Letters To You | Harry/Louis (Liam/Zayn) | NC-17 | Harry doesn’t think he’s a good person and Louis doesn’t think anyone is paying attention to him. When they join the pen pal program at their respective universities, they discover otherwise.
Notes: Oh my god, I know that I’m such a shit and I’m sorry for making you all wait so long! But thank you for being so patient, and even more, thank you for the wonderful response to my one-shot — honestly, it means so much to me. I hope you enjoy, and I hope it at least made the wait somewhat worth it!
It was like the air had been sucked out of the room. Of all the people Louis expected to see here…well, it wasn’t her. And to see her sitting there with her usually bright and gleaming eyes bloodshot and sorrowful – he could barely handle it. The lightness he’d felt from being in Harry’s company was instantly replaced with an unbearable weight and he had to lean against the doorframe, taking support anywhere he could get it.
“Door was unlocked,” she said softly, her hands fumbling awkwardly in her lap. “You should really talk to Liam about that. And I know it’s never been a problem before but – I dunno, after last night…”
“It’s not a problem,” he replied quickly.
It was true; Liam had a terrible tendency of leaving their door unlocked, but neither of them were ever away long enough for it to become a proper concern. And Louis told her early on that she was always welcome to come into their room even if they were away.
He’d done it mostly out of obligation at first, but as time went on, he realized she was actually nice to have around, especially to temper the overwhelming combination that became Liam and Zayn once they started dating; it had simply never been an issue before. He just couldn’t understand why she would choose now to exercise that privilege.
“Good,” she said, a little relieved.
But Louis was still wrapped up in the shock of it all. He also had a hard time believing that it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since meeting up with Harry; it felt like it had been several sunlit days.
“Are we going to have the conversation like this?” Eleanor’s voice suddenly popped up in Louis’ consciousness. “Or do you want to sit down and join me?”
Louis tried not wincing; she had said it nicely enough and certainly didn’t intend any malice behind her question, but the word conversation, conversation, conversation kept playing in his head. This wasn’t a conversation that he wanted to have.
Still, he shut the door and walked over to his side of the room. Rather than sitting next to her on the bed, however, he opted for the much more neutral chair at his desk. It was probably safer this way, and he took it to mean that Eleanor was of the same mind when she didn’t say anything in opposition.
The silence hung over them, thick and unwanted. It was incredibly different from the silence he’d experienced with Harry all of last night and today. That had been laced with something other than awkwardness (and even then, their awkwardness derived from the inherent weirdness of meeting each other for the first time). Theirs had been charged – electric and exciting and enticing (obviously).
This silence, however, seemed deafening and unnerving in comparison, even more so as it went on for much longer than either of them seemed capable of handling. It was, Louis realized, a silence he often noticed in the later days of their relationship. And though Eleanor hadn’t noticed it before, it was nearly painful for both of them to notice it now.
“I don’t – ” She struggled to find the words that followed, and each moment of silence seemed like eternities to Louis. He wasn’t even breathing by the time she said, “I don’t think I understand.”
Louis exhaled, though it wasn’t very satisfying.
“What do you mean?”
When he looked over, he found that she was staring at her fingers, interlocked in her lap and gripping onto each other like there was nothing else around her to hold onto.
“I don’t understand how we reached this point. I don’t know how you let it.” She wasn’t accusatory in the way she said it; it was like stating a fact, which it might as well have been. “Especially if you didn’t love me.”
But he shook his head, refusing to hear that.
“No, no. I did love you, and I still do, but – ”
“Ah, right.” And there might have been a tinge of bitterness to it. “Just not the way that I love you. That kind of makes it a little worse, don’t you think?”
“Fuck,” he sighed and his shoulders slumped forward. “I let everything get so messed up.”
“Yeah,” Eleanor said without hesitation. “You did.” But she followed it up with a light, remorseful sort of chuckle, and it only made Louis feel worse.
“Fuck, I’m really just – I’m total shite and I’m really just sorr – ”
“No.” Eleanor’s voice was surprisingly firm. “No, not yet with any of the apologies or anything like that. I came here for a reason and I want to know – why.”
She nodded and it was the first time she really let herself look into Louis’ eyes. “Why or how…whatever questions you can answer for me. I think you’ll understand if I say that I’m still a little blindsided by everything.”
And he couldn’t help himself from laughing a little bit at that, too. Even Eleanor had to join, because as far as break-ups went, this one was surprisingly cordial, if not slightly tentative and awkward. Still, it was loads better than yelling at each other or throwing things, as they’d experienced with other, shorter relationships in the past. When it came down to it, there was still a love that existed between the two of them, and at this point, it was a matter of defining and clarifying that love.
“Well.” He inhaled deeply, prepared to share what he could, because there was no sense in lying beyond this point. “If I’m being honest, I haven’t been entirely…satisfied with my life as of late.”
“I’m not speaking exclusively about our relationship, either. It’s just that – I’ve felt so lost, El. About everything. And I know it sounds so incredibly stupid of me to say that out loud, but the last thing that I wanted to do was to drag you along with that mentality. Because you’re – really, you’re just such a wonderful person.” He made sure to emphasize that particular point, almost like it could rectify most – if not all – of his wrongs.
“You don’t need to soften the blow here, Louis.” She frowned.
“I’m really not,” he offered honestly. “I mean it. You’re amazing, and I absolutely hated treating you that way, but I’m not good with confronting things like this – ”
She scoffed, yet it didn’t seem malicious. “Tell me about it.”
“ – and I honestly want nothing more than to stay your friend, even though it’s such a selfish thing to ask. Because as much of a shit boyfriend as I’ve been to you, I still need you in my life.”
It wasn’t until he said those words that he realized how genuinely he meant them. The only other constant in his life besides Harry, for good or for bad, had been Eleanor. Even when he had Liam, he never really had him – not when he was off with Zayn. And as he realized that things with Eleanor were actually ending, he didn’t really know what it meant to be apart from her and all the kindness that she had to offer.
The kindness he perhaps didn’t deserve, but the kindness he needed nonetheless.
Eleanor shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but it seemed borne mostly out of confusion than anything else. She looked at Louis through cloudy eyes, thoroughly inspecting him and (understandably) wondering whether or not he was having her on.
“I just – ” She shook her head disbelievingly. “You say something like that and I don’t know what to think because I’m still just so utterly confused and I don’t – ”
“I’ve met someone.”
Eleanor broke off mid-sentence, mouth agape and her cheeks rapidly losing color. And from the way that her face had completely blanched within several seconds, Louis could tell that he hadn’t gone about the appropriate way of cluing her into his main struggle – his biggest secret.
Flashes of emotion like hurt and bewilderment crossed Eleanor’s face before it finally settled into the one that Louis found most unbearable: betrayal.
“You…met someone.” And as she got a taste for the words in her mouth, Louis could tell that Eleanor hated it.
“It’s not what you think I mean – ” he threw in quickly before Eleanor shuffled out of her seat, her eyes set determinedly on the door.
“Louis, no,” she said lowly, her voice trembling only slightly.
“It’s a him,” he said suddenly as a last-ditch attempt to keep her from leaving the room.
And it succeeded; Eleanor froze where she stood, having already stormed off halfway across the room before Louis’ voice caught and trapped her. When she turned around, her face was unreadable, and though she hadn’t left, Louis couldn’t shoulder the heavy burden of her gaze digging into him.
“I’m – yeah, it’s a him,” he repeated, keeping his stare firmly tethered to the carpeting.
Several things happened in the seconds that followed. For one, the space that Eleanor had left empty on his bed was occupied once more by her warmth, slow and measured before she settled back there completely. Almost immediately after, he felt a hand – tentative and uncertain – fall onto his shoulder, where it quickly moved up and down along his back in some semblance of comfort. And before he knew what was happening, he heard her crying, and it wasn’t long before unexpected wetness found its way to his vision.
“Sorry,” he said brokenly, attaching a half-hearted laugh at the end in an effort to maybe lighten the mood. But she only pressed harder into his back, and it consoled him more than it had any right to.
“Don’t be,” she said urgently, maintaining a quiet tone. “At least, not for this. Never for this. I’m – Christ, Louis, I should be so mad at you but I can’t and just – so you’re…?” She left the question open-ended, like she couldn’t quite come to terms with it yet herself.
He shrugged; he wasn’t sure what he was.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’m just – I couldn’t not tell you.”
From his periphery, he could see her nodding slowly.
“And is this…” She inhaled deeply, almost like she was bracing herself. “Is that why? I mean, is it part of the reason why we’re not – ” She held off, sniffling instead.
He nodded in return, really admitting it to himself for the first time.
“I can’t – it’s so new and I didn’t even realize,” he said, picking apart each word and trying to make sense of what he was saying.
“Does anyone else know?”
She continued rubbing his back, even if her touch faltered slightly when she asked, “Could you tell me who he is? This someone?”
Contrasting sensations of happiness and anguish tore at his insides – happiness because even talking about Harry apparently had the potential to bring about internal smiles and butterflies, but anguish because it wasn’t fair of him to divulge and dump all of this onto Eleanor of all people. But she asked, and he couldn’t hold back.
“His name is Harry and – I don’t know,” he sighed. “It started off simply enough, but he really understood me and I didn’t even realize that’s how I felt about him until recently.”
“Harry? Why do I know that…is this the guy you’ve been writing your letters to? The one in the emails?”
Louis swallowed the hard lump that suddenly found its way in his throat. “Erm. Yeah.”
If this new information bothered her, she didn’t show it. Instead, she leaned over and pressed a delicate kiss to his shoulder, just above where her hand had come to rest. She kept her forehead there and breathed hot air onto his arm, and it was relaxing and nerve-wracking all at once.
He didn’t know how she would take it. Eleanor was always a friend – a partner, a companion – first, and whatever else second. He knew that it was second nature for her to come to his aid and help him through this. But he didn’t know how she would react in the aftermath, once it had all settled in and she could really make sense of it. That he had come to this conclusion while they were still together, that he had essentially betrayed their trust by sharing things with Harry he never could with her. He didn’t know whether or not, if in her place, he would have found it possible to forgive himself.
But she kissed that spot again and sighed in a way that seemed to come from every corner of her body, like it was searching for relief.
“I don’t – I can’t promise to understand,” she said slowly. “I don’t know that I ever fully will. But…fuck, Louis, I still love you, all right? And I’m going to need some time to sort this out. But I’m going to be here.”
He shot his head up and looked at her carefully, their eyes locking and wordlessly confirming the companionship that each of them still felt.
“You’re going to be here?” He didn’t mean to sound so desperate, but there it was.
She snorted, wiping away the tears that had built up at the edges of her eyes.
“I really shouldn’t be,” she said, swatting him gently on the arm. “Because you’re the dick that broke my heart – ”
“El…” he said cautiously.
“But I love you and you love me so I guess that’s good enough, right?”
He made to say something, but faltered.
“We’ll figure it out together,” she promised, squeezing his shoulder tightly.
And he didn’t know how it happened so out of the blue, but for the first time in a long time, he felt a kind of tentative peace wash over him.
When Eleanor left his room after their breakup-but-not-breakup, she told him that she would need some time to herself to fully get over everything, but that she would come back soon enough and that she was only a phone call away if things ever got dire. But in reality, the time apart was something that he was thankful for, if not something that he didn’t even realize he truly needed.
A week passed since he last saw Harry, and it was also the longest that they’d gone without any communication. It felt even stranger to have acknowledged that fact, now that they’d actually met in person and had conversation and…well, much more than just that.
But Harry didn’t email, text, or call him, and Louis was almost relieved because of it. There was no pressing need to make sense of everything that had happened in the last several days. Because for all intents and purposes, he had just broken up with his girlfriend, and he needed time to really understand who he was in the aftermath.
It was difficult to think about, mostly because he now also had Harry to factor into the situation. Though Harry never directly contacted him, the boy was never far out of reach, always dwelling in his mind and lingering when Louis sought clarity. And though it might have been easier to make the transition into this new phase of his life without thinking about Harry, the fact of the matter was that they were obviously involved in some respect, and he couldn’t ignore that outright.
Louis wasn’t gay. Or at least, he was pretty sure of it. But as it stood, the words never even left his mouth when he’d told Eleanor everything; all he’d admitted to was having met Harry, who was very much male. But beyond that, he’d never given it much thought, never put much stock into it. He’d never felt that sort of attraction to another bloke before; it just wasn’t there.
But with Harry…there was something there that exceeded attraction, even though Harry was undeniably very good-looking. However, they’d gotten to know each other first, before appearances and all of that, so that by the time they’d met properly, they had already forged a connection so intense that it was impossible to ignore, much less discount now that Louis was reevaluating himself in light of everything that had happened.
He cared for the curly-haired boy, that much was evident. By now, he knew too much about him, and vice versa. In more respects than one, Harry was his closest friend, even for having known each other for a relatively short period of time.
And that scared Louis – for reasons that he couldn’t necessarily explain. As thrilling as it was to talk to Harry and just be with him, it was scary all at once.
It wasn’t until the next Sunday that Louis’ phone finally buzzed to life. He was half-asleep on his bed with a textbook sprawled across his chest, though he’d already given up on studying for the night.
i miss you.
Harry’s text message was simple yet very effective in wringing Louis’ heart. He missed the other boy, as well, perhaps more than he even expected he would. And even though he was still immensely confused about everything - about what he was and about what they were – he couldn’t ignore just how wonderful it had been to be together that his fingers were already typing a response before he realized it.
i miss you, too…
can i see you?
i’m coming over. give me your address.
Louis couldn’t help smiling. It was so easy for them now, whereas before, there had been some unspoken boundary that neither one of them wanted to cross. Now…they could see each other whenever they liked. As such, he had no qualms giving up the address he had once kept close to his chest; it was just another part of him that he so willingly offered to Harry.
It wasn’t until half past midnight that a knock came on his dorm room door. He flung himself off the bed to open it, letting Harry saunter in with an inexplicable smirk on his face.
“What’s that for?” Louis asked, poking Harry in the cheek.
The other boy shrugged. “Didn’t think we’d be swapping rooms so soon.”
“Git,” Louis muttered, poking Harry in the stomach this time and eliciting a giggle that he wanted to hear over and over again.
“Where’s your roommate?” Harry asked as he sat on Louis’ bed, gesturing to the other side of the room and peeling off the beanie that revealed his wavy brown locks.
Louis frowned. Though he should’ve been concerned that he hadn’t seen Liam in days, he knew well enough that his absence was only an indication of his healthy relationship with Zayn – and that he really had no business prying into things he didn’t want to learn.
“Out, I suppose.” He watched Harry curiously as he fell on his back, inching upward until his hair reached the headboard and his feet dangled almost off the edge of the bed.
“Come on,” Harry said rather impatiently, patting the empty space beside him on the bed. “I’m cold and I want a cuddle.”
Louis rolled his eyes. “You want a cuddle? My bed’s not that big, Styles.”
Harry’s cheeks went slightly pink at the use of his last name, but he threw a sly grin that made Louis’ insides curl into themselves.
“Neither was mine, but you saw what we managed to do in spite of that.”
This time, Louis’ cheeks went warm and he had to look down to keep from revealing the grin that had now spread wide across his face.
“Come on,” Harry repeated, although there was a hint of amusement in the way he said it. “I swear I won’t try any funny business. Just a cuddle, I swear.”
Louis arched a brow.
“And maybe some groping here and there, but that’s it,” Harry said with a wink.
Though it wasn’t supposed to be a convincing argument, Harry’s words did enough to make Louis sigh in assent (sending several butterflies flitting through his stomach at the same time). He hovered teasingly over the end of the bed, wanting to see Harry’s reaction as he drew the moment out longer and longer.
But Harry’s impatience finally got the best of him, and the curly-haired boy simply reached out and grabbed Louis’ wrist, tugging the older boy until he tumbled over and collapsed beside him.
“There we go,” Harry said smugly, throwing an arm over Louis’ waist and pulling him in so that his back aligned flush against Harry’s chest. His voice was barely a whisper and his breath warm against Louis neck when he said, “That’s more like it.”
It didn’t take very long for Louis to realize that this had been his first cuddle in a really long time. Sure, he’d had few with Eleanor since then, but they’d always felt more conciliatory than anything else – never borne out of a real need to just be touching and holding someone. And though the thought came with a small sting (because really, how many ways had he hurt Eleanor during their relationship?), there was a greater sense of wonderment that accompanied the realization that this was Harry.
Harry was the one holding him with a surprising degree of firmness and intimacy that seemed to suggest he wouldn’t be letting go any time soon. And though a million different questions came flooding to the fore of Louis’ mind – what are we, what does this mean, who am I to you – none of them seemed pressing enough to break the way that Harry’s breathing had evened out next to his ear, or the way that their fingers managed to slot together seamlessly.
“Louis?” Harry’s voice was thick and riddled with sleep.
It almost seemed silly that Harry had come all this way just to lay here with him and sleep but – well, it wasn’t a bad thing, either.
“I really like you.”
All those questions only screamed louder at Harry’s words, begging to be heard and begging for some recognition. But it wasn’t enough to wipe the small, private smile that Louis allowed himself in that moment, and it certainly wasn’t enough to keep him from squeezing Harry’s fingers ever so gently.
“I think I really like you, too.”
And whatever else needed to be said could wait until morning.
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