"No, listen," Louis says and points the joint at Zayn. "Iron Man 2 is not that bad."
"But that's not—" Zayn starts.
"I mean, it had Natasha," Louis says. "So, like, I know it's not considered as good as the first one, but it had Natasha."
"Yeah, but you can't just judge something based on how not bad it is," Zayn says. He steals the joint from Louis and takes a puff.
They've been smoking up in the back lounge of the bus for—a while now. Louis has lost track of time. He's right about this, though. He knows he is. Natasha. And Pepper, who is great, and there's that scene with Tony with the giant doughnut thing, which is, like, wicked. It's art, that is.
"It's art," Louis says. "That scene with Tony and the doughnut, Zayn. It's art."
Zayn rolls his eyes. "No, listen. I liked the film, I liked parts of it, but the villain, bro. The villain has to be good."
"Well," Louis says. "I suppose."
"But," Zayn says. "I actually liked the end to this one more, I think. Tony fighting alongside Rhodey, you know? With his brother. That was sick."
"Yeah, it was," Louis says. "Both of them in the suits—amazing."
"Right," Zayn says, and holds his fist out. Louis leans forward and bumps it.
"Sick," Louis says. "But we should still watch Thor. Natalie Portman's so fit."
Zayn rolls his eyes. "Thought we were deciding between Iron Man films, bro."
"Nah," Louis says. "I'm feeling Thor."
He tries to get up to find the DVD. His legs don't really want to cooperate. He's just reached the point where he's finally come down from the show and everything is calm in his head. Moving will disturb that.
"Do you want another?" Zayn asks.
Louis looks over. Zayn's lighting up another spliff. His lighter's not working right and he shakes it, brow furrowing a little.
"Nah," Louis says. "Okay, yeah, but in a bit."
"Alright," Zayn says. He clicks the lighter again, finally getting the flame to appear. It makes contact with the spliff. Zayn disappears.
There's a wall of fire and a loud crackle, and then both of them are gone and Zayn is gone.
The silence after is deafening.
Zayn's gone. Louis's so high. Holy shit, what the fucking fuck.
"Zayn?" Louis scrambles forward, his voice rising. This isn't happening. "Zayn! Zayn, Zayn, no, what the fu—Zayn!"
Something meows. Louis stops and stares.
In the spot where Zayn was sitting there's a lean black cat. It's staring at Louis. Its eyes are wide and hazel, reminding Louis of—no.
"No," Louis says. "This is not happening."
The cat looks unimpressed.
"Don't give me that look," Louis says. "This is not happening. Zayn, come on, mate, where are you?"
The cat gets up and walks up to Louis, batting at his thigh.
"No," Louis says. The cat meows again. It sounds exasperated with Louis, and a bit sad. Louis touches it hesitantly. He's not really a cat person.
He's been around cats, sure, but he knows dogs better. He knows babies best of all. He's not an animal person, really, that's Zayn. He's a baby person.
The cat climbs in his lap and curls up. Louis's hand hovers for a moment before settling on the cat's back, petting it awkwardly.
"Zayn?" Louis tries again.
The cat meows.
Louis sighs and covers his face with his hand. This is not happening.
The first thing Louis does is text Liam. Liam can fix this. That's what Liam does.
Help I think zayn turned into a cat what do I do
He waits for Liam to respond, cat asleep in his lap. It went to sleep pretty much instantly after Louis started petting it. So far it's the best proof Louis thinks he has for it being Zayn.
Everything else is sort of inconclusive. Louis has seen enough films to know that there could always be a twist. What if Zayn disappeared and was replaced by a cat, but is not actually the cat itself? What is Louis going to do then? And where has Zayn gone?
Louis throws his phone to the side, disgusted with Liam's failure to text him back, and buries his face in his hands. He's exhausted and still a bit blazed and everything's blurry and weird and Zayn's either lost or a cat and Louis can't deal with either of those options and Liam is not getting back to him. He's ready to scream.
He falls back on the sofa, stretching his legs out and jostling the cat in the process, waking it up. Fuck.
The cat just stretches and moves up to lie on his stomach, curling up again. It yawns. It's the cutest thing Louis has ever seen. Everything is terrible.
"Do you think if I repeat 'this isn't happening' for long enough it'll make it true?" Louis asks.
The cat moves its tail. Louis doesn't know what that means.
"I have no idea what that means," Louis says.
The cat covers its nose with its tail, and closes its eyes.
"Alright," Louis says. "Fine. You just sleep while I sit here and have a breakdown over my best friend disappearing. That's totally fine."
The cat opens its eyes and just looks at him. It's just. It looks so much like Zayn when it gives Louis that look.
"I still don't believe you," Louis says. "Wait. Wait, shit, can you understand me? Can I ask you a question and you say yes or no?"
The cat seems to sigh.
"No, listen, okay. Like, one meow for yes, two for no? That? Would that work? Come on. Zayn, if that's really you then please help me out here, I'm fucking losing it."
That seems to get the cat's attention at least, his ears and nose twitching.
"Seriously, just tell me if you're Zayn."
The cat meows once.
"Alright," Louis says. "Okay, see, that could be a coincidence. Um. Shit, I don't know what to ask. My brain's all fuzzy. It was good weed tonight, wasn't it?"
The cat meows once again.
Louis starts laughing. "Oh my god. This is ridiculous."
The cat rubs his head against Louis's stomach—Louis can feel it through his thin t-shirt. He takes a deep breath. Okay, he can do this. He just has to think of random questions.
"Uh. Shit. Was the concert good tonight?"
"Is Iron Man better than Green Lantern?"
"Can you swim?"
"Fitting you turned into a cat then, eh?"
"Sorry. Uh. Okay, fuck, meow five times if you're Zayn and you turned into a cat."
Five meows. Well, four or five, something like that. Zayn yawns through one of them.
Fuck. Fuck, Zayn.
Louis slips his hand to the cat's head, and scratches at the back of his neck.
"You're okay, though. Right?"
"Alright," Louis says and lets out a shuddering breath. "Okay, well, Liam's bloody ignoring me. And I'm knackered and about to fall asleep right here, I think. So. Let's wait until morning? Maybe you'll be back then. Does that sound okay?"
Zayn's already asleep. Louis gently shoves him off and curls up on the sofa next to him. It will all work out in the morning.
"This is a pretty fun prank," says Liam.
"It's not a prank!" Louis yells.
Zayn didn't change back during the night. Louis woke up to cat butt in his face.
"Okay," Liam says. He's smiling. He's so infuriating sometimes.
"I'm serious," Louis says. "I'm honest to god serious, Liam, just—fucking look at him. It's Zayn. I'm freaking out."
Liam looks over to where Harry's trying to play with Zayn. Zayn's lazily batting his paw at the straw Harry found somewhere. Niall's watching them both with a smile on his face. It's disgusting.
"He's so cute," Harry says and dangles the straw in front of Zayn's face. "Oh my god. Where did you find him?"
Louis grits his teeth. "He appeared out of thin air in the goddamn back lounge. Right as Zayn disappeared."
"So you didn't actually see him turn into a cat, then?" Niall asks, raising his eyebrows at Louis.
"No," Louis says, glaring. "He, like, fucking exploded or summat. There was this ball of fire, and then—that."
"Fire?" Liam asks. "Why fire?"
"I don't know why there was bloody fire," Louis yells. They're not taking him seriously. He hates that anyway—more so when he's actually being serious—but in this case it's an emergency.
"Alright, calm down," Niall says. "Not our fault your story has holes."
Louis feels like he's going to cry.
"Zayn," he says. "Zayn, come on, tell them."
"Meow," says Zayn.
There's a pause.
"Wow," Harry says. "Yeah, I definitely believe you now." He tickles behind Zayn's ear. Louis hates him. He hates them all.
He balls his hands into his fists and tries not to start properly yelling. They're in the dressing room, and while they're alone now, anyone could walk in at any moment. They don't need to see Louis having a meltdown.
"Louis," Liam says. "Are you okay? I'm sorry if we're not, like, buying it, but hey, the cat's cute, right? Maybe we can keep him."
"Of course we're keeping him," Louis says. "We're keeping him until he turns back into Zayn and then we're keeping Zayn too, and does no one care that we have a bloody show tonight? And Zayn's—he's—" He waves his hand at where Zayn and Harry are now watching him suspiciously. "He's just—Just look at him."
"You're serious about this," Niall says. "Aren't you?"
"Of course I'm bloody serious," Louis says. "Why would I—this would be a horrible prank. Why would I lie?" His voice cracks. Embarrassing.
"Louis," Liam says, touching Louis's elbow. Louis pulls away, rattled, but then Niall's there, gathering him up in a hug, and Liam's joining in, arms around both of them.
Harry quickly shuffles up to them, clutching Zayn, and joins in on the awkward huddle. Louis closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
"It's just—" Louis says. "It's just fucked up, isn't it? I'm just worried about him. I wouldn't lie."
"I know," Liam says, even though he clearly doesn't. Louis is willing to let it slide this time. "It's okay."
"Sorry," Harry says. "Sorry, here, you hold him." He hands Zayn over. Louis takes him carefully and holds him close. Zayn's tail swings ominously.
"Stop that," Louis says. "This is your fault. I'm going out my head, and you're a cat."
Zayn meows and bats at his nose. Louis laughs.
"Aw, he likes you," Harry says.
"Well, obviously," says Louis, bristling. "Zayn loves me."
"No, I know," Harry says. "Just—you know. Cat."
"Zayn," Louis says.
"Louis," says Liam. Louis hates when he uses that tone of voice—tentative and all, like. Logical or whatever. "Like, I totally believe you, mate. I do. But just checking, right. You're absolutely sure Zayn isn't asleep on the bus right now?"
"I don't know," Niall says. "He looks an awful lot like Zayn."
"Yes, thank you, Niall," Louis says. "He does. Besides—"
"He looks like a black cat," Liam says.
"It's in the eyes," says Harry.
"Well, yeah, they're very—they're like Zayn's, but you can't say he looks like Zayn when Zayn's a person, you know."
"Do you think he's still a person?" Harry asks. "It's his brain, right. In a cat's body. Don't you know this stuff, Liam? You read comics."
"Look, I just don't want Zayn to pop up later and then I'll look like a fool who—"
"Besides," Louis says, louder, interrupting Liam. "I think we can prove it."
Twenty questions later the boys seem convinced and Niall's trying to get Zayn to use his iPhone to type.
"I don't know why I didn't think of that," Louis says as Zayn touches his nose to the phone.
"You were really high," says Harry.
"And scared," says Liam.
"Uh, excuse you, Liam. I wasn't scared."
"You were probably pissing yourself," Niall says. "It's Zayn, innit?"
"I totally remained calm," Louis says. "And cool. Calm and cool."
Niall laughs. Liam pats his hand. Louis scowls at them. None of them mention how he was ready to start bawling only a little while ago, but Louis knows they're thinking it. He knows. He scowls some more.
"What's he saying then?" Harry asks.
"Fopd," Niall reads. "Oh. Oh, food!"
"Oh, shit," Liam says. "Is he hungry? Why didn't we think of that? Louis, has he eaten?"
"I fed him the leftover pizza," Louis says. "Relax."
"Then why is he still hungry?"
"I don't know," Louis says. "How should I know how often cats eat? He liked it, anyway. And he ate a ton last night. Like, a ton."
"Maybe he still has the munchies," Harry says.
"Harry," Liam says. "He's a cat. He's not still high."
"Eh," Harry says. "Who knows, right?"
"God, it must have been some good weed you had last night," Niall says, laughing.
Louis blinks. "Niall, you're a genius."
"Thank you," Niall says. "Why?"
"The—Zayn was trying to light a joint when it happened. Like, the change. He flicked his lighter and the fire, I don't know, it just came to life. It must be, like, either the weed or the lighter, right?"
"Was it a new lighter?" Liam asks.
"No, his usual one," Louis says.
"Must be the weed then," Niall says. "But it's not like you were on your first spliff."
"No," Louis says. "No, I—fuck, I don't know. I think I lit all the others? Maybe?"
"Weird," Niall says. "Anyway, let's go and find you some water at least, yeah?" He picks Zayn up easily and carries him out the door. Louis watches them go.
"He didn't seem like he was high," Liam says.
"What would a high cat look like?" Louis asks.
"I don't know," Liam says. "Just—god, I don't know."
"I think I've heard about this," Harry says out of nowhere.
"What?" Louis asks.
"You've heard about people turning into cats?" Liam asks.
"Not cats, specifically," Harry says. "Just—animals. I think it happened to one of my mates. Or one of their mates. I can't remember."
"Wait," Louis says. "You knew this was a thing, and yet you didn't believe me?"
Harry looks apologetic. "I didn't remember it."
"How could you forget something like that?"
"I don't know," Harry says. "I honestly didn't think of it, alright. Not until you mentioned the weed. Sorry. Jeez."
Louis grumbles. "Whatever."
"No, wait, if Harry's mate knows something about this then that's good, right?" Liam asks. "They're no longer a cat, right?"
"A horse," Harry says.
"What?" Louis asks.
"No," says Liam. "No, Harry, come on."
"I think it was a horse," Harry says.
"Never mind," Louis says. "Just—can you call them up or something? Ask how they changed back?"
"Oh," Harry says. "Yeah, of course."
"Good," Liam says. "Good, okay, we just have to hope whatever it is it'll be done before the show. We can probably cover for him during the meet and greet, but that's it."
"Right," Louis says, and stands up. "You," he says, pointing at Harry, "call your mate. Liam, you go talk to Paul, he'll believe you."
"He won't," Liam says. "He'd believe—like, Niall, maybe. He'd think you and me were doing a prank."
"God," Louis says. "Why did I ever corrupt you?"
"Hey," Liam says, pouting.
"I'm going to go find Niall and keep an eye on Zayn. Right, you all have missions, off you go."
Liam rolls his eyes, but still gets up and does as he's told. Harry catches Louis before he can leave, though, a hand on his arm.
"Hey," Harry says.
"What?" Louis asks, immediately feeling defensive.
"Just, I just wanted to say he'll be okay," Harry says. "I'm sure I've heard about this happening."
"Which is really fucking weird, by the way."
"I suppose," Harry says, shrugging. "He'll be alright. You don't have to worry."
"I'm not worried," Louis says. "Liam's worried. He's the worrier."
Harry smiles a little. "It's Zayn," he says. "You're worried."
"That doesn't make any sense," Louis says. "I'd worry if it was any of—wait."
"Ha," Harry says, grinning now. "You would worry."
"Fuck off," Louis says, and pinches his side. "And go and call your weirdo friends."
"Hey," Harry protests. "No need for that."
"Stop complaining," Louis says. "And go and find what the fuck's going on. It's your mission, Harry. You're a wizard."
"That's only funny when Niall says it," Harry says. "Shit, don't let him hear that."
"Too late," Louis says happily. He pokes Harry in the side again, ignoring his grumbling, and runs off in search of Niall and Zayn.
"That cat is adorable," Lou says. "He's so cute."
"Yes," Louis says, with the air of great importance, and keeps petting Zayn's head. "Yes, he is."
He can see Niall's trying very hard not to laugh. Louis makes a face at him, and Niall breaks, covering his face with his hands.
"Wait," Lou says. "Are you having me on? What's going on?"
"Nothing," Louis says, scowling, and cuddles Zayn closer. "This is a cat. And he's adorable. An adorable cat."
Lou narrows her eyes at him. "If I find out this is some kind of joke—"
"How is it a joke?" Louis asks. "It's a cat."
Lou still looks suspicious. It doesn't help that Niall's still losing it in the background.
"Niall, mate, get it together."
"Sorry," Niall says. "It's just—you're so cute." He giggles to himself.
"Wait," Louis says. "What? Me?"
"Yeah, you," Niall says. "You're all. You know."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Louis says. He means it, too.
"Well, whatever's going on, I don't think you can keep the cat, Louis," Lou says. "Anyway, I have work to do." She reaches out to pet Zayn. Zayn hisses.
"Sorry," Louis says when Lou pulls back, frowning. "He's a cat, you know. Has his own mind and all."
"Yeah," Lou says. "Well, have fun."
"Oh, mate," Niall says when Lou's out of earshot. "This is just beautiful."
"What is?" Louis asks. "Talk sense, man."
"Just, the two of you," Niall says. "A boy and his cat."
"Ah, have some respect," Louis says, and covers Zayn's ears. "He's not a pet."
"I know," Niall says. "And we'll have him back soon, it's just sweet to see you looking after him."
Louis rolls his eyes and looks down at Zayn. Zayn's purring. It's weird, Louis can feel it vibrate through his chest. It's sort of pleasant.
Anyway, he's not, like—well, he is looking after Zayn. Obviously. Zayn must be freaking out even if he doesn't show it. He's a cat. He's Louis's best friend. Louis will make sure he's safe and doing okay, that's what he's supposed to do. It's nothing special.
"Whatever, like you're not the same," he says, looking up at Niall.
"Will you let me hold him then?" Niall asks.
"No," Louis says, clutching Zayn closer. "He doesn't want you to."
Niall starts laughing again. Louis is not sure why it's funny.
They're back in the dressing room, trying to play catch with a very bored Zayn, when Harry and Liam come running in.
"We got it," Liam says. "Harry's got it."
"Great!" Niall says.
"What took you so bloody long?" Louis demands.
They all ignore him. Zayn's tail twitches and Louis reaches out to scratch him behind the ears. Zayn likes it. Or, well, cats like it. And Zayn's a cat. So it makes sense.
"So what is it then?" Niall asks.
"It's, like, a curse or summat," Harry says. "Or like a spell, I suppose. Are spells curses when they're evil?"
"Harry," Louis says. "Get to the point."
"Is there a way to break the curse?" Niall asks.
Harry sits down on the floor and beckons Zayn to him. Zayn refuses to move.
"Hey," Harry says. "Did you turn him against me?"
"He's a cat," Louis says. "They're very stubborn."
"He's Zayn," Liam says, sitting down next to Louis, who, thank you very much, does know that, yes. "He's in one of his moods."
"He's not in a mood," Louis says, and runs his hand over Zayn's back. "He just doesn't like you anymore."
"Tommo got jealous," Niall says.
"Oh, finally?" Liam asks, which doesn't make any sense.
"What do you mean, finally?" Louis demands.
"Well, you're bad at sharing Zayn," Harry says.
"I'm not—he's a person. There's no sharing. He makes his own decisions." Louis wishes Zayn could back him up here, but he's still a damn cat. Cursed to be a cat, what the fuck.
"Doesn't mean you don't get jealous," Liam says apologetically. "Sorry, mate."
Zayn gets up at that and trots over to Liam, wrapping himself around Liam's feet. Louis lets him go. Obviously he lets him go; Zayn can do whatever he wants. Liam beams and starts petting Zayn. Louis looks away.
Unfortunately he makes eye contact with Niall. Niall looks amused. Louis scowls at him.
"Anyway," Louis says. "Now that you've stopped talking nonsense—Harry. A way to break the curse?"
"Oh," Harry says, smiling. "It's easy. True Love's Kiss."
"What?" Niall asks.
Louis's stomach drops.
It's been almost five months since Zayn and Perrie decided to break up. She's on tour in, like, Australia or something, and getting her here fast enough for tonight's show would be impossible even if they were still dating. Louis is not sure how they're going to manage it now. He's not even sure if it will work.
"Yeah, apparently it's an actual thing," Harry says. He's grinning like all his dreams have just come true. He would love this.
"True love's kiss?" Niall asks.
"True Love's Kiss," Harry says.
"It sounds fancier when Harry says it," says Liam.
None of them seem to be freaking out. Why aren't they freaking out? There's no way to get Zayn back, and everything is terrible, and Louis can't go on stage tonight without Zayn, and Zayn will have to live like this forever. Louis feels awful about it. Technically it must be his fault, right? He's the one who told Alberto to get them the weed.
"Lads," Louis says. "Focus."
"We are," Harry says, frowning.
"Well then focus harder," Louis snaps. "Where the hell are we going to get a true love's kiss from? Like, the fuck is true love?"
"Well," Harry says. "I think it's meant to be mutual...like. True love. Love. Just love."
"So," Louis says, and waves his hands.
"What?" Niall asks.
"Where are we supposed to get that from?" Louis asks.
They all just stare at him.
"What?" Louis asks.
"You're going to kiss him," Niall says, like it's obvious.
"What?" Louis says again. Niall's looking at him like he's slow.
Louis looks over at Liam, hoping to share in on the joke, the "ha, isn't Niall being ridiculous?" joke. Liam's looking encouraging.
"Why is your face like that?" Louis asks.
"Like what?" Liam asks. He's smiling, all soft and sincere.
Harry's the worst. He's just grinning at Louis. "Go on," he says.
"Go on and what?" Louis asks.
"Kiss him," Niall says.
Louis looks at Zayn. Zayn's slowly blinking back at him.
"But," Louis says.
Liam picks Zayn up carefully and holds him out to Louis. "Here."
"No," Louis says. "No, what? You're being stupid. Is this—is this a weird prank or something? Don't you dare prank me."
"Lou," Harry says. "Just try it, yeah?"
"But," Louis says again.
"I'm sure it can be, like, true friend love too?" Niall asks, looking at Harry.
Harry frowns. Niall kicks him in the shin. "Oh, yeah," Harry says. "I mean, that's true love, too. I'm not sure if—"
"Well, then any of you can do it," Louis says. "If it's friend love."
"True friend love," Harry corrects him.
"Liam can do it," Louis says. Liam's set Zayn on his lap and is scratching behind his ear. Louis's stomach hurts.
"Just try it," Niall says. "And if it doesn't work we'll all try it, and then we'll, I don't know. Think of something else."
"This is stupid," Louis says.
"It's our only chance," Liam says. "It's for Zayn. You'd do it for Zayn, right?" He picks Zayn up again and holds him out. This time Louis takes him.
"If you're messing with me," Louis says. "If this is some sort of funny joke."
"It's not," Harry says.
"Just do it already," says Niall.
Louis looks at Liam. Liam's eyes are all gentle. Louis can't stand it.
He looks away, looks down at Zayn instead. Zayn's lazily spread out in his lap, staring up at Louis. Louis remembers with a jolt that he can probably understand everything they're saying.
"Come on, Lou," Liam says. "It can be just a friends thing. It doesn't have to be romantic."
"It's still true love," Niall says.
Louis takes a deep breath. It's just—they don't know, of course. But. Maybe there's a part of him—a tiny part, that he keeps well hidden—that does want it to be, like. Romantic. Maybe.
But that's ridiculous. And Zayn's his best friend. And probably not into boys. And even if he would be, then, like—that wouldn't mean he'd be into Louis, and fuck, now he's thinking about it. Now they've done it.
"Louis," Harry says. "It's okay."
"Shut up," Louis snaps. "It's not going to work."
He lifts Zayn up and presses his mouth to Zayn's nose, just a quick little thing.
"There," Louis says. His voice is shaking. "I told you."
There's a flash of light, a soft buzzing noise, and then Louis has a Zayn in his lap. Boy Zayn, actual Zayn, not tiny cat Zayn.
"Whoa," says Liam.
"Zayn!" Niall shouts, and throws himself at Zayn for a hug. They all descend upon him then, Louis finding himself at the bottom of a heap of boys whose focus is all on Zayn.
"God," he grumbles. "Let him breathe at least."
They all look so excited when they pull away, staring at Zayn. Zayn looks happy and a bit overwhelmed. Louis missed seeing his face.
"Are you okay?" Liam asks.
"Yeah," Zayn says, voice gruff and quiet, and oh, Louis missed his voice too.
"What was it like?" Harry asks. "Did you understand us? Was your brain more like a cat's, do you think?" He's excited, his words running together like they normally never do.
"Did you like it?" Niall asks.
"Did it hurt?" asks Liam.
"Guys," Louis says. "Seriously, give him a minute."
Zayn shoots Louis a grateful look. He's still in Louis's lap, their legs tangled together. Louis swallows hard.
"It was weird," Zayn says. "Like. Super weird. Like, I'm not sure even how to describe it, you know?"
"But did it hurt?" Liam asks. "Were you scared?"
"Nah, it didn't hurt," Zayn says. "Maybe a bit scared at first, but you all looked after me so I didn't really have much to worry about."
He looks right at Louis when he says it. Louis gives him a weak smile.
"So was it your brain in a cat body?" Niall asks. "That's weird."
"It's magic," Harry says. "His brain couldn't actually fit a cat body."
"Well, at least we got you back," Liam says. "You should probably throw out that weed."
Niall laughs, and Zayn rolls his eyes.
"Magic usually has, like, a purpose," Harry says slowly.
"Don't act like you're an expert," Niall says.
"I'm not an expert," Harry says. "That's just usually the case, isn't it? Magic is supposed to have a purpose."
"What sort of purpose?" Liam asks.
Harry wrinkles his nose. "I don't know. I think this one was about love. To, like, show us how much we love Zayn and care about him. And how important he is to us. But we knew that already."
"I'm going to—" Louis says, and stands up quickly. "I. I left something on the bus, I'm going to go get it."
He rushes out of the room before they can say anything, desperate not to make eye contact with anyone.
Fuck Harry. And fuck magic.
Louis is absolutely not hiding on the bus.
He's getting ready for the show. He's, like, mentally preparing himself. He could even do some run-throughs. There's still more than a couple of hours to go, but it doesn't hurt to start early. So, he's not hiding. He's just sitting on the sofa in the back lounge, chewing on his nails, and trying to calm down for the show. Not hiding.
"Hey," Zayn says.
Louis jumps, startled, and pulls his knees up to his chest. Fuck. "Hey."
"You're twitchy," Zayn says.
"Was going to smoke up," Louis says. "But I don't want to, like, turn into a fucking elephant or something, you know?"
Zayn nods. "You'd break the bus. Don would be really sad."
He sits down next to Louis. Louis wraps his arms around his knees, and bites down on his lip. Fuck, he needs to relax. He needs to act natural, like everything's fine, like his head isn't a mess right now. He's abruptly forgotten what that's like.
"Hey," Zayn says, voice gentle. "Are you alright?"
Louis frowns at him. "Aren't I supposed to be asking you that? You turned into a cat. Are you alright?"
Zayn shrugs. "Getting there."
Louis's stomach clenches. "Do you, like, need to talk about it? Sorry, I know I'm being weird."
"You are," Zayn says. "But no, it's fine. It was just a bit of a shock, you know? But I think I'm good now. It was—nice."
"Nice?" Louis asks.
"Nice to just, like, not be a person for a little while," Zayn says. His expression has gone all distant and thoughtful. "It felt good, actually. It was sort of calming, like? Got me out of my head for a bit."
"Oh," Louis says. That does sound good. He wishes he could get out of his head.
"Yeah," Zayn says. "Like, don't get me wrong, bro, I'm glad I'm not staying a cat forever. And I'm really glad I didn't have to miss tonight's show. But it wasn't, like, a horrible experience, you know?"
"Good," Louis says. "Yeah, that's—that's good."
Zayn nods, and shrugs, smiling at him. He looks so relaxed. Louis is sitting here, chewing on his nails again, and Zayn looks like he's just had the best high of his life.
"Did you understand us?" Louis asks. "Like, did you understand what we were talking about?"
Zayn nods again. "Yeah."
"Everything?" Louis asks. "Did you—everything?"
"Yeah," Zayn says.
"Oh," Louis says. He looks at his knees.
"Hey," Zayn says. "You know I love you too, right?"
Louis nods. "Yeah." He does. It's just not like that.
"Louis," Zayn says.
"It's just, like, friend love, or whatever Harry said. I know."
"Is it?" Zayn asks.
"Of course," Louis says. "That's—there's nothing, like. It's not romantic or anything. There's no fancying involved. Or any feelings like that." God, he just can't shut up.
There's a moment of quiet. Louis risks a glance at Zayn.
Zayn's eyes are soft and gentle, and god, he knows Louis better than anyone. He gets Louis, and there's no way he's not seeing through him right now. There's no way he doesn't know.
"Zayn," Louis says, trying to keep his voice from climbing or going all plaintive and pathetic. "I'm sorry, I didn't—"
"I don't mind, you know," Zayn says. "If there is, like, fancying involved, I mean."
"What?" Louis asks.
"I wouldn't mind," Zayn says. "I sort of feel the same, bro."
Louis swallows hard. "What? Feel like—like what?"
Zayn shrugs. "Like I love you. Obviously. But also, like, like I want to kiss you if you're cool with that."
"What?" Louis asks again. It feels like something's breaking inside him, but it's—it might be good. "Are you serious? Since when? Please tell me you're not just taking the piss."
"I wouldn't," Zayn says, frowning. "I wouldn't do that to you."
"I know," Louis says, because he knows. He trusts Zayn. "I just—really?"
"Yeah," Zayn says. "Really."
"But—are you sure?"
Zayn nods. "Yeah. Is it that hard to believe?"
"Yes," Louis says. "I mean, no. I mean. What?"
Zayn moves closer and touches Louis's elbow. Louis uncurls, turning towards Zayn and letting him in. He thinks he should feel scared, or wary still, but it's Zayn.
"Can I?" Zayn asks.
"Can you what?"
Zayn rolls his eyes. "Kiss you, obviously."
"Oh," Louis says. "Yes. Yeah."
Zayn leans in slowly, like he's giving Louis the chance to pull back. Louis doesn't want to. He sits there, frozen, not really believing this is happening, but god, he never wants to pull back.
Louis can't help his soft gasp when Zayn's lips meet his. It's just—it's Zayn. He's actually kissing Zayn.
Zayn's lips are soft and he smells faintly of smoke and soap and, like, shampoo or hairspray or something and it's so familiar, and Louis loves him so much.
Zayn pulls back. Louis makes a disappointed noise, and clutches at his waist.
"Hey," Zayn says. He's smiling, maybe just a bit tentative. "How was that?"
"I don't know," Louis says, and grins. "I think we should try again just to be sure."
Zayn laughs, his eyes crinkling. "Alright, we can do that."
Louis pulls him in for another kiss.
During the huddle before the show Louis slips his hand in Zayn's and presses a kiss to the side of his mouth.
Niall whoops. Liam is smiling wide; Louis thinks he spots tears in his eyes.
Harry grins at them. "Told you it was about love."
"Oh god," Louis says. "Stop being so soppy."
Zayn laughs and squeezes Louis's hand. Louis smiles.