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i met a superhero.

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I met a superhero.

 

An empty hospital corridor at 6am, wearing ratty PJs and almost definitely smelling rather awful after a sweaty night of pain and stress is not where he expects to meet the most attractive man he’s ever seen in his entire life, but it is what it is. The man is walking towards him in a rumpled suit, scratching his beard and looks up to see Harry, leaning on his walker a bit too heavily, and definitely not being subtle about his staring. “Oh hey, do you know where the canteen is?” The man says, and Harry can tell how exhausted he is now he’s closer.

 

It takes him a little by surprise; he’s sore and tired, and definitely not looking good enough to be involving himself in a conversation with someone this attractive, but he smiles anyway. “Yeah.” He says, and he tries to blink some of the brain fog away. “You just have to follow the signs, but it’s on the ground floor near the entrance.”

 

“Nah I can’t see shit!” The man laughs. “My contacts dried up and I don’t have my glasses with me, I’ve been wandering around for a good twenty minutes.”

 

Harry laughs at his light voice and self-deprecation, a breath of relief from the heaviness of a cold hospital. “Oh, um. I could show you if you want? I’m going that way anyway.” His heart speeds up a tiny bit at the thought of more conversation, but he begins leading the way.

 

“Awesome, mate, thanks.” There’s a beat of awkward silence as the man slows his pace next to Harry’s shuffling slippers across the linoleum. “I’m Louis, by the way.”

 

“Harry,” he responds quickly, glad he knows his name. He wants to ask what Louis is doing; who he’s visiting. He’s not a patient judging by his wrist, empty of an ID bracelet, and none of the patients ever wear more than PJs or the standard-issued gown, but asking why people are at the hospital is, like, forbidden by some unspoken law of etiquette. Just before they reach the lift, Harry points at a painting. “I love that one.” It’s a picture of a crowd of people, looking normal and doing normal things, all with little speech bubbles and pictures above their heads, depicting thoughts and illnesses and emotions.

 

“It’s amazing,” Louis says. He points to a man with “diabetes” written in his speech bubble. “My sister has that.”

 

His face doesn’t leave room for a discussion, so Harry presses the button on the lift. The entrance ground floor is busier than the ward, people queuing for vending machines and sitting in waiting rooms. Louis walks a step ahead of Harry, like he’s trying to stop anyone from bumping into him and knocking him over, and Harry’s clumsy as hell on a good day, let alone with a rickety hospital walker, so he’s nothing if not thankful. Harry pokes Louis in the hip when they need to veer off into the canteen, and he turns around with a bright smile on his face, like Harry showing him to the canteen was the best thing to ever happen to him.

 

It’s a quieter kind of busy in the cafe. There are people queuing for breakfasts and sitting around tables, reading newspapers and scrolling through their phones, but there’s not much chat. It’s not unlike every other morning at the hospital, but it makes him sadder today. They join the queue and both order a bacon sandwich, and Harry expects Louis to walk away, but he just turns to smile at him. “Where shall we sit?” He asks, face just as bright, voice just as airy.

 

“Not by the service door,” Harry smiles, “there’s a nasty breeze every time they open it, I have no idea how the cooks work in there.”

 

“So,” Louis says once they’ve found a quiet corner and are tucking into their sandwiches, “what do you do?”

 

“Oh,” Harry says, a little taken aback. “I’m a part-time florist, I work in my best friend’s shop in the city centre.”

 

“I should’ve known,” Louis teases, “with hair like that, you’re made for floristry!”

“Destined since birth,” Harry says seriously, but his eyes give him away. “What about you?”

 

Louis laughs, “boring business stuff.” He gestures to his suit. “Came right here from the office, when I heard about Niall.”

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Harry says sympathetically. He still hasn’t mastered how to react to people’s reasoning for their hospital visit no matter how many times it’s happened.

 

“Oh no,” Louis laughs, “he only had a mild skating accident, gave himself a concussion and a broken wrist, he’s alright. Gave me a right scare though.”

 

Harry can’t help but wonder if Niall is Louis’ boyfriend or brother or friend or - is there a ring? - husband. He’s known Louis for like fifteen minutes, jealousy really shouldn’t be on the cards, but it is. God, it is. He’s hopelessly endeared by every word that comes out of his mouth and desperately attracted to his face and personality, but even though Louis doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, he’s noticed the walker and the slow pace and he definitely doesn’t want a burden like Harry in his life - as a boyfriend.

 

“I’m glad,” is what Harry says, because he is. His phone buzzes in the pocket of his PJ bottoms and he sees multiple texts from his sister and his friends, asking if he’s being discharged or if they need to come. He taps out a quick response to both of them: ‘fine now, let you know later xx’ and when he looks up, Louis is looking at him with an unreadable expression written across his face. Harry blushes and turns his phone off.

 

“You’re cute,” Louis says, and it’s not quiet or shy like it would’ve been had Harry said it, it’s confident and beaming, like this is something Louis does a lot. Flirt, that is. Not call boys in their PJs cute in the middle of a hospital canteen over a bacon sandwich.

 

Harry blushes harder and plays with the crust of his sandwich. “Um. Thank you,” he says gently, “I think you’re pretty cute too.” He steals a glance at Louis from under his eyelashes and sees him looking fondly back at him, his own sandwich long forgotten.

 

“Look, this might be wildly inappropriate and I don’t really know the first thing about you, but would you like to go out sometime?” Louis says, a faint blush finally settling on his cheekbones. “With me, I mean. On a date.”

 

Harry, of course, says yes.

 

**

 

He gets back to his little flat later that day, and Liam is sat on his couch watching reruns of last years Love Island. “Haz, mate,” he says as soon as Harry steps foot in the living room. “How are you feeling?” He stands up to give him a hug and then leads him into the kitchen and fixes some beans on toast.

 

“Bloody exhausted,” Harry sighs, settling into a stool. “I do have news though.”

 

“Did they finally authorise that new medication?” Liam asks, face irritated as he turns abruptly, tomato sauce dripping from the wooden spoon. “It’s pissing me off how long it’s taken now.”

 

“Well they did, the doctor phoned my consultant and recommended it so it should be signed off on, but also,” Harry says, eyes shining, “I met someone.”

 

“At the hospital?” Liam says incredulously, turning again and staring at his best mate.

 

“Yeah, he said his friend had an accident or something, but he’s called Louis and he is completely gorgeous,” Harry gushes, cheeks pink again, “he even asked me on a date and I got his number and all that too.”

 

“That’s lovely, H, I’m so pleased,” Liam grins, plating the beans on toast and sitting down. “Tell me everything.”

 

Harry’s tidying the kitchen up while Liam flicks through Netflix for a film to watch later when his phone buzzes from it’s charger by the kettle. His grin nearly splits his face in two when he reads the dinner tomorrow night? -Louis from the hospital ;) text, and he types out an enthusiastic response straight away before getting back to the washing up. He has more smile than soap suds on his face when he walks into the living room later on. It has everything to do with Louis.

 

**

 

The next day crawls by slowly as Harry arranges wedding bouquets and floral displays, eyeing the grandfather clock in the corner of the shop every five minutes. They’d agreed on an Italian restaurant not far from Harry’s work, and he’s distracted by his tightest jeans and revealing shirt that he knows are hanging in the coat closet in the backroom; he burns holes into them through the cupboard doors every time he heads to the kitchen to fill his watering can with another litre of water.

 

By the time he clocks out, excitement is thrumming through his veins and he feels as though he’s vibrating with anticipation. Zayn’s laughs that had been near-constant through the whole day die down once he tries his outfit on and does a little twirl in front of the mirror in the hall. “You look fit, babe,” he says, coming to stand next to Harry and squeezing his side gently. “You’ll let me know how it goes, yeah?”

 

“Of course I will, you idiot,” Harry laughs, pulling away to pack away his scissors and can, sweeping the trimmings and loose petals into their compost bin in the corner. “You lot are always the first to know.”

 

 

He’s earlier than Louis by just a few minutes and spends the time deliberating between the spaghetti or the calzone, but it isn’t long before there’s a smiling face in front of him. Louis’ dressed in a similar black suit to the one he was wearing when they met, although significantly less crumpled, his crisp white shirt sitting neatly under the sleek tie that Harry’s wise enough to know cost a pretty penny. “It’s nice to see you out of your pyjamas, love,” Louis grins. “Although you did look rather dashing in that ratty tee.”

 

Harry blushes. (He’s fairly certain it’s an unavoidable reaction to any kind of attention that Louis gives him. It only gets worse when the attention is a compliment.) “Thank you,” he says, a soft smile playing across his face. “You look lovely.”

 

“Quite the charmer, aren’t we?” He’s so upbeat and flirty and Harry never wants to leave the restaurant if Louis keeps it up, it feels so easy and smooth, like being around him flicks a switch inside Harry and he’s feeling safe and confident and butterflies are released to swim around his tummy, spread down his arms and legs until his whole body is buzzing with the thought of him. Louis looks over the menu for a second before looking up, permanent smile lines around his eyes crinkling and shining at Harry. “Do you reckon the pasta or pizza is the way to go?”

 

“Either one will be better than the hospital canteen food,” Harry laughs. “I’m gonna go with the spaghetti.”

 

“Interesting choice, Mr Styles.” Louis runs his eyes over the menu once more before closing it firmly. “I’m leaning towards the risottos.” His voice is light and breezy and undemanding and they fall into easy conversation in the low light of the restaurant. Harry startles when the waiter comes over and asks for their drink orders; he hadn’t even looked at the wine list.

 

Louis seems to recognise Harry’s hesitation and jumps in. “We’ll have the 1966 Bordeaux with an aerator, thanks.”

 

“Do you need some more time for your main courses, sir?”

 

“No, we will have the cacio e pepe and the risotto ai gamberi.” Louis’ crisp and professional in his conversation, strong in his Italian pronunciation and it makes it all the more noticeable when he turns back to Harry as the waiter leaves with their menus and smiles fondly. “You alright, love?”

 

“That wine wasn’t too expensive, was it? I shouldn’t really be drinking too much because of some medication,” Harry asks, blush settling over his face once again. (Harry suspects it never fully left.)

 

“Don’t worry about it, darling,” Louis says reassuringly as he reaches across the table to hold Harry’s hand. There’s something calming about the whole exchange, the gentle pet name, the firm hold on his hand and Louis looking strong and in control. Harry visibly relaxes and returns Louis’ smile before beginning to tell him all about Zayn and the flower shop.

 

The dinner is delicious. Louis steals twirls of his spaghetti, although Harry makes no move to stop him in any way whatsoever, and feeds him little bits of his risotto, making the younger man grin at him across the table. He lets himself have a glass of wine after convincing Louis it won’t make him sick, and it loosens him up nicely, the conversation flowing even better.

 

It’s only once Louis asks if he wants dessert that he realises he needs to have a little walk to shake off some of the stiffness in his hips before it settles into full-blown pain. “Um, how about we take a walk and find an ice cream place somewhere on the high street?” Harry says a little shyly. He knows that dating him is unconventional at times.

 

“That sounds lovely, H,” Louis beams. He quickly catches the attention of a waiter and requests the bill, pulling out his wallet. “Let me get this one, love.” For once, Harry’s happy enough to comply.

 

 

As soon as they step into the cool evening air, Louis takes his hand firmly and they walk slowly in the direction of the busier town centre. He feels safe around Louis as the quiet settles around them, the still road a short reprieve from the crowded restaurant, and he looks over at the other man. “I’ve had such a nice time,” he says softly.

 

Louis untangles their fingers to place his hand on Harry’s waist, pulls him closer. “It’s not over yet, lovely,” Louis smiles and Harry rests his head on his shoulder all the way to the ice cream shop.

 

Once again, Louis orders for the both of them, and while Harry might have felt overlooked or patronised had it been anyone else, it just feels protective and nice with Louis. He’d whispered that he wanted the daim and the raspberry in a cup as they stood in the queue and Louis had looked pleased with him, like Harry trusting him to order made him feel just as happy as it made Harry.

 

They continued their walk down the street until Harry spotted a wooden bench, well lit by the fading sunlight and streetlamp a couple of feet away. He pulled Louis towards it, and smiled as he tucked Harry into his side as they ate their ice cream. “Where do you think she’s going?” Harry asked, pointing towards a young woman in business wear talking on the phone.

 

“Ooh, an interesting one,” Louis said thoughtfully. “I’d have to say her personal assistant’s house for a schedule update.”

 

Harry laughed. “I suppose you know a lot about after-hours working, huh?”

 

“Unfortunately,” he chuckled. “Didn’t work late today though, did I?”

 

“I guess you didn’t,” Harry smiled, looking up at Louis. They’re already so intimate and they’ve known each other for 36 hours. It should be more absurd than it is.

 

Louis pulls him impossibly closer and points to a middle-aged man in a big coat. “What about him?”

 

**

 

His best friends are far too invested in his love life, he decides as he sits on Skype with Zayn while Liam lays on the sofa next to him. “So he paid the entire bill? And for the ice cream?” Zayn asks, voice sounding crackly through his beat-up laptop speakers.

 

“Yeah, he didn’t even let me see it, and he bought this wine I reckon was quite expensive,” Harry says, making Liam shoot up.

 

“Ooh, what was the name, let’s look it up.” He grabs his phone from the coffee table. They google the restaurant wine list and Harry points out the Bordeaux. “£90 on a restaurant wine? Too only be half drunk?”

 

Zayn whistles. “Your boy’s loaded, mate.”

 

“He’s not my boy,” Harry blushes, insistent. “We’re not boyfriends.”

 

“Do you want to be?” Liam asks, winding an arm around Harry’s waist and curling him into his body, similar to how Louis did earlier in the evening. He’s so fucking gone it’s not even funny.

 

Harry’s blush intensifies and he buries his face in Liam’s jumper. “Maybe,” he mumbles into his jumper.

 

“Aww,” Zayn croons, “baby H is in love.”

 

It doesn’t mean anything when Harry wriggles his hand free from where it’s trapped between his and Liam’s body to flip him off.

 

**

They spend the next few weeks continuing in a pattern of dinner dates and afternoon dates and FaceTime dates as they feel around the new relationship they’ve started, and it’s the best thing to happen to Harry in a while, but it feels different when Harry gets a text asking to meet Louis for lunch at his office. He says yes for a number of reasons:

1 he really wants to see where Louis works

2 he thinks he’ll look really hot sitting in an office in a suit

3 he’s kind of infatuated with him and wants to spend pretty much every waking hour in his presence.

 

It’s cold for mid-September so Harry’s wearing his big scarf and favourite jacket, hair messy and cheeks pink by the time he’s taken the bus across town and walked the short distance from the bus stop to the address Louis sent him. He’s obviously a bigger deal in the office than he’d let on, because as soon as he approaches the reception desk, a woman waiting beside it smiles at the secretary and beckons Harry towards the lifts. “I’m Diana,” she said warmly. “Mr Tomlinson sent me to collect you, he’s in his office waiting.” As she presses the button for the top floor and swipes her keycard, she calls over to the receptionist. “Don’t make Mr Tomlinson wait for the food, Melissa, send the courier up immediately. He’ll activate the permission.”

 

Harry’s sort of in a daze as they hurtle up towards the top floor in the fancy lift, and as they walk through the quiet corridor everyone’s eyes seem to linger on him for a second too long. He’s relieved from the unfamiliarity when Louis opens the door to a big office at the end of the floor and smiles warmly and Harry wastes no time hurrying away from the prying eyes and into Louis’ arms. They shut the door behind them and share a long embrace before Harry finally removes his coat and jacket. “I reckon this is a bit more than just ‘business stuff’, Lou,” Harry says, a laugh littering his voice, as he walks to the big glass window and watches the busy city churn away beneath them. “Are you the CEO or something?”

 

Louis laughs back, unabashed. “Being a CEO isn’t really my style.” He walks over to stand behind Harry, wrapping his arms around him as they look at the view together. “I start the companies and other people run them for me.”

 

“Not a bad deal,” Harry giggles, turning in Louis’ arms to look at him and it goes silent quickly. He’s close is the thing, and they’d shared a quick kiss at the end of the couple of dates they’ve been on, but there’s something more intense in the way Louis is looking at him that makes him catch his breath, but he doesn’t have long to consider it before Louis leans forward and kisses him softly, holding him close as they breathe and move together. It feels magical, almost, like he’s on top of the world as he kisses the most beautiful man he’s ever seen with the city spread below them, and by the time it’s over Harry’s reeling.

 

“Hi,” Louis whispers, pulling away only slightly, lips turned into the smallest smile. Harry blushes and looks up at him with a matching smile before Louis steers them gently to the nice sofa in the corner.

 

“So companies, huh?” Harry teases, sitting against Louis while they wait for the food to be sent

up.

 

“I have a few,” Louis smirks. “This one’s the second largest, the biggest one is in New York, and there are a couple smaller ones in Europe and the rest of the UK.”

 

Harry fixes him with a look.

 

“Okay,” Louis concedes, chuckling, “I wasn’t entirely honest about what I do, but I didn’t find it relevant, you know. It’s just money. It’s just a job. It doesn’t make me or make a relationship.”

 

Harry hums and eyes Louis with faux suspicion. “I suppose that’s fair,” he sniffs, only holding the facade for a moment before he dissolves into giggles and cuddles back into Louis. 

 

“Oh it is now is it?” Louis laughs, smiling fondly down at the boy curled into him. “I’m pleased I passed your test.”

 

There’s a short knock at the door and Louis stands to open it while Harry sits back into the sofa and pulls one of the pillows into his lap, folding down onto it to stretch his upper back. He hears Louis thank his assistant and close the door shut before coming back to Harry with two big subs and the Tesco salt and vinegar crisps Harry mentioned were his favourite on the phone the other day. “You got me these!” Harry smiles, taking them from Louis as he sat back down and unwrapped the sandwiches. “You remembered!”

 

“Course I did, love,” Louis says nonchalantly, passing Harry his sub and taking a bite of his own.

 

“Thank you, Lou,” Harry says sincerely, opening the packet.

 

“Going straight for dessert?” Harry blushes and sets them aside, reaching for the meatball sandwich on his lap instead.

 

Louis places a hand on his thigh. “Hey, I was only kidding,” he says, voice soft and placating. “Have whatever you want first.”

 

Harry has the sub first anyway, and they chat lazily about their days through mouthfuls of what Louis called ‘the best sandwiches in town, honestly’. Harry can’t really fault his judgement either, lunch is delicious and spent in pretty damn good company, and he kind of never wants to leave.

 

Once the wrappers are discarded on the floor and they’re happy and full and sat together on the couch, Louis checks his watch and sighs. “I should probably get back, I have a meeting with the CEO in fifteen. Are you gonna be okay to get home?”

 

Truthfully, Harry had been stressing internally about getting back because his back was hurting like a bitch and his arms felt tired and heavy: sitting for half an hour on a bumpy bus was going to be near impossible but he had no idea how to speak to Louis about it. On cue, his eyes started to water slightly as he tried to find a way to tell him, every instinct telling him just to lie and grin and bear it. “Yeah,” he says thickly, not quite meeting Louis’ eyes. “I’ll be fine.”

 

Louis’ brow furrowed in concern and he reached a hand to touch Harry’s face gently, raising his chin to meet his eyes. “What’s wrong, love? You’re alright.” He moved closer on the couch to wrap an arm around Harry.

 

“I just - I don’t think I can take the bus right now,” Harry managed to get out. Explaining his illness to other people was the hardest thing he ever had to do so he usually had Liam or Zayn or his sister at times where he knew it had to be discussed, like doctor’s appointments and his disability benefit meeting a few years ago.

 

“Okay, darling,” Louis says, voice still so soft and gentle and caring as he holds Harry close. It’s a horrible thing to explain and still, he feels safe and protected in Louis’ arms. “Is everything okay?”

 

Harry knows Louis is giving him an out. He doesn’t have to explain it all right now, he doesn’t have to say anything he doesn’t want to and Louis won’t question it, but something about the way he’s looking at him and holding his hand and ordered for him at the restaurant and bought the crisps he loved from Tesco makes Harry want to tell him, let him in.

 

“I have, um-” Harry starts, shaking slightly as he tries to find the right word. He can never say the word out loud. Fibromyalgia. “this chronic illness. It means that, um, I’m in a lot of pain, like, all the time - it never goes away and I get really tired and sometimes confused…” He trails off, worried that he’s said too much, that Louis might decide he’s too much of a burden and break things off, or worse, completely ignore the problem and never acknowledge it. It’s happened before. Harry reckons it would hurt a million times more if it came from Louis, but he thinks he knows that Louis isn’t like that. That this won’t change anything.

 

“Love, I’m sorry,” Louis says, not changing his body language at all, “if I had known I would have sent my driver to come and pick you up!”

 

Harry relaxes, releases tension he wasn’t even aware he was holding on to. And then hesitates. “Wait, you have a driver?” He asks incredulously.

 

Louis laughs. “Yes, darling, I do. And I will push back my meeting so I can come with you while he takes you back to your place now, and maybe later he can bring you to my house for a nice dinner date? We can talk some more then?”

 

Calm and relaxed now the hardest bit is over and he has more Louis time to look forward to at the end of the day, Harry nods happily and accepts Louis’ help to his feet. Louis calls down to the front desk and orders the car to pick them up immediately and the meeting to be pushed back an hour while Harry bundles up in his jacket and coat and then takes his hand and leads them to the lifts.

 

The driver introduces himself as Vince and shakes Harry’s hand politely, rolling up the partition as soon as the engine starts. Louis holds his hand once again as they sit side by side in some car Harry doesn’t recognise, but knows is super expensive. “I hope you know that this changes absolutely nothing,” Louis says after a minute or so of comforting quiet. “Apart from me being more in awe of how brave you are for sharing so well and dealing with such a difficult illness.”

 

Harry blushes as he looks over with a smile on his face. “I think I knew it wouldn’t. That’s why I could tell you. I always have to have someone to help me tell people but I didn’t with you.” He still feels shy around Louis, but it’s slowly ebbing away.

 

(Like the perfect gentleman he is, Louis walks him to the door, and kisses him softly on the doorstep before promising him wine and pizza later. Harry spends the rest of the afternoon with a smile the size of the moon on his face.)

 

***

 

Louis’ house is nothing like he thought it would be. He’d expected a big penthouse suite maybe, or a large mansion with a circular driveway and a couple of Mercedes and BMWs in an oversized garage. Instead, Vince drives him to a modest five-bedroom just outside the city. The grounds are obviously huge, he can see a beautiful garden through the little arch at the side of the house, but Louis’ home is cozy and private and Harry’s suddenly much more attracted to him. Louis opens the door as the car pulls onto the large drive and beats Vince to Harry’s door to help him out. “Hi, love,” he says as Harry steps out very elegantly and doesn’t nearly fall over the side of the car.

 

“Oops,” Harry laughs. “Hi, Lou.”

 

A long nap with his heated blanket and some low-level pain killers sets Harry up for a long evening of cuddles and food, so he dressed in his comfy leggings and a big hoodie and watched a few episodes of White Collar before 5.30 when Vince knocked on his door. Louis guides him into the house after nodding and thanking the driver, and they head to the kitchen where three large pizzas are laying on the island next to a very expensive bottle of wine. The kitchen looks high end and beautiful, unique, like no-one in the world has the exact same model in their house, and it’s so Louis it hurts.

 

“I got three pizzas because I didn’t know what you’d fancy,” Louis says as he takes two wine glasses from a glass cabinet in the corner.

 

Harry melts a little. “Can I have some of the spinach and ricotta and some of the meat one?” He asks, leaning against the counter to take some of the weight off his sore legs.

 

Louis notices, because of course he does. “Absolutely, lovely. Why don’t you sit down in the living room? I’ll bring the food and wine through, you go and relax.”

 

Harry blushes, because of course he does, and walks through the door Louis had nodded at. He settles into the corner of the comfy sofa and looks around. What Louis had saved in having a smaller house, he made up for with the beautiful interior. The couches alone were probably worth more than two month’s rent at Harry’s flat, and the living room was kitted out with a cinema tv experience, incredible art that must have cost a fortune and the kind of fireplace burning away that Harry’s mum would have killed for when he was little.

 

Only a couple of minutes later, Louis brings a tray filled with two plates of pizza, wine, and glasses. “Did you have a good afternoon, babe?”

 

Harry nods as he reaches for his plate and glass, noticing that Louis had filled his glass only half full so he could still take the meds he needed. “I did,” Harry smiles, feeling so full of good things. “I had a nap and some painkillers and I watched some episodes of this TV series that I love but it got really stressful just before Vince came so I had to turn it off.”

 

Louis laughs fondly. “I’m glad, love. My meeting with the CEO was even more boring than usual when I knew I had a Harry waiting to see me later,” he winks, taking a sip of wine as he watches Harry blushes. “I nearly cried when Niall bailed me out, said he had an emergency.”

 

“So do you know Niall from work?”

 

“No, I’ve known him since we were kids. He could never do the whole office thing, he’s a PE teacher at the comprehensive in the town centre, actually,” Louis says, “but the great thing about owning the company is that if you don’t want to be somewhere, you don’t have to be. I just got Bowen to email me the statistics instead.” He laughs, and turns the TV on low and flicks it to a rerun of 8 out of 10 cats.

 

Harry nods towards the TV. “Background noise?”

 

“Always.”

 

Another little box on Harry’s “ideal man” list gets ticked. “Niall sounds nice, I always wanted a best mate in school but I didn’t find Zayn and Liam until I went to uni.”

 

“My sister always felt like that, but then met this great group of girls when she went to college and they’re inseparable now,” Louis says understandingly, finishing his glass. “What did you study?"

 

“History,” Harry says, “but I had to drop out midway through first year because I got too ill to continue. I’d met Zayn and Liam by then, though, so it kind of felt like I’d gained enough from uni anyway.” He puts his plate on the table as he finishes his last slice.

 

“What do they do?” Louis asks, settling back into the sofa as he finishes his plate too.

 

“Well Zayn owns the flower shop I work in,” he says, and he can’t help the smile that creeps onto his face at the thought of his best friends. “Liam is a family crisis lawyer, actually, but he wants to be a judge, so he’s working his way up through the ranks.”

 

“Impressive,” Louis hums.

 

They waste a lot of the evening talking about their lives and jobs and families, but when a lull in the conversation comes, Harry takes the chance to talk about what he knows Louis wants to understand. “I’m really not good, you know, at, um - talking about this stuff,” Harry says, cheeks burning as he tries to avoid Louis’ eyes.

 

“Harry, love,” he says, changing his body posture and gesturing for Harry to come and sit against him, “that doesn’t bother me. We go at your pace, and you only share what you feel comfortable with, okay? You don’t have to stress about that when you’re with me.”

 

Harry rearranges himself so he’s pressed against Louis and immediately feels more comfortable, physically, but also in sharing a really vulnerable piece of himself with someone else. “It’s called fibromyalgia,” Harry starts. “It took ages for them to diagnose because it doesn’t usually affect, um, boys… it’s usually only girls so a lot of people told me to man up and deal with it when nothing was coming back on scans and tests.”

 

Louis kisses the top of his head. “That’s horrible, love, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have people not believe you when you’re in so much pain.”

 

“Yeah, it was really - it knocked my confidence, and I kept doubting myself, but it was finally diagnosed when I was 18. I think another thing is that they don’t like to diagnose it in children so they were hesitant because of that, too.” He takes a breath and Louis lets the quiet remain as he holds Harry close. “And when I dropped out of uni, everyone realised it was more serious and I wasn’t going to be able to work properly. So I went on a few disability benefits but when Zayn graduated the next year, he opened the shop and gave me a job, which is great because he understands when I can’t work and lets me sit down and plug heat packs in and take all the breaks I need and he’s amazing.”

 

“I’m so pleased you have such great friends, H,” Louis says. “Need someone to look out for you when I’m not there, hey?”

 

Butterflies swim in his tummy and warmth spreads through his body at his protectiveness, and he has to turn his face into Louis’ chest to hide the hot blush covering his face. Louis seems to notice and grins into Harry’s hair, cuddling him close.

 

“Yeah, they’re really great,” he says quietly when he recovers. “And so are my mum and sister. But. Um - you know it’s really - it cant be easy to be with someone like me?” His voice rises slightly as he tries to voice his worst fears. “Like, I can’t do a lot of things other people can and I’m tired a lot and sometimes I have to use a wheelchair or crutches and then I sometimes have to go to A&E like I did when we met.”

 

“Harry,” Louis says, and his voice sounds thick and wet like he’s close to crying. “I don’t care about any of that stuff. I only want to help you and be there for you and spend time with you. I would never be embarrassed or burdened by any of what you said, only proud to have such a brave and beautiful boyfriend.” He clearly catches himself saying the ‘boyfriend’ word when he tenses, but Harry’s not about to let that happen.

 

He turns in Louis’ arms so he’s facing him with a big grin on his face. “Boyfriend?” he asks confidently.

 

It’s Louis’ turn to blush this time as he pulls Harry back down onto him and buries his face in his hair. “Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Everything I learn about you only makes me more attracted to you, especially you telling me what you did today, so how do you feel about being my boyfriend?”

 

“I feel very good about that,” Harry beams.

 

“Yeah?” Louis is smiling just as Harry is.

 

“Definitely.”

 

**

 

Harry decides that the universe is actually plotting against him when he wakes up in excruciating pain a couple of weeks later. His entire body feels bruised and beaten; he can barely bring himself to roll over despite how uncomfortable he is in his current position, and its not even like this has never happened before, but it is the absolute worst possible timing.

 

It takes him a few minutes, but he manages to fumble for his phone and get Siri to text Liam, but Liam isn’t who he really wants: Louis had left for his New York offices two days ago and wouldn’t be back for another week. Harry had skipped his medication and they’d got wine drunk the night before, watched shit films and talked one another’s ears off. Before Louis had left, he’d kissed him deeply in the living room and again on the porch, whispering in Harry’s ears how much he’d miss him, how much he’d think of him while he was away. Harry had felt so loved and special in that moment, like he was the most important thing in Louis’ world, even just for a moment.

 

As he lay weakly in his bed, chest heaving and face white and red from the pain, he wants nothing more than Louis laying next to him, holding him close, taking all the hurt away with his strong hands and gentle love. But he isn’t there.

 

Liam comes over immediately, as he always does. He makes them both a cup of tea and uses cushions and cautious hands to help move him, patient as Harry gets frustrated when it takes a little while to find a comfortable position. Liam had a wonderful boss at his new law firm, and her sister had fibromyalgia, so she both understood and respected the times when he took a few hours to visit Harry and sort him out before coming back to the office. It feels different this time though, when Liam leaves him curled up in bed with as much medicine, heat, food and fluids he could find, along with a promise to come back after he finished work, it feels lonelier.

 

He gets worse around lunchtime, feeling flu-like and nauseous. He puts on Friends as he always does when he feels this way, and although it takes his mind of everything slightly, the pain still clouds his brain and he finds it harder and harder to follow the episodes as they play out across the laptop screen. It’s probably a combination of both the pain and the exhaustion that knocks him out only to wake up to Liam sitting on his bed and pushing his hair off his forehead. “Hi, H,” he says softly, sitting with Harry for a few moments before getting up to open the window behind the drawn curtains. “Feeling any better?”

 

Harry manages a weak shake of his head, but it makes tears come to his eyes whenever anyone asks how he’s doing when he’s like this. No, he’s not feeling any better; he feels sad and hopeless and like he’s going to be stuck in bed like this forever.

 

When Liam leaves to pick up some food, he finds himself sat up in bed playing with his phone, twisting it in his hands with the contacts app open on Louis’ name. In a brief display of bravery, his tummy turning, he presses call and holds his breath as the dial tone plays, curls his fingers into his duvet. He’s half-expecting Louis to be busy in a meeting or something, so he’s almost startled by the cheery greeting on the other end. “Hi, love!”

 

Harry can hear the busy streets of New York City, it must be early afternoon there, the city buzzing with life, and he’s never felt so far away. He heaves out a sob he’s been suppressing all day, like it bubbles out at the thought of Louis living his life away from him when he’s feeling like this, reminded all over again of the absence of his boyfriend’s hold. “Harry, what’s wrong, darling?” Louis’ voice on high alert, dripping in concern. “Are you okay?”

 

“Lou,” is all Harry manages between his great, heaving breaths, tired and in pain and wanting Louis.

 

“My love, you need to tell me what’s wrong,” Louis says, and the background noise has dissipated significantly, as if he’s stepped inside somewhere.

 

“Don’t feel well,” he cries, “I need you.”

 

 

When Harry wakes up the next morning, he’s feeling even worse than the day before. Admittedly, he was running (laying in bed) on very few hours of sleep, but his body still feels bruised and sore, his leg is aching more than it has in a while and he’s roasting hot, partly because of the innumerable heated blankets and partly because he can never regulate his temperature when he gets like this. Liam’s still asleep on the mattress beside his bed that he bought almost as soon as Harry moved into the flat, determined to be as close as possible whenever Harry needs him. The sun is peeking through the curtains and he knows that soon Liam will fix him with some fruit and yogurt and be off for another ten or so hours.

 

He supposes he’s been lucky this time; he hasn’t gone to the hospital and Liam’s been able to go to work, but knowing that he could have Louis right beside him, knowing what he’s missing has somehow made this one of the most mentally challenging flare-ups in a while. Louis had stayed on the phone with him until Liam came back with a pile of takeaway, and although he’d felt so much calmer as his boyfriend had distracted him with stories from America, hanging up had felt impossible, and the aftermath had been even worse. Missing Louis hurts in a different way.

 

It really shouldn’t surprise Harry when he walks through the door just after Liam leaves, but he sort of feels like his heart is in his mouth. “Hi baby,” Louis says, as he rushes to his side, seeing Harry struggling to sit up. He helps him into a cuddle, toeing off his shoes before awkwardly climbing into bed next to him with Harry’s arms still clinging tight. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here.”

 

They lay together for ages, Harry curled into Louis’ chest. He knows his suit is rumpled and creased and he really doesn’t have the time for an extra dry-cleaners visit, but his boy is always his priority. “How are you feeling, H?” He asks a little while later.

 

“Better,” Harry mumbles, not even lifting his head. “Stay, please.”

 

Louis just holds him closer.

 

 

The whole thing just confirms it for the both of them, really, that this is something that is not going away. As soon as he’d heard Harry crying over the phone, Louis had grabbed his laptop and booked a flight home: he knew he had nearly back-to-back meetings for the rest of his trip, but in that moment (and all the ones afterwards) it simply didn’t matter.

 

It also means that it’s not even a question when Harry has a hospital appointment the next week, Louis slots it into his diary immediately and tells his PA to reschedule everything on that day. Harry had told him that they can get quite intense: the physio has him in worlds of his pain and his consultant has to reassess his trigger points as well as follow up any recent hospital visits, the latest being the one he met Louis during. He feels prepared though, like he’ll be fine this time because he has his very wonderful boyfriend to hold his hand.