Rating: overall NC-17
Summary: Harry’s an alcoholic and Louis is a bartender. The first time they meet isn’t the first time they’ve met.
Disclaimer: Hilariously untrue. I own nothing but the order in which the words were placed.
A/N: Hi! So, as always, feedback is much appreciated. Also, this is not the last chapter. It’s the second to last. :( The last one is gonna be a bit of a monster. It’s quite long. This has not been proofread yet, but I need to get back to work. Please forgive any mistakes. xxx
Louis is livid, absolutely appalled by Harry’s behaviour. The minute the taller boy is out of sight, the shorter is spinning on his heel, looking at his friends around the table, and he’s even more confused by their reactions.
Liam’s moved over to stand behind Zayn, one hand on his fiancé’s shoulder and the other pinching the bridge of his nose. He breathes deeply, clenching and unclenching his hand on the fabric of Zayn’s shirt slowly. Zayn’s posture is casual as he stares at the open door. He’s leaned back in his chair, one hand reaching to grab Liam’s and his other twitching on the table in a way Louis knows means he’s just itching for a cigarette. And then there’s Niall. His eyes reach Niall to find him already looking into his own blue eyes expectantly, like he expects Louis to do something, say something, fix it.
Louis hesitates just a moment longer, “What the fuck was that?” he spits. He’s fuming, absolutely fuming because he doesn’t understand.
Liam sighs heavily, like he’s breathing out a lot more than air, and squeezes his eyes closed one more time before raising his honey brown eyes to meet Louis’ blue. “Louis,” he starts, dropping his gaze, “You should probably follow him.”
“Or not,” Niall adds quietly.
Louis’ gaze flicks between the two boys silently, trying to understand. He looks over to Zayn and if it weren’t for how tightly his jaw is set, it would look like he’s zoned out completely for how still he is. “Or not,” Louis echoes, “He’s been a miserable twat all day,” he grumbles as he crosses his arms over his chest, and it sounds more hurt than angry.
“Louis-” Liam starts but is quickly cut off by the chair in front of him scraping against the kitchen floor and tapping his stomach as Zayn stands up quickly.
“Goin’ for a fag,” he mumbles, slipping out the sliding balcony door and not looking back.
It’s silent, so silent that Louis can count his heartbeats; the breaths coming from a slightly congested Niall, the ticks of a wall clock still set an hour and three minutes off-time that hangs over the stove filter through his ears before he’s tugging at the sleeves of his jumper.
“What is going on?” his voice is low but firm because they’ve done this before. They get that look in their eyes, a nostalgic shimmer that shines over Louis’ face with frustrating rays of days he can’t remember, and it isn’t fair.
Liam meets his stare for only a moment. “Louis, I-,” he clears his throat, “There’s a lot you don’t, don’t know about Harry.”
Louis clenches his teeth at the sharp tug in his stomach. “Apparently,” he says quietly. He brings both hands up behind his head to run his fingers through the hair at the back of his head and then grips tightly. He takes one more look at his friends before turning sharply and walking out still-open front door, makes one left turn, and walks down to his and Niall’s flat.
It’s when he steps through the door, though, that he’s hit with the realisation of how much the flat isn’t his. The entry hall flooring is a strange linoleum tile that’s barred at the beginning of the living room carpet instead of the dark-stained wood floors that line Harry’s flat. The kitchen is white and lifeless and makes him ache with an overwhelming feeling of temporariness because he’s become so used to a kitchen with red walls and stainless steel appliances and a curly-haired boy in his boxer shorts cooking him breakfast. There aren’t any big windows or high ceilings, and his bed is made and smells nothing like Harry’s body wash. He wonders when he became so bloody used to him.
He shuts his bedroom door, ripping off his jumper and tossing it to the side. He strips his jeans as he walks and climbs into bed in just his boxers, breathing in the scent of not-Harry, and desperately ignores his mind’s mantra, declarations of ‘not good enough,’ because if Harry didn’t want him, he’d say so, wouldn’t he?
It’s not too long later when his door creaks open, and he doesn’t have to raise his head to know it’s Zayn. Liam would have knocked and Niall would have started talking the moment it was open. He hears the soft click of the door closing before the covers are being lifted and a hand is being placed on his back, pulling him into a strong embrace. He tucks his head under Zayn’s, in the crook of his neck, and breathes deeply. He smells like cigarette smoke and fabric softener, and Louis feels some of the tension leave him immediately.
He’s so lucky, he thinks. He and Harry have singlehandedly ruined the announcement of their best mate’s engagement, and yet half that relationship is in his bed and holding him like he’s the one that’s been wronged. He whimpers softly at that thought, bringing a hand around to hold onto Zayn’s shirt.
For a long time – maybe ten minutes, maybe an hour – they just lay there, and Louis can’t help but be thrown back to his younger teenage years, the ones he can remember. Suddenly he’s barely fourteen and his parents are fighting more and more, and his sexuality is getting harder and harder to ignore, and Zayn just wraps around him like a lazy vine soaking up Louis’ sunshine whenever he sees the older boy begin to wilt. He’s never had to ask, never had to explain because Zayn is Zayn, and, for as quiet as he can be, he’s got a heart as loud as lions.
“He’s such a prick,” Louis mumbles, his hot breath thick on Zayn’s collarbones.
Zayn pulls up one corner of his mouth in a small half-smile and brings the hand he tucked under Louis’ pillow around to card through the fine hairs at the nape of the older lad’s neck. “Can be, yeah,” he agrees softly.
“Remind me why you lot are friends with him?” He says it like it’s meant to be a joke, but Zayn just brings his hand down to rest at the dip of his shoulders, his thumb running lightly between them.
“He loves you,” he says quietly. Louis knows it isn’t the answer to his question, that Zayn probably didn’t even register what he had said, that it’s something the younger boy had planned to say before he stepped foot in his room.
“ ‘m not so sure,” Louis murmurs back like a confession or admission of guilt. Zayn doesn’t reply and Louis’ thankful for that. He’s not sure he has the energy to explain what he means, but maybe Zayn already knew that.
It’s quiet then, and they don’t move until Louis can actually feel the sun fall lower in the sky against his skin as it comes through the window. The room is alive with blue curtain-cast in odd shadows that Louis had forgotten he hated, and there’s a bird sat just outside singing some high-pitched song that makes his ears ring.
He closes his eyes tightly and imagines himself in Harry’s spare room with a cup of tea and his favorite blanket, curled up in that ratty, old recliner with the dustiest book he could find on the untouched shelves beside it. He can almost feel the way the bitter wind would push through the crack in that middle window, can almost see the way the curtains would float around it, can almost hear six strings strumming lightly by bare fingers to the slightly off-tempo beat of bare feet while pretty pink lips wrapped around words that could make his heart soar.
“I’m sorry,” he sighs, nuzzling deeper into Zayn.
“I’m sorry,” Zayn echoes, and it sounds more like an advance, a prelude, and Louis doesn’t understand, but he doesn’t say anything in return. Instead, they just lay there mutely, listening to the bird sing its high-pitched tune, and let their silence speak for them.
It’s half past nine by the time Zayn shows up to the record shop. His footsteps fall like bombshells on the cold concrete and brick that leads to the front door. He’s got his cellphone in one hand and his spare key in the other, and he hopes like hell he’ll only have to keep one, but he doesn’t count on it.
He knows Harry, the ins-and-outs of him; he knows that Harry loves with all he is, that he carries the secrets he’s chained to with barbwire ties. He’s young and immature and irresponsible and fickle and frayed at the edges of his consciousness because he never asked for any of the darkness he holds. He feels deeply, and Zayn knows that some scars of the past years are etched more into his bones than his heart.
He takes a deep breath and unlocks the door with one hand and his phone with the other. He presses on the door and watches as it creaks backward easily. “Harry?” he calls out, “Harry, mate?” Frigid air clouds around him as it pours out the doorway. The store is dark, but Zayn knows he’s here. He wouldn’t go home, and he wouldn’t got to Mike’s. He’s surely not back at his, and he’s definitely not at Louis’. He hasn’t gone to see his mum, and he’d want to be alone. “Harry?” he tries one more time, his voice timid, strained, resigned.
“Fuck,” he breathes, stepping into the shop and pocketing his key. He smells it in the air, the confirmation of all his suspicion, fears. “Fuck,” he squeezes his eyes shut, but quickly rights himself, dialing 999. He listens to an operator ask him what service he needs and drops his head, his free hand cupping his forehead. “I need an ambulance,” he says firmly, “now.”
When he hangs up, he pockets his phone and fights the fireball of anxiety that’s settled at the back of his tongue. He is strong, has always been the strong one. So he raises his head and walks steadily around the counter and flips the light switch for when the paramedics arrive. He places his hand on the doorknob that leads to the back room and watches as the gold coloured metal fogs at the warmth of his hand. He swallows hard once and pushes the door open.
The lights are off and he can hear Coldplay’s album Parachutes playing quietly from a record player they have tucked into the farthest left corner by the vinyl. ‘We Never Change’ filters in an eerie passing echo, pushes through the still air with dull edges, and dares Zayn to step forward. He lifts his left hand to flick the switch he knows is there and watches as the room is flooded with violent florescent light.
He sees him then, leaned up against the record player in a half-slumped position on the floor. His back is curved awkwardly between the wall and ground, one knee bent upward and pressed to the wooden rack that hold old smooth jazz records and his other splayed out lifelessly. His chest is barely rising and falling in painfully long intervals. His eyes are closed, his whole body limp, his right hand wrapped loosely around the base of an empty bottle of vodka.
He looks nearly peaceful. His eyes are puffy, dark bags hanging beneath them, but his face is relaxed. His curls are frayed and scattered, but his mouth hangs open slightly like it does when he sleeps deeply enough to dream. His clothes are rumpled, his shirt stained down the front from where the drink probably dribbled from his lips and probably a bit from where he’d been sick beside himeslf. Zayn can’t help but wonder how slowly his heart is beating, if it’s just as tired as Harry is, if it’s just as ready, peaceful.
He isn’t sure how long he stands there, staring at his broken friend, but he breathes deeply through his nose when he hears sirens coming closer. It grows louder and louder until the room behind him flashes with colour and the siren rings through Zayn’s ears like a prayer and nearly drowns out the record player. He hears the sound of people shuffling outside the doors and takes one more look at the curly boy on the ground, how he looks like he’s floating, still peaceful, somewhere else. He wonders what plays behind his closed eyes, if Louis is there with him.