first time he called that the break up had been quite… messy.”

 

Louis considers this for a moment, “I mean what he wrote certainly didn’t put me in the best light, but it wasn’t like, awful or anything. It’s just… personal you know? Like, he talks about what I was like in bed with him, and like, what we used to fight about, and the nicknames we used to call each other. Just all this stuff that I always assumed would stay between us, and soon everyone’s going to know, and I don’t really know how to deal with that.”

 

Harry reaches across the table to grab at Louis’ hands, big thumbs rubbing soothing circles over the bones of Louis’ wrists.

 

“I’m sorry, Lou,” he says so earnestly Louis begins to feel like he may actually cry.

 

“That’s not even the worst part though,” Louis finds himself whispering.

 

“What’s the worst part?” Harry asks with trepidation.

 

“The worst part is that when Wes and I were together, the fact that I was… who I am, like, a bit well-known and publicly gay and all that, was seen as this big terrible thing. It made it really difficult for us to hang out in public together, cause the rags might write something. Made it difficult to do anything like a normal couple really.

 

“Wes used to get so stressed out worrying about the press speculation, and it made me feel fucking awful. I felt like I was putting him in this really awkward position just by being who I was, like I’d somehow inconvenienced him by being the person he fell in love with. It was all really fucked up, basically. It put a massive strain on our relationship, it was probably the main reason we broke up.”

 

Louis takes a deep breath and tries to repress the anger fizzing through his body once again, “But now… Now, the prick is using it all to sell his stupid fucking book. He’s using the fact that people know who I am and the fact that I’m publicly out to sell his shitty autobiography. To make money and get publicity.”

 

Louis looks down at where Harry’s still holding his hands, unable to look him in the eyes any longer. “It makes me feel used,” Louis whispers eventually, “makes me feel taken advantage of, and angry. I fucking hate it.”

 

Once he’s finally gotten it all out, Louis looks up at Harry again, only to find a very odd expression on the younger man’s face. If he had to put a name to it, he’d say Harry looked guilty, but that makes absolutely no sense. They haven’t known each other that long, Louis’ probably misreading things.

 

Eventually Harry’s face evens out into a more neutral expression, and Louis dismisses the thought.

 

“What can I do? How can I help?” Harry asks sincerely.

 

“You’re doing it,” Louis replies honestly, “Just having someone to talk to is… amazing really. Thank you.”

 

That strange guilty look comes back onto Harry’s face, “Please don’t thank me,” he says bashfully.

 

A slightly awkward silence follows, and Louis feels entirely too tired to do anything to break the sudden tension in the air.

 

Harry clears his throat suddenly, “You’re probably exhausted, d’you want me to take you back home?”

 

“Yes please.” Louis says easily. Now that he’s talked things out, Louis’ feeling infinitely more prepared to actually get some sleep. His bed is calling out to him.

 

The drive back to Chelsea is mostly silent, both men seemingly caught up in their own thoughts. Harry gives Louis a slightly awkward hug goodbye over the gearshift after they pull up to Louis’ flat, but it’s comforting nonetheless.

 

As Louis swipes the security card for his building, he sees the glint of something that looks suspiciously like a camera out of the corner of his eye. He dismisses it as a sleep deprivation induced hallucination.

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis doesn’t wake up again until mid-morning the next day.

 

Feeling a little bleary and disorientated, he reaches blindly for his phone.

 

The first thing he notices is the time: 10:37am. The second is a text from Liam asking why he didn’t turn up to this morning’s production meeting. The third is that he’s received two text messages from Wes.

 

Louis feels his stomach roil a bit at the sight.

 

From Wes: I see your type hasn’t changed. Still like ‘em famous and publicly straight.

 

From Wes: You look good together. Hope you’re happy and this book thing doesn’t cause you guys too much trouble.

 

Louis stares at the messages for a long time in total confusion. Eventually he relents and decides to text Wes back.

 

To Wes: What the actual fuck are you talking about Wesley?

 

The reply is almost immediate.

 

From Wes: You haven’t seen the entertainment section of the Mail then.

 

Against his better judgement, Louis goes in search of his laptop and brings up the Daily Mail’s website.

 

There are pictures of him and Harry from yesterday, twelve of them to be exact. Most taken in the café, two of them holding hands over the top of table, three of Harry dropping Louis off at his flat, one of them hugging in Harry’s car. It all looks quite intimate. Louis feels a headache coming on.

 

Louis finds himself texting Wes back.

 

To Wes: Me and Harry are just friends.

 

From Wes: Fuck off, Lou. I know exactly what it means when you look at someone like that. Seen it once or twice before, haven’t I? Promise not to say anything on my promo tour.

 

Louis’ not sure who he wants to strangle more: Wes, or the lovely writers at the Daily Mail. He is however, quite certain that this is only the beginning of what's sure to be an especially shitty week.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, Louis’ week does not disappoint on the shittiness front.

 

He spends a good chunk of Monday grovelling at Liam’s feet as penance for missing the morning production meeting. It’s not enjoyable. Louis is not a good groveler. It doesn’t suit him.

 

Still by the end of it, Liam looks less like a disapproving boss and more like his usual cheerful, puppyish self, so it’s all worth it. Louis may think it his personal mission to give Liam a veritable mountain of shit on an almost daily basis, but he does love the bloke. He definitely doesn’t enjoy his producer being genuinely upset with him.

 

Liam would have almost certainly forgiven him in a second if knew everything that was going on in Louis’ personal life, but an email from Louis’ manager sent just before Louis finally left for work nixed that idea pretty quickly. Apparently, Louis isn’t supposed to tell anyone (‘especially those with whom he has professional ties’, underlined and bolded in Kara’s email) about Wes’ upcoming venture into the non-fiction literary world. At least not until they discuss everything with his lawyer and a specially hired image consultant tomorrow. 

 

The upshot of it all is that Louis ends up staying at the office significantly later than he normally would, catching up on everything he missed at the production meeting. Finally at 8pm, Louis thinks he’s sufficiently up to speed. Hopefully he won’t have to come into work at all tomorrow. He has no idea how long his meeting with Kara is going to go, but he’s not feeling optimistic, it’s quite possible his entire day is going to be wiped out. The tight anxious feeling in Louis’ chest that’s been plaguing him for days increases substantially at the thought.

 

Fuck. He hasn’t felt this out of control of his own life for a very long time.

 

Louis absentmindedly closes his laptop and picks up his phone. He’s had the thing on silent all evening so he could power through his work distraction-free. Definitely not because he’s avoiding his life, that would be ridiculous. Obviously.

 

As has been the case every time Louis’ left his phone unattended for an extended period of time over the past few days, an overwhelming number of notifications seem to have accumulated on Louis’ screen. He goes through them all methodically, passively absorbing the information before him and doing his upmost to stop the ball of anxiety in his chest getting any larger.

 

There’s a couple of emails from Kara with more details about the meeting tomorrow; an invitation to a gala from one of his patronage charities; a slew of texts from Niall demanding to know where Louis’ disappeared to over the past few days; a couple of slightly more concerned texts from his mother wondering the very same thing; and finally several texts and a missed call from Harry.

 

It’s all way too much to deal with without some kind of alcoholic beverage in his hand.  With this in mind, Louis slips his phone into his jacket pocket and heads home.

 

 

*****

 

 

Two and a half hours later, Louis’ three quarters of the way through a very nice bottle of pinot noir and trying desperately to finish up a very awkward phone call with his mother.

 

“Listen Mum, I really don’t know what else to tell you,” Louis sighs, his patience wearing very thin. “It’s not awful. It’s not like he’s badmouthing me, or anything. I mean, he’s not kind necessarily, but he’s not unfair either. It’s just… personal. That’s what’s upsetting me. I just wish my private business wasn’t about to be all over the place.”

 

“And you’re sure there’s no way to stop it?” Jay asks for about the fifth time that hour.

 

Louis squeezes the bridge of his nose in frustration, “Yes Mum, I’m sure.”

 

“Just double check with the lawyers when you see them tomorrow, ok love. For my sake.”

 

“Mum…” Louis groans.

 

“Louis,” Jay replies in her most commanding tone, “Please. It’ll only take a second and it’ll make me feel so much better.”

 

Louis sighs again, this time in resignation, “Fine, I’ll ask. But it won’t make any difference.”

 

“Probably not,” Jay admits, “but it never hurts to ask.”

 

They fall into a contemplative silence after that. It’s just long enough that Louis manages to convince himself his mother’s finally run out of things to say, when, “And you’re absolutely sure he doesn’t talk about your brother and sisters?”

 

Louis barely manages to supress another groan, “Just that they exist, that I’m the oldest of seven. Nothing that can’t already be found on my Wikipedia page, I promise.”

 

This time it’s Jay that sighs, “Well that’s something, I suppose.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t just want me to email you a digital copy? Give you a chance to read it yourself before it’s released?”

 

“Louis,” Jay says quite sharply, “You just told me that the contents of the book included things that you didn’t wish to be made public, things that you were uncomfortable with people knowing. What on earth makes you think that I, as your mother, would be at all willing to invade your privacy any further by reading it?”

 

Quite suddenly, Louis feels tears prickling at the corners of his eyes, “You’re a really good mum, you know that right?”

 

“I should hope so,” Jay scoffs. “Got a solid twenty-eight years experience under my belt, haven’t I? Just imagine how amazing I’ll be by the time Dori and Ernie are your age?”

 

Louis cracks his first smile in what feels like a very long time, “I really love you.”

 

“I really love you too,” Jay answers easily, “Now try and get a good night’s sleep, ok love? You sound dead on your feet. I’ll handle everything with your sisters, and I’ll do my best to convince them to leave you alone for a few days.”

 

As soon as Louis finally gets off the phone, he almost instantly feels like some of the weight that’s been hanging over his head for the last few days has alleviated. It feels so good to have an ally in all this. Mums are the best.

 

That’s almost everything dealt with then. He’s already emailed back Kara, fobbed off the charity gala for now and promised to catch up with Niall in the imminent future. The only thing left is… Harry.

 

Louis stares at his phone for a while. He hasn’t even read Harry’s texts yet, but he’s already expecting the worst. He knows Harry’s calling about this morning’s Daily Mail article, knows that he’s about to be politely told they probably shouldn’t hang out with each other any more. It makes sense, this morning’s article had already prompted quite a bit of speculation, who knows how bad things will get once Wes’ book comes out.

 

Harry can’t be blamed for wanting to extricate himself before things get complicated. Their friendship is just too new, too fragile, almost certainly not strong enough to withstand a personal crisis and an inevitable media storm.

 

It’s a pity; Harry had been so lovely on Sunday, such a good listener, a calming force. They haven’t known each other that long obviously, and Harry’s been in and out of the country quite a bit since they started hanging out, but even so. Louis’ enjoyed spending time with the younger man. He’s going to miss him.

 

Harry’s first text is almost entirely what Louis expected.

 

From Harry: Hey Lou, have you seen The Mail yet?

 

From there, things take a bit of a turn though.

 

From Harry: Hope you’re not too upset about it mate. I know shitty articles are probably the last thing you need in your life right now.

 

From Harry: Just tried to call. Give me a buzz when you get the chance, yeah?

 

From Harry: Gonna take the radio silence as a sign you don’t want to talk to me right now. Just wanted to apologise for everything. Hope you’re good. Give me a call whenever. No pressure.

 

Louis stares at his phone, confused. Why on earth is Harry apologising? Like, alright, the paps probably wouldn’t have been there if not for Harry’s megastar status, and the pictures definitely wouldn’t have garnered headlines on the Daily Mail’s website if Louis had been hanging out with one of his other mates.

 

A couple of rumours and a healthy dose of rampant speculation isn’t really going to effect Louis’ life in any material way though, particularly considering what’s coming. Yes, it’s annoying, but not damaging. Harry’s the only one who actually has anything to lose here.

 

If Harry wants to stay in the closet, being seen publicly hanging out with a bloke, who this time next week will have an established track record for fucking hot, male popstars, probably isn’t the way to go about it.

 

But then again, Harry doesn’t really want to stay in the closet, does he? That’s how this all started.

 

Louis doesn’t let that thought develop any further. Instead he just shakes his head and starts a new text.

 

To Harry: Sorry for not getting back to you sooner mate! Got swamped at work. Saw the daily fail and as long as you’re cool with it I am too. Definitely not upset and you have nothing to apologise for.

 

The reply comes back surprisingly quickly.

 

From Harry: Still sorry. It’s the last thing you need to worry about right now. You’ve got more than enough on your plate.

 

Louis can’t help but let out a sigh before sending Harry another text.

 

To Harry: It is what it is. In the grand scheme of things one article about two mates hanging out isn’t the end of the world. Worse coming innit?

 

From Harry: I guess…

 

To Harry: Enough about me. Hope your people didn’t freak out too much.

 

From Harry: Nah. Another day, another article. Really not a big deal.

 

From Harry: Would you want to catch up again some time soon? I’ll buy you a drink to properly apologise for the article you don’t think I should be apologising for.

 

To Harry: Well I never say no to a free drink. Things are gonna be hectic right up until the show recording this Friday though. Should be free after that? Or Saturday?

 

From Harry: Heading to LA for a few days Saturday morning so Friday it is! Lock it in. Sort out details later?

 

To Harry: Of course man! See you then you jetsetter you.

 

From Harry: Done. Also, just curious, did your mum never teach you about stranger danger? The world’s a dangerous place, maybe say no to a free drink every once in a while.

 

To Harry: Don’t tell me how to live my life, Harold. See you Friday!!

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis goes into the meeting with his manager the next morning feeling well rested, oddly optimistic and ready to face everything thrown his way.

 

It takes approximately an hour and a half for every trace of that feeling to drain away.

 

He can’t really pinpoint the exact moment the meeting disintegrates into a total shitshow, but he suspects it’s probably around the time the image consultant Kara hired, Peter, starts talking about contrasting popularity demographics.

 

Louis’ never been particularly good at following conversations about demographics, certainly every time Liam starts blathering on about them he seems to find himself zoning out for minutes at a time. This time though, he makes a concerted effort to take everything in.

 

The main point the consultant appears to be trying to convey is this: Louis and Wes’ core fan bases have virtually no overlap. Louis’ fans primarily lie in the 25-45 range, relatively good gender balance with maybe a slight male skew. Wes’ fans by contrast are almost entirely female and most are between 14-24 years old. Both bases are apparently extremely active online and follow current events closely.

 

“Which isn’t ideal obviously,” Peter concludes.

 

Louis looks around the room, feeling very much like he’s missed a crucial step there. Beside him, Kara and the lawyer are nodding gravely in agreement.

 

“Sorry,” Louis interrupts, “Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but why exactly is any of that a bad thing?”

 

“It’s not bad exactly,” Peter explains slowly, like he’s talking to a particularly stupid child, “Just… unpredictable. On the one hand, this could be really good for you. It’s certainly going to expose you to a totally new audience, you might just be able to pick up a few new fans.”

 

“And on the other hand?” Louis prompts warily.

 

“On the other hand,” Peter continues, “When you’re dealing with two groups of people, active on social media, with very little overlap, sometimes a sense of… animosity can develop. Things can get quite ugly. Cyber-bullying, account hacking, name-calling, that kind of thing.”

 

“Christ,” Louis sighs, dropping his head into his hands dejectedly.

 

“That’s just a worse case scenario, obviously. Celebrity breakups are tricky though, people tend to take them personally, makes them want to take a side. Team Angelina vs. Team Jennifer, that kind of thing.”

 

“People are going to realise this particular breakup took place over two years ago though, right?” Louis says in confusion, “Why on earth should they care now about something they didn’t even know was happening? That makes no sense.”

 

“They might not care,” Peter answers. “That’s what I meant when I said the situation was unpredictable. There are countless ways this thing could play out. All we can do is try and steer it in a direction that isn’t damaging to your public image and long-term career prospects.”

 

“So how do we do that?” Louis asks, exhaustion finally seeping into every one of his bones.

 

“I’m glad you asked,” the consultant says with a smile, “Here’s my proposed plan of attack…”

 

Some time later, everything’s been explained in some detail, but Louis’ feeling only marginally less confused.

 

The main thing he gets out of it all, is that the book can’t be left publicly ignored on his end. He needs to make a statement, on his show if the production team will allow it, and he needs to keep everything light. It’s his job to calm fans on both sides of the fence. He needs to show his fans he’s not irreparably hurt by the book so there’s no need to get up in arms and defend him, and he needs to show Wes’ fans that he’s a decent, likeable guy they have no cause to hate.

 

Honestly, that seems like a lot to achieve in just one little monologue. And that’s assuming Liam will even allow Louis to talk about what’s essentially a personal matter on the show.

 

Louis wishes he were home with a glass of wine right now. Maybe this newfound reliance on alcohol to get through the day is something he should look into? Or maybe that’s a problem for another day.

 

“So we’d prefer it if you addressed everything on this week’s show,” Kara says softly, once Peter’s finally finished talking, “that way your statement will be out the same day the book is. Wes’ll get the chance to say his piece on all the morning shows, and you’ll get your say in the evening. Hopefully by the time articles start popping up on Monday morning, public opinion will be pretty evenly balanced. You really don’t want to be painted as the villain here, Lou.”

 

And Louis supposes Kara’s right. Having an army of young fans determined to hate him for breaking their beloved popstar’s heart doesn’t really sound like much fun. He needs to tread carefully here, ingratiate himself to the masses if at all possible. And not just for the sake of improving his audience share, this is as much self-preservation as it is business.

 

“The fact the show’s taped on a Friday poses a few problems,” the lawyer, Alexis, picks up where Kara left off. “The specifics of your NDA agreement stipulate that you’re only able to disclose information concerning your relationship with Mr. Jones at such a time as it becomes common public knowledge. That means you’re totally in the clear from Sunday onwards, but you’re not going to be able to address this in front of an audience before then. You certainly don’t want to get sued just because a couple of over-exuberant audience members decide to leak a story to the press before you’re legally entitled to discuss it.”

 

“I’m sure you and your producer will be able to work something out,” Kara says dismissively, “If I remember correctly, he’s quite fond of you, I’m sure he’ll be amenable to our suggestions. We’ll send him an email with details about how to handle the situation once you’ve gotten a chance to talk to him.”

 

“So I’m allowed to talk to him now?” Louis asks, latching on to one of the few solid things he actually managed to grasp from this incredibly overwhelming flow of information, “Liam, I mean, my producer?”

 

“Absolutely,” Peter replies, “We’re going to need his help. You should explain the situation to him as soon as possible.”

 

“Well I think that’ll do us for now, as long as everyone’s clear on what they have to do from here.” Kara says, slapping her hands on the desk with a sense of finality. “Does anyone have any concluding remarks? Questions?”

 

Apparently nobody does, because before Louis knows it, he’s outside breathing in the surprisingly brisk London air. It’s not until he finds himself behind the wheel of his car, driving home after another exhausting day, that he realises he never got around to asking his mother’s question about whether or not the book could be stopped.

 

Oh well. It was a question he already knew the answer to. Nothing can stop that book from coming out now, and Louis’ entire life is rolling steadily out of control because of it.

 

 

*****

 

 

They end up taping the monologue after the main show, once the audience has cleared out and everything feels eerily quiet.

 

It’s odd, delivering the words to an empty soundstage with only Peter the image consultant, a couple of cameramen and an unreasonably anxious Liam watching on.

 

Liam had been incredibly accommodating to all of Louis and Kara’s requests, because of course he had. He may be overly concerned with demographic shares and viewership numbers, may insist Louis is the single most annoying person he’s ever had the misfortune of meeting, but Louis knows just how much Liam cares about him. If he hadn’t known it before, the look of anger and indignation on Liam’s face when Louis had explained everything that was going on would’ve confirmed it once and for all.

 

They end up having to tape the whole thing through five times, more takes than Louis has ever had to do for one of his monologue’s before. He can’t even blame it on an ill-timed audience sneeze, all the problems are 100% on Louis’ head.

 

To be fair, the main obstacle is actually Peter and his insistence that the ‘tone’ of this thing has to be perfect. The first take is apparently too serious, the second too jovial, verging on mocking. In the third, Louis supposedly displays ‘an air of superiority, that will do absolutely nothing to ingratiate you to either Wes’ fans or the media at large’. The fourth take goes quite well until Louis stutters over one of his lines and loses focus. Thankfully, take five is deemed acceptable, and Louis is finally free to go.

 

No sooner is he unhooked from his mic pack, than he’s tackled by an over-exuberant Niall. Louis hadn’t even known his best friend was here, though he probably shouldn’t be surprised. Niall’s been especially clingy and supportive since Louis filled him in on the situation two days ago. He's even gone so far as to help Louis write this monologue that’s either going to make or break his career.

 

It’s possible Louis’ being a tiny bit dramatic.

 

“That was good, mate,” Niall enthuses immediately. “Funny and self-deprecating without a hint of bitter and twisted. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were well likeable.”

 

“I think there was a compliment in there somewhere,” Louis huffs, trying to disentangle himself from the blond Irishman.

 

Niall’s grip only seems to tighten in response, “Why’d you take out that joke about President Clinton? I quite liked that one.”

 

Louis shrugs, “Demographics thing. Apparently Wes’ fans are too young to get the reference, most of them weren’t even alive in the 90’s.”

 

“Fuck…” Niall sighs, “Well now I just feel really old. Let’s go drink our sorrows away, yeah? Kill some serious brain cells.”

 

“Can’t,” Louis says finally managing to free himself from Niall’s arms, “Already got plans to catch up with Harry at some fancy private club in Mayfair.”

 

“Harry as in Harry Styles?” Niall asks, his face scrunching up slightly in distaste.

 

“That’s the one,” Louis replies, refusing to think about what Niall’s expression could possibly mean.

 

“Is there… There’s not… What’s going on with all that exactly? S’just there were some very interesting pictures in The Mail over the weekend.”

 

Louis’ eyes widen slightly and he stares at Niall incredulously, “Would’ve thought you of all people would know not to believe everything you read, Nialler. Harry’s just a mate. I’d tell you if there was something more going on.”

 

Niall smiles brightly, “In that case, why don’t I tag along with your little matey hang out? I’d quite like to meet this Harry of yours.”

 

“He’s not mine,” Louis mumbles rebelliously, but Niall’s already gone.

 

“Oi, Payno!” Niall yells, pulling Liam in by the waist and roping him into the conversation, “Lou and I are off to rub noses with the rich and famous at a fancy club in Mayfair, want to tag along?”

 

“Is it Funky Buddha?” Liam asks with a surprising amount of enthusiasm, “That one’s my favourite. Such a good vibe, and the tunes are always banging.”

 

“Liam…” Louis questions disbelievingly, “Are you a secret party animal?”

 

Liam shrugs a bit bashfully.

 

Niall and Louis share a long pointed look before Niall apparently shakes himself out of it, “Ok, so I’m gonna take that as a yes from Payno. What time are we supposed to be there?”

 

 

*****

 

 

The thing is, by most normal standards, Louis has a pretty fucking cool job. It certainly never fails to impress when he gets the chance to hang out with his old mates back in Doncaster, and it was quite the conversation starter when he went to his eldest sister’s housewarming in Manchester last year.

 

Right now though, Louis feels quite out of his depth.

 

When he’d texted Harry warning him that he had a couple of mates tagging along, and Harry should feel free to invite some friends of his own, he hadn’t expected it to end up like this. Turns out Harry’s friends are a veritable who’s who of London, the kind of people Louis’ more accustomed to talking to with about six cameras and a studio audience present.

 

He’s currently sandwiched between Nick Grimshaw from Radio One and international supermodel Cara Delevigne whilst they discuss the virtues of various dog breeds. Because that's his life now apparently.

 

“See what I really want is a Dalmatian,” Cara enthuses, “it’s been the dream ever since I saw 101 Dalmatians as a kid.”

 

“Bad idea, love,” Nick replies seriously. “I get that they’re gorgeous, but most of them are neurotic as fuck. Difficult to train too, a lot of hard work.”

 

“Gorgeous and neurotic,” Cara repeats with a smile, “No wonder I feel such an affinity. It’ll be like going to London Fashion Week every single day.”

 

Louis tunes out the conversation slightly and spares a moment to just take everything in. Across the VIP section he spots Liam chatting very exuberantly to Harry’s unreasonably attractive manager, Zayn. And a few metres away there’s Niall, cuddling up to some redheaded bloke– Fuck, is that Ed Sheeran?

 

No sign of Harry though, which is a bit of a pity if Louis’ being completely honest. The entire point of coming out tonight had been to hang out with Harry after all. Still, anything’s better than another night mulling things over in his flat.

 

“What do you think, Tomlinson?” Nick’s voice cuts into Louis’ thoughts.

 

And now Nick and Cara are both looking at him expectantly. Are they still talking about dogs? Even if they are, Louis knows fuck all about animals, his mum only let them have guinea pigs growing up. This is definitely all his mum’s fault.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, would I be able to steal Lou away for a bit?”

 

Louis tells himself that the little flip in his stomach when he sees Harry is just gratitude at being extricated from an awkward social situation. It definitely has nothing to do with the light sheen of sweat making Harry’s skin glow, or the alcohol induced brightness of Harry’s eyes. Nope, nothing to do with that at all.

 

Either way, Louis finds himself standing up and following Harry to a more secluded corner of the club, subconsciously leaning into the taller man’s side as they move.

 

He barely notices Harry swipe a complimentary bottle of champagne from one of the tables as they walk past.

 

 

*****

 

 

“This is so wrong,” Louis pants into Harry’s mouth some time later, “I’m supposed to be your mentor, not your defiler-er.” Louis shoves the younger man onto his bed with perhaps an unnecessary amount of force, “I kinda very much want to defile you though.”

 

Harry looks up at him, eyes wide and confused, lips swollen and an unreal shade of pink, “Mentor?”

 

“Yeah. ‘Cause I’m like an older more experienced gay, right?” Louis explains as he knees his way onto the bed, hands trailing up Harry’s clothed sides as he goes, “I’m all ‘out’ and stuff. And you’re unsure and vulnerable. And I’m supposed to be helping you through this difficult time.” Louis suddenly pulls his hands away from Harry’s body, “But instead I’m like, a mess, and you just end up talking me through all my shit. I’m the worst mentor ever basically.”

 

Harry pulls Louis close again, and places a feather-light kiss on the smaller man’s jaw, “Please don’t think of it that way, Lou. This is totally a two-way thing, ok? It’s not on you to help me all the time. I mean, you definitely have. Helped me that is. Like, so, so much. But it’s not your job. We’re friends, right?”

 

Louis comes out of his stupor a little and pulls away once again, “I really shouldn’t fuck you. That’s like abuse of power or summat, against proper mentor etiquette. The police will be after me as soon as they find out and that’s the last thing I need.”

 

Harry smirks, “I really don’t think this mentorship has any kind of official standing, mate. Pretty sure you’re in the clear.”

 

Louis ignores him, feeling more and more panicked by the second, “D’you reckon Wes’ll have enough time to change his book? ‘And then my flighty, selfish ex-boyfriend who didn’t have the common decency to tone his flamboyancy down a little for the sake of our relationship, was arrested for abusing his power over a mentee. He’s currently awaiting trial.’ Should make an interesting addition, don’t ya think?”

 

The smirk has been wiped clean off Harry’s face now, “Did he really say that about you?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“In the book I mean. Did Wes say that you should’ve toned your personality down?”

 

Louis shrugs, “In the book. In real life. All the same thing now, innit?”

 

“He didn’t deserve you.” Harry says, completely serious.

 

Louis sighs. He’s not entirely sure that’s true. He and Wes had been really good together once upon a time. Louis had held grand delusions of happily ever after for a while there. That didn’t work out so well.

 

Louis shakes himself, “Popstars are nothing but trouble. Niall and I decided, after Wes broke up with me and Selena fucked him around. Never again. No more popstars.”

 

There’s a wry smile on Harry’s face, “We are pretty shit, as a group.”

 

“Not you though,” Louis says slowly, “You’re a good’un. Lovely Harry. Lovely, curly, popstary Harry.”

 

Harry looks away and shakes his head, “You barely know me, Louis.”

 

“Know enough to know you’re lovely.” Louis pauses and scrunches up his nose in distaste, “that was too many ‘knows’ wasn’t it?”

 

There’s a slight smile on Harry’s face again, though he still refuses to look Louis directly in the eye.

 

And that just won’t do, Louis would very much like Harry’s full attention again, “Can I blow you, lovely Harry?”

 

And that does it. Harry’s head snaps up, his cheeks a very pleasant rosy colour and his mouth a perfectly round O. He’s so very beautiful. Louis doesn’t know how he’s managed to ignore this blindingly obvious fact for so long, but a little bit of alcohol in his system plus a good dose of flirting appears to have officially destroyed any and all defences he once had.

 

“I– uh… I’m not-“ Louis’ fingers gently trace the skin above Harry’s belt as he waits for Harry to give him the go ahead, “I, uh, don’t think this is a good idea.”

 

Louis’ hands snap back, and he scrambles (not very gracefully) off the bed. “Oh! Um – Ok. Right. Of course, like if you’re not feeling it then obviously we shouldn’t.”

 

“It’s not that I’m not feeling it,” Harry protests immediately, “I mean, look at me. Obviously I’m feeling it.” Louis follows Harry’s gaze down to younger man’s crotch, and– yep, that bulge is pretty obscene. Harry looks quite impressively endowed actually. He’d definitely give that aspiring model Louis hooked up with in Paris last year a run for his money.

 

This is probably not something Louis should be thinking about when he’s being turned down for sex.

 

“It’s just,” Harry continues, oblivious to Louis’ less than decent thoughts, “This all came on quite suddenly, didn’t it? I mean, I’m still not entirely sure how we got here, and you’re in this really weird place emotionally, and we’ve both been drinking, and I’ve been… yeah. This definitely seems like the kind of thing we both might regret in the morning.”

 

Louis can only stare as he lets the words wash over him. When he really stops to think about it, everything Harry’s saying makes perfect sense, he’s just being prudent, smart even.

 

Still. The way they’d leaned into each other all night, the way they’d giggled between taking sips straight from the champagne bottle, the way they’d exchanged fleeting touches and eventually stumbled into the back of Harry’s chauffeured car, only allowing themselves to kiss when they were half a mile away from the club. It’d all felt like it was leading somewhere. Somewhere really nice…

 

“Your life’s being turned upside down in like, 36 hours, Lou. I really think it’s in both our best interests if we keep things simple. Fuck. This really was a terrible idea.”

 

And then Harry’s moving, gathering his shoes up from where he’d kicked them off. Moving towards the door.

 

“Please don’t leave,” Louis says suddenly. And where did that even come from? “We don’t have to do anything, but just,” He moves across the room and leads Harry gently back towards the bed, this time pushing him down with great care, “Don’t go, ok? I’m tired of sleeping alone.”

 

Louis’ not entirely sure where the words come from, but as soon as they’re out, he finds he means them.

 

Harry looks up from where he’s lying, eyes searching in a way that makes Louis’ skin squirm, “Ok,” he sighs. “I mean, I’m gonna have to leave really early to get ready for my flight to LA, but, yeah. Ok.”

 

Louis lets out a sigh of relief he didn’t know he’d been holding in, “Thank you, Harry.”

 

Harry’s long arms reach out and pull Louis down from where he’s standing, “Don’t mention it,” he replies, big hands adjusting the smaller man’s body until he’s snuggled securely into Harry’s side. “Sleep now, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Louis breathes.

 

That night Louis definitely doesn’t drift off to thoughts of how perfectly his body seems to fit with Harry’s.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes to an empty bedroom and a pounding headache.

 

Ok, so mixing champagne and hard liquor has always equalled a morning of extreme misery in Louis’ life, but he’s sure hangovers were never quite this painful when he was a teenager. Stupid getting old. Stupid mornings. Stupid curly haired, alcohol toting menaces.

 

Dammit, Harry.

 

Louis’ head pounds more insistently as the memories from last night flood back to him.

 

So that had all been a bit ill advised, hadn’t it? A disaster waiting to happen really.

 

It’s a good thing Harry at least had managed to keep his head and stop them from doing something they’d both almost certainly have come to regret.

 

As nice as Harry’s body had felt under his hands, miles of soft skin over hard muscle, as nice as Harry’s lips had felt against his own, all pillowy plushness and insistent movements, it’s for the best nothing too serious happened.

 

Louis’ unusually persistent morning wood be damned, they definitely did the right thing.

 

Fuck he’s horny. He can’t actually remember the last time he got a good seeing to, but it must be months. No wonder he fell all over Harry as soon as he got some alcohol in his system. Harry was just so pretty, and there, and receptive, and sweet. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

 

Louis groans. He meanwhile, is achy and grimy and sexually frustrated. Not the most pleasant combination in the world. He knows logically that there are things he can do to alleviate all of these feelings, like popping a couple of paracetamol, having a shower and wanking his brains out, but all of those involve moving. That seems a bit excessive to be perfectly honest.

 

Instead he rolls over miserably and snuggles into the other side of the bed. It smells vaguely of expensive cologne and berries. It smells like Harry. It’s nice.

 

At least it is until his face comes into contact with something other than his expensive Egyptian cotton sheets. When Louis reluctantly opens his eyes to investigate, he finds a note. It takes an unreasonably long time for his blurry vision to sharpen enough to actually distinguish any words.

 

Dear Louis,

 

Sorry for running out on you so early. I think I mentioned last night I had an early flight to catch? I’ll probably be halfway to LA by the time you read this.

 

Anyway, just wanted to say good luck for tomorrow. I know everything’s a bit shit right now, and it’ll probably get even shitter on Sunday, but you’ve handled everything beautifully so far and I’m certain you’ll continue to do so.

 

Sorry I won’t be there when everything goes down, but I’ll back Monday night. Call me anytime if you need someone to talk to. Don’t even think about time differences.

 

Lots of love,

 

H. 

 

Ps. I left a couple of painkillers and some water on your bedside table. Hope your hangover isn’t as bad as mine!

 

Louis rolls back over, and sure enough, finds a tall glass of water and two pills. He sits himself up a bit, takes the pills, chugs down the entire glass of water and almost immediately falls back to sleep.

 

He doesn’t let himself think about anything else.

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis’ always found that something rather strange happens to time when he’s really dreading something. It distorts itself, seemingly dragging and drastically speeding up simultaneously.

 

Such is certainly the case on Saturday.

 

Louis remembers all the mundane little things he did. He remembers finally dragging himself out of bed and into the shower. He remembers the slightly frantic wank he had under the water trying desperately not to think about swollen pink lips and clear green eyes. He remembers Niall barging his way into his flat sometime in the evening bearing a huge case of beer and some artery-clogging takeaway. He remembers snuggling up in bed with his best mate and watching Anchorman for approximately the 5000th time.

 

He remembers every single moment. Knows intellectually that Saturday consisted of the same 24 hours it always has.

 

And yet… Sunday arrives in what feels like a second.

 

It announces itself with a shrilly ringing phone on his bedside table and a grumbling Irishman in his bed. As all truly awful days probably should.

 

“Louis,” Kara begins as soon as he picks up is phone. “Wes is just about to be interviewed on BBC Breakfast. Now you can watch if you must, but please don’t look at anything online. I know we’ve talked about all this before, but just to make sure the point really hits home: I don’t mind you watching a couple of interviews, even a news report or two is fine if this story gets picked up like we expect it to, but don’t you dare take even a peek at Twitter or YouTube or the comment sections of basically anything, understood?”

 

“Well good morning to you too, Kara,” Louis greets his manager pleasantly. “I trust you slept well. Beginning to cool down a bit, innit? Personally, I always find it so much easier to sleep when there’s a bit of a chill in the air.”

 

“Louis,” Kara sighs, clearly unamused, “Please take this seriously, I’m only trying to look out for your best interests. Just don’t look at anything, ok? At least not until tomorrow, your statement will be out by then, so hopefully that will calm people down a bit. Until then though: nothing. The internet is where measure and reason go to die.”

 

“Well aren’t you a ball of sunshine this morning,” Louis replies, removing all traces of faux joviality from his tone. “Alright. Message received. Promise I won’t so much as look at my computer the wrong way until tomorrow. Niall’s spending the day with me anyway, he’s a pretty good distraction.”

 

“Ok, good.” her voice immediately calms now that Louis’ shown some indication he’s taking things at least a little bit seriously. “Just don’t feel like you need to keep track of what’s happening, that’s not your job. Peter and I will give you a full rundown tomorrow, ok? Just have fun with Niall and try not to think about it too much. Also, don’t answer any calls from unknown numbers.”

 

Louis deflates a little, rubbing at his temples. He feels the beginnings of a migraine brewing, “Got it. Thanks for everything Kara.”

 

“Just earning my salary, Lou.” It should be a cold statement, but Louis can hear the affection in her voice.

 

Not for the first time since all this business started, Louis silently thanks his lucky stars he managed to find a manager who genuinely seems to care about his wellbeing. He’s heard some industry horror stories. Seen them first-hand even with Wes and his band.

 

“So,” Niall yawns, stretching leisurely on his side of the bed as Louis hangs up the phone, “FIFA tournament?”

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis’ phone ends up ringing so much, he eventually just has to switch it off.

 

He figures anyone who knows him well enough that he’d actually want to talk to them, would know to get a hold of him through Niall anyway. At least that’s how his mum, his sister Lottie and Liam all manage to get into contact.

 

None of them actually talk directly about what’s happening, but he can hear the anxiety underlying each conversation to varying degrees.

 

It’s a bizarre experience, knowing you’re being talked about by thousands of people, but not having any clue what’s being said. Louis feels like his ears should be on fire with how much they’re burning right now. It’s not fun.

 

Finally, after plying him with an indeterminate amount of alcohol and wasting god knows how many hours alternating between watching terrible movies and playing Xbox, Niall makes the executive decision it’s time for bed.

 

“See! That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” He declares, tucking Louis under the covers like a child.

 

“Niall,” Louis sighs, “We literally stayed inside all day and avoided the outside world. Unless I adopt the life of a hermit, things are gonna get harder.”

 

“A little hermit time probably wouldn’t be the end of the world.” Niall shrugs, climbing into the other side of the bed.

 

“It would,” Louis replies. “I’m supposed to be back at work tomorrow morning. Pretty sure Liam might actually kill me if I missed another production meeting. Plus I’ve got to go to a public reaction rundown at Kara’s office in the afternoon. Real world interaction seems pretty inevitable at this stage, mate.”

 

Niall just groans, “You’re using way too many big words for how much alcohol I’ve forced down your gob tonight.”

 

“Might have acquired a bit of a tolerance recently,” Louis shrugs. “Plus, I do technically get paid to talk. I’m like naturally verbose, innit?”

 

Niall makes a small noise in protest, “I get paid to talk too, and I still have enough common sense not use words like ‘verbose’ in polite company.”

 

“Must be my natural English distinction coming through then,” Louis yawns, “Do the Irish even speak the Queen’s tongue?”

 

“Just go to sleep, you wanker. Don’t even know why I’m friends with you most days.”

 

“Right you are, Nialler,” Louis smiles lightly, snuggling into the softness of his pillow, “Don’t know what I would’ve done without you today, mate. Remind me to thank Babs for lending you to me for a few days.”

 

Niall pats Louis affectionately on the head, “B’s in LA for work, Lou. I’d probably be round here bothering you anyway. You know how much I hate being at home by myself.”

 

“Harry’s in LA at the moment too,” Louis finds himself saying, almost entirely asleep now, “Coincidence that.”

 

“What? That my girlfriend’s in the same city as your boyfriend?” Niall asks cheekily.

 

Louis knows he should respond to that. Deny again that anything’s going on between him and Harry, despite the ill-advised lip and body touching incident of Friday night.

 

The bed’s so comfortable though.

 

Instead he makes a call that going to sleep is definitely the best form of protest. A non-response will probably annoy Niall more than anything else Louis could have said anyway.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Have you seen it?”

 

Is how Louis’ greeted by a slightly frantic Liam as soon as he walks into the studio offices on Monday morning.

 

Well that puts a bit of a dampener on the surprisingly good mood he’d woken up in, doesn’t it?

 

“Do people not say good morning anymore?” Louis huffs, “You know I used to think the baby boomers were just talking shit when they said this generation’s gone to the dogs, but I’m starting to see their point. Manners cost nothing, Liam.”

 

“Good morning, Louis,” Liam amends. “Have you seen it?”

 

“Well,” Louis says thoughtfully, “Considering I haven’t watched live TV, been on the Internet or read a newspaper since yesterday morning, I think I can say with some degree of confidence, I probably haven’t seen whatever it is you’re talking about.

 

“Unless it’s Josh’s new haircut, because I do have quite a lot to say about that. Seriously, you would’ve thought seeing how badly it backfired for you would scare a guy off buzzcuts for life. But no! Not a good look for a receptionist in my humble opinion. You should keep him out the back filing until some of his hair grows back.”

 

Liam lets out a groan of frustration and grabs Louis’ shoulder, “Just come with me,” he says, ushering the smaller man into his office.

 

“Why Mr. Payne!” Louis declares theatrically, “Are you trying to seduce me? You know I always suspected you’d give in to the explosive sexual tension between us one of these days, but now the time’s really here I’m a bit overwhelmed. Try and be gentle with me, Li.”

 

Liam ignores Louis entirely. Instead leading him until he’s sitting at the desk directly in front of Liam’s computer. “Just sit there and watch,” is all he says before pressing play on a pre-loaded video.

 

It’s Wes. He’s glowing attractively under studio lighting and a two-inch layer of foundation and bronzer. He’s smiling pleasantly at an equally attractive and glowy blonde woman.

 

“What is this?” Louis asks, tearing his eyes away from the screen and looking back up at Liam.

 

“An interview Wes did on ITV this morning. Just watch, ok?”

 

Louis huffs, but complies, turning his attention back to the computer.

 

“… So brave,” the woman on the screen enthuses. “I mean, how does it feel to know you’re inspiring so many young people?”

 

Wes grins at the woman widely, “It’s just amazing. That’s why I wrote the book in the first place, you know? To speak to young people who may be feeling really desperate in their current situation, and show them I know exactly how they feel. I know how lonely the closet can get, but I also know there’s light on the other side. There’s always hope.”

 

It’s such an obviously workshopped line it makes Louis grimace. A PR approved bastardisation of sentiments and ideas Louis remembers Wes having back when they were together. Louis’ finding this entire experience oddly uncomfortable.

 

“That’s lovely,” the woman smiles softly before hardening her features into a more serious expression. “But how did the people you talk about in the book take being written about so intimately? Surely it must be a strange experience to have parts of your private life exposed, even if it is for such a good cause.”

 

If Wes’ expression tightens, it’s only marginally. Louis doubts anyone who didn’t know him personally would even notice, “You know what? Everyone seems to have really taken it in stride. I had a really long chat with every single person who’s mentioned before the book was released, and by and large, they all just seemed quite relieved I was finally being honest about who I was. It was quite heartening actually.”

 

“Certainly Louis Tomlinson seems to have seen the funny side of it all if his show last night was any indication. I’m guessing he took it well when you spoke to him?”

 

“Oh yeah, Louis’ great” Wes states confidently, “I mean I know people have all these ideas about how exes should have a lot of animosity towards each other or whatever. But Lou and I just get along so well, you know? We still talk every now and then, just to catch up on each other’s lives.”

 

“What the fuck is he even taking about?” Louis exclaims angrily, unable to look away from the screen.

 

“Keep watching.” Liam says lowly, voice foreboding.

 

“That’s so nice to hear,” the interviewer proclaims, eyes wide and voice sincere “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you two might find your way back to each other again? The book makes it sound like you guys had a really special connection. It’s such a pity circumstances got in the way.”

 

Wes’ sigh is a touch too dramatic to be convincing in Louis’ humble opinion “I mean, I’m not going to lie and say there isn’t a part of me that hasn’t always held out hope things might work out between us someday, but honestly I think it’s pretty unlikely, love. Louis’ got himself a new boy now and they seem really happy together.”

 

“A new boy? Really?” The interviewer asks, apparently sniffing out yet another story, “Anybody we might know?”

 

“Dammit,” Wes groans, and again, the way he slaps himself lightly on the forehead in frustration is just a bit too overblown to be entirely sincere, “I promised Lou I wouldn’t say anything. It’s all supposed to be a bit hush-hush. You know how it goes. Can we please just pretend I didn’t say that?”

 

“I mean, we are going out live, but I promise to keep it between you, me and the 5 million viewers at home.” The woman says, smiling brightly.

 

Liam leans over Louis’ shoulder and pauses the video before slowly turning the deskchair until they’re forced to make eye contact, “So…” he says softly.

 

“That absolute wanker,” Louis hisses.

 

“I’m guessing you haven’t been out introducing your boyfriend to the ex who massively betrayed your trust, whilst simultaneously hiding his existence from all your closest friends?” Liam enquires softly.

 

“Of course I haven’t Liam! I’ve only spoken to Wes twice in the last two years for fuck’s sake, and neither time could be classified as friendly.”

 

“So what’s he talking about then?”

 

“I have no fucking idea…” Louis protests, until it hits him, “Oh no. Fuck!”

 

Liam startles at Louis’ sudden outburst, “What? What is it?”

 

“He’s talking about Harry,” Louis sighs, somehow resisting the urge to crumple into a pitiful ball on the floor. “When… The last time we spoke, he was calling because of those photos The Mail published of Harry and I. He was like, convinced there was something going on between us. I told him he had it all wrong, but he just wasn’t having it. Said he recognised the way I looked at him. And then he…” Louis trails off, lost in thought.

 

“And then he what?” Liam questions, perhaps more impatient then Louis ever remembers seeing him.

 

“And then he promised he wouldn’t say anything about it on his press tour. Fuck. He’s definitely talking about Harry.”

 

“Christ,” Liam groans sympathetically, “What a mess.”

 

“You’re telling me,” Louis agrees, suddenly feeling exhausted.

 

They fall into a brief contemplative silence, but are promptly interrupted by Liam’s phone blaring out some kind of piercing noise.

 

Liam curses softly as he switches off the alarm, “Time for the production meeting,” he explains quickly. “Are you sure you’re up for this, Lou?”

 

“Yeah,” Louis sighs, “Can’t say I’ll be paying the most attention in the world, but I can definitely sit in. Put up a strong front for the troops and all that. I’m kinda the face of this operation, you know?”

 

And so Liam and Louis file out of the Liam’s office and into the meeting room down the hall.

 

Louis probably only catches a quarter of what’s actually said, but it’s totally the thought that counts.

 

 

*****

 

 

“So we have a problem,” Kara announces as soon as Louis sits down at her desk.

 

He’s flanked by Peter the image consultant and Alexis the lawyer again. They both have grim expressions on their faces.

 

“I saw,” Louis groans, “Liam showed me Wes’ interview with ITV this morning. I know it’s annoying, but that secret boyfriend shit is all just a big misunderstanding. Personally, I’d like to just ignore it if that’s at all possible.”

 

“That’s not actually the problem I’m talking about, Louis. Though I suppose it’s related to that,” Kara explains calmly.

 

And Christ! Can Louis not get through a full six hours without some new life-altering complication popping up? Cause that’d be pretty swell.

 

“I’ve just received an email from The Daily Mail warning us about a story they’re about to publish,” Kara continues.

 

Apparently six hours is too much to ask.

 

“And?” Louis asks, rubbing at his temples in frustration.

 

“Well… just see for yourself,” Kara sighs before handing over her iPad.

 

IS HARRY STYLES LOUIS TOMLINSON’S ‘NEW BOY’?

 

Brokenhearted Wes reveals Louis’ moved on

 

When Wes Jones took to ITV’s This Morning to hawk his new book, nobody could have predicted it would end in recently revealed ex-boyfriend Louis Tomlinson being put under the microscope.

 

When asked about the current state of his relationship with the popular TV host, Mr Jones assured fans there were no hard feelings, “Lou and I just get along so well,” the ex-boybander explained. “We still talk every now and then, just to catch up on each other’s lives.”

 

However, it was what the author of Finding the Light said afterwards that really caught people’s attention. When asked if there was any chance of reconciliation for the handsome exes, Mr Jones dismissed the idea immediately, “I think it’s pretty unlikely […] Louis’ got himself a new boy now […] it’s all supposed to be a bit hush-hush.”

 

So just who could this mysterious “new boy” be?

 

Well one potential candidate is megastar crooner Harry Styles. The singer seems to have been spending a lot of time with Mr Tomlinson over the past few weeks.

 

As previously reported, the pair were recently spotted in Mr Styles’ car engaged in an intimate embrace after enjoying a quiet lunch together. And just last Friday Tomlinson and Styles were pictured drunkenly stumbling out of a club and into a car (pictures below). Sources at the exclusive Mayfair club claim the two remained close to each other all night, with one even going so far as to say “there’s definitely something going on between them.”

 

Over the past few months, rumours about Styles’ sexuality have been circulating, and these latest claims will do little to dampen them.

 

One thing’s for sure, if Styles were Mr Tomlinson’s “new boy”, it would certainly explain the need for things to be kept so “hush-hush”.

 

“Fuck,” Louis mutters. He feels like he’s underwater, floundering in an ocean of confusion.

 

“So first thing’s first,” Kara says, drawing Louis’ attention away from the iPad in his hands, “Is Harry Styles your boyfriend?”

 

“What? No!” Louis splutters, “I told you, this is all just one big misunderstanding! Harry’s a mate.”

 

“Ok…” Kara says doubtfully.

 

“Why is The Mail sending you this story before it’s published anyway?” Louis asks, desperately trying to find some solid ground to stand on, “They’ve never done that before, have they?”

 

“They want to see what we’ll offer them to stop it,” Peter the image consultant answers him, and Louis had forgotten there were other people in the room. “They’ll want either a juicy bit of gossip to replace it with or a veritable mountain of money, I suspect.”

 

“I don’t have mountains of money,” Louis flails helplessly, “And I’m not going to sell someone else out just to avoid a story that’s not even true ending up in The Mail.”

 

“Not even something about Wes?” Alexis the lawyer pipes up on Louis’ other side, “Now that he’s broken the NDA, everything’s fair game. You can say whatever you want without being sued. As long as it’s true… ish.”

 

“Not even that,” Louis shakes his head furiously, “I’m not a total dick.” He turns back to Kara desperately, “Have you shown this to Harry’s people? I’m sure they have heaps of emergency money piles for this kind of thing.”

 

“That’s the thing,” Kara replies, confusion colouring her tone, “We were The Mail’s last resort. Apparently Harry’s people told them to go ahead and publish it.”

 

Louis’ head spins with that new piece of information. Nothing makes any sense. This is exactly the kind of article the management team of a gay closeted popstar would move heaven and earth to stop from coming out.

 

It’s convincing, is the thing. Louis might have even believed it if he didn’t already know first hand he definitely wasn’t dating Harry Styles.

 

Why would Harry’s team let this get out if they really were trying to hide the gay?

 

They wouldn’t. They just… wouldn’t.

 

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing for your image,” Peter’s voice cuts into Louis’ swirling thoughts, “It’s just another highly unpredictable element we have to factor into your strategy. So far reaction to you has been pretty positive in the aftermath of the book release, people loved the way you handled it on your show, but this could shift things again. I’ll keep a track of it of course.”

 

“Yeah, right. Of course.” Louis says dazedly when it becomes apparent Peter’s waiting for some kind of acknowledgment.

 

“One thing’s for sure,” Peter continues, “Your name’s definitely getting out there, kid. Honestly, you couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.”

 

Louis nods weakly.

 

 

*****

 

 

Louis ends up sitting alone in his flat for over two hours before he finally writes and sends the text he’s been composing in his head ever since The Mail article bomb was dropped on him.

 

To Harry: Your team is allowing an article to be published about you and I being in a relationship, even though they had ample opportunity to stop it. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing management teams for closeted popstars do. Basically, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS GOING ON HERE HARRY?

 

It’s only after the text is sent Louis remembers Harry’s currently flying back to London from LA. He probably won’t get a chance to reply for a few more hours at least.

 

With this in mind Louis wanders aimlessly into his room and flops dejectedly onto his bed. His exhausted body shuts down almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

 

An indeterminate amount of time later, Louis wakes. It’s dark outside now. He must have been out for some hours. His head still feels so fuzzy.

 

On autopilot, Louis turns to his bedside table and picks up his phone, scrolling past the myriad of text and call notifications from unknown numbers until he finally finds what he’s looking for.

 

From Harry: We should talk.

Chapter Text

Louis agitatedly paces his living room, his mind whirling. He stops briefly to glare at his mobile where it lies innocently on the coffee table, then resumes his pacing.

 

That stupid fucking text keeps running through his mind on an increasingly maddening loop.

 

We should talk. We should talk. We should talk.

 

Louis feels like he’s losing it a bit and he’s not entirely sure why. He doesn’t know what’s going on and has no clue what Harry wants to say to him. All he knows is the ache in his chest he’s been carrying ever since he found out about Wes’ book is more pronounced than ever. All he knows is it feels a lot like he’s being used. Again.

 

Louis’ phone rings sharply, pulling him out of his increasingly furious thoughts. He moves to the table on autopilot and answers the phone without even bothering to check caller ID. It’s only after the voice he least wants to hear in the world greets him that Louis realises what a profound error in judgment he’s made.

 

“Louis,” Wes begins, “I just saw The Mail. I am so sorry.”

 

“Wes,” Louis sighs, collapsing gracelessly onto the sofa, all of the energy suddenly leaving his body. “Why on earth are you calling me?”

 

“To apologise!” Wes answers frantically, “To explain! I just… I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I was- my publicist thought it would look good if people thought we were still close. Thought it would make things easier for both of us if it seemed like there was no animosity between us.”

 

“Yeah,” Louis flicks at his fringe distractedly, “My image consultant said basically the same thing. Something about not riling up each other’s fan bases, right? ‘S why I made light of the whole book thing on my show last week. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever been more furious with another human being in my entire fucking life as I am with you.”

 

Wes inhales sharply, “Lou, I…”

 

And that, as it turns out, is the last straw. Suddenly all the frustration and anger that’s been festering in Louis’ stomach over the past few weeks comes bubbling up to the surface.

 

“Don’t you dare fucking ‘Lou’ me, Wesley. If you hadn’t already lost that right when you broke up with me for being too flamboyant to fit your straight boybander image, then you definitely did when you unilaterally decided it was a good idea to fucking publish the details of our lives together. There’s stuff in that book I hadn’t even told my mum! What gives you the right to share it with every curious arsehole with a spare tenner burning a hole in their pocket?

 

“Maybe I’m alone in this, but us, what we were, that fucking meant something to me. I was pretty fucking in love with you for a while there, god knows why, and those memories mattered to me. I just can’t believe you fucking sold them, Wes. I don’t understand how you could do that. I can’t comprehend how you could just put a price on what we had. It doesn’t make any sense to-”

 

“I’m still in love with you.”

 

The words are softly spoken, little more than a sigh, but unmistakeable nonetheless. They just don’t make any sense.

 

“You… Wait- You’re… What?” And that may just be the least graceful sentence Louis has ever stammered out in his life.

 

This time Wes lets out a pained groan, “I’m still in love with you, Louis.”

 

“Well you have a really fucked up way of showing it,” Louis snaps back. Because that’s always been his default setting when he feels confused and pushed into a corner. Snappish. Vicious. His mother’s been telling him off about it for years.

 

“I know- Shit Louis, I know,” Wes breathes deeply; it sounds like he’s bracing himself for battle. “I think it was writing the book that made me realise it. Just remembering what we used to be, you know? It dredged everything back up. All those old feelings came rushing back to the surface. It was so much,” Wes groans before continuing. “Since then it’s just been there, simmering in the back of my mind, for months now. This fucking incessant whisper in my ear, ‘you’re in love with him, you’re in love with him, you’re in love with him’ just over and over again. It’s been driving me insane.”

 

“I- I don’t understand.” Louis breathes out, because he doesn’t. Nothing makes any fucking sense.

 

“And then when I saw you in that club a few weeks ago,” Wes continues as if Louis hadn’t spoken at all, “That just confirmed everything. There you were, so fucking pretty it hurt my chest, and close enough to touch for the first time in forever. And you spoke to me like you hated me.”

 

“I didn’t hate you,” Louis whispers like it’s a secret. I do a bit now, he doesn’t say, after everything you’ve done, after all the parts of me you sold without even asking. I hate you a bit now. It seems like too cruel a thing to say when Wes is baring his soul though, even if it’s true.

 

“But there’s not a single part of you that’s still in love with me,” Wes states emotionlessly.

 

It’s only once the words are out in the open, that Louis realises how profoundly true they are. There is not a single molecule left in Louis’ body that’s still in love with Wes. Even the memories of love are tarnished now. Irrevocably cheapened the second they became a commodity sold to the public, a marketing tool designed to reboot Wes’ image.

 

Wes seems to hear everything Louis isn’t saying, “And you’ve got Harry now anyway, haven’t you? I’m really, truly sorry about that by the way. I have no excuse for talking about you like that on live TV other than I was hurt. Those pictures of you two together, they stung. It was really fucking petty, but I honestly didn’t think the media would put two and two together. Like I said, my publicist wanted me to slip in a few hints about us still being close, and in the moment that seemed like a good way to do it. I maybe wanted to unsettle you a little too. Hurt you right back… I’m just so fucking sorry. His team must be having a fit.”

 

Louis doesn’t know how to begin to untangle the mess of assumptions, inaccuracies and lies Wes just spouted. In the end he doesn’t even try, “None of that’s really any of your business,” is what he settles on.

 

“I know,” Wes sighs, “I just… I’m worried I’ve fucked things up for you. Again. I saw the pictures Lou, he makes you smile that way where your mouth stays all soft, but your eyes still crinkle up at the edges. It’s my favourite. I don’t think I could live with myself if I was responsible for taking that smile away from you twice.”

 

Damn. Wes really is still in love with him. How did everything become so incredibly fucked up?

 

“I promise that if things go badly between Harry and I, it won’t have anything to do with you.” Louis says because it’s as much of the truth as he’s willing to share. That and he’s reluctant to spend too much energy placating Wes. The whole being secretly in love with him thing may have softened Louis a little towards his ex, but he’s still pretty spectacularly angry.

 

“How is that possible though?” Wes protests immediately, “That article was written because of something I said, how can it not be my fault?”

 

Louis exhales, he feels drained, emotionally and physically. He wants this conversation to be over so he can sleep for approximately five years and then never speak to anyone with more than a million twitter followers ever again. “It just isn’t, Wes. Do you really think I’ve got the energy or inclination to lie and make you feel better right now?”

 

“I guess not…” Wes concedes.

 

“Then leave it.”

 

“Lou, if there’s anything I can do to help…”

 

And just like that, Louis’ breaking again, “The only thing I want from you, Wesley,” he hisses, unable to keep the pure animosity out of his voice,” is for you to leave me the fuck alone.”

 

He hangs up before his ex-boyfriend gets the chance to say another word.

 

And regrets it almost immediately.

 

That was nowhere near as cathartic as he hoped it would be. Probably because at least half the frustration and anger he just spilled was really because of Harry. Harry and his fucking team and all the fucking lies and confusion they’ve apparently brought into Louis’ life.

 

The fact Wes definitely deserved every second of the verbal smackdown Louis just brought doesn’t really help. Louis hates letting his temper get away from him like that, but it was inevitable with all the stress that’s been piling up on his shoulders over the past few weeks. Stress Wes majorly contributed to, Louis reminds himself consolingly.

 

Still, that exchange seems to have sapped every last trace of energy out of his body. He feels battered and bruised: mind, body and soul. Right now he’s in no shape to take on anything more overwhelming then a nice bottle of wine and his bed.

 

So of course, that’s when a loud knock echoes through his flat.

 

“Louis!” a familiar voice follows, “It’s Harry. Please open the door, I want to explain.”

 

Louis groans. He has never wanted to speak to another human being less. A reaction he would have thought was impossible to have towards Harry a mere few hours ago.

 

“Now is really not a good time,” Louis yells from his spot in the living room, only feeling a little bit like a petulant teenager trying to avoid his disapproving parents. “Can we please do this tomorrow?”

 

A blissful silence follows, long enough that Louis’ heart rate finally begins to slow to a more normal speed. But then…

 

“I’m sorry. I can’t leave this,” Harry’s voice sounds a bit like a plea when it floats through the flat again, “I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight if everything’s so… up in the air.”

 

And just like that, something dangerous and ugly begins to bubble up in Louis’ chest. Newly energised, he storms towards the front door and wrenches it open, barely registering the shocked expression on Harry’s face as he pulls the taller man into his flat.

 

“Well by all means then,” Louis declares furiously, “come right on in! God knows I’d hate for you to lose any fucking sleep over little old me. How on earth can you be expected to go popstarring about the place without a solid eight hours? Please make yourself comfortable. Would you like some warm milk? How ‘bout a blanky?”

 

Harry’s eyes widen impressively as he takes in Louis’ vaguely manic state. He backs away from the smaller man marginally, “No. I- You were right. Now obviously isn’t a good time… This can definitely wait.”

 

Louis lets out a single bitter chuckle, “Nope. It’s too late for that. If you’re going to insist on barging your way into my home, then you’re certainly not leaving without giving me an explanation.”

 

Harry just blinks down at him, looking totally overwhelmed.

 

“Come on then,” Louis prompts impatiently, “I haven’t got all night. Please explain to me how your team, how you, are using me to ease your public coming out process. Explain to me how you’re doing the exact same thing Wes has been doing to me for weeks.”

 

Harry physically reels as if Louis’ slapped him. “I’m not using you,” he whispers eventually. It’s less than convincing.

 

“Bullshit,” Louis hisses, “If all you’re here to do is spout more lies, then you may as well leave now.”

 

Harry looks appropriately chastened. “I didn’t mean to use you,” he amends, eyes downcast.

 

Even though he already knew, Louis’ chest still tightens at the confirmation. Is this all he’s good for? Getting dragged out and exposed to the harsh media spotlight, all for the sake of simplifying the lives of those more famous than him? What a fucking crock of shit.

 

“How can you do something like that accidently, Harry? I wasn’t actually born yesterday. Articles like that don’t just appear out of nowhere.”

 

“I know they don’t. And I would’ve stopped it if I’d known, but I was fast asleep on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when the call was made. It was my team.”

 

That is… undeniably true actually. Still, Louis’ pretty reluctant to let go of the righteous rage currently coursing through his body. “So you’re just going to shrug off all responsibility then? Where did your team get the idea that this was even a marginally acceptable thing to do?”

 

Harry runs a frustrated hand through his hair, it makes his curls stick up oddly. He looks a bit like a cockatoo. Louis is very much not endeared. “I’m not trying to shrug anything off, I’m trying to explain. We’re doing this all in the wrong order.”

 

“Oh, well I’m sorry if I’m asking the wrong questions. That must be terribly inconvenient for you.” Louis barely represses a cringe when he hears how petulant he sounds. He hates when he gets like this, but he has no idea how to switch it off that part of himself once it’s unleashed.

 

God. This entire situation feels like it’s spiralling out of control. Louis feels like he’s spiralling out of control.

 

As if he can sense his distress, Harry places a grounding hand on Louis’ shoulder and against his will, Louis feels almost instantly calmed. Harry’s presence has always seemed to have that effect on him, and even now when Louis knows he should have every single one of his defences up, it would appear nothing’s really changed.

 

“Why don’t we sit down, eh?” Harry suggests in his smooth deep voice, and already Louis can physically feel some of the tension draining out of his body.

 

“Yeah,” Louis sighs, suddenly too exhausted to fight, “I like sitting down.”

 

Harry’s hand ghosts down Louis’ back as they walk to living room, guiding him gently through his own flat. Louis should probably feel offended, but he’s just kind of grateful. He’s so incredibly tired.

 

Eventually they situate themselves on Louis’ comfy sofa, a good two feet of distance and a thick air of wariness wedged firmly between their bodies.

 

“I shouldn’t have just barged in here,” Harry breathes when the silence between them has stretched to an almost uncomfortable length, “I’m sorry.”

 

“You shouldn’t have,” Louis agrees easily. ”But then again, people taking massive liberties with my personal life and totally dismissing my right to make choices appears to be the in thing at the moment. Why stop now?”

 

Harry flinches, “I’m sorry about that too.”

 

“You should only be sorry if you had a hand in it,” Louis replies, raising an eyebrow for emphasis, “Did you have a hand in it, Harry?”

 

And just like that, shame seeps into each of Harry’s features, his shoulders slumping in on themselves and his eyes lowering to the floor. “I did,” he whispers.

 

And the thing is, Louis knew. He knew and he hasn’t even known Harry that long and it shouldn’t hurt this much. But, fuck does it hurt like a bitch.

 

“Explain. Start from the beginning,” Louis demands with way more composure than he thought he was capable of mustering when his stomach feels like it’s in the process of tying itself in knots.

 

“I… The beginning?” Harry stutters, looking quite taken aback by Louis’ tone too.

 

“That’s right. You said we were doing this in the wrong order, so let’s do it in the right one. Things tend to start at the beginning.”

 

“Right. Yeah, of course,” Harry takes a deep steadying breath, “the beginning.”

 

Louis displays, what he would categorise, a superhuman show of patience as Harry takes his time sorting his thoughts in order. Louis barely rolls his eyes impatiently at all, all things considered.

 

“So,” Harry starts, “basically I’ve always really admired you, Louis.”

 

And that was not the beginning Louis was expecting.

 

If Harry notices Louis’ surprise, he doesn’t acknowledge it, instead opting to plod on, “I remember watching you on your show, and seeing you get interviewed every now and then, and just thinking: Fuck. You know? Like, there’s somebody who’s just so unapologetically themselves. Who doesn’t take anybody’s shit. Who’s proud of who they are.”

 

Louis’ not sure he can piece together even a small part of himself from the words Harry’s using to describe him. Louis’ afraid all the time. He’s sharp and jagged and difficult. He’s certainly not unapologetic.

 

“The fact that you’re also one of the most attractive humans I’ve ever seen barely even came into it really,” Harry continues.

 

“Harry…” Louis can’t help but sigh.

 

“Right, sorry,” Harry concedes immediately, raising a hand in surrender. “Like I said, that’s not important. What is important, is that I liked you. Looked up to you even. I’m not sure if you… I mean of course you know- you must have seen it with Wes when you were together, but like, being closeted in this industry, it’s… stressful. Isolating. It fucks with your head in a million ways you can’t even begin to imagine. But just seeing you being… you. Being open and happy and proud. It made me feel like anything was possible, you know?”

 

Louis snorts derisively, “That’s me! Open and proud and hiding the most significant relationship I’ve ever had from the entire fucking world. At least until my ex decides to sell a tell-all.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry mutters dejectedly, “Well I didn’t know about that then.”

 

“Nobody did, Harry. That’s kinda the point of a secret. Also, are we going to be getting to a point sometime in the next century?”

 

“The point,” Harry groans, “is that two months ago, when my team started talking about finally beginning my coming out process in the very same meeting they mentioned I’d been booked to go on your show, it felt a bit like fate.”

 

“Fate?” Louis scoffs as if the very idea is ridiculous. As if there isn’t a small childish part of him that hasn’t always clung to the belief that there’s some kind of greater plan out there. “Also, nice of you to mention this coming out process in all the hours we’ve spent talking over the past few weeks. S’not like I’ve been spilling my guts to you, or anything.”

 

“Louis…” Harry tries to interrupt, but Louis’ on a roll now.

 

“S’not like I’ve been unerringly open and honest with you about everything. S’not like I’ve made it obvious to you that I was there for you for whatever you needed. S’not like I’ve given you advice specifically about what it was like for me to be out in this business. I can see how the whole coming out thing slipped your mind really. I mean it’s such a small insignificant detail. How can you be expected to remember that?”

 

“That’s not exactly the kind of thing you share with someone the first time you meet them though,” Harry grits out, frustration apparent, his shoulders bunching up a little.

 

“Of course not,” Louis hisses, “I don’t expect that. But what about afterwards? I’ve… I’ve shared things with you, Harry. Things I’ve never shared with anyone before. But you? It doesn’t look like you trusted me with anything. I just hate that this was all so one sided.”

 

“Fuck off,” Harry explodes suddenly, “Didn’t trust you with anything, my arse! What about the fact I told you I was gay the first time we ever hung out? Do you think that’s common fucking knowledge? Do you think that was easy?”

 

“No, you fuck off, Harry,” Louis replies, scooting across the sofa, invading Harry’s space, never one to back down from a fight. “You may have told me you were gay, but what was the first thing you did after that? That’s right, you got me to sign a fucking NDA. Such trust, Harry. I’m truly amazed by your ability to open up.”

 

“Well what the fuck do you expect me to do, Lou? Yes, I’m paranoid. I’ve been in this industry for ten years; of course I’m paranoid. I’ve been hiding a massive part of who I am from vultures who’ll do absolutely anything to expose me for ten bloody years. Excuse me for being a bit fucked up. Excuse me for being worried you might try and use me like everyone else fucking does.”

 

Harry’s fists are balled up at his sides and his eyes are wild. An hour ago, Louis wouldn’t have thought Harry was capable of looking like this, couldn’t possibly have this much rage bottled up inside him.

 

For a brief moment, Louis wonders what it would have been like to know Harry before the industry got a hold of him like this. Wonders what that sweet innocent boy with corkscrew curls and wide green eyes who stole the nation’s hearts on The X-Factor all those years ago was like.

 

“And yet, here we are,” Louis sighs, shaking the thought from his head. “Congratulations, Harry. You didn’t get used, but fuck did you ever use me. I hope you’re happy.”

 

“I only OKed the first set of photo,” Harry says suddenly, all traces of anger apparently seeping out of his body leaving a desperate shell in it’s place. “Back when the paps followed us to brunch. When you first told me about Wes and the book. I didn’t know you’d be going through all this back then. I didn’t know the press was going to have a reason to take hold and turn this into something it wasn’t. How could I have known that?”

 

Louis feels like a lead weight has been dropped directly into his stomach, cold betrayal spreading through his veins, “Well, if you only meant to use me a little bit, then I guess everything’s A-OK.”

 

“Fuck. I know it’s fucked up, but at the time it didn’t feel like I was using you at all,” Harry’s eyes are wide and pleading, “When I came to you after the show that first night, all I wanted was some advice, a new friend maybe, there was no ulterior motive.

 

“It wasn’t until my team mentioned that hanging out with you publicly might start media chatter about my sexuality, that I even thought about trying to set anything in motion. And just,” Harry runs an agitated hand through his hair again, “In my head I was like: ‘Well, I really like hanging out with him anyway, what does it matter if I tip off a couple of paps when we go out?’”

 

“Harry!” Louis interrupts unable to let any of this ridiculousness stand, “You realise that makes no bloody sense, right? If you called paps on us without letting me know, even if it was just the one time, then that’s using me. That’s selling our relationship for your own personal gain. That’s doing exactly the same thing you’ve been calling Wes a prick for!”

 

Harry collapses in on himself guiltily, unable to meet Louis’ gaze any longer, “I know that now. It’s been eating me up inside for weeks knowing I did this to you. But, at the time… I was just so focussed on the end goal, so focussed on being out, I couldn’t see that what I was doing was wrong. It wasn’t until I spoke to you about all this Wes shit, seeing how hurt you were by what he was doing that I realised just how awful I was being.

 

“That’s why I put my foot down after that first time. That’s why I would have done everything I could to stop my team from dragging your name into the papers again today if I’d been in a position to do so.

 

“I’m so sorry I let you down, Lou. I realised the second I started falling for you properly, all I ever want to do is protect you from all this bullshit. I don’t want you to get hurt anymore, but I fucked up at the first hurdle, and now you’re hurting because of me and I don’t know what to do.”

 

Louis feels his heart stutter at Harry’s words. His brain can’t quite seem to process everything that’s being said, but one sentence is sticking out to him more than anything else. “When you started… wait- what?”

 

Harry seems to realise what he’s said, and blushes prettily, “That’s the main thing I wanted to talk to you about actually,” he says softly, looking firmly down at his shoes, “I mean, I’ve always had a bit of a crush on you, even before we met I thought you were amazing. But like, lately, getting to spend all this time with you, experiencing your wit and beauty and- I don’t know: you, in person? Things have kinda developed. Feelings things. And, yeah, basically I think I’m falling in love with you.”

 

Maybe if it hadn’t been the second time an international popstar had unexpectedly declared their love for Louis that night. Maybe if every word Harry said hadn’t pinged every single defensive alarm bell waiting to go off in Louis’ brain. Maybe if Harry hadn’t unconsciously echoed Wes’ sentiments from earlier so closely, making Louis feel like he was on the precipice of walking right back into the lion’s den. Maybe if Wes hadn’t fucked with Louis so badly in the first place, making his threshold for tolerating betrayal and lies of omission so impossibly low. Maybe then, just maybe, Louis would have been able to react differently to Harry’s words.

 

But as it stands, all Louis can do as he looks into Harry’s earnest, clear green eyes, is build a wall between them.

 

Harry’s not trustworthy, and Louis can’t afford to be hurt again. Not now. The wounds from the last time he let someone into his heart still sting too much.

 

Louis looks at the beautiful young man in front of him, all rippling muscles and wide pink lips and pale skin and shiny, pleading eyes, and all he sees is future pain.

 

He feels himself emotionally shutting down. It’s like he’s watching this happen to someone else. Like he’s not really there.

 

It’s almost a relief.

 

“Thank you for telling me the truth tonight,” Louis says, almost robotically, every trace of emotion removed from his voice, “I’d like you to please leave my flat now.”

 

With that, he gets up from his spot on the sofa, turns on his heels and walks calmly towards the front door. Harry stumbles clumsily behind him, fish mouthing comically.

 

“Just like that?” Harry asks, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing, “What about the whole, me being in love with you thing? Don’t you think that warrants some kind of reaction beyond just: ‘get out of my flat’?”

 

Louis looks over Harry critically, impassively taking in the way tears have started to well up in the taller man’s eyes.

 

“Fine,” Louis sighs eventually, “Here’s my reaction. After everything that’s happened today, it’s become apparent to me that I can’t trust you. Without trust, it’s impossible to have love, and difficult to have friendship. With that in mind, I think it’s probably best if we don’t see each other any more. Starting now. Which is why I’d appreciate it if you got out of my flat.”

 

“But…” Harry starts, tears finally beginning to spill over.

 

Louis raises a hand to silence him and opens the front door, waiting patiently for the other man to remove himself from the flat.

 

Louis doesn’t speak again until Harry’s finally moved out into the communal corridor, looking more lost and pathetic than any multimillionaire has a right to look.

 

“Listen,” he says, trying to ignore the way Harry’s face is crumpling in on itself miserably, “I wish you all the luck in the world with this coming out business. I know it’s gonna be tough, but I have every faith in you. Just try not to fuck anyone else over to make things easier for yourself, ok?”

 

“Lou-” Harry begins, but Louis shuts the door in his face before he can say anything else, locks the door behind him with a resounding click, and wanders into his bedroom without a second thought.

 

He feels numb, is the thing. Like every single emotion has been physically drained from his body until there’s nothing left.

 

Louis readies himself for bed mechanically, almost revelling in the fogginess of his brain, in not having to fucking think.

 

Some time later, maybe minutes, maybe hours, he drifts off into a dreamless slumber, the only thought swirling briefly through his mind just before he finally nods off:

 

I was fucking right. All popstars are trouble.

Chapter Text

~ 7 months later ~

 

Louis is not nervous.

 

His heart may feel like it’s on the verge of beating right out of his chest. And he may be hiding a few unsightly patches of perspiration under his ludicrously expensive Tom Ford suit jacket. And yes, his hands may be shaking just the tiniest bit. But that could mean anything, right? He’s totally fine. Cool as a fucking cucumber.

 

Except not actually cool at all, because LA, as it turns out is really fucking hot, and that’s definitely the only reason Louis is currently sweating through his many layers of stage makeup.

 

This is what Louis does. He’s a presenter and host. This is his job. It’s definitely not that big a deal.

 

Now he just needs his body to get the fucking memo and stop betraying him like this. It’s very not cool.

 

“Louis, my man,” a disembodied voice calls, interrupting Louis’ totally zen and in control thoughts, “everyone’s finally made it to their seats, and we’re scheduled to go in about five. Are you ready?”

 

Is he ready? Well isn’t that the million dollar question. There’s an auditorium full of people Louis has admired from afar for most of his life waiting to be entertained. There’s a text message on his phone from a very important and only mildly sinister American TV executive offering to change his life if tonight goes well. And there’s a music legend by his side entrusting him to make this evening a success.

 

Not to mention the 10 million+ viewers at home, watching and waiting for him to succeed or fail.

 

This is Louis’ official introduction to the greater American public as a real life person who exists. It’s his first time stepping out stateside as more than a side-character in tabloid stories about other, more important celebrities.

 

This is the night that’s going to determine the trajectory of his career- the trajectory of his life for the foreseeable future.

 

So, yeah… Louis’ definitely not nervous

 

“Don’t be nervous,” Elton bloody John pipes up from beside him, dressed impeccably in an all black ensemble paired with bright pink glasses and a beautifully feathered earring. “You’re going to be brilliant out there. I never would’ve asked you to do this if I didn’t think you were up to it. This is way too important to be cocked up by some kid who doesn’t know how to work a crowd.”

 

That… almost sounded like reassurance. Kind of.

 

Louis’ heart doesn’t slow its almost frantic beating.

 

“Two minutes!” The same disembodied voice from before calls across the room.

 

And fuck. This is happening. This is actually fucking happening. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

 

“Can you sing to me, Elton?” Louis asks somewhat desperately, turning blindly towards the older man, “I really feel like a couple lines of Crocodile Rock would drastically improve my performance tonight. Or like, Bennie and the Jets, maybe? M’not fussy.”

 

And ok, being a bit of an annoying shit has always helped Louis feel more in control whenever it feels like things are spiralling. And apparently his propensity to push boundaries with people doesn’t exclude actual industry icons who are technically employing him. Good to know.

 

Or maybe not, judging by the mildly fiendish smirk currently plastered on Elton’s face. “I don’t know, Louis. I think based on the number of exes you’ve got waiting for you in the audience, something like Can You Feel the Love Tonight might be more appropriate.”

 

Mildly low blow. And also, inaccurate. Louis only has one proper ex in the audience and one… Harry. Neither of whom he’s seen or spoken to since that terribly shitty and overwhelming night all those months ago, despite numerous attempts on both their parts to get back in contact. So that’s not fucking terrifying at all.

 

Still, Elton’s not to know just how messy the history of all that is. He probably thinks Louis’ as nonchalant about the whole thing as he’s been publicly projecting on his show and to the tabloids. Even superstars fall for carefully crafted media narratives sometimes it seems.

 

“Twenty seconds! Everyone get into position!”

 

Also, there is apparently zero time to launch into lengthy explanations about his mess of a love life. Not that Elton bloody John would be at all interested anyway. Where is Louis’ head? He should not be thinking about any of this right now.

 

“Ten seconds! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”

 

And just like that, a curtain’s raised and Louis’ exposed to blindingly bright lights and frankly thunderous applause.

 

It’s a lot.

 

He manages to make it all the way to the front of the stage without tripping over his own feet. So that’s like, a positive start.

 

“Good evening! Welcome to the first televised Elton John AIDS Foundation Charity Auction. My name’s Elton John. You may know me from my six decades of work in the entertainment industry, my 58 Billboard Top Forty singles, and my years of tireless charity work.” Elton projects confidently to the faceless crowd, which actually consists of several very recognisable faces.

 

Not that Louis can make anything out. Is it truly necessary for the lights to be quite so bright?

 

“And I’m Louis Tomlinson,” he finds himself saying on autopilot, just like they rehearsed about twelve times yesterday. “You may know me from one of those times I chatted to, stood next to and/or secretly dated a person much more famous than myself. All three of which I plan on doing tonight. Sorry, Mr Furnish. Elton’s mine now.”

 

The gag lands. It lands. Thank Christ for that. Louis can feel the rigid line of his shoulders ease and his heart rate finally slow as the audience titters away.

 

“What can I say?” Louis improvises on a whim, cheeky grin firmly plastered on his face, “I’m partial to musicians.”

 

He’s so got this.

 

 

*****

 

 

Charm personified.

 

Louis can’t have heard that right. There’s absolutely no way Neil Patrick Harris possibly could have referred to certified annoying shit, Louis Tomlinson from Doncaster, as anything even approaching charming.

 

And yet, there he is. Arm tucked securely around his husband David’s waist, talking enthusiastically about how Louis ‘just absolutely killed it’ without even a trace of irony.

 

“Honestly, I know it’s for a ridiculously good cause, and Elton’s one of my best friends, but these charity gigs, man.” Neil explains semi-conspiratorially, “They can drag. Little did we know some cute British guy was gonna come in and charm the fucking pants off the entire room. Off the entire country! I swear, if you don’t have a regular US TV gig this time next month, I’ll eat my hat.”

 

Louis feels like his eyes might be on the verge of bulging right of his skull. This must be a dream.

 

“He was pretty awesome, wasn’t he?” Ellen DeGeneres puts in as she and Portia de Rossi casually join the conversation. And this dream theory is looking more and more plausible by the second.

 

“Personally, I’d welcome a new, unique voice joining our TV screens,” Ellen continues, apparently oblivious to Louis’ internal freak out. “God knows we need it. Just stay out of daytime, ok? I took down Oprah, I’ll take you down too.”

 

Turns out, Ellen DeGeneres’ smile is kind of dazzling up close. Louis should probably return it. Pity his face doesn’t appear to be up to anything more than vague nervous twitching right now.

 

And fuck. Ellen DeGeneres probably thinks Louis’ a creepy serial killer. That’s not ideal.

 

Thankfully, Louis’ pulled out of that particular awkward social situation, by the insistent and sudden ringing of his phone.

 

“I should, um, take this. Excuse me a moment,” He says, doing a passable impression of an adult who’s not freaking the fuck out. Maybe a career in acting is in his future? Hollywood’s only a short drive away after all, and his turn as Danny Zuko back at school was very well received. His mum counts right?

 

Somehow, he finds a relatively secluded corner near the bathrooms of the club the after-party’s being held in, and just manages to answer his phone before it diverts to voicemail.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Louis, I trust you’re well?” Derek Cross, terrifyingly influential TV executive and general badass by all accounts, is unsurprisingly in full business mode from the outset.

 

Louis takes a moment to remind himself to breathe.

 

“Derek, hey. Yeah, I’m good. Just relaxing after the show,” Casual, casual, casual. Louis is so very, extremely casual. “You didn’t happen to catch any of it did you?”

 

“I did,” Derek states simply. And Louis can’t read him. He can’t tell which way this is going.

 

“And…” he prompts hesitantly.

 

“And…” Derek repeats calmly, and then pauses, letting the silence drag uncomfortably.

 

And Louis can currently feel his heart beating in his ears. That can’t be normal.

 

“And,” Derek resumes after what feels like an age, “you were good, Louis. Excellent even. You’re a natural up there, and you seemed to connect well with the American audience.”

 

Louis still can’t breathe. Intellectually, he knows he should definitely be saying something. Anything. But the entire English language appears to have completely deserted him.

 

“So here’s what I’m thinking; we’ll start off by slipping you into a more established show,” Derek continues, thankfully ignoring Louis’ temporary aphasia, “The Voice is looking for a new host next season. Actually, that could work really well now I’m saying it out loud; people already associate you with the music scene, may as well run with it. Then depending on how that goes, we can look into starting your own show. A scaled down version of what you have going on in the UK maybe? Keep the costs low, and see how people react. Only once a week, maybe half an hour at first, then leave the option open to up the production costs and go to a full hour if everything goes well.”

Louis hears the words, he does, but they don’t make any sense. He can’t believe how quickly this has happened. Nobody in this industry transitions across the Atlantic this smoothly and explosively. It just doesn’t happen. And yet here he is.

 

A few months ago, back when Louis was still reeling from the double blow of Wes and Harry’s awfulness. Back when Louis had been desperately searching for something, anything, to distract him from the shattered remnants of his self-confidence, Peter, his image consultant, had come to meet Louis in his studio office and uttered the one sentence that would end up changing everything: “So the way I see it, you’ve found yourself with a bit of an opportunity here, kid.” Never in a million years could Louis have possibly imagined it would lead him here.

 

And it’d been so easy too.

 

All he’d really had to do was be intriguingly vague about what had happened between him and Harry, (something he was legally bound to do anyway thanks to the NDA Harry’s people had made him sign back in the beginning), charmingly laidback about what had happened between him and Wes, and continue to do his job well.

 

Just like that, ratings for The Louis Tomlinson Show had skyrocketed. People initially tuning in to see if Louis was going to drop any hints about what was going on with his love life, then staying when they realised the show was just really fucking enjoyable.

 

Liam had looked like he was about to bust a load every time they reviewed viewership demographic shares in their weekly production meetings. It was equal parts amusing and extremely disconcerting.

 

Louis’ personal profile had risen as well, obviously. Astronomically so.

 

Suddenly his face was everywhere. On newspapers and magazines and shitty entertainment shows all over the world.

 

And apparently some people had even been interested enough to look up clips from his show on YouTube. Within a couple of months Louis found himself with a surprisingly dedicated international fan base. Particularly as it turned out, in the US.

 

Now Louis’ popular enough in his own right for Derek Cross to feel comfortable giving him a hosting gig on a primetime network reality show with a clear path to starting his own show.

 

The wonders of modern technology, eh?

 

“Obviously the details still need to be hashed out,” Derek continues, oblivious to the way Louis’ thoughts have wandered, “I’ll send a copy of the contract to your lawyer some time next week assuming I can get the executive producer of The Voice on board (which between you and me, I really can’t foresee being a problem), and then we can start negotiating terms.”

 

“O-ok,” Louis stutters a little embarrassingly, “That, uh, sounds like a good plan.”

 

“I think so too,” Derek replies, and Louis can hear the smirk in his voice now, “I very much look forward to working with you, Louis.”

 

“Same,” Louis says, before remembering perhaps the most important element of this whole deal. “And you’re still ok with me bringing my guy from the UK for one of the associate producer positions, right? Liam and I have such a good shorthand with each other now, I can’t imagine working with anyone else.”

 

“I don’t see why that would be a problem,” Derek answers easily, “The Voice needs someone capable to do a lot of the grunt work now, and you’ll need an executive producer for your show eventually assuming everything goes to plan. Mr Payne seems as good a candidate as any, I’ve seen his work and he appears to have a good head on his shoulders.”

 

Louis sighs in relief, “Good. That’s… excellent news. Thank you.”

 

“Of course. I’ll be speaking to you soon, I imagine. Have a good night.”

 

“You too.” Louis says as calmly as possible before ending the call and immediately dropping all pretences.

 

The first thing he does is close his eyes, and let out what can only really be classified as a small delighted squeal accompanied by a fist pump of victory.

 

That brief moment of celebration over, Louis quickly turns and takes a look around the room to make sure nobody’s seen his total loss of composure. Nope, thankfully not one person seems to be paying him any attention right now. And fair enough too, Louis’ pretty sure he spotted both Ian Mckellen and Cher at some point. He’s very much not the most interesting thing at this party.

 

Christ, Louis feels like his stomach is about to bubble out through his mouth. His skin is prickling and it feels like he might just float right up to the ceiling if he’s not careful. Can people actually die from extreme happiness?

 

He needs some fresh air. Also maybe a smoke. And yes, he knows those two things definitely cancel each other out, but the heart wants what it wants.

 

He’s so buoyant as he walks towards the venue’s exit, that not even catching sight of his ex across the room for the first time in months manages to shift his mood.

 

Wes is leaning comfortably into his new boyfriend’s side, crown of his head tucked casually into the crook of the slightly taller man’s neck. Adam’s his name, Louis thinks. He’s an accountant, or was it financial consultant? Something like that anyway. According to The Mail, they’d met when Wes’d needed some extra help getting his taxes in order.

 

The Mail’s not exactly the most reliable source in the world though, so who knows?

 

They look good together, Louis thinks begrudgingly. Happy. Much happier than either Wes or Louis had ever managed to pull off in such a public setting.

 

The pair are chatting cheerfully with the most recent darling of the LGBT Hollywood scene, Amber Hazelwood and her, frankly gorgeous girlfriend, Ana.

 

Louis still so clearly remembers the couple from when Amber had come on The Louis Tomlinson Show with Harry, fuck, almost a year ago now. The intimidating, dark haired woman who’d glared at anyone that dared look her direction and the carefully charismatic actress who’d been the only one able to make her smile.

 

The transformation he sees in them now is just the tiniest bit startling. Ana’s glowing and bright and… magnetic. And Amber looks even better than Louis remembers her. Relaxed. Herself.

 

The combination is a thing of beauty.

 

When Amber had, seemingly on the spur of the moment, decided to thank her girlfriend of four years in her Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech a little over a month ago, the media had gone into total feeding frenzy mode.

 

Granted, it may have came a little out of the blue, and it may have happened at a ridiculously huge and important event, but even so, things had gotten a bit out of hand in Louis’ humble opinion. He can’t imagine what it must have been like to be as constantly hounded by paparazzi as Amber and Ana were in the aftermath.

 

Still, it seems to have all been worth it if the face splitting grins both women currently sport are any indication. It warms the heart, frankly.

 

Louis’ still looking in the groups’ general direction when Wes shifts his head ever so slightly from where it’s still resting on his boyfriend’s shoulder and inadvertently catches Louis’ eye.

 

The effect is immediate. Wes’ head snaps up as if it’s been physically yanked and his body turns rigid and nervous where before there’d been only lazy lines and ease. There’s a guilty look in his eyes too. It’s impossible to tell if it’s residual shame from all he’d put Louis through earlier this year, or new awkwardness at being seen with his boyfriend.

 

Either way, Louis finds he really doesn’t care. The sharp feelings of anger and betrayal he used to feel towards Wes have completely dissipated it seems.

 

He’s certainly not about to wander over there and give his ex a big speech about forgiving and forgetting, but they’ve clearly both moved on. They’re firmly a part of each other’s past now. It’s such a profound relief.

 

Louis sends Wes a small, cordial nod, vaguely registering the way the other man’s eyes widen ever so slightly. Louis turns away before the other man has the opportunity to react any more than that, and continues his journey towards slightly fresher air and sweet carcinogenic relief.

 

It’s muggy and not particularly refreshing when Louis finally makes it outside. Still, he’ll take it. Particularly when being outside means finally having that celebratory cigarette.

 

After relishing that first proper lungful of nicotine, Louis whips out his phone and sends Liam, Niall and his mum a text:

 

So… who wants to help me find an LA flat? Sorry, I mean apartment. Probably gonna have to learn how to blend in with the locals if I want to keep my new job. The Voice here I come !!!

 

It’s fuck off o’clock in the morning back home, so he’s not really expecting any response, but still. It feels nice to share the news.

 

His mum’ll probably cry.

 

Before he knows it, his cigarette is burnt down to the filter, and it’s time to head back into the fray and, how had Peter and Kara put it? ‘Take the opportunity to form new industry connections’.

 

He turns blindly back towards the venue entrance to do just that, and collides firmly into a taller, broader figure.

 

“Shit. Sorry, mate,” Louis apologises automatically, before looking up to shoot the mystery guy a sheepish grin.

 

He only just manages to supress a gasp of shock when he encounters a set of clear green eyes and dark brown curls he’s all too familiar with.

 

He doesn’t know why he’s surprised to see him. Elton’s people had sent Louis’ people a list of attendees for this event weeks ago. He’s known Harry was going to be here for ages. Even before he’d seen the list, he’d strongly suspected it.

 

Ever since he officially came out, barely a moth after he’d dejectedly walked out of Louis’ flat back in Chelsea, Harry’s been absolutely revelling in his newfound freedom. Getting involved in every single LGBT+ charity that’d have him. Which as it turns out, is quite a few.

 

Honestly, it feels like every time Louis picks up a newspaper these days there’s Harry Styles’ face smiling back at him, often accompanied by numerous pictures of him shaking hands with volunteers and hugging crying teenagers.

 

It’d seemed like such an obvious PR stunt at first. A blatant attempt to manipulate public discourse: ‘Yeah, ok. So Harry Styles might be rather fond of cock, but look at how much good he’s doing!’

 

The press had pretty much dubbed him a saint after a week. He’d so seamlessly shifted from renowned womaniser and playboy, to gay with a heart of gold it was borderline insulting.

 

Then again, the persistent rumours about the nature of his relationship with Louis had meant that most people were already half expecting it.

 

But now months have passed, the point’s been well and truly been made and Harry’s shown precisely no signs of slowing down with his charity work.

 

It’s gotten to the point that Louis’ almost entirely convinced this charitable streak Harry’s on is… genuine.

 

Every time he thinks about it, it makes his heart feel all strange and squishy. Recently, he’s been trying not to think about it at all.

 

“Hey,” Harry says softly, looking at a point somewhere over the top of Louis’ head.

 

“Hey,” Louis replies, unsure of what else to say.

 

His stomach is a confusing mix of emotions, traces of residual anger mixed in with the inconvenient bubbling attraction that always seems to be there whenever he’s in Harry’s presence. And there’s something else, something even more worrying… something almost like, longing, almost like missing.

 

It’s more than Louis’ allowed himself to feel in months, and totally overwhelming. Also, stupid. If he’s missed Harry, it’s just the version he thought he knew back in the beginning; the version that earnestly listened to Louis’ problems, and always somehow made him feel better, the version he shared secrets with, the version without an ulterior motive, the version that made him feel safe.

 

The version that doesn’t exist.

 

“Hey,” Harry says again, and maybe he’s a little rattled too.

 

Louis’ the first to snap out of it, “Well if it isn’t LGBT darling, Harry Styles! Heart as gold and sparkly as his boots. What an honour! I feel like I should bow or something, what is the proper way to greet you these days?” It comes out more bitter and less detached than he’d intended, but it’ll have to do.

 

A crinkle forms between Harry’s eyebrows, and there’s a small part of Louis that wants to reach out and smooth it with his thumb. He quickly dismisses the urge.

 

“You’re still pissed,” Harry states, a sad tilt to his mouth. “I hoped… Nevermind, It doesn’t matter. I’ll see you later, Lou. Hope I didn’t ruin your night.”

 

And then he’s turning away, and Louis should let him go. Definitely, absolutely should let Harry Fucking Styles walk right back into that club and out of his life, but he just… can’t.

 

“Wait!” Louis exclaims, reaching out and clutching to the sheer black fabric of Harry’s shirtsleeve.

 

And Harry does. He stops right in his tracks and turns his body around until he’s facing Louis head-on once more, his features conveying a confusing mix of unsure expectation.

 

“I…” Louis begins, but abruptly realises he has absolutely no idea what he wants to say. Because the thing is, there’s a big part of him that wants to hurt Harry. Wants to vindictively wound the same way he, himself was wounded.

 

But then there’s this other, quieter urge, one that wants to protect the gorgeous man in front of him, one that has always wanted to protect him. The part that probably made it seem like a good idea to become his mentor in the first place, no matter how misguided that desire was.

 

So the thing is, Louis simultaneously wants to make Harry cry, but he also wants to beat the ever-loving shit out of any person that would dare make Harry cry, and that’s a contradictory as fuck combination. Basically, Louis seems to be hurtling down a road that ends in him punching himself in the face, and that really doesn’t feel like a good road to be on.

 

“I, uh…” Harry stutters, seemingly sensing the fact Louis’ not planning on continuing. “You did, really good out there tonight, Lou. Like, amazing. That was what I came out here to tell you. I mean, it wasn’t the only thing I came out here to tell you, but I’m kind of thinking now that that’s the only thing I should tell you, you know? Because it seems like you’re still a bit, like… not pleased with me. Which I understand, like, completely.

 

“Shit, Lou. The way I treated you, there’s literally no excuse for it. Whenever I think about it, I just, hate myself a bit. I hurt you, and I’m so, so, so unbelievably sorry for that. I was selfish and short-sighted and so desperately trying to get to that fucking light at the end of the tunnel, that I ended up trampling over you just because it felt like a shortcut.

 

“And you’re like, the last person in the world that deserves that. Not that anyone deserves being trampled on, but you, fuck Louis, you deserve it less than anybody I’ve ever met.

 

“Because you’re so fucking good; you’re just this ball of light and kindness and care, and I’m so sorry that when we met I’d lost sight of myself to such an extent that I thought using someone as brilliant as you to get what I wanted was in any way an acceptable thing to do. It wasn’t how I was raised. My mother would be horrified if she knew I’d stooped that low.

 

“But I’ve been working really hard recently on being better, on rediscovering the person I was before everything got so fucked up. And it’s been way harder than it should’ve been because after so many years of being caught up in this cycle of ridiculously self-indulgent bullshit, it’s taken so much work. But I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere and like, basically I wanted to thank you? Because everything that happened with you was what made me realise how much I’d lost sight of what was really important. But mostly I just wanted to apologise, because I hurt you, and you shouldn’t have had to be this catalyst for my fucking stupid narcissistic journey of self-discovery. You should have just been Louis, because that’s one of the best things in the world to be basically, and I’m just so fucking sorry that I didn’t appreciate you and your perfect Louisness when I had the chance.”

 

Louis blinks at the man in front of him once, and then again, trying to process the virtual avalanche of information he’s just been pounded with. It’s a lot.

 

“If that was you trying to hold back mate,” Louis says after a brief pause, “then I’m afraid I’m gonna need the rest in writing. I’m having enough trouble digesting all that as it is.”

 

“I would’ve thought you’d have had enough of popstars writing books about how they feel about you by now.”

 

Louis snorts at the unexpected moment of levity, briefly appreciating the mischievous sparkle in Harry’s eyes. It reminds him of everything that drew him to the younger man in the first place.

 

“Listen, Lou if you take anything out of everything I just… spouted all over you,” Harry sighs, a ghost of a smile still hiding in the left corner of his lips, “Please just know you’re pretty much the best person I’ve ever met, and I’m so unbelievably sorry you got caught up in all of my bullshit. I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

 

Louis looks closely at Harry, searching for… something, he’s not entirely sure what. But all he finds is a deep sense of earnestness and the same indescribable thing that’s always made his stomach tighten uncomfortably whenever he found himself in Harry’s company in the past. It’s… nice.

 

But there’s still this little niggle that Louis just can bring himself to ignore. Still this hanging thing that makes him feel all squirmy and odd inside, and suddenly he has to know. He desperately needs to have everything out in the open.

 

“The last time we spoke,” He announces suddenly, unable and unwilling to find a way to gentle the conversation in the right direction, “When we were in my flat, you… you said… right before I kicked you out you said that…”

 

“I said that I was in love with you,” Harry states simply, with the barest hint of a grimace.

 

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “You said… that. The thing is… The thing I’ve been wondering for a while now is, did you mean it?”

 

Harry actually flinches before he can bring himself to answer and Louis finds himself waiting with bated breath. Suddenly, whatever happens next feels incredibly important.

 

“I was in a really weird place that night, Lou,” Harry equivocates.

 

“That’s not really an answer, Harry,” Louis refuses to let him get away with a noncommittal half-answer. Louis deserves to know the truth.

 

“But I don’t know how to answer,” Harry groans, rubbing at his cheek in frustration. “And I know that must seem like total bullshit to you, like, I can hear how it sounds. How can someone possibly not know their own feelings, but you have to understand. Everything felt so fucked up back then, Lou, and you were like, my one safe place in the middle of all this whirling chaos. And I loved how you made me feel but I also felt so guilty all of the time about what I was doing to you. It was confusing and overwhelming.”

 

Louis can’t help but let out his own sigh of frustration, “I don’t understand what any of that actually means, Harold” he huffs out in irritation.

 

Harry looks at Louis then like he’s a particularly complicated riddle, his brow furrowed and his eyes intense and searching. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, his face just transforms, features smoothing themselves out and a wave of resignation washing over him. Louis only has a moment to take in the change, before Harry seems to steel himself.

 

“In that moment, on that night, in your flat in Chelsea, it felt like the truth,” Harry sighs, almost as if the words physically hurt him. “But looking back on it now, with all these months of perspective and hindsight, it just can’t have been. I mean, we barely really knew each other, did we? And it all happened so fast, and so many other things were going on at the same time. And fuck, I spent at least 30% of the time we spent together outright lying to you- lying to myself. How could I possibly have been in love with you? Love can’t possibly grow under those kind of circumstances, it’s just not possible.”

 

He looks up at Louis then, eyes wide and innocent, almost like he’s looking for affirmation. Like he needs Louis to confirm that, yes, he’s being perfectly reasonable here. That there are indeed certain specific conditions that allow love to blossom, and that whatever the fuck they were was just too hostile an environment for anything to thrive.

 

And Louis doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how to feel.

 

“There’s one thing I do know,” Harry almost whispers when it becomes apparent the other man isn’t going to say anything. “One thing I just feel deep down in my bones,” he’s still looking directly into Louis’ eyes this time with a fierce intensity that seemingly came out of nowhere, and Louis feels a bit like he’s burning. “In another world, we would have been so in love with each other, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. In another lifetime we would have been something to behold, and I’m so mad at myself for fucking it all up in this lifetime. I’m so angry, and so sorry because I know if just a few things had gone differently we could have been fucking fireproof.”

 

There’s moisture glistening in Harry’s eyes and Louis feels paralysed. Unable to even breathe properly, because somewhere, very deep down, he knows Harry’s right.

 

“I wish we could start this all over again.” Harry whispers so quietly, Louis can’t be sure he hasn’t imagined it.

 

And then whatever spell was cast over them is abruptly broken as two women stumble out into the previously secluded alley, loudly complaining about the shortcomings of the DJ. Louis gets temporarily swept up in their passionate discussion, watching the pair as they discuss what merit a DJ who refuses to take requests from the crowd could possibly have. When he turns back a few seconds later, Harry’s gone from where he previously stood.

 

It hurts more than he expects it to.

 

And so Louis stands numbly in the alleyway for what feels like hours, but must only be a few minutes, and lets the mindless chatter wash over him.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Later, he finds himself back in the party. Once again surrounded by a bevy of celebrity admirers, with no recollection of how he got there and no real ability to take in any of the things being said to him. He feels a bit like he’s underwater. Everything softer and slower and the tiniest bit blurred at the edges.

 

Which is why when he spots Harry sitting at the bar, forlornly staring into an empty wine glass, he jolts so hard it almost hurts. Everything sharpens.

 

He’d been so sure when Harry had left the alleyway, he’d also left the party. So sure he wouldn’t see the younger man again for a very, very long time, and suddenly that’s so clearly the very worst thing in the world.

 

He’s moving before the plan has a chance to fully formulate, and then all too soon, and yet nowhere near soon enough, he’s staring down into crystal green eyes and he knows exactly what he needs to say:

 

“Ok.”

 

Harry blinks up at him, confusion creasing his features, “Ok?”

 

“Ok,” Louis confirms. “Let’s do it. Let’s start over. From the beginning.”

 

“I… I don’t…” Harry stutters, and Louis can’t help but take one of Harry’s large guitar callused hands into his own, hoping to transfer some of the sudden certainty currently running his veins into the younger man.

 

“My name is Louis Tomlinson,” Louis states calmly, “and I’m here because you’re very beautiful and I’d quite like to buy you a drink.”

 

Harry’s brow is still furrowed as he glances down to where their hands are clasped together.

 

“This is traditionally the part where you tell me your name,” Louis prompts gently.

 

He sees the second Harry gets it. Watches as the younger man’s eyes widen and his jaw slackens minutely, “Are… are you sure?” he asks softly, almost like he’s scared he’s misunderstood.

 

“Never more sure of anything in my life.”

 

Harry still looks doubtful, so Louis gives his hand a squeeze of reassurance before bringing it to his mouth so he can brush his lips gently along the base of Harry’s thumb where the cross tattoo stands out so strongly against the pallor of his skin. “I’m sure. Now what’re you drinking, Curly? I’ll buy you any beverage your heart desires.”

 

Harry just stares at him, like he’s in a bit of a trance, before seemingly snapping himself out of whatever dark thought he was internally wrestling. It’s like watching a physical weight being lifted from his shoulders.

 

“It’s Harry,” Harry smiles widely, and it’s so breathtakingly beautiful, Louis actually feels his heart stutter, “and this is definitely an open bar so I very much doubt you’ll be buying me anything, hotshot.”

 

“Hotshot?” Louis questions, a cheesy grin taking over his face, “I quite like that.”

 

“I quite like you,” Harry replies shyly.

 

Louis feels his grin widening, “So much for playing hard to get, Harold. Keep making grand declarations like that and you might just scare me off.”

 

“I’m not worried, I’ve got a good feeling about this.” Harry states simply.

 

“Do you now? Bit early to be making those kind of predictions I reckon.” Louis says cheekily, even as he sidles himself into Harry’s space, suddenly desperate to be as close as possible.

 

“I don’t think so,” Harry replies as he flirtatiously pulls Louis in by the lapels of his jacket until their lips are only inches apart from each other, “I reckon we’re going to be something pretty fucking great.”

 

And yeah, Louis thinks as he leans right into the other boy, closing the last of the distance between them and allowing himself to finally get lost in the heat of Harry’s plush lips, something great seems about right.