Planes help Louis drift off. A deep, intense sleeplessness has followed him for months and he’s okay, he is, but it’s just nice to not be on solid ground for a little while. It reminds him of tours, of constant travelling and cold fingers and soft static light, of being curled into someone under a mound of blankets, so high up in the air.
He lands under pink skies and as soon as the gentle rumbling of the engines stops, he feels sick and lost.
He decided a long time ago that he wouldn’t (couldn’t) come to LA anymore.
He used to be stronger than he is now. Redrawing maps and borders all the time, pushing and pulling and testing, to see if he could hit on something different. Most of the time, now that he’s older and now that he’s been hurt and left behind, he just wants safety. He thinks a lot about two wine glasses on a side table, about a kitchen with a spice rack and no milk. He thinks about soft curls and an even softer mouth, about slow, tired voices and a mess of bruises left by teeth and tongues. He wants it all. He wants to settle into something comfortable and easy as breathing, but it doesn’t work like that anymore.
Today, Harry is part rock star, part grease monkey, part Hollywood entrepreneur, living with rum and palm trees in the part of LA that was once seedy. Louis lives in London, because the band has been and gone and he likes grey skies, sometimes. They texted for a while, after that one big fight, visited even, but then the messages got sadder and sadder and stopped, and so did the trips.
Louis hates LA, because he gets lost on the boulevard every fucking time, and it’s too hot in the sprawling, shiny city, and because he knows he’ll break if he sees Harry and he’ll break if he doesn’t, and because he feels like the atmosphere is always burning up with the two of them, with all the things Louis shouldn’t be thinking but always, always is.
There are two paps waiting when he walks out past baggage collection, and their abrasive voices attract a small crowd of twenty-something’s who must vaguely recognise him. He stops to sign some autographs, feeling vaguely desperate for the fans to start crying, to babble about how much they love him, so it could feel, just a little bit, how it used to. They don’t, though, just smile and say thank you and turn their backs. He used to hate how crazy the fans got, but now he misses it. He didn’t realise at the time, but it buoyed him up, made him feel like something bigger, somehow. He is small and shivering without that constant, frantic support.
He remembers one night when he and Harry were tangled together in another stark white hotel bed, skin warm, watching moonlight slip through the thin curtains and listening to the muffled screaming drifting up from the city street below. At the time, Louis probably wished for it to stop, for the fans to just quiet down and leave them to have their moment, but now he thinks the disturbance might have been an essential part of it. The way their little world had been so soft and warm and separate from the wildness outside, the way they had collected the kindness and love from out on the street and shared it between them.
Maybe the fans were more important than Louis could have known. They were always the reason that he and Harry had spent so much time up in the air, but maybe that made them the reason that they came crashing so hard back down.
Louis gives his driver the address of his hotel and sits back on the soft leather to watch the windows. The boulevard is silver-grey-pink with the light of dusk and his stomach is still turning. He thought it might be easier to drive through the city with someone else in control, so he didn’t have to get lost again and have all those memories come back. They come back anyway. He thinks about Harry’s low voice, fond and gentle on the other end of the phone line. “I love you,” He would say, every time. “Take a right.” And Louis would grumble under his breath about how much he hated this fucking city, how much he wished Harry would just buck up and move back to London with him. And Harry’s voice would go quieter and he would murmur, “You know it’s not like that anymore, Lou,” and Louis would feel sick with hurt and want but something would pull behind his rib cage and the pain of rejection would turn into something small and needy and burning, and he would still keep driving towards him. Always towards Harry.
“Actually,” He says to the driver, throat dry, chest cold, “Could you turn left here?”
He shows up to Harry’s place because he doesn’t know what it’s like to land and not race to his door.
Staring at the white surface, the little brass number, makes him think back to all the other awful times he’s come here. Even after he and Harry had broken up and moved apart, they hadn’t been able to help seeing each other. And every time it would be hot and fast and biting, and every time Louis would leave with bruises, and he would press on them for months and months afterwards, even after the purpling of his skin had long faded. Louis knows now (and he knew then), that it only hurt him more to keep clinging on, but Harry always seemed to be on his mind and it was so hard to stay away from LA. This is the longest he’s ever managed to steer clear – it’s been almost a year. He doesn’t know if it’s all going to work the way it would normally. A lot of things are different.
He has his hotel room key in his pocket, even as he greets Harry with false bravado, still not sure whether he might be turned away.
Harry’s smile looks just how it did on X Factor, and that makes Louis feel angry and desperate and so, so in love.
“I brought wine,” Louis says, lifting the bottle. “Thought we were due for a catch up.”
“Yeah,” Harry replies slowly, shoving his hand through his hair (just like he always did, fuck) and biting his lip. He looks gorgeous, in a t-shirt Louis has never seen before, bare feet curling into his carpet. “Good to see you, Lou.”
It’s Harry who pulls Louis close as he crosses the threshold, ducking and hunching down to bury his face into Louis’ neck for a moment. It’s lovely and awful and familiar and strange, to be in his arms again. It’s been almost a year. Because Louis had fucking promised that he wouldn’t do this to himself again.
“Are you okay?” Harry asks, voice low and muffled. “Is something wrong?”
Louis chokes out a laugh into the fabric of Harry’s shoulder, smells coconut shampoo. He hates that Harry has to ask the occasion, when it should be so obvious. Three years ago, it would have been obvious. Louis wouldn’t even have knocked.
“Don’t. Please.” He says, throat tight even as he wills himself to stay joking. “Don’t ask me that.”
So Harry doesn’t.
They head into his huge, high-ceilinged, loft style apartment, and Harry ignores the expensive looking couch to fold himself down on the rug in the middle of the floor. There are a few crates of vinyl scattered around the living room, and a cactus in the corner, and Louis would normally hate seeing these strange details, these new parts of Harry that he hasn’t been a part of shaping, but tonight he just breathes them in. He breathes Harry in.
“What have you been up to, then?” Harry asks, voice strangely soft, like he’s tiptoeing. “What brings you to LA?”
Louis shrugs. “Work. Got a couple of meetings for some clients. The 5SOS lads, Madison Beer, you know. Listening to a couple of records, some new artists I might be picking up. Nothing too exciting.” He makes himself smile, hoping it reaches his eyes. “Nothing like you’ve been up to, I bet.”
Harry wraps a hand around his ankle and smiles crookedly back, hair hanging in his eyes. “Hey now. You’re making double the money I am, and you know it. A proper businessman.”
Louis’ lungs feel like a basement. They could count the money all day, but that’s not what he wants. He wants to be a broke uni student trying to get his EP noticed, wants to be living with his boyfriend in a poky one-bedroom with a fire escape, blowing all their rent money on cheap tequila and snogging for hours instead of doing their homework.
He wants to know why has Harry left him like this, sick and feverish, still shivering.
Louis can’t make himself go on pretending that this small talk is enough. He thought he would be able to fuck and leave and pretend, like they’ve done for so long, but it’s hurting too much to be here in Harry’s atmosphere, knowing that it isn’t the way he wants to be. Harry is watching him, and he looks like home and sad eyes.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” Louis says, instead.
“I want you here, Lou,” Harry murmurs, “I promise I do. It’s just hard.”
And Louis knows why it’s hard, because it was Harry who cut this whole thing off the first time, Harry who has been keeping him at an arms distance for the past two years, Harry who kept telling Louis no when he tried to stay the night.
It was Harry who, inexplicably, seemed to think that the end of the band meant the end of them, too. Louis remembers the huge screaming match in their old apartment, Harry in angry tears telling him that if this was really going to happen, he had to let go of it all. That the band meant everything to him, and he couldn’t think about it anymore, couldn’t handle the memories. That they needed to take a break. Louis didn’t understand, still doesn’t. But he had always been the one who made the decisions for them, who was loud and insistent and abrasive when Harry was soft and quietly aware, so this fight, this new dynamic, hit him strangely.
Harry was yelling and strength when Louis was helpless and lost. Harry pushed him when he had never felt more off balance, and he fell to his knees and gave in.
So Harry did this to them. But maybe it’s Louis’ fault too. Maybe he didn’t fight hard enough. He wishes he could fight now, but he still feels weak with wanting. For two years he has had nightmares of slammed door noises, explosions and star storms. For two years he has wanted this, to be with him.
But it makes him feel confused and awful because it was also Harry who called him three months ago, slurring and teary, and told him he loved him, and it was Harry who independently released a song last week about wanting someone back. Maybe that’s why Louis is in LA. Maybe that’s why he’s on this floor, painted in moonlight, feeling so scattered, so displaced.
“You told me you loved me,” Louis says. His eyes are burning but he will not cry. The wine sits unopened on the floor between them and Louis wants to drink it all. “You called me and said-”
Harry crawls over the floor and kisses him, all long fumbling limbs and soft wet mouth, and Louis thinks that maybe that’s his answer. Like everything else tonight, it’s imperfect and careful and familiar and almost accidental. Louis leans into it, feeling the flush forming along his cheek where Harry’s thumb rests, the goose bumps on his neck. He thinks about how easy it could be, to pretend that it’s all okay now, to just fuck and enjoy it and wake up in Harry’s bed tomorrow like he belongs there.
It’s Harry who pulls away, and he’s crying.
“I’m sorry I keep doing this to you, I-” He hiccups, sniffs, covers his mouth and speaks through his fingers. “I was trying to keep myself from getting hurt but this hurts more, god.”
It’s so horrible to watch him like this. Louis wants to say ‘blame me’. He wants to gather Harry up like they’re sixteen again, light and strong with the space of freedom still surrounding them, tell him ‘you and me, love. you and me’. But Harry has never explained this, not properly, and Louis needs to know.
“Tell me why,” He murmurs. Harry is almost in his lap and it hurts to stop himself from touching him, comforting him, when he is still trembling with sobs.
Harry smears at his cheeks like a child. “I was a mess when the band broke up. You know I was. The things Zayn said-” He coughs a little, sniffs again. “I had to let it all go.”
“You had to let me go,” Louis supplies, swallowing hard.
“I didn’t want to, Lou.” He speaks like he’s begging; his face is red. “Not at the beginning. But then I got so determined, and I convinced myself that I was better on my own.”
There is no time for heart, now, no time for pride, because seeing him like this turns Louis into a tragedy. “We’re not better apart,” He says as he reaches for Harry, pulls him between his legs and against his chest. Harry is bigger than him, but now he feels tiny and quivering. “Can’t you see, Haz, that we’re not?”
Harry nods against Louis’ shirt, like a child, afraid. “I’m a mess without you. I tried, but I’m a mess.”
If Louis had imagined the way this whole thing would eventually resolve – and he has – he would absolutely have pictured it the other way around. It’s been so long that he’s felt empty and impossible, so long that he’s been left fumbling in the darkness for Harry’s body, even when he knows he isn’t there. He went to a doctor, even, because Liam had taken one look at him, the last time they’d come across each other in the middle of meetings for their shared businesses, and insisted.
“You look like you’re sinking,” He’d said, gripping Louis’ arms tight. “You look like you’re slipping.”
He had never imagined that it would be Harry crying in his arms, that it would be Harry who finally dropped the façade and fell apart. And it’s horrible, more horrible that it would have been if it had been him. Somehow, Harry is such a fused part of him that it feels like he’s been lying to himself. All the nights he had looked at pap pictures of his boy out with his new fancy friends, sat on the floor and drank wine and cried, maybe Harry was doing it too. To love and do nothing, to hide his feelings away, seems more like something he would do. But maybe that’s the point.
He pulls Harry’s face up and kisses him, and Harry kisses him back, and this is how it starts and ends, always. (Louis is a compass that is always pointed towards home, towards Harry. Always towards Harry). He knows that touch might not be good, so soon after this helpless confession, but it feels like they’re falling back into each other in the only way they know how.
They are breathing like they’re desperate, and Harry’s teeth are sharp. He holds Louis’ wrists in one hand and pushes him onto his back, forces gasps out from where his lungs are dry and cold. It’s overwhelming in that moment, Harry’s mouth on his neck where he hasn’t been touched in months. He’s been so cold.
“Stop,” He breathes, small. “Harry, stop.”
They pause, foreheads touching, and Louis feels like he might black out with how much he needs everything to be okay now. Under Harry, Louis feels all new and full up with a quiet, vulnerable kind of love. It feels like hanging up the phone on the sound of Harry’s sleep-slow breathing. It feels like he’s standing, shaking, by the side of the road watching the lights fly past.
Harry has stopped crying, but now it’s Louis.
“Don’t cry, Lou,” Harry murmurs, eyebrows furrowed like this is the worst thing he’s ever seen, resting on an elbow so he can thumb away a tear where it’s tracked down the side of Louis’ face. “What’s wrong?”
Louis squeezes his eyes shut tight. “Happy tears, I think?” He breathes. His hands are fisted in the back of Harry’s t-shirt like he’s never going to let go, and that might be less hyperbole than truth, if he really thinks about it. “God. Do not abandon me now, okay?”
He’s spoken without thinking and he knows it sounds small and needy and lost, and he knows it might hurt Harry’s feelings to show him just what he’s done, but this moment is split so wide open that he can’t stop.
“You can’t leave me. You have no idea what it’s been like.”
Louis stops there because Harry is kissing his cheeks and his jaw, not in a way that’s leading to something, just as a silly little attempt at comfort, and it’s so Harry that he laughs a little. Harry lifts his head and smiles.
“I won’t, Louis,” He says. “You and me, okay?”
And Louis thinks, okay. Maybe they can do this.