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and i refuse to let this go

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The problem is that Nick isn't picking up his phone. Louis has been trying to call him, text him, fucking Snapchat him for almost an hour now, and there's been no reply.

He checks the time difference between Melbourne and London one more time. There's always a chance he's fucked something up and is trying to call Nick at three in the morning or during a show. But even if that happens, Nick answers. Whether it's him grumbling down the line, half-asleep, or an irate text reminding Louis he's at work, thank you, he still answers.

Louis stares down at his phone, frowning. It tells him in London it's currently twenty past three in the afternoon on a Saturday, and there is no reason for Nick to be ignoring him. Especially when he knew Louis would be calling.

Unless, of course, Nick's finally gotten tired of Louis. Wouldn't be a shock, really. Louis has been expecting it for months now, ever since they started their relationship. So what if they decided not to see other people? Nick can still decide he doesn't want to deal with Louis anymore and just leave him.

It'd just be a bit abrupt, is all. Just yesterday they wanked off together on Skype. Surely the way Nick laughed during it and smiled at Louis afterwards—pixelated and buffering, but still so bright—meant he wanted to do it again. Like today, maybe.

Louis glares some more at his phone. Whatever. Something came up, Nick will call him later. It's fine. He gets up, sticks the phone in his pocket, and goes to find Niall. Liam's either already asleep or still talking to Sophia, and Niall's the second best option for someone Louis can bother at this time of night.

It takes a bit of knocking, but finally Niall opens the door and ushers Louis in.

"Come on, come on, golf's on."

Louis pauses near the door. "I will turn right back around."

"Oh, shut up," Niall says, smiling. "It's just the highlights."

"You're watching golf," Louis says, and joins Niall on the bed. "Isn't there literally anything else on?"

Niall waves a hand at him. "Shush."

"Niall Horan, did you just shush me?"

Niall laughs. "Shut your mouth," he says, cackling. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"Aw, I missed you, Niall. Don't you want me here?"

"You're usually with Liam," Niall says, shrugging.

"Liam's asleep," Louis says. "Or probably having phone sex with Sophia."

Niall laughs again. "Glad to hear I'm your second choice."

Louis sighs and pushes at Niall's shoulder. "You should feel honoured. Second choice is a big deal, you know. Harry's probably jealous. He's definitely jealous. He doesn't even know why yet."

Niall smiles. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Oh shit, is he—are you kidding me?" He scoots forward on the bed, seemingly losing himself in fucking golf. Louis lies down behind him, sideways on the bed, and curls his entire body around Niall.

"Mate, what are you doing?" Niall asks.

"Watching golf," Louis says. "Shush."

Niall laughs, and Louis scoots even closer, his stomach pressing against Niall's butt. Niall's warm and calming. Louis thinks he might actually fall asleep like this.

"Are you okay?" Niall asks. "You seem a bit off."

"No, I'm not," Louis says. "Off, I mean. Why would I be off?"

Niall shrugs. "Just a feeling."

"You feel too much," Louis says.

"Nah, I just know you too well." He pats Louis's knee. "Like, I love you, but I'm not really used to you curling around me like a koala. That's Harry's deal."

"I'm fine," Louis says quietly. "Just. Miss home, I suppose."

Niall makes a sympathetic noise. "I know," he says. "Still takes you by surprise, doesn't it? Like I'm barely there when I have time off, but when I know I can't just pack up and go there I start to miss it. But hey, we'll be done soon."

"Yeah," Louis says. "That's good."

He thinks about that, about going home and seeing Nick again. Unless Nick has called quits, of course. Maybe it'd be easier if he has. Maybe Louis should be the one to do it. Then Nick would no longer have to hide and lie to his friends and family, and everything would be fine.

Niall cheers quietly when someone gets a hole in one, and Louis closes his eyes. He knows he's never going to do it. He's too selfish. They're proper exclusive now and Louis isn't letting that go.

"You going to sleep here?" Niall asks.

"Yeah," Louis says. "Can I?"

"Mate, of course," Niall says. He shuts off the TV, and turns, resting his hand on Louis's side. "It'll be better in the morning, yeah?"

Louis laughs. "Yeah. Sure."

Niall grins at him and messes up his hair; Louis bats his hand away and sits up.

"I'm going to brush my teeth," Niall says. "Don't hog all the covers."

"Excuse me," Louis says, and pushes Niall off the bed, making him laugh out loud. "That's no way to treat a guest, Neil."

"Fuck you," Niall says, still grinning, and trots off to the bathroom.

Louis sighs, and slides his phone out of his pocket. Nothing from Nick. Absolutely nothing. He considers calling again, but Niall could come back any second.

He rubs at his forehead, feeling a headache starting up, and puts the phone back in his pocket. He'd leave it on the bedside table, but Nick might get back to him, and Niall's really good about privacy, but anything could fucking happen.

Somewhere, very distantly, Louis knows he's being ridiculous and terrible, but he can't fucking do anything about it. So instead he curls up under the covers, hides his face against a pillow and tries not to think about Nick not picking up his phone.

~

Louis wakes up in an empty bed with a crick in his neck.

He rubs at his eyes and checks his phone. A message from Niall tells him he's having breakfast in Liam's room, and Louis should join them when he wakes up.

There's nothing from Nick.

Louis closes his eyes for a moment and breathes in deeply. Well then. He considers just staying in bed and going back to sleep, but he's hungry and annoyingly awake now. If he stays here alone his brain will just start to spiral again.

He'll go and annoy Niall and Liam instead, and ignore the heavy feeling in his stomach.

He's mostly annoyed, but there's a tiny bit of worry creeping in there, too. Louis might be dramatic late at night, but he doesn't really believe Nick would just break up with him by not returning his calls. Sure, it's the first time they've spent this much time apart, and Louis was concerned about whether Nick would realise he doesn't actually need Louis once he got a bit of a break from him, but that's just Louis being Louis. He's prepared for it but he doesn't really think that of Nick. So it's just a bit troublesome that Nick's ignoring him like that.

He sighs heavily, climbs out of bed and goes to find Liam's room.

Paddy's the one who lets him in when he knocks, apparently just on his way out. Louis gives him a "hello" and steps past him, finding Liam and Niall sitting on Liam's bed. They're both checking their phones with room service breakfast leftovers spread out around them, but they look up when he comes in.

"Morning, Liam," Louis says. "Niall. Lovely of you to leave me to wake alone. Is that what I get after last night?"

"You looked like you could use the sleep," Niall says, looking distracted.

"Thanks," Louis says. "Very flattering."

"We saved you some food," Liam says. "In case you wanted any."

Louis wrinkles his nose. He's not particularly hungry at the moment, stomach tight. "Tea?" he asks.

"Over there," Liam points. "There's also cereal. Did you hear the news?"

"Cheers," Louis says, picks up the kettle. "What news?"

Before Liam gets the chance to answer the bathroom door bangs open and Harry rushes out. Louis starts so badly he almost knocks the mugs off the table.

"Jesus, Harry, warn a guy," he huffs, pressing a hand to his chest.

"No one's answering," Harry tells Niall and Liam, completely ignoring Louis. "I just left voicemails, I don't know what to do."

"They'll answer," Niall says. "They'll get back to you, okay, it'll be alright."

Harry runs his hand through his hair, clearly agitated. "I'm going to find Lou, see if she knows something. Try calling everyone again, fuck."

Louis is completely lost.

"What—" he starts, but Liam cuts him off.

"Do you want us to come with you?" he asks Harry.

"I could try calling Rochelle," Niall says.

"Thanks," Harry says, voice quieter. "I'll go see Lou, I'll come back as soon as I know something, yeah?"

"Of course," Liam says.

Harry nods and leaves the room without another glance. Louis isn't sure if Harry even noticed he was there.

"Alright," Louis says. "What's happening?"

"He's trying to get hold of Grimmy's friends," Liam says.

"What?" Louis asks, confused. "Nick's friends? Why?"

"Because of the accident," Liam says.

Louis's stomach goes cold. "What?"

"You didn't hear, then?" Niall asks. "He crashed his car yesterday. It was on Twitter this morning."

"No," Louis says automatically. Because—because no. What? "He what?"

"Crashed his car," Niall repeats.

"Harry came barging in like an hour ago," Liam says. "He's been trying to get a hold of someone, but it's like the middle of the night there. No one's picking up."

"No," Louis says again. That's not—Nick didn't pick up last night because he was busy, or he just didn't want to talk to Louis, not because he'd been in a bleeding car accident. That just wasn't happening.

"Louis?" Liam asks. "You alright?"

"What?" Louis asks. He feels faintly dizzy, and like everything's suddenly coming from far away.

"You look like you're about to puke," Niall says.

The door opens again, and Louis can see Liam and Niall look towards it. He can't make his body move.

"Lou's gone out or something, I couldn't find her," Harry says. There's a pause. "What's going on?"

"Louis?" Niall asks. He's standing up now, and walking closer.

"I—" Louis says. He has to get out of here. He can't think in here, there are too many people, and Liam and Niall are saying ridiculous things, and Harry—and Harry is clearly so worried, and oh god.

Oh god, Nick.

"I forgot—" Louis says, and swallows carefully, his throat protesting. "I have to—I need to go."

He pushes past both Harry and Niall, and ignores Liam calling after him.

He doesn't realise he's shaking until he tries to get his door open. He finally manages, and slams it shut behind him, sinking against it.

He closes his eyes for a moment, and prays this is all a stupid dream. A nightmare he'll wake up from any second.

It doesn't work.

~

None of the news articles will tell him if Nick's okay.

They're all full of horrible phrases describing the accident, and completely unnecessary information. What does Louis care what brand the car that crashed into Nick's was? He just wants to know if his boyfriend's okay.

He considers texting Nick again, fantasises about calling him. Maybe Nick would pick up on the first ring and tell Louis he's fine, and there's nothing to worry about, and he'd whine about how he'll need to get his car fixed, and—

And then Louis remembers Harry's frantic eyes and how he hasn't been able to contact anyone, and he knows Nick's not okay. He just doesn't know how bad it is.

All he's managed to gather is that the accident happened in London, when a car had rear-ended Nick's and pushed him into traffic, causing another car to hit his near the driver's side. The speeds couldn't have been high so logically it can't be that bad, right? It's not like—it's not like Nick's dead or anything. Surely the internet would say if he was dead, or in danger of fucking dying. There are no pictures from the scene, or if there are then they're just not loading on this crappy hotel wifi.

Louis clicks away from the browser and back to Twitter, his hands slightly shaking again. Nick's last tweet is from yesterday. Louis can't fucking make sense of the time difference at all, but he assumes it's during the day.

@grimmers just remembered my dream from last night. think I was a horse in it [horse emoji]

Nick's definitely not dead. He probably just has a broken wrist or something, and he can't text or call Louis back because it hurts to hold the phone. He's probably asleep, actually, since it's the middle of the night in London. That's it. That's all there is.

If Louis keeps repeating that then it'll have to be true. Like that visualisation shit Nick talks about.

He switches over to Nick's Instagram page, and there are pictures of Pig, and of Nick, and Nick and Pig, and Nick's trainers and Nick's garden and just stupid shit, and Louis has seen all of them before, like, every single one. He drops his phone and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, breathing in shakily. He can't do this.

Nick's fine, he's fine, he's fine.

Louis remembers one time when Nick had an asthma attack. It was the first time Louis saw it happen, and it scared him out of his mind, more than he let on.

Afterwards, Nick said he was fine, that he was always fine. He counted up all his previous injuries—there was quite a lot of broken bones—and his worst attacks and all that. He promised he was always going to be alright.

Louis breathes in deep and tries to focus on that, on believing that.

He realises suddenly that someone's at the door, knocking and quietly calling his name. It sounds like Liam.

Louis quickly wipes at his eyes, and gets off the bed to let Liam in. His legs don't shake, at least.

There's a moment before he opens the door where he realises he has no idea what to say to Liam. "Is Nick okay? By the way, we're dating, and I hid it from you for months, and I'm sorry, but I'm terrified he's dead, so can we do the whole part where you tell me how awful I am later?"

Liam's still knocking. Louis swallows hard and pulls the door open, just to stop Liam from eventually breaking it down.

"Hey," Liam says, looking concerned. "I've been knocking for ages. Are you okay? You ran out of there. I'm sorry I didn't come sooner, Harry kind of had a little freak-out."

"Uh," Louis says. "Yeah. I just felt sick."

"Oh," Liam says, and his eyebrows draw even closer together. His hand immediately goes to Louis's forehead. "You do feel a bit hot. Did you throw up? Do you have a cough?"

"Is Harry okay?" Louis asks, ignoring Liam's questions.

"Yeah," Liam says, "we managed to calm him down. He's breathing all good now."

"Good," Louis says. "Has he heard about Nick?" He thinks he does a good job of keeping his voice from shaking.

"I think he was talking to someone when I left," Liam says.

"We should go," Louis says, and swallows hard. "We should go make sure Harry's really okay, yeah?"

"But if you're poorly—"

"Liam," Louis says, trying to sound reasonable and in control. "Harry needs us, yeah? Let's go."

"Right," Liam says. "Right, okay. But you're going back to bed after that, until we have to leave for the venue."

"Sure, of course," Louis agrees, already heading for the door. "Anything you say. Let's just go."

He can't think about anything coming after, can't think about the show tonight. He has to know if Nick's okay.

~

Niall and Harry are curled up together on Harry's bed, Harry leaning his head against Niall's shoulder. He looks up when Liam closes the door.

He's clearly been crying.

Louis's stomach drops, his voice getting caught in his throat. "Harry?"

"Hey," Liam says, and crosses over to the bed, sitting down on Harry's other side. "How is he?"

"He's in a coma," Harry tells Liam.

Louis takes in a deep breath, and tries to realign everything in his head. Nick's alive. He's definitely, definitely alive, then. Dead people can't be in a coma, right? That's not how it works.

"He's alive," he says out loud, checking, just checking.

Harry looks over at him, and nods. "Yeah." He wipes at his face. Louis notices that Niall's rubbing his back, and he's at once both fiercely jealous, and comforted by the sight.

"Who did you talk to?" Liam asks.

"Daisy," Harry says. "She called me back, apologised for not picking up. He was in surgery then."

Louis wraps his arms around himself. Fuck.

"Surgery?" Liam asks. "For his head?"

"I don't know," Harry says. "I don't think so? But his leg was apparently pretty messed up. She said it went well, though."

"So he's going to be okay?" Liam asks. Thank god Liam's here to ask all the right questions. Louis feels like if he'll open his mouth he's going to throw up.

Harry sighs and leans further into Niall. "If he wakes up."

"Well, of course he's going to wake up," Liam says. "Right?"

"They said his brain activity was good," Niall says, answering for Harry. "Right, Haz? There's a good chance he'll wake up."

Harry nods slowly. "Yeah, just—they're monitoring him? Or, like, his brain. I don't know, she said he was stable. Um, but they have to get the swelling in his brain down? And make sure it doesn't start bleeding or anything."

Louis is going to be sick.

He's actually going to be sick, the bile already rising in his throat.

He rushes to the bathroom and drops to his knees in front of the toilet. He throws up the remains of what he ate yesterday, and keeps dry-heaving after that, his stomach cramping.

Louis can figure out what happens when your brain starts bleeding. You die. There's an actual chance Nick could die.

There's a knock on the door. Louis reaches out with shaking fingers to flush the toilet. "Yeah?" he calls out.

"Can I come in?" Niall asks.

Louis rests his head against the toilet and sighs. "Sure."

Niall slips into the room quietly, closing the door behind him. "You alright?"

"Fine," Louis says automatically. He pushes away from the toilet and sits down, leaning against the wall.

"Right," Niall says. "You look it."

"Fuck off," Louis says, and runs a hand over his face. He feels all clammy. Maybe he's actually coming down with something. Maybe it's just terror.

"It's scary stuff, isn't it," Niall says. "With Nick. Makes me feel a bit queasy too."

Louis swallows compulsively. His mouth tastes awful. He should brush his teeth. "Yeah," he says. "Been feeling a bit off since this morning, actually."

"Yeah, Liam said you were poorly earlier too."

"Yeah," Louis says. "Must've eaten something bad, I suppose."

Niall makes a sympathetic sound. "You going to be alright for the show tonight?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "No problem."

"Are you sure?" Niall asks. "You really do look awful, mate."

Louis looks up at him. He should tell him. He didn't tell Liam, but he could tell Niall, right now.

But maybe he should tell Harry first; Harry deserves that, right, being friends with both of them?

Before now, every time Louis had thought about doing this he assumed he'd have Nick with him.

"Louis?" Niall asks.

Louis can't say it; he doesn't know how.

He looks away. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

He doesn't think he'll throw up again, anyway. He just needs a minute to breathe. He needs Harry to come and tell him that Nick's woken up and he's fine.

"Should I tell security we're not flying out to Adelaide tonight?" Niall asks.

Shit, Louis forgot about that completely. He and Niall were supposed to go see Years & Years tomorrow since they had the day off. They were going to go over to Adelaide tonight, while Harry and Liam flew to Melbourne where their next show was.

Louis had been looking forward to it. They'd made plans.

"I don't know," he says. "We can still go?"

"Really?" Niall asks, sounding surprised. "You want to?"

Louis shrugs. "We've been planning it for ages."

He's not particularly sure if he does want to go, but he also has no idea what else to do. He already did the calculations and there's no way he can make it to London and then back in time for the next show. He'll just be climbing the walls, stuck in some hotel room. They have plans. He can follow the plan.

"Yeah, but you're sick, mate," Niall says.

"I just ate something weird," Louis says. "I'm fine. I'll be fine. It's all planned. Do you want to go?"

Niall looks at him, a furrow in his brow. Louis can't quite read his expression.

"Yeah," Niall says finally. "I'm up for it."

Louis releases a breath. "You sure?"

"If you're still going then I'm coming with," Niall says.

"Great," Louis says. "Okay, that's settled then."

"Okay," Niall says. He reaches down and squeezes Louis's shoulder. "Ready to go back out there?"

No. Louis is not ready at all.

"Yeah," he says, and lets Niall pull him up.

~

The show that night is awful.

Louis spends the afternoon in his hotel room, under Liam's orders. He swore he was feeling better, but apparently he looked too pale for Liam to be convinced, so he was relegated to the bed.

He wastes about an hour or more scrolling through Twitter, his email, and random news sites, and texting Liam to see if Harry had heard anything from Nick's friends.

Nick doesn't have any sort of serious internal injuries, at least. He's not in critical condition, they said. He's just in a stupid coma, because he hit his stupidly large head against the steering wheel.

Eventually Louis curls up on top of the covers and tries to sleep, but ends up jolting back to full consciousness every time his brain throws something new at him. Images of Nick's wrecked car, even though he hasn't seen it. Nick broken inside of it, Nick broken in a hospital bed. Pig crying at home and waiting for Nick to come back. The last one makes him feel especially stupid, the way it makes him have to muffle a sob against his pillow. He's possibly losing it a little bit.

Louis doesn't know what he's going to do if Nick never wakes up. He doesn't know what any of them will do.

He must actually fall asleep at some point, because when he opens his eyes it's darker outside and Liam is shaking his shoulder.

"Any news?" Louis asks.

Liam just shakes his head, and the vague hope Louis had entertained vanishes, leaving behind nothing but a groggy head and a stomach ache.

But they still have a show, and thousands of fans who have come out just for them. So he promises Liam he's feeling better, and Liam finally trusts him and gives in.

Louis tries to focus during the show, and shove everything else out of his head. He succeeds, mostly; at least he manages to hit most of his notes. That's pretty much all he's sure of, though. Harry's all over the place, visibly worried, and Louis knows Liam's worried about both him and Harry, and it's just—it's not one of their best.

There's a moment where Louis almost chokes during his solo in "Through the Dark", but he catches Niall's gaze and holds it and carries on through. Niall reaches out to quickly pat his back after, and they go on. It's the only clear thing Louis remembers from the show.

Getting off stage is a blur. Louis is barely aware of where he's going or where he needs to be. He's usually starving after a show, and dying for a smoke, so the first priority is usually having a quick cigarette and finding some food. He feels curiously sick tonight, though, like his body doesn't know what it's supposed to do.

He finally spots Harry and Liam huddled in a corner near catering, and he heads over.

God. Harry. If Louis is this fucked up then he's not sure how Harry's holding it together. He's known Nick for longer, been close to him for ages compared to Louis. Nick's one of Harry's best friends.

Louis wishes he could have told him sooner. Told his mum, and the lads. Now it's—it's not too late, it's not. It's just really not the time. The words get stuck in Louis's throat.

Harry's leaning against the wall, his body locked tight, eyes on his phone. Even from far away he looks so pale and tired. It seems like he's aged a few years in just one day, but when he looks up and his eyes lock on Louis he suddenly looks startlingly young.

Louis's heart hurts. "Any news?" he asks. His voice might shake. Please, please let there be news, please let Nick have woken up. He can't do this.

"No," Harry says, voice rough. "I mean, there's news, it's just that his condition is the same. So, no news, really."

"Least it's not bad news," Liam says, squeezing Harry's shoulder.

Harry nods shortly.

"Hey," Niall says, walking up to them. "We're supposed to be heading out soon. The jets are already waiting."

Liam looks over at Louis. "Niall said you're still going to Adelaide."

Louis shrugs. "We figured we'd go, yeah." All of a sudden he feels guilty about his decision. He doesn't dare look at Harry.

God, if he could he'd make their pilot fly them all the way back to London. Direct flight, no stops. Maybe then they'd somehow be able to make it there and back in time for the show.

They probably wouldn't even let him into Nick's room. There's nothing he can do.

"But you're poorly," Liam says, and Louis realises he's not accusing Louis of anything, he's just concerned.

"I'm better now," Louis says. "I'm fine."

"It's not till tomorrow, at least," Niall says, and throws his arm over Louis's shoulder. "Don't worry, Payno, I'll look after him."

"I don't need looking after," Louis says. "Wait, fuck. I think I forgot to pack. Fuck." He was so focused on trying to keep it together, he didn't even think of it. He just followed Liam out the door when he came to get him.

"I've got it," Niall says. "Did it before we left. You're all set."

Louis's stomach hurts, gratitude and guilt swirling in it.

"Thank you," he says quietly.

He tries to avoid their eyes, ends up looking at Harry instead. He seems to be mostly ignoring their conversation, eyes on his phone again. The guilt becomes stronger.

"I mean, we don't have to go," Louis says. "If you—I mean, if Harry—"

Harry looks up at that, looking almost surprised. "No," he says after a pause. "No, I mean—you should go and have a good time. You've been planning it for a while, haven't you?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "But—I mean. If you—"

He doesn't know how to finish his sentence. Harry looks confused.

Niall squeezes Louis's shoulder. "It's fine," he says. "We'll be back the day after tomorrow, anyway. You'll call us if anything changes, yeah, Haz?"

"Please," Louis says. "As soon as you hear something."

"Yeah, of course," Harry says.

"Alright, we should head out to the cars, then," Niall says. "Are you lot coming, too?"

"Paddy said we're leaving a bit later than you," Liam says. He seems to be giving Niall some sort of look, but Louis is too tired to try to decipher it. "You go ahead."

"Right, then," Niall says, and hurries forward to hug Harry. "Call me."

"I will," Harry says. "Thanks."

Louis wants to tell Harry he can call him too, if he just needs to talk, if he needs anything. Somehow it seems too selfish. Like Louis is the one that needs it, not Harry.

He gives Harry a brief hug, not letting himself cling for too long, since Harry never finishes a hug first. He hugs Liam as well, nodding automatically when Liam tells him to look after himself.

He lets Niall lead him out of the building, and into the waiting car. Louis pulls the seatbelt over himself, vaguely noticing that his hands have started shaking. The adrenaline crash after the gig, he's sure. Happens all the time. He sets them on his thighs, digging his fingers in slightly.

"We'll have enough time before take-off for a smoke," Niall says.

"Yeah, great," Louis says. There are shivers running through him.

"Did you have enough to eat after the show?" Niall asks.

Louis shakes his head. "Wasn't hungry."

"Well, we'll have something on the flight," Niall says. He sounds worried. "Here, have some water."

"Cheers," Louis says, and takes the bottle Niall offers him. It takes him a moment to get it open, but the water feels good, going down. It settles him, just a bit.

"Do you think you might be sick again?" Niall asks.

Louis looks over at him, confused. "No, I'm fine. Just should've eaten something, probably."

"Probably," Niall says. "At least I know you keep yourself hydrated enough during shows."

Louis rolls his eyes, but Niall's smiling and not looking that worried, at least. "Yeah, yeah, shut it."

"We'll get something in you when we get to the airport," Niall says. "Gonna have a nice day tomorrow, yeah? Relax a bit."

Louis nods. "Absolutely."

They're going to have a nice time, him and Niall. Everything will be better tomorrow.

Everything will be fine.

~

Louis wakes to sunlight in his eyes.

Someone's opened the curtains in his room. There's no way he forgot to close them last night. He takes sleeping in very seriously.

He squeezes his eyes shut and turns onto his other side, and only then does he remember that he's not in his own hotel room, he's in Niall's.

He couldn't stand being alone last night, so he found his way to Niall's again, and Niall, the god amongst men that he is, didn't throw him out.

Louis checks his phone. It's almost noon. He slept for a good while. He quickly looks through his messages. There's nothing from Harry. A few texts from Liam, hoping Louis is feeling better, and all that. Nothing about Nick.

He turns the screen off and slips the phone under his pillow. He should get up and do something, he knows. Start with a shower, probably, and then breakfast. He sighs and closes his eyes.

He opens them again when he feels someone shaking his shoulder. Niall.

Louis groans and flops over onto his back. "What?"

"You planning on sleeping the day away?" Niall asks. He looks annoyingly awake.

"It's not that late," Louis says.

"It's almost two," Niall says.

Louis covers his face with his arm. "I must have fallen back asleep."

"Looks like it," Niall says. "You were snoring when I got here."

"Was not," Louis says. "Is there—" He pauses, has to swallow. "Is there any news about Nick?"

"Everything's the same," Niall says. "No change. I think Liam dragged Harry out to play tennis, to get his mind off it for a bit."

Louis takes a deep breath. "Okay."

"Seriously, though, get up," Niall says. "You need to eat and we should do something."

"Don't want to," Louis says.

"Which part?" Niall asks.

Any of it, Louis thinks. He's not hungry. But Niall's right, they should at least do something. He can't stay in his hotel room until the concert tonight, tempting as it is. For one thing, he's not even in his hotel room.

"Come on," Niall says. "We have loads of time before the show. I was thinking we could go do something outside."

"Don't fucking tell me you want me to go golfing with you."

Niall laughs. "I was thinking of footie, actually. Willie found this place that would be private. We could go do a bit of that, then go and have a nice meal before the show."

Louis hums. It does sound kind of nice.

His phone buzzes, and he scrambles for it, fingers clumsy. It's only Liam, though, telling Louis to stay inside and rest if he's still feeling poorly. Louis stares at the screen, disappointment in his stomach mixing with a strange feeling of hopelessness.

"Louis?" Niall asks.

Louis slams his phone down on the bed and sits up fast. His head spins only a little. "Let's go play some footie."

"Yeah?" Niall asks, smiling. "Awesome. I'm going to tell Willie. This is going to be fun."

"Yeah, it will," Louis says. He's going to play some football with his mates, and go see a good show like he planned and ignore everything else. It'll be great.

~

Football does end up being a good time. Niall coaxed Louis to eat at least a light breakfast before it, so he feels good on the field, focused. They get their security to join them, and a few of Louis's mates from home are around, too, so it's a decent game.

Louis always feels free when he's playing; everything becomes far more instinctual, and there's no room for any unwanted thoughts on the field. It's an escape.

The dinner afterwards is alright, too, a raucous affair. Louis is aware he's probably being a bit too loud for comfort, but he can't help it. No one seems to mind at least.

His phone sits in his pocket, quiet.

Harry texted them when they were playing to say there had been no change. Louis's heart almost stopped when he'd seen the notification.

No change. What a fucking stupid phrase. Surely there must be some change.

Nick can't just be stuck, unchanged. He's Nick. He's loud and annoying and fun and caring and clever and sweet. There's no way he can just be lying in some hospital, frozen in time.

"Louis?" Niall asks. "You done with that?"

Louis looks down at his pasta. Suddenly he's not hungry anymore.

"Yeah," he says. "Should we go now?"

"You don't want dessert or anything?" Niall asks. "We still have time."

Louis looks around; everyone's still eating, and Niall has a menu in front of him. There's a restlessness building inside Louis. He can't just sit here while—while.

"Maybe another beer," Louis says, clicking his fingers against his empty glass. "Get a proper start to the night."

"Alright," Niall says. "If you're sure you don't want anything else.

Louis wants his phone to ring right this very second and he wants Nick to be on the other side of it.

"Just a beer will do," he says.

~

By the time they get to the concert Louis is three beers in and feeling slightly better.

The show is fucking amazing. Niall's clearly loving it, too, and they keep exchanging excited glances, sharing the experience of a great show without needing to say anything out loud.

It's good to the point of overwhelming, and Louis is buzzing out of his skin by the encore. He needs to do something. Anything.

He leans in close to Niall and shouts, "Are we going out after this?"

"Sure!" Niall yells back. "Let's go see where people are heading."

"Awesome," Louis says. "Gonna be a sick night, Neil."

Niall grins at him. Louis smiles back, hoping it doesn't come off too manic. He needs another drink. Just to relax a bit.

The club they end up in is perfect, the music loud enough to almost be uncomfortable and the VIP section secluded enough that not too many people should spot them.

Louis knows fans probably already know where they are and that there might be chatter on Twitter, but after another beer and a few shots it's hard to care.

He loses track of time. There's a lot of drinks. There's a lot of dancing. At one point Louis thinks Niall tries to do a handstand. Or maybe that's him. It's all very confusing. He's having the best time.

He's nursing another beer—he's lost count of how many there's been—and swaying to the new Rhianna song when Niall bumps into him and says, "Lou, we're going!"

"No," Louis complains, leaning into Niall. He's having so much fun. "Let's stay."

"They're closing soon," Niall says. He's laughing. "We have to go."

"They can't be closing already," Louis argues. "What time is it?"

"Like three," Niall says. "Come on, Daniel's waiting for us."

"I'm gonna take my drink," Louis says.

"You do that," Niall says, and starts steering him towards the doors. "You have everything? Your phone?"

"My phone!" Louis says, and pulls it out with clumsy fingers. He squints at it. "No messages."

"Bummer," Niall says. "Here we are."

Louis looks up and sees they're outside already. The cold air makes him shiver. He's lost his drink somewhere along the way.

He suddenly realises how drunk he really must be, a moment of clarity under the streetlights. The silence after the noise of the club is startling.

The car is already waiting, their security beckoning them. There's a few people milling around, but no flash of cameras. Louis is glad that for once there are no paps around. He feels sick thinking of the potential headlines.

Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan party the night away while Harry Styles's best friend's life hangs in the balance

He sways suddenly, and for a moment is afraid he's going to fall, but Niall is right behind him, and pushes him into the car.

He curls up in a corner and closes his eyes. The night's turned blurry around him, and it makes his stomach twist uncomfortably.

"Seatbelt on, Tommo," Niall says easily next to him.

Louis fumbles the strap on, and leans his head against the window, closing his eyes again. He's aware of the chatter around him, Willie and Oli talking about something while Niall laughs. Louis is too tired to pay attention to it. He keeps his eyes closed and focuses on breathing.

The ride to the hotel is shorter than he expected, and soon Niall is nudging him, and unfastening his seatbelt.

Louis mumbles a thanks and stumbles out of the car after Niall, grateful for the fresh air.

"Hey," Niall says, throwing an arm around Louis's shoulders. "You going to spend the night at mine again?"

"Um," Louis says, and swallows hard. He wants to, but he also desperately wants to be alone right now. "Don't think so, no."

"Okay," Niall says. His voice sounds curious. "Do you want to come over for a bit anyway, watch some footie or something?"

Louis shakes his head. It makes him feel dizzy. How much has he had to drink?

"I'm good," he says. "I'm tired, I think."

Niall squeezes his shoulders. "Have some water before you go to sleep, yeah? You'll have a killer hangover tomorrow."

"I'll be fine," Louis says dismissively. He's feeling a lot more sober already. "I need a smoke."

"Alright," Niall says. "Have a quick one now, I'll wait with you."

"Cheers," Louis says, and pulls out his pack and lighter. His fingers shake only a little, trying to get the cigarette to light up. He sighs after the first drag, feeling better just for a moment. He scans the street around them. No fans around, at least. He's not sure how they've managed that, but he's grateful. Security is waiting for them by the door.

"Was a great show," Niall says. "Fucking sick."

"Yeah," Louis agrees, absentmindedly. He takes a few quick drags before putting the cigarette out. He suddenly feels too exposed, just standing out here. "Alright, let's go."

The hotel lobby has a few people in it, but he ignores them and follows Niall to the lifts where Willie and Oli are waiting for them. His stomach lurches when the lift starts moving, but he keeps his breathing steady and it passes. Niall's standing very close, and Louis takes advantage of the proximity by leaning on him. He's so tired.

Willie and Oli are still arguing about something, and it's making Louis's head ache, their voices too loud. He's relieved when the lift stops and the doors slide open.

He pushes away from Niall, and starts heading for his room. He stops when he realises he can't remember the room number.

"This one," Niall says, and points him at a door.

"Thanks," Louis mumbles. It's no surprise he doesn't remember it, he's barely been in it. He just dropped his stuff off there, and then went by this afternoon to change his clothes. He didn't fancy the idea of being alone.

Now it's all he wants. He just—he needs it to be quiet. The night's been fucking long, and exhausting, and loud. It's what he craved, but it's too much now. It's all too much.

He pulls out his keycard, proud of himself for not losing it.

"See," he says, showing it to Niall. "Didn't lose it."

"Good on you," Niall says. "Seriously, drink water. Don't make me come in there and make you."

"Kinky," Louis says.

"Are you sure you don't want to come hang out in my room?" Niall asks.

Louis shakes his head. It makes him feel a bit more dizzy. "Too loud," he says. "Thanks, though. Have fun. It was a fun night, yeah? We should do it again."

"Louis—" Niall says.

Louis is fumbling with the lock. He finally manages to slide the card through it just right. He gives Niall a smile. "Sleep well, then. Don't do anything I wouldn't."

"That makes no sense," Niall says.

"Sure it does," Louis says. He pulls the door open. "Good night."

"Night," Niall says. He looks worried. Louis pats his hand, slips through the door, and shuts it after him. He takes a deep breath, then another. His head's still spinning a bit.

He leans against the wall, and turns on the lights. It's immediately too bright. He quickly dims them so there's only a bit of light coming from the bedside lamps. This hotel room isn't as big as some of the ones he's been in. He likes it. It feels more comfortable.

He heads over to the bed and drops down on it, burying his head in his hands. It makes the spinning cease for a bit. The breathing helps, too. His ears are ringing from the concert and the club, more than they usually are. He takes another deep breath and pulls out his phone. He remembers checking it when they left the club, but he's still afraid he's missed something.

There's nothing. No text from Harry, no updates about Nick. The last thing Harry said was 'no change', hours and hours ago.

Maybe something has happened. Maybe Harry just hasn't gotten around to telling him. Louis's thumb hovers over the screen; he could ask. He could call, even.

He doesn't. He doesn't want to know if it isn't good news.

He opens the texts he got from Liam earlier, and reads those again instead. Liam sent a quick Are you ok? when Louis and Niall got to the club and a Are you feeling better? Let me know! Niall said you were going out! a few minutes after that. Louis hasn't replied to any of the texts Liam's sent today. Liam probably got in touch with Niall. He just doesn't know what to say.

He wonders how My boyfriend's in a coma, how are you? would go over.

It'd be done with, then. It'd be out there, and god, for a second Louis wants to do it. His finger is hovering over the call button, his mind suddenly racing, and he could do it, he could, he could. Someone would know.

Everyone would know.

Louis locks his phone and sets it on the bed next to him.

He can't fucking do it.

What'd even be the point of telling the boys now, really? It's not going to help Nick, who's lying in a hospital bed somewhere in London. All it will do is make things harder, for everyone, and for Harry especially, if they have to deal with Louis's shit too.

And they'll hate him, they might hate him for it—for keeping it from them, not being honest with them. Maybe for all of it. Louis is selfish, and a shit, and he can't deal with the boys hating him, not right now on top of everything else.

He'll do it after Nick wakes up. He'll have to do it then, and he will. In any case, they'll be back in London in less than two weeks, and Nick will be awake by then, and he'll be fine, and Louis will get to see him. That's what's important.

That's when Louis can be brave.

He knows it'll be too late by then, far too late, knows he should have done it sooner, but he can't go back and fix it now. He knows he's been a coward, but Nick—Nick never made him feel bad for it.

Louis did feel guilty and he felt terrified, and none of that was because of anything Nick said or did. Nick was absolutely fucking amazing, and never pressured him, and fucking christ, Louis can't do this.

He needs another smoke. He needs another fucking drink. He's too drunk and too sober all at the same time. His hands are shaking. He digs his nails into his thigh, trying to breathe.

Nick is hurt. He's hurt, and in a coma, and there's a chance he could never wake up, and Louis is halfway across the world.

The reality of the situation hits him again, and he hates it, wants to claw it out of his brain and make it not true. It's not true, it's not, Nick is fine. He has to be fine.

He picks up his phone again and opens his conversation with Nick.

Hey, he sends. He stares at the screen, the edges of the words blurring just a little bit, and waits. Like Nick's going to fucking answer. Like Nick's fine.

He looks at the messages above that, the ones from two days ago, and suddenly remembers how he thought Nick wasn't picking up because he'd gotten bored with Louis. He was—fuck, he was angry at Nick, and hurt, and selfish, and Nick was in a bloody accident.

I'm sorry, he sends.

About the texts before I mean

I didn't know

Thought you were ignoring me. Ha x

Nick's not going to respond. Louis knows this, he does. It's why his head is swimming and why he feels sick.

You better fucking wake up babe

Your phone is gonna be exploding when you do

A ton of them will probably be from me soz

Just don't know what else to do

He drags in a breath, squeezing his thigh again. He needs another drink. He gets up and goes to look through the minibar. He takes the first thing he can find, a small bottle of vodka, and cracks it open. It doesn't even feel that good going down, but it doesn't matter. He needs to do something.

He sits back down on the bed and unlocks his phone again, the glare of it too bright.

Nick I swear if you don't wake up

Nick if you die then fuck you

I'll bring you back just to kill you again

So don't you fucking dare

He takes another swig from the bottle, emptying it. He tosses it to the side, and clutches his phone with shaky hands.

Please

Please wake up nick please pls

Please don't die

Please don't leave me

The screen is blurring in front of his eyes, but he needs to say this, because Nick needs to know, dammit. He wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand, his chest tight.

Please please please please I love you xxxxxxxxx

He covers his eyes with one hand and breathes. He feels so sick and dizzy.

His phone buzzes in his hand and his heart leaps, and for a second—for a second he hopes. He thumbs at it blindly, but it's just his mum, asking how he is and hoping he'll call soon.

He hasn't talked to her since he heard about Nick. It feels like forever ago. It feels like he's been living like this forever, feeling tired and nauseous and scared.

He's so fucking scared. He can't remember ever being this frightened.

He ignores his mum and sends another message to Nick.

Please wake up please im so scared nick

He's going to have to tell his mum. God, what if Nick dies? What is he going to do then? He doesn't know, he doesn't know.

He can't think straight. His stomach hurts. He wants another drink. He wants to sleep and not have to deal with this. He wants to talk to Nick.

He can't stop sending Nick more messages; he's not even sure what he's typing anymore, his brain too fuzzy. There's no way Nick will be able to make sense of them.

Nick might never see them. Nick might never wake up.

There's a knock on the door, and Niall's voice calling for him.

He ignores it, and starts scrolling up through the messages. His eyes are blurry enough that it's hard to make out the words, but he just—he needs to see. He almost shoots right past it, but manages to stop in time.

Oh god I think pig just threw up on my shoes gotta go! Xxx It's the last text Nick sent him.

Louis throws his phone across the room and buries his face in his hands.

He doesn't realise Niall has opened the door and come in until he's on the bed, and pulling Louis into his arms. Louis's not sure when exactly he started crying.

"Hey," Niall says. "Hey, Louis. Shh. It's okay."

"No," Louis sobs out, crying harder at that. It's not okay, nothing's okay.

"Tell me what's wrong," Niall says. One of his hands is rubbing Louis's back.

Louis shakes his head, and hides his face against Niall's chest, safe where no one can see. He can't, he can't.

He feels like he's choking; he can't stop crying enough to catch his breath. He's going to be sick.

His head hurts, his stomach hurts, everything fucking hurts. He can't breathe.

He can barely hear Niall murmuring to him, and he has no idea what he's saying. He doesn't want Niall to let go, but he also wants to be a million miles from him, from all of this.

He wants to be with Nick, dammit. He just wants Nick.

Nick's never going to wake up, never, never, never.

Louis gets up, pushing Niall away, and runs to the bathroom. He's sick in the toilet, his throat and eyes burning.

Niall follows him, his hand settling gently on Louis's back. He's saying something, but Louis can't hear him, can't speak.

He cries until he just can't keep on going.

~

Louis wakes with the sunlight bright in his face and Niall sitting at the foot of his bed.

He squeezes his eyes shut again and hides his face in the pillow. His head hurts, and his face feels swollen. He's tired, stomach sore and throat aching.

On the inside, though, he just feels numb.

He squints over at Niall. He's on his phone, but when he sees Louis is awake he puts it down and rests his hand on Louis's ankle on top of the covers.

"Hey," Niall says.

He must have put Louis to bed last night. Louis can't remember much of it. He takes a deep breath and slowly pushes himself upright.

"Hey," he rasps, throat dry.

"How do you feel?" Niall asks.

"Awful," Louis says honestly.

"There's paracetamol and water on the table," Niall says.

"Cheers," Louis says. He takes the pills and downs the water, avoiding Niall's gaze. "I'm—bathroom, you know."

"Yeah, okay," Niall says.

Louis slips out from under the covers, and heads for the bathroom, head pounding in beat with his steps.

The light in the bathroom is too bright, and Louis winces against the glare.

The bathroom doesn't look like someone spent the night being sick and crying in it. Louis's face looks it, though, pale and drawn, the bags under his eyes even more prominent than usual. He looks terrible, yet somehow still not as bad as he feels. Felt. He's not sure.

He has a wee, drinks two more glasses of water, and splashes some on his face. He doesn't want to go back into the bedroom.

Niall will want to know what's wrong, and Louis has no idea what to tell him. Or rather how to tell him. He wishes he could forget last night even happened. Then again, it's probably ignoring the situation that got him here in the first place. He didn't expect to fall apart like that, which officially makes him an idiot. He should have seen it coming a mile away.

Maybe he did. Maybe he just wanted to put off the inevitable.

Maybe he thought if he just held on for long enough Nick would wake up before Louis got the chance to completely shatter into pieces.

Louis's stomach twists and he rests his hands on the sink, breathing through it. He's a fucking mess. He's exhausted, all cried out, and he feels horribly fragile.

He can't stay in the bathroom forever, though.

Niall's still sitting on Louis's bed, having moved over so he's leaning against the headboard now. He looks up when Louis comes out of the bathroom. "Alright?"

Louis shrugs. "Yeah. How did you get in last night?"

Niall puts his phone away. "Had Daniel give me the spare keycard. Is your family okay?"

Louis nods automatically. But, well, it's not really true, is it. Nick is his family, too. Nick is not okay.

"They're fine," he says. "It's all—everyone's fine."

"You want to tell me what last night was about then?" Niall asks. "Because I gotta tell you, I was pretty damn worried."

Louis bites down on his lip, looking away. "It's—"

He doesn't know how to end the sentence, just lets it hang. He doesn't know how to tell Niall what it is.

"It's what?" Niall asks. "Fine? It's nothing?"

He doesn't sound accusatory, but Louis still feels guilty. He closes his eyes and shakes his head.

"Come here," Niall says, and pats the space next to him. "Sit down. You look like you're about to fall over."

Louis shuffles over to the bed and settles down next to Niall. His head's still throbbing, and he feels very delicate. He doesn't want to be having this conversation. He wants to go back to sleep and wake up to hear that Nick is going to be okay.

"Do you want me to guess?" Niall asks. "I think I have a guess."

Louis lets out a shuddering breath and pulls his knees up. "Go on."

"Nick," Niall says, and Louis almost flinches at the name. It hurts. "It was about Nick, wasn't it?"

Louis swallows against a sob, and nods.

"Knew you liked him more than you let on," Niall says very gently. He squeezes Louis's knee.

Louis is ridiculously close to crying again. He thought he was all empty. He feels all empty, tired and worn and hollow inside.

"It's not that," he says, his voice coming out all shaky.

"It's not?" Niall asks. "What do you mean?"

Louis buries his face against his knees and squeezes his eyes shut. Niall's hand settles on his back, tentative, slowly rubbing circles over his t-shirt.

"Louis?" Niall asks.

Louis can do this. He can do this, he can do this. He's not looking at Niall, and Niall can't see his face, and Niall already—Louis just has to say it.

He takes a deep breath. "We're together," he says, as quietly as he can.

Niall's hand stops.

Louis's heart jumps, and his stomach roils. He might be sick. He hates this. He just wants it over with. He wants Nick.

"What do you mean?" Niall asks.

Louis can't read his voice. He keeps his head down. "We're seeing each other. Dating." It still feels like he has to force the words out, but it's—he's done it, now. He's done it. If he tries really hard he can pretend Niall isn't even there.

"What?" Niall asks. "What do you mean, you're dating? Who knows about this?"

"No one," Louis says.

Niall's hands are suddenly on Louis's shoulder. He tugs at him, forcing Louis to uncurl himself and look up at Niall.

"What do you mean, no one?" Niall asks.

Louis makes brief eye contact him, and lets his gaze skitter away again. He can't look at him. "No one knows," he repeats, voice coming out weak.

"Fuck," Niall says.

For a strange moment, Louis almost feels like laughing.

"Fuck," Niall says again. "Tommo, I—how long?"

Louis shrugs. "A while."

"Jesus Christ," Niall says. He lets go of Louis's shoulder.

Louis swallows hard. "Niall."

"I don't know what to say," Niall says. He laughs, his usual nervous laugh, and covers his face with his hands. "I figured you really cared about him, or maybe fancied him since you were so upset, but—Louis, god."

"I'm sorry," Louis says. He knew it would come to this. He hates it, he hates it so much. He doesn't know what Niall will say next and it terrifies him.

"Let's just get to Melbourne," Niall says. "It's almost noon, we should head off soon anyway. We have a show tonight. God, I need to process this."

"Okay," Louis says weakly. He feels cold. He wraps his arms around his stomach, hunching in on himself. It's not easy for him to process either.

Niall knows. Niall knows, someone else finally knows. Louis is not alone in this anymore.

He hoped that would make him feel better.

"I'm going to get my stuff together and go tell Daniel we're on our way," Niall says. He pushes himself off the bed, not looking at Louis.

Louis has no idea what to say. If there's anything to say.

Niall's almost out the door when he pauses, and looks back. His gaze settles somewhere around Louis's knees. "Are you going to be alright?"

Louis feels like crying. He nods. "I'll be fine. I'm fine."

"Alright," Niall says, and leaves. Louis stares at the door for a long while.

~*~

Louis was in the kitchen when Nick texted to say he was waiting outside the gate.

How many times do I have to give you the code? Louis asked.

Nick called him instead of texting him back. Louis sighed, turned down the radio and put the phone on speaker.

"I forget!" Nick said immediately when Louis picked up.

"Well write it down, for fuck's sake," Louis said. "It's 2503."

"Was it?" Nick asked. "I swear that wasn't it."

"It's been that for months," Louis said. "If you wrote it down we wouldn't have to have this conversation every time."

"Yeah," Nick said distractedly. "I will, uh, next time."

Louis rolled his eyes, annoyingly endeared. They were definitely going to have the exact same conversation next time. He wasn't that bothered about it, honestly.

"Or you could just use the gate phone," he said.

"You know I don't trust that thing," Nick said. "Are you gonna come open the door or what?"

"Nope," Louis said. "Bit busy. I've left the patio door open. Bye!"

He ended the call, and turned the radio up again, humming to himself. He felt light inside, and excited.

He barely heard Nick and Pig come in over the sound of the new Kanye song.

"Hiya!" Nick called out, just as Pig's cold nose collided with Louis's calf. Louis twisted away from it, but crouched down to give Pig a proper welcome.

"Hiya, darling," he said, scratching behind her ears. "How have you been, then? Did you miss me?"

She snuffled at him, licking his hand, and Louis grinned. Pig loved him best.

"You love me best, don't you?" he cooed.

"She's a fickle one," Nick said. "She'll love anyone who gives her attention, you know."

"Nah," Louis said easily, looking up at Nick.

Nick was wearing an old t-shirt Louis had seen on him several times, a denim jacket and jean shorts. His hair was falling apart from the late spring heatwave outside, curling all over the place. He looked amazing.

Louis turned back to Pig. "She loves me best," he said. He gave her a quick pat on the head and stood up. "Don't worry, you probably come in second. I mean, you do feed her."

"Shut up," Nick said, his lips quirked.

Louis turned to wash his hands, biting down on his own smile. Fuck, but Nick made him feel soppy.

"Ah, you're listening to Annie!" Nick said, as the song ended and Annie Mac took over again. "She gave me a shout-out."

Louis gave Nick a look. "Yes, I heard. 'Nick Grimmy Grimshaw and his dog Pig, on their way to the weekend.'"

Nick grinned. "That's us. Is it really stupid that I still love getting shout-outs?"

Louis wasn't sure; he knew it was cute as fuck, but he couldn't tell Nick that. "Probably," he said. He scooped up the spaghetti and dropped it in the pot, then went to check on the sauce. "Is Pig excited for the weekend?"

Nick raised his eyebrows, a smirk appearing on his face. "Oh, she's thrilled. A whole weekend to run around in your huge garden? She's beside herself. Can't believe her luck, really."

Louis chewed on his lip and focused on stirring. "Good," he said.

"Good," Nick echoed. "Now, what the hell are you doing?"

"Making dinner," Louis said. "Obviously."

"Obviously," Nick said. There was a pause. "You know how to cook?"

"I can scrap all this and just get takeaway."

"No, no," Nick said, and walked closer. "What are you making?"

"Spag bol," Louis said. "I mean, it's probably not as fancy as you're used to, but it's food, innit."

Nick reached over and pinched him. Louis squirmed away, ladle swinging dangerously.

"Shut up," Nick said. "Do you want help?"

"Nope," Louis said. "Sit down, I'm doing this. You're in my way."

"I'm not," Nick protested. "I'm not doing anything."

"You're making me drip sauce everywhere," Louis said. "It'll be a mess."

"Like you care about a mess."

"I care because this has to be—" He cut off, and pressed his lips together.

Nick wrapped an arm around Louis's waist, careful not to jostle the arm that was still holding the ladle. "Has to be what?" he asked.

"Perfect," Louis said quietly, and scowled.

Nick laughed, body shaking against Louis's, and pressed a kiss to Louis's hair. "I'm pretty sure it'll be fine if it's just edible," he said. "I mean, I'm really not keeping you around for your cooking—"

"Ugh, shut up," Louis said, discarding the ladle, and pulled Nick down for a proper kiss.

Nick made a pleased noise—one of his hands touching Louis's cheek, while the other stayed on Louis's waist—and deepened the kiss. Nick was a bloody great kisser; enthusiastic and fun.

Sometimes Louis entertained the thought of kissing him forever. It would probably get boring at some point, but god knows it hadn't yet.

He rose up on his toes and pressed closer, Nick's arm tightening around his waist.

The song on the radio ended abruptly with a loud bang and Annie came in whooping loudly off the back of it. They both jerked back at the same time, eyes wide, before they burst out laughing.

"Oh my god," Nick gasped. "Gave me a fucking heart attack."

Louis covered his mouth with his hand, laughing helplessly.

"Jesus christ," Nick said, and reached to turn the volume down on the radio. "I have to text Annie and tell her off for that."

"You do that," Louis said. "Now go and get out of my way. Unless you want to starve."

Nick focused back on him, his face going soft.

"What?" Louis asked.

"Nothing," Nick said. "Just, you know, this is really nice, actually. People don't usually cook for me."

Louis stared at him. "People cook for you all the time." Nick was always going on fancy dinner dates with his friends.

"My boyfriends don't usually cook for me," Nick said.

"Who are all these other boyfriends, eh?" Louis asked, pointing a spoon at Nick. He felt all warm, and happy.

Nick rolled his eyes, and pulled Louis in for another quick kiss. "There's just you," he said, voice soft. "God help me."

"Sap," Louis said, and pushed him away, but kept his hand fisted in Nick's shirt. "I need to focus on this."

"I am awfully distracting," Nick said. "Just too pretty."

"You're annoying is what you are," said Louis, and patted Nick's stomach. "Go and sit down."

Nick sighed, but went and perched himself on one of the kitchen chairs. Louis expected him to take out his phone, but Nick was just staring at him, face relaxed.

Louis paused, his hand hovering over the pan. "Are you going to just sit there and watch?"

"That's what you told me to do!" Nick said.

Louis let out a frustrated breath. "Go—go play with Pig, or go on your phone or something."

Nick laughed. "Are you serious?"

"I can't focus when you're staring at me," Louis said.

"You're such an idiot," Nick said, but he got up, gave Louis a silly little wave, and disappeared into the living room.

Louis took a deep breath and turned back to the pot.

"Hey, Lou," Nick called a minute later. "Is Pig allowed to chew on these sneakers?"

Louis closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands.

He didn't know what he'd been thinking when he went and fell in love with Nick Grimshaw.

"I'm going to take your silence to mean, "Oh sure, Pig, that's absolutely fine"," Nick called.

"Think again!" Louis shouted back.

There were the sounds of nails on a wooden floor, and Nick admonishing Pig.

"She said she's sorry!" Nick called. "Say sorry, Pig. Oh, Louis, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to," he added in Pig's voice. "I'm just a little dog, and your shoes smelled so good."

Louis choked out a helpless laugh.

"We really are sorry, actually," Nick said, peeking in from the door. "But hey, at least she hasn't thrown up on your carpets or something."

"Yet," Louis said grimly.

"Well, you're going to have to clean it up if it happens," Nick said cheerfully. "I can't stand dog puke."

Louis opened his mouth to argue, but Nick cut him off.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot you don't want me in the kitchen. Go on then." He grinned at Louis and went back into the living room. He popped back in to say, "By the way, the pasta's boiling over."

Louis let out a strangled yell and turned to rescue it. Nick laughed at him, loud, but cheered when Louis managed to get it all under control.

The food turned out okay in the end. Nick said it was 'really good', sounding sincere and appreciative. Louis had to fight down a pleased smile, but he knew his flushed face still betrayed him.

"You should buy one of them aprons," Nick said, later when they were lounging on the sofa. "Those 'kiss the cook' ones."

"Oh, do you need instructions now?" Louis asked and climbed into Nick's lap.

Turned out Nick did pretty well without instructions, too.

~*~

Niall helps Louis pack again. It doesn't take long, since Louis never really properly unpacked.

Still, Niall helping him makes him feel both grateful and incredibly guilty. And just a bit pathetic.

The flight over to Melbourne is quiet and tense. Louis is still feeling hungover; he's curled up in his seat, shivering from the air-conditioning. His hoodie's too thin, but he's too tired to ask for a blanket. Niall is sitting on the other side of the jet, not looking at Louis.

Louis can't stop thinking about how Niall knows now.

It's something Louis has been keeping secret for so long, and now it's out there. He has no idea how he feels about it. It's like he doesn't have any room to process all his feelings. It just keeps going round and round in his head, leaving him confused and wrung out.

Niall knows. Louis was so afraid of anyone knowing, but he also thought he'd feel better after. He thought it might help, especially now.

He pulls his legs up on the seat and rests his head against his knees, chasing warmth and trying to get his stomach to settle.

He doesn't know how he feels.

All there is is fear and exhaustion and Nick.

Niall rides with him to the hotel. Louis assumed Niall would go with Willie in one car, and he'd go with Oli in the other, but once he's sat down and put his seatbelt on, it's Niall sliding in next to him.

He tenses immediately, and then feels stupid, because it's Niall. He shouldn't be scared of Niall.

"Hey," Niall says.

"Hey," Louis says when Niall doesn't say anything else.

"How was the flight?" Niall asks.

"We were on the same flight," Louis says, before he gets the chance to stop himself.

Niall huffs. "That's not what I meant," he says. "Just wondering how you're doing. You're awfully pale, mate."

Louis blinks. Niall's talking to him almost as if nothing's happened. Like Louis didn't tell him just this morning that he's queer and has been hiding a relationship from his friends for months and months now.

It's in the way he's avoiding Louis's gaze, though. It's that, which makes Louis feels even sicker than he did on the plane.

He swallows heavily, and looks out the window. "I'm fine. Just sucks flying with a hangover."

Niall hums. "Yeah, I know."

Louis wants to call him out on it, wants to tease him because Niall rarely gets hangovers.

"Yeah," he says instead. His head's still pounding, no matter all the paracetamol he's taken. It's ridiculous that he still feels sick, considering he puked up most of the contents of his stomach last night. Alcohol truly hates him. The car takes a particularly sharp curve, and Louis grabs onto the seat, his stomach roiling.

He's so tired. He just wants to get to the hotel and sleep until the show tonight.

"So," Niall says. "About Harry and Liam."

"What about them?" Louis asks.

"Are you going to tell them yourself?" Niall asks.

"Yes," Louis says. "Yeah, please."

"Of course," Niall says. "When?"

Louis sighs. "I don't know."

"Should probably do it soon."

Louis hears what Niall's not saying. That it's too late anyway.

"Yeah," he says, and closes his eyes. "I know."

Niall doesn't say anything else. Louis doesn't think he falls asleep, but the next thing he knows the car has stopped and Niall is telling him they're here. He gets out of the car, grabs his backpack, and follows Niall into the hotel.

The lift up to their floor makes his stomach flip over unpleasantly. He's still feeling shaky and cold from the flight, and he really wants a fucking shower. A shower and some uninterrupted sleep. And for his headache to fucking quit already.

Niall heads to his own room, and Louis is about to go after him out of sheer habit when he realises Niall probably will not want him to.

He stops in the middle of the hallway, caught.

He doesn't even know where his room is. He wasn't paying attention. He thinks Niall handed him the key card.

He fishes the key card out of his pockets, but it doesn't give him any clue about the lock it should go in.

He starts when a door opens. Niall seems surprised to see him as well.

"What are you standing around there for?" Niall asks.

Louis shrugs. "Forgot my room number."

Niall sighs. Louis feels even worse.

"It's that one," Niall says, pointing. Louis looks at the door. It's like any other.

"Alright," he says.

"Come on," Niall says. He takes Louis's shoulder and steers him towards the room, grabs Louis's keycard and opens the door himself.

"I could've done that," Louis says, as Niall pushes him inside.

"You look like you're about to faint or something," Niall says.

"I'm fine," Louis says, and drops his backpack. "You don't have to baby me."

Niall gives him a look. Louis lets out a deep breath. He hates when he gets like this, too. He's just so tired.

"Well," he says. "I'm here now, so. I'm fine. You don't have to stay or anything. I'm just gonna have a shower and sleep until we have to leave."

"Alright," Niall says. "I'm gonna go find Harry."

Guilt gnaws at Louis again. He should be going to find Harry himself.

Both of their phones go off at once with a message notification. Louis scrambles for his, but his hand's shaky and he drops it on the floor. He crouches to pick it up, and his head swims dangerously. Fucking hangover.

"It's Liam," Niall says above him. "Wants to know if we've gotten in already."

Louis watches him type a response, and slowly pushes himself back up, hand braced against the wall, the other clutching his phone.

It buzzes in his hand; Liam has responded to Niall's message in the group chat. Louis watches Niall's face instead of looking down at the screen. He's suddenly afraid, his heart beating faster, his stomach twisting. What if it's something. What if it's not anything.

What if it's something awful.

"He said to come meet them in Harry's room," Niall says. "There's a happy emoji. Think it's good news?"

Louis swallows hard. "It can't be bad. Right?"

"Definitely not," Niall says. "Come on, let's go then."

"What if it's not anything?" Louis asks. "What if he's just excited to see us again?" He wouldn't put it past Liam.

It's just, he can't hope. He can't. God, he wants to.

Niall looks at him. "Let's go find out. They're not far."

"Alright," Louis says. It still takes him a minute until he can move.

~

Liam opens the door with a wide smile on his face.

Louis freezes, but Niall nudges him and he steps into the room, his stomach flipping over and over.

"Hey," Liam says. "Good flight?"

Louis notices Harry's sitting on the bed, talking on the phone.

"Yeah," Niall says. "It was fine. Any news?"

Liam nods, beaming. Louis has trouble focusing on him.

"He woke up," Liam says. "Harry just got the call."

Louis leans against the wall, hard. His heart's pounding in his ears. Nick woke up?

"Mate, really?" Niall asks. "That's great."

"I know," Liam says. "It's such a relief. Harry cried. I mean, I did too."

"Aw, man," Niall says, and pulls Liam into a hug.

Louis blinks. His head's spinning. It's a good thing someone put that wall right behind him.

"Harry, mate," Niall says. "That's such great news."

Harry gives them a smile and a thumbs up from the bed.

"He's talking to his mum," Liam says. "Daisy called earlier. He started regaining consciousness last night apparently, but he's fully awake now."

"Last night?" Louis asks. He can tell his voice sounds off, and Liam gives him a worried look.

"It's like morning over there right now, isn't it?" Niall asks, looking at his phone.

"Yeah," Liam says. "So like this morning for us, I suppose? I don't know. Harry probably knows the details."

Louis nods. Nick's awake. He's not in a coma. He's not dead. He's awake.

"So he's going to be okay?" Niall asks.

"They think so, yeah, I think," Liam says.

Niall touches Louis's elbow, brief, and goes over to give Harry a hug. Louis stares at them.

"Hey," Liam says, taking Louis's arm. "Can we talk for a second?"

He pulls Louis with him into the bathroom before Louis gets the chance to say anything.

Louis blinks up at him, slow and confused. He feels like he can't process this yet. The relief is almost too big. Liam puts his hands on Louis's shoulders.

"Hey," he says again, voice quiet and gentle. "You alright?"

"I'm fine," Louis says automatically. "Why?"

Liam looks so concerned. Louis gazes at his chin.

"Niall called me," Liam says. "Said you were really upset last night."

Louis swallows hard. His head's still spinning.

Nick woke up.

"I'm fine," he says. "I'm alright."

"He said you wouldn't tell him what's wrong," Liam says.

Louis wonders if that was before or after Niall found out. Did Niall lie for him?

"I'm fine," he says again. "I'm fine now."

He realises with a start it's true. He's still reeling, overwhelmed with everything that's happened in the past few days. His hands are like, constantly shaking, and physically he feels fucking awful, but—but. Nick woke up.

Nick woke up, and that's all that matters.

Everything that follows this might be an absolute mess, but Nick woke up and he's going to be okay, and Louis will get to talk to him and he'll get to see him, and literally nothing else matters.

His chest swells with the feeling. Nick is going to be okay.

"But what happened?" Liam says, and he still looks so awfully concerned. "Why didn't you tell Niall?"

"I'll tell you," Louis promises. "I'll—it's all alright now."

He wants to do it now. He does, he wants to say it right this second.

But it was somehow easier to tell Niall. He feels guilty, thinking that, but it was just easier. The early morning haze, the quiet of the hotel room. Louis for once not overthinking it. He wants to tell Liam. He's just trying to work his way up to it.

There's just too much going on right now. He'll do it later. Just a bit later, he'll tell Liam and Harry both.

"You will?" Liam asks. "Are you sure it's all okay? You look all...weird."

Louis nods quickly.

It's just, it's selfish, he knows, but he wants to enjoy this moment for just a bit longer. Nick waking up, Nick being okay, everything promising to turn out okay. Just a bit longer, until he hurts Liam and Harry like he knows he already hurt Niall.

Harry's just so happy right now, Louis could see it radiating from him, and he doesn't want to mess that up. Not now.

Later. After the show. Tomorrow, maybe. He hopes he'll get to talk to Nick before that. Hear his voice, god he's missed his voice. It's only been a few days, and Louis has been losing it.

He opens his mouth to tell Liam that he's not just fine, he's on his way to pretty fucking great actually when they hear Niall call them.

"Lads! Can you come out here?"

Liam's brow furrows and he pushes the bathroom door open. Louis hurries out after him.

It only takes one look at Harry's face for Louis's stomach to drop.

~

"What's happened?" Liam asks. Louis is glad for Liam, because he feels completely frozen, terror in his veins.

Nick was supposed to be fine. They said he'd be fine.

Harry sighs. "It's—he's alright. Mostly."

"What does that mean?" Liam asks.

Louis heart keeps pounding away. He can feel it in his fingertips. Not dead, then, Nick's not dead.

"Daisy called again," Harry says. "Apparently they were doing tests, and asking him all these questions, and they just, well, they realised something was wrong, and—"

"Harry," Louis manages to choke out. He rarely ever minds Harry rambling, but right now he's about to be sick and he needs to know what has happened.

"He's got amnesia," Niall says, blunt.

Louis blinks. Then he blinks again. His palms are sweating.

"What?" Liam asks. "Amnesia?"

Harry nods sadly. "Yeah, he's lost his recent memory."

"Oh my god," Liam says. "That's awful."

Louis can't process this. Nick and amnesia in the same sentence doesn't make sense.

Nick doesn't remember. How much doesn't he remember?

It can't be true.

"I know," Harry says. "God, I feel so bad."

"How much?" Louis asks. "How much can't he remember?"

Harry's face falls even more. "When he woke up he thought it was November."

"November," Louis repeats.

It's late August. Nick's birthday was a few weeks ago. Louis felt so miffed about not being there. He sent over flowers, and some fancy clothes and accessories he picked out that reminded him of Nick, and something fun for Pig, too. A bit excessive, maybe, but hey, he was in love.

It was mid-February when Louis finally balled up all of his courage and kissed Nick. Louis never expected to remember the date, but he did; it was a few days after Valentine's Day, and Nick made a joke about how at least now they wouldn't have to get each other presents.

"That's so scary," Liam says. "Do they think he'll be okay?"

Harry shrugs sadly. "I don't know. I talked to him for a bit, he sounded fine? Just, he was asking me why I wasn't there. He didn't know I was on tour."

Louis feels like he's hearing everything through a fog. It doesn't make any sense.

"November," he says again. They weren't anything yet in November.

"Louis," Niall says. Louis can't look at him.

This is ridiculous. This isn't happening, it's absolutely ridiculous, and he'll call Nick later and Nick will pick up and he'll be fine and he'll remember Louis, of course he'll remember him.

Properly, like, not as the annoying boybander he once had Twitter beef with, or as Harry's friend, but as Louis, his fucking boyfriend. He has to remember.

But if he thinks it's still November—if he doesn't even know they're in the middle of a tour and it's fucking August—

"He won't remember," Louis says. He can feel hysterical laughter bubbling inside him. It feels like a very Niall kind of reaction. "He won't fucking remember."

"Remember what?" Harry asks.

"That we're dating," Louis says.

He doesn't even make the decision to say it, it just comes out.

Nick won't remember.

There's a pause.

"What?" Liam asks.

Louis wraps his arms around himself. God.

"Wait, what?" Harry asks. He's staring at Louis, confused. "What are you talking about?"

Louis takes a deep breath. No fucking turning back now. "We're dating," he says. "Me and Nick, we're seeing each other." His voice shakes. He's exhausted, and bloody terrified.

No one says anything.

Louis laughs, the sound painful in his throat. "Well, this is not how I really imagined coming out."

"Louis—" Liam says, cutting himself off abruptly. No one else speaks.

"What?" Louis asks. "No one's going to say, 'Holy shit, you're dating a guy?'"

"You're dating Nick," Liam says. "I—you're dating Nick?"

"Who's a guy," Louis says.

"That's absolutely not the point," Liam says, his voice starting to climb.

"Isn't it?" Louis asks. He thought it would be. He can't remember what he imagined their reactions to be, but then again he never imagined doing it under these circumstances.

"I don't believe you," Harry says.

"What, that I like dick?" Louis asks. He feels sick.

"About Nick," Harry says. His eyes are hard. "I don't believe you. Prove it."

Louis's stomach hurts. "What, you want to see my texts?" he asks.

"No," Liam says, "Louis, of course—"

"Yes," Harry says, his voice flat.

"Harry, come on," Niall says. Louis is already pulling out his phone.

He opens his conversation with Nick, and holds the phone out to Harry. His hand is shaking. "Go ahead, then."

"Stop," Niall says, and pushes the phone away. "Stop, alright, he's telling the truth."

"Wait," Liam says. "Did you know?" Harry shifts away from Niall on the bed. Louis feels terrible.

"He told me this morning," Niall says in a quiet voice. He glances at Louis and then back at Harry. "Told me he'd tell you himself, so."

"Did he show you proof?" Harry asks. He still looks confused and angry, but there's something desperate about it. "Because if this is some kind of joke—"

"He didn't need to prove it," Niall says. He looks up at Liam. Louis looks down. "Why would he be lying, Haz?"

Harry shakes his head, and pulls his knees up. Louis pockets his phone. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know what to say to make this better.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry asks. "You even told Niall first."

"I didn't mean to," Louis says. He always planned on telling Harry first. Him and Nick, together.

"When did this start?" Harry asks.

"February," Louis says. "Maybe end of January, I don't know."

"Fuck," Liam says. "Louis, that's a long time."

"Yeah, well," Louis says. "Not bloody long enough, apparently."

Harry runs his hands through his hair. "I can't think about this right now. It's been months and neither of you told me?"

"We didn't tell anyone," Louis says. "No one knew."

"That doesn't make it better," Harry says. "God, I still—I can't believe this."

"I'm sorry," Louis says. His chest feels hollow. "I'm sorry I didn't tell any of you. It just—I don't know. Fuck, I'm sorry."

He can't bear to look at any of them. He can't do this. He always thought he'd have Nick for this part. If not here then at least a phone call away.

"I just don't understand why you didn't trust us with this," Liam says. He looks devastated.

Louis is going to cry. He swallows hard, and shakes his head.

"This is too much," Harry says. "Can you all just leave? Please?"

"Are you sure?" Niall asks.

"Please," Harry says. "I just—I need—"

"Of course," Liam says. "Let us know if you need anything, yeah? Or if Nick remembers or anything like that."

"Yeah," Harry says. His eyes flick over Louis, but land on Liam. "I will, thanks."

It makes Louis feel even worse.

"I'm sorry," he says. He doesn't know what else to say.

Harry looks down at his lap. Niall gets up from the bed, his face serious. "Let's go," he says. "He wants to be alone."

Louis gets that, but maybe if he stayed—maybe if he found the right thing to say.

"Louis," Niall says. "Come on."

Louis looks over at Liam. He's staring at the floor, his jaw set.

"Liam," Louis tries.

Liam shakes his head, not looking at him. "I need some space," he says, and starts heading for the door.

Louis trails after him automatically, his head pounding. Fuck. Fuck, he's fucked it all up. All of it.

"Liam," he says again, because this is possibly worse than he ever imagined it. Possibly.

Liam keeps walking. His room is close to Harry's, and he's disappeared into it before Louis can even blink.

Louis stands there, staring at the doorknob. The sound of a door closing behind him startles him out of his haze.

Niall brushes past him, heading for his own room. He doesn't look back at Louis.

Louis figures he deserves that, but it still hurts.

"Niall," he calls out.

Niall falters and stops.

Louis swallows compulsively. He doesn't know what to fucking say. "I'm—can you tell me my room number again?"

Niall's shoulders lift. "It's 502," he says, and leaves.

"Right," Louis says quietly, to no one. "Thanks."

It takes him forever to get his keycard to open the door, and he's almost convinced Niall gave him the wrong number. He's near tears when he finally manages to get in. His hands won't stop shaking.

Nick's lost his memories.

Louis needs—he needs—god, he doesn't know what he needs. To fucking wake up. For all this to be some horrible dream.

He grabs a beer from the minibar, and curls up in an armchair. His stomach hurts, and his hands won't stop shaking. He just came out to his best friends, and now they hate him, and somewhere in a hospital in London his boyfriend doesn't even remember they're dating.

It's so fucking stupid, that he just wants to cry about it.

He presses a hand to his mouth, and tries to breathe steadily. Maybe it'll all turn out to be a mistake, a misunderstanding. Maybe his phone will ring any minute, and it'll be Nick calling.

Because at least Nick's fucking alive.

He's awake, and he's alive, and god, with everything else going to shit, there's still that. Nick's alive.

~

Louis doesn't remember the show that night.

He managed to stop when he was two beers in, but his head was already spinning by then, from that and the hangover. He's not sure how he got through the show. He's not sure how anyone did.

He checks his Twitter later when he's escaped back into his hotel room; there are a couple of concerned trends and his mentions are a mess. Luckily it seems he didn't do anything terrible on stage, at least.

Someone's asked them all if they're glad Nick has woken up. Louis puts his phone down and goes to the minibar.

Liam comes by later.

Louis isn't sure what time it is by then; he's been squinting at his phone for long enough that it's hard to make out words. His eyes are all blurry. Or maybe that's the beer.

It's some fancy shit beer, too, which annoyed him at first, but he's gotten used to it now.

He's scrolling through Nick's Instagram feed.

He already looked at all the recent news articles about Nick, but those made him feel sick. At least they didn't have all the latest details, thank god. He hates the idea that Nick's being hunted when he's at hospital. There was an article in the Mirror that speculated whether Nick'd been driving drunk or had been dangerously exhausted from still doing Breakfast. Never mind that Nick had been doing Breakfast and X Factor at the same time only a few years ago and had been absolutely fantastic. It had all been a thinly veiled dig about his level of professionalism, and his age, and Louis wanted to go and punch the person who wrote it in the face.

He ended up opening Instagram instead, so now he's staring at a picture of Pig from a month ago or so. Louis was there when Nick took it. He remembers Nick asking his opinion on the caption. Nick doesn't, apparently. What a fucking joke.

"Louis," Liam says. "Hey. Daniel let me in."

Louis blinks up at him. "Oh. Hey. What's up?"

Liam sighs. He's standing in the middle of the room, a good way away from Louis. "What are you doing?" he asks.

"Looking at a picture of Pig," Louis says.

Liam looks sad. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asks. "About you and Nick?"

Louis shrugs. "Told you now." His head hurts. He should get up and go to bed. Sleep.

"But it's been months," Liam says. "I don't understand. Why didn't you tell me? Or Harry?"

"I don't know," Louis says. He looks down at his phone. Pig looks so happy in the picture. She'll be so glad when Nick comes home to her. Nick's alive. He didn't die. Louis clicks back onto Nick's feed and keeps scrolling. There are so many selfies. He's looked at Nick's Instagram before, of course. He just forgot how many selfies there were.

It's the only thing he has now, Nick's Instagram. He doesn't even have any pictures of them together on his phone. He has a few pictures of Pig, and one of Nick and Pig together that Louis couldn't resist taking. He's already looked at them, too much, maybe. They hurt in an odd way, worse than Nick's Instagram ones.

He was too scared to take any of just the two of them, though, worried they'd somehow get out. He was so stupid.

"Louis," Liam says. "Did you hear me?"

"Yeah," Louis says. There's a picture of Nick's kitchen table, the mug Louis usually uses off to the side. The soft toy fox Louis got for Pig is the background of a shot of one of Nick's friends playing with Pig. It's one of the most recent pictures. Louis gave it to Pig on the day he left for tour. No one knows it came from him. No one knows. Not even Nick does, now. It doesn't make sense.

"Louis," Liam says. "Can you please answer me?"

Louis looks up. "Oh," he says. "Sorry. Hey, do you want a drink or something? Want to go for a smoke? I could use a smoke."

Liam stares at him. "I think you should go to bed."

"Yeah," Louis says. "Sure." He looks at his phone at his phone again. All the pictures start to blur into one; he rubs at his eyes. "Can you get me another drink?"

"Think you've had enough," Liam says. "You should have some water."

"Uh-huh," Louis says. His chest is getting all tight. There's a stupid picture of Nick on a swing clearly meant for kids, sticking his tongue out at the camera. It's not any different from the rest, but for some reason it's making Louis's stomach hurt. It's awful.

"Louis," Liam says.

"What?" Louis snaps, looking up. Liam's face goes hard. Louis didn't mean to do that. He's just so tired.

"Never mind," Liam says. "I'll see you later, then. Try not to be too hungover for the show tomorrow, alright?"

Louis blinks. Liam seems to be waiting for him to say something. Louis doesn't know what. He has no idea what he's supposed to say.

Liam sighs and shakes his head. "Drink some water," he says, and walks out, door falling closed after him.

Something inside Louis's chest hurts, but it's been doing that for a while.

His phone buzzes in his hand; he's so startled he almost drops it. It's his mum again.

Louis darling can you please call me? Getting worried. Xx

Louis tries to remember the last time he talked to his mum. The days all blur together.

He heaves himself up from the armchair and stumbles to bed, flopping down on it face-first. He takes a few careful breaths, his stomach sloshing dangerously.

He turns over to his side and fumbles for his phone, knowing he should at least text his mum back to get her to stop worrying, but his hand feels so heavy, his fingers clumsy.

He opens a video of Pig on Nick's Instagram, Nick talking to her from behind the phone. He watches through all of Nick's videos methodically, just catching these glimpses of his boyfriend. He's not sure exactly when he falls asleep.

~

Six in the morning finds Louis knocking on Harry's door.

He barely got a few hours of sleep before jolting awake from an anxiety dream, his head pounding. He's not completely sure how he decided to go to Harry's, but he knows he needs to talk to him.

"I'm sorry," Louis says as soon as Harry opens the door.

"I can't do this right now," Harry says. He looks exhausted, but he's dressed in his gym clothes, like he's about to go out.

"I just need to talk," Louis says.

"I can't do this right now," Harry repeats, slower.

"Please," Louis says. "Just one thing. Please, Harry."

Harry hesitates, and Louis takes the chance to push past him into the room. Harry steps back, nose wrinkling. "You look terrible," he says, crossing his arms.

"I'm sorry," Louis says again.

"Okay," Harry says. "I mean, if that's all you came here to say, then you're not going to get anywhere."

Louis swallows hard. "I know," he says. "I came to ask for a favour."

Harry stares at him. "Seriously?"

"Please," Louis says. "I just need to know for sure. That he doesn't remember that we—I need to know for sure."

"Alright," Harry says, brow furrowing.

"I thought maybe I should text him again?" Louis says. "But I wasn't sure."

"His phone is fucked," Harry says. "I've been talking to him through our friends."

"It's probably a bad idea anyway," Louis says. "Like, talking to him directly. I don't want to stress him out, you know? I just need to know."

"I don't understand what you're asking from me," Harry says. "Do you want me to tell him? That you were together? Because—"

"No," Louis says. The past tense hurts. "No, that's—that has to be really fucking weird, right? Like, if he doesn't remember and you just go and say it, and he's in hospital, and he was just in an accident."

If Nick doesn't remember then it'll just confuse and upset him. Louis doesn't want to do that. Nick's been through so much, and he needs to get better.

"Okay," Harry says. "I mean, that's what I was going to say. That it's probably not a good idea."

"Right," Louis says. "But maybe. Maybe you could just mention me? Like, specifically. Tell him I'm glad—" He has to stop to swallow hard against a lump in his throat. "I'm glad he's awake and all that. Maybe he'll say something."

Harry looks unsure. "I could try, I suppose."

"Please," Louis says. "I'm really sorry, but—please, could you? Just see what he says."

"Alright," Harry says, sounding tired. "I'll think about it."

"Okay," Louis says. "Okay, just—"

"I'm late for yoga," Harry says.

"Right," Louis says. "Sorry, I'll get out of your way." He pauses at the door. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah," Harry says, looking down. "Okay."

Louis heads back to his room. His head is pounding, and his chest feels tight, but there's a horrible feeling of hope curling in his belly. Maybe. Maybe.

~

Harry stops by Louis's room only a little while later.

"Daniel said you'd be here," he says.

Louis shrugs. It's early in the morning, and he doesn't really feel like going anywhere. They have another show tonight anyway, he'll either need to get some rest before that or stock up on Red Bull. He's less hungover than yesterday, but he's fucking exhausted, his vision occasionally going blurry. He wishes he could just put everything on pause, the shows, his brain, everything, and sleep for twelve goddamn hours.

He can't, though. He can only try to keep holding on.

"Did you call him, then?" he asks.

"Yeah," Harry says. "Gave him your well wishes. He just said, 'Oh, that's nice'. Nothing else."

Louis swallows hard, his stomach sinking. "He could—I mean, it's a secret."

"Yeah," Harry says after a pause. "Maybe. I mean, it didn't really sound like he was hiding anything from me, but apparently I can't tell whether he is or not anyway, so."

Louis grits his teeth. "This isn't his fault."

"Right," Harry says. "Well, in any case, he didn't say anything."

"Do you even believe me?" Louis asks. His skin crawls. He's made such a mess of everything. "Do you think I'm making it up?"

"No," Harry says, face tight. "I just don't understand, okay. I don't understand why you didn't tell me."

Louis doesn't say, "Because I was absolutely terrified." Doesn't say, "Because I didn't know how." That's another thing only Nick knows, too. Harry wouldn't understand.

God, he misses Nick so much. "Maybe I could talk to him myself," he says. "Just to tell him to get better. I mean, maybe he'll remember then. That could happen, right? He could get his memories back?"

"I don't know," Harry says. "Daisy said he's really confused right now. They're all slowly trying to fill him in on what has happened, but he's tired, and on painkillers, and all. I think the biggest thing they've told him so far is that Aimee's pregnant."

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, and takes a deep breath. Nick was so excited about Aimee's pregnancy, always talking about how it was thanks to him, because he's the one who introduced her to Ian.

"God," he says. "At least she hasn't had the baby yet. He didn't miss it."

"Yeah," Harry says, his voice rough. "Fuck. I have to go."

He's halfway out the door when Louis calls after him. "Thank you."

Harry doesn't stop or look back. The door closes with a quiet whoosh.

Louis sighs and heads back to the bed. He curls up under the covers and tries to relax enough to fall asleep, just for a little bit, but there's too many thoughts in his head.

He wishes he hadn't pressed Harry, hadn't asked him to call. Not only did he probably hurt him and piss him off more with that, it didn't help any either. All he has now is the bitter aftertaste of hope.

Nick doesn't remember. There's no way he would have not told Harry something if he still did. There's no way he wouldn't have tried to get in contact with Louis himself. Louis is sure of it.

He's doesn't know why he'd thought himself special, thought he'd be the one thing Nick would remember even when he had lost so much.

He wonders what Nick's thinking about right now, what his last solid memory is from before the accident. He hopes it's something nice. After all, Nick had a whole life before him, one Louis didn't fit into.

He doesn't even have a clue as to what Nick was up to back in November. He told Louis it'd been a while since he'd been in a relationship, but he could have been into someone, crushing on someone, wishing to be with someone.

It's such a long time. It's an awfully long time for Nick to forget, and Louis is worried, not just about what it'll mean for them—he can already figure what it means for them—but for just Nick himself. He'll miss a lot of Breakfast, and he'll probably have to postpone the start of his new chat show. Louis hopes it doesn't mean the show will get cancelled or anything; he hopes Nick can still do it. Nick had been looking forward to it so much.

Nick won't remember anything important that's happened with his family and friends. He won't even remember any of the songs currently on the radio.

Louis feels like crying. He's not going to, he's tired of it. It's just that he has no idea what's going to happen with either of them, and he's exhausted, and worried, and scared.

He lies in the bed for ages; mostly awake, only nodding off for a few moments here and there. He gets up when Daniel comes to tell him they're heading to the venue soon, and drags himself to the bathroom.

He looks terrible, heavy bags under his eyes, his hair a mess, his face blank. Still, he figures, it could be worse.

Daniel looks worried when he sees Louis, but he doesn't press for questions. Louis is grateful.

He finally texts his mum back while they're in the car, tells her he's sorry and he's alright. She probably won't believe him, but he hopes it'll calm her just a bit.

He tries to pull himself together when they get to the venue; he talks to some of the crew, bugs their security and chats with Lou. He can tell by the looks they send him that it's not working completely, but at least it's working well enough that no one asks him about it.

He feels like he can do it; can pretend his way through all of it.

He doesn't expect it when Harry shoves a phone at him a bit before the show. "Here, you can talk to Nick for a bit," he says. "He's on the line."

Louis almost drops the phone. "What?"

"You wanted to, didn't you?" Harry asks. They're in the hallway, people passing by.

Louis stares at Harry. "I—" He fumbles with the phone, brings it up to his ear. "Nick?"

"Tomlinson?" Nick asks. He sounds far away and tired. "Harry said you wanted to say hi."

Louis can immediately tell from his voice. It's Nick's light, interview voice, his public voice. He winds an arm around his waist, trying to hold himself together.

"Louis?"

God, but Louis has missed him so much. The connection is crackling a little, making it hard to hear, and he can tell Nick doesn't remember anything about them, but it's still his voice.

"Hi," Louis says. "I'm here."

"You wanted to talk?" Nick asks.

Louis doesn't even entertain the thought of telling Nick, of asking Nick if he remembers. Nick sounds absolutely exhausted, all croaky, and Louis wants him to get better so much his heart aches with it.

"Yeah, no, I just—I wanted to tell you to get better fast," Louis says, trying to keep his voice light. "Harry's worried sick about you, you know."

"Aw," Nick says. "Thanks, that's sweet of you." Louis wants to keep him on the line, but he sounds so out of it, like he just woke up and is ready to go back to sleep already.

"Right," Louis says. "Well, I'll give you back to Harry now, yeah?"

Please say no, please ask me to stay, please tell me you remember, please.

"Yeah, cheers," Nick says.

"Right, bye," Louis says. He hands the phone back to Harry, and leans against the wall, trying to compose himself. He wants to go back to his dressing room, but he can't make his legs move. He just needs a minute.

Harry chats to Nick for only a little bit longer, and then hangs up, ending with a, "Talk again soon, love you." Louis drags in a breath.

"Why the fuck would you just spring that on me?" he asks.

Harry looks confused. "But you said you wanted to talk to him."

"You couldn't have warned me?" Louis asks. "Fucking hell."

"I didn't have time," Harry says. "They only let him have short phone calls, so he won't get overwhelmed or overtired."

"Fuck," Louis says again. His hands are shaking.

"So I take it he doesn't remember," Harry says.

"Fuck you," Louis says, and walks away.

He manages to make it through the show. Barely, but still. At least that's something.

~

Things don't really get better.

Louis can tell the boys are still disappointed in him, and hurt, so he stays out of their way most of the time. The friends he has on tour with him still don't have a fucking clue about anything that's going on—unless one of the boys told them, and Louis really doubts it—so Louis takes to avoiding them, too. He just can't deal with that on top of everything.

It festers in him, the thought of having to come out to more people, having to look them in the eye when he does it. He doesn't have the strength for that right now. He's a coward, he knows, but knowing doesn't make any difference.

He stays in most nights, trying to find ways to waste time. The first few days he spends mostly sleeping or on the internet, just fucking around. He drinks a lot, and tries to forget the way Nick sounded over the phone.

It's so fucking stupid, because Louis should be overjoyed that Nick's awake, that Nick's going to be okay. He wants to be, and sometimes he is, but mostly he's fucking selfish and just wants Nick to call him and say he remembers him. He's not hoping for it, though. He heard from Niall in passing that the doctors aren't sure when or if Nick's memories will come back. Louis took it as confirmation that they won't.

It fucking breaks his heart for Nick.

He doesn't go back to Nick's Instagram, but he keeps tabs on what the papers are saying, and checks Nick's Twitter every day to see if he's back to tweeting yet, checks Snapchat.

None of the sites are reporting anything about the amnesia, at least. Louis really hopes it won't leak and Nick can deal with this in private. The longer Nick stays away from all social media the more he worries. It makes sense, of course, that Nick wouldn't be tweeting from hospital, but it's the only illusion of contact Louis can hope for. He just wants to be sure Nick's doing alright.

It's too easy for Louis to fret over it all, now that he's not really talking to anyone. Niall is the only one who seems to no longer be angry with him, but it still surprises him when one night Niall follows him to his room.

"Mind if I come in?" Niall asks.

Louis shrugs, and holds the door open for him. "Knock yourself out."

Niall goes and sits down on Louis's bed. Louis closes the door behind him and leans against it.

"I'm not planning on biting," Niall says.

"I'm not taking chances," Louis jokes back. He's just really tired. He hasn't been sleeping well. He doesn't want to get into a fight or anything. He doesn't want to say the wrong thing.

"Want to have a beer or something?" Niall asks.

"Ah, now you're talking," Louis says. He goes to the minibar and gets himself and Niall two bottles. "Cheers."

"Cheers," Niall echoes. "How are you doing?"

Louis sighs. "I'm knackered. Think I might be coming down with something."

"Should look after yourself," Niall says.

Louis makes a non-committal sound. "Why are you here?"

"Just to talk," Niall says. "The shows are weird."

"Aren't you angry with me?" Louis asks.

"Not really," Niall says. "I was a bit, at first. Or like just confused, I suppose. Hurt?"

Louis squeezes his eyes shut. "I'm sorry."

"I know," Niall says. "It's hard to stay angry with you, though. I mean, shit's hard all around, isn't it?"

Louis sighs. "I suppose."

"Anyway," Niall says, shrugging, and takes a sip of his beer. "I guess it helps that you didn't tell anyone? I mean, it sort of makes it a bit less personal, I suppose. Like I know you didn't do it to hurt me or anything."

"I really didn't," Louis says. "I never meant to."

"I know," Niall says again.

"I'm sorry," Louis says. It festers inside of him, the guilt. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. About any of it."

Niall shifts over and pats the spot next to him. "Come on. You're giving my neck a crick, having to look up at you."

Louis makes a show of rolling his eyes, but sits down next to him. "Not my fault you're so much shorter than me," he says. He still feels like he's barely treading water, but he's glad to have Niall here, talking to him.

"That doesn't even make sense," Niall says. "And it's not true, shut it."

"It's a bit true," Louis says. It used to be true, at least. Louis will cling to that.

Niall knocks his shoulder against Louis's. "You want to talk about it?" he asks.

"About how I'm very tall and definitely taller than you?"

"No," Niall says. "Not that."

Louis shakes his head. "Not really."

"Alright," Niall says. They drink their beer in silence.

"Actually," Louis says. "I do have a question."

"Yeah?" Niall asks.

Louis scratches at the label on his beer bottle. "How many people know? Like, not about me and Nick, but—well, about that too, I guess. But, you know. About me not being straight."

He looks over at Niall, stomach feeling queasy. He hasn't eaten anything in a while. He should probably order some food. He just hasn't been that hungry lately.

Niall's frowning down at his beer bottle. "I haven't told anyone," he says. "I don't know if the others have. But—"

"But what?" Louis asks when Niall doesn't go on.

"We all sort of knew you liked boys too," Niall says. "Or, like, we figured."

"How?" Louis asks, voice hollow.

"I don't know," Niall says. "Lots of little things? There was this one time I remember, like, really early on when we were all super drunk, like absolutely pissed, and you kept saying how you'd totally shag David Beckham."

Louis bursts out laughing. It takes him by surprise; he can't remember the last time he laughed. "I don't remember that at all."

"Mate, I'm surprised I remember it," Niall says. "It was early days, you know? I didn't think anything of it, to be honest. I mean, I suppose loads of straight guys would get off with Beckham, too."

"Not sure if they would, mate," Louis says.

Niall shrugs. "Well, still."

"So," Louis says. "You knew."

"Guessed it," Niall says. "I mean, I don't think any of us really thought about it. Or, like, you didn't want to talk about it, and you seemed fine, so no one brought it up? Just, it wasn't really a surprise. Is that bad?"

Louis sighs and pulls his legs up to rest his chin on his knee. "I don't know."

"Sorry if it didn't go how you wanted it to," Niall says.

"I don't even know how I wanted it to go," Louis says. "I mean, at least you're all fine with it. Right?"

"Yeah," Niall says. "Of course. It's just, you know, the Nick thing. That part was kind of a shock."

Louis runs a hand over his face. "Yeah. Fuck."

He hates that it's like this. Like Nick's some inconvenience. Like he really was a dirty secret instead of being the best part of Louis's days.

"Have you talked to Harry?" Niall asks.

"No."

"He says Nick's doing better every day."

Louis takes a deep breath. "That's good."

"Yeah," Niall says. "And we're going home soon. You can go see him then."

"Yeah," Louis says. He doubts he'll even be let into Nick's hospital room. He's not sure if he should even go. He wants to see Nick so badly.

Niall finishes his beer and yawns. "Fuck. I'm crashing."

"How do you do that?" Louis asks. He's always too keyed up to sleep after a show. Niall sometimes stays up too, but mostly he just seems calm, and pleasantly exhausted. Louis is jealous of it.

Niall shrugs. "Think I'm gonna go then. Get out of your hair."

Louis considers asking him to stay. It seems sort of unfair, though. He won't fall asleep for ages himself, no matter how tired he is. It was nice enough of Niall to come by in the first place.

"Good night," he says. "Thanks for the beer."

"It was your beer," Niall says.

"You know what I mean."

Niall gives him a look. "Yeah," he says. "Alright."

He brushes his hand against Louis's back before he goes. Louis puts his empty bottle down and scoots to the middle of the bed, curling up with his phone.

He's not sure how late it is when he finally falls asleep. The dreams aren't as bad as some nights, at least.

~

The morning of their last show Harry comes over to Louis's hotel room to tell him that Nick's been released from hospital.

"Fuck," Louis says. "That's—that's great."

"Yeah," Harry says. "I mean, I thought you should know. Obviously."

Louis swallows hard. "Yeah," he says. "Thanks."

"Right," Harry says. He waits a beat, then simply nods, and turns towards the door.

"Wait," Louis says. "Please wait."

"Look," Harry says, not turning around. "I don't want to talk about this right now. Not yet."

"I know," Louis says. He wants to, wants to try anything to make this better, but he knows Harry needs time. "It's not that. What else did they say? About Nick, and like, how he's doing?"

Harry sighs. "He hasn't gotten his memory back or anything. I would've told you."

"But how's he doing?" Louis asks. "How's his leg? Can he get around by himself?"

"He has help," Harry says. "All his friends are there for him."

"Right," Louis says. "Alright. Yeah, that's good."

"Alright," Harry echoes, and reaches for the door.

"But how is he?" Louis presses. "You talked to him, right?"

"Yeah, a bit," Harry says. "I don't know, he sounded as good as could be expected, you know? Not too bad. Tired, I suppose."

"That's it?" Louis asks. "Could you be more vague?"

"What do you want?" Harry asks, sounding annoyed now. He looks over at Louis. "He didn't mention you."

Louis takes a deep breath. "I know," he says, voice low. "I just want to know if he's okay."

Harry blinks at him, worrying at his lip. "Well," he says. "When I talked to him yesterday he kept going on about Pig and how dogs should be allowed in hospitals."

Louis looks down, a lump in his throat. It's so like Nick, that.

"That's very Nick," he says, voice luckily not coming out too choked.

"Yeah," Harry says. "It is."

God, Louis would give anything to get to talk to Nick himself. Just to hear his voice again. He barely managed to appreciate it last time. God knows it still hurts, though. Nick not really knowing him.

He wraps his arms around stomach, hugging himself tight.

"You're flying home tomorrow morning too, right?" Harry asks.

Louis looks up, surprised. He almost thought Harry had left quietly.

"Uh, yeah," he says. He remembers Harry was supposed to go straight to LA after the tour, but obviously he'd changed his plans to go see Nick.

"Maybe," Harry says slowly. "I can't promise anything, but maybe you can come with me when I go over to his."

Louis inhales sharply. "Really?"

He's been trying to figure out the best way to get to see Nick for ages—when he should go, what he should say, whether to even try to explain. He's leaning towards a no on the last one, but he still needs to see him. Just to make sure he's okay.

At night, right before sleep, he tends to imagine a ridiculous scenario where Nick remembers everything the second he sees Louis, and pulls Louis close and kisses him and everything turns out fine.

He knows it's stupid and unrealistic, but when he's knackered and his defenses are down he can't stop wishing for it.

"I think maybe trying to explain everything to him would go better if we're both there," Harry says.

Louis stares at him, a sudden lump in his throat. "You think I should tell him?"

Harry frowns. "Were you not going to?"

"I don't know," Louis says. "I mean, he'd never believe me, would he? And his friends are going to think I'm taking the piss."

"Well, maybe," Harry says. "You don't know that."

"Yeah, well, what do you think will happen?" Louis asks, getting annoyed again. "Like, I go over there and say, 'Hey, Nick, so the thing is I know you don't remember this, but we were dating, and now everything's fucked, but hey, how's the broken leg, how was being in a coma? Hope you're doing okay, because I—'"

"Louis," Harry says, taking a step closer. "Stop."

Louis clenches his fists, his chest heaving.

"I don't know what's going to happen when you tell him," Harry says. "And I'm still, like, pissed off at you, I think. But I'll be there, okay? You can come with me."

Louis feels all the fight go out of him. "Thank you," he says quietly. He's ridiculously grateful, truly, to Harry for offering.

"It's okay," Harry says. "It'll probably be better for Nick this way."

"Right," Louis says. "Yeah. For sure."

"Okay," Harry says. "Well, we can figure out the details later, so. I'm going to the gym." He pauses at the door, looks back at Louis. "Just—are you okay?"

Louis shrugs. "I'm not the one with amnesia, am I?"

Harry's face softens. "He's fine, you know," he says. "He's going to be okay."

Louis nods and looks down. "Thanks," he says. "For coming to tell me. And, you know."

"Of course," Harry says. "See you at the venue."

"Yeah," Louis says. "Bye."

He waits for Harry to leave before sinking to the floor and burying his face against his knees.

Nick's going to be okay. That's all that matters, isn't it?

~

Harry comes and sits next to Louis once the seatbelt lights go off.

"I'm going to catch some sleep," he says. "So I wanted to come talk to you now."

"Okay," Louis says carefully. Harry's been warmer towards him after the conversation they had this morning—or, well, he's stopped giving him the silent treatment in public, which counts for a lot.

"We're getting to London pretty early, right?" Harry asks. "Like, six or something."

"Yeah," Louis says. The hours stretch out before him, including the time they'll wait for the connecting flight in Singapore. It's such an awfully long time to be on the go, but at the end, there's London, and there's Nick.

"I'm going home for just a few hours," Harry says, "and then I'll go over to Nick's. Should I come and pick you up?"

"You're okay with me coming?" Louis asks. "Definitely?" He's not sure whether he subconsciously wants Harry to change his mind. He wants to see Nick, needs to see him as soon as he can. He's just scared. Always bloody terrified.

"Yeah," Harry says. "It's fine. I mean, if you want to, but I figure you do."

"Yeah," Louis says. "Of course. Um. Do you think actually I could crash with you for those few hours?"

"Oh," Harry says, visibly surprised. "You want to?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "If it's okay with you?" He doesn't know what will get into his head if he has to wait on his own.

"Okay," Harry says. "Yeah, that's fine."

"Good," Louis says. "Great, thanks."

"No problem," Harry says. "Well, have a good flight."

"We're on the same flight," Louis says, tentatively teasing. "We're already in the air."

Harry rolls his eyes. "You know what I meant."

He gets up and heads back to his seat, but there's a bit more warmth in Louis's chest. Nothing's fixed, not even close, but Harry's talking to him again. It's something.

"Hey," Niall says from across the aisle. "You going with Harry to see Nick?"

"Yeah," Louis says.

Niall leans closer, voice low. "Are you going to tell him? You know, about the two of you."

Louis shrugs. "Harry thought I should."

"Well, he has the right to know," Niall says. "How do you think it will go?"

"Honestly, not really expecting much," Louis says.

"Maybe he'll remember," Niall says. "Maybe it'll, like, jog his memory?"

Louis shakes his head. "He won't. I really doubt that's how it works."

"Yeah, well," Niall says. "I'm going over to my dad's for a few days when we get in, but, like, if you need to talk after it you can call."

Louis looks at Niall. He really loves Niall. Niall was the one who pulled Louis in for a hug at the end of the last show, right when Louis was feeling like he'd come apart on stage, overwhelmed with fucking everything—the end of this leg, the boys being disappointed in him and hurt. Nick.

Niall kept his arms around him until Louis could breathe again. He had a skill. Louis had never appreciated it as much as he did now, and he'd been aware of it for years.

"Thanks," Louis says, voice coming out a bit choked up.

Niall waves a hand. "Of course."

"No, really," Louis says. "Thanks for, like—just thanks."

Niall gives Louis a soft look, then reaches over and holds his fist out for Louis. Louis smiles and bumps it very gently. Niall grins back at him. He settles back in his seat, and does a "I watch your back" motion with his fingers. Louis swallows hard and nods. It doesn't really feel like he deserves that, still, but he's not about to question it.

He leans back and stares out the window, even though there's nothing to see there, just dark night and clouds.

It seems ridiculous to think that this part of the tour is over and he'll see Nick in less than a day. He was looking forward to it so much at one point. He'd planned it all out—he was going to go straight to Nick's from the airport, blow Nick before he left for work, and then cuddle up with Pig on the sofa, waiting for Nick to come back. His plans didn't extend much further from Nick getting back home from work sometime in the afternoon and Louis kissing him senseless at the door, but that was all he needed, really.

It's all he wanted.

He sighs and closes his eyes. He doesn't get much sleep on the flight.

~

Harry's had some work done over at his house during the break. Louis categorises the differences while Harry goes for a short nap.

He told Harry he'd crash on one of the sofas in the living room, but he finds it impossible to relax so he doesn't even attempt to sleep. He doesn't want to take out his phone either, so instead he walks around Harry's house to see what's changed.

He ends up in the kitchen, where Harry has painted the walls a slightly darker shade and installed a new countertop. All the appliances are still where they used to be, though, so Louis makes himself tea and settles down at the kitchen table. He sips slowly at his tea and tries to think of what he should say to Nick. He doesn't have any good ideas. How is he even supposed to start?

He's on his second mug, eyes heavy with sleep when Harry walks in, car keys in hand.

"Ready to go?" Harry asks.

Louis blinks rapidly and wipes his eyes. "Yeah," he says. "Good nap?"

"It was alright," Harry says. "You?"

"Didn't really sleep," Louis says. "Glad you still keep your tea in the same spot."

"Oh," Harry says. "Yeah. I haven't changed it much, have I? It's just a different colour scheme."

"It looks nice," Louis says. "I like it."

A brief smile flickers over Harry's face. "Thanks," he says. "Let's go, yeah?"

"Sure it's not too early?" Louis asks, pushing himself to his feet.

"I hope not," Harry says. "He should be up. He'll probably have someone over. I just can't wait any longer."

"Yeah," Louis says. He shares the feeling, sort of. He's jealous at how easy this is going to be for Harry.

He follows Harry to his car and curls up in the passenger seat, hunching down and pulling his hood over his head. London is grey around them, rain splattering against the windows. Traffic isn't as bad as it could be. They'll be at Nick's soon enough.

"How are we going to do this?" Louis asks.

Harry glances at him. "We'll just tell him."

"He won't believe me," Louis says.

"He'll believe me," Harry says. "He'll believe us. You have no reason to lie."

Nick's car isn't in its usual spot when they pull up, and for a moment Louis forgets why. When he remembers his stomach turns over, his mouth tasting sour. Nick could've died. He could've actually died, and Louis could be here at his house for completely different, horrible reasons.

The realisation both makes him want to jump out the car and run straight to Nick, and completely freezes him on the spot.

He feels a bit like he's floating, unsure what to latch on to. He hasn't slept in ages, more hours than he can make sense of. He's not ready for this.

He realises with a start that he'll have to come out to Nick's friends. And Nick, technically.

His stomach twists painfully. He hates that he's still afraid of it. Hates that he can't predict their reactions.

"Come on," Harry says. "Let's go."

Louis takes a shaky breath, slowly gets out of the car and joins Harry at the front door. He doesn't have time to brace himself before Harry rings the doorbell.

It's Daisy Lowe who opens the door.

Louis feels a horrible mix of disappointment and relief. He wants to see Nick. He's not ready to see Nick.

"Daisy," Harry says, and barrels into her for a hug.

"Hey, love," Daisy says, and hugs him back tight. Her eyes linger on Louis, confused. Did Harry not tell them he was coming with? God.

"Hey, sorry, is it too early?" Harry asks. "I couldn't wait any longer."

"No, no, it's fine," Daisy reassures him. "We're having breakfast, Gillian's here too."

"Oh, great," Harry says. He looks back at Louis, still standing on the porch. "You coming?"

Louis swallows. His throat's gone dry. "Yeah."

"Um," Daisy says. "Sorry, I don't think Nick knows you were coming too?"

Louis looks over at Harry. What the hell is he supposed to say? "Yeah, he doesn't, but see, he's my boyfriend, and everything's supremely fucked up?"

Of course Nick's friends will be suspicious. There's a terrible feeling of dread in Louis's stomach; the realisation that this will not go well firmly sitting there. Still, he doesn't want to turn back. Nick's right here, alive and enjoying his breakfast, and Louis isn't leaving until he gets to see him.

"Sorry, Dais," Harry says. "It's a bit complicated."

"I won't stay for long," Louis says, looking back at her. "I just. I—"

"We'll explain inside," Harry says.

"Well," Daisy says, looking speculative. "Alright."

She holds the door open for him, and Louis shuffles through it, mumbling a, "Thank you."

They step into the living room as Pig comes running out of the kitchen. She stops to sniff Harry only for a moment, before hurrying past him and over to Louis. She snuffles at his legs, tail wagging all over the place. She's making the little grunting noises she does when she's happy.

Louis crouches down to pet her, a lump in his throat. He's missed her so much.

"Aw, she likes you," Daisy says.

"Yeah," Louis says, and gently massages her ears, the way she really likes. "Hi, darling. Who's a good Pig dog?"

She gets even more excited at that, shaking her body all over and twirling around. Louis pets her slowly to calm her before he stands up again. Harry's already moving towards the kitchen, and Louis takes a deep breath and follows him, ignoring the curious look Daisy gives him.

And then he's in the kitchen and there's Nick.

Nick's sitting at the kitchen table, his hurt leg stretched out in front of him, looking tired, but also calm and settled and alive. So alive.

"Nick," Harry says. He rushes over and clambers on top of him, arms winding around his neck.

"Hey, Hazza," Nick says, voice muffled by Harry's hair. His hand settles on Harry's back, keeping Harry steady.

Louis wants to run to him too. He doesn't even care that Harry's here or that Nick's friends are here. He just wants to make sure Nick's okay, really okay. He just wants to touch him.

He folds his arms across his chest instead and leans against the doorway.

Harry pulls back and Louis can see just how wide Nick is grinning at Harry. Jealousy twists in his stomach. He tries to ignore it; this isn't about him.

And then Nick's eyes land on him.

"Oh," Nick says. "Hey, I didn't expect you."

Louis bites down on his lip, hard. Nick seems confused, but his face is open and kind and so very Nick. Louis missed him so much. He was so worried about him.

"Hey," Louis says. "You alright?"

"Have been better, I suppose," Nick says with a smile and points at his cast. "But pretty well, considering, yeah."

Louis nods. He wants to go over to him so badly. His stomach aches with it.

Nick looks back at Harry. "So, Harold. How was the...tour?" He looks questioning, and he throws another glance at Louis, as if asking what he's doing here. Louis tries to tear his gaze from him, but he can't.

"Tour was okay," Harry says. "How are you doing? I'm so sorry, I tried to arrange flying in to visit, but all the shows were so close together."

Nick laughs. "It's fine, popstar, god. You called me every bloody minute, anyway. Almost got sick of you."

Harry grins and throws his arms around him again. He whispers something into Nick's ear. Louis is so blatantly, painfully jealous.

"So," Gillian says. "Are you and, uh, Louis staying for breakfast?"

"Oh," Harry says, and finally looks over at Louis. "Um, actually, there's a reason Louis came with me?"

Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis. "Oh?"

Louis has no fucking clue how to navigate this. The way Nick's looking at him hurts. Polite interest, and confusion, a bit of curiosity. None of the familiarity Louis has come to expect.

Louis really didn't expect it to hurt this much.

"Well," Harry says, when Louis doesn't speak up. "Um. There's something you should know. You know, something that you've forgotten because of the, well, amnesia."

"Oh," Nick says. "What is it?"

"Um, well," Harry says, and then stops.

Louis gives him a nod, but Harry shakes his head and widens his eyes. God, okay.

Louis looks down at the floor and fiddles with the sleeves of his hoodie. "Well," he says, and takes a deep breath. Just fucking say it. "You and I were sort of, uh, seeing each other."

No one says anything. For a horrible, horrible moment Louis fears Nick might laugh.

"What?" asks Daisy. "No, you weren't."

Louis flinches at that, and looks up. Daisy and Gillian look confused. Louis can't look at Nick.

"Daisy," Harry says. "They were."

"But—" Daisy says, and looks at Gillian. "This is the first I'm hearing of this."

"Same," Gillian says. She looks suspicious.

Harry looks over at Louis, face apologetic. "I didn't know until Nick got hurt, either."

"I don't understand," Daisy says.

Nick still hasn't said a word.

Louis hugs himself tight. "We—I didn't exactly tell anyone. About, you know—" He swallows hard. He can feel his face burning.

"Oh," Gillian says.

"Christ," Daisy says. "I had no idea."

Nick shifts in his chair. Louis's eyes go to him immediately, he can't help himself. Nick looks confused. "How long?" he asks.

"Few months," Louis says. So what if it was around half a year.

Harry gives him a look, but Louis ignores it.

"So that's why you wanted to talk to me while I was in hospy?" Nick asks. "Why didn't you tell me then?"

Louis shrugs. "Didn't want to upset you. Didn't think you'd believe me, anyway."

Nick's eyes widen at that. "God," he says. "I don't—I don't know what to think."

His face has gone all pinched, the way he gets when he's upset, but trying to get a hold of himself. Louis doesn't want him to look like that.

"It's fine," Louis says quickly. "It's not—it was casual, anyway. I don't, like, expect anything from you. I mean, you can't even remember it. I just—we just thought you should know. It's only fair for you to know, right?"

Nick looks confused, still, and unsure and lost. It's awful.

"I didn't mean to upset you," Louis says, voice coming out weak.

Nick shakes his head. "It's not—it's just a lot to process."

"I know," Louis says. "That's why I didn't want to tell you when you were in hospital. But, like, don't worry about it, alright? I mean, you have memory loss. You were in an accident. I just thought you should know."

Nick nods slowly. Pig's pressing herself against Nick's legs, perhaps able to sense that he's stressed. Nick reaches down to absently pet her head, and Louis is hit with a rush of emotions. Nick might not be his anymore, but he's sitting here in his kitchen, petting his dog, and he's alive. He's going to be okay. He'll be absolutely fine without Louis.

Louis takes a step back. "I'm sorry about all this. And for, like, barging in. I just—I'm really glad you're okay."

Nick's face softens at that, just a bit. Louis can't bear that either. "Well, I'm sorry I can't remember it?" Nick says.

Louis shakes his head. "Not your fault," he says. "Not your fault at all."

He wants to give Nick a hug so badly. He takes another step back.

"Well, I'm gonna go," he says. He runs his eyes over Nick, trying to keep as much of him as he can. "I hope the leg heals fast. And, you know, the whole memory thing. Sorry. Bye, then."

He turns and rushes out of the room before anyone has the chance to say anything. He's under no illusions that Nick will call him back. There's only the bitter aftertaste of hope left inside of him, and embarrassment at being so foolish as to have it in the first place.

He knew this was going to be horrible. It was somehow worse and at the same time somehow better than he expected.

He leans against Harry's car and closes his eyes.

Nick's okay. Nick didn't laugh at him, and Nick didn't get angry, and Nick didn't accuse him of lying or throw him out. Nick was lovely, as always.

Nick didn't magically regain all his memories either, but then again it was stupid and pathetic for Louis to wish for that.

So all in all, probably could have been worse. The thought doesn't help with how hollow he feels inside, but it's something.

He just wishes Harry would come outside already. It's drizzling and Louis can't get into the car, and he's not going back inside, and he'll catch a cold and die and maybe, maybe then Nick will remember him.

He presses the heels of his palms against his eyes. He's exhausted, and just being dramatic, and he's so, so goddamn disappointed and sad and it's just not fair. None of this is fair.

"Hey," Harry says. "Do you want me to drive you home?"

Louis starts and straightens up, opening his eyes. Harry's standing in front of him, looking awkward.

"Yes," Louis says. "Please."

"I'm sorry," Harry says.

"Just open the door," Louis says. "I'm getting soaked here."

Harry unlocks the doors and Louis throws himself into the passenger seat, pulling his sleeves down over his hands, cold.

This is it, he realises. He'll leave, and he'll leave Nick behind here, and Nick won't miss him.

Nick's alright, though. He's okay. It's important, that. Louis saw him with his own eyes. He's alive.

"He seems good at least," Harry says. "I was worried about him, but he looks good."

Louis makes a small sound of agreement.

"Louis," Harry says. "Lou. Are you okay?"

"Yes," Louis says, voice coming out choked. Fuck.

"You're crying," Harry says. He sounds alarmed.

Louis blinks. Fuck, Harry's right. He didn't even realise. He turns his head and tries to wipe the tears away as inconspicuously as he can. "I'm not. I'm tired. Jetlag. I have jetlag."

"Louis—"

"It's just—" Louis sucks in a breath. "It's just, I was really scared, when I heard about the accident. I was so worried, Harry." He gulps in another breath, shuddering. "I was going out of my mind. But he's fine, you know? He's okay."

Sure, Nick might not remember Louis or practically anything from the past year, but he's home and being looked after by his friends and not dead. Louis thought he was going to die. There was a point in time when he was certain Nick was going to die. That he wasn't going to ever wake up.

Compared to that—well, this is nothing, is it? Even if his memory doesn't come back—and Louis is convinced it won't because the universe hates him—he's going to be fine. He'll move on. He'll be fine.

"Let's just go," Louis says. His voice is shaking.

"Lou," Harry says, and starts to reach for him.

Louis presses himself against the door and covers his face with his arm, shaking his head. "Just drive, Harry, for fuck's sake. Let's just fucking go already."

Harry doesn't touch him. Louis breathes in roughly, keeping his eyes closed and face hidden. He can't do this. He can't do any of it.

Harry starts the car. He drops Louis off at his house, quiet during the drive. He doesn't say anything, doesn't try to touch Louis again. Louis tells himself he's glad of it.

~

Louis's house is big and cold and empty. He hates it.

England is having an unusually cold summer, and it has apparently been raining all the time, and the house has sat by itself for too long.

He loves his home usually, loves being there, but right now it feels all wrong.

He wants to call Nick and have him and Pig come over. Pig fucking loves running around Louis's place.

Nick brought Pig with him the very first time he came over. Pig immediately scoured the whole place, and then curled up in Louis's favourite armchair. Nick told Louis apologetically that Pig wasn't allowed on furniture and she knew that, and tried to get her to come down, but Louis was so charmed by it he argued to let her stay.

The house always felt so different when Nick and Pig were there. A bit more like home, in a way, when Louis hadn't even known he'd needed it to be more.

Well. At least Pig still remembers him.

Louis wraps his arms around his knees and tries not to cry.

It's pathetic, really, him sitting alone in his gigantic house and feeling sorry for himself, when it's Nick who was in an accident. Nick who lost almost a year of his life.

Harry dropped him off and left, and Louis tried not to think about how he was probably going back to Nick's. He went into the kitchen, checked the fridge, ordered food from Waitrose, and made himself tea, and he didn't think about a goddamn thing.

Now he's curled up on the sofa downstairs, his mug of tea forgotten on the table in front of him, and he's trying very hard to maintain some kind of control of his brain and not have some sort of full-on breakdown. The last time wasn't fun. At least this one would happen without the paralysing fear of Nick dying being included in the mix.

He can't stop thinking about Nick's face. There was a part of him that still didn't believe it, that Nick could just forget like that. Shit like this didn't happen. And not to Nick, who found memories so important. Why did it have to happen to Nick?

He rests his chin on his knees and tries not to shiver. His hoodie got uncomfortably damp from the rain, and he was too tired to find something else so he's only in a t-shirt. He wishes he could will himself up from the sofa and find something to put on, but he appears to be stuck there, unable to make himself move.

There are too many thoughts in his head. He remembers he just came out to Nick and his friends, and considers running to the bathroom to be sick, but he's too exhausted to even be bothered. Thinking about it makes him anxious, his stomach twisting, but it could've gone worse, probably.

It might travel past Daisy and Gillian, but Louis knows it won't go outside Nick's closest circle. If there's one thing he can count on, it's that Nick wouldn't do that, no matter how much he can remember. It's a scary thought, still, the fact that it's out there now, that people know. But he trusts Nick, and by extension he supposes he trusts Nick's friends.

He's been trying to not care so much for ages now. He's not sure if this is what will finally push him over that, or if it's just that he's so bloody knackered.

Another shiver runs through him and he pushes himself up off the sofa without thinking about it, almost surprised when he finds himself standing. He plans to go grab a hoodie or a blanket and then huddle down in it and stay there until he's a little less tired and everything stops hurting this much.

Instead, he remembers something. He heads to his bedroom and pulls open the wardrobe doors. He rummages through it until he finds what he's looking for—a large jumper, folded carefully and hidden at the very bottom. It's black with wide white stripes, and soft to the touch. It's Nick's.

He forgot it at Louis's one of the first times he came by. Louis had meant to give it back, but every time he packed it up to take it with him something inside him protested.

In the end, the idea of returning it seemed too weird. What was he supposed to say? "Hey, you left this at mine ages ago, but I didn't want to give it back because it smelled like you?" So he had kept it and hidden it at the bottom of his wardrobe.

There was just something about this stupid goddamn jumper. It wasn't like it was Nick's favourite or anything, seeing as he hadn't missed it. In a way that had made Louis feel even more embarrassed about holding on to it. About being so goddamn soppy.

He had no problem with pulling Nick into kisses and teasing him and being all over him, basically annoying Nick into liking him. But the jumper made him feel slightly vulnerable in an odd way.

He slips it on. It's a bit big, the sleeves long enough to cover his hands.

It hasn't been worn in ages. It's lost Nick's distinctive scent—a mix of his cologne, shampoo, the slightest hint of cigarettes and dog—but it's something. It's warm, too.

He wishes he had something that still smelled like Nick.

He wishes he hadn't been so scared.

His bed looks warm and inviting, and he climbs onto it and curls up, feeling awfully sorry for himself.

There's one thing he knows, though, one thing that's clear among all this mess. Nick is okay. He's okay, and he seemed happy before Louis came and dropped that bombshell on him, and he's going to be just fine.

Louis isn't going to mess with that.

He's not going to demand anything from Nick, or have any expectations. He's not going to go back to bother him, and he's not going to get in the way of Nick getting better. He'll let Nick be.

Nick always deserved better than him, anyway.

He pulls a blanket over him, buries his face in the pillow, and tries to keep breathing. His head aches, and his throat hurts from holding back sobs, and his stomach feels awful, all knotted up. It takes ages for sleep to come.

~*~

Louis texted Nick as soon as he landed in London.

Do you have anyone over at yours tonight? x

He'd been awake for most of the flight, going over and over every possible reaction Nick could have to the conversation Louis wanted to have.

It had been a long flight.

It was why he needed to see Nick now. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he had to wait till tomorrow. He stared at his phone, trusting Daniel to keep him moving in the passport control line.

He breathed a sigh of relief when Nick got back to him.

No, just me and pig! Why? X

Nick didn't have anyone over. Louis wondered if he'd left his evening open just because Louis was coming home today. He knew Nick knew about it, but they hadn't made any plans. That was kind of what Louis wanted to talk to him about.

Great! he sent back. I'll see you in a bit then! Xx

Getting out of Heathrow took forever. Louis was too jittery to keep up a text conversation with Nick, so he hid his phone in his pocket and tried not to think too much. He was vibrating by the time he made it to Nick's, running on too little sleep and Red Bull. He sent Daniel off with a quiet thanks and stood in front of Nick's door for a bit, just breathing.

If this went to shit then he'd have to call Daniel back.

He really didn't want it to go to shit. He didn't think it would, but the problem with going through every possible outcome in his head was that it was impossible to shake them.

He didn't even have time to gather himself after ringing the doorbell before Nick was opening the door.

"Oh," Louis said, his heart beating a little faster at the sight of Nick.

"Hey," Nick said. "Coming in?"

"Oh, yeah," Louis said, and followed Nick into the house. He set his suitcase down by the door, dropped his backpack, and then toed off his sneakers, because Nick was weird about his floors.

Pig was already twirling around his legs, and Louis crouched down to pet her, glad to have an excuse to not look at Nick for a moment. Had Nick always looked so good?

He was wearing tracksuit bottoms and an old Dr Dre t-shirt, and his hair was longer than it looked in the selfies he'd sent Louis and god, it had only been two weeks.

Louis had been away for two weeks, and he'd missed Nick something awful.

He gave Pig one last friendly pat, and stood up quickly, turning towards Nick.

"Hiya," Nick said. "I see you missed my dog." He was leaning against the doorway that led into the living room, arms crossed, and he was entirely too far away from Louis.

"What if I missed you?" Louis asked, looking at Nick carefully.

The corners of Nick's mouth twitched. He looked tired and cosy and, strangely, like home. Louis's stomach twisted, but his chest felt warm.

"How was LA?" Nick asked.

Louis shrugged. "Same old."

Nick's eyes went to Louis's bags. "Did you come straight from the airport?"

"Yeah," Louis said. He wanted to kiss Nick. He wanted to wait to kiss Nick.

He wanted to talk to him, but—but what if it ruined everything, and he'd never get to kiss Nick again?

Louis's brain really needed to shut up for a moment.

He crossed the hallway and went up on his toes for Nick, pulling him into a kiss. His breath probably smelled like airplane and cigarettes, and he definitely could've used a shower, but Nick didn't seem to mind.

Nick returned the kiss immediately, and Louis could have melted into it.

One of Nick's hands slid underneath Louis's hoodie, pushing his t-shirt up, and settled on his lower back. Louis loved feeling Nick's hands on him. It'd only been two weeks and it felt like he'd had to live without this for months.

It was Nick who eventually broke the kiss. He rested his forehead against Louis's, his breathing heavy. "Christ," he said. "Guess you did miss me."

"Seems like I did," Louis said, and pulled back a fraction. His palms felt sweaty. "You know what?"

"What?" Nick asked.

"I think you missed me too," Louis said, feeling bold.

Nick's mouth twitched again. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe I did."

Louis took a tiny step back and just looked at Nick. He seemed a bit paler than usual, the lines of his face tired. Louis wondered if he'd had trouble sleeping too, selfishly hoped for it. It wasn't even like they spent every night together when Louis was in London, but—well, maybe they could do it more often now.

Nick's eyes were warm, though. Louis went to push Nick's hair away from his forehead, but pulled back on the last second, not sure if it'd be read as too soppy. Fuck, he really needed to talk to Nick.

"Can we talk?" he asked.

Nick furrowed his brow. "Yes?" he asked. "I mean, yeah, of course. I was going to ask if you wanted anything to eat, but—okay."

"Yeah, we can do food after?" Louis said. "It's nothing—I mean it's—god, I'm cocking it all up already. I had a speech and all."

"A speech?"

"Fuck," Louis said. "Okay. I'm going to—let's sit down." He turned to head to the living room sofa, then stopped and swivelled around again. "Actually, let's not."

"Okay," Nick said slowly. "Let's just stay here in this cramped hallway then."

"Well, if you had a bigger hallway," Louis muttered. God, he was so nervous.

Nick laughed, sounding a tad nervous himself. "Just spit it out, love. Or did you write it down or something?"

Louis should have totally written it down. His mouth was dry.

He tried to tell himself that it wasn't a big deal, really. Nick probably wasn't going to say no. It was just a talk they should have. That Louis wanted to have. Just to make things a tiny bit clearer.

"Louis?" Nick asked. He was starting to look apprehensive now. They were still standing in the hallway like a pair of idiots.

"I need a glass of water," Louis said, and walked into the kitchen.

He drank half of one, and watched Nick settle on one of the kitchen chairs.

"So," Nick said, voice expectant.

"So," Louis replied, and glanced away from him, looking around the kitchen. "You already ate," he said sadly, noting the empty dishes.

"You texted me in the middle of my curry!" Nick said. "I didn't know you were coming, did I?"

"Whatever," Louis said. "I'll just have cereal, then."

"Strong choice," Nick said. He sounded sarcastic, but he couldn't fool Louis; Louis knew Nick loved having cereal for his tea, too.

It was that, the fact that Louis felt that they worked, and how Louis could hear warmth and fondness in Nick's voice that made him feel like he could do this.

"Remember how we said that this was, like, casual?" he asked.

Nick blinked at him. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis said, and took a deep breath. "Well, I don't want it to be."

"You don't?" Nick asked, voice odd.

"No," Louis said. "I don't want to do casual. I want to do this for real."

"Oh," Nick said. He was just staring at Louis. "I—"

"I mean, you're not, like, kissing any other guys, are you?" Louis interrupted him. "Because, like, we said it was casual so technically you could."

Nick leaned forward, resting his arms on the kitchen table. "Technically, huh?"

"Well, I suppose," Louis said. "I don't know. If you want to."

"I don't," Nick said. "Did we, like—have you hooked up with anyone else?"

"No," Louis said. "No, of course not."

"Okay," Nick said. "Because, casual doesn't really mean 'not monogamous' to me, actually? Like, I would've told you if I'd have wanted to kiss someone else."

"Oh," Louis said. Now that he thought about it it made sense. Obviously. He just—hadn't thought about it, really.

"Did you think I was seeing other guys?" Nick asked.

"No," Louis said empathetically. God, he really was cocking it up. "No, just, you could. If you wanted. Because we always said casual, but like, it's not really casual for me. It's—it's not casual."

"Ah," said Nick. "Right."

"So, what do you think?" Louis asked.

Nick clasped his hands together. "Think of what exactly?"

"Well, I'm asking you to be my boyfriend," Louis said in a rush.

"Ah," Nick said again, but this time his mouth twitched up in a smile. "Really?"

"Yes," Louis said. God, did Nick not believe him? "Like, I know I've fucked this up a lot. But I really—I want this, okay? I want to come around more and have you and Pig around more often, and next time I come home after two weeks away I want us to already have made plans. Like actual boyfriends. I want to see you all the time. I just—I really missed you. I really fucking like you, okay." He could feel his face flush, but he determinedly held Nick's gaze. There, he'd said it.

"Oh, love," Nick said, and pushed himself up from the chair, crossing over to Louis. "I missed you, like, a stupid amount, honestly."

Louis chuckled, relieved. "Same. A fucking stupid amount."

"So stupid," Nick said, and pulled Louis in for a hug. Louis went happily, winding his arms around Nick's waist. "I quite like you too, you know."

"Good to know," Louis said, and squeezed Nick tighter. "Definitely good to know."

"More than casual, then," Nick said, and pulled back to look at Louis. He kept his hands on Louis's shoulders, though. "Yeah, I'd really like that."

"Boyfriends," Louis said. "I believe that's the word I used."

"It's a good word," said Nick. "I'm quite fond of it."

"Excellent," Louis said, grinning, and drew Nick in for a kiss. It wasn't casual anymore. Nick hadn't said no.

They broke apart, laughing, when Louis's stomach growled loud enough to startle even himself.

"Well, that's embarrassing," Louis said.

"Really should've left you some of that curry," Nick said.

He sat down at the kitchen table while Louis went and got himself some cereal.

"Guess I'll just have to survive on this," Louis said, and pulled up a chair next to Nick. He knocked his knee against Nick's, and looked down to hide his smile. He couldn't believe how relieved he felt, almost shaking with it, the adrenaline. Nick wanted this too.

"You look so pleased with yourself," Nick said.

"I am pleased with myself," Louis said. "Got you to be my boyfriend, didn't I?"

"A great feat," Nick said. "Did you really practice that speech, though? Didn't really sound like it."

Louis frowned. "I spent the entire plane ride going over and over it."

"Should've used that time for sleeping," Nick said. "You look exhausted."

"Thanks," Louis said dryly.

"No worries," Nick said, and shifted on his chair, looking vaguely uncomfortable. He'd been doing that quite often actually, Louis realised.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Hm?" Nick said. "Nothing's wrong." He looked twitchy, though. He wouldn't change his mind, would he?

"You just look weird," Louis said.

"Thanks," Nick said. "Great compliment to give your boyfriend there."

Louis smiled at the word, he couldn't help it. "Stop trying to distract me."

"I'm not trying anything," Nick said, and shifted again.

"Seriously, are you sure you're okay?" Louis asked.

"Jesus Christ," Nick said, sounding exasperated. "I had too much curry and now I've got an upset stomach. Happy?"

"No," Louis said, frowning. "Did you take something for it? Do you want tea? Do you have ginger tea? It helps."

He left his cereal and stood up to go look for some. He felt sort of bad for not even noticing Nick hadn't been feeling well. He rummaged through Nick's cupboards, overwhelmed as always at how much stuff Nick had. Louis's cupboards were only ever this full when his mum came to visit.

"What are you looking for?" Nick asked. "I don't have ginger tea."

"What about peppermint?" Louis asked. "That might be even better. Do you feel nauseous? I can't remember which is better for that."

"There's no peppermint either," Nick said. "I only have regular stuff. You know I don't really drink tea."

"But my mum says it's the best remedy," Louis said, disappointed.

"I don't need a remedy," Nick said. "I ate too much, it's just a stomach ache."

"I could go and buy you something?" Louis offered. "Do you really not have any tea? You must have something."

"Oh god," Nick said, sounding baffled. "What have I signed up for here?"

Louis shrugged, feeling mildly self-conscious. "I'm used to looking after people. So, that, I suppose." He finally managed to spot a single box of Yorkshire. He brandished it triumphantly. "Aha."

Nick blinked at him.

"I can just make you this," Louis said. "It should be soothing, too. I suppose I can google it to check. Wait, why do you have Yorkshire tea?"

"Because it's your favourite," Nick said, and seemed to go a bit red in the face. "And you kept whining about me not having it. Now come and sit down, and eat your cereal. I don't need tea. I don't want tea, I'm fine."

Louis rolled his eyes. "Just wanted to help," he grumbled, sitting down again.

"I know, love," Nick said. "It's awfully sweet of you. I'm alright, though."

"Well, let me know if you start feeling worse, okay," Louis said. "My mum's a nurse. I know all things."

"Yeah, yeah," Nick said, but he was smiling. Louis poked him in the arm, and went back to his cereal.

"So, uh," Nick said after a moment, voice hesitant. "Just a question. Is it going to be, like, secret boyfriends then?"

Louis's stomach sank. He pushed his bowl away. "Nick—"

"I'm just checking," Nick said. "Just so we're on the same page, love."

"I know it's hard," Louis said, looking down. "Like, hiding it, and I'm so sorry. That's why I thought casual was easier, and I don't want to force you into anything, and it's shit, and—"

"Hey," Nick said, and gently coaxed Louis to look up with a finger underneath his chin. "You're not forcing me at all."

He looked sincere and understanding, his face all soft. Louis swallowed hard.

"Maybe you could tell some of your friends that you're seeing someone, but that—that they're not—"

Even the thought of someone figuring it out made him lose his appetite, and he hated it, he hated it so much, but he wanted so bad to make it easier for Nick. Nick had been so good about it. Louis was way too selfish. He didn't know why he was so scared.

"Hey, it's alright," Nick said. "I don't have to tell them anything. It's fine."

"I'm sorry," Louis said. "I swear I'll be ready soon. I swear. I want to be."

"I know," Nick said. "I know. It's okay that you're not. It's absolutely fine, love."

Louis shook his head. "No, it's not," he said. "If your friends ask, then you should say you're seeing someone. You should get to say that, if you want to."

He could deal with that, he thought. Nick was good at secrets, and Nick had seen how scared he was, and Nick was fucking fantastic and would never tell anyone about Louis. It still felt terrifying.

Nick smiled, and leaned over and pressed a quick kiss to Louis's forehead. Louis couldn't remember anyone ever kissing his forehead, but Nick seemed to like doing it. It should've felt awkward, but instead it made Louis all warm inside.

"I want to," Nick said. "I do, but not if it'll make you feel bad."

Louis shrugged. "I mean, no one would ever think it was me, right?"

The thought of anyone finding out, without him being in control of it, before he was ready, made him feel sick. But people knowing just that Nick was taken didn't actually feel so bad. It was probably a bit selfish, that. But it still meant Nick would have to hide less.

But if people wanted to know more, if they got curious, if they somehow figured it out. God. Louis hated himself for being so scared.

Nick was watching him carefully. "You know, it's not that horrible for me, not telling people," Nick said. "I want to, yeah, but it's not tearing me apart inside or anything. You're not hurting me."

Louis looked down and picked at what was left of his cereal. "Promise?" he asked.

"Yeah," Nick said softly. "I swear."

"Secret boyfriends then," Louis said, and looked up. "But not a secret forever."

"Sounds like a great film title," Nick said. "Or one of those tag lines."

"Sounds like something you'd fall asleep watching five minutes in."

"I mean, to be fair, that's like every film," Nick said.

"Oh, oh," Louis said. "Sounds like a Fall Out Boy song title!"

Nick laughed, his eyes crinkling up, and Louis loved it when he made Nick laugh, even with a terrible, out-dated joke.

"You know," Louis said, "I'm really busy next week. So I might not see you at all."

Nick wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, I'm quite busy, too. So in demand, you know." He was making it into a joke, but he was in demand, always running around and doing new things. Louis felt proud, even though he wasn't sure if it was his place.

"Anyway," he said. "I have the weekend after next free, though. So, maybe if you do, too..."

"I do," Nick said. "Pretty sure I do."

"Any plans yet?" Louis asked.

Nick tilted his head. "Nothing I can't cancel."

"Well, maybe you could come spend the weekend, then," Louis said. They hadn't done that yet, just spending full days together, a whole weekend like that. Louis wanted it. He wanted to make plans. "You and Pig, obviously."

"Obviously," Nick said. "Yeah. Yeah, we'd love that."

"Good," Louis said, and grinned. "That's good."

They went to bed soon after that, Nick still feeling a bit poorly, and Louis exhausted from the flight. Louis curled up behind Nick, wrapped an arm around his waist and pressed a gentle hand to his stomach. Nick grumbled something about overheating, but he ghosted a hand over Louis's, and didn't move away, his body relaxed against Louis's.

Louis fell asleep thinking that he could really get used to this.

~*~

The problem is that Louis doesn't have any solid plans for this month.

They're not continuing the tour until next year, and they all decided to take a short break after the Australian leg before getting back into writing for the new album. Louis had been quite busy before the tour—rehearsals, getting together initial ideas for the album, talking over promo, and doing work for his label imprint—so he'd been excited for some time off before going full speed again. Time to spend with Nick and Pig.

Now the month stretches out before him, empty and structureless.

He knows he needs to come up with something. Make casual writing plans with Liam, get back to the label, maybe do something related to football. He'd scheduled a break, surely he can now reschedule.

The easiest thing should be Liam and writing, but Liam's on holiday with Sophia, and Louis hasn't spoken to him since they left Australia.

It stings, that distance. He hasn't been in contact with Harry either, even though he's desperate to text him to get updates on Nick. It's not his place anymore, though. He just worries.

He wishes he could just leave this all behind. He woke up from his nap late in the afternoon, groggy and starving and yet not quite ready for food. He's curled up on his sofa again, thinking about how easy it would be to just grab the bag he hasn't unpacked yet and fly off somewhere again. Somewhere warm and sunny. Somewhere where he could spend the days and nights getting spectacularly drunk and forget about everything inside him that's hurting.

He picks up his phone and calls his mum instead.

She's thrilled to hear he's coming to visit, and he feels guilty because he's going there for selfish reasons. He needs to see her. He needs to tell her everything.

He's nervous on the drive up, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, and constantly switching between playlists, not settling on anything. He's scared about telling her. He wishes to god he wasn't, but he is. He takes a deep breath and focuses on the road, on the countryside passing by him, the rain drizzling against the windows.

He wishes Nick was here with him. He'd pick the music, and ramble about his day, about work, about the latest song he'd heard. Pig would be in the backseat, snuffling quietly. Louis would still be nervous, but at least he could take Nick's hand and hold it tight. Nick would complain about losing circulation in his fingers, but he'd squeeze right back. Maybe he'd even drop a ridiculous and exaggerated kiss on the back of Louis's hand, and Louis would call him a sap, unsuccessfully trying to hide his smile.

Nick was supposed to be here for this part.

Louis misses him so much.

He skips to a different song again, grips the wheel, and keeps driving.

The first person Louis sees when he lets himself in the house is Doris. She's standing at the hallway door when he comes in, and she screeches happily and runs over, calling his name.

He scoops her up easily and twirls her around. "Well if it isn't my favourite girl?"

She laughs at him and pats his face with her tiny hand. Something inside of him settles.

"Oh, love, you made it," his mum says from the doorway.

He turns and gives her a wave, bouncing Doris in his arms. "Hi, Mum." It feels like the first time he's smiled in a while.

~

It's almost night by the time all the kids are settled and ready for bed. There's only four of them at the house right now—Fizzy's off at school and Lottie's working on a project in Paris.

Louis wonders if the tour would have been different if Lottie had been there. She's always been great to talk to, someone he can always rely on, but Louis isn't sure how well he would've done with opening up to her then. He'll never know, though, and it doesn't matter now. He only feels guilty for not being more up to date on how she's doing, but at least Mum's filling him in now.

"So," Mum says when Dan has taken an overtired, crying Ernest to bed. "How have you been, love?"

Louis shrugs. "Been better."

His mum looks at him sadly. They're sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea. Louis pulls the mug close to him and wraps his hands around it, warming them.

"Want to tell me about it?" his mum asks. "You haven't disappeared like that on me for a while."

"I'm sorry," Louis says. "Didn't mean to worry you."

His mum shakes her head. "What happened?"

Louis stares at his mug. He decides to do it quick, like ripping off a plaster.

"I've been seeing someone new for a while," he says, fingers clenching around the mug. "A guy."

His mum doesn't say anything. Louis realises he's holding his breath. He forces himself to breathe in slowly, and out again.

There's the sound of a chair scraping against the floor. Louis starts and looks up, heart starting to beat faster.

His mum moves closer to him, and lays her hand on his forearm.

"Sweetheart," she says. Louis swallows hard, and stares down at his hands.

"Sorry," he says.

"Don't be sorry," she says. "What are you sorry about?"

"That I didn't tell you sooner," he says. "That I made you worry. That I wasn't brave."

"Oh, love," she says. "You're very brave. Always have been."

He shakes his head, swallowing back tears. He's not.

"Is this why you pulled away from me?" she asks. "Because you were figuring this out? Were you worried about how I'd react?"

He shakes his head again, quickly. "No, no. It's not that."

"Because you don't ever have to worry about that," she says. "I love you so much. No matter if you like boys or girls."

He laughs wetly. "I like both."

"Alright," his mum says, and squeezes his arm.

Louis feels stupid and overwhelmed. He feels like this is a conversation he should've had with her when he was sixteen and figuring out he probably liked boys, too. Yet here he is, twenty-five and close to tears, needing his mum to comfort him. So relieved that she said she still loves him. It feels a bit pathetic.

Nick would probably tell him off for thinking like that of himself, though. He sniffles and takes a sip of his tea.

"That isn't why," he says. "That's not why I didn't call you or text. Something happened with the guy I was dating."

"Who is it?" his mum asks. "Is it anyone I know?"

"It's Nick," Louis says. "It's Nick Grimshaw."

"Nick Grimshaw?" his mum repeats. "Harry's friend?"

Louis nods and wipes at his nose.

"Oh, love," she says. "He was in a car accident, wasn't he?"

"He was," Louis says. "While we were away on tour."

"Darling," his mum says. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He sucks in a breath. "I don't know. It was just so hard."

"Shh," she says. "You poor thing. You must've been so worried."

"Was proper scary," he says, voice weak. He's not going to mention how it wasn't just her who didn't know, or that he had to come out to the boys all in the middle of it. She looks concerned enough, stroking his hand.

"He's alright, isn't he?" she asks. "I think I read somewhere that he got out of hospital."

"He's been home for around a week now, yeah," Louis says. "It's not—he's not completely fine, though. Everything's kind of messed up, actually."

"How do you mean?" she asks. "What's wrong?"

Louis runs a hand over his face. "He has amnesia. He can't even remember we're together."

"Oh, love."

Louis pushes away from the table and gets up. He takes his mug to the sink, even though it's still half full.

"He lost almost a year," he says, and grabs a washcloth and starts scrubbing at the mug. "It's all gone. I went to see him and there was just nothing."

"Lou," she says.

"I mean, it's so stupid, isn't it?" he asks, agitated. "This stuff doesn't happen. Who the fuck actually gets amnesia?"

His mum stands up and takes the mug from him. He was scrubbing it so roughly his hand hurts.

"People do," his mum says. "People do, honey. He had a head injury, did he?"

Louis nods, and presses his hands against his chest. "I don't know what to do. They don't know if he'll ever remember. I would never force him into anything."

"Of course, love," she says. "Of course you wouldn't."

"He looked so confused when I told him we were together. I felt so bad."

"I'm so sorry, love," she says. "I really wish you'd told me earlier. You wouldn't have had to do deal with this on your own."

"I'm sorry," Louis chokes out. "I'm sorry, Mum."

"That's alright," she says, and pulls him into a hug. "You don't have to be sorry about that."

"Still am," he says, clinging to her.

"I just hope you never feel like you have to keep anything from me again," she says, rubbing his back.

He swallows hard and nods. It wasn't about that, really, but he's not sure how to explain.

"Harry's angry with me," he says eventually.

"Why on earth?" she asks, concerned.

"He didn't know either," he says. "About me and Nick. Not until the accident."

She pulls back from him. "Who did know, then?"

He looks down. "No one."

"Oh, baby," she says, and brushes back his hair.

He shakes his head. "I really fucked it up, Mum."

"Language," she admonishes gently, and he laughs. "You'll fix it. In due time."

"You think so?" he asks.

"Of course," she says. "It'll all be alright."

Louis squeezes his eyes shut. "Love you," he says.

"Love you, too," she says, and gives him a tight hug. He stays there for a while, letting her hold him. He's just so relieved. It still hurts, but he's so relieved.

Eventually he breathes in deep and takes a step back.

"I think I'm going to bed," he says. "I'm really tired from the drive."

"Of course," she says. "How long are you staying for?"

"I'm not sure. Don't really have any plans. Free as a bird right now. I took some time off after tour."

"What have you been doing, then?"

Louis shrugs. "Nothing, really."

His mum sighs sadly. She knows what he gets like when he spends too much time sitting around on his own.

Louis looks down, his throat tight. "I was planning on spending more time with Nick."

She squeezes his hand. "It'll get better," she says. "Just give it some time before you talk to him again, then you two can decide what to do."

Louis has already decided what to do. Still, he nods, and gives her a kiss on the cheek.

He falls asleep easily that night; if not exactly feeling alright then at least a bit better.

~

He ends up staying at his mum's for a couple of days, eating her cooking, playing with Doris and Ernest, and sleeping loads. By the end he feels like he's made of nothing but shepherd's pie and naps and he finds himself guilty for taking up space and his mum's time. She scolds him for it and pulls him in tight when he tells her that and that he'll be heading back to London soon.

When he gets back to London he throws himself into work again. Before he can blink it's already October and Nick has been back on the radio for several weeks already.

Louis wishes to god he could stop listening to the show, but he can't. He set an alarm for the first morning Nick was back on air, so desperate to hear his voice. He told himself it would only be this once, just to check how Nick was doing, but it didn't really work.

He's sleeping badly anyway, and more often than not he finds himself awake at just the right time. Even when he misses it he opens the BBC site on his phone in the evening and listens back to that morning's episode before falling asleep. He thinks it's probably creepy, but it's what he did before, too, when he and Nick were still dating. It's a hard habit to break, apparently.

Nick sounds good on the radio. He's been distant on Twitter and Instagram, more impersonal, barely posting on Snapchat at all. He doesn't really talk much about himself on the show either, but he does sound good. Especially considering that everyone now knows Nick has memory problems following the accident. Harry said that it was Nick's decision to tell people about it, at least, but it still can't be easy, having to deal with that. But Nick sounds like he's doing well and Louis is so happy about it, so fucking relieved every time he hears Nick laugh.

He thinks about what his mum said, about giving Nick some time and then going to talk to him. He considers it sometimes, like when Nick is giggling with Fiona and Tina on the radio, and Louis misses him so much it's an ache in his chest. He doesn't want to mess anything up for Nick, though, or get in the way of him getting better. Doesn't want to derail it all with his own sob story. Nick's doing well. He sounds happy. Louis is not going to ruin it.

He talks to his mum periodically, mostly just to catch up with her and his siblings. He hasn't seen her since those few days in early September, and he feels a bit guilty about it, but he's busy with the label and band things and charity stuff.

Overall, he's doing fine. He responds to Niall's texts, gets the occasional message from Harry, which makes him feel better, even though none of them are about Nick. Liam's back in the country, too, just arrived this week, and Louis knows the label will probably set them up with some writing time soon. He's nervous about that, but at least it means Liam will have to talk to him.

He misses Liam a lot. He misses what his life was before this. But he's doing fine. He is.

One morning he gets a reminder in his inbox about a resort in France he booked for next weekend. He stares at the email. He completely forgot about it.

It was supposed to be for a short weekend trip, just him and Nick. He was going to ask Nick about it when he got back from tour. He knows he should have talked to Nick before booking it, but he'd gotten a bit overexcited on the first night of tour—high on the show, jet-lagged, and missing his boyfriend. Nick still would've had enough time to get time off from the radio, or to say no if he didn't feel like going.

It brings a lump to his throat, thinking about it. He cancels the reservation, postpones a meeting he had that afternoon and goes back to bed for a nap. It's not a good day.

Only a few days later, though, like some goddamn twist of fate, his phone lights up with a text from Nick.

Hiya this is Nick! I got a new phone, the number's my old one but I wasn't sure if you had it? Thought maybe you should have it just in case?

Louis blinks at it, his heart suddenly loud in his ears. Another one comes immediately after.

Got yours from harry! Not a stalker!

Louis knows he should message him back. He wants to. He just doesn't know what to say without coming off as desperate.

Have you remembered anything? he wants to demand. Do you remember me?

Nick would've said if he did, though. He would've said. And it's not fair for Louis to expect him to remember. Or to expect anything from Nick, really.

He wants to see him so badly. But Nick's doing fine. Louis just heard him on the radio this morning. Nick sounded really good. In the end Louis leaves it for too long, and then it just feels weird to reply. Nick's probably not looking for an answer anyway.

If Louis pauses every time he scrolls past Nick's name in iMessage, then, well, no one has to know.

~

Louis was so excited about Nick getting his own chat show. It was going to focus on music only, giving Nick the chance to show his vast knowledge, and setting it apart from other chat shows. He remembers Nick coming over one night when most of the details had been finalised, how happy Nick had been. Louis was so, so proud of him. He was going to be amazing.

Louis'd really been looking forward to it.

He's caught completely off guard when he switches over to BBC Two one Saturday night and sees Nick on his giant TV screen. He didn't realise Nick's show was starting today. He hasn't been listening to the Breakfast Show as frequently this past week—sleeping in on some days, and not feeling up to it on others.

He checks the TV schedule and discovers he's missed maybe five minutes of it. He carefully puts the remote down, pulls his knees up, and settles in to watch.

He realises halfway through the show that his hands are shaking.

He stares at the TV once the episode has ended, through the commercials and into the next show. He feels like he can't get enough air into his lungs. It's an absolutely ridiculous reaction, and one he didn't expect at all. He's been listening to Nick on the radio almost every day. He didn't think seeing him would be so different.

Nick looked good. He looked really good. Louis knows the show wasn't live, but it must have been filmed recently. Nick looked great; happy and alive. So alive.

Louis keeps thinking about Nick coming home to him after filming, maybe even watching the show together on some nights when Nick wasn't with his friends. Asking for Louis's opinion, giving him backstage gossip, complaining over something going wrong.

It's just him, though. Nick isn't going to text him to ask what Louis thought of the show or knock on Louis's door, Pig in tow. It's just Louis in this giant house, all alone.

He pulls out his phone, needing someone to talk to. He scrolls over his contact list, but he knows there's only one person besides Nick he wants to see right now.

He clicks on Liam's name and sends him a quick text. Haven't seen you in a while, want to come over? Could have a beer and talk

Liam responds almost immediately. Right now?

Yeah if you're free? Louis asks.

He watches the three dots appear, practically holding his breath.

Sure, Liam says. I'll be there in a bit!

Louis closes his eyes, relieved. Surely Liam can't still be angry if he agreed to come? And even if he is Louis will fix it. He can fix this one thing.

By the time Liam shows up Louis has had two beers and is smoking in the garden. It's drizzling. He puts the cigarette out and stumbles to his feet to let Liam in.

"Hey," Liam says, stepping into the hall and shaking rain out of his hair. "You alright?"

"Yeah, yeah," Louis says. "You?"

"Good," Liam says. "Nice holiday with the fam, you know."

"Great," Louis says. "Great." Liam looks really tan and relaxed. His eyes are careful, though, searching Louis's face. Louis turns around and heads into the kitchen. "You want a drink?" he calls over his shoulder.

"Sure," Liam agrees, following him. "Yeah."

Louis gets out two beers and sets one on the kitchen island in front of Liam. He keeps the other to himself, clutching it.

"So, tell me about your holidays," he says, leaning against the kitchen counter.

"Um," Liam says, toying with the bottle. "They were good? Nothing much to say, really. What have you been up to?"

Louis shrugs. "Just work stuff. Thought maybe we should schedule some writing sessions soon."

"Sure," Liam agrees easily. "I have a few song ideas ready."

"Good," Louis says. "That's good."

"Um," Liam says. "Is this what you called me here for?"

"Are you still angry with me?" Louis blurts out.

"What?" Liam asks.

"Are you angry because I didn't tell you about me and Nick?" Louis asks. "Because if you are, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I didn't tell you. I just can't handle you being angry with me."

Liam leaves the beer on the table and steps closer to Louis. "I'm not angry. I wasn't ever really angry, just disappointed, I suppose."

Louis chokes out a laugh. It's so Liam. "So you don't hate me?"

"What?" Liam asks, looking confused. "Of course not. Where is this coming from?"

Louis shakes his head and looks away. He takes a sip of his beer.

"Mate, come on," Liam says. "Look at me. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Louis says immediately. He picks at the beer label. "Did you watch the telly tonight? Wasn't much on, was there?"

"I caught a bit of Nick's new show," Liam says slowly. He pauses. "He looked good."

Louis bites down hard on his lip.

"Hey," Liam says, and touches his elbow. "Let's go sit down, yeah? Let's talk."

Louis nods, and lets Liam take the beer out of his hands and lead him to the living room. He settles on the sofa, and pulls his legs up under him, chasing warmth.

Liam sits opposite him, close enough to touch. "Why did you think I hated you?" he asks. "That's ridiculous, Lou, you know that."

Louis shrugs. "We weren't talking."

"Yeah, but," Liam says. "I thought maybe I should give you a bit of space. I thought you didn't want to talk to anyone."

"I didn't," Louis says. "But you don't count."

"Oh," Liam says. "Well, I'm sorry I got it wrong. Just, you seemed to push everyone away. I suppose I was feeling kind of upset so I let you."

"I thought everyone was angry with me or annoyed, so it'd be better to stay out of your way."

"You're an idiot," Liam says gently. "You always do this. I should've seen it."

"Not your fault," Louis says. "I'm really sorry I didn't tell you, you know? I'm sorry I didn't tell anyone."

"I know," Liam says.

"I told my mum," Louis says. "Like, when we got back to London. And my sisters know that I like boys too now."

"That's great," Liam says. "How did it go?"

"Good," Louis says. "Yeah, she was great, of course. It was good."

"That's really great," Liam says. "I'm happy for you." He reaches out and squeezes Louis's arm. "Really happy, Lou."

"Thanks," Louis says quietly.

"What about Nick?" Liam asks. "Have you talked to him?"

Louis swallows hard. "I went to see him with Harry," he says. "Right after we landed."

"I know that," Liam says. "I meant after that."

Louis shakes his head. "He texted me his new number."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"He doesn't remember. I didn't reply."

"Why not?" Liam asks.

"I didn't know what to say. What could I have said?"

Liam looks thoughtful. "I heard from Harry that everyone's been filling him in on what he's missed. Or, like, forgotten."

"Yeah?" Louis asks.

"I mean," Liam says. "He's forgotten so much, and obviously everyone's hoping he'll remember again, but meanwhile at least he knows about what he's been up to, even if he can't remember."

"That's good," Louis says hollowly.

"Yeah," Liam says. "But I was just thinking, like. No one's told him about you two. And it was months and months and the only person who can tell him is you."

Louis is shaking his head before Liam is finished. "I can't."

"Why not?" Liam asks. He sounds curious at least, instead of accusatory.

"Because," Louis says. "Because he's doing fine now. He's doing fine without me. He doesn't need me barging in and making a mess of things."

"You wouldn't," Liam says.

"I would. I don't want him to think I expect anything of him, you know? Because I don't. I don't want him to fucking feel obligated to me or whatever."

Liam looks sad. "I really don't think he would."

"No," Louis says. "Look, I decided this a long time ago, okay? I'm not going to make this worse for him. It's in the past. He's better off without me."

He swallows against a lump in his throat, and looks away, eyes prickling.

Liam's quiet for a while. "But how are you?" he asks eventually.

"This isn't about me," Louis says harshly.

"Well, to me it is," Liam says. "You're my best friend. And I'm worried about you. How are you doing, really?"

"I'm fine," Louis says.

"You don't have to lie," Liam says. "Just tell me. Please."

"God," Louis chokes out. "How do you think I'm doing, Liam?"

Liam stays quiet.

Louis takes in a shuddering breath. "I miss him so much. I miss him all the time."

"You should talk to him," Liam presses.

Louis shakes his head. "I dreamt that everything was fine, you know?"

"Louis—"

"Last night. I dreamt that none of it ever happened. Nick never got hurt, and everyone knew that we were together."

He woke up so relieved, so impossibly relieved. It felt like being kicked in the stomach, remembering. It still hurt.

"Oh, Louis," Liam says.

"I wasn't scared about people knowing," Louis says. "Not in the dream I wasn't. He remembered everything, and then I woke up, and it was just a dream. How stupid is that?"

He cried when he realised. He doesn't want to cry again. It's fucking exhausting.

"I still think you should just talk to him," Liam says. "He reached out to you, didn't he?"

Louis stands up, agitated. "Haven't you been listening? It'll only make things worse."

"You don't know that," Liam says.

Louis can feel a sob building, and he tries to swallow it down. He's not going to cry.

It's Liam, though, and Liam's safe and he's here and he doesn't hate Louis. He doesn't hate him.

"He's better off without me," he says.

"Why do you keep saying that?" Liam asks, sounding angry now.

"Because he is!" Louis explodes. "He had to keep us a secret from his friends for months, from his family. He couldn't be honest with them because of me. And he never once complained. He deserves better than some selfish coward."

"Don't call yourself that," Liam says.

Louis shakes his head. His vision's gone blurry with tears. "He doesn't need me. He's better off."

"But what if he does?" Liam asks. He stands up and steps close to Louis. His voice is horribly gentle. "What if he wants you?"

Louis chokes on a sob, properly crying now. "He doesn't. He doesn't even remember. God, Liam, I miss him so much."

Liam pulls him in for a hug, his arms warm and comforting.

"I love him," Louis says, voice breaking. "I'm so in love with him."

"I know," Liam says. "I know."

Louis hides his face in Liam's neck and cries.

~

Liam steers him gently towards the bathroom once he's mostly calmed down and stopped crying. "Go and wash your face and get some water," he says. "It'll make you feel better."

Louis does as he's told; washes all the snot and tears away and drinks two glasses of water. He stares at the mirror when he's done. He looks awful—eyes red and swollen, the bags under them more prominent than ever, his face drawn and thin.

He's been trying to pretend he's fine, or as fine as he can be, but now it's all out in the open again.

He blows his nose with toilet paper and drags in a deep breath. He's exhausted from crying, and embarrassed at falling apart so completely in front of Liam.

At least it's Liam, though. There's a reason Louis called him and not anyone else.

He drinks a bit more water, wipes at his nose, and walks out of the bathroom.

Liam's in the living room, talking to someone on the phone. He looks up when Louis comes in.

"Hey," Louis says quietly. "Sorry, do you want tea? I'm going to make some."

"Oh, sure," Liam says. "One sec." He turns back to his conversation. "He's here now. Do you want to—yeah, okay." He stands up and holds the phone out to Louis. "Harry wants to talk to you."

"What?" Louis asks, looking from Liam to the phone and back. "Why?"

Liam presses the phone into his hand. "Go on," he says soothingly. "He just wants to talk. I'll go make us both tea, alright?"

Louis nods wordlessly, and brings the phone to his ear. "Harry?"

"Hey," Harry says. "How are you?"

Liam squeezes Louis's shoulder and moves past him towards the kitchen. Louis wants to grab onto him and keep him there. He sits down on the sofa instead and holds the phone a bit little tighter.

"Fine, yeah," he says. "You? Liam said you wanted to talk?"

"Yeah," Harry says. "He called me and we talked, and um. He agrees with me about this, by the way."

"Agrees with you about what?" Louis asks, confused.

"Well, basically," Harry says, "we don't think you're being fair to Nick."

Louis's stomach goes cold. "What?"

"Liam told me what you said," Harry says. "About why you didn't want to talk to Nick."

"It's not that I don't want to," Louis says.

"But still," Harry says. "You haven't talked to him, and, like, I get that it's hard for you? But Nick's my best friend, you know. So I'm looking at this from his point of view, too. And I understand that you think you're doing the right thing? But Nick deserves to know about your relationship."

"Harry," Louis says.

"It's his life too," Harry says. "He deserves to know, you know? It happened to him, even if he can't remember. It's not fair to keep it from him."

Louis stays silent, mind reeling. He thought he was doing what's best for Nick. He can't handle thinking that he's been wrong all along.

"I don't think you need to, like, tell him all your history in detail or anything like that," Harry says slowly. "But you could at least talk to him. He'll have questions. He's asked me, but I don't know what to say. I couldn't even tell him how long you'd been seeing each other, because I wasn't sure. You told us it'd been since the beginning of the year, and you told him it was only a few months, and I didn't know what to say."

Louis covers his eyes with his hand. He'd forgotten about what he'd said to Nick. He didn't think about Harry having to try to navigate this. "I'm sorry."

"He has questions," Harry says. "You can answer them. He asked me for your number. Why didn't you text him back?"

"I didn't think—" Louis says, and swallows hard. "I didn't think he'd want me to."

"He does," Harry says.

Louis shakes his head. "He only texted me once. To make sure I had his number, if I wanted it."

"Maybe he didn't want to push," Harry says. "He wouldn't have asked me for yours if it wasn't important."

"I didn't know what to say," Louis says, wrapping his arm around his middle. "I just want him to remember me, and I can't say that."

"We all want him to remember," Harry says. "There's so many conversations we've had that he's forgotten. I wish he'd remember those."

"That's not the same," Louis says. "You know it's not the same."

"I know," Harry says. "But I mean, we're all a bit selfish about it."

"I'm trying not to be," Louis says. "I am." He's trying all the time. He's trying not to miss Nick too much.

Harry hums. "Liam said you think you'll hurt him. Or, like, make things harder for him. And I get that. But he wants to talk to you. It's his choice too."

"So what do you want me to do?" Louis asks, desperate. "I don't know what to do."

"Just text him back," Harry says. "See where it goes from there. Don't overthink it. You always do that, but just talk to him. See what he wants. If he wants to talk to you, you're not going to say no, are you?"

Of course he's not. If Nick really wants to see him then Louis will be there in a heartbeat.

"I mean, it's your decision too, of course," Harry says. "It's up to you. But I think it'd be good for him. And you."

Louis digs his fingers into his side. "Just please tell me I'm not going to make things worse for him."

"You're not," Harry says. "You wouldn't do that to him."

Louis thinks of all the months Nick had to hide because of him. "I have already," he says.

Harry's quiet for a moment. "I don't know if that's true," he says eventually. "All I know is that he was really happy when he was with you. I thought back on it, on those months, and he was really happy whenever we talked."

"Harry," Louis says helplessly.

"He was definitely in a good place," Harry says. "Like, I never felt like he was hiding something from me or anything, you know. So, I don't know, you might think you were bad for him or something, but I really doubt it. He was happy."

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, his heart beating harder all of a sudden. God.

"I really miss him," he says, voice weak. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about us."

"I know," Harry says. "It's alright. You can make it up to me a little bit by picking up the phone and texting him."

Louis huffs. "That's emotional blackmail."

"It is not," Harry says. "I know you want to talk to him. Liam said. I'm telling you that you can and you should."

"Right," Louis says, and breathes out harshly. "I'll think about it, alright?"

"Yeah," Harry says. "Take your time."

"Alright," Louis says.

"I'm gonna go now. Tell Liam bye from me."

"Will do," Louis says. "Bye."

"Bye," Harry echoes. "Hope you—hope you feel better."

"Thanks," Louis says quietly.

He ends the call and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. He stands there for a while, just breathing. Christ.

A gentle hand touches his side. "Hey," Liam says. "You alright?"

Louis blinks his eyes open. Liam looks concerned. "More or less," Louis says.

Liam nods. "Are you going to take Harry's advice?"

Louis sighs. "I don't know. I'm so tired."

"Of course," Liam says. "Come on, your tea is ready. Just think about it, yeah? I think it'd be good for both of you."

"I want him to remember me."

"I know," Liam says. "Me too. You don't have to feel guilty about it."

Louis swallows hard. "Don't I? It's not like he can control it. It's not fair."

"But you're not holding it against him," Liam says. "Are you?"

"Of course not," Louis says. "It's not his fault."

"So," Liam says. "What's the problem then?"

Everything, Louis wants to say. It's everything. From realising that all his seemingly noble reasons for keeping away from Nick were probably selfish all along to the way his chest still hurts every morning when he wakes up and Nick's not there. It's everything.

"I don't know," Louis says. "Me. I'm selfish."

Liam's eyes go soft. "You're not," he says.

"I am," Louis says. "Harry said Nick wants to talk to me, and I ignored him, because I'm scared and I don't want him to not remember me, and I'm selfish."

Liam shakes his head. "You don't want to hurt him," he says. "Maybe you only fucked up when you assumed you knew better than Nick or thought you could decide things for him. But you can fix all that."

"God," Louis says, feeling wobbly inside. "Where'd you learn all this?"

"Sophia," Liam says, smiling. "Well, and my parents. Obviously."

"Obviously," Louis repeats. "Are you insinuating something about my mum, Payno?"

"I think you've probably been ignoring what your mum's been telling you," Liam says.

Louis looks down, feeling guilty. It's true; he's been turning the conversation away from himself so often, pretending he's fine whenever she calls.

"Hey," Liam says. "It's alright, yeah? You just have to get some sleep, clear your head. Then you can figure it all out. Do you want me to stay here for the night?"

"You don't have to."

"I'll take the usual guest room," Liam says. "Come on now, your tea is getting cold."

Louis lets Liam lead him to the kitchen without protest. They don't talk about it anymore that night; Liam pulls him into a conversation about the upcoming Marvel and DC movies instead. Louis feels a bit better, arguing about superficial stuff like that.

When he goes to bed later, absolutely exhausted, all he can think about is Harry saying that he believes Nick was happy with Louis. It takes a while for him to fall asleep.

~

Liam leaves the next day after breakfast. He gives Louis a big hug, and tells him to call or text the second he needs anything. Louis doesn't deserve Liam.

Once Liam's gone Louis goes back to bed, takes out his phone and stares at it.

He clicks into his messages. Nick's texts to him are from two weeks ago. It seems ridiculous to respond to them now; he's waited too long and Nick probably doesn't care anymore.

But Harry said he does. And Harry knows Nick best.

Louis takes a deep breath.

Hey, he types. Sorry I didn't reply! That's totally fine about the number!

He holds his breath and hits "send". Nothing bad happens immediately.

His thumb hovers over the screen. He types By the way your show was great! and sends that too.

Then he puts his phone down and covers his face with his hands.

Nick doesn't text him back until a few hours later. Louis spends that time getting increasingly more nervous and unsuccessfully trying to ignore his phone. He knows Nick has seen his messages, the little 'read' under them mocking him.

He doesn't have any plans until later in the afternoon, so he ends up tidying his bedroom and the kitchen. His cleaner was by only a few days ago, but things have accumulated as always. He feels a bit better after it, surprisingly. He honestly never minds the mess, but somehow clearing it also helped to clear his head.

He makes himself a quick lunch and checks his phone when it buzzes with another message, not really expecting anything. He gets way too many texts.

This time it's Nick, though.

Oh thank you! Was pretty nervous about the show but think it went over well

Soz I didn't reply earlier, was really busy!

Louis bites his lip. He wants to make a quip about how it's fine since he didn't have to wait nearly as long as Nick did, but it feels too familiar. He has no idea what to say in response though. Somehow he didn't think this far ahead.

That's fine! he sends in the end. Yeah the show was fun! How sick that you got Roger Waters on the first night!

He rests his phone against his forehead, feeling like an idiot. He wasn't this awkward even when he first started texting with Nick. That had been easy banter and ridiculous emojis and Louis's belly fluttering in anticipation whenever he checked his phone. Thinking about that makes a lump rise in his throat.

I know! Nick says after a few moments. I was like 'are you sure? Is this a joke? Like aren't you worried I'll call you by the wrong name or something' ha

Louis inhales sharply.

I mean I sometimes call niall liam myself

Nick just sends back the laughing emoji with tears down its face.

Are you having trouble with short-term memory too? Louis asks, concerned. Ignore me if that's too personal

No, no, just a joke Nick says. It's as good as ever

Louis bites his lip. Screw "too familiar". So pretty shit then? he asks.

Oi! Nick says, and adds more "crying laughing" emojis.

Louis's head feels fuzzy. He's missed talking to Nick so much. He's still terrified he'll say the wrong thing, and mess something up, but right now he feels exhilarated and happy.

He sends back a row of stuck-out tongue emojis. He picks up his tea while waiting for Nick to text back and discovers it's nearly gone cold.

There's a small pause between messages. Louis drinks half of his tea and jiggles his foot.

Hey Harry said you'd maybe be up for talking? Do you want to come by sometime?

Louis's shoulders go tense. What else did Harry say?

Nothing? I mean if you don't want to then that's fine

Louis lets out a breath. No, I want to, he says. He really fucking does. Especially if Nick wants him to. What time works for you?

Tuesday afternoon? Nick asks. I have something tomorrow but tuesday's free

Louis has a meeting Tuesday afternoon. He can reschedule it.

That works for me!

Great! Nick says. We can figure out the time then? You know the address, right?

Yeah, Louis says, holding back on adding an "obviously".

Good, Nick says. See you then!

Louis sends him a see you back, puts the phone down and rests his head on his arms. His stomach is swirling, he has a long meeting in about an hour, and he's convinced he'll somehow cock everything up no matter what Harry said.

He'll see Nick in just a few days, though, and the thought makes him feel better than he has in weeks.

~

Louis makes it to Nick's half an hour later than promised.

He didn't mean to be late, but he realised at the last minute that he should shower and then he took a bit too long doing his hair and then there was traffic. So now he's half an hour late and almost vibrating out of his skin, stood on Nick's doorstep. He takes a deep breath and then another and then rings the doorbell.

It takes a moment, but then there's the unmistakable sound of Pig's nails on the wooden floor followed by footsteps, and then the door is suddenly pulled open.

"Hi," Nick says, smile on his face. "Thought you weren't coming."

Louis drinks him in. He's wearing an old comfortable jumper, old ratty jeans, and his hair is curling a little at the ends. He looks amazing.

"Sorry," Louis says, hand going up to fix his fringe. "Traffic, you know."

"Well, come in," Nick says, and steps out of the way. "Pig, no."

Pig is clearly ecstatic to see Louis again; she presses herself to his side as soon as he's through the door, panting happily.

"Hey, darling," Louis says, and scratches behind her ears. "How are you doing, eh?"

She wags her tail so hard it seems like it'll come off any second. Louis has missed her too, a lot. He crouches down and tickles her sides. It gives him a second to gather himself and an excuse to not look at Nick. She loves it and tries to lick his face in return. He chuckles and gently pushes her away.

"Do you want anything to eat?" Nick asks. "I have friends coming over later for tea, but I could whip something quick up right now."

"Nah, I'm fine," Louis says. "You have people coming over?"

"Yeah, in the evening," Nick says.

"I'm not in the way, am I?"

"Of course not," Nick says. "I invited you, didn't I? It's not for hours. I mean, you can stay for tea, of course. If you want to."

"I can't," Louis says. "Have a Skype meeting tonight." It's true, he rescheduled the meeting he had in the afternoon for that time. But at the same time he can't imagine staying and casually hanging with Nick's friends anyway. Nick would never have suggested it before. It's nice of him to ask, though. Even if it's just him being polite.

"Ah," Nick says. "Well. Water, then?"

"Tea, maybe?" Louis asks. He gives Pig one last pat and straightens up.

Nick smiles at him, if a bit awkwardly. "I can do tea."

Louis sticks his hands in his hoodie pockets and follows Nick into the kitchen. "So," he says. "This is awkward."

Nick laughs. "A bit, yeah."

"I was going to bring wine, but then thought it'd be weird?" Louis asks. "And I was running so late already. Sorry for coming empty-handed."

He was going to bring flowers, actually, until he'd realised that that would probably be really weird. They weren't like that anymore.

Nick waves his hand, setting the kettle. "That's fine. I wasn't expecting anything."

Louis knows he doesn't mean it like that, but he still feels guilty. "I'm sorry I didn't text you back earlier," he says. "Figured you weren't really waiting for a response."

Nick shrugs, back towards Louis. "No worries."

Louis sits down and watches Nick potter around, and set the kettle. He wants so badly to reach out and touch him. He clasps his hands together instead, and tries to figure out what to say next.

"You sure you don't want anything to eat?" Nick asks.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Louis says.

"Alright," Nick says. He takes out a mug and sets it on the counter. "How do you take your tea?"

"Milk, no sugar," Louis says. He stares at the mug Nick picked. It's not Louis's usual one.

Unexpectedly, he feels like he might cry. Out of all the things, he's going to cry over a mug. Nick doesn't remember how he takes his tea.

"Um," he says, swallowing hard. "Could I have another mug? The red one with the fox?"

"Oh," Nick says. "Yeah, of course." He switches out the mugs, then looks over at Louis. "Good choice."

Louis huffs out a laugh, throat tight. "Shut up."

"No, it's a strong choice," Nick says. "Good mug skills."

"You're full of it," Louis says. His chest hurts.

"Did we really date?" Nick asks.

Louis drags in a breath. Way to fucking ease into it. "Yeah."

"Huh," Nick says.

"You don't believe me," Louis says. He didn't think he'd have to do this part again.

"No, I do," Nick says. He pokes Louis's mug. "I do. I'm just trying to figure it all out. I don't think you're lying."

Louis's shoulders relax a fraction. "Alright."

"I mean, it's not that weird a thought," Nick says.

"It's not?" Louis asks.

Nick shrugs. "I always thought you were kind of fit."

Louis gapes at him. "You what?"

"Thought you were fit?" Nick repeats. "Did I not tell you that then?"

"No," Louis says. "I mean. It didn't really come up, I guess. You—really?"

"Well, now you're making me feel self-conscious about it," Nick says with a laugh. He sets Louis's tea in front of him, and sits down opposite Louis.

"Sorry," Louis says. He massages at his brow, the beginning of a headache making itself known. "This is all just so weird. I mean, it's probably weirder for you, but I basically have no clue what to say here, so."

"Yeah," Nick says. "I know."

Louis takes a sip of his tea. It's too hot. He needs to do something with his hands. "Harry said that your friends were all telling you about the stuff you've forgotten. And that it was a bit unfair of me to not do the same. So I could do that, I suppose? I don't know."

Nick looks thoughtful. "Harry said that?"

Louis shrugs. "Yeah." He fiddles with his mug. "You can ask me stuff and all. How are you doing anyway? Should've asked that before, sorry."

"Well, I got the cast off," Nick says, sticking out his leg. Louis smiles. He noticed that during Nick's show. "It's annoying because it's a bit weak right now, but it should be better after physio. Just glad to be rid of the cast, to be honest. It was such a bother. Always got in the way."

"You're not limping too bad," Louis observes. Nick is moving a bit slowly, maybe, but it's not very noticeable.

"Yeah, it's pretty alright," Nick says. "Just need to work at it to get it stronger, it tires easily."

Louis hums. "And how's the head?"

"Weird," Nick says. "Really fucking weird. Less headaches lately, at least." He looks down at his hands. "I think I've got used to it now, but at first it was—actually, at first it was sort of different?" He looks up at Louis again, voice odd. "Probably boring to hear about. Never mind."

"No, tell me," Louis says. He has to fight the urge to reach out and grab Nick's hand. "I want to know. Please."

Nick rests his chin on his hands. "Well, like, it's mostly got better with time, but now there's this gap. And when I woke up there was no gap, really? Just the last thing I could remember was apparently from last year. But I was less aware of it, I think. I don't know. It's weird."

"It sounds it," Louis says. "Sounds hard to deal with."

Nick shrugs. "The good part is that the doctors think there's a good chance I'll start remembering things eventually. So, all is not lost, you know."

"Really?" Louis asks. Hope rises in him, sudden and overwhelming. If Nick remembers—but there's no guarantee he'll want to get back together with Louis again. Too much has happened in the meantime.

But that's not the point right now, anyway. Nick could get his memories back. Louis wants it for him so badly. Doesn't want Nick to feel lost and unsure anymore, the way he looks now.

"I mean, they say there's no guarantee," Nick says. "But they think there's a good chance? Just, it's been months and nothing. Literally nothing."

"I'm sorry," Louis says. "I'm so sorry you have to deal with that."

Nick laughs and shakes his head. "Wow, this got dark, didn't it?"

"Nick," Louis says gently.

"It's fine," Nick says. "Things are going really well apart from that, actually."

"You were really good on your show," Louis says. He wants to push, to let Nick know he's willing to listen if Nick needs to talk about it more, but it's obvious Nick wants to change the subject.

"Thanks," Nick says. "I was terrified of it, to be honest, but well, it's not live, is it? Could do it a hundred times over if I screwed up, at least. Anyway, it went well. Everyone's been really nice about the whole amnesia thing? And mostly not overbearing. Is it weird I didn't expect that?"

"That's good, though," Louis says. "If anyone's not nice then tell me, I'll sort them out."

Nick raises his eyebrows. "You will, huh?"

Louis shrugs. "I'll have Daniel deal with them. He's my security."

"Ah," Nick says. "That makes more sense."

"Hey. I can totally, like, box and stuff. I'm dangerous."

Nick laughs. "You look it, definitely."

"Oi, don't get smart," Louis says, smiling.

"No, I'm agreeing with you," Nick says. "Boxing, definitely. Maybe a bit of wrestling. You have all the skills."

"I'll show you skills," Louis grumbles.

Nick looks at him, expression suddenly soft. It makes Louis freeze in his seat. "How long were we together?" Nick asks. "I mean, I know you said it was just casual. But how long?"

Louis opens and closes his mouth. He almost forgot what he told Nick when he saw him last. The conversation had been a blur, Louis trying desperately to just get through it.

"It, um—a few months?" he says.

"It's just—god, this is going to sound really strange."

"What?" Louis asks.

"I don't know," Nick says, and looks Louis right in the eye. "I feel really comfortable with you."

Louis inhales deeply. "Oh."

"It's weird, innit?" Nick asks. "Just, I haven't even told all of my friends about all that's going through my head, with the whole memory loss, but I immediately told you. I don't know, maybe it's just what you're like. Maybe everyone tells you everything."

Louis shakes his head. "I don't think they do. Maybe it's like—subconscious or something?"

"Maybe," Nick says. "This whole thing is weird. Sorry I'm unloading it all on you. I mean, I guess we got along pretty well. I'm not always that open with people I've been seeing casually for only a few months."

Louis looks down at his mug. Christ, he can't keep downplaying this. He thought it'd be easier for Nick, but he was probably wrong about that too, like he's been wrong about everything so far.

Before he gets the chance to say anything Nick asks, "How come none of my friends knew about us, though?"

Louis takes a deep breath and looks up. "Because I wasn't out," he says. "No one knew. Just us. I asked you not to tell."

Nick tilts his head, looking thoughtful.

"Did Harry not tell you?" Louis asks.

"Sort of," Nick says. "I wanted to ask you. He didn't have much to say about it all."

"Because he didn't know," Louis says. "No one did."

"Are you out now?" Nick asks. He looks concerned, suddenly. "I've talked to some of my friends about you, about us. Fuck, should I not have? I'm so sorry."

Louis shakes his head. "It's fine." He's not sure if it is, entirely, but it's not Nick's fault. It's what he expected, anyway. "I would have told you if I had wanted you to not say anything. I'm like, sort of out, I suppose. I don't know, it doesn't matter. It's alright that you told your friends."

"If you're sure," Nick says. "I'm sorry I didn't ask before."

Louis shrugs, and leans back on his chair, wraps his arms around himself. "It's fine. Doesn't matter. It's not like you really had the chance to ask, right? And I came out in front of Daisy and Gillian anyway, so. It's not like I expected them to never mention it."

Nick is looking at him with a furrowed brow. "I wouldn't have told anyone," he says. "If you'd asked."

Louis almost laughs, because, well. "I know. I know that. But I didn't ask, did I? Not anymore."

Nick frowns at that. "Louis—"

"I lied to you," Louis blurts out, and hunches down, hugging himself tighter. "I lied to you about something, actually."

Nick looks taken aback. "Lied about what?"

"It wasn't just a few months," Louis says. "That we were together for. It was more like six months. And it wasn't casual, really."

"What?" Nick asks.

"Sorry," Louis says. "I'm sorry, I thought it would be easier for you like this."

"Why?" Nick asks. "What do you mean?"

"I just thought—I didn't want you to think I had any expectations. And I didn't want you to feel bad, I suppose? Because you couldn't remember us. And I thought if I said it was casual, you wouldn't, like, feel obligated?"

Nick is staring at him, expression lost.

"I just," Louis says. "I didn't want to make things harder for you."

Nick shakes his head. "God," he says, and runs his fingers over his brows. "I thought you didn't talk to me or come see me, because it wasn't serious. I thought you just didn't care that much. I don't understand."

Louis looks away, stomach turning. He tries to swallow, his throat tight. He feels like someone just hit him in the chest.

Nick thought he didn't even care.

"Louis?" Nick asks. "You alright?"

Louis stands up fast, making Pig scramble away from his chair.

"Sorry," he says, not looking at Nick. "I need to piss really badly."

"Wait," Nick says.

"It's fine," Louis says. "I know where the bathroom is."

He hurries out of the kitchen, ignoring Nick calling after him.

He locks the bathroom door behind him, sits down on the closed toilet lit and buries his head in his hands.

He's shaking. He thinks he might be sick.

He knew he was going to fuck it all up. He just didn't realise he already had.

~

There's a knock on the bathroom door.

Louis wipes at his nose. He's managed to not actually have a proper meltdown and cry, even though his eyes sting and his throat hurts. He's almost proud of himself. He cries way too easily, always has. It's a bit pathetic, really.

He hasn't actually thrown up, either, which is another point for him, even though he does feel a bit delicate, the few sandwiches he had for lunch sitting heavy in his aching stomach. He's a mess, but he's handling it.

The knock comes again. "Louis?" Nick calls. "You alright there?"

Louis sighs. He can't hide in Nick's bathroom forever, sadly. If there was a proper window in here then he'd consider escaping, though.

"Louis?"

"I'm fine," Louis calls back. His voice doesn't even waver. He's good. He'll just go out there, make up an excuse and leave immediately. It might be cowardly of him, but he's used to that. He really doesn't want to actually break down in front of Nick, and right now his insides hurt just enough for that to be a real option.

He'll explain later. Send a fucking letter if Nick doesn't want to see him again. Right now he just has to get out of here without crying, and making things even worse.

He unlocks the door and pulls it open before he has time to change his mind.

"Oh," Nick says, and takes a step back. "Hey. There you are."

"Hey, sorry about that," Louis says, eyes trained on the floor. Pig is standing next to Nick, her tail wagging as always. "I think I'm going to go now."

"Oh," Nick says. "But I made you another cup of tea."

Louis falters at that. "Really?"

"Yeah," Nick says. "I thought we could talk a bit more. Are you sure you're alright? You look kind of sickly."

"I'm fine," Louis says, dismissive. It comes out harsher than he means to.

There's a pause. Nick leans to the side. "You don't have to lie, really. Or do you?"

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, and drags in a breath. "Nick."

"You don't have to stay. I'm just wondering why you had to lie to me."

"I told you," Louis says, his voice wobbling. "I told you, I thought it'd be easier for you. I fucked it up, okay? I get it now."

"Louis," Nick says. He sounds taken aback.

Louis forces himself to look up. "I didn't mean for you to think that I didn't care," he tells Nick. "I'm so fucking sorry, I never meant that. I care about you so much. I thought I was doing it right."

"God," Nick says. "I really thought it wasn't that serious. Because otherwise you'd be here, you know? You would have replied to my texts. Would have tried to talk to me. I don't understand."

Louis drags in a breath. "I didn't want to get in your way," he says. "You were doing fine. You're doing fine, and you don't need me."

"Christ," Nick says.

"You don't need me," Louis says. His voice breaks. He presses his mouth closed, biting his lip hard.

He can't figure out Nick's expression. His vision has gone blurry. He looks up at the ceiling, trying to keep the tears from falling.

He can't say anything else; he knows the moment he opens his mouth he will cry.

"I had no idea," Nick says quietly. "I just wish I'd known. I wish you'd told me earlier."

Louis chokes on a sob. "I'm so sorry."

"Shit," Nick says. "Lou."

Louis leans against the wall and covers his face with his elbow. His throat hurts from trying not to make a sound. The tears feel hot on his face, selfish.

"God," Nick says. "Hey. Hey, it's okay?"

There's a hand on Louis's arm, gently tugging at him. He lets Nick pull him close, and then he's leaning against Nick instead, face buried against Nick's chest. Nick's arms around him still feel the same.

Louis curls his fingers into Nick's shirt and tries desperately to stop crying.

"Shh," Nick says softly, and rubs Louis's back. "It's alright. It's okay."

Stupidly, it only makes Louis cry harder.

Nick shushes him again. "Hey, don't forget to breathe, yeah? Breathing's kind of important. Would look really bad if I ended up with a dead popstar in my house. What would I tell the cleaner?"

Louis laughs between sobs and tries to drag in a deep breath.

"There you go," Nick says. "Good breathing technique."

"Shut up," Louis chokes out.

"Just breathe," Nick says. He's still awkwardly rubbing Louis's back.

Louis does as he's told and focuses on breathing. It helps him mostly get a handle on himself.

"There you go," Nick says once Louis has stopped bawling. He's still got his arms around Louis. Louis wants to stay there forever, but he can't.

"Sorry," he says, pulling away from Nick. "Fuck, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to cry."

"It's okay," Nick says. "I don't think anyone ever really means to."

Louis sniffles and wipes at his eyes. His head hurts. "Still," he says. "I didn't mean to make this even weirder for you." He hiccoughs a little and wipes his nose on his sleeve. "Ugh. I'm a mess. Fuck."

"It's fine," Nick says. "I'm sorry I'm not better at comforting people."

"You do a decent job," Louis says. Nick's still here, for one thing. Hasn't kicked him out or anything. Louis feels awful and embarrassed for making Nick deal with him like this.

"I never know what to say," Nick says. "There, there?" He reaches out and awkwardly pats Louis's head.

Louis snorts. "Did you just fucking pet my hair?"

"What?" Nick asks. "Was that not what I usually did?"

"Oi, what are you implying?" Louis asks. "It's not like I was constantly weeping all over you." He wipes at his eyes again. His face feels all swollen. "Maybe when we were watching nature programs."

"Oh, I cry at those too," Nick says. "Really bad."

Louis can't help but smile at that. "I know. I really am sorry, though. For the crying, obviously, and for lying to you. I shouldn't have. I just figured it'd be better, but I know I fucked up."

"Okay," Nick says. "I think I need to, like, think about it some more, but it's alright."

"Also sorry for making you think I didn't care about you," Louis says. He just—he needs Nick to know. "I honestly never even thought you'd see it like that. I just—I'm sorry if that, like—sorry if I hurt you."

Nick nods, his eyes careful on Louis. "Okay."

"Right," Louis says. "Well, I should get out of your hair."

"You don't have to leave," Nick says. "I think the tea's gone cold by now, but I can make you another cuppa?"

"You really don't have to," Louis says.

"It's fine," Nick says. "You look like you need one. I can tell you about the goss I heard about Beyoncé and Jay-Z."

"If you're sure?" Louis asks. He doesn't want to overstep.

"Course," Nick says. "Come on, then."

Louis exhales and follows him into the kitchen.

~

They chat for a little while, while Louis works his way through another cup of tea and has a few biscuits at Nick's insistence. They talk about nothing really, just work, and mindless crap like the new season of Corrie and Rihanna's Instagram.

It's nice. It's a bit weird, but it's relaxing too. There are moments where Louis almost forgets that they're not together anymore and that Nick doesn't remember them. Nick's just so warm and friendly, Louis can almost pretend.

"You could come around again," Nick says when Louis is getting ready to leave. "If you have time."

"Yeah?" Louis asks.

"Yeah," Nick says. "I thought I could ask you some more questions?"

"Oh," Louis says. "Yeah, of course. For sure."

"And I had a good time," Nick says. "So."

Louis snorts. "You mean besides the dramatic interlude where I locked myself in your bathroom and then cried all over you?"

"Yeah, I wouldn't categorise that as 'fun'," Nick says with a gentle smile. "It was okay, though. Don't worry about it."

Louis looks down. "Thanks. For, like, being understanding. Not freaking out. Listening. I don't know. I'm sorry. I upset you and then I cried and you had to comfort me."

"It's fine," Nick says, and briefly touches Louis's elbow. "I didn't mind, really."

Louis wants to pull him into a hug and hold on tight. He looks up instead and smiles at Nick. "Thanks. Sorry again. Bye, then."

"Bye," Nick says. "Thanks for coming."

"No worries," Louis says. He leans down and scratches at Pig's nose. "Bye, Pig."

She licks at his hand and he almost can't bear to leave her.

"I have to go now," he tells her. "Bye, bye."

"Drive safe," Nick says. "And all that."

Louis looks up at him. This is where he'd usually go up on his toes and kiss Nick. This is that moment.

Not anymore, though.

He nods awkwardly instead and lets himself out, the door closing behind him.

He spends the drive home trying to make sense of his feelings. He doesn't have much luck, really.

The one thing he knows is that he doesn't want Nick to ever look at Louis the way he did earlier. Hurt and confused because of something Louis kept from him.

He doesn't want Nick to have any doubts about how much Louis cares about him. He has to be careful to toe the line, to not come off too strong and make Nick uncomfortable. But he can show Nick that if Nick wants him to then Louis can be his friend. That Louis wants to be his friend again. He's missed Nick so much. Getting to talk to Nick again regularly, getting him as a friend would be fucking amazing.

He'll try to show Nick that if Nick wants to then he can trust Louis.

He puts the telly on when he gets home, orders himself a take-away, and then opens his messages.

Hey, I have thursday and friday evenings free if you want to meet up then?

Also did you know there's a thing about polar bears on bbc two tonight?

Nick texts him back only a few minutes later.

I didn't know! I'll force all my friends to watch it while we eat. Should go over well right?

Thursday would work for me! Though afternoon would be better

Louis bites down on his lip. I can do afternoon! See you then? At yours?

Sounds good! Nick says. What about my polar bear idea though? [penguin emoji]

Louis smiles, and pulls his legs up on the sofa, settling in.

[penguin emoji]? That's like the exact opposite of a polar bear mate

They don't have a polar bear!

Just use a regular bear duh

[white bunny emoji] [bear face emoji]

Louis laughs. Why'd you use a rabbit for?

It's white! And cute. Look at its little ears

That doesn't make any sense, Louis says.

Whatever, Nick says, you clearly don't understand art

Louis smiles fondly, and buries his face against his knees. God. Nick.

He's not going to fuck this up again. He's not.

~

"I have a list," Nick says, and pulls out a notebook.

"Bloody hell," Louis says, looking up from where he's playing with Pig. "Is this an interrogation?"

They're in Nick's living room this time. Louis is sitting on the floor, trying to get Pig to let go of her brand new green toy snake. He saw a pet store on his way here, and went and bought something on impulse. It felt weird coming over empty-handed again.

Nick frowns down at the notebook. It's a proper notebook, all thick and fancy-looking. It looks similar to the journals he's seen Nick use before, for his song writing and ideas and stuff. This one seems new, though. Very symbolic.

"I just want to make sense of everything," Nick says. "So I write down questions whenever they come to me."

"Okay," Louis says. He can understand that. He wants to help with that. "Shoot."

Nick looks at him. "Are you going to stay there?"

Louis shrugs and pulls quickly at the snake, making Pig scramble forward. "Maybe," he says. "Come on then, first question. Go."

Nick takes a deep breath. "Were you ever, like, ashamed to be dating me? Is that part of the reason why we weren't out?"

Louis gapes at him. "Holy shit, you're starting off with that. No. No, absolutely not. That's ridiculous."

"Really?"

"We weren't out because I was too scared to come out," Louis says. "That was it. It was just my problem. It didn't have anything to do with you. Promise."

"Sorry," Nick says, making a face. "The thought just came to me one night, and I couldn't get rid of it, so I wrote it down."

"Well, it's a ridiculous thought," Louis says. "And if you remembered—and I know it's not your fault you don't, and I know you wish you could, and I'm sorry, but if you did then you'd know exactly how stupid that thought is."

Nick blows out a breath. "Alright. Sorry I asked."

"Don't be sorry," Louis says. He scoots closer to the sofa, and seeks out Nick's gaze. "Just don't think that, okay?"

"Alright," Nick says.

Louis thinks Nick probably believes him, but he wants to make it absolutely clear. He wants to give Nick more. Wants to be honest.

"You know," he says carefully, "I actually thought it was ridiculous that you'd want to be with me. You."

Nick scoffs. "You never did."

"Did," Louis insists. "I did. Because you're funny and fit and I'm just a coward. You could pull any lad out there."

"Shut up," Nick says. "I'm thirty-three and—"

"And you look better than ever," Louis says. "And you wanted to be with me, even though I was terrible."

"You're not terrible," Nick says. Louis shrugs, and looks away. "And you never thought, "Oh, wow, Nick Grimshaw wants to date me, what an honour.""

Louis looks back at him, mouth twitching. "Well, no, I didn't think exactly that."

"Yeah, obviously," Nick says.

"I did think I was lucky, though," Louis says, voice going embarrassingly soft. God damn Nick. "I don't care if you don't believe me."

"God," Nick says. "You can't just say things like this."

"I'm just being honest," Louis says defiantly.

"Next question," Nick says. His cheeks are pink.

Louis smiles. "Go on," he says. Pig has climbed into his lap and is snoring. One of his legs is about to fall asleep.

"Were we exclusive?" Nick asks.

"Yes."

"How did we get together?"

Louis shrugs. "Got talking at a party. Exchanged numbers. Sort of went from there, really. Then I went and kissed you. You didn't punch me. And there we go." He spreads his arms wide in a ta-dah gesture.

Nick smiles. "And no one knew we were even friends? Or, uh. Were we friends?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "Of course we're friends. Definitely."

"Oh," Nick says. "Good. And no one knew?"

"I don't know," Louis says honestly. "Maybe some of your friends knew? It all went pretty fast, though. I mean we were always sort of friendly, weren't we? We just weren't in the same circles. But I don't know what you told your friends before we were properly dating, or if you said anything at all."

Nick looks thoughtful. "They all seemed pretty surprised. I mean, I didn't tell that many people, you know, about you—about the whole thing, you coming over with Harry and all. But my closest friends, you know. I figured, since Daisy and Gells already—"

"It's fine," Louis interrupts him. "Really, it's fine. We talked about this, it's fine. I always hated that I made you hide, you know. It's alright."

Nick massages at his temples. "I just fucking wish I could remember."

"I'm sorry," Louis says. "I wish I could help."

"You are," Nick says, and sighs. He gives Louis a calculating look. "So were we, like, sneaking around from the start? You said we got talking at a party."

Louis chews on his lip. "We were just hanging out at first? But, like, we were clearly flirting. I don't know, I suppose you didn't tell anyone about that part?"

Nick hums. "Probably thought it wouldn't work out," he says quietly.

Louis tilts his head. He didn't realise Nick might have thought that, felt that. "Yeah?"

Nick shakes his head. "Just guessing. I don't know, really, but it makes sense, I suppose. Anyway. How did we agree to keep it secret?"

Louis looks down and scratches lightly at Pig's ear. She's snoring. "Like the day after we kissed, you had a party and you had invited me, and I didn't come. And I think you thought that I wasn't interested. But that wasn't it." He shrugs. "I was just scared of having to come out."

"And then?" Nick asks.

Louis shrugs again. He'd gone over to Nick's the next day to apologise for standing him up. He'd told him how terrified he was. Nick had hugged him. Louis remembered that well.

The same night Nick had texted Louis and said he wanted to keep doing whatever they were doing, and if Louis wanted then no one had to know. Louis had been wary, at first, feeling guilty, but then they'd carried on. Just in secret. It had worked, for the most part.

"I don't know," Louis says. "We talked about it, and then we just—it was a secret."

Nick makes a non-committal sound.

"So is that why none of your stuff was at mine?" Nick asks. "Because you were afraid people would find out? I mean, I don't remember buying half the shirts in my wardrobe, to be honest, but still. I couldn't find anything that seemed to be yours."

Louis snorts. "Yeah, I didn't have a toothbrush here or anything. There is some stuff, though. Little things."

"Like what?" Nick asks.

Louis looks around. "That toy," Louis says, pointing at the squeaky hot dog toy. "I got that for Pig."

"Oh, she loves that one," Nick says. "I wondered if I bought it, or if it was a gift."

"Yeah, it was from me," Louis says, preening a little. He has good taste in pet toys, clearly. "There's also the fox one, that's from me, too. And a mug that I got you right before we left for tour. And a jacket. And some stuff for your birthday, of course."

"Did you come to my birthday party?" Nick asks.

"I was away," Louis says. "We were already on tour."

"Ah," Nick says. He doesn't ask if Louis would have come if he'd been in London. "So you were on tour when I got in the accident, too, right?"

Louis nods. "Australia." He pets Pig's head, scratching at her ears. She's so warm.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Louis lets out a breath. He doesn't really fancy reliving this, no. "Well, we had a Skype date," he says. "And you weren't picking up, and you didn't answer any of my texts or anything. It was, like, god, three in the morning there? Proper middle of the night."

He takes a break, focuses on drawing circles on Pig's back. It makes him feel a bit sick, thinking back to that.

"Anyway, so I thought, fine, guess he's not picking up. So I went to sleep. And then when I woke up—" He breaks off, and shakes his head. "The lads told me. Harry was going out of his head."

"And you?" Nick asks quietly.

Louis pauses. "I've never been so scared in my life."

He really doesn't want to get into it. He doesn't want to remember how terrifying that time was. He's not sure he could even explain it to Nick.

He doesn't want to make Nick feel guilty for it, either.

Nick doesn't say anything for a while. Finally Louis risks looking up at him.

Nick looks thoughtful, his face gentle, gaze fixed on Louis.

"Do you want something to eat?" he asks. "We could have take-away."

Pig snorts awake, as if she heard them talking about food, and scrambles up. Louis laughs.

"Honestly, I'm starving," he says. He barely had any lunch, too nervous and excited to eat.

Nick rolls his eyes. "Could've said before."

"I didn't want to put you out."

"Well, what do you want to get?" Nick asks.

"I don't know," Louis says. "You can pick. I need something to tide me over till whatever we order gets here, though."

"Can do that," Nick says. He gets up, and holds out a hand for Louis. Louis takes it and lets Nick pull him to his feet, stumbling a little against Nick.

"Careful there," Nick says.

"Pig put one of my legs to sleep," Louis says, feeling a bit flushed.

"Ah," Nick says. "She's a wizard. I've always suspected."

Louis snorts. "You're so weird." Nick's still holding his hand. Louis isn't sure he even realises. He wants to point it out, make a quip about it, but he doesn't want Nick to pull away.

Nick lets go of his hand without any fuss, though, and heads to the kitchen, Pig scrambling up after him. Louis follows them both.

"So what did you get me for my birthday?" Nick asks.

"Um," Louis says, trying to remember. "Flowers. Some fancy jacket I thought would suit you."

"The Gucci?" Nick asks. "That blue one from their new collection?"

"Yeah, actually," Louis says. "How did you guess?"

"It caught my eye," Nick says. "And I asked my assistant if I got it sent to me, because I wouldn't have bought it myself, and she said no, so."

"Logical deduction," Louis says. "Very good. Seems your brain isn't irreparably damaged."

"Oh, shut up," Nick says, elbowing Louis. "Do you want like a sandwich or cereal?"

"Both," Louis says. "No, just a sandwich. Oh, and I got Pig that hamburger toy."

"For my birthday?" Nick asks.

"Yeah," Louis says. "I mean, I was already sending stuff over, and I like buying her toys."

Nick looks at him. "That's sweet."

Louis rolls his eyes.

"No, seriously," Nick says. "You're, like, totally soppy actually, aren't you?"

"Whatever," Louis says. "I just like your dog. Now where's my food?"

"So demanding," Nick says. He hands Louis a knife and points him at the fridge. "Make your own sandwich."

"Proper host you are," Louis says.

"I'm going to order us dinner," Nick says. "So don't be complaining."

Louis holds his hands out mockingly. "Oh, I wouldn't dare."

Nick snorts. "Why do I put up with you?"

Louis looks down. "Because I'm amazing, obviously."

He almost said, "Because you love me." Almost, almost.

"Well, you do keep my dog toy collection well stocked," Nick says. "Apparently."

"It's my one purpose in life."

"Then you're really thriving, I'd say."

"Seem to be," Louis says lightly. His stomach's turning a little, adrenaline pumping from the near-slip. It would've been so unfair. And possibly not even true; it's not like Nick ever told him, really, that he loved him.

But it's not like Louis told Nick either, and god, he does.

"So what do you say to curry?" Nick asks.

"Sounds great," Louis says. "Haven't had it in a while."

"Well, then it's definitely the right choice," Nick says.

They potter around the kitchen for a bit, Louis making himself a sandwich, Nick ordering them a curry. Louis throws a couple of pieces of ham to Pig, ignoring Nick scowling at him. It feels almost right.

"I have another question," Nick says once they've settled down at the table to wait for the food. "But it's a bit personal. More about you, actually."

"Go on," Louis says slowly.

"You don't have to talk about it," Nick says. "But you said you were scared about coming out, but I'm assuming you did it then while on tour? How did it go?"

Louis inhales deeply. He's wanted to talk to Nick about this ever since it happened. He's just not sure how to do it, but the fact that Nick asked means so much.

"You really don't have to say anything," Nick says. "If you don't want to."

"It was weird," Louis says. "It was fine? But it was weird as fuck. I don't know. I do want to talk about it. I'm glad you asked."

"Oh," Nick says, looking just a bit surprised. "Okay. Weird how?"

"Well, the circumstances weren't ideal, obviously," Louis says, making a face. "I don't know, it was just—it felt like it wasn't at all a big deal. Like I'd built it up in my head and then it wasn't like that."

"It was a big deal to you, though," Nick says. "Right?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "Yeah, it was. But, like, Niall said that they all suspected anyway."

Nick shrugs. "That's not the same as being out."

"You've never really been in, though, have you?" Louis asks. "You've never hid."

"I suppose," Nick says. "It's just the circumstances were different for me. But still, it doesn't matter if people thought that about you. You didn't tell them until you chose to, and—that's important, you know?"

"It just seems stupid," Louis says. "They all suspected and they were fine with it, and I was so scared. Isn't that pathetic?"

"No," Nick says, his voice firmer than before, and yet somehow still gentle. "No, it isn't."

Louis sighs and rubs a hand over his face. "I hate how hard it was. Still is. Like, so many people know now, and I still don't know what to do with that. After I told the boys, I was walking around backstage and I realised I had no idea who knew or not, and that terrified me."

Nick frowns. "Did they go and tell other people?"

"No," Louis says. "No, I don't think they did. I just didn't know."

"Was anyone an arsehole?" Nick asks.

"No," Louis says. "I mean, I haven't really told that many people, but no one's been an arsehole. My mum was great about it."

"Aw," Nick says, sounding genuinely happy. "That's great."

"Yeah," Louis says. "It's better now. Like I'm not as scared as I used to be, I think? Just wish I hadn't been such a coward."

Nick's silent for a moment. "I'm not the best at this," he says. "But I'm gonna say this anyway. I think you were very brave, coming out. But that doesn't mean you were a coward before."

Louis blinks, ignoring the way he feels like he might cry. "Pretty sure I was."

"Nah," Nick says. "You're allowed to be scared. Doesn't make you a coward at all. I get scared about it, too, sometimes. Even though I'm out. It's scary out there sometimes, isn't it. You're not a coward."

Louis stares at the table. "You never made me feel bad about it," he says. "Being scared to come out. You never made me feel bad. Like, I felt guilty about it, but not because of anything you said or did."

Nick doesn't say anything. He nudges Louis's hand with his. Louis breathes out and brushes his thumb over Nick's.

They have curry together. Louis leaves with his belly full and his heart a bit lighter.

~

Harry texts Louis one afternoon to let him know he's coming by to drop off some papers. Louis assumed he'd be getting them through his PA eventually, but apparently Harry was just at the label and he'd picked Louis's copies up too.

Louis is a bit confused about it, but it'll be nice to see Harry. They've been talking a lot more recently, but Harry's been in New York for the past few weeks.

He's not expecting Harry to show up with company, though.

"Hi," Harry says, grinning when Louis opens the door. "How are you?"

"Uh," Louis says, looking behind Harry where Nick is trying to control Pig and lock the car. "Hi."

"Oh yeah, I brought Nick," Harry says. "We're on our way to lunch with Pixie and Alexa. That's okay, right?"

"Of course," Louis says, just as Nick makes his way up to the door. "Hi. You alright?"

"Hey," Nick says, smiling. "Sorry for barging in like this."

"No, no, it's fine," Louis says. "Hi, Pig."

"I'm gonna go wash my hands," Harry says. "There was an incident. With dog poo."

Louis wrinkles his nose. "Ew."

"A plastic bag ripped," Nick says. "Traumatising."

"It was," Harry says, voice slightly petulant. He pushes past Louis, holding his hands out carefully.

"Well," Louis says, looking back at Nick. "Uh, come in."

"I'm not imposing, am I?" Nick asks.

Louis waves his hand. "Of course not. How've you been?"

He hasn't seen Nick since last week when they had pasta and watched The One Show together. They've been hanging out—not very often, but quite a lot, still. More than Louis expected. They text a lot, too, like they used to, talking about nothing. It makes Louis feel special, knowing Nick makes time for him. It makes him feel like he always does when Nick's paying attention to him.

He's trying to ignore that.

Nick hasn't been at Louis's, though. Louis feels now like he should've invited him over himself, but he's been trying to follow Nick's lead. Trying to show Nick he cares about him and wants to be friends with him while letting Nick call the shots. He thinks he's managing it. He hopes he is.

"I've been good," Nick says. "You? I can let Pig off her leash, right?"

"Yeah, definitely," Louis says. "I'm sure she remembers her way around."

"Oh, right," Nick says, scratching the back of his head. "Well, go on then, Pig." He unclips the lead and gives her a little push. "Go see what you've missed."

"I don't think much has changed since she was last here," Louis says. "It's probably a bit more of a mess. Um. Do you want a tour or something? Sorry, I'm not sure how to do this."

"No, it's fine," Nick says. "I probably shouldn't have come."

"No, no, don't be ridiculous," Louis says. "No, I'm glad to see you."

Nick looks a bit unsure, but he gives Louis a smile.

Louis rolls back on the balls of his feet. "Do you want anything, to drink? Or to eat? Wait, shit, you're going out to lunch, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Nick says. "Water would be nice, though."

"Good, Louis says. "I'll go get you a glass. You can—uh, look around if you want?"

"Nah, I'm good," Nick says, and follows Louis into the kitchen.

Louis fills him up a glass of water, grasping desperately for a way to make this less awkward. He doesn't even know why it's awkward. It's just so weird, having Nick around here, like this.

It hurts a little, in the pit of his stomach. Nick used to fit right in. It was never awkward, not after the first time he came over and Pig peed on Louis's Hulk statue and Nick laughed so hard he actually cried.

Louis takes a deep breath, chasing the memory away, and hands Nick the glass. Nick's fingers brush over his, and Louis has to fight off both the urge to jump back and to grasp onto Nick's hand and hold on.

Nick doesn't seem to notice.

"The kitchen looks good," Nick says, looking around. "Not as messy as I imagined it, actually."

"You imagined it?" Louis asks.

"Harry's been telling lies about you," Nick says. "Said he once stepped on something warm and fuzzy in here."

Louis flushes. "It was a toy Ernest left behind. And Harry's a little shit."

Nick laughs, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. Louis feels something tug in his belly.

"Are you gossiping about me?" Harry asks, walking into the room.

"Absolutely," Nick says, just as Louis says, "Always."

Nick grins and throws Louis a little wink. Louis smiles.

Harry shakes his head. "Terrible, both of you. I haven't been gone for five minutes and you're already turning on me."

"Well, you shouldn't take that long, then," Louis says. "I thought you'd fallen into the sink and drowned."

Harry snorts. "Sure you did," he says. "You'd forgotten I was even here."

Louis coughs and looks down. Honestly, he might have.

"Did you also forget about Pig?" Harry asks. "Because I think she's eating something out in the hall."

"Shit," Nick says. "Sorry, I'm gonna go see what she's up to."

"No worries," Louis says.

Louis turns to Harry with narrowed eyes after Nick's gone. "Pig's eating something, is she?"

Harry shrugs. "She's always eating something."

Louis rolls his eyes. "Go on, then, out with it. What did you come over here to tell me, then?"

Harry leans his elbows on the kitchen island, looking serious. "I didn't get to do this the first time," he says. "So I'm doing it now. Be careful and don't hurt him."

Louis gapes. "What?"

"And be careful with yourself, too," Harry says. "I know this is hard for both of you, and confusing probably. So look after yourself. And look after him, if you can."

"I don't," Louis says, and then stops and tries again. "We're just—talking. Hanging out. I don't know. Nothing's happening, Harry."

"Even so," Harry says. "Be careful."

"I will?" Louis asks. "I will. I would never hurt him. Never on purpose."

Harry nods. "I know. You really care about him. I can tell." He looks at the open kitchen door and then back at Louis. "He really likes spending time with you. He told me. Said you're really good to talk to and fun and all that."

Louis's eyes go wide. "Really?"

"Yeah," Harry says. "I mean, I don't think you should, like, try anything—"

Louis flinches back. "I wasn't going to," he says, voice hard. "Obviously. I wouldn't. Fuck you."

Harry holds his hands up. "I believe you," he says. "I trust you, alright? I just think you should take it slow."

"There's nothing to take slow," Louis says. "Nothing is going to happen."

He's just going to keep repeating that. To Harry and to himself. Nothing is going to happen. He wouldn't pressure Nick like that, it's not fair.

Nick likes talking to him.

It's not much, compared to what they used to be, but it feels like a lot. Nick still likes him. Even if it's not like that.

It's not like it's that surprising; Nick probably wouldn't keep inviting him around if he didn't, but—god. Hearing it is something different. Louis feels like he's got bees in his stomach or some shit. Buzzing.

"Did you know the doctor said he could get some of his memories back?" he asks.

Harry gives him a look. "Obviously."

Louis looks down and folds his arms.

"If he does—" Harry starts.

"Then that doesn't mean we'd get back together," Louis finishes for him. "I know, okay. I know there's no magic button to make things go back to the way they were before. I know."

He knows that. He knows it's unfair of him to want it. Things are good the way they are now.

"That wasn't what I meant," Harry says after a pause. He looks sad suddenly, even pitying.

"Don't," Louis says. "Don't look at me like that."

"Sorry," Harry says. "I don't know if I ever told you, actually? Like, things were so messed up, I didn't really know how to say it. But I'm sorry about what you went through."

Louis sighs and rubs his hands over his face. "Fine. Okay."

"I mean it," Harry says. "I'm sorry, Lou. That's why I'm here, you know? I don't want either of you to get hurt again."

Louis swallows hard. He doesn't know what to say to that. "Harry—"

He's interrupted by Pig running into the kitchen at top speed, nails clicking on the floor.

"Hey," Louis says, relieved, reaching down to scratch behind her ears. "Where have you been, Pig dog?"

"Sorry," Nick says, following her. "She wanted to explore the whole house. And the garden. I didn't really want to let her out of sight."

"Well, as long as you didn't pee on my Vans again," Louis tells Pig, teasing.

"She did not," Nick says. "We are incident free. I'm not even surprised to hear she's done that before. Is that bad?"

"Well, at least you know your dog," Louis says.

"Know how much trouble she is," Nick says, sounding fond. He always does, with Pig. "I think we should go now, though, if we don't want to be horribly late. Haz, did you give Louis those documents?"

"Oh, they're in the car," Harry says. "One sec."

Nick hands Harry the car keys, and takes his place by the kitchen island, across from Louis.

"Nice house," he says.

"Thanks," Louis says, a bit surprised, but relieved that Nick didn't ask about his conversation with Harry. Nick's not an idiot; he must've known Harry didn't come here just to deliver some papers. Louis isn't sure how he didn't see it immediately himself.

"It's really strange," Nick says. "Like, I can't remember being here? But I like it here."

"That's a good thing, right?" Louis asks.

Nick shrugs. "It's interesting. But yeah, it's nice, I suppose. It's a nice place. Feels cosy."

"I mean, I don't know how cosy it is compared to your place."

"No, it's nice," Nick says. "You like it here, right?"

Louis doesn't tell Nick that he likes it better with Nick in it.

"Yeah," he says. "It's home, you know."

"Pig seems to like it too."

"Oh, well if Pig likes it," Louis says. "High praise."

"Absolutely," Nick says. "My dog has excellent taste."

"I feel very honoured," Louis deadpans.

"You should," Nick says. He grins, and something resonates in Louis's chest.

"Here," Harry says, barging in and thrusting the papers at Louis. "Sorry, Alexa has texted me twice already, we have to go."

"Oh, right," Nick says. "Come on, Pig, come here."

Louis trails after them to the front door, feeling a bit disappointed. He doesn't want Nick to go. He wants to invite himself over to Nick's place sometime next week, but he promised himself he'd try not to be overbearing.

"Bye," Harry says, and gives Louis a quick hug. "Talk to you later, yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "See you."

"Bye," Nick says as Harry bounds down the stairs and towards Nick's car, Pig trying to take off after him. "Thanks for letting Pig roam around your place and all."

"Of course," Louis says. "You should come by again, if you want."

"We might," Nick says, smiling wide. "It was nice to see you again."

"Same," Louis says. "See you soon, yeah?"

He goes for a hug automatically, pulling Nick close with one arm and pressing a kiss to his cheek. Only Nick pulls back and turns a little, probably in surprise, and Louis catches his mouth instead. It's off-center and brief but it's a kiss nonetheless.

It takes Louis a moment to realise what he's done.

"Shit," he says, and takes a hasty step back. "Shit, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

Nick is looking at him with wide eyes, frozen.

"Sorry," Louis says again, helplessly.

"I," Nick says, and then swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing. "I have to go. Going to be late."

"I really didn't," Louis says.

"No, no, it's fine," Nick says. He grips Pig's lead and pulls her closer to him. "It's fine. Um, see you."

He hurries off, not looking back. Louis watches him go, watches him drive away.

He shuts the door and leans against it. His lips are tingling.

He touches his fingers to his mouth, and breathes in deep. Fuck.

~

Nick doesn't text Louis for a couple of days.

To be fair, Louis doesn't text him either. He's too afraid of what he might hear back. Or that he might not hear back at all.

He messages Liam instead.

I accidentally kissed nick how much did I fuck up?

Accidentally how? Liam asks.

Accidentally!! Louis says. Like I was gonna kiss his cheek but then it got all mixed up. Should I have even tried to kiss his cheek? I don't know help me

Well why do you think you fucked it up?

Because I wasn't supposed to kiss him! Louis says. God, Liam's so unhelpful. We're not like that! I don't want to make things weird.

Well what does nick think? [thoughtful emoji]

Louis glares at his phone.

He hasn't texted me

Have you texted him? Liam asks.

No

Why not?

Because fuck you, Louis says. I need you to tell me that I messed up and how to fix it

I don't know how, Liam says. Just talk to nick.

Louis sighs and bangs the phone against his forehead. He just really doesn't want to have fucked things up again. He's tired of being scared of messing up. It's just that things are so delicate. He knows Nick's not actually fragile, but Louis still feels like he needs to be extra careful with him.

Though maybe that's what he did wrong the first time. Maybe, possibly, Liam is right.

He sends Liam a message that's just a lot of upset emojis.

Talk to him!!! Liam says.

Fine!! Louis says. Fuck you

He will totally text Nick. He'll text him tomorrow.

Tomorrow is packed full of label meetings and writing and other kinds of boring work stuff and by the time Louis gets home he's too exhausted to even listen to this morning's Breakfast Show. He falls asleep thinking of Nick's lips on his, Nick's hands on his waist.

The day after that Louis wakes up with every intention to text Nick, but somehow manages to talk himself out of it over breakfast. Louis is the one who made it weird. It's only fair to let Nick take the lead on this. Maybe he doesn't want Louis bothering him. He repeats that to himself a few times and decides he's right.

Then he decides he might be wrong. Then he tries very hard not to tear his hair out and texts Liam again.

Liam doesn't text him back. Louis doesn't need him.

He drinks three cups of tea, smokes two cigarettes and admits to himself that he's being ridiculous and overthinking everything again.

It would still probably be a better idea to let Nick contact him first, but, well, one of them has to say something at some point.

He goes through most of the day, making a pro and con list in his head and jittering away from the amount of caffeine he's consumed.

The fifth time he sees something on telly that makes him want to tell Nick about it he gives into the urge. It can't make anything worse, probably.

Wtf are those dog phone things about?

Ps are we okay? Sorry again

His heart leaps when Nick texts him back immediately.

You saw that ad too? I have no idea. I don't think pig would like it. She gets confused easily

I think so? Sorry we haven't spoken, been busy

And trying to figure out some things [awkward smile emoji]

Louis chews on his lip. That's okay. Should I leave you alone a bit and give you more space?

No don't. I sort of missed talking to you x

Louis breathes in deep, his belly flooding with warmth. Nick sent him a kiss.

I missed talking to you too, he says. Sorry I made things weird. I really didn't mean to. X

I know, Nick says. Don't worry about it

Louis sighs. He wishes it was that easy.

So how have you been? he asks. Besides busy?

Good! Mostly busy really. But good. Just been thinking

About what?

Just things. Hey did you hear drake's new song?

Louis puts his legs up on the sofa and stretches out. He's not planning on pushing Nick. He can totally roll with the change of topic.

I haven't yet. Is it good?

They can talk about serious stuff some other day. Or maybe never. Louis is good with this. He'll go wherever Nick leads.

Oh shit you need to, Nick says. There's a link to the song attached. Louis smiles and clicks on it. He doesn't think about kissing Nick again. Much.

~

Louis is discussing football with Niall over text one night when he gets a message from Nick.

Are you busy?

Louis frowns and looks at the time. It's almost midnight. Nick is usually in bed by now.

No? he sends back. What's up?

Can you come over?

Louis turns off the TV and sits up, concerned now.

Yeah? Are you ok?

I'm fine, Nick says. Can you come please?

Louis is out of the door in five minutes. He tries to focus on the road and not on fretting. It's just really not like Nick, to be so tight with his words. Besides, Louis has a habit of jumping to the worst conclusion. By the time he gets to Nick's he's almost convinced himself that Nick has internal bleeding in his brain as a months late complication of his injuries and is about to die.

Possibly Nick would've called an ambulance in that case, though.

Nick opens the door after the first knock, looking decidedly not dead.

"Are you alright?" Louis asks. "What's wrong?"

"I'm fine," Nick says, and steps out of the way to let Louis in. "Were you nearby? How did you get here so fast?"

"I drove fast," Louis says. "You're alright, yeah?"

"Did Pig have surgery?" Nick asks. "Months ago?"

"Yes," Louis says, heart-rate tripling again. Pig's twirling around his legs, looking completely fine, but— "Is she okay? What's happened?"

"She's fine," Nick says. "That's not—she's fine, she's okay."

"Hey, darling," Louis coos, dropping into a crouch to pet her. "Are you alright then? Tell your dad not to scare me like that again."

"She wasn't hurt," Nick says. "I mean, the surgery. It was just a spaying."

"Yeah?" Louis asks, looking up at Nick.

It was in the spring, he remembers. Nick had worried, paranoid something would go wrong. Louis was up north, but he'd kept Nick distracted with a barrage of texts before some of Nick's friends had the chance to go over. The surgery went perfectly.

Nick runs a hand through his hair. He looks like he's been doing that a lot—it's sticking up everywhere, a mess. He's wearing glasses too, dressed in old trackie bottoms and a grey t-shirt. It should add up to him looking all soft and cute. Instead he just looks knackered, and on edge.

"What's going on?" Louis asks, and stands up. "It's after midnight, shouldn't you be asleep? Are you not going in tomorrow?"

Nick stares at him. "Aimee told me she was pregnant before she told anyone else. Even Ian."

"Okay," Louis says slowly. He didn't know that, but it makes sense, he supposes.

"Did she?" Nick asks. "She did, right? I texted her, but she hasn't gotten back to me."

"I don't know," Louis says helplessly. "Maybe? I only remember the part where you told me." He pauses, mouth falling open. "Wait."

"April," Nick says. "Right? I think it was April. I thought it was April fools."

"Nick," Louis says. "Do you—"

Nick groans and presses his fingers to his temples. "I don't know."

Louis takes a step closer, but Nick turns in a rush and disappears into the house. Louis stares after him for a moment before hurrying to follow.

He finds Nick in the living room, curled up in the armchair by the window, holding his head.

"Nick?" Louis asks, worried. "Hey, are you feeling okay? Do you need me to get you anything? Call someone?"

Nick takes in a deep breath, shoulders rising and falling.

"Hey," Louis says, and crouches down in front of the armchair. He has to nudge Pig out of the way to get there. Carefully he places his hands on Nick's knees. "Nick. Babe, look at me."

Nick drops his hands and meets Louis's gaze. He looks exhausted.

"Hey," Louis says gently. "What's going on?"

Nick closes his eyes and rubs his forehead. "I think I'm remembering some stuff."

"You're not sure?"

Nick shakes his head. "I mean, I think I am. It's just so weird. I don't know." He sounds agitated.

"Alright," Louis says. "How about I make you a cuppa and you can try to explain."

"Tea, huh?" Nick asks.

"Might help you calm down a bit," Louis says. "You seem pretty tense."

Nick huffs out a laugh. "I'm absolutely knackered all the time, I can't sleep because my head's a mess, and I have a twelve hour day tomorrow. Why would I be tense?"

Louis makes a sympathetic noise. "Come on," he says, and stands up. "Let's go see if we can fix that. Does anything hurt?"

Nick sighs, but gets up as well. "Bit of a headache. Already took a painkiller."

"Okay," Louis says. He leads Nick to the kitchen and pushes him down into one of the kitchen chairs. "Wait here, I'll get you your tea."

He starts the kettle, takes out the tea and busies himself with finding Nick a proper mug. He picks the one he got Nick one time; the one with a dog that looks like Pig on it. "What's going on, then?" he asks.

"I don't even know how to explain," Nick says. "I think it hit me when I was out walking Pig, and I thought about how good it was I'd gotten her spayed, because there was this French bulldog trying to get all up in her business."

Louis snorts, and covers his mouth with his hand. "Sorry. That's just—that's amazing." Of course Nick's first regained memory would be thanks to and about Pig. "Sorry, go ahead."

"Well, I was thinking that," Nick says. "And then I realised no one had told me I'd gotten her spayed? Which is, like, important information, actually. Christ." He huffs quietly. Louis loves him so much.

"So, you remember that?" Louis asks. "You got that memory back?"

"I think so," Nick says. "But then I realised there was other stuff too? And like this morning I remembered something from an interview I did a bit before the accident. Like, before Ibiza, I think? Because we were talking about that actor on the show. And I thought it was just because I'd watched it online or something, but I don't think I had? I watched some others, but I didn't watch that one. It was boring."

"Alright," Louis says slowly. He sets their tea in front of Nick and sits down at the table "So you're remembering stuff."

"I think I am," Nick says. "There's other things too. But it's all just—I don't know when it's coming from. And if it's all real. What if I'm making some of it up?"

He's growing frustrated again, Louis can tell. He nudges the mug closer to Nick. "Drink," he says. "Breathe."

Nick clasps his mug and takes a deep breath. "I don't even like tea that much."

"I know," Louis says. "Humour me."

"I don't know what to trust," Nick says. "There are all these things suddenly, and I think they happened and I think they're real."

"Well then they are," Louis says. "Hey, you lost almost a year's worth of memories. It's bound to be confusing, getting them back."

"I don't even know if I've remembered everything," Nick says. "I can't tell. How can I tell? What if most of this is just things I never really forgot?"

Louis folds his fingers over Nick's hand. He wanted this to happen so badly, but it's killing him to see Nick so unsure and confused. He wishes he could help somehow, but he has no idea what to do.

"What if I'm just making it up?" Nick asks.

Louis squeezes his fingers. "Why would you do that?"

"I don't know," Nick says. "Maybe because I wanted this so much? I have no idea how this works. I hate that I can't remember what I've forgotten. Isn't that stupid? Like, obviously I fucking can't."

"No, I get what you mean," Louis says. "But I think that you should drink your tea, and try to get some rest. You can call your doctor tomorrow and see what they say, right?"

Nick looks down. "I don't want her to tell me I'm making it up."

"Hey," Louis says. "You're not. You remembered about Pig, didn't you? That really happened, I can guarantee it. I probably still have the texts you sent me about it."

Nick doesn't reply, but he squeezes Louis's hand back and picks up his tea again.

"And," Louis says, "I'm sure when Aimee gets back to you she's going to say you were right about the baby thing, too."

"Maybe you should test me," Nick says. "Ask me questions, see if I remember?"

"Or maybe," Louis says, "you should go to bed and we can try that tomorrow. After you've calmed down."

"Just ask me something," Nick says, voice hoarse.

"Babe," Louis says, trying for a light tone. "I have no idea what to ask you." He's lying. He wants to ask Nick about them, about their relationship. But he's not going to put that kind of pressure on Nick, and if Nick doesn't remember or doesn't have the answer to any inane question Louis comes up with then that'll hurt both of them. He's not going to do that to Nick.

"Anything," Nick says. "Just, anything."

Louis shakes his head. "It's late," he says. "You're tired. I could ask you something stupid, like, where you got that mug you're drinking your tea from, but it's just a mug. It doesn't matter."

Nick sighs and stares at the mug. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to think, I just—it's all so bloody confusing."

"You'll figure it out," Louis says. "Just maybe not tonight. You should try to get some rest."

"I can't sleep," Nick says. "I tried. It's all such a mess." He seems to have started shivering. Louis has the urge to curl up around him and protect him from the world.

"Let's go sit on the sofa then," he says. "Grab some blankets, get a bit more comfortable. You need to relax at least. Maybe you can sleep after that."

He takes the mug from Nick, sets it down, and pulls Nick up with him.

"I wasn't done with my tea," Nick says.

"You'll get it back," Louis says. "Come on."

"Wait," Nick says, and touches Louis's shoulder.

"What?" Louis asks.

"Is that one of my Topman jumpers?" Nick asks, brows furrowing.

Louis looks down at himself. He's wearing the black and white jumper that he had technically stolen from Nick. He was in such a hurry leaving the house, he didn't even remember he'd slipped it on earlier. He never realised it was from the Topman collection Nick did a few years ago.

"Uh," he says. "Yeah."

"Did you buy it?" Nick asks. "Or did I give it to you?"

"No," Louis says, and fiddles with the hem of the jumper. "It's, like, properly yours. It's your jumper."

"It is?" Nick asks. "Really?"

Louis shrugs, suddenly feeling self-conscious and awkward. "Yeah."

Nick stares at him, then shakes his head, his face falling slightly. "I can't remember."

"There's nothing to remember," Louis rushes to explain. "I mean, it's not a big deal. You just left it at mine one day. Think you forgot you had it, so I just—well, I was going to give it back, but I sort of kept it."

"Oh," Nick says. "Why?"

Louis shrugs again, and looks down. "It smelled like you." He tugs the sleeves over his hands. "I don't know, that's stupid, probably. It doesn't anymore, anyway."

Nick doesn't say anything for a long moment. Louis glances up at him.

Nick looks wretched.

Louis steps closer in alarm. "Nick?"

"Did you love me?" Nick asks.

Louis blinks up at him. His heart thuds painfully in his chest. "What?"

"Did you love me?" Nick repeats. "I just—did you?"

Louis takes a deep breath. "I did," he says. "I still do. I'm in love with you."

"I don't remember," Nick says, covering his mouth with his hand, his voice muffled, broken. "I don't remember you telling me."

Oh. "I never told you," Louis says gently. "I'm saying it now. This is the part to remember. If you want to."

Nick wraps his arms around himself. "Did I tell you?"

"No," Louis says. "But I felt like you did."

Nick drags in a ragged breath, burying his face in his hands.

"Hey," Louis says and steps close, and wraps his arms around Nick's waist. "It's okay."

Nick rests his head against Louis's. He's shaking in Louis's arms.

"It's okay," Louis repeats, rubbing his back. "It's okay."

It takes a while, but finally Nick drags in a deep breath and steps back. Louis keeps one hand on his side, grounding.

"Sorry," Nick says. His cheeks are wet with tears, and he wipes at his face. Louis's heart aches. "It's just—everything's so bloody confusing."

"It's alright," Louis says. "You just need to rest. You'll figure it all out, yeah? You just need time. You should try to go to sleep again."

"Yeah," Nick says. "Probably."

Louis takes a step back. "I'll just get out of your hair."

"Wait," Nick says. "Can you stay? Please?"

Louis pauses. "Really?" he asks. "You want me to?"

"I hate sleeping alone," Nick says.

"I know," Louis says.

The smallest smile crosses Nick's face. "If you could," he says. "If you want to stay?"

"Yeah," Louis says immediately. If Nick's asking, he's staying. No question about it. "Of course I can stay."

"Right," Nick says, and runs a hand through his hair. He still looks all frazzled, his eyes red. "Okay, then." He pauses for a moment before he turns and heads towards the bedroom, looking back to see if Louis's coming.

Louis hasn't been in Nick's bedroom since the accident. It looks the same as it did back then. Fancy but cosy. Comforting.

They both pause near the bed.

"I could take the sofa, if you want?" Louis asks. "Like. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Nick shakes his head. "Would kind of defeat the purpose of asking you to stay, you staying on the sofa. Do you need anything to sleep in?"

"I can sleep in what I have on," Louis says. "You should go wash your face and drink some water. Might make you feel better."

"Right," Nick says. "Yeah. I'll be right back."

Louis uses the time he's gone to take a few calming breaths himself. It's just been a bit much, this night. He never wants to see Nick cry like that again.

He carefully slips his jumper over his head and folds it before setting it on the dresser. The trackies and shirt he has on work just fine for sleeping.

He's sitting on the bed, scrolling through his phone when Nick gets back. Nick gives him a small, fleeting smile before he starts undressing. Louis shuts off his phone and puts it away. It's going to run out of battery by the morning, but he doesn't care about that right now.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Nick says. He's paused with his shirt half-off. He always sleeps with his shirt off, except when he's sleeping alone. Nick explained it once. There was something about burglars. Louis found it oddly charming.

"Why did you text me?" Louis asks. "Like. Why me?"

Nick shrugs his shirt off. "I just wanted to tell you. Wanted to see you."

"Yeah?" Louis asks. "I mean, I'm glad you did."

Nick looks down, folding his shirt. "Things were sort of weird and confusing for a while, really. But then when I realised I'd started remembering—it felt like you were the only thing that made sense."

Louis stares at him. "Nick."

Nick shrugs. "I don't know," he says. "I just needed to see you."

"I'm glad you called me," Louis says. He feels just a bit choked up.

"I should try to sleep," Nick says. "Probably."

"Yeah, definitely," Louis says. He slips under the covers, and moves until he's almost at the edge of the bed.

"You don't actually have to stay that far away," Nick says, getting in on the other side. "It's not like you'll steal my virtue."

"What virtue?" Louis asks.

Nick snorts. "Exactly."

He's turned on his side, facing Louis. It's kind of a lot. Louis twists to the other side, and turns off the light, before settling with his back to Nick.

"Seriously," Nick says, "don't fall off the bed." His voice is already getting rough with sleep. "It'd make an awful racket."

"I'll try not to," Louis says. "Wouldn't want to wake you in the middle of the night, you need your beauty sleep."

"Fuck off," Nick says. It sounds fond, like usual. "Thanks for coming."

Louis inhales a shaky breath. "Of course. Always."

"You alright?" Nick asks. Louis wonders what he heard in his voice.

He squeezes his eyes shut and nods. "Yeah." He's absolutely fine. It's just a lot, suddenly, being here. Suddenly it's this whole big thing in Louis's head. He's fine, though. He's just feeling a bit fragile, that's all.

"Are you sure?" Nick asks.

"Uh-huh," Louis tries, voice climbing a bit.

"Hey," Nick says, and touches Louis's arm. "Louis."

Louis turns around in a rush, and hides his face in Nick's chest, feeling desperate. "Sorry," he says, embarrassed, but not able to stop himself. "Shit, I'm sorry."

"Hey," Nick says again, sounding surprised. He doesn't push him away. Instead, his hand settles awkwardly on Louis's back. "It's okay. Yeah?"

"I'm sorry," Louis says. "I'm sorry, I missed you so much."

Nick strokes his back. "You say that like we haven't been talking to each other for weeks."

"I know," Louis says. "It's just—"

"Ah," Nick says. "The whole amnesia thing."

"No," Louis says, voice muffled. "I don't mean your memories. I mean, I'm glad you're getting them back, but you're still you without them. That's not what I meant."

Nick strokes Louis's back awkwardly. "What then?"

"Just this," Louis says. "Being in your bed, okay? Being so close to you, even though it's just platonic. I don't care if it's platonic. You're right here."

"I am," Nick says. He sounds a bit confused, still.

Louis swallows down his old fears about Nick dying. Nick's fine. Nick's right here, and he's fine, and he doesn't need to hear how terrified Louis was he was going to lose him.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm making it weird again."

"Nah," Nick says. "It's okay."

"It's not," Louis says. "I was supposed to take care of you. You're upset, and here I am, trying to not start bawling."

"It's fine, really," Nick says. "Makes me feel not that pathetic myself."

Louis huffs out a laugh. "Shut up. You're not pathetic. God."

He draws back a little, but Nick's hand is still on his back, not letting him get far.

"Feeling better then?" Nick asks.

Louis nods. "We should sleep," he says, voice coming out a bit rough. "You should sleep, you have an early morning. I'm keeping you up, sorry."

"I was fully prepared to go into work on, like, an hour of sleep," Nick says. "I just couldn't calm down enough to even picture getting some proper rest."

Louis makes a sympathetic noise. "You hate working on little sleep. Even though you for some goddamn weird reason think it makes for better radio."

"It's because I'm more careful," Nick says.

"More nervous, more like," Louis says.

"That too," Nick says. "I really prefer getting proper sleep." There's a pause. "That was meant to be, like, another thank you. To you. For coming."

Louis snorts. "Good job on that."

"I'm too tired," Nick says. "Can't think straight. Thank you, but also shut up now and let me sleep."

Louis shuffles back and mimics zipping his mouth and throwing away the key. He's not sure how well Nick can even see it in the dark, but Nick laughs anyway.

Louis falls asleep feeling warm for what seems like the first time in forever.

~

Louis is woken by Nick's alarm going off. He groans and tries to hide his head under a pillow, the sound far too loud in the quiet of the room.

The alarm goes at least twice again, Nick hitting the snooze, and Louis keeps falling asleep and waking up again. Finally it's quiet, just Nick shuffling next to him. Louis pushes the pillow away and opens his eyes.

Nick is looking at his phone, face almost pressed up to it, and one eye squinted shut. It's dark in the room, but Nick's face is lightly illuminated by his phone. Louis watches him for a while, feeling fond. Nick makes these faces when he scrolls through his feeds, eyebrows constantly in motion, nose twitching, and it's kind of ridiculous how endearing Louis finds it.

He's almost drifting off again when Nick sighs and turns on the light.

"Ugh," Louis says, and presses his face into the pillow. "Why."

"Morning," Nick says.

"It's the middle of the night," Louis says. "It is not morning."

"Don't I know it," Nick says.

Louis peeks at him. "Tired?"

"Not too bad," Nick says. "Slept pretty well, actually."

"Good," Louis says. "Me too."

Nick gives him a tiny smile. It feels the slightest bit awkward, but that's probably just Louis's brain being weird. He's not sure he's processed yet that he can have this again. Whatever this is right now.

He sighs and stretches out in bed. "How's your leg?" he asks. "Do you need more time to get ready in the mornings?"

Nick shrugs one shoulder. "Not really," he says. "I'm just a bit slower. Sometimes I skip the shower, but I kind of want one today."

A snuffling sound comes from behind the door—Pig must know they're awake.

"Alright," Louis says, and pushes himself up. "I'll let Pig out, you go shower."

Pig seems delighted to see him, running around him in a circle before she darts off towards Nick.

"Hello, love," Nick says, gentle with her as always. "You'd best follow Louis if you want to go out."

Louis smiles to himself and heads downstairs. She'll clue in soon enough.

It's really nice being at Nick's again, early in the morning. He's missed it. It feels like home, comfortable and safe.

He lets Pig out, and leaves her to putter around on her own. By the time Nick's done with his shower Louis has his coffee ready, Radio 1 playing on the stereo, and is sipping on a mug of tea.

"Ah," Nick says, and picks up the coffee. "A godsend."

He takes the first sip and closes his eyes reverently. He's already dressed for work, jeans and a comfortable jumper. Louis notices he hasn't put his contacts in, choosing glasses today.

"How are you feeling?" Louis asks. "You good?"

Nick tilts his head. "Better. Tired, but like, fine."

"That's good," Louis says. He hated seeing Nick so upset last night. "No contacts today?"

"Couldn't be bothered," Nick says. "Do I look ruggedly dishevelled, or do I just look a mess?"

"You look cute," Louis says honestly.

"I suppose that'll have to do," Nick says, wrinkling his nose. "I need to switch to contacts later anyway, I have filming and stuff. Long day."

Louis makes a sympathetic noise. Nick works so hard.

"Do you have anywhere to be?" Nick asks.

Louis looks in the direction of Nick's bedroom, where a really comfortable bed is waiting. It's half past fucking five. "I was going to crash here for a bit? If that's okay?"

"I won't be home till later," Nick says. "But you can stay. I mean, I'm not going to kick you out. But you probably have things to do later."

"Yeah," Louis says. "You could leave me your keys?"

"I suppose," Nick says. He pauses, and frowns.

"What?" Louis asks.

"Oh, nothing," Nick says, shaking his head. "Yeah, I'll leave you my keys. You can just leave them here, I'll drop by Daisy's on the way back to get her copy."

"Alright," Louis says.

"Right," Nick says. "Actually, I—let me go find something."

He disappears upstairs, leaving Louis in the kitchen. Louis furrows his brows, and keeps drinking his tea. On the radio Adele's talking about early morning joggers. Louis could never be a jogger, never mind an early morning one. Nick takes a while to come back, so Louis goes and lets Pig back in, and then gets her breakfast out.

"Sorry," Nick says, rushing back into the kitchen. "Oh, you've fed Pig, excellent."

"Well, someone had to," Louis says primly.

Nick rolls his eyes, laughing. "Yeah, sorry, Pig."

"Find what you were looking for?" Louis asks, curious.

"No," Nick says. "Must've misplaced it. Didn't have the time to go through everything. I'll find it later."

"What is it?" Louis asks.

"You'll see when I find it," Nick says.

Louis perks up at that. "It's for me? Excellent. I always accept presents. What is it?"

Nick laughs. "You'll see. God, I'm going to be late. Why did I buy a house so far from the BBC again?"

"God knows," Louis says. "Why haven't they invented teleporting yet?"

Nick nods. "The real question here, isn't it? They should really get on that."

"I think it's way past time," Louis says. "Forget flying cars, honestly. Get right to teleporting."

"Would come in handy," Nick says.

"I could go to a meeting in LA and be back in time for dinner," Louis says.

Nick smiles. "You're not going abroad anytime soon, are you?"

Louis shakes his head. "Don't have any plans to."

"Good," Nick says. "That's good."

Louis bites his lip. He wants to ask Nick so much what this all means. Are they back together? Are they going to be? It feels like they might, but only last night Nick was close to crying because he couldn't sort through his own memories. Louis isn't going to pressure him.

"You're really going to be late," he says instead.

Nick looks thoughtful. "I'm not sure if I'd like teleporting actually," he says. "It, like, scrambles your insides or something, doesn't it?"

Louis blinks. "I don't think so," he says. "I think it's safer than Apparating, at least. Liam always tells me that's dangerous."

Nick stares at him. "What?"

"It's a Harry Potter thing," Louis says, smiling. "Never mind. One day Liam will probably force you to watch those films. He does that with everyone."

"He can try," Nick says. "I fell asleep during one of them."

"Of course you did," Louis says, feeling horribly fond. "Anyway, have you forgotten what the time is?"

"Shit," Nick says. "I'll see you later. Right? I mean, not tonight probably—"

"Busy tonight," Louis says, making an apologetic face. He'd drop it all for Nick, but he figures Nick could use a bit of time, too. Louis knows he could.

"But soon," Nick says. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis says. He shrugs. "I mean, I definitely want to see you as soon as possible, so."

"Me too," Nick says, and pulls Louis in for a quick hug. Louis feels the brush of a kiss against his hair. "Thanks for coming yesterday."

"Of course," Louis says. "That's—it feels ridiculous you're even thanking me for that, honestly. Of course I came."

"Well," Nick says, stepping back. "Still. 'M glad you were here."

"Me too," Louis says. He gives Nick his travel mug and gently pushes him toward the door. "Honestly, you'll be late."

"Since when do you care about being punctual?" Nick asks.

"Oh, I don't care," Louis says. "I'm just covering my arse so no one can blame me when there's no one on the radio at six thirty."

"Tina's on at six thirty," Nick says primly. "Doing the news."

Louis laughs. "Go," he says. "Have a good day."

"You too," Nick says. "We're being proper domestic, aren't we?"

Louis shrugs. "Suppose so. I quite like it."

"Me too," Nick says. He darts in again and kisses Louis's cheek. "Always did, to be honest." He crouches down and gives Pig a quick cuddle. "Bye, Pig. Be good, I'll be back soon. Don't get into any trouble."

Louis looks down at them, heart swelling with fondness. He shuts the door after Nick has left, and just leans against it for a moment. Pig sits at his feet, looking up at him.

"Do you fancy a nap, Pig dog?" he asks her.

She stands up and patters around excitedly.

"That's what I thought," he says. "Come on, then."

He curls up in Nick's bed with Pig snuffling next to him, and hopes he'll be coming back here again soon.

~

They're both busy the next couple of days, Nick doing Breakfast and filming for his show, and more telly, and loads of interviews. Louis spends most of his time writing with Liam and Jamie. They meant to keep it relaxed for now, just see where the songs take themselves, but they still end up doing long sessions that go into the night most days.

Nick's doing a whole lot more, though, and Louis worries if he's getting enough rest. They keep in touch with silly little texts about nothing, and Nick seems to be doing well, but Louis has always, always been a worrier.

It's not till Friday evening when he gets a proper message from Nick.

This thing I was meant to be doing tonight was cancelled. Can I come to yours?

Sure. Are you hungry? I can order us something

Starving! Can we have thai?

Thai it is. Are you on your way now?

Starting off. Will be there in 20 mins

Wicked, Louis says. See you then

He lets out a deep breath, his belly tingling with anticipation. Then he realises that his place is a tip, and rushes off to clean at least a bit of it. He gives up after he's gotten rid of most of the trash and clutter and hidden all his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. It's the thought that counts, he's sure.

He jumps when the gate alarm goes, but it's just the food arriving. He's setting it all up in the kitchen when Nick rings him.

"Hi," Nick says when Louis picks up. "Gate code? I know I always forget it, and I know it's weird I don't use the gate phone, I know. Spare me the lecture."

Louis bites down on his lip. "2503."

"Cheers," Nick says. "See you in a few."

"See you," Louis says, and ends the call. Then he waits a beat, and jogs to the front door. No one's ever accused him of being chill.

So maybe he's a bit ridiculous about Nick. He accepted it a long time ago. He opens the door and waits for Nick to make his way up to him.

"Hiya," Nick says happily, and pulls Louis into a hug.

"Hey," Louis says, and squeezes him tight. "You alright?"

"Starving," Nick says. He's warm against Louis, arms comfortable around him. "Knackered. Everything."

"The food just arrived," Louis says. "You have perfect timing."

"Oh, excellent," Nick says. "I literally haven't eaten since this morning."

Louis frowns. "That busy?"

"Horribly," Nick says. "I actually did a little dance when someone called me and said tonight's thing was cancelled."

"Dork," Louis says, smiling. "I'm glad you came over."

"Well, you did say you'd provide food, so it's just smart planning on my part," Nick says. He's beaming, though.

Louis goes up on his toes and presses a tentative kiss to Nick's cheek. "Missed you," he says.

Nick's hand curls around his elbow. "Same. Now can I come in, or?"

"Oh, sorry," Louis says, flushing, and steps back to let Nick into the hall. Nick shrugs out of his coat, and takes off his boots. Louis stands there, watching him, like a creep. He just—it's Nick and he's here with Louis and he looks happy.

"I found your present," Nick says. "Though it's not really a present. Probably not that exciting, actually, sorry. But I remembered where I put it, so."

"You did?" Louis asks. "What is it?"

"This," Nick says, and holds out a key. The keychain is shaped like a dog. Like Pig. "It's yours."

"What?" Louis asks.

"The key to my house," Nick says.

Louis blinks. "Oh."

"Are you going to take it?" Nick asks after a pause.

"Oh," Louis says again, and takes the key. His fingers brush against Nick's.

He stares at the key. When Nick said he had something for him, Louis didn't expect this.

"I'd feel special," he says, voice embarrassingly thick, "but I know you give your key out to everyone."

Nick kicks his foot against Louis's. "Not everyone," he says. "Just people who watch over Pig. I used to give the old flat key out a lot more."

"Ah," Louis says. "Well, then."

"Besides," Nick says. "No one else gets a nice keychain with it."

"They don't?" Louis asks.

"No," Nick says. "They have to find their own."

"Sucks to be them," Louis says. He closes his fist around the keychain.

"I was going to give it to you when you got back from tour," Nick says. Louis looks up at him. "I got it ages ago, but I kept forgetting."

Louis smiles. "Ah." He doesn't really know what to say. It's not really that special, probably, since Nick does give his key out a lot and it's just practical, isn't it? But the fact that Nick remembered and that he was planning it, and everything. There's just something about it that feels like a lot.

Louis will have to find Nick a nice keychain of his own for the keys to Louis's place. And he'll have to get Nick to somehow remember the gate code, otherwise they'll be useless.

"Now you can come and let Pig out when I'm too busy to," Nick says.

"Oh, I see how it is," Louis says. "You're just using me for my dog walking skills."

"Absolutely," Nick says. "I'm surprised it took you that long to catch on."

Louis laughs, covering his mouth. "Come on, then," he says. "It's all set up in the kitchen."

"Oh, thank god," Nick says, and hurries past Louis. He's already digging into the food once Louis makes it to the kitchen.

"Wow, you weren't kidding," Louis teases him.

Nick gives him the finger, his mouth full. Louis is so fond of him.

They eat fast, with Nick practically scarfing the food down. Louis is a bit concerned about Nick not apparently having enough time to properly eat, but unfortunately it is a part of the job sometimes. He doesn't want to worry too obviously; he knows it's probably annoying.

"God," Nick says after he's done. He slumps back in his chair and lets out a deep sigh. "That was so good."

"Thank you," Louis says.

Nick laughs. "Are you trying to pretend you cooked that?"

"I'm just glad you appreciate my excellent takeaway-ordering skills," Louis says.

"Ah, I do appreciate that," Nick says. He stretches out his back and groans.

"Tired?" Louis asks.

"So ready to sleep in tomorrow morning," Nick says. "So ready."

"Do you have anything tomorrow?" Louis asks.

"Nothing, thank god," Nick says. "Might get my hair cut, but that's in the afternoon."

"That's good," Louis says, and starts gathering up the dishes. "You deserve a lie in."

"Do you have anything tomorrow morning?" Nick asks, and gets up to help Louis as well.

"Nope," Louis says. "A Skype meeting in the afternoon, but that's it. I left the evening free for your show, obviously."

"Obviously," Nick says, smiling. "So, can I stay here tonight?"

"Of course," Louis says, surprised but pleased. "What about Pig?"

"Dropped her off at Daisy's on my way here."

"Presumptuous," Louis says.

"Was it?" Nick asks, a sweet tilt to his mouth.

Louis wrinkles his nose. "No, not really."

Nick laughs and leans against the kitchen counter. "So," he says.

"So," Louis echoes.

"I have a memory for each month now," Nick says. "I mean, I have more than one, obviously, but I can, like place them and all. Like if you ask me what I remember from March then I can immediately get something specific."

"Really?" Louis asks. "That's great. Is that how that works? Memories?"

"Hell if I know," Nick says. "My doctor said that whatever works for me, works, so. Like, that's how I think of it. I like organising them, and it's working."

"That's great," Louis says again, genuinely so glad for Nick.

"Yeah," Nick says, smiling. "Well, go on, ask me. Test me."

Louis raises his eyebrows. "Okay. One memory from December?"

"Christmas dinner at my house. Everyone came around, it was wicked. First Christmas there."

Louis smiles. Nick's obviously excited about this, and it makes Louis so happy. "January?"

"Holiday in the Maldives," Nick says.

"Proper fancy," Louis says.

"Pixie fell into the ocean."

Louis laughs. "What about February?"

"Pig peeing on your weird Hulk statue."

Louis beams. "Shut up."

"Also," Nick says, "kissing you for the first time. Bit higher on the list, that one actually. Like, a lot higher. Like, probably way up there."

Louis flushes all the way to his toes. "Oh," he says. "That's a nice one."

Nick's smiling at him fondly. "I think so too."

"I mean," Louis says. "Incredibly soppy." He feels a bit overwhelmed.

"Bit soppy," Nick allows. "But I remember. I remember how it all started, too. You and me."

"Tell me," Louis says.

"You asked for my number," Nick says.

Louis gasps. "I did not."

"Actually, you offered me your number," Nick says. "Yeah, that's how it was."

Louis chews on his lip. It's true, technically. They'd been at the same concert, and had ended up smoking together outside. Nick had jokingly asked him to come in to be on the radio the next morning, and Louis had jokingly agreed, and even though he knew there was no way he could've gone over even if he wanted to, he'd still written his number down and given it to Nick. He remembers Nick looking surprised at first, and then an almost shy smile had taken over his face.

Nick had given Louis his number too, and he hadn't called at six in the morning, thank christ, but he'd texted Louis a picture of an empty mic in a studio and a frowny face. Louis had sent him back a row of poo emojis and fallen right back asleep, a curious feeling in his stomach.

"Well," Louis says. "Maybe you're right."

Nick just looks at him, face soft.

"Stop that," Louis grumbles.

"What?" Nick asks. "I'm not doing anything."

"Your face is doing stuff," Louis says. "It looks stupid."

Nick grins at him, wide.

"What?" Louis asks, and pokes at Nick's chest. "What are you looking at me for?"

"I missed you a lot," Nick says.

Louis inhales sharply.

"I was so glad when you came over that first time, and I didn't know why. It was so bloody weird."

"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," Louis says.

Nick draws Louis closer. "I remember the second time we kissed, too."

"Nick."

"You helped me wash Pig," Nick says. "And she got us all wet, and you were laughing and I kissed you."

"Maybe I kissed you," Louis says.

"No, that was the first time," Nick says. "At the door. The second time was all me."

Louis bites his lip. Nick's right, of course.

"Hey," Nick says.

"Yeah?" Louis asks, raising his eyebrows.

Nick wraps an arm around Louis's waist and pulls him close.

"I missed you," he says softly, breath brushing Louis's cheek. "When you were on tour, and when you didn't come by or text and I didn't even know it was you I was missing, and this week, when I didn't see you. Missed you."

"Kiss me," Louis says. "Nick, please."

Nick kisses him. Louis surges into it, winding his arms around Nick's neck. Nick's arms are tight around him, holding him close; his mouth is soft and insistent on Louis's.

It's just like Louis remembers it.

"God," Louis says, when Nick leans his forehead against Louis's. His heart's beating wildly, his lips brush against Nick's. "Nick."

"Hi," Nick says, and laughs breathlessly.

Louis smiles and pulls him close, wrapping his arms around Nick as tightly as he can. "Hi. Hey."

"Are you trying to burrow into my skin?" Nick asks.

"Yes," Louis says. "Never letting you go now."

Nick hums, and brushes a kiss against Louis's forehead. "Okay."

They stay like that for a long time. Louis tries to discreetly wipe at his eyes once they break apart, but he can tell from the look Nick gives him that he doesn't get away with it.

Louis rolls his eyes, and pulls a self-deprecating face. He's a crier. He can't do anything about it.

Nick reaches out and squeezes his hand. "Do you remember when me and Harry came around?" he asks. "And you kissed me?"

"Accidentally," Louis says. "I mean, I was aiming for your cheek."

"I know," Nick says. "I couldn't stop thinking about it."

"Yeah?" Louis asks, stomach swooping.

"It was so bloody weird," Nick says. "Because I knew I liked you, but also—I knew we were together, and I thought maybe that was, like, influencing my opinion on it all? But I just really bloody liked you, but you were being so careful with me."

"Didn't want to hurt you," Louis says.

"I didn't know how you felt," Nick says. "Like I knew you cared about me, but then I realised I wanted more, but I didn't know how to even approach that. Like, normally I totally ignore someone if I have a crush on them, you know?"

Louis thinks he's heard Nick say that before. "Yeah?"

"I mean." Nick blows out a breath, and rolls his eyes. "If you hadn't made the first moves back in spring, then I probably would have just tried ignoring it till it went away. That was my plan, actually."

Louis swallows. "Oh."

"I'm really glad I didn't," Nick says. "But then I was, like, sort of in the same position again, and I was trying to figure out whether to just go for it. I didn't know what you wanted. Didn't know how you felt about me. Like, I thought you liked me, but I wasn't sure."

Louis knocks his knee against Nick's. They're still holding hands. "I'm sorry I didn't make it clearer," he says. "I didn't want to put pressure on you."

"I wanted you to be in love with me," Nick says.

"I am," Louis says, voice coming out rough.

"I know," Nick says. "I know now. I remember, and all. I just wanted to tell you what was going through my head, you know?"

"Thanks," Louis says, and winds his arms around Nick's neck again. "Thanks for telling me."

"My therapist told me I should be honest about my feelings," Nick says with a chuckle. "And that talking about this all would help and stuff."

Louis holds him tighter. "Love you," he says against Nick's ear, cheek smushed against Nick's. "Should've told you before."

"Same," Nick says, arms secure around Louis's waist. "And same."

"Want to go watch Bridesmaids in bed and pretend that we're not going to bed like a couple of old people who can't stay up on a Friday night?" Louis asks.

Nick laughs. "Sounds perfect."

Louis hides a kiss behind Nick's ear. "Come on, then."

Nick falls asleep only fifteen minutes into the movie, his head resting on Louis's chest. Louis carefully takes Nick's glasses off and turns down the volume. It really feels like home now.

~

Louis isn't immediately sure what woke him. He blinks up at the ceiling; the room is dark, and there's a strange noise coming from somewhere. He realises slowly that it's the ragged sound of Nick's breathing. Nick is shaking beside him.

He flips to his side and hurriedly turns on the lamp. "Nick?"

Nick's got his eyes squeezed shut, and he's gasping for air.

"Nick," Louis repeats, gently shaking him. "Babe, look at me. Do you need your inhaler?"

Nick drags in more air, and shakes his head.

"Are you sure?" Louis asks. It looks an awful lot like an asthma attack.

"'M sure," Nick chokes out.

"Alright," Louis says. Nick never downplays his asthma. Maybe an anxiety attack then, the kinds Niall and Harry sometimes get. "Alright, you're fine. You're okay. Just breathe."

Nick keeps breathing erratically, wheezing. His eyes are still shut, his face tense.

"Babe," Louis says, and touches his chest. "Open your eyes. Look at me, and breathe."

Nick opens his eyes, gaze locking with Louis. He looks scared.

"Hey," Louis says. "You're okay. You're fine, yeah? You're at mine. Everything's okay. Breathe with me."

Nick grasps at him, winds a hand tight around Louis's wrist. It takes a long time, but finally his breathing eases.

"There you go," Louis says. His stomach's in a knot, worry clawing at him, but he needs to not let it show. "Do you need anything? Water?"

He can see Nick swallow hard. "Water, yeah."

"Alright," Louis says. "I'll go get you some, but I'll need my hand for that, yeah?"

"Oh," Nick says, and lets go of Louis. "Sorry."

Louis presses a quick kiss to his temple. Nick is clammy to the touch. "It's alright. Sit tight, yeah."

He hurries off to the bathroom, and gets Nick water and a cool towel. Nick's sat up in bed when Louis gets back, arms looped around his knees. He looks tired.

"Here," Louis says, and hands him the water. "I got you a towel, too."

"Thanks," Nick says. He drinks the water slowly, and then wipes his face and the back of his neck. Louis hovers over him.

"Need anything else?"

"My glasses?" Nick asks. "Couldn't find them."

"Oh," Louis says. "I think I put them on my side of the bed, sorry." He retrieves them and hands them over to Nick, careful not to smudge them. "Anything else?"

Nick shakes his head and puts his glasses on. "Come back to bed? What time is it?"

Louis climbs back into bed, settling close to Nick, and checks the time on his phone. "Bit after six."

Nick sighs. "Well, at least it's Saturday."

"You can sleep for hours, still," Louis says. "How are you now, though? You alright?"

Nick takes a deep breath. "Yeah. All better now. Just had a bad dream."

Louis makes a sympathetic sound. "Get them often?"

"Not really," Nick says. "Haven't had one for a while."

"Do you think it's because you're sleeping over here?" Louis asks carefully.

"Nah," Nick says. "Just happens, sometimes."

Louis rubs at his arm. "Are they always this bad?"

"Not really," Nick says. "The dream wasn't even that awful, I sort of got used to them. Always the same. I just didn't know where I was when I woke up at first. Reminded me of—"

"Of?" Louis prompts.

"Being in hospy," Nick says. He shakes his head again. "Sorry if I freaked you out."

"Don't," Louis says. "Don't worry about me. How are you? How are you doing in there?" He touches Nick's temple, careful.

Nick shrugs. "Okay."

"Yeah?" Louis asks. "How's having your memories back? Like, really?"

"Confusing," Nick says. "It's like a relief, but it's also a lot to work through."

"Do you think," Louis starts, and bites his lip, not sure how to phrase this. "Is this a good idea?"

"What?" Nick asks.

"Like, I don't know," Louis says. "This?"

"Like, me spending the night here?" Nick asks.

Louis shrugs. "Yeah, I suppose. And, like, being together. I don't know."

"Yeah," Nick says. "That's—it's okay. And it's got nothing to do with me sleeping here instead of in my bed, I swear."

"Alright," Louis says. "It was just scary to see." Nick opens his mouth, but Louis covers it with his hand. "Don't apologise. I'm just saying, it was pretty intense. I just don't want to make things worse for you."

"You're not," Nick says. "You know me. Dramatic."

Louis rolls his eyes. It's true, to a level, but that's not at all what he means.

"Honestly, though," Nick says. "The first time I had, like, a nightmare like this or whatever, I think Aimee was sleeping over," Nick says. "And I woke up from it, and the bed was empty. I properly freaked out then. Like, this was nothing compared to that."

Louis stares at him. "Sorry, was that supposed to make me feel better? Also, she'd left you alone? But surely she knows you hate that."

"She'd just gone to the toilet," Nick says. "Felt really guilty about it, too."

Louis sighs and pulls Nick closer to him, resting his head on Nick's shoulder. "Just want you to be okay."

"I'm doing good, love," Nick says. "Honest. Just a bad dream, no big deal."

"What was it about?" Louis asks. "If you want to tell me."

Nick shrugs. "Just hospital shit. I don't remember much of the accident. Anyway, it's fine. It really has been ages since the last one."

"Alright," Louis says. "Just tell me if they get worse."

"Sure," Nick says.

Louis squeezes Nick's arm. "I mean it. Promise."

"Okay," Nick says. "Alright, I promise."

"Good," Louis says. "Also, I want a word with Aimee. Shouldn't have left you alone like that."

Nick snorts. "She's allowed to go to the toilet, surely."

Logically, yes, but Louis absolutely hates the thought that Nick had to wake up alone from a nightmare like this. He wonders if it's ever happened when he's been completely alone at his house. It makes him want to hold Nick even tighter.

"Oh," Nick says. "Wait, of course, I remember. You woke me up once, didn't you?"

"Oh no," says Louis, and pulls back from Nick. He remembers this, too.

"You woke me up," Nick says, starting to smile. "It was the middle of the night, and you woke me up and said, 'Listen, I'm going to the bathroom, and I might be a while—'"

"No," Louis groans.

Nick's laughing now. "'And if you wake up and I'm not here, then that's why. So don't freak out or anything.'"

Louis buries his face in his hands. "Oh god."

"It was so ridiculous," Nick says, chuckling. "And so gross. I couldn't even believe it. And you like ran into the wall and made so much noise, and I had work in the morning."

"Stop," Louis says. "That was so embarrassing, I couldn't believe I did that."

"You woke me up because you didn't want me to panic if I woke up on my own," Nick says. "Which was, like, ridiculous but also really fucking sweet. You know, I tried to go back to sleep after that, and I just remember thinking about how much I fucking liked you."

Louis looks up fast. "No, you didn't."

"I was shocked at myself too," Nick says. His smile is soft.

"Stop it," Louis says. "That's terrible."

Nick just shrugs. "You know, what you asked earlier. About this being a good idea?"

"Yeah?" Louis asks.

Nick leans back against the pillows, and just looks at Louis, something careful in his gaze.

"Ian decided to do some kind of magic with my new phone the other day," he says. "Got most of my old texts back from the cloud or whatever. Accidentally fucked up a bunch of my contacts, though. Such a mess, oh my god."

"Okay," Louis says, confused. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"I saw yours," Nick says.

"What?" Louis asks.

"The texts you sent me after the accident."

Louis freezes. "Oh."

Nick reaches out and touches his cheek. "Hey."

Louis leans into Nick's hand, looking down. He didn't think Nick would ever see those messages. "Did you even manage to decipher them? They must've been all over the place."

"It did kind of turn to gibberish at the end," Nick says, voice gentle.

Louis laughs. "I was pretty drunk. Like, completely off my face. Kind of a mess, that night."

"Yeah?"

Louis looks at Nick. His face is all soft, like he's trying to be careful with Louis. Normally Louis is annoyed by that, but right now it just makes him feel loved.

"I thought you were going to die," he says. "I'd tried not to think about it, but then it just all kind of exploded."

Nick smooths a hand over Louis's hair.

"You woke up the next day."

"Did I?" Nick asks. "What great timing."

Louis exhales on a rush. "Wish you'd never gotten hurt."

Nick pulls him into a hug. Louis goes easily, curls up small and rests his head against Nick's chest. "Thought you were going to die," he whispers.

"I didn't," Nick says. "I'm fine, love."

"I know," Louis says. "I know. That was just a really bad night, okay?"

"You were begging me to wake up," Nick says.

"And you did," Louis says. "You did." He doesn't want to think about that anymore. He doesn't want to think about it ever again.

"I'm sorry I brought it up," Nick says. He's running his hand through Louis's hair. "I just wanted to say, like. This has been hard for both of us, hasn't it?"

Louis snorts, and rubs his nose against Nick's chest. "Yeah. Pretty sure it was worse for you."

"Still," Nick says. "It must have been awful for you, too. But if you're worried about me, then—being with you is easy. I feel good with you. According to my therapist that's what I should strive for. So I'd say I'm on track there."

"Oh," Louis says. "That's—that's really good."

"Yeah," Nick says. "So, unless you feel like it's not the right time?"

Louis shakes his head and presses a kiss to Nick's bare shoulder. "I missed you so much. I'm so glad you're okay, and you're here with me."

It makes him feel calm, having Nick with him. Nick makes him calm and comforted and happy, like he's made Louis feel ever since they started this thing, and Louis wants this forever. The only thing he's worried about is if this is all alright for Nick, but if he says it is then Louis is going to trust him.

He leans up to brush a kiss against Nick's neck. "Love you." He's never going to stop saying it, now that he can.

"Me too," Nick says. "Glad we have that settled." He yawns loudly out of nowhere. "God, I'm so ready to go back to sleep now."

Louis smiles. "Same. Why the fuck are we still awake?"

"Deep conversations," Nick says. "Very overrated."

"Super overrated," Louis says, and shuffles down on the bed, lying down properly. "Easier in the middle of the night, I suppose."

"Yeah," Nick says. "Also it's like the only time I have time for them, it seems."

Louis makes a face. "I wish you'd have an easier schedule."

Nick sighs. "I like keeping busy. It'll be Christmas soon. Plenty of time to rest then."

"Oh, yeah," Louis says. God, Nick's right. It's already November. "Christ, I'm going to be twenty-six."

"Mm, yeah," Nick mumbles. "It'll be your birthday, too. We need to figure out how to plan that. I like being with my family for Christmas, so. They're excited to meet you, though."

Louis blinks, momentarily taken aback by all that information. Nick wants to figure out how to do Christmas with him.

"Yeah," he says softly. "We can work that out."

Nick snuffles in response. His breathing's gone all heavy and rhythmic; he sounds asleep already.

Louis smiles, and carefully takes off Nick's glasses, before fitting himself against Nick's side. He throws an arm over his stomach, and falls asleep in mere moments.

~

Louis realises the next day he hasn't actually kept the lads up to date on the latest events. Nor has he told his mum everything. The last time he called he mentioned that he and Nick had been talking more and that Nick was getting some of his memories back, and she sounded thrilled about it. He should probably have a proper talk with her about it.

If he's being honest, he was afraid he'd jinx it. It was much easier to talk about work and football and music and other things that didn't matter this much. He's not going to do that again, though, keep things too close to his chest. It'll be different this time.

He gets out his phone and sends off a group text to Harry, Liam and Niall that says this asshole has eaten all my food with a picture of Nick having breakfast that he took this morning.

They're his friends. They'll get it.

Liam's the first to reply.

You're back together?

Louis grins and sends back three smiling emojis, a sunglasses emoji and a pig snout emoji.

Like officially?

Louis squints at his phone. He wanders into the living room where Nick is on the sofa, working with his laptop. He looks all cute with his glasses and cosy jumper he pulled out from a bag Louis didn't even notice he'd brought with him. Louis loves him.

"Hey," Louis says. "Should we like, have a talk about if we're back together? Officially?"

Nick looks up and wrinkles his nose. "I don't know. Should we?"

"Well, I don't know," Louis says.

"Go for it, then," Nick says.

Louis pauses. "Are we back together? Officially?"

Nick puts on his thinking face. "I'd say so, yes."

Louis leans down and kisses him. "Good talk."

"Agreed," Nick says. "Oh, there actually is something I want to talk to you about."

"Yeah?" Louis asks.

"I'm going to this dinner thing at Daisy's the week after next."

"Okay?" Louis asks.

"Well, everyone usually brings, like, their boyfriends and girlfriends or whatever. And you haven't really met any of my friends."

Louis sits down next to Nick on the sofa. "You want me to come to dinner with your friends?"

Nick shrugs. "If you want, I mean."

"Do you want me to? Isn't it a bit fast?"

Nick stares at him. "We've been dating since February."

Louis rolls his eyes. "You know that's not what I meant."

"I know," Nick says. "But if you look at it like that then it's not fast at all, is it?"

"Well," Louis says. "Yeah. You really want me to come?"

Nick shrugs again, looking like he couldn't care less. Louis sees right through it.

He's kind of terrified of the thought, to be honest. But Nick seems so tentatively hopeful.

"What do your friends think of me?" Louis asks.

Nick makes a face. "Well, they don't really know you."

"So they hate me."

Nick kicks Louis's leg. "They don't hate you. They don't know you. I want them to know you."

Louis narrows his eyes at Nick. "Yeah?"

"Of course," Nick says. He fiddles with his laptop. "I mean, it's kind of like a thing. Most boyfriends and girlfriends and stuff get vetoed."

Louis groans. "Oh, that's great."

"Hey, they all know that I really like you, okay," Nick says. "They know I'm totally gone for you, so they're not gonna be arseholes or anything."

Louis pauses. "You're gone for me, eh?"

Nick rolls his eyes. "This is what you're focusing on."

"Obviously," Louis says. "It's the best part."

Louis's phone buzzes in his hand. He checks it quickly. Niall's sent him a row of thumbs up emojis with a heart added at the end and a Happy for you mate!

Harry's just said Took you long enough! X

One day Louis will get him to use emojis. Though he's not sure how much hope he has if even Nick hasn't succeeded at that.

"We'll never get Harry to use emojis, will we?" he asks.

"We'll just have to keep trying," Nick says. He closes his laptop and turns towards Louis. "Will you come to dinner with my friends?"

Louis looks down at his lap. "What if your friends hate me?"

"They won't," Nick says.

"I'm too loud."

"You're not louder than me," Nick says.

"I'm loud when I'm—you're loud when you're in a good mood. You're loud and nice."

"You're nice too," Nick says. "You're nice to me. It'll be fine. You need to be loud anyway, you have to keep up with all of them. They're all so obnoxious, it's terrible."

Louis sighs and sinks down into his hoodie.

"Will Harry be there?"

"I think he's going up to his mum's around that time," Nick says.

Louis pouts.

Nick leans forward and kisses him quickly. "Please? It'd be so much fun. My friends have been dying to meet you."

Louis sighs and draws Nick into another kiss.

"I can't tell if I'm trying to bribe you or if it's the other way around," Nick says against his mouth.

Louis snorts and pushes him away. "Fine," he says. "Fine, yes, I'll come."

"I mean, you don't have—"

"Shut up," Louis says. "I'll come."

Nick beams at him. "Great. It's going to be great."

Louis smiles back, helpless. He's not jumping with joy about the idea, but god, he's missed Nick. He's pretty sure he'd do anything if it makes Nick smile like that.

Nick pulls out his phone. "I'll let Daisy know, so she'll know to account for an extra person."

"So this will be a proper meal then?" Louis asks.

"Oh, we go hard," Nick says. "You won't be able to walk afterwards."

"That sounds incredibly dirty," Louis says.

Nick laughs. "God, it does. Oh, Daisy's excited."

"That's nice," Louis says. Nick's really excited too, he can tell. He leans forward and presses a soft kiss to Nick's lips.

Nick draws him in, arm on the back of Louis's neck, and Louis shifts closer, the kiss turning more intense. Nick eventually pulls back, sighing.

"I should head out to the hairdresser's," he says. "I need to finish going through my emails before that."

"Will you come back here?" Louis asks. "We can watch your show together."

"I was planning on it," Nick says. "The coming here part, I mean. I don't really like watching the show, actually."

"Well, we don't have to," Louis says. "I'll just record it and watch it later."

"You don't have to," Nick says.

Louis gives him a look. "I know that."

Nick rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "I have to do stuff for the show tomorrow, though, so I'll be gone for half the day."

"But it's a Sunday," Louis protests.

"I know," Nick says. "God, I don't even know when I'm picking Pig up. Is there even any point when I'll be gone again on Monday? I feel so bad about how much time she has to spend alone. I should try to bring her to work more often."

Louis chews on his lip. "You can bring her here. Or I can come to yours?"

"You're busy too," Nick says.

"Not nearly as busy as you," Louis says. "I can do a lot of stuff from home. And I don't have to be out of the house before six, so. I could watch her for you. I have time. We're on, like, a half hiatus. Technically. Sort of, I mean."

Nick gives him a calculating look. "Then why are you working every day?" he asks. "Wait."

Louis waits. He's already learnt this morning that Nick takes a bit to bring up something he's remembered. Louis wonders if he's scared of being wrong.

"Weren't you supposed to take an actual break after Australia?" Nick asks. "You said, didn't you? To have a bit of time with the family and all before album stuff and touring properly next year and all. Did you do that?"

Louis looks to the side. "Well. Not really."

Nick sighs. "We're both workaholics, aren't we?"

"Probably," Louis says. He doesn't say that he didn't know what to do besides work to distract himself from everything.

"Well, you are technically on a break, so I guess you can watch over Pig if you want."

Louis grins. "Yes, get in."

"Oh, you think it's going to be easy, do you?" Nick asks.

"I think it's going to be fun," Louis says. "And hopefully it'll make things easier for you."

Nick's face goes soft.

"Also it's another step in my plan to make her love me best," Louis says quickly.

Nick smiles. "Of course it is." He still looks entirely too fond. Louis doesn't know what to do with it.

He pushes Nick's face away. "Stop it. And co-ordinate a Pig pick-up for me."

"You're gonna go get her yourself?" Nick asks.

"Well, you'll be busy, won't you?" Louis asks.

"I'm literally only going to the hairdresser's," Nick says.

"And then you'll probably go to a pub with your friends and then god knows what," Louis says. "I know you. I'm gonna go pick up Pig."

"Bossy," Nick says.

"You know it," Louis says, and gets up. "I need to go dog-proof the house."

"I mean, you didn't succeed last time, but I appreciate your gumption," Nick says, focus already back on his laptop.

"I have experience on my side now," Louis says. "Just you wait. She won't pee on my sneakers again."

Nick snorts. "Good luck."

"I love you," Louis says. He darts in for a quick cheek kiss, and hurries away to gather up all his shoes.

"You too, you giant weirdo!" Nick calls after him. Louis smiles.

~

Louis manages to mostly forget that he's going to dinner with Nick's friends. He's not actually ignoring it, there's just a lot else to focus on. Like meetings and writing sessions and more meetings and calls with his family and Nick, Nick, Nick.

He remembers abruptly when he's sitting with Nick in front of the telly, both of them working on their laptops, and Nick brings up his friend Henry.

"Henry the fashion guy, right?" Louis asks.

Nick rolls his eyes. "You know Henry Holland."

"Yeah," Louis says.

He does, of course. He'd know him even if he wasn't dating Nick, he's casually quite interested in fashion.

"Will he be there at dinner too?" he asks.

God. Fashion. Louis has no idea what to wear. He doesn't want to go too casual, but he can't exactly call up his stylist and be like, "Can you help style me for dinner with my boyfriend and his friends? Cheers."

"Don't think so," Nick says. "Think he's in New York."

"Ah," Louis says. He's sort of relieved. He's not sure how well he'll mesh with Henry. He's not sure how well he'll mesh with any of Nick's friends.

He saw Daisy very briefly last week when he went to get Pig from her. She was lovely to him, while the car ride with Pig that followed was an adventure and a half. Louis wonders what she really thinks of him, though, especially since she was there when he came over with Harry right after Australia.

He just really wants the dinner to go well, and he's sort of half-terrified he'll mess it up.

He slips out his phone and sneakily texts Harry.

What should I wear for dinner with nick's friends?

Harry calls him back instead of texting, the traitor.

"Uh," Louis says. "Important call, sorry."

"Okay," Nick says, looking confused, and goes back to his laptop. Louis flees to the bedroom and hits 'accept'.

"You weren't supposed to call," Louis hisses. "I'm with Nick."

"Oh," Harry says. "Hi? Why does it matter?"

Louis sighs. "Just help me."

"Just wear something nice," Harry says.

"What the fuck qualifies as nice?"

"Not trackies," Harry says.

"Fuck you," Louis says. Like Harry never wears hoodies and tracksuit bottoms himself.

"Jeans and a shirt?" Harry asks. "It's not a big deal."

"It is a big deal," Louis stresses.

There's a pause. "You're really worried about this," Harry says.

"Of course I am," Louis says. "It's Nick's friends. They all probably hate me. I have to make a good impression or Nick's going to dump me."

"That's a leap," Harry says slowly.

"He said his friends veto his boyfriends," Louis says. "It is not a leap."

"Bit of a leap," Harry says. "Nick's not going to dump you."

Louis sighs. "I know. I just want it to go well, okay. This is important to Nick."

"It will go great," Harry says. "Nick's friends are great, you have nothing to worry about."

"They're great to you," Louis says. "I'm the guy who made Nick hide and lie to them."

"Nick made his own decisions," Harry says, surprisingly forcefully.

Louis blinks. "Yeah, but—"

"Listen," Harry says. "I know we haven't really spoken much lately, but I talk to Nick, okay. Like, every day. He's happy. His friends can see that. You don't have to worry."

"Okay," Louis says softly. "So, like, as one of his friends—"

"You have my vote," Harry says. "If we're voting. Which I don't think we are. I'm sad I can't be there, actually. I want to see you two together."

Louis scoffs. "We're not a sideshow attraction. Also, like you haven't seen the two of us in the same room before."

"Obviously not the same thing," Harry says.

"Yeah, yeah," Louis says. He breathes out heavily. "I do wish you'd be there, actually."

"Aw," Harry says. "I'm touched."

"Oh, fuck off," Louis says. "Would just be nice to have a friendly face, you know."

"All of Nick's friends are friendly," Harry says. He chuckles. "It's in the name."

"You know what I mean," Louis says.

Harry laughs on the other end of the line. Louis really does miss him. He hopes they'll have more chances to hang out, to get back to how they were before. He still feels guilty, more often than not, for not being more honest with Harry in the past.

"Are you done?" Louis asks. "Because I'm hanging up."

"Hey," Harry says. "It will be okay, you know? Just have fun. Don't overthink it."

Louis sighs. "Fine. Whatever."

"Say hi to Nick for me."

Louis rolls his eyes. Like Harry isn't going to text Nick right after this.

"Will do," he says. "Thanks for—um. Thanks."

"Any time," Harry says. "You're both my friends."

"Cheers, Haz," Louis says. "Talk to you soon."

He wanders back into the living room and drops down onto the sofa next to Nick.

"Everything okay?" Nick asks.

"Yeah," Louis says. "Why?"

"You had an important call."

Louis snorts. "I was asking Harry what I should wear out to dinner with your friends." He bites his lip, waiting for Nick to laugh.

"Wow," Nick says. "So are you going to be rocking a floral shirt and a leopard print jacket?"

"Purple sparkly boots and a headscarf," Louis says.

"Oh, a headscarf," Nick says. "A classic."

"Yeah, I thought I'd go all out," Louis says.

Nick nods seriously. "A solid plan."

Louis grins and takes out his phone again, lapsing into a comfortable silence. If Nick shuffles closer to Louis and rests his bony head against Louis's shoulder while keeping his attention on his laptop, then well, that's really quite nice, isn't it.

~

They have a row a few days before the dinner.

Louis isn't even sure how it starts—a stupid remark from one of them, probably Louis—but it escalates, and then they're standing in the kitchen, arguing loudly about whether Pig's already had her food or not.

"Jesus fucking christ," Louis says, fingers pressed to his temples. "This is ridiculous. What the fuck is happening?"

Nick shuts the kitchen cupboard with a bang. "What's happening is you can't remember if you fed my dog or not."

"I told you, I'm like almost completely sure I didn't," Louis says. "Look at her, she's hungry!"

Pig's lying on the floor, nose against her empty feeding bowl. There's not a trace of kibble left in there and Louis is certain it's because he didn't put any there, not because Pig licked it clean.

"It's not good for her to eat too much," Nick says, voice tight.

"I know," Louis says. "I know, so why the fuck are we arguing about this?"

"Because it turns out you forgot to feed my dog."

"She's fine," Louis says. "Her feeding time is now, it's between five and six, you told me this, I remember, okay."

Nick looks away, rolling his eyes.

"What is this really about?" Louis asks, because he knows Nick.

Nick takes a deep breath. "Why did you wait a month to properly come see me?"

Louis blinks. "You know why," he says. "We talked about this."

"Yeah," Nick says. "And back then I accepted it, but now I'm thinking about it again, and it's kind of shit."

"Alright," Louis says. "So, that's why we're yelling about fucking kibble then?"

Nick stares at him. "Why didn't you come?"

"You know why," Louis says. "I thought you—you didn't need me."

"You're an idiot," Nick says.

"I didn't want to hurt you!" Louis says. "I thought you didn't need me around. You deserved someone better than me, okay?"

"What if I wanted you?" Nick yells.

Louis's stomach drops. "Nick."

"I wanted you," Nick repeats. His face is red, his breathing heavy. Louis feels horrible.

"I didn't know," he tries.

"Know what?" Nick asks. "That we were serious? That I wanted to be dating you? We talked about that, didn't we? Like an actual proper adult conversation. I remember. So why—" He flounders, and lets out a deep sigh. "Why?"

He sounds so defeated, Louis doesn't know what to do.

"I knew that," he says. "Of course I did. But—Nick, you couldn't remember any of it. We didn't know if you ever would. I wasn't going to force myself on you."

Nick scoffs. "I'm pretty sure there's a difference between forcing me to date you and picking up the phone and saying, "Hey, Nick, it's me, want to talk?""

Louis swallows back tears. He's not going to cry over this. He just doesn't know what to say. He wraps his arms around himself.

"Look," he says, trying to keep his voice steady. "I fucked up. I know that. I knew that the first time I came over and you said you thought I didn't care about you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"God," Nick says. "Don't do that."

"Do what?" Louis asks. "I'm sorry, alright!"

"I know you are," Nick says.

"Then what?" Louis asks. "What do I have to say?"

"I just want to know why," Nick says. "Why did you think I wouldn't want you around? And why would you say you don't deserve me? That's terrible, Lou."

Louis hugs himself tighter. "People didn't know we were together until you got into an accident. You deserve—you deserve someone who could be brave for you."

Nick's face twists. He looks like Louis just slapped him.

"Don't say that. Fuck, just don't say that."

"What?" Louis asks, his voice wavering. "It's true."

"God," Nick says. "I don't know who made you feel guilty about not being out. I don't know, but it's bullshit. It's not true. You're so brave."

Louis looks away, tries to inconspicuously wipe at his eyes. "Right."

"Please," Nick says. "Please don't think like that. I didn't need you to come out for me. You're not a coward for it, I don't know who made you think that."

Louis laughs hollowly. "It's not like it's just one person. It's, you know. Everything. I don't know. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Nick says. "Just. You're not less brave for not wanting to come out. You're not, love."

"I know," Louis says. He does, on some level. By now he does. "I know, okay. It's just hard. It's complicated." He sighs, and leans against the kitchen counter, all the tension draining out of him.

"Can you tell me about it?" Nick asks. "Please?"

"I mean." Louis takes in a deep breath. "I'm bisexual, right."

"Yeah," Nick says. "I know." There are still moments when Louis is so grateful when Nick seems to remember their conversations. It makes him feel more settled, both for his sake and Nick's.

"Well, it just—" Louis looks down, and fiddles with his sleeves. He realises he's wearing one of Nick's jumpers again. He's beginning to make a habit of it, stealing Nick's clothes. "It makes it different," he says eventually.

"How?" Nick asks, voice gentler.

"It's like," Louis says, floundering a bit. It's hard to find the words to explain this, even though it's always there, in the back of his mind. "Like, before you I dated a few girls. Then I didn't date anyone for a while. And all that time I kept thinking, I should just tell someone, right? That I'm bi?"

"Yeah," Nick says, not an agreement, really, but it shows he's listening. He cares about this. It seems like he really wants to understand.

"But it never felt like it was the right time," Louis says. "I didn't tell the girls I'd dated, because I felt like—I don't know, it didn't seem that relevant? And I just went so long without telling anyone, and I felt like—I don't know, if I was going to do it, then people would get weird? Or not believe me?"

Nick nods, his expression serious.

"Right," Louis says. "Well, so I decided I was going to tell people when I got a boyfriend. But then I did, and it was you, and I—I don't know. It was scarier than I had thought. It'd just, it'd been so long. And I wanted to, so badly, I just—"

"I know," Nick says. "I know you did."

"But I just. I didn't know how. Even when you got hurt, I didn't know how to say it. I don't know why."

Nick steps closer. "Sounds like you got stuck in your head a bit, love."

"Yeah," Louis says, breathing out slowly. "Think so, yeah." He pulls his sleeves over his hands again, warming them. "But like, I guess that's why it's so bloody messed up. Like, I know I don't have to come out, and that I'm not—I'm not a coward, people aren't cowards for not coming out. But like—I didn't have to come out when I wasn't dating a dude, so I didn't. It should have been easy, you know? Back then. Nothing to worry about."

"It doesn't sound like it was easy," Nick says.

Louis shakes his head. "I felt like I was hiding all the time."

"I'm sorry," Nick says. He reaches out for Louis.

Louis steps back. "Wait," he says. "I just—I need to say one more thing."

"Alright," Nick says, voice careful.

"You asked me if I was ashamed of you," Louis says. "That night we had dinner, remember? You'd never asked me that before."

"I'm sorry," Nick says. "I'm sorry, I'd forgotten you'd already told me you weren't. I mean. Obviously I had."

"I know," Louis says. "I know, you don't have to apologise for that at all. You don't have to say sorry. I knew you didn't remember. Just, I want to tell you again that I'm not. You—you were always the easiest part, whenever I thought about coming out. The best part."

Nick tilts his head. "How do you mean?"

Louis shrugs, and looks down, toeing at the floor. "Like, when I factor, like, you into it then it's not just "hey, I like boys, too," it's like, "hey, look, I'm dating this great guy." This guy who's really sweet and great and supportive and all that, you know?"

"Louis," Nick says.

Louis looks up at him. "I'd be proud to, like, hold your hand in public. That's the part that I'm not afraid of. You make it easier."

"I like holding hands," Nick says softly.

Louis swallows hard. "That's good. That's—good, yeah."

"Come here," Nick says, holding out his arm.

Louis lets himself be pulled into a hug, wrapping his arms around Nick's waist. He rests his head against Nick's shoulder and lets out a sigh.

Nick buries a hand in Louis's hair. His other hand is a warm weight on Louis's back, holding him close. Louis feels exhausted, but also safe.

"You know," Nick says. "You know that thing you said about deserving me, that's bullshit, right? You're really fucking great. And that's not even the point, the thing is there is none of that "deserving" stuff, you know? It's just you and me, and we're together."

"Right," Louis says. "Yeah. I know, I just—I don't know, I hated that I was making things hard for you."

"Well," Nick says. "I never thought about it like that. And even if I had, then, you know. It was worth it. For me, it was worth it. I just wish it hadn't been so hard for you."

Louis bites down on his lip, and squeezes his eyes shut, burrowing further into Nick's chest. "Yeah?"

"I love you," Nick says. He puts his hands on Louis's shoulders, and pushes him back just enough that he can look Louis in the eye. "I'm properly in love with you. You know that, right?"

"I know," Louis says, nodding. "I love you, too. I'm sorry I hurt you. With the not texting back or coming to see you, I mean."

Nick kisses his forehead, a soft brush of lips. "It's alright. You don't have to say sorry."

"I still wish I could have come out earlier," Louis says. "I could've made it easier for us."

Nick frames Louis's face with his hands, so very careful. "Well, I'm sorry that you had to come out before you were ready, and you had to do it alone."

"No," Louis says. "That's not fair, you're not allowed to apologise for getting hurt."

"Well, since we're both apologising for ridiculous things."

Louis huffs. "It's not the same," he says. "But fine."

Nick presses a soft kiss to his lips, and another to his cheek. Louis breathes out shakily. Sometimes he's afraid of how much he feels for Nick. It feels like he could come apart with it.

It's Nick, though. It's Nick, and that part's not scary at all.

"Hey," Nick says. "Are you okay?"

Louis nods, his hands lightly grasping Nick's wrists. "Yeah. Are you? You were upset. You were upset before."

Nick's face softens. "Yeah," he says. "I'm alright."

Louis winds his arms around Nick's waist again. "Thought you didn't like serious conversations."

"They give me hives," Nick says. "But this was an important one to have, I think."

"Yeah," Louis says. "Definitely."

"So," Nick says. "Maybe we should feed Pig now."

Louis bursts out laughing. He rests his forehead against Nick's shoulder, and laughs and laughs. Nick's laughing as well, and it's the best sound Louis has heard all day.

~

Louis isn't ready.

They had planned to leave half an hour ago, and Louis is still standing around his bedroom, trying to figure out what to wear.

He had it all worked out, but then he accidentally sent the shirt he'd wanted to wear off for dry-cleaning, and he can't find the right jeans, and it's all a mess. He's also either lost his leather jacket or he's left it at Nick's. He hopes to god he's left it at Nick's, it's one of his favourites.

He doesn't know why he didn't think of a backup option for his outfit. He's an idiot.

He's settled on a pair of jeans, at least, and has decided to go with a dark jumper. The question is which one. Louis doesn't have the answer.

Nick arrived an hour ago straight from work, inhaled the lunch Louis had ordered for them, and then took a quick nap with Pig. Now he's perched on Louis's bed amongst the carnage, checking his phone.

"We're going to be late," Nick says again.

"I know," Louis snaps. He hates being late. He just can't help it, he doesn't do it on purpose. Lateness just happens to him.

"We're already late, actually. We need to go by Waitrose, still."

"I know," Louis repeats. They need to buy wine to bring with them for dinner. Louis is aware of all of this.

"I can't believe you're taking longer than me to get ready," Nick says. "It feels wrong."

"Fuck off," Louis grumbles. Easy for Nick to say, he's wearing skinny jeans, a nice shirt, and a warm-looking leather jacket. He looks so good Louis has half a mind to just say screw the dinner and stay in, to have Nick all to himself.

"Just pick something," Nick says. "It's not like you're getting papped or anything. No one will even take any pictures."

Louis thinks briefly about getting papped with Nick one day. His stomach tenses at the thought, but. But if it ever happens he knows he'll be holding Nick's hand in the pictures.

"Louis?" Nick asks. "You going to pick something?"

"Just give me a minute, will you?" Louis says. He pointedly ignores that Nick's been waiting for ages now. He just—needs a bit more time.

"Alright," Nick says, getting up. "I'll get Pig ready. We'll be waiting downstairs."

Louis drops down on the bed as soon as Nick's out the room and buries his head in his hands.

He's fine, really. He's a bit nervous, of course, but he's generally good with people. He has to be. He's also an overthinker and a worrier, though, and his brain's going a mile a minute right now.

He takes a deep breath and rubs at his temples. It's fine. It's just dinner. Just one evening.

They're heading to Nick's after, since it's closer to Daisy's place and to Nick's work. Louis is relieved he won't have to come back tonight and deal with the mess that is his bedroom.

"Are you ready?" Nick calls from downstairs. "Are you trying to get out of this? Because it's not going to work! I already promised Pig you're coming with!"

Louis lets out a frustrated huff and picks up the first jumper he can get his hands on and pulls it on. It will have to do.

He grabs his phone and his wallet and heads down the stairs. Nick's leaning against the front door, checking his phone, Pig on a leash.

"I'm ready, okay," Louis says. "Fucking hell. Let's go." He pushes his fringe away from his forehead, scowling. "Is my hair okay?"

"It looks good," Nick says. "Nice jumper."

Louis looks down. He's wearing Nick's Pig jumper, the one from the Topman collection Nick did.

"Oh, jesus," Louis groans. "I picked the first thing I could find, I didn't even notice."

"It looks good on you," Nick says. "I'm sure Pig is very honoured."

"Everyone will think I'm sucking up to them," Louis says. He grabs a thin coat from the clothes stand and throws it on. It's been a warm week, but he likes layering. He gives himself a quick glance in the hallway mirror. The Pig jumper does suit him. Nick brought it over the other day, and casually left it lying on the sofa. It fits Louis just right, which means Nick must have gotten it especially for Louis. It feels like a statement. Louis's making out like he's annoyed, but quietly he's pretty delighted.

He just doesn't want Nick's friends to think he's trying too hard or anything.

"Don't be ridiculous," Nick says. "All my friends wear my clothes." He looks very proud of the fact.

Louis pretends to think about it. "It's not too last season?"

Nick gasps and darts his hand under Louis's coat to pinch his side. "Rude. Terribly rude."

"You'll just have to make another clothing line," Louis says. "Can't be papped in something last season, can I?"

Nick pauses. "Papped?"

"I mean, not now," Louis says. "Just—it's something I thought. In the future. I don't know. Let's talk about it some other time?"

"Alright," Nick says, and opens the door. He briefly touches his hand to Louis's back as Louis passes. Louis loves him so much.

Louis's nerves don't leave him when they're out on the road. He tries to ignore it, tries to hide it from Nick.

Nick's being suspiciously quiet himself, though. Actually, now that Louis thinks about it he's been quiet for most of the day.

Louis frowns, and looks over at Nick. Nick's keeping a careful eye on traffic. Louis notices he's clutching the steering wheel, his knuckles white. Nick's been a bit nervy about driving ever since the accident. Louis had offered to drive tonight, but Nick insisted, said he needed to get used to it again. Some days are better than others, apparently.

"Nick," Louis starts, just as Nick says, "Lou."

They both pause.

"Go on," Louis says.

Nick takes a deep breath. "Been meaning to ask you something."

"Okay," Louis says, curious. "Go ahead, then."

They're stopped at a red light. Nick doesn't look over at Louis. "If I had never gotten my memories back, would you—would you have, like, forgotten about me and moved on?"

"Wow," Louis says. His stomach twists. "What a nice and light-hearted topic."

"Please," Nick says.

"Where is this coming from?"

"I don't know," Nick says. "I've just been thinking about it. Like, what would have happened. Would we have gotten back together? Would you have moved on? I mean, not that I'm saying you shouldn't have moved on, obviously—"

"Shut up," Louis says. "Of course I wouldn't have forgotten about you, that's ridiculous."

Nick sighs. His face is tense, his movements with the wheel a bit jerky. Concern pools in Louis's belly.

"We shouldn't be having this conversation right now," he says. "Just focus on the road, yeah?"

Nick huffs. "I can drive and talk at the same time."

"I know you can," Louis says. "I just think we should talk about this later. Weren't we supposed to go by Waitrose?" He points at the store they just passed.

"Shit," Nick says, and crosses over to another lane to turn back. A car horn blasts somewhere close-by and Nick jumps just a little.

"It's fine," Louis says, placing his hand on Nick's thigh. "Just some idiot."

"I know," Nick snaps. He lets out a long breath. "Christ."

He turns into the car park in front of the store and finds a spot quickly enough. He cuts the engine and leans against the seat, closing his eyes.

"Nick," Louis says, and squeezes Nick's knee.

"I'm fine," Nick says, and sits upright again. Louis's hand falls off his knee. "I'm fine, sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Louis says. "You're doing really well."

"I'm going to go buy the wine," Nick says, and unfastens his seatbelt. "We're so late, god. Are you going to wait here?"

Louis bites his lip. "I can come?" It's late on a Wednesday, most kids are probably home. They might get by without getting spotted.

"Nah, stay," Nick says. "Then I don't have to take Pig, I'll be quicker."

"Okay," Louis says. "Next time, though."

"Yeah," Nick says. He turns around to pet Pig's head. "You wait here, Pig. I'll be right back."

"Can you buy me a bottle of water?" Louis asks. He's unexpectedly thirsty.

"Sure," Nick says, and grabs his wallet and phone from the dash.

Louis messes with his phone and strokes Pig's snout while waiting for Nick to get back. He feels all tense, his stomach turning unpleasantly.

He startles slightly when the door opens; he didn't notice Nick coming.

"Here," Nick says, and hands Louis the water before turning and putting the wine in the backseat.

"Thanks," Louis says, and immediately chugs down half the bottle. He watches Nick carefully.

Nick starts the car, then sighs and turns off the engine again. "Can we talk about it now?" he asks. "Just, I can't stop thinking about it and I want to get it out of the way."

"Okay," Louis says. "Okay, yeah, sure." He fiddles with the label on the bottle.

"I've just been thinking about it," Nick says. "I'm not even sure where it came from."

"What exactly is 'it'?" Louis asks.

"What could have happened, I suppose," Nick says. "What if you hadn't texted me back or come to see me? What if you'd moved on, and I'd never remembered, or even known."

"That would never have happened," Louis says.

"Which part?" Nick asks. He finally makes proper eye contact with Louis. "It just—it bloody scares me, alright?"

Louis's chest hurts. "What does?"

"Never remembering," Nick says. "The thought that I wouldn't have remembered. I'd never have known anything about our relationship, if you hadn't told me, and—now that I have you back again, it's fucking terrifying. The thought I could have lost this is terrifying. And I wouldn't have known. That's the most fucked up part."

Louis swallows hard, and inches closer to Nick. He knows all about the fear of losing this.

"It didn't happen, though," he says. "It wouldn't have happened, and it didn't."

Nick sighs and rubs at his eye. "I know," he says. "I just—it would've been so fucked up, you know? I kept waiting for you to text me back. I was missing you and I didn't even realise it."

"I'm sorry," Louis says, voice choked.

"You don't have to keep apologising," Nick says. "I know you're sorry, that's not why I'm telling you. God, I don't even know why exactly I'm telling you."

"Because communication is important?" Louis asks, going for a light tone.

Nick snorts. "Yeah," he says. "I suppose."

"You know," Louis says. "I was missing you all the time, too. I wanted to talk to you so bad. I'm sure I would've cracked eventually, I would have come to you. I would have told you about us anyway. I just needed someone to tell me it was okay. That I wasn't being selfish. Or that I was, but in a different way."

"What if I hadn't remembered, though?" Nick asks. "What if I hadn't remembered properly, what would have happened then?"

Louis shrugs. "I'm not sure," he says honestly. He doesn't know. He used to think about it, but after he and Nick got back in touch it didn't seem to matter that much. He mostly wanted Nick to remember for Nick's own sake.

"But what do you think?" Nick asks. "I'm sorry, I know it's fucked up, but I just—I need to know."

"Well," Louis says. "We were already getting closer again. I'd told you about our relationship, we were friends again. We were talking more often. We kissed."

"It was an accident," Nick says.

"Still," Louis says. "I mean, I don't know how it would have gone. I think it would have been up to you. I would have followed your lead. Whatever you wanted."

Nick lets out a long breath. "Yeah?"

Louis nods. "I wouldn't have wanted to pressure you, you know that. So, yeah, I would've left it up to you."

"What if I'd have expected you to take the lead?" Nick asks. "So I could have been sure about how you felt."

"Well," Louis says. "Then we would have been fucked."

Nick bursts out laughing. It's such a relief, after the tension that's filled the car. Louis smiles, and scoots closer to him.

"Or we would have eventually had a very awkward conversation about it, and ended up in the same place. I mean, we made it work once before, right?"

"We did," Nick says. "That we did." He rubs a hand over his face, and sighs. "Suppose I'm just being ridiculous. I know it's stupid to worry about shit that didn't happen, but, I don't know. I just couldn't help it."

"Hey, it's alright," Louis says. "I'm glad you told me about this, okay?"

"You are?" Nick asks.

"Of course," Louis says. "I'll always want to know. If something's on your mind or bothering you or anything. And it's good that we're, like, working through these things, yeah? I mean, we've probably filled our important conversations quota for the year, but."

Nick laughs again, lightly. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, you're right. I mean. Me too? If you need to talk about anything—yeah."

Louis smiles and reaches out to push Nick's hair away from his forehead. He only had the sides trimmed short, and his fringe is getting long, falling in his eyes.

"Should've just cut all of it," Nick says, making a face.

"I like it like this," Louis says. He trails his fingers over Nick's temple, over his cheek.

"Someone could see," Nick says, even though it's dark outside and the car park is almost empty.

Louis darts in and presses a quick kiss to Nick's lips. "Doesn't matter," he whispers, even though it does, it would in the end. It doesn't matter more than showing Nick how he feels right now, though. It doesn't matter more than that.

When he pulls back Nick's just looking at him, eyes warm. It seems ridiculous sometimes, how comfortable and safe Louis feels with him. He never expected it, but Nick makes him feel so settled. He just hopes he can give something like that that back to Nick.

Louis leans back in his seat, and puts his seatbelt on again. "Anyway," he says, feeling just a tad overwhelmed. In a good way, though. In a good way.

"Anyway," Nick repeats. "We are so late."

"God," Louis says. "Do we still have to go?"

Nick laughs. "Afraid so, love."

"Fine," Louis sighs. He reaches over and pats Nick's knee. "Let's go."

~

They might be late, but Louis still feels like they get there too fast. One minute they're in the car, talking about what tricks Nick's been wanting to teach Pig, and then they're standing in front of Daisy's door and Louis is clutching Pig's lead like a life-line and trying to calm his breathing.

"Relax," Nick says for like the tenth time. "It'll be fun."

"You keep saying that," Louis says. "Obviously it's not working. Shut up."

Nick is quiet for a while. Louis chances a glance at him. There's a sad furrow between his brows. Fuck.

"Nick—"

"Did you really not want to come?" Nick asks.

Louis shakes his head. "No, I mean. It's not that. I just want it to go well."

"It will," Nick says. "Now come on, I'm getting cold. And I'm going to starve. It will be really dramatic."

Louis bites his lip. Okay. He can do this, if he has Nick. He takes a deep breath and slips his free hand into Nick's.

"Oh," Nick says quietly, and squeezes his hand.

"I love you," Louis says. "Please don't let your friends kill me."

"Don't worry," Nick says, and rings the doorbell. "Pig will protect you."

"Oh, that makes me feel loads better," says Louis, right before the door opens.

It's not Daisy at the door. It takes Louis a moment before he realises it's Ian, one of Nick's old producers. It's been ages since he's seen him, but he remembers him as a good lad.

"Hi, Ian," Nick says cheerily. "Here, take this." He shoves the wine at Ian and then pulls him in for a quick one-armed hug. He doesn't let go of Louis's hand. Louis's belly does a series of somersaults.

"Hey," Ian says, hugging Nick back. "Glad you finally made it."

"Yeah, yeah," Nick says. He takes a step back from Ian and tugs Louis closer to him.

"Hi," Louis says, and waves awkwardly with the hand that's still grasping Pig's lead.

Ian gives him a friendly nod. "Nice to see you again. Come on in. Daisy's just put something in the oven."

Nick steps into the house, pulling Louis with him. "Is everyone here already?" he asks.

"Pixie and George are still on the way," Ian says.

"Oh, great," Nick says. "We're not the latest."

"It's a miracle," Ian says. "Most of us are in the kitchen. Aimee and Alexa are testing Daisy's mini croissants."

"Ooh," Nick says. "God, I can't wait for food. Feels like I haven't eaten anything proper in ages."

Louis frowns. "Why?" They had a decent curry just yesterday.

"I mean, like a proper roast," Nick says. He lets go of Louis's hand to take off his coat, and Louis has to stop himself from grasping at it. "You can let Pig off her leash, she knows her way around."

"Oh, yeah," Louis says, and unclips Pig's lead. She takes off in a flash, not even looking back. "I can't even remember my last roast. I should go by me mum's more often."

"Couldn't you go any time you want?" Nick asks, and takes Louis's coat from him. "Seeing as you're 'sort of on a break', really."

"Well, yeah, but you're always busy, aren't you?" Louis asks.

"Oh, you wanted me to come too?" Nick asks, pausing.

"Obviously," Louis says. "Since you're starving for a roast." His heart's beating slightly faster. He really wants Nick to meet his mum, he realises.

"Yeah, it's almost impossible to get this one anywhere," Ian says. "Especially on the weekends."

"Tell me about it," Louis says.

"Excuse me," Nick says. "I was at yours last weekend."

"Yeah, but you're not coming up to Donny, are you?" Louis says.

"Oh, yeah," Ian says, before Nick has the chance to reply, and turns to Louis. "Here we wanted to get together last Friday, properly hang out, watch his show and all, but he was like, "Can't, gonna spend time with the boyfriend"."

Louis blinks, warmth flooding his chest. "Well," he says, not sure how to appropriately join Ian in teasing Nick. He's just too pleased.

"Oh, shut up," Nick says. There might be a slight flush to his cheeks. It's probably just from coming inside from the cold. "Anyway, he's much better company than you lot. You would've talked all over the show, anyway."

"We didn't even watch it," Louis says.

"Well, it's weird just watching yourself on telly, isn't it," Nick says, a whiny tone to his voice. "Like just sitting there, watching yourself, it's bloody weird."

Ian laughs. "Anyway," he says. "I'm gonna take this to Daisy. Really nice you could come, Louis."

"Um, sure," Louis says, and watches Ian disappear down the hall.

Nick's fingers curl gently around Louis's elbow. "You alright?"

"Yeah," Louis nods. "Fine. Ian's nice."

"They're all nice," Nick says. "Well, more or less." He rubs his thumb against Louis's arm, barely a brush through Louis's jumper. "Let's go say hi to everyone then."

Louis smooths over his jumper, toying with the hem. The only problem with the jumper is that it isn't really Nick's so it doesn't smell like him at all. Louis is already planning on stealing the one that actually belongs to Nick.

"Yeah," he says. "Okay."

Nick takes Louis's hand, and Louis feels so grateful he could cry.

"Come on," Nick says. "I'll introduce you around. They'll love you."

Louis snorts. "Right."

"Well, the dogs will definitely love you if you slip them some food."

"How many dogs are there?" Louis asks.

"Probably loads," Nick says.

Louis breathes out. "Alright. I can at least try to win over the dogs."

"That's the spirit," Nick says, and pulls him along.

~

It isn't actually that bad.

There's a decent number of people there, but not as many as Louis assumed. Nick leads him around the flat, both greeting everyone and introducing Louis. There's Ian and Aimee, Alexa, Gillian, and Daisy, obviously. There's also at least four dogs.

It's a flurry of activity, right from the beginning, but at least the focus doesn't stay solely on Louis after the initial go-around.

Nick himself immediately flocks to Aimee, a huge grin on his face. "Wow," he says. "You're huge."

Aimee swats him on the arm. "Shut your fucking mouth."

"And more beautiful than ever," Nick says grandly and gives Aimee a kiss. "But seriously, you weren't this big last week."

"Tell me something I don't fucking know," Aimee says.

"How far along are you?" Louis asks.

"Thirty-five weeks," Aimee says, and blows out a breath.

She does look a bit tired, but otherwise she's absolutely glowing.

"You do look lovely," Louis says.

"You're lying, but I appreciate it," Aimee says.

He's about to swear he's not, but he notices Gillian staring at him. She smiles when they make eye contact, and says, "Nice jumper."

Louis crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. "I grabbed the first thing I could find."

Gillian smirks. "Uh-huh."

"I wore it in Pig's honour," Louis says.

"He's only dating me for my dog," Nick says, loud enough to be heard over everyone.

Louis rolls his eyes again, as people laugh.

"God knows it's the only reason I'd date him," says Alexa.

Nick gasps, his expression mock-hurt, but his reply gets lost in the flurry of Pixie and George arriving, another dog in tow.

It takes everyone a while to get settled at the dinner table, but they finally make it, Louis seated next to Nick with Gillian on his other side.

Louis was worried he wouldn't find any common topics with Nick's friends, but the first portion of the night is spent talking about TV. Nick's chat show is touched upon, but everyone is apparently really into soaps and reality TV. Some of them are also into football, so Louis finds himself discussing that.

Nick is loud, and talks with everyone over the table, but he also casually touches Louis's wrist, and asks for his opinion on things.

"What would everyone like for drinks?" Daisy asks. "Wine?"

"I can't, I'm driving," Nick says.

"You're driving?" Aimee asks.

"He insisted," Louis says.

"I'll get you some juice instead, then," Daisy says.

"How was driving?" Ian asks.

Nick shrugs. "Fine. It's fine. I mean, I've driven since then, so. It's fine."

Louis squeezes Nick's knee under the table. It takes a moment before Nick covers Louis's hand with his, just a quick touch.

It's a nice dinner, even though it's a bit intimidating how well Nick's friends know Nick and each other. It gets a bit overwhelming, too, so when they all move to the lounge for dessert, Louis excuses himself to the bathroom.

Pig is determined to follow him in there with another tiny dog for company. Louis can't remember who it belongs to, but there are so many dogs it's hard to keep track. He shuts them out, and goes to piss and wash his hands.

He spends an inordinately long time arranging himself in front of the mirror afterwards. His fringe keeps falling in his face, and there's dog hair on his jumper, which is probably appropriate, but he still attempts to pick them off.

He lets out a shuddering breath, and realises the longer he hides away the harder it will be to go back out there. It's not like the night has been unpleasant. He just needed a bit of a breather.

He just really, really wants Nick's friends to like him. He wants them to approve of him. More than that, he doesn't want Nick to regret bringing him. He wants Nick to have a good time.

He can't stop thinking about Nick asking him what would have happened if Nick hadn't recovered his memories.

Nick had sounded so torn up about it. Louis just hopes their talk about it helped.

He shakes himself and carefully opens the door. The dogs seem to have long gone, and Louis tries to not feel abandoned. Pig will come running right back once Louis picks up another snack. Nick always tells him off for giving her treats, but he can't help it. She reminds him too much of Nick sometimes.

Once he gets back to the living room, everyone's talking loudly, spread out across the room, while Daisy is cutting a cake. Alexa's laying out some biscuits and cupcakes, and shooing away all the dogs who want to get a sniff at them.

Louis hangs back at the door, trying to decide where to go. He sees the moment when Nick notices him, pausing his conversation with George. Louis's about to push away from the door and head over, but Nick's already up and moving towards him. Louis lets out a relieved breath.

"Hey," Nick says, and leans against the wall next to Louis. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Louis says. "Just needed the toilet."

"You've been quiet," Nick says. "I can't tell if it's the good kind of quiet yet."

"The good kind?" Louis asks, curious.

Nick squints at Louis. "No, looks like the "scared shitless" quiet."

Louis scowls and bumps Nick with his elbow. "I'm not scared, I'm just nervous. Your friends are intimidating."

"They are not."

"Daisy could probably take my head off with that cake cutter."

"But she's not going to," Nick says, sounding amused. "She likes you."

Louis makes a disbelieving noise.

"She does," Nick says. "I swear."

Louis shrugs. "What's the good kind of quiet?" he asks.

"What?" Nick asks.

"You said you couldn't tell if I was being the good kind of quiet."

"Oh," Nick says. "You know. The kind you are at home. When you're relaxed, all cosied up on my big sofa. Or, like, when you seem relaxed. I don't know, maybe you're not even relaxed then, maybe you're just so bored with me you're constantly close to falling asleep."

Louis bumps Nick again. "Shut up." He likes hearing Nick call it home.

Nick brushes his fingers over Louis's knuckles, just a brief touch. It makes Louis shiver. He wonders if Nick notices. If Nick knows the kind of effect he really has on Louis.

Maybe he doesn't. Maybe that's why he thinks Louis might have forgotten him, had things turned out differently.

"Come on," Nick says. "Gillian wants to hear your thoughts on Peru."

Louis pauses. "I barely saw it."

"Well, she's never been, so you can make shit up," Nick says. "It'll be fun."

Louis snorts. "You're such a shit to your friends."

"It's how I show affection," Nick says.

"And what about me, eh?" Louis asks.

"You're a special case," Nick says.

"Am I?" Louis asks, eyebrows raised.

"Well, I'm not dating any of my friends, am I?"

Before Louis can answer, Nick's leading him over with a hand on Louis's lower back. Louis bites his lip on a smile.

~

They almost manage to convince Gillian that all the dogs in Peru walk on their hind legs. Nick gives it away by laughing too hard, trying to muffle his giggles in Louis's neck.

"Oh my god," Gillian says, swatting at Nick's arm. "You two are horrid together." She's laughing too, though, everyone is, and Nick's clutching at Louis's waist and basically dying with laughter.

Louis definitely counts it as the highlight of the evening.

"We should do this more often," Daisy says when they're all munching on dessert. Louis is picking on a biscuit. It's some sort of fancy veggie thing. It's weird. "Every week, like we used to."

"Oh god, definitely not," says Nick. "I'd get so fat then. Well, fatter."

"Shut up," Louis says, and pinches his side. "You're not fat, don't be ridiculous."

Nick doesn't reply, but he eats another slice of cake, an easy smile on his face.

They stay until Nick starts complaining that he needs to be up early tomorrow and he should be in bed already. Which is at about half past eight. Louis is surprised he lasted that long, considering how hard he's been working and how tired he is lately.

Nick's friends call him an old man, but it's all just really obviously fond banter. It makes Louis glad, seeing how cared for Nick is. It's how it should be.

"You're going to bed earlier than me, Grim," Aimee says. "Me, a pregnant woman."

"Well, you should start practicing," Nick says, throwing Ian a look as well. "Will have to start getting up earlier than me soon."

"Oh, that's going to be all him," Aimee says. "A hundred percent. I'm going to rest for a year straight after this."

"I expected nothing less," Nick says, laughing. He looks so happy. Louis feels all warm inside, looking at him.

"Hey," says Pixie, knocking her elbow into Louis's. "It was good to properly meet you."

"Oh," Louis says, turning. "Yeah, you too."

"Same," Alexa says, appearing behind Pixie. "As the saying goes, 'I'm glad you crazy kids worked it out'."

Louis laughs, caught off guard. "Um, thanks. Yeah, me too."

"Also," Pixie says. "If you hurt him, no one will ever find your body."

Louis blinks. "That sounds fair," he says. He looks over at where Nick's trying to wrestle his phone out of Gillian's hands. "I don't ever want to hurt him."

"Decent answer," Alexa says. "Just don't forget that."

Louis looks back at them. He can't decide which one of them he should focus on, but he ends up going with Pixie. "Not planning on it."

"Good," Pixie says, and claps him on the arm, only a bit too strongly. Alexa smiles over her shoulder, her eyes serious. Louis swallows hard.

"Can someone gather up Pig?" Nick asks, voice carrying over the hall. "Pig dog! Time to go home!"

"I'll go get her," Louis says.

He escapes from the hallway, happy for an excuse. He's really glad Nick has friends who care so much about him, but it's making him a bit emotional for some reason. He just needs a minute to himself.

He finds Pig in the kitchen with the other dogs. They're all staring at the scraps left on the kitchen counter. A tiny dog whose name Louis can't remember has jumped on a chair and is trying to get up to the counter.

"Whoa," Louis says, and catches it easily. "You're not supposed to be there, are you."

The dog yaps at him and wiggles its tail when he sets it down.

"Nope," Louis says, ignoring the way the dogs scramble around his legs. "None for you."

He'd give some of the scraps to Pig, but then he would feel guilty in front of the other dogs, and Nick's particular about Pig's diet anyway.

"Come on, then," he calls. "We're leaving, Pig." He crouches down, and whispers, "There might be some snacks for you at home, eh?"

He could swear her eyes light up and she starts panting even more enthusiastically. He grins and scratches behind her ear. He doesn't care what anyone says, their dog is clearly the smartest of the bunch.

He really likes thinking of Pig as their dog.

She follows him out of the kitchen, and then pads right past him, heading straight for Nick and Alexa, who are doing some sort of weird interpretive dance to the new Rihanna song.

Louis leans against the wall and watches them, eyebrows raised. Aimee's got her phone pointed at them, probably snapchatting the whole thing.

Nick's twirling around, like, imitating a fucking flower or something, his expression mock-serene.

He looks absolutely ridiculous. It's horribly endearing.

Daisy comes to stand next to Louis, smiling. He tilts his head towards Nick and rolls his eyes.

She laughs. "I know, right?"

"So embarrassing," Louis says. "I don't know him."

Daisy hums, smirking at him. "'Course you don't. Hey, it was really lovely that you came, though."

"Oh, yeah," Louis says. "It was lovely of you to invite me."

"Of course," Daisy says. She pulls him in for a quick hug. "Hope to see you again soon."

"You too," Louis says, giving her cheek a kiss.

"Ready to go?" Nick asks, appearing out of nowhere, and hip-checks Louis out of the way to give Daisy a big hug. "I've been waiting forever for you."

"Hey," Louis protests. "I was gone for literally two minutes. And you were snapchatting."

"Wasn't," Nick says. "Aimee was. We're off. Get your coat, love."

Louis raises his eyebrows. "Get my coat?"

Nick steps back from Daisy, and laughs. "I love saying that." He leans close, flutters his eyelashes at Louis, and puts on a ridiculous voice. "Get your coat, love."

Louis laughs, and pushes him away. "You're such an idiot."

"You love it," Nick says, and presses a sloppy kiss against Louis's cheek.

A couple of people wolf whistle from the lounge. Louis and Nick raise their middle fingers simultaneously. Nick laughs again, sounding absolutely delighted, and goes to bring Louis his coat himself.

~

"Well?" Nick asks once they're in the car and on the way home. "Did you have a good time?"

Louis wrinkles his nose. "Those veggie biscuits were weird."

"That's not really an answer," Nick says.

"Can we stop somewhere and get pizza?" Louis asks. "I'm hungry."

He's not joking; he was too nervous to eat properly at dinner, his stomach turning unpleasantly every so often. It'd been hours ago, as well, and the pastries Daisy had offered hadn't called out to him. He hoped to god he hadn't offended her with that. She didn't seem to mind.

"Did you have a good time?" Nick asks again. "It's a simple question."

"Did your friends like me?"

"Yes," Nick says.

Louis throws him a look.

"What?" Nick asks. "They did! You were nice, and you were funny, and you didn't glare at anyone. They liked you."

"When do I ever glare at people?"

"I've seen you," Nick says. "Shit interviewers. People you don't trust. Harry's told stories."

Louis rolls his eyes. "Whatever." It's almost weird to think that Nick remembers him from before, before they became friendlier, before they got together, just as he remembers Nick. Nick remembers him from when he was nineteen and incredibly naive and annoying. It's an odd, but nice thought.

"My friends did like you, though," Nick says.

"They must have a pretty low bar, then," Louis says.

"Louis," Nick says. "Did you have fun?"

"Yes," Louis says. "I had fun, okay. Your friends were nice."

Nick grins wide. Louis looks out the window at rain-covered London and smiles to himself.

Honestly, he probably would have lied anyway, just to see Nick happy, but he's glad he didn't have to. He felt mildly awkward at first, and he's not sure if he meshes that well with Nick's friends, but he liked them. He'd have dinner with them again, and not just for Nick's sake.

He wonders if he could maybe follow some of them on Twitter or Instagram. Or if he could follow Nick. It would probably be too obvious, but he's not sure how much he cares about that anymore. People would never figure out the whole truth of it. Even when they come out some day, if they do, the private stuff will still be theirs.

He thinks about posting a picture of Pig on his Instagram one day. It gives him a little thrill.

It's a bit scary, too, considering coming out, but he's been doing it a lot lately, and it's slowly starting to settle in. He'll have to talk to Nick about it at one point when he's ready. Or maybe before that, even. He probably doesn't have to wait to be a hundred percent ready to discuss it with Nick. It might take a while.

He can at least follow Nick's friends on Snapchat; he'll just have to ask Nick for their usernames and if they're okay with it. It'd be nice to see that part of Nick's life, in a way. He'll have to figure out the boundaries of it, but he really thinks he could be friends or something like that with at least some of them.

His stomach growls loudly, interrupting his thoughts.

"Honestly, can we get something to eat?" he asks. "It was like veggie overload. Not really for me."

Nick sighs. "What do you want?"

"Domino's?" Louis asks. "I really am starving."

"We'll have to do dinner at ours next, then," Nick says. "So you won't starve."

Louis bites his lip. He's not against that idea, really. Also, he likes hearing Nick refer to it as their place.

"Okay," he says. "So. Domino's?"

"Fine," Nick says. "Domino's it is."

Louis smiles. "Love you."

"And don't forget it," Nick says, and then snorts.

Louis smiles. "Not planning on it," he says, and squeezes Nick's hand.

They get Domino's, a good medium size pizza with double cheese and pepperoni and have a feast in the bedroom.

Nick keeps saying he's too full, but still proceeds to eat two huge slices, all the while complaining about crumbs between the sheets.

"You have a cleaner," Louis says when they're done. "You're fine."

"It's just so messy," Nick says, voice slow with sleep. He has to be up in six hours. "Pizza in bed. You've corrupted me. How did you do it?"

"I have great power," Louis says. "I'm basically a god."

Nick mumbles something that sounds like agreement. He's lying on his stomach, hair all over the place, his glasses askew. Louis takes them off gently and pulls the sheets up over him.

He puts away the leftovers, and checks if the door's locked and everything is okay, before settling into bed with his phone. He drifts off between one email and the next, Nick calmly asleep next to him.

~

Louis wakes to Nick shifting around loudly.

He blinks his eyes open; it's pitch black in the room.

"Has the alarm gone?" he asks. It wouldn't be the first time he's slept through it, and has only barely registered Nick kissing his cheek in goodbye.

Nick shifts again, and then turns on the light. Louis squeezes his eyes shut again.

"Five more minutes," Nick says. Louis can feel him moving about.

When he opens his eyes, Nick's sitting up at the end of the bed. "You okay?" Louis asks. He assumed it'd be at least a three snooze morning for Nick.

Nick sighs. "Think I ate too much last night. Stomach's weird."

Louis turns over on his back and frowns. "From the pizza?"

"Maybe," Nick says. "Too much dairy."

"Sorry," Louis says. He feels a bit guilty. He's only a bit full himself from last night, pleasantly so. He pushes himself up and crawls over to Nick, wrapping an arm around his chest from behind.

"Not your fault," Nick says. "I was just being a pig."

"Hey," Louis says. "None of that. Also, don't use 'pig' as an insult, you'll hurt our Pig's feelings."

"She's not even in the room," Nick says.

"She's got super dog hearing," Louis says.

Nick exhales a laugh, his body shaking against Louis.

"How bad is it?" Louis asks. "Do you feel sick?"

"Nah, I'm fine," Nick says. "It's just a bit annoying. I'm being dramatic."

Nick's alarm goes off then, and Louis jumps. A commotion starts outside the door as Pig realises they're awake.

Nick groans. "Shit."

"I'll get it," Louis says, and drops a kiss to Nick's shoulder. "I'll let her out. You go take a shower. Might make you feel better. How long have you been up anyway?"

"Long enough to go through my Twitter and Instagram feed," Nick says.

Louis makes a sympathetic noise. "You could've woken me."

"What for?" Nick asks. He stands up and stretches, running a hand over his stomach. "Go let Pig out before she wees in the house."

"She's not going to wee in the house," Louis says, but he gets up anyway, ghosting a hand over Nick's hip as he heads for the door.

Pig is ecstatic to see him, as she always is, twirling around. The rest of the house feels unexpectedly cold, like a frost has broken over night. Louis regrets not putting on a jumper or socks, his bare feet cold on the wooden floors. He hurries to the back door, Pig running after him, probably thinking it's a game.

She stops once Louis opens the door, though, and sniffles.

"Go on then, Pig dog," Louis says.

She looks at him like she thinks he's out of his mind.

"Oh, come on," he says. "Out with you."

She takes a step back and whines. Louis sighs, remembering Nick saying that Pig despises cold weather.

"Just a quick wee," he says, and tries to very gently nudge her out the door. She won't budge, though, making a very displeased sound. "It's not that cold."

He tries to push her again, but she's surprisingly hard to move when she sets her mind to it.

He sighs, and gives up, closing the door. "Fine, you can go later. Just don't wee in the house, for god's sake."

She gives a little huff, snuffling against his legs in thanks.

"Yeah, yeah," he says, and pats her head. "Let's go get some breakfast, yeah?"

She absolutely knows the word 'breakfast', because she heads right for the kitchen. Louis snorts and goes to get something to warm him up. He finds a jumper that looks like one of his own on one of the sofas in the living room and pulls it on. He can't even remember bringing that particular jumper over. He wonders idly if they should just move in together, since they keep throwing their things around all over the place. He quickly pushes the thought away. It's too soon, no matter how his stomach leaps at the idea.

He toes his feet into a pair of slippers he finds lying about and joins Pig in the kitchen. He has a plan and the plan is to make Nick some tea.

Louis pauses when he spots something at the very back of the shelf he didn't expect. There's usually not much variety amongst the teas in Nick's cupboards since he prefers coffee. At some point, though, Nick has bought both ginger and peppermint tea. Louis picks one of the boxes up carefully, something warm blooming in his chest.

By the time Nick is done in the shower, Louis has two mugs of tea ready and cooling. Yorkshire for him and peppermint for Nick.

Nick wanders in, dressed in jeans and a soft t-shirt, his hair looking like he's just washed it.

"Hey," Louis says, and pushes Nick's mug towards him on the counter. "Here you go."

Nick looks at the mug. "What's that?"

"It's peppermint tea," Louis says. "Because you have peppermint and ginger tea. When did you get peppermint and ginger tea?"

"When you were on tour," Nick says. He picks up his mug. "I saw them in Waitrose and just bought them. Reminded me of you."

"That's terribly soppy," Louis says. He's delighted. "How are you feeling? You're not nauseous, are you? I would've done you a ginger tea then. I googled it."

"Of course you did," Nick says, blinking. "So, no coffee?"

"Wouldn't be good for your stomach," Louis says. "The tea will help."

"I'm fine," Nick says. He looks tired and a bit pale, his face pinched.

"You don't look fine," Louis says bluntly.

Nick sighs. "It's not even six in the morning yet, and my stomach hurts. Excuse me for not looking my best."

"Not what I meant," Louis says. "Obviously."

Nick takes a sip of his tea and sets it back down on the counter. "Pig had her wee?"

"Refused to go outside," Louis says. "Too cold."

Nick looks down at Pig sitting at his feet. "Pig dog."

"I'll try again later," Louis says. "She hasn't weed in the house yet, so."

"Don't forget to feed her later either," Nick says. His stomach growls loudly; he shifts his weight and makes a face.

"I won't," Louis says. He reaches out and presses a hand to Nick's stomach.

Nick takes a step back. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to help," Louis says. "Your stomach muscles are all tense."

Nick sighs. "I don't need a belly rub, thanks. I'm not Pig."

Louis goes up on his tiptoes and presses a kiss to the corner of Nick's mouth. "Love you," he says, and rests his hand on Nick's stomach again. It feels hard to the touch, and a bit bloated. He wants to make Nick feel better.

Nick rolls his eyes, but Louis can tell he's fighting a smile.

"I just feel bad," Louis says, and gives Nick's stomach a few gentle rubs. "Shouldn't have made you get the pizza."

"You were hungry," Nick says. "Daisy's food didn't suit you."

"I was too nervous to eat, actually," Louis admits. Nick makes him want to admit things. "It went well, right? You had a good time?"

"I had a great time," Nick says softly, and wraps his arm around Louis's shoulder. Louis slips his hand under Nick's t-shirt for better access.

"Wow," Nick says. "For once, your hands aren't fucking freezing."

"It's a miracle," Louis says, and continues rubbing Nick's belly. "Wish you didn't have to leave already."

Nick sighs, his body starting to relax under Louis's touch. "I don't have anything till tonight, at least. Will you stay here? Be here when I get back from the radio?"

"Of course," Louis says. "I'm not going anywhere before I've had a few more hours of sleep."

"I feel all special," Nick says. "Fuck, I have to go if I don't want to be late."

He disentangles himself from Louis and smoothes his shirt over.

"Wait, you barely had time to drink your tea," Louis says. He pulls Nick's cupboard open, and gets out a travel mug. It's not Nick's favourite one, so it doesn't taste that much of coffee. He carefully pours the tea into it and hands it to Nick.

Nick accepts it with a raised brow.

"Drink it," Louis stresses. "I swear it'll help."

"Alright," Nick says, and brushes a kiss against Louis's forehead. "Thanks."

"Have a good day at work," Louis says.

"Have a nice nap while I'm working," Nick says, heading for the front door.

"Oh, I'm planning on it," Louis says, following him. "A good four more hours of sleep."

Nick shakes his head. "I hate you. Despise you."

"Love you, too," Louis says, and blows him a kiss.

Nick blinks back at him, and does some kind of weird hand movement as if he's trying to catch it.

Louis bursts out laughing. "Oh my god. What was that?"

Nick points at him. "Listen. I'm going to be late for work."

"That's not my fault," Louis says, grinning.

"You're horribly distracting," Nick says. "Fuck, I have to go." He grabs his keys and his coat, and darts in for a brief kiss. "Love you," he whispers against Louis's mouth. "See you later."

"Yeah," Louis says. "You will."

~

Louis doesn't actually go back to bed after Nick leaves. He manages to finally coax Pig outside, even though she looks incredibly betrayed, and then gives her breakfast as a reward. He gets himself some cereal, grabs his tea, and sits down at the kitchen table to go through his texts and emails while listening to Nick on the radio.

Nick skips appearing on Adele's show, but he sounds cheerful enough in his first link.

There's a bit of banter about the weather, the fact that it's almost December, and everyone's holiday plans. Louis listens to it with half an ear, drinking his tea and answering some quick emails. He gets bored of that soon enough, and switches to Instagram.

"Excuse me," Fiona says loudly on the radio. "Are you having coffee in the studio?"

Louis snorts, and keeps scrolling through his Instagram feed.

"It's not coffee, actually," Nick says. "It's peppermint tea."

"Tea?" Fiona asks, sounding incredulous.

"You're having tea in the morning?" Tina asks.

"You've never not had coffee," Fiona says.

Nick laughs. "Not never," he says.

"Why no coffee?" Tina asks.

"Because I had too much pizza last night right before bed, and woke up feeling horrible. Not the best idea, really."

"So you're having tea," Fiona says.

"Peppermint tea," Nick says primly. "My boyfriend made it for me."

It takes Louis a second to realise what Nick has said. He pauses with his mug to his lips, eyes going wide. Oh.

There's a brief silence in the studio, and then Fiona demands in a strange voice, "Your boyfriend?"

"Uh," Nick says. There's a long pause. "Yeah, my boyfriend." He laughs. It's only the slightest bit strained. "God, what's with the tone? Can't my boyfriend do something nice for me?"

"Of course he can," Fiona says. Her voice sounds a bit different now, careful. Louis wonders what's going on in the studio. "Absolutely."

"Right," Nick says. "Anyway, what do we have coming up on the show? Oh, right, we have a busy show this morning, don't we?"

He jumps right into reciting the list of the people they're going to have on the show. Louis isn't really listening any more. He stares at his mug, his heart beating a bit faster. Wow.

On the radio Nick puts on the new Drake song. Louis's phone buzzes a moment later.

Sorry sorry sorry. It just slipped out

Wait are you asleep? Did I wake you up?

no, I was listening, Louis says, and watches the three dots disappear and then appear again.

Good bc I just realised how freaked out you might have been if you'd woken up to that text, SORRY

Fuck I'm sorry

Louis drinks the last sip of his tea before typing back, It's okay. It's fine really xx

Are you sure? I really didn't mean to x

Louis chews on his lip, trying to figure out what exactly he's feeling. He's not angry, and he's not disappointed in Nick or anything. He's a bit caught off guard, but mostly he's just not very bothered. Maybe that's the weird part.

He types back, Yeah, it's fine. It's not like you said my name or anything. That would have sucked. Obviously

He sends off another text before Nick gets the chance to respond. Does your team know about us?

Only tina and fiona know, Nick says. The rest just know I'm seeing someone. Is that okay?

Louis chews on his lip.

Of course it's fine, he says. They're your friends.

They wouldn't tell, Nick says. I made fiona swear on her life. She can be a blabbermouth, but she gets how important this is

It's alright, Louis says. Don't worry about it, focus on the show ok? We can talk about it later it's okay

Nick sends him back five embarrassed emojis, three heart emojis, a sick emoji and one of two boys holding hands. Nick is great at emojis. Louis considers him an inspiration, even though he wouldn't tell Nick that. Can't let it go to his head.

He sends back three kissy face emojis, one heart-eye one, one of the monkey covering his mouth, and one of an octopus just because.

Nick's back on air by then, talking about the live lounge Clara is going to have later. Louis turns the volume down a bit and calls his mum.

He hasn't spoken to her properly in a few days, and he really misses her right now.

She picks up on the third ring, sounding a bit breathless. "Hi, love."

"Hiya, mum," Louis says. "You alright?"

"Fine, fine," she says. "How are you? You're calling awfully early. Everything alright?"

"Everything's fine," he says. "Just a bit hard to sleep in when your boyfriend has to leave before six."

"Aww," she says. "Did he spend the night?"

"Um, I'm at his, actually," he says. "It's a lot closer to his work, so."

His mother hums, sounding distracted. "That's nice."

"He mentioned me earlier actually," Louis says. "On the radio. Like, not by name, but still. Did you hear?"

"Oh, no, darling, I haven't had time to listen today. Ernest made a bit of a mess this morning."

"Everything okay?" he asks.

"Oh yeah, of course," she says. "I'll have to listen back, though, if he mentioned you."

"I mean, you don't have to," he says.

"I want to," she says. "How do I do that? There are those apps, right?"

Louis smiles. "I'll find a link and send it to you."

"You do that," she says. "What did he say?"

"Nothing important," Louis says, dragging his finger over the faint mark his mug has left on the table. "It wasn't planned or anything. I'd made him tea, and someone asked him about it and he said his boyfriend had made it."

"Well, that's nice," she says. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah," he says. "I mean, he didn't mention my name or anything. So it's fine. It was a bit unexpected, though. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you." He pauses, picking at his lip. She waits him out. "It's just—I thought I'd be more scared or worried or something, you know? But I'm not, really."

"That's great to hear, love."

"I think he feels quite bad about it," Louis says. "Because it wasn't planned."

"He sounds really sweet," she says. "You should bring him around."

"I want to," he says. "He's just really busy. But he said something about Christmas, or, like, my birthday or something."

"Aw," she says. "That's lovely."

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, it is."

"Is this why you called, love?" she asks.

"I suppose so," he says. "I don't know, I just wanted to tell you. Anyway, I should let you get back to your morning."

"You know you can always call me, love."

"I know," he says. "I'll talk to you later, yeah? I'll call you tonight. Love you."

"Love you too," his mum says. "And send me that link then."

"Will do," he says. "Say hi to everyone for me."

"I will," she says. "Talk to you soon, love."

"Bye," he says, and ends the call. He notices he's gotten several texts in the meantime.

The first one he clicks on is from Niall.

Heard nick mentioned you on the radio!

Louis squints at his phone.

Why the fuck are you up this early?

You two sound proper cute, Niall says. Was it planned like that?

Louis chews on his cuticle. No, he types. not like he mentioned my name tho

Yeah I just thought I'd check, Niall says. Like, if I'd missed something

Louis doesn't point out that their management would absolutely talk to all of them several times over if there was any plans in motion about Louis coming out. He knows that's not really what Niall meant.

You haven't missed anything, Louis says. Had dinner with nick's friends yesterday though

How'd that go?

I was threatened several times with bodily harm if I hurt him

Sounds like it went pretty well then

Louis snorts. Yeah, it was good

I'm really happy for you mate, Niall says. I've told you, yeah?

Louis swallows against a sudden lump in his throat. Fuck's sake.

Stop being soppy

Thanks tho

For everything, you know

Aww you're gonna make me cry, Niall says.

Louis snorts. Fuck you

There it is, Niall says. Love you too, talk later, yeah?

Sure, yeah, Louis says.

His phone buzzes again, Harry this time.

When's the wedding?

Louis rolls his eyes. You hoping to be best man or smth?

Obviously, Harry says.

You'll have to fight niall

He adds Niall to the conversation and says, Harry wants to take your spot as best man

What??? Niall sends. I'll show him

I meant I'll be Nick's best man, Harry says.

Oi!!! Louis sends, pouting.

He picks up his tea, and heads for the sofa, Pig following. He settles down and drapes a blanket over his legs, snuggling into the cushions. Pig jumps onto the sofa and curls up next to him.

What about Liam? Niall's asked in the meantime, moving over to their group text.

What about me? Liam sends after a moment.

What's happening?

Why the fuck are you all up so early?

Louis rests his phone against his forehead and laughs. His heart feels incredibly light.

~

Louis is lounging on the sofa with Pig stretched out besides him when Nick gets home.

Pig's ears perk up when the front door goes and she's off in a flash, running towards the hall.

Louis draws the blanket up and sinks further into the sofa, waiting for Nick to come into the living room. He was almost ready to fall asleep, fancying an early afternoon nap, but now there's something swirling in his belly, affection and excitement and a bit of nervousness.

Everyone knows Nick's taken now. That Nick has someone to make him tea at five in the morning when he's feeling poorly. Louis's had quite a while to think about it, and that's mostly where he's ended up. That's what he likes to focus on.

"Hey," Nick says, appearing at the living room door. "Has Pig been out?"

"Not since the morning," Louis says.

"Okay," Nick says. "I'll take her out for a quick walk then."

Louis chews on his lip, tearing at the dry skin. He can't get a proper read on Nick's expression. "Right now?" he asks. "You could just let her outside for a moment."

Nick blinks and his face softens. "Alright," he says. He looks down at Pig. "Hear that, Pig dog? You'll have to wait for your proper walk. We'll go later, yeah?"

Pig pants up at him, clearly happy with anything. Louis loves seeing how much Pig adores Nick. Nick's so good to her.

"Alright then," Nick says, letting Pig out the back door before heading for the kitchen. "Do you want anything to eat?"

"No, I'm good," Louis says. He's too comfortable under the blanket. Now he just has to get Nick to join him.

Nick wanders back into the living room with a glass of water, and gazes out at the garden, keeping an eye on Pig.

"She's fine," Louis says. "I know you're worried about her digging her way out of the garden and running away or something like that, but she won't."

Just then Pig scratches at the door, and Nick goes to let her in, looking obviously relieved.

"See," Louis says. "She'd miss you too much to ever leave."

"She'd miss me feeding her," Nick says, petting Pig's head. "Wouldn't you, Pig?"

Pig snuffles at his hand, then turns and goes to find a toy to bring Nick.

"How was work?" Louis asks. "Are you feeling better?"

"Oh, yeah," Nick says, absently brushing a hand over his stomach. "Loads."

"Good," Louis says, glad. "My tea was magic."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Sure."

"You seemed to enjoy it, at least," Louis says. "Drinking it in the studio."

Nick winces, which is not at all what Louis meant to do.

"Hey," he says. "I didn't mean anything by that."

"I'm sorry," Nick says.

"I'm not mad or anything," Louis says.

"Well, I am," Nick says. "At myself, obviously. I hardly ever slip up like that."

"You were tired," Louis says. "And feeling poorly. It was early as fuck. It's not like you said my name. All people know now is that you have a boyfriend."

"What if I had said your name?"

"But you didn't," Louis says.

"Still," Nick says, making a face. "I don't want you to have to worry that I'd just blurt it out."

"I have never worried about that," Louis says. "Even back when we just got together. I know I can trust you, okay? I also know that shit happens sometimes, but this wasn't that. Not at all. Not even close, okay?"

"Okay," Nick says. He still looks unsure. Louis understands his concerns, really. And it'd be a lot different if Nick had said his name or had accidentally hinted at him personally in anyway, but he didn't.

Louis doesn't want to focus on what ifs right now.

"I think I liked it," he says. "Like, you just casually mentioning me, because we're a proper couple and everything. I told my mum about it. I need to send her a link, she wants to hear it."

Nick's face goes through a series of expressions. "She wasn't listening?" he asks eventually.

Louis laughs. "I think she was giving Ernest a bath or something. She likes the show, though."

"Aw," Nick says. "That's nice."

"She wanted to know when she'd get to meet you. I told her you were pretty busy right now, but we were thinking Christmas."

"Yeah, we'll have to work out a schedule," Nick says. "It'd be really nice to meet her properly."

"I'm really excited about it," Louis says. "It'll be great. And my sisters will love you."

"And you can charm my dad with football talk," Nick says. "You can tell him all about your charity games and things. He'll be all proud I've found a boyfriend who's into footie."

Louis bites down on a smile. Nick's still standing in the middle of the living room, absentmindedly toying with his glass of water, entirely too far away from Louis.

"Why are you so far away?" Louis asks. "Come have a sit down."

"Are you sure you don't want lunch or anything?" Nick asks.

Louis wouldn't exactly say no to food, but that'd mean he'd have to move. He isn't getting up for any reason.

"I'm fine," he says. "Unless you're hungry?"

Nick shakes his head, running a hand over his stomach again. "Still full from breakfast. I had sausages at work."

Louis hums and holds up the edge of the blanket. "Come here, then. Have a cuddle. And take off those jeans, this sofa is a no skinny jeans zone."

Nick raises his eyebrows. "Is it?"

Louis nods. "Only trackies and jumpers allowed."

"What if I decide to go trouserless?"

"Would be allowed," Louis says.

Nick sets his glass down on the table and takes off his jeans, draping them over the end of the sofa. Louis beams and makes grabby hands at him. Nick rolls his eyes but sits down next to Louis and pulls the blanket over them both. Louis winds his arms around Nick's waist and presses his chin against Nick's shoulder.

"Clingy," Nick says. He doesn't sound like he minds, though.

"That's me," Louis says quietly. He takes a careful breath. "You can talk about me on the radio. If it's, you know, vague stuff like that. I didn't mind it."

"Are you sure?" Nick asks, his hand settling at the base of Louis's neck. "I don't have to, at all."

"I wouldn't mind if you did," Louis says again.

"You said you liked it?" Nick asks.

Louis nods against Nick's shoulder before looking up at him. "It was nice," he says. "It was a bit of a surprise, of course, but when I had a proper think about it, it was nice, really."

Nick looks at him carefully. "The press will all start to dig in, try to figure out who I'm talking about."

Louis shrugs. "They'll probably pick one of your friends at random." The thought doesn't sit well with him, but he can explore that later. That's not on Nick. He trails his fingers over Nick's stomach, contemplative. "They'll all know eventually, I suppose. I don't know. I just don't want you to worry about censoring yourself. Not anymore."

"I wasn't censoring myself," Nick says. "I was just keeping my private life private. Which I can still do."

"Well, I'm just saying," Louis says. "I'd be okay with you talking about your boyfriend sometimes." He leans away from Nick, and looks at where Pig's lying in the middle of the room, a ball abandoned in front of her. "I suppose I like the idea of people knowing you're seeing someone."

"I'll think about it," Nick says. "I'll have to figure out what I feel comfortable saying and what I'm not."

"Okay," Louis says. "I just don't want you to feel like I'm still making you hide."

Nick buries his hand in Louis's hair, his fingers light and comforting. "You know, I've been thinking about something."

"Dangerous," Louis says.

"Been thinking a lot, actually."

"Even more dangerous."

"Shut up," Nick says. He's not looking at Louis, but he's still playing with Louis's hair. If he was anyone else Louis would have pushed him away already. He likes cuddles, but he's not that fond of people touching his hair. "I'm trying to figure out how to say this."

"What is it?"

"This just reminded me of it."

"Nick," Louis says. "What is it?"

Nick finally looks at him. "I wish I had told you this before."

"Told me what?" Louis asks, impatient and slightly worried.

"That it would have been fine if you'd have never been ready to come out. If you hadn't wanted to."

Louis stares at him, utterly shocked. He has no idea what to say.

"But," he fumbles, "that wouldn't have been fair to you."

"Well, I mean, that's up to me to decide, isn't it?" Nick asks.

Louis shakes his head. "Nick."

"Look," Nick says. "I just think—I kept saying it was okay that you weren't ready yet. I should have said it was okay if you never were."

"Nick," Louis says again, voice coming out rough.

"I just hate to think that you felt guilty about it. I'm sorry if I didn't make it clear enough. That it was up to you, and I would have, like, supported you anyway."

Louis looks at him. There's a rush of emotions inside him, but the only feeling he can pinpoint for sure is intense fondness. He leans in and brushes a kiss against Nick's temple.

"You never made me feel guilty," he says. "Not ever."

Louis had felt guilty, but it had never been due to Nick. Never Nick.

"Also," he says, "that would never have worked. Not really."

Nick looks at him. "I mean it, though. Like I said, I've been thinking."

Louis swallows against a sudden lump in his throat. "Thanks."

Nick settles his hand on Louis's knee. His thumb rubs over the blanket covering them both, picking at a thread.

"I know we talked about you coming out," he says. "But I didn't really have, like, context for it. How was it really?"

Louis shrugs. "It was alright, I suppose. Went fine. It's been fine. It's a process. Never stops, does it?"

"No, I suppose it doesn't," Nick says.

"It's like," Louis says. "I was afraid how the lads would react, right? I didn't know how they'd react, and that's what made it more scary. But I should have figured out that more than anything they'd be disappointed, you know?"

Nick makes an inquisitive noise, and slips his arm around Louis's shoulders. Louis leans into him.

"They were disappointed since I'd hidden this huge part of my life. They would have been fine with it if I'd told them from the start, but I fucked myself over, didn't I. And you. Ruined stuff for you."

Nick squeezes Louis's shoulder. "See, there it is again. You weren't ready. It's okay that you weren't ready."

Louis shakes his head. "But it would have been better if I had been."

"But you weren't," Nick says. "And you didn't ruin anything for me. I've told you that before, at least."

Louis bites down on his lip, breathing in.

"You need to stop," Nick says. "You need to stop beating yourself up for it. It's in the past."

"I'm still scared sometimes," Louis admits. "When I think about coming out."

Nick pulls Louis closer, kisses his hair. "That's okay, love," he says, voice soft. "I'm scared sometimes too."

Louis closes his eyes and rests his head against Nick's shoulder, feeling impossibly safe.

It's barely noon. There's been way too many emotions already this morning. He didn't expect their talk to lead here again, but maybe it's good, in a way. To share more of what he's been thinking about or feeling.

And Nick's here, warm and comforting, and Louis is almost overwhelmed by how much he cares for him.

Louis takes a deep breath. "Even if I came out publicly, it wouldn't really stop, would it? Having to come out to people?"

"Not completely, I suppose," Nick says. "Have you thought about it? If you don't want to then that's okay too."

"I want to," Louis says. "I mean, I'm not like super fucking excited about the idea or anything. But I want to."

"You sure?" Nick asks.

Louis nods. "I've thought about it." He's thought about it a lot.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Yes," Louis says. "Later, though."

"Alright," Nick says. He takes out his phone with his free hand, and Louis realises Nick's been ignoring it since he got home.

"Anything interesting?" Louis asks.

"Aimee bought this sick lamp for the nursery," Nick says. "Pixie wants to know when I can do lunch. Nothing much."

Louis hums. He likes hearing about Nick's friends. He likes that Nick didn't mention the loads of Twitter mentions he probably has, asking him who he's dating, or the articles that have probably been written.

He sighs and straightens up, Nick's hand slipping off his shoulder and settling on his back. "I don't want to get up," he says.

"Then don't," Nick says.

"I really need a wee," Louis says sadly. He's been trying to ignore it, since he's so comfortable and warm and sleepy.

"Well, in that case."

"What if I just don't?" Louis asks.

"Please don't wee on my sofa," Nick says.

"Well, Pig's allowed to," Louis says.

"She's really not," Nick says. "And you're not Pig. Even though you sometimes look like her."

Louis blinks. "How do I look like Pig?" He can't figure out if he should be offended or not.

"I don't know," Nick says. He squints at Louis. "Something about, like, your face." He waves his hand around. "Your general aura."

"I have a dog aura," Louis says slowly.

Nick huffs. "If you're not going to listen, I'm not going to explain."

Louis snorts. "You're ridiculous," he says. "I love you."

"You say that a lot," Nick says.

Louis shrugs, looking away. "I mean it a lot."

He pushes the blanket off him and gets up, but Nick stops him, taking Louis's hand. His face has gone all soft again. "Hey."

Louis gives him a little smile, and rolls his eyes. "I thought I'd never get to say it, alright," he says. "But now I do. So, it's more selfish than anything, really."

Nick squeezes his hand. "You're an idiot," he says. He sounds so fond when he says it, Louis can't almost bear it.

"And I really need a wee," Louis tells him, very seriously.

Nick laughs, and pushes him away. Louis heads to the bathroom, feeling tiredness still pull at him, his head full of thoughts.

It's a lot, sometimes, all the things he wants to tell Nick. All the things he's willing to tell Nick, because he knows Nick will listen.

He stares into the mirror while washing his hands, properly looks at himself. Tries to mentally compare himself to what he looked like only a few months ago. The bags under his eyes seem smaller, his face fuller. He realises his trousers haven't been sagging lately. It's a nice realisation.

He runs his fingers through his fringe, trying to shape it into something decent, but then leaves it. It doesn't matter how proper he looks at home.

Nick's on his phone when Louis gets back, Pig having taken the spot next to him. He looks up when Louis comes in, gives him a grin. "Think you'll have to fight Pig for your spot."

Louis shakes his head, and settles down on Nick's other side instead, wedges himself between Nick and the sofa arm. He still really wants a nice nap. He wonders if he can convince Nick to come have a kip with him in their bed.

He settles his hand on Nick's back, starts tracing patterns. Nick leans quietly into the touch.

"It's about control," Louis says eventually.

"What is?" Nick asks. "Pig?"

"Coming out."

Nick turns off his phone screen, and looks at him. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis says. "Like, I trusted my family and I trusted the lads to not say anything, and I trusted you, but it still meant giving up some of the control? And I definitely couldn't control how people reacted, and I, like, need that. Which is maybe a bit fucked up."

"Understandable, though," Nick says. "I mean, it's a big deal. It's your life, it affects you."

Louis shrugs. "I've tried to work past it. Like, in my personal life." Having so many of Nick's friends know has sort of helped with that, since he doesn't know them well enough to even be aware of all of their thoughts or opinions on it. It's different from having to tell his own friends.

Nick reaches out and takes Louis's hand again. Louis loves how much he's been doing that lately.

"Anyway," he says. "When it comes to coming out publicly, I want to be in control of that story. I don't want it to be some thing where we get caught holding hands and then it all spirals from there and people think I'm hiding just because I'm ashamed or they think it's something they can hold over me. I need to be in control of that story." He looks over at Nick. "I mean, we. Together."

Nick runs his thumb over Louis's knuckles, face contemplative.

"It's up to you," he says. "It'll be your coming out."

"But I want your opinions," Louis says. Nick's not meeting his eyes. "Once I'm going to really start planning it. I don't know when that'll be, but. You'll be there, right? I want to come out with you."

Nick looks up at that, his face softening. He leans in and kisses Louis softly.

"That's a yes, right?" Louis mumbles.

Nick laughs. "That's implied, yes."

"Good," Louis says. "Good."

"I love you too," Nick says. "I know I don't say it as often."

"You don't have to," Louis says. "I'm probably being, like, really obnoxious with it."

"No," Nick says. He runs his hand through Louis's hair, scratching lightly at his scalp. If Louis was a cat, he'd be purring. "You're not. It's nice to hear. Like, really nice."

"Sounds believable," Louis says. He does believe it, though. Nick's shit with words, just like Louis can be, but when he's truly sincere you can see it a mile away.

"Didn't you have work tonight?" Nick asks.

"Writing session," Louis says. "I moved it."

"Why?"

"Because there's no rush," Louis says. "And I don't want to force it. Liam agreed."

Nick hums. "Alright."

"It just seemed pointless," Louis says, rubbing his cheek against Nick's shoulder. "To be there when I could be here, you know. Since you have the evening off."

"Did it?" Nick asks.

Louis closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. "I would have just been missing you."

Nick squeezes his shoulder. "Would've been pretty distracting, I suppose."

Louis hums. "Wouldn't have been able to concentrate at all."

"Maybe you could have written me a song," Nick says. He sounds like he's joking, maybe.

Louis bites his lip, and carefully doesn't think about the lines he's already put down, the ideas for several songs sitting in his notes. He's a bit nervous about showing them to Nick one day, but excited, too. When he's finished them, though. When he's less worried that he'll come off too strong. Then again, that ship has probably sailed. And he feels like Nick would love having songs written about him.

"Anyway," Louis says, and rubs at his eyes. "I was going to take a nap when you were at work, but it didn't really work out."

"I could go for a nap," Nick says.

"Excellent," Louis says. "I'm so glad you have the night off. You deserve a break."

"I'm pretty sure if you had your way I'd never be doing any work," Nick says, sounding amused.

"That's exactly right," Louis says, ending the sentence on a yawn.

"Want to head to bed?" Nick asks.

Louis shuffles down and rests his head on Nick's chest. "Let's stay here for a little bit."

"Yeah?" Nick asks, brushing a kiss against Louis's hair.

"Yeah," Louis says, and closes his eyes. "I'm good here."

[End.]