Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | Harry/Louis | NC-17 | When Harry and Louis meet, they think it’s for the first time — but it’s not.
Notes: So! This is the new fic that I’ve been dying to write, and I’m sure it’s nowhere near as wonderful as I’ve built it up in my head (it never is), but I hope you guys like it anyway? It’s based off of the movie (my favorite) of the same name, and essentially if you don’t know what it’s about, it’s about two lovers who erase their memories of each other, but they meet again anyway. So yeah! Let me know what you guys think :)
January 27, 2012
Louis didn’t feel like himself when he woke up.
The sky was heavy when he looked out the window, and he almost thought he could hear it groaning and buckling under the weight of its own darkness. It wasn’t terribly unusual for a winter’s day in late January, but it seemed a little too sullen for Louis’ already gloomy mood that morning. At least it wasn’t snowing, though the pavement outside was still lined with the grimy slush from several days past. He wouldn’t have to wear his usual winter’s jacket – the one that was waterproof – but he’d still have to wear several scarves and some decent boots for good measure.
His breakfast was nothing spectacular. But then again, on a poor uni student’s (lack of) salary, it rarely was. His mornings consisted of oatmeal that typically held the texture of mush and some charred or flimsy bread that depended on his toaster’s mood. At least he had some orange juice, but even then, he was already running out and he didn’t quite feel like buying two gallons in one week’s time, so he made a mental note to ration his portions for the rest of the week. He could get by with some tea, anyway, so long as it was Yorkshire.
In the living room of his flat, he came to his weekly realization that this was hardly the life he thought he’d be living. He’d had wide-eyed, glorious plans of coming to London and becoming everything he and his mum had ever hoped he would be. But now, he lived in a flat that almost embittered him to call home; at least Liam and Niall lived in the same complex but even then, he hated going over to their pigsty of a flat. As much as Louis hated the vomit-green walls and the tacky brown carpeting of his one-bedroom box, at least he kept it clean.
Cleanliness was the only way Louis got by. He had to remind himself to shower every morning just so he could get out of bed and get to classes on time. He had to wipe the counters and refrigerator shelves clean so he could take note of what food to buy. And he had to spray, mop, and vacuum everything else until he could bear to deal with the living situation he’d been dealt.
He normally didn’t have this much of a problem with it – with everything – but something about the way he woke up this morning had him hating and glaring at everything that surrounded him. The past few days had gone by in a blur of…well, a blur of nothing that he could exactly put his finger on. He’d expressed his concern with Liam and Niall, but they only told him that he must’ve been coming down with some kind of sickness, the kind that got your head all stuffy and heavy and that probably addled his brains a bit.
Bollocks, Louis thought, but it was the easiest and most convenient explanation as to why he couldn’t quite remember who he’d been recently. And maybe that was why he just didn’t feel like himself this morning. He felt like an intruder even in his own skin.
The day outside did very little to improve his mood. Much of this came from the fact that Louis simply wished he didn’t have to go to school anymore, at least, not while he could barely afford orange juice on weekdays and not when his car was an utter heap of shit. And the people outside were moving about so determined to get from point-A to point-B and Louis could at least remember when he had been the opposite of that kind of person, the person who took the time to absorb any and everything that he encountered on the way to anywhere
People said that the quickest way to get from one point to the other was with a straight line, but for Louis, quickest ways didn’t matter. At least, they never used to.
Louis stood in the parking lot giving his old car the dirtiest glare he could muster, one that could outrival the grime and soot that had formed some kind of shell on its exterior. He could remember when he bought this, just before coming to London several years ago. And he’d been so excited and willing to get out of Doncaster and just get going that he accepted the first thing that came his way. But now, he just wished someone could crash into it or something and just put it out of his misery. Or at least put him out of his.
He checked his watch. He could walk to uni if he wanted. He’d woken up early enough, as it was. And that was another thing; over the past few days, he’d been waking up at least two hours earlier than he normally did, usually even before the sun had even come up. He would roll onto the other side of bed, the side that didn’t quite mould to his body the way it was supposed to. After all, it was his bed and he was the only one that ever slept in it. Yet over the last few days, he couldn’t help but notice how unfamiliar it felt and even how it smelled. If he hadn’t known better, it was like someone else had been sleeping there next to him.
But Louis banished the thought whenever it came to him. It was one thing to be alone, and it was another thing entirely to taunt himself with memories of a phantom being, of a phantom love affair.
As he walked down the sidewalk, inhaling the musky smell of exhaust and sewage mingled with the misplaced fragrance of bread from the bakery just down the street, he bundled himself up even more into his jacket; maybe walking to uni wasn’t a wonderful idea, after all. But he couldn’t bring himself to go back home and spend an entire day there; the weekends were taxing enough.
So as he turned a street corner – any street corner, really, it didn’t matter which one – the gears in his brain shifted and he knew that he couldn’t keep walking in the direction he was going. Partly because he was about to walk into a construction site that he had no business traipsing into, but mostly because he was going the wrong way.
He wasn’t going to uni.
It had been such an easy decision to come to in his mind, and his body simply followed suit. One moment, he’d been heading east and the next, he was heading west. Or northwest. Or wherever it was that the train station was.
Almost several steps after deciding to skip his classes for the day – because really, who in their right mind would want to spend the day cooped up in classes when everything else was complete shit – he decided that he did want to go home, after all. Though not his cardboard box of a flat, but his real home.
When he saw the schedule at the station, he was fortunate enough to arrive just minutes before the next outbound train was due for departure. He shelled the required pounds for a ticket and ran to the platform, grabbing a magazine from a newsstand on the way and jumping onto the train literally seconds before it took off.
It was surprisingly empty for a morning train. Then again, Louis had never taken the train home before, so he couldn’t properly gauge whether or not this was normal or indeed surprising. Regardless, he couldn’t imagine that swarms of people felt the need to travel to Doncaster on a weekday, much less this early in the morning. And beyond all that, it was at least somewhat comforting to be swallowed in the emptiness of the train; it was better than his thoughts.
As the view outside the window fluttered in a flipbook of scenery and landscape, Louis marveled at how quickly the train would get him home – much quicker than driving there, in any case. He thought about calling his mum and letting her know about his plans; she’d surely be awake by now. But he decided he didn’t quite feel like dealing with her inevitable questioning and potential disappointment at the fact that he’d skipped classes. So he would just show up and hope for the best. Yeah, that worked.
Instead of reading his magazine, he fell asleep with his head clumsily positioned against the window. Thankfully, his compartment was empty enough that he didn’t fear the observation of people staring at him, passing judgment on his sleeping behavior.
When he woke up, it was to the sound of the train conductor announcing their arrival at Doncaster. And when Louis checked his watch, he was impressed; he honestly didn’t think he’d make it that quickly.
Once he was out in the open and roaming around the town that he could only halfway call home, he felt at least a little lighter than he had felt earlier that morning in London. It was bittersweet, really, to feel this way here and then hate it once he was in the city that was actually his home. Bittersweet mostly because the notion of returning and forgetting about his city dreams was unbearably strong, and yet he would never give into that temptation. Maybe it was pride.
He thought about calling a cab or calling his mum or calling somebody, but he figured his house was within walking distance – give or take thirty minutes or so. At least she’d be able to drive him back later that day, so it would be fine. He wouldn’t be wasting too much time. And the way he looked at it, the whole point to coming here was to clear his mind, or perhaps search for it. He might benefit from the walk home, after all.
But as he made his way down the pavement, watching one foot fall in line in front of the other before repeating the cycle all over again, he didn’t know if he wanted to go home anymore.
Louis laughed at himself, though it was quiet, rueful and bitter. He couldn’t believe how indecisive he’d been lately. But in all honesty, he couldn’t help it. In one moment, it was like his mind was heading down one path, following a thought that was whole, complete and untouched. And the next moment, it was like he’d been stopped forcibly in his tracks, and he had no choice but to do something, anything else. And it was frustrating; his mind no longer felt like his own.
No, he wasn’t going home. He couldn’t go home, and he was thankful that he didn’t call his mum in the first place. This way, there would be no disappointment; there’d been something there, but he erased it and it was like nothing had ever happened.
But he wasn’t about to go hop on the next train back to London, either. He didn’t come all the way out here for nothing. After pausing in the middle of the empty sidewalk and looking around, he noticed the window of something that always seemed inviting no matter the circumstance: a coffee shop.
Yeah, maybe a really good coffee was what he needed. And maybe a place to read his dreadful magazine, anyway.
The entrance was off to the side, more in an alley than anything. When he walked in, he was welcomed with a gust of warmth and the familiar fragrance of ground coffee beans. Almost instantly, he felt his shoulders relax.
“Welcome!” someone from behind the counter called and Louis heard himself murmur something in reply, already too immersed in the array of baked goods available to him from the glass display case.
Maybe a scone, he thought, or a doughnut. His thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the chiming of the door and the sudden appearance of somebody – a lean guy wearing a beanie, he noticed – behind him. He shifted aside to grant the stranger better access to the register.
“Just a small drip,” the stranger said in a gravelly voice.
“Coming right up,” Louis heard the barista respond.
As the stranger received his drink and moved toward the seating area in the back, Louis decided on a flaky croissant and a latte – something sweet for today might do the trick. And the barista behind the counter seemed to hum in agreement, so he felt rather good about himself.
When he sat down with his steaming mug and lightly toasted pastry, he suddenly felt more at ease than he had in a long time. He looked over to the rest of the seating area and found that, much like the train, the coffee shop was rather empty save for a few patrons.
The one he noticed in particular must have been the stranger that appeared just as he had walked in, but he hadn’t paid him much attention then. Now, when they were both seated, Louis could really size up the stranger that he realized wasn’t as old as he sounded; in fact, he looked a little younger than him.
This stranger – this boy – looked young enough that he must have been skipping classes like he was, and the thought was a little comforting to consider. At any rate, he had alabaster skin that seemed to thaw in the warmth of the café. When he peeled off his oversized purple hoodie – no, it was plum and it was too big and it looked inappropriate on his body especially in that color – he revealed a ratty looking shirt for some band that Louis didn’t recognize. He had dark green eyes that scanned the paper spread across the table in front of him, and when he pulled off his beanie, long and shaggy chocolate brown curls fell down on either side of his head, and Louis thought that maybe he could use a decent haircut.
But even his seemingly lax grooming habits wasn’t enough to distract from the fact that he was actually a very beautiful person, and maybe his outward appearance seemed to make a successful enough statement that he just didn’t really give a fuck about how he looked.
Before Louis realized he’d been staring for a considerable amount of time, the stranger lifted his head and the green eyes found his blue ones.
“Oh,” Louis uttered helplessly.
“Hey,” the stranger said in the same, low voice Louis heard earlier. He waved at him before returning to the newspaper and coffee sitting in front of him. And almost seconds later, he pulled out his phone to check for something, setting it down with rather obvious disappointment.
Louis understood he was being peculiar for no reason, and so he focused his attention downward and made to read the magazine that he suddenly discovered he had no interest in whatsoever. But the croissant was delicious and the latte was exactly what he needed, so he had the energy to continue with something he really didn’t feel like doing.
Almost half an hour had passed when Louis heard an impatient sigh from the table where the stranger was sitting. Taking his chances, he looked up and found that the boy was practically glaring at his phone. But behind the obvious anger was an undercurrent of hopelessness.
Then he looked up at Louis again.
This time, Louis found himself shrugging against all logic, and the boy simply frowned and nodded his head in acknowledgement. Then he dove into the bag he’d brought inside with him and Louis’ eyes almost bulged out of his head when he realized the boy was pulling out a flask.
“Cheers,” the stranger said as he poured half the contents of the flask into his cup of coffee.
Louis just nodded in return and went back to reading his magazine; at least he wasn’t the only one having a shitty day.
Louis spent the rest of the day in the coffee house. And it wasn’t exactly a terrible way to spend his time; he noticed that the café had been selling some books in the corner of the store and he tried his chances with the first one that caught his eye. He managed to get through three chapters before he couldn’t see straight anymore, and he decided to just recline and people-watch out the window instead.
The stranger left only an hour after Louis watched him pour alcohol into his morning coffee. And though the boy didn’t seem noticeably buzzed or flat-out drunk, Louis still felt rather uneasy watching him walk out of the coffee shop with a frown that never really left his face for the remainder of his stay there. Louis couldn’t explain why, but he wanted to extend some sort of compassion to the poor bloke who seemed to be having just as miserable of a day as him. He always thought that suffering together was better than suffering alone.
He wondered if he’d gather the nerve to just go home and see his mum and sisters. It was a Friday, after all, and he could’ve stayed the weekend if he was really so inclined. But something about seeing his family in this state, when he didn’t feel quite like himself or quite like the Louis that they were all used to just didn’t seem right. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d seen them; it felt so long ago yet so recently all at once. His mind just wasn’t operating correctly.
He made his way back to the train station just past four, hoping to beat the rush of people heading into London. After all, that crowd would certainly be more substantial than this morning, and he didn’t feel like sharing a train with so many people.
The train was due to depart at 4:30, and he boarded almost twenty minutes before it had to leave. He found that the compartment he had chosen was just as blissfully empty, and he hoped it would stay that way for the remainder of his time there. He chose one of the rows closest to the back and scooted onto the bench until he was pressed comfortably against the window. A nap sounded ideal, though he usually had difficulty taking naps in the afternoon; he was wired all wrong.
There were barely five minutes before the train was scheduled to leave when Louis heard the compartment door open. Fantastic, he thought, expecting a large family to swarm the compartment and disturb his peacefulness.
But when he cracked his eyes open, he found that the person walking down the aisle was none other than the green-eyed stranger he’d encountered earlier that morning. Thankfully, the other boy didn’t seem to notice that the only other person sitting in the compartment happened to be his coffee shop acquaintance, and so he slid into a seat that was at least several rows ahead of Louis’. Better yet, he was sitting in a seat that faced the same direction as him, so they didn’t have to make eye contact.
That worked out for Louis. He was always awkward in situations like this, situations that didn’t warrant any awkwardness in the first place.
When the train rumbled to life, he drew his knees up to his chest and settled comfortably against the window. It was such great luck to have an empty compartment on the way back to London – or at least, mostly.
But when the conductor came through their compartment fifteen minutes later, the stranger – who was now wearing his beanie and his hideous sweater – had no choice but to turn around. And against all of Louis’ attempts to do otherwise, they made eye contact.
The boy’s green eyes widened in surprise – surprise that really didn’t need to be there. Louis tried to keep his gaze focused on the conductor when he handed off his ticket, and then out the window when he was finished. He snuck a quick peek at the stranger, who was busy handing off his own ticket. Louis shut his eyes closed forcibly, hoping he was as good an actor as he hoped he was.
Regardless, that same gravelly voice forced him to open his eyes.
Louis stared. “What?”
The stranger smirked. “I said ‘hi.’”
Without another word, the other boy stood up and grabbed his bag from where it was sitting next to him. He walked down the aisle and slide into the seat directly in front of Louis’ so that they were facing each other.
“I’m going to sit closer, okay?”
Louis made no attempt to point out he’d already done so. “Yeah, yeah okay.”
“So,” the other boy said as he pulled a stick of gum from out of his bag. “Heading back to London? Live there?”
There seemed no harm in answering honestly. “Yeah, I do.”
All Louis could pay attention to was the way the stranger’s jaw – a rather defined jaw, if Louis was allowed to observe – bounced up and down to accommodate the piece of gum in his mouth. That and the fact that he really hated that jumper. Louis had a penchant for loud clothing from time to time, but not quite like this. There was a line between personal flair and screaming for attention, though he didn’t dare mention that observation.
He must’ve stayed silent a beat too long because the stranger was suddenly asking, “What brought you out to Doncaster?”
“Er, I dunno, really.” He bit his lip. “I have family there, but I ended up not seeing them anyway.”
“I get it,” the boy said. “Family can be a bummer.”
Louis loved his family, but yeah, okay.
Then, “Do I know you?”
Louis blinked. “Um.”
“Have you ever walked into Secondhand Prose? That bookstore in West End?”
There were many bookstores there but the name seemed to stick out to him, even if he couldn’t quite remember ever walking in.
“That’s it then!” the stranger’s face lit up and he seemed to bounce in his seat as he said it. “I work there, and I’m so sure I’ve seen you there before. Brilliant!”
Louis laughed, if only at the other boy’s sheer enthusiasm.
“That’s definitely it then,” Louis said, trying his hardest to sound as certain as the other did.
“The name’s Harry, by the way.” And his face spread into the widest grin Louis had ever seen on a person as he said it. “Not Harold, though. Never Harold. I hate that.”
“Harold’s not so bad,” Louis mused, and the boy named Harry frowned at that. “Mine’s Louis.”
“Snappy name,” Harry said with a wink, and it made Louis shift uncomfortably in his seat.
“Not quite like Harry,” Louis teased, feeling bold. “Harry’s…nice. It’s nice.”
And the other boy’s face fell at that again.
“Nice? That’s really all you have to say?”
“I hate the word ‘nice,’” Harry said, folding his arms. “Like, what does that even mean? People just say it when they can’t think of anything else to say, when there’s literally countless other words to choose from. And nice is just overrated to begin with.”
“But nice can be…” Louis held back, because ‘nice’ was the next word to fall out of his mouth.
At this point, Harry was practically glaring out the window. “I don’t need nice. I don’t need to be called it and I don’t need anybody to be it at me.”
Louis felt himself instinctively moving further from Harry – just in case. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice.
They sat in silence for what must have been at least twenty minutes, with Harry’s eyes glazing over at the scenery outside and Louis trying his best to fall asleep but failing at the mere notion that there was a virtual stranger invading his personal bubble. And in a compartment as empty as this one, every movement seemed all the more magnified.
Finally, “Louis. Louis, right?”
Louis blinked his eyes open. “Yeah.”
“Sorry I yelled at you.”
“You didn’t – ”
“Then whatever I did at you, I’m sorry.” Harry tore off his beanie and let his long curls fall where they may, and Louis resisted the inexplicable urge to reach out and touch. “I just – Anyway, earlier this morning I was supposed to meet up with somebody. From the Internet. Pathetic, I know.”
“No, it’s not – ”
“He stood me up. So I’ve been kind of on edge ever since.”
He, Louis remembered and filed away.
“I’m sorry mate, I really – ” Then remembering Harry’s rant about ‘nice’ and being it at him, he blurted, “Wait, am I allowed to be sorry for you? I don’t want to like, upset you even more or.”
But Harry seemed to genuinely smile at that, anyway.
“You can be sorry. I’ll take sorry.”
Louis nodded. “Then yeah. Sorry is what I am.”
“Excellent.” Harry paused, and then added, “I’m all out of sorts today, you know? Just one of those days where nothing really seems to add up and you don’t remember how you get from one place to the other?”
Louis thought about the flask Harry pulled out earlier that morning, and he might have mentioned it, too, if it hadn’t been for the fact that he completely understood what the boy was talking about.
“That’s so strange. I’m having the same kind of day.”
“Huh,” Harry mused, his expression evening out into thoughtfulness as he brushed some curls away from his forehead. “Weird. Must be the thing for people who go to Doncaster.”
“You’re all about those short responses, aren’t you?” And the eyes that were once dark green were now twinkling with amusement.
“I really don’t mean to – ”
“Nah, no worries,” Harry said, clasping his hands together. “I kind of like it. I kind of like you, anyway. I like a lot of things really quickly, so I hope that doesn’t bother you or weird you out. I’m kind of honest that way.”
“No, that’s,” Louis half-chuckled. “That’s really alright.”
Harry beamed. “Cool. And I’m honest the other way, too, so just be glad that I didn’t not like you. I would’ve told you that, too.”
Louis just nodded, silently appreciative of that fact.
The rest of the train ride went by in relative silence. Harry had pulled out some sort of sketchbook from his bag and started drawing random shapes and sizes, some influenced by the seats around them or the trees passing by outside. Louis pulled out his new book and though he could see the other boy glancing over and trying to catch the summary on the back, Harry never asked about it.
When the train pulled into the station, they both stumbled awkwardly around each other to gather their belongings and make their way off the train.
Once on the platform, Louis made a motion to wave goodbye at Harry and thank him for an interesting ride back home. But Harry beat him to it.
“Really great meeting you, Louis. You should stop by Secondhand Prose again sometime!”
Louis almost snorted at the name. “Yeah, I’ll definitely try.”
“Don’t just try,” Harry said, clapping a hand on Louis’ shoulder. “Just go for it. Life’s better that way, anyway.” He dropped his hand and seemed to move away as if the conversation was over and that was it. But he paused and then looked at Louis with a curious sort of expression. “I feel like I know you, you know? Not actually, but you’re pretty decent, Louis. I’ll give you that.”
Once again, Louis only found himself staring. This time, he was sure his mouth was open a little bit.
“Anyway,” Harry said, slowly backing away for good this time. “This was all really nice.” He smirked and then joined the rest of the crowd that seemed to swarm around them.
Louis blinked several times as he let the crowd swallow him. Then, in spite of himself, he started to laugh.
Today was fucking strange.