Louis agrees to the pap walk at LAX on the condition that the car takes him straight to Van Nuys and the plane to New York is ready to take off. He tugs his hood up and doesn’t even pretend to smile. 85 days to go.
He feels grimy. The direct flight from London is the longest he takes, and even though the Air New Zealand beds are his favourites, with their squashy little mattresses and proper pillows, he didn’t sleep. Louis’ never slept well on planes, always marveling at Harry’s ability to fold himself into impossible spaces. Long limbs akimbo, mouth dropping open with tiny little snores.
Harry. Who got to take the short flight straight to New York.
He facetimes him from the car as it pulls away from the curb, leaving the last of the flashbulbs in their wake.
“How was it?”
Louis shrugs, tugs at hangnail with his teeth. “Means to an end, right.” It’s a hollow answer. Words they’ve said to each other too often and for too long.
Harry’s face is etched with concern.
Louis smiles; tries to get him to relax. Makes Harry tell him about his trip, because he knows the story will be rambling and irrelevant but he just wants to sink into the leather seats and listen to his voice. This whole plan is stupid and risky and like something straight out of a telenovela, but it doesn’t matter because they’re so close now.
Five years down, 85 days to go.
Private plane or no, they still make Louis turn his phone off when they begin to taxi, and so he touches the pad of his thumb to Harry’s face on the screen. The substitute kiss they can finally leave behind soon but probably never will.
He asks the hostess for a beer, and picks listlessly at a sandwich as they hurtle across the night sky.
So many miles in the air. So many hours wasted apart. Louis feels scratchy and impatient. Like he does before he runs onto the field for a game. Like it’s time to go. Like he’s tired of waiting.
Harry found the New York apartment and insisted Louis go and look before they signed off the paperwork a few months back. Just as this whole circus was starting. Louis was allowed to make the detour only if he went out and got photographed, which was annoying, because he was exhausted. But so, so worth it when the agent unlocked the front door and clicked on the lights, and Louis’ breath caught in his throat.
New York is somewhere they’ve both always wanted to live. Now the town car is sweeping over the bridge and the lights of Manhattan are lit up like a fairytale.
It’s a city with the most perfect and the most awful of their memories tied up in it, woven through its streets. He thinks about Madison Square Garden. He thinks about drinking in the new year by himself until he passed out, refusing to google the pictures, unable to look. He thinks about Central Park and the slightly strangled noise the fans made as the interviewer said, “From one father…”. He thinks about the way Harry once pressed him up against a wall in the bathrooms at Soho House, biting at his earlobe. He thinks about the way his Mum had tears in her eyes before that first concert, unable to say anything but, “My baby,” over and over. It’s a city that’s always reinventing itself right around him.
Means to an end.
Parking garage. Lift. Almost there, he thinks. Almost home.
He unlocks the door. The lights are dimmed. He takes in the expanse of dark hardwood floors and his boy lying flat on his stomach in front of the couch. Surrounded by an abandoned copy of Monocle, two empty coffee cups and and forty pages of sheet music. He has his headphones in and doesn’t hear Louis, so he has a moment to just take it in. Harry’s feet are bare. The t-shirt he’s wearing is an old, stretched out one of Louis’. His hair is up in a bun and seems to be secured with a pencil. Louis’ not sure he’s ever looked more beautiful.
But then he thinks that every time.
If Harry’s on the floor his back is troubling him, so Louis drops his duffle in the entryway and walks to the kitchen, throwing a wheat bag in the microwave as he toes off his shoes. Even up this high, the dull noise of the city is like a physical presence. Sirens; the honk of taxis. So much louder and more vibrant than any of their other homes.
Louis kneels and presses the heat pack to Harry’s lower back, and he twists his head around with a start, tugging out his earbuds. A delighted smile spreads across his face.
“You’re early!” he says accusingly, and Louis shrugs, sprawling out alongside him and resting on his elbows as he leans in for a kiss. Harry tastes like coffee, and chewing gum, and he smells like clean laundry and day-old cologne.
“I was planning to be all ready,” he pouts.
“By ready, do you mean naked?” Louis teases, running his hand down the plane of Harry’s spine and adjusting the heat pack. Harry groans appreciatively. “Because I’m not sure your old man back could take it.”
Harry huffs indignantly, but doesn’t disagree. “We have five days, and absolutely no need to leave this apartment. There’s probably no hurry.”
“You’ll go to Toronto from here?” he asks, tracing his fingers along the bars of music scrawled in Harry’s distinctive style. Tapping a pattern against the wood of the floor.
“Yeah. Are they going to make you fly back through LA?”
“Nah. They’re just going to leak that’s where I’m flying from.”
“So, no one needs us until Thursday?”
They smile at each other, tangling their fingers together, as if neither of them can quite believe their luck.
Louis gets to his feet. “I’m going to go shower all this plane off me. Think your decrepit muscles could handle that?”
Harry rolls his eyes, and reaches out a hand for Louis to pull him up.
It’s a little after midnight, according to the bedside clock. Louis starts the shower and thinks, 84 days to go.