14.5 ~ The fine lines we knew
When he finally sees Niall again, it's the next night. He's been working late again, but this time Louis has stayed up, sitting out on the balcony and tapping his foot restlessly in the darkness. When the sliding glass door opens, Louis jolts in surprise, looking up to see Niall slipping out of the flat, his eyes finding Louis' right away.
Hey, he says softly, closing the door behind him. You alright? Zayn told me what happened. Louis nods and stands from his chair, making the few steps across the small area to slide into Niall's ready arms.
Yeah, he says, dropping his forehead onto Niall's shoulder. I think so. I don't really know. Niall's hand runs over his back and Louis thinks he might cry again, but he holds it in. He's cried enough lately.
Did something happen? Louis has made up his mind. He's going to be honest about the things he can, the things he knows. So, he sighs and leans back so he can look into Niall's eyes.
You kissed Josh, he says quietly, the night seeming almost silent around them. And I broke apart a little. Niall's eyes squint in confusion as he brings a hand up to the side of Louis' neck, cradling it as he searches Louis' eyes for some explanation.
What do you mean?
I mean that it hurt to see you kissing another boy because you don't kiss boys and I always thought that if you'd ever wanted to kiss a boy, it would be, you know, me. I mean that it fucked with my head for weeks and it still kind of is. Niall's eyes squint tightly shut like it hurts him to hear it, but it's time to do this. Louis knows it's time to finally say these things out loud and hope they don't ruin everything.
Louis, he breathes out, blinking open his eyes. Do you remember what happened the night after graduation? Do you remember how that all went down? Louis bites his lip, his heart speeding up because they've never talked about it, not even when they saw each other two days after it happened. They've never so much as said a word and now here it is, on the table.
Of course I remember, he whispers back, like it's a secret. Which it's sort of felt like for the last five years, something to be hidden away in the corners of Louis' mind.
I started it, I kissed you. I- I started it all, remember? He says, thumb grazing over the curve of Louis' neck. And when I woke up, you were throwing on your clothes and running out of my room like you couldn't stand to be there another second, do you remember that? Louis twists his lips because, no, he doesn't remember it quite like that.
You were, Louis, he interrupts. Louis lets him because he seems to need to get something out. He'll correct him later. You ran off and I knew I'd pushed too far and then, somehow, it didn't ruin our friendship. You came back and we were still us and I knew I'd dodged a bullet, so I let it be. Louis can hear his heartbeat in his ears as Niall's thumb moves up, tracing little circles behind his ear. Louis' arms feel numb where they hang over Niall's shoulders, but he doesn't move them, doesn't dare.
I've kissed other blokes, okay? He sighs out, eyes flickering down, away from Louis'. Since graduation, I mean, I've kissed boys because I thought maybe that was the thing that made it feel so right with you, but it never felt that way with any of them. Everyone I've dated, everyone I've kissed, it's all been in the hope that maybe I'll find someone who makes me feel the way you do. Before Louis can let any of that sink in, Niall shakes his head and looks up again, eyes glittering in the darkness. I've gone through phases over these past few years. Told myself it was just that we've always been so close, always loved each other, and that was all there was to it. Told myself it was just because it was graduation and we were excited. Louis recognizes some of this, has thought it himself. But I gave up on all of that after a while because two, three, four years later, you were still the only one who made me feel anything like that. So, yeah, I've wanted to a kiss a boy for a long time and, yes, it's always been you. Louis can only gape at him. He can't even think because that's too fucking much information and he feels like he might fall over from the weight of it. Instead, he hugs him close again, pressing his face into Niall's neck because he needs something to hold onto, to keep him up, and Niall has always been good at that. His hands are shaking where they're dug into Niall's shirt and, fuck, Louis needs more than just a minute to deal with all of this.
I- I can't right now, I- he stutters, squeezing his eyes tightly to block out the tears he knows are threatening to materialize.
Shit, that was too much, wasn't it? Niall answers, hiking Louis up to hold him so tightly that Louis thinks he might go short of breath. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-
No, Louis says, shaking his head into Niall's skin. I'm glad you did but I just- I just broke up with him and now this and I can't lose you, Niall. Despite his attempts against it, his eyes grow hot and his throat tightens. His fingernails scrape against the back of Niall's neck, grasping at him and clinging on like he might slip away just because it's out there now, all of the things that Niall has said.
Hey, you're not, you won't, Niall says quickly, not asking for clarification of the seemingly random thought. He doesn't ask because Niall was there to watch all of Louis' insecurities and fears form. He watched them bloom from single experiences, watched them in action as the flaws settled into Louis and became permanent parts of him.
Let's take a break, okay? He suggests, kissing Louis' shoulder. It's late and it's been a rough few days, so let's just get some sleep and we'll come back to it later, yeah? Louis agrees because he doesn't honestly trust himself to finish this conversation, to tell his own version of the events of their life tonight. His brain is so full of Niall's words, flashing big and bright, and he needs to let them shrink down into something manageable before he can respond. When they go inside, Niall stops in the hallway, glancing across at Louis' room, them toward his own. Louis doesn't hesitate in walking into Niall's room and climbing into his bed. He's only going to be able to calm down from this if he's got Niall's arms around him. He sees the blatant irony in that, but he doesn't give a shit.
The next day of work is hell. He's exhausted from not getting enough sleep and from everything weighing on his mind. His boss yells at him for forgetting to index the new clients and Louis has to bite his tongue not to tell him to go fuck himself. Instead he takes a walk around the block to calm down. It's just enough that he can come back in and do the indexing without screaming or crying. He falls asleep well before Niall gets home that night, too exhausted to stay awake, much less try to have a conversation about his stupid, mixed-up feelings. It's not until the next night, when he's just sat down with a microwaved frozen dinner and started flipping through the channels to find something worthwhile, that he finally sees Niall again. Louis has been trying to build up some momentum for the inevitable talk, but he's surprised when Niall growls as he throws himself against the door that's always stuck, no matter how much lubricant they put on it. He slams the door closed behind him, kicking it.
Stupid fucking door, he grits out, moving into the flat and dropping his keys noisily on the counter. Louis' eyes go wide because Niall almost never gets angry like this. He's one of the most laid-back people in the universe, so whatever it is, Louis is worried.
Hey, Louis says, dropping his meal onto the coffee table and staring up at Niall anxiously. What's wrong? When Niall's eyes fall to Louis, he seems to lose some of his aggression, his shoulders slumping. He's still clearly not happy, but at least he probably won't be punching any walls.
They fucking promoted me, he says before he turns to the kitchen. Louis can hear the refrigerator door, then sees Niall return to the room with a beer in his hand, lips set in a tight line.
Okay, Louis says slowly, furrowing his brow. And that's bad? I thought that was generally a good thing. Niall drops down next to him and Louis tucks his feet up under himself, turning toward him. Clearly, any conversation he'd been gearing himself up for will have to be postponed.
I'm twenty-three and I work in a fucking pizza shop and now, apparently, I'm the manager of a fucking pizza shop. He takes a swig of his beer and Louis drops his head against the back of the couch, waiting. Is that all I'm good enough for? Is that all I'll ever be? Louis' face falls because it hurts to hear that from his best mate, the person he loves more than anyone.
You're the best, Louis argues softly through his frown. You're good enough to be anything. It hurts more when Niall laughs at that, not even meeting Louis' gaze. He takes another sip from his beer, then looks up at the ceiling, huffing out a sigh.
And yet all I've achieved is being so good at flipping around dough that now I get to tell other people how to flip around dough. Louis frowns harder and scoots across the couch, lifting his arm over the back of it to hug Niall around his shoulders.
They didn't promote you because you're good at flipping dough, you arse. If that's all you were good at, they'd probably rather you kept doing it. They promoted you because you're responsible and hard-working. You don't show up stoned like Zayn and you don't forget to lock the door like that other bloke, Andy. They promoted you because you're good for more than flipping dough. Niall doesn't respond for a long moment. He drops his gaze from the ceiling and stares ahead of him and Louis can only sit and wait, squeezing his shoulder gently.
I just feel like I'll never get out now, he finally says, dropping his head back against Louis' arm, then rolling it until he's resting against Louis' shoulder.
You will, Louis says, pinching his arm lightly. We both will. Niall sighs again, picking his hand up and dropping it onto Louis' knee, his thumb moving over the denim of his jeans. Louis smiles and drops his chin onto the top of Niall's head, thinking that maybe he hasn't solved anything at all, but Niall at least seems calmer. Louis feels accomplished if only for that.
Want to find some terrible reality TV and I'll rub your shoulders? He asks softly. When Niall suddenly perks up and slides down off the couch, ripping off his shirt, Louis laughs loudly, suddenly feeling lighter than he has in days. Niall smiles up at him, like the laughter is almost contagious, and he elbows Louis' knee, tilting his head back to encourage him to move along. Louis smacks him on the back of the head, but slides in behind him, dropping his hands over Niall's bare shoulders as Niall flips through the channels. Anything he has to say can wait. He needs this, a night with his best mate where he doesn't have to try to sort through any of his feelings.
Niall has apparently understood all night, but when they're in the kitchen eating spoonfuls of cookie dough at 11 and Louis announces that he's going to bed, Niall pulls him back by the waist. Louis lets out a little `oof´ as he's pulled back against Niall's chest, but he doesn't struggle away, looking over his shoulder curiously.
I hope my work thing didn't get in the way of you saying anything you wanted to say to me, he says, holding Louis against him with his hand flat on Louis' belly. Louis looks down because he can't really see Niall from this position and he gets that that might be the point.
I think- I think more time would be good, maybe, Louis says, lifting his own hand to cover Niall's on his stomach.
Okay, Niall agrees quickly. As long as you're not, like, avoiding me, you can take as much time as you need. Louis doesn't even bother to address the avoidance thing because clearly he's not. They're pressed up against each other in a dark kitchen and they've spent the night together, being them, so that's obviously not an issue.
There's one thing I do want to say, I think, he adds before Niall lets him go. He likes the touch, the warmth from his hand seeping through to warm Louis' skin. Something you said that was wrong.
Hmm? Louis takes a deep breath and gets ready because, even though Niall had brought it up the other night, he's still not used to talking about it.
The morning after? He says, hoping Niall understands exactly what he's referring to.
Yeah? Niall answers, clearly knowing which morning Louis is talking about.
I didn't run out because I couldn't stand to be in the same room as you. I ran out because you were drunk that night and I wasn't and I thought you'd wake up and be, I don't know, pissed off or disgusted, you know? I didn't want to be there to see that. I didn't want to see you looking at me and remembering it and being grossed out by what we did. Niall exhales heavily and it spills over Louis' neck, making him shiver. After another beat, there are lips on his neck, light and comforting.
You're an idiot, he says into Louis' skin. And I was the opposite of grossed out by it. Louis doesn't have anything else to say so he just leans back against Niall for a while longer, frowning to himself when the lips pull away from his neck. Finally, he pats Niall's hand, still spread over his stomach.
I'm going to bed now, he says softly. Niall's thumb rubs over his shirt for a second before he drops his hand away.
Goodnight then, Tommo, he replies, practically whispering. Louis doesn't look back as he walks toward his bedroom, wondering where the line is at this point, if there even is one. It seems to have been rubbed away, just a smudge left in its place.
The next Saturday, Louis is home, waiting for Harry to show up. He'd texted the day before, saying he had some stuff of Louis' and asking when he could stop by. Louis had specifically picked a time when Niall would be at work, just in case. He's not in the business of pouring salt on the wounds of people he cares about and he suspects that this will go better if Niall isn't there. When he arrives, Louis smiles a hesitant smile, wanting to seem kind, but not wanting to overdo it. He's not happy about their break up, even if it's become clear that it was inevitable and ultimately for the best. Harry seems okay, though, if a little uncomfortable to be seeing him again.
Hey, come in, Louis says, holding the door open wide. Thanks for bringing the stuff by. You probably could have just pitched it. Harry smiles and shakes his head as he makes his way into the flat, Louis closing the door behind him.
It's mostly just shirts I nicked, he explains, holding out the bag with a sheepish grin. I nicked a lot of shirts. Louis laughs and takes it from him, glad that things between them aren't awful. He'd love to keep Harry in his life, but he thinks they both need some time before they figure that out. Louis needs some time to figure everything out.
Well, it's appreciated anyway, he says through his smile, looking down into the bag for a moment. I've got some stuff of yours, too. Can't be sure I got all of it, but I did a little sweep of the flat after you texted. He disappears into his room to grab the bag he'd filled with odds and ends Harry had left behind, the evidence of Harry's presence in his life for the past year and a half. It's mostly CD's and books and stuff, along with some toiletries he'd kept at the flat once he'd started staying over regularly. When he hands it over, Harry smiles a little, but it's a sad smile and Louis gets it. It's like twisting the knife, just to make sure the relationship is well and truly dead. Louis really does hate endings.
I'm glad it's him, you know, Harry finally says after a long moment of silence. If it was going to be someone else, I'm glad it's Niall. He lifts his gaze to Louis, head tilted to the side thoughtfully. I knew I'd never be able to compete against him for your affection, you know? Just never thought I had to. Louis frowns and fights his instinct to move in and hug him. It's probably too soon for that.
I'm sorry, he says because he doesn't know what else to say and apologies seem appropriate right now.
I know, Lou, he says, the corners of his lips twitching up. I'm just saying I'm glad it's him. Makes it easier knowing it wasn't really a fair fight. He was always going to win, so I know it's not about how I wasn't good enough. Louis is frozen for a moment before he's moving, no longer giving a fuck if it's too soon. He hugs Harry, gently enough that the boy can pull away if he wants to. He doesn't, though, and Louis exhales over his shoulder, trying to find the right words.
It most definitely was not about how you weren't good enough, he says lowly, letting his eyes fall shut. That's why this is so hard. You were perfect, Harry, really. You are perfect. After a minute, Louis finally pulls away, taking a step back to let Harry breathe. This was good, seeing him and talking to him. He might have needed it.
I have to get going, actually. Liam's waiting downstairs. Louis furrows his brow.
He could have come up, you know. I wouldn't have minded. Harry smiles, dropping his head and looking down into the bag in his hands.
I asked him not to, he says with a shrug. Just one of those things. Louis nods his understanding. If Liam had been there, they might not have said the things they did and those things are important. Louis is so, so glad they got to be said.
So, maybe I'll see you around? Harry says as he steps toward the door. Maybe even- I mean, maybe not today or tomorrow, but I think I'd even be okay hanging out with you and Niall eventually? Louis bites his lip, not knowing what to say to that. He thinks he knows what Harry means and he really doesn't have to go there, but the words slip out of his mouth anyway.
We're not dating or anything. Just so you know. I haven't really figured everything out yet. Harry stares at him like he's got two heads for a few seconds, then lifts a hand to cover his face, shaking his head back and forth.
You've got to be kidding me, he says, smiling under his hand. You're ridiculous, Louis. You know that, right? Louis shuffles his weight back and forth, not quite following what Harry's saying. Before he can guess, Harry goes on.
You spent weeks obsessing over him kissing another lad, you cried when- well, you know, he covers, graciously not bringing up the whole sex in the club toilets thing. You choose him in every decision you've ever made, Louis. It's always him and you bloody well know it's always going to be him, so what the hell are you waiting for? Louis could tell him. He could explain that he's waiting for it to hit, waiting for the fall. He could explain that he's waiting for the fear to pass, the one that makes him feel like he's drowning when he thinks about the inevitability of losing Niall if he goes for it. He could tell Harry all about how very fucked up he is and how he's lucky to have gotten away when he did. He doesn't, though. That's his shit to deal with, to work his way through.
I just need a bit of time, he says, pushing his hands into his pockets. Let things settle. Harry rolls his eyes and stares for a second before he opens the door and steps out.
Well, together or not. It would be nice if we could be friends. Once those things have settled. Louis smiles and gives Harry one last quick hug before he says goodbye. Louis hopes it works out. He likes the idea that this ending could maybe come with a beginning, too.
The days pass by and he and Niall are good. They're great, really. They're completely normal except for the occasional moment, like when they're laughing and Niall shoves him, then pulls him close by the back of his neck and Louis almost forgets not to lean in. Or when they say goodnight and stand in the dark hallway between their rooms, holding each other far longer than they should, but even in those moments, it doesn't get awkward because so much has been said between them, so much is understood. They both know they're dancing right on the edge of something and when Louis' eyes flick up to Niall's as his fingers trace over his jaw, he just smiles and leans away, pushing his fingers between Niall's instead. It's possible that Harry was right and he's an idiot for not jumping into this, but this is the most important thing in his life. It's his whole life, it's everything, and Louis can't just jump in and hope it turns out alright. He can't leave something this huge to chance. After work Friday night, when Louis gets the door of their flat pushed open, grumbling to himself about how they should really call the landlord about it, Niall pops up from his place on the couch and runs at him. Louis has bags filled with groceries in his hands but Niall doesn't let that deter him from physically lifting him off the ground in a hug, swinging him around. Louis, completely caught off guard, yelps and grips the bags in his hands tighter.
What the bloody hell, Horan? He asks, even though he's laughing a bit because whatever is going on, it's clearly good. Niall sets him down, letting Louis see his face properly. He's grinning brightly, his eyes shining, and Louis' heart flips in his chest at the sight.
Guess who got a job in charge of golf course operations at that huge sports complex across town, he says, absolutely beaming.
Are you serious? Louis asks, his eyes going big and smile spreading so wide that it hurts his cheeks.
Yeah, and I mean, I know it's not a big deal- He's cut off when Louis drops the groceries in his hands and jumps into Niall's arms again because a simple hug is not enough for this moment. Niall is happy, really happy, and Louis can see that he's proud of himself and that's enough, in Louis' opinion, to have a fucking parade, complete with floats and fireworks and cotton candy.
You're amazing, he says, slipping down a bit even as Niall holds him up. You're amazing and you're going to kill it and I'm so happy for you I could scream. Niall laughs and hikes Louis up against him.
Don't scream. Louis leans back because he has to see his smile some more, has to bask in his best friend's happiness a bit. Niall's smile softens as he looks up at Louis, just enough to make his heart flip again.
You'll get us evicted, he adds, his laughter dying out, but the brightness of it sticking to his skin. Louis' smile twitches up happily. He hopes he's as light in Niall's arms as he feels because he doesn't really want to fall back down to earth yet. He likes it here.
You could kiss me? Niall suggests quietly, almost wincing as the words come out like he wants to stuff them back in. Louis stares for a long moment, his own smile never really disappearing as he looks, lifting a hand to cup the side of Niall's face.
I could do that, he finally says. Like their last kiss, it's so easy to just lean in and cross the smudged line that's left between them and romance. But, unlike their last kiss, this one is not over within moments and they're not frozen still. Louis presses in, tasting lemon lime soda on Niall's lips and he smiles a little into the kiss because it feels familiar even though it's not a thing he's tasted before, the combination of Niall's lips and citrus. It feels like something he knows intimately and thoroughly and he licks out to taste more of it. Niall groans at that and parts his lips slowly, carefully. Louis throws caution to the wind and takes Niall's bottom lip between his own, sucking gently. He's not going to get too caught up in this kiss and let it become more than that, but he sure as fuck is going to enjoy it. He lets go of Niall's lip and just barely dips his tongue out as he kisses, sliding his lips against Niall's. When their tongues meet for just a moment, Louis shivers at the feeling, his fingers sliding up into Niall's hair, but then Niall stumbles a bit and that brings Louis back to himself, remembering that he is actually still being held up by his deceptively strong, but still quite scrawny friend. With a sigh, he pulls back, chuckling when Niall's eyes are still closed as he frowns, brow creasing like he's waiting for Louis to come back.
You can put me down now, he says, wiggling a little in Niall's arms. Niall finally opens his eyes and releases Louis' legs, letting him drop to the ground. Louis smiles, but then looks down at the floor beneath him and his smile falls.
Oh, fuck, I bought eggs, he says, cringing to himself as he looks over the mess of spilt groceries around him. Niall laughs loudly at that and Louis looks up, trying to glare, but finding it difficult to do so in the moment.
Of course you did, Niall says, reaching over and ruffling Louis' hair before squatting down to start gathering things up. They find that only two of the eggs are actually broken and they didn't leak out onto the floor, so Louis considers that a success. As they get the groceries put away, Louis bounces on his feet, feeling happier than he has in a long while. It's like Niall's new job is a breath of fresh air and Louis can feel it as much as Niall can. It's as much of a win for him as it is for his mate. When the food is stored away, Louis leans back against the counter, grinning as Niall steps up and wraps him in an embrace, pressing Louis' bum back into the counter. Louis sighs happily, but then Niall shifts and kisses the corner of his mouth, like he's asking a question.
Not yet, Louis answers, even if it's not the easiest thing to refuse. We still have some things to talk about first, yeah? Niall exhales like he knew it was coming and leans back to look into Louis' eyes, lifting his arms to rest atop Louis' shoulders.
But first, you're going to tell me all about your new job. And we're going to drink the rest of that bottle of tequila over there, he adds, nodding toward the quarter-full bottle on the counter next to them. And then we're going to go out, just you and me. We're going to go out and have fun and we can talk about this, he hesitates, lifting his hand to Niall's jaw and sliding his thumb over the boy's bottom lip, tomorrow, okay? Niall tilts his head and bites Louis' thumb before he agrees. Louis kind of loves him.
As it works out, the order of things gets a little jumbled. Niall tells him about his job and they finish off the tequila and that's all fine and good, but when they get to the club and have another couple of drinks, Louis' buzz takes over his brain. They're dancing and Niall's hands are on him and it's enough to make him forget about the talking they're supposed to do the next day. Louis pulls Niall into him and kisses him as they dance. He can still taste citrus on his tongue through the sharp bite of tequila and it makes Louis giggle into his lips. Niall laughs, too, even though he can't know what's funny, even though Louis barely even knows what's funny. It's just a good night, he guesses. One that should be laughed through.
You're my favorite kisser, Niall mumbles, breaking away for a moment to look into Louis' eyes. Favorite lips, favorite person. It comes out as a wistful sigh and Louis has forgotten why he was afraid of this. It's Niall. It's not like he's giving away any more of himself. He'd given away the last pieces years ago.
I love you, Louis says, trying to control his smile as he bounces up on the balls of his feet. They stopped dancing at some point, just holding onto each other in the sea of people. I might be in love with you. Niall's eyes do this thing where they light up slowly behind the glassiness of the liquor in his system. It's quite cute and Louis bites his lip as he watches.
Really? He asks, eyebrows shooting up. Louis leans into him, pressing their chests together and dropping his chin onto Niall's shoulder. He does realize that this is terrible timing for this conversation, that he'd had a much better plan formed in his head, but fuck it. He's finally found the courage to actually talk. He may mess it up, but he feels like it'll be okay even if he does.
I'm not sure. I don't know the difference. I keep- shouldn't I have noticed that? If I fell in love with you? Niall is quiet long enough that Louis starts to wonder if he heard him, so he pushes himself back. Niall smiles when their eyes meet and he presses their lips together once, then drops his forehead against Louis'.
Don't think of it like that then, he says and, even with his eyes shut, Louis can feel him shrug. Do you care about me? Louis grins and brings his hand to the back of Niall's neck, running his fingertips over the warm skin there.
You know I do. More than anyone.
Do you want me? He pulls his forehead away from Louis' as the question runs hot through Louis' veins.
Yes, he answers honestly, swallowing. Niall kisses him again, softly, then breathes out over them.
Isn't that enough? It sounds so simple. He cares about Niall. He loves him, loves him so much he can hardly stand it sometimes and he wants him, wants his lips and his tongue and everything else, wants him in every way. It really seems like enough right now. He's sure there's nothing missing.
It might be, he finally says. They kiss again and then they kiss some more and the laughter comes back, caught between their lips, little puffs of it bursting from their corners of their mouths. If this isn't what being in love feels like, Louis doesn't need to be in love. This, he decides, is definitely enough.
Nouis is also cute right?
Sorry dat het nu geen Larry is,
had al gezegd dat je niet teveel moest verwachten. Sorry!
En wat vinden jullie van Four. Ik denk dat Act My Age echt grappig is.
hallalujah wat is dat nummer geniaal.
IK GA NAAR ENRIQUE IGLESIAS VANDAAG YES YES YES
I'm so happy!!!!