• 19.4 ~ Hold My Breath
The morning was - odd. It started with Harry stumbling out of the guest room just as Louis had sat down with his bowl of cereal, and in theory, Louis should have been used to the sight of Harry with his shirt off by now. In practice, he fought not to choke on a mouthful of milk. Knowing what Harry looked like when he’d just rolled out of bed, soft-eyed and pliant, was the equivalent of a left hook delivered to Louis’ sanity. To add insult to injury, Harry was wearing Louis’ trackies, threatening to slide off his hips because he hadn’t bothered to tie the drawstring, and it was obvious that he had yet to pull on anything underneath. Louis averted his gaze, stared down at the sports section of The Guardian in an attempt to focus back on the preview of tonight’s match.
“Kettle’s boiled if you want tea,” he said vaguely. “Cups above the sink. Also bowls, if you want cereal.” Harry rasped out a `thank you´. He puttered around behind Louis for a bit, then sat down across the table, folding himself onto a chair. Steam briefly obscured his face as he blew over his tea and then took a tiny sip. Louis reminded himself to look away.
“Nervous?” Harry asked a few minutes later, once his eyes had gained focus and clarity.
“No.” Louis held Harry’s gaze for several seconds before he sighed and looked away, down at the newspaper. He ran his fingertip along the paper edge and lifted one shoulder. “Mildly. I’m always jittery before important matches, comes with the territory. It’s mostly useful. Just a little inconvenient for the flight and all.” Harry gave a low hum. Then he set down his cup and tilted his head.
“How about some yoga on your terrace? Might calm you down, you know.”
“You’re the most ridiculous person I know,” Louis told him. With that, he folded the newspaper and pushed to his feet. “What do we need?” Harry’s grin echoed somewhere deep within the pit of Louis’ stomach.
Louis’ top-floor terrace, overlooking the road and Regent’s Park, was gorgeous and one of the reasons he had picked this flat. They’d barely set a foot outside when Harry accused him of letting all that lovely space go to waste by not bringing in so much as a single plant. Louis repaid him by complaining about the chilly air, and,
“Seriously, Curly, who in their right mind would do some mind-cleansing exercise stuff outside at eight in the morning, when it’s not even summer yet?” Crouched on his haunches to lay out a blanket, Harry gave Louis a look from underneath his lashes.
“You, apparently.” Well, Louis couldn’t argue with that. So he tugged off his sleep shirt in spite of the cool breeze, dropped to sit cross-legged on the blanket, and waited for Harry’s command to close his eyes and start by focusing on his breathing. A moment passed while Harry simply looked at him, strangely still. Then he smiled and began.
Louis tended to switch his phone off around matches, so it wasn’t until he was on the team bus, on the way back to the airport, that he read Harry’s message.
Harry: There are some stupid stories about how you went out and partied the night before your match. So sorry if I got you in trouble.
It was followed by a second one, sent roughly two hours later.
Harry: Great game though! Had my fingers crossed for PSG of course, but you were ok. Nice goal there.
The fond smile on Louis’ face must have made him look a right mess, because Niall pushed into his space, caging Louis in against the window. His grin was shrewd.
"Christ, mate. Your face is about to split in two.”
“Fuck off.” Louis tucked his phone into his pocket and glanced around, making sure that no one could overhear them. They’d claimed the last row, Liam draped over three seats at once, dozing, and the row before them was empty. The low buzz of the engine ensured that their conversation wouldn’t drift too far. Safe, then. “We’re friends, Nialler. That’s it.”
“Except you abuse my connections to sneak him into sold-out concerts,” Niall said. “Just to cheer him up.” The topic of conversation seemed to have caught Liam’s interest, because he blinked once, then closed his eyes again. “And,” he contributed, “you wax poetic about his curls and his smell.” That had been once. Once. Before Louis could say as much, Niall picked up the ball. “And also about his nice little body. Which, for fuck’s sake, Lou. You so want to bone him. Or have him bone you.” Grin slipping away, Niall frowned in what appeared to be genuine puzzlement. “How does that even work? I mean, how do you decide if both want to top? Do you toss a coin or something? Rock, Paper, Scissors?” Sometimes, Niall still had the ability to baffle Louis.
“I’m versatile,” Louis said, after a beat. All hope of ending the discussion died when Liam sat up, shuffling into the seat next to Niall. He looked tired, the last ten minutes of Paris Saint-Germain unleashing a desperate storm on his goal had required him to make more than one near-impossible save. His eyes were sharp, though.
“Does Harry even know you’re gay?” he asked. Louis flinched and cast an instinctive look around. Still safe. He turned back to Liam and Niall.
“No, and it doesn’t matter. We’re friends.”
“Which is all you’ll ever be, if you don’t bloody tell him.” Niall sounded upset at the notion, and just for that, Louis drew him into a hug. He appreciated the concern, he truly did, although Niall had an irritating tendency to meddle in others’ love lives ever since he’d found happiness in the form of a Victoria’s Secret model who smiled like an angel and laughed like a hyena.
“Look, it’s all we’ll ever be regardless.” Louis shook his head, coldness seeping through his t-shirt where his shoulders were pressed against the windowpane. “He flirts with guys while I’m right there, so I’m under no illusions.”
“But,” Niall started, and Louis talked over him.
“Also, I wouldn’t even want to trap him in the closet with me. That’d be selfish. Which I’m not, generally speaking.”
“Room for two, isn’t there? You’d just have to hold him close. Cuddle him in.” For all that Niall seemed to aim for a light remark, his tone fell somewhat flat. Louis shook his head and ignored the bitter lump lodged in his throat.
“Not an option.” There was an uncomfortable weight in Liam’s gaze.
“I think you’re scared. You think he’ll judge you for not being out and proud, and you’re scared he might think less of you. ‘Cause you think less of yourself for it.” Louis’ stomach dropped to the soles of his feet. He squashed the impulse to shoot back a sharp retort, aim at where he knew it would hurt, and inhaled deeply instead.
“We’re not talking about this. I need at least a bottle of whiskey in my system before we can talk about this.”
“I think you’re strong enough to do it,” Liam insisted. “At some point, when you’re ready. You know we’d have your back.”
“Not talking about this,” Louis repeated.
“Louis,” Liam said, quiet and serious. Louis stared him down.
“No.” The worry on Niall’s face betrayed his well-known discomfort with conflict. His gaze flicked from Louis to Liam, then back to Louis, and he seemed to consider his words carefully before he put them out in the open.
“But what if Harry's it? The one for you? And you just let him slip away?” Louis exhaled through his nose. He wished he could claim honest indifference to what Niall had implied, but - fuck. Something must show on his face, because Niall leaned forward, clutching Louis’ elbow. “We could meet him, you know. See what he’s like around you.”
“That’s actually a good idea,” Liam said, and Niall shoved him blindly, without bothering to look.
“I have plenty of good ideas, Payno. No need to sound so fucking surprised.” With the engine humming in his bones, Louis examined the thought. It wasn’t an altogether unappealing idea, get an outsider perspective since Louis himself might be too close to see the wood for all those trees.
“Promise you’ll behave?” he said slowly. “No quips, nothing that would tell Harry that I’m- you know.”
“Gay?” Liam suggested.
“Arse over tits for him,” Niall corrected. Maybe both, Louis thought. He cleared his throat.
“Maybe both. Now promise.”
In a quiet minute between security check and boarding, Louis finally managed to reply to Harry’s messages.
Louis: Don’t worry about it. There are always stories about me, I don’t care.
He sent that off and added.
Louis: Okay if 2 of my best friends come along to the pub on Thurs ?
Harry came online only seconds later. Louis’ texts must have caught him on the way home from the late evening class that he held on Tuesdays, and Louis frowned at the realization that he knew Harry’s schedule as well as his own. Picking up his carry-on, he watched Harry’s status change to `typing..´
Harry: Sure, that’s fine, Niall and Liam? I want Niall’s autograph!
Did Harry have a thing for blonds? Or Irish accents? Louis was not blond, and he sported a Yorkshire rasp which had lost its definition throughout his years in Spain, then London.
Louis: You never asked for my autograph
Harry: You’re not captain of the Irish national team. :p
Louis snorted, putting his phone away just long enough to board the charter plane and store his carry-on in the overhead locker. Dropping into the seat next to Liam, he navigated back to his messages and wrote.
Louis: Obviously what with me being not Irish, but I played for England !!
Harry: And you will again
Harry sent back. It was easy to picture the quiet confidence in his tone, the way he’d swipe his fingers down Louis’ arm. Louis wished he was quite as certain. He hadn’t been called up since his injury early into the season, a two-month ban from the pitch followed by weeks of slowly, gradually working himself back into shape, and just when he’d been close, a mild sprain had set him back again. While that had sucked, it had also been the reason he’d met Harry, so he couldn’t bring himself to be too upset about it. Fuck. If he’d taken a step back instead of forwards, if he’d caught himself better during the fall, he never would have ended up in Harry’s class. A marginal change, and he wouldn’t know Harry. Was this what they called the Butterfly Effect?
Louis: Here’s hoping.
Then he shut off his phone and threw himself into celebrating their win, into reaching the semi-finals. Bottles of champagne made the rounds as the plane took off, someone put on the Champions League theme song, and the speeches of both the coach and the team captain amounted to a resounding, `‘So it’ll be bloody Real Madrid next, but fuck it. Yes, we can!´ Tonight, Louis believed it.