lou finds out on a tuesday.
eleanor's in her flat, reading turn of the screw , when lou calls her, sounding fucking wrecked.
"eleanor, tell me you didn't, please, god, tell me he’s lying," and his voice is rough, a half-sob escaping him.
she puts down her book, biting down on her lip, and shit fuck shit . "what?" she asks, but she's not fooling anyone with that.
"el," lou whispers, and harry's in the background, i'm sorry i'm sorry i'm so sorry love love love i love you i’m sorry i’m , closer and further. "you fucked him?"
eleanor looks down at her hands, twisting together, and clears her throat. "i - yes. i - once. it was once, lou, and -"
"did you know about us, then?" and harry’s still there, protesting, but she tunes him out, because she has to.
"i've always known about you," she whispers, closing her eyes, and her stomach closes in on itself, but - "but you can't be angry at me, lou, you can’t , that isn't fair."
"fair?! you fucked my boyfriend -"
"you know what your boyfriend was doing? fucking mine ," and she's livid, all of the sudden, because, "you can't get mad at me when you did the same fucking thing that he did. you fucking hypocrite -"
"that was different, i -"
"it would have been different if you had told me,” and she sits up, gripping the phone, hard against her ear, "but you didn't, you never fucking did and so how do you think that felt? how do you think i felt when my boyfriend wouldn't tell me he was gay? as though i would care - but no, you had to keep your secret, had to try to string me along, as though -"
"but you knew ," and he sounds despairing but she's not having any of it.
"fuck you," she whispers, "i'm not sorry i did it, i'd do it again. fuck you for thinking you're any better of a person than i am - as though your moral standards are any higher than mine. yeah, i knew, but what if i hadn't?"
the other line is quiet, and when she looks at her phone he's hung up on her.
"fuck you," she whispers, again, and tries to go back to her book but can't, not now, not when lou's angry at her (the hypocrite, she thinks, and she should feel guilty but she doesn't, not at all, because it's not fair to expect her to be any more moral than he was).
("how could you, harry?" louis whispers, voice low, pained. "how - how could you?"
harry shakes his head. "we were - we were fighting, i thought -"
"- you'd fuck eleanor to get back at me?"
"i thought she was there and she was hot and she wasn't angry with me for something i hadn't done. and - it wasn’t about you, not everything is about you, jesus . i thought she was hurting -” and louis makes a scoffing noise, but - “of course she was hurting, don't give me that."
"she wasn't, she was okay -"
"was she? how could she have been - she's - god, louis." he shakes his head, turning around, and bites down hard on his lower lip. "you always do this, you don't give a fuck about who you hurt - she loved you! she still loves you!"
"she fucked you ."
"that doesn't mean anything and you know it," and he turns around, pointing a finger at louis. "she wanted me and i wanted her but that doesn't mean anything for how she felt - feels - about you. you hurt her and you're too scared to admit it."
louis shakes his head. "you're wrong."
"why don't you call her yourself, and find out?" and he throws louis' phone at him, shaking his head. "eleanor’s right, you fucking hypocrite," and then he's gone, leaving louis alone.)
it's another week before eleanor hears from lou again, a week where she feels bad but not quite enough to apologize.
he comes to her door, knocks three times, quick.
she cocks her hip when she answers, raises an eyebrow.
"harry won't speak to me," he tells her, eyes down, and she rolls her own, feeling in power, control, for once in this entire goddamn relationship (and she loves it, she does, and she doesn't let the guilt threatening to overwhelm her do so).
"as he probably shouldn't." but her resolve is cracking, at the look on his face.
"i'm not a bad guy," he tells her, and she has to laugh at that, shaking her head, because.
"oh, really? you - yeah, you're the good guy here."
"i didn't want to hurt you."
"i wasn't hurt," she says, but it's too quick, too flippant, and she sees the recognition in his eyes before he opens his mouth.
"i'm sorry," he tells her, and he's as serious as she's ever seen him. "i really - shit, el, i fucked everything up."
"you did," and she should say it’s okay , should invite him in for tea, but she doesn't. she stands at the door, hip still cocked, still angry, because she's not going to feel guilty when she's done nothing wrong (it wasn’t wrong, what she did, she did what she wanted just like lou, just like him, and she can’t regret it, the memories of harry’s face still floating in her mind at the most inopportune of moments).
(and she knew from the first time they fucked, the way he got quiet, after, drawn in on himself, and after that she didn’t force the sex, didn’t force anything, let lou lead the relationship.
she wonders, now, if that was the best idea, if she should have talked to him instead, if she has any right to be hurt.)
lou looks down. "harry isn't speaking to me, not like he does, he’s - he’s not talking to me like - i don’t think he loves me, anymore," he says, and she closes her eyes.
"come in," she tells him, then, because she’s always been more gone for him than she should be, and leads him inside, a comforting hand on his shoulder.
they drink tea together and he spills the story, tells her how they fought - but "i didn't know, el, i didn't know he was going to fuck someone else, i didn't, i, i just went out and had a bit of fun and i said i might but i didn’t mean it" - and - "i'm not - he won't forgive me for yelling at you and i don't know what to do".
she pats his back, as tender as she can be, and kisses his shoulder, soft. “you need to not be as prideful when you apologize,” she says, soft, “just - honest. because it’s more important for you to be happy than to have your pride , yeah?”
(the words burn in her mouth, and she bites her lower lip, because she wants to say other things, more honest things, but she can’t, won’t.)
he looks at her, eyes wide, a little bit wet, and he stares at his hands. "i," and then he pauses. "i’ve really treated everyone like shit, haven't i?"
she nods, and kisses his shoulder again, leaning back so she's sprawled on the couch. "mm, you have," she tells him, eyes shut, "but i think you can fix it. just - don't yell at him, all right? be as calm as you can be." she gets a nod, but it’s half-hearted. “lou,” she starts, but she doesn’t know how to finish it, doesn’t know how to calm him down when he’s like this.
lou looks up at her, then, and breathes out, slow, shaky. "what if i'm not enough for him?" he asks her, then, voice small, frightened.
she frowns at him, looking down. "what?"
"what if - he doesn't want me like he did, what if that's what this all is? you -"
eleanor shakes her head, cuts him off with a hand to his wrist, fingers pressing a bit into the skin there. "i don't know, love," she says, and her heart aches for him. she reaches out, smoothing a bit of his hair over his forehead. "i don't think - it wasn't like that, with us. it's you he loves, lou."
she smiles. "you have to know that - of course he does, have you seen how he looks at you?"
the faintest of smiles appears on his face.
"you guys have just got to - stop doing this. you have to stop hurting each other to get ahead because that's bullshit, and that's not going to work, that's just going to make you both miserable."
lou looks at her, a little bit sideways, and smirks. "when'd you get so good at comforting?"
she laughs, but it's shaky. "well, you know, i - i had to do that, for myself, a little bit." she can’t keep the slight bitterness out of her voice.
he pauses for a long moment. "i'm sorry."
it’s all right , is on the tip of her tongue, but - "you should have told me," she whispers to him, looking up. "you should have - i don't give a fuck if you wanted me or not, lou, you should have just - told me, instead of playing the game like that."
"i know, and -"
she closes her eyes. "you fucked him when i was there , lou. more than once! how - jesus christ, how could you do that to me?" because the betrayal thrums through her, still, the betrayal she never let herself feel because they love each other (but she loved him, too, and she didn’t - she never made him -)
he shakes his head. "i'm sorry, i'm -"
and she feels empty, now. "you need - you guys need to work your shit out," she says, voice weak, almost trembling - and she hadn't realized how much this hurt, how much this all hurt , an actual ache in her chest. "i mean - without me. please."
lou looks up at her. "what?"
"i can't do this, all right? i can't - be the one you come to with problems about your boyfriend , lou, jesus."
he opens his mouth as though to speak, but then nods, standing up. "all right. yeah. i'm - i'll just go."
she's shaking a bit when he leaves her house, and then she falls in upon herself, eyes shut tight, curled up on the empty couch, in her empty flat.
(because it hurts, because she loves lou and wants harry; because in all of this they got each other and she got nothing, nothing but the remnants of a broken heart and a thousand fans telling her how awful she is.)
("i'm sorry," lou says, when he gets back to harry, and eleanor’s perfume clings to him but he doesn’t want it to. and he reaches for harry, pulls him in tight. "i'm so fucking sorry, jesus, haz, i just - you - i love you so much, all right, and i don't - please don't leave me," he whispers this last part, and harry's arms tighten around him for a moment and then he's burying his face in louis's shoulder, breathing him in, nodding.
"it's okay," he whispers back, and he smiles, "i love you, too, babe."
there's still guilt niggling at the back of louis's mind (the way she looked, smaller than he's ever seen her, when usually she's larger than life, larger than anything he's ever seen, brilliant) but he lets himself be calmed by this, if only for a moment.)
lou keeps his promise to her.
he doesn't try to talk to her, and eleanor tries to move on with her life; they interact on twitter occasionally but other than that it's calm, nothing to make her freak out like that again.
and she misses him, despite everything; she misses the way he'd smile at her, even if it was nothing but friendship.
but that's the thing, isn't it, is that she's always wanting too much, and he was always willing to pretend to give it but in the end it's them , harry and louis, stars of a boy band taking over the world, and there's eleanor calder, alone. as it is, as it always shall be.
(she'd be upset at herself for being so melodramatic but some days it feels like she can't breathe with the loneliness and the unfinished business between them, so. she thinks she's okay.
alone, but. okay.)
in a turn that surprises no one, it's her that calls him first.
he picks up on the third ring, smiling into the phone, and she can hear harry's laughing in the background. "el?" lou says, soft, and then harry's on the line, speaking at her -
"eleanor, listen, i want you to - shit, you're so fantastic, all right? i love you so much and so does louis and -"
"can i please speak to louis," she says, not quite a question but a demand, because it hurts, because she wanted him so much and she still does, in her bones, in her skin , but then there’s lou (and neither of those things matter because they have each other, have always had each other in a way she never will) and her voice is small, and harry makes a noise of assent and then there's lou, breathing at her again, calming her.
“i’m sorry,” he whispers, but she’s having none of it.
"i need - i'm sorry, too," she says, closing her eyes, "i shouldn't have - been such a bitch about it, i shouldn't have gone for harry, i shouldn't -" and she's breathing hard, trying not to cry (again, because she is actually that pathetic).
"honey," and there he is, calming her down, talking over her, shh ing her, "honey, you're okay, it's okay."
she breathes out, and nods, and he can't see her but she thinks he knows what she's doing (he’s always been good like that) because he just lets her be for a moment.
there's mumbling in the background and then it's quieter on the other line, just lou, talking to her. "el, you're so - so lovely, all right, and i just want you to be happy. can you do that for me?"
she smiles, and feels a bit of the weight come off of her shoulders.
(and she loves lou and she wants harry but they have each other and that's okay, it has to be okay.)
"you all right?" and this is soft, caring, like he’s always been with her (but never more, never more than that, never more than caring, and that’s maybe the worst of it, is how close and far she is from it all).
she nods. "yeah, i'm - yeah."
they hang up soon after that, exchanging pleasantries that don't feel forced, for once, and she stares at her phone for a long moment.
she's alone, but. but .
she thinks that's okay.