Actions

Work Header

we built it up so high and now we're falling

Work Text:

The soothing patter of the rain outside is making its best case for Louis to remain in bed for the next twenty hours. It’s been a winning strategy thus far, lying uncovered with his laptop on his stomach, idly watching videos on the internet and learning far more about chicken farming than he ever reasonably thought he would learn. It’s apparently a real shit show, if John Oliver is to be believed.

Maybe it’s a little fucked, but the only thing he can focus on watching the sad chicken farming story is how hungry he is, how he hasn’t had anything to eat since the cup of dry cereal he half-inhaled at his desk eight hours ago, how he could really go for some chicken right now. If he’s going to settle in for the foreseeable future, he might as well have snacks.

It’s another wild and crazy Friday night , he thinks as he reluctantly peels himself off the bed. He loves a good party, of course, all night ragers with him and his Netflix account and the cheapest bottle of tequila from the off-license.

He clutches his laptop in one hand because he has actually gotten a little attached to the chicken farmers and shuffles out to his kitchen, which is less like a kitchen and more like a stove and a refrigerator and a sink that happen to be sort of in proximity to each other. They’re also in proximity to his sofa and the wobbly table and three mismatched chairs he calls his living room.

He sets his laptop on the bit of the stove he won’t be using for the kettle -- a dangerous move, but he’s never been one to shy away from a little excitement. He half-watches as he pokes about in all two of his cabinets before landing on an open, half full bag of crisps that are too stale to taste good. He plans to eat all of it.

There’s a knock on his front door just as soon as he lights the burner under his kettle. The knock is so light he isn’t even sure it’s real until there’s another knock, this one insistent and unending. He slaps at his keyboard until the video pauses and he looks accusingly over at the door until he can’t actually take it anymore.

On the other side of his door stands a sopping wet bloke, whose eyes rise from the ground to meet his. What little light pours out from Louis’ flat highlights his face, but it’s not necessary. Louis knows every inch of him. He looks different because time changes everyone, but he somehow always manages to look the same.

“Louis,” he says weakly. His eyes are wet, which seems a bit odd to say, considering that literally every inch of him is drenched with the rain. But he’s been crying.

“Liam,” Louis answers, clutching the door a little harder than he should. Two and a half years and the only thing he can manage to say is Liam’s fucking name.

“My, um. My dog died?” Liam says like he’s guessing the password for entry. That about does it for Louis, who reaches a hand for Liam’s shoulder and tugs him in.

Liam stumbles, but he’s always got sturdy feet under him. He doesn’t move much further beyond the door as Louis closes it behind him. And, because he truly can’t help himself, he pulls Liam in for a hug, clutching desperately at him, not sparing a care for how the rain on Liam’s jacket is probably soaking his clothes as well. He’s a solid and comforting presence for Liam now because that’s what matters most, if Liam tucking his face into Louis’ shoulder is any indication.

A little part of Louis wants it too, though, he wants everything between them to have melted away. He wants all of the barriers between them torn down and hauled away so there’s no trace they ever existed.

The bigger part of Louis knows what this is. Emotions running high because they’ve both lost something important to them. Finding the last remaining piece of common ground between them, because as much as it stung that Liam had said my dog and not our dog, Louis knows that’s what he meant. He knows Liam meant it because Liam came here to tell him.

The kettle whistles like it’s telling them their stalemate is up and they’ll have to resume their positions on the battlefield again. Liam startles away at the sound, scrubbing at his face before turning his sad eyes to Louis’ damp clothing. Louis is suddenly aware of how he is nowhere near as put together as he’d like to be for his first Liam sighting in years.

He’s got his ragged Rovers jumper and his comfiest trackies on. He hadn’t planned to wash his hair or shave his face or change his clothes for the next fifty-four hours because he is actually trash. The look doesn’t exactly scream just fine without you, thanks.

“Hi,” Liam says.

Louis makes a noise in return and he can’t figure out what to do with his hands, like, he can’t cross his arms because it seems too confrontational and he can’t pop his hands on his waist because that seems even more confrontational. He just hangs them at his side like the floppy noodles that they are, and he blinks up at Liam, unsure whose move it is.

“The kettle?” Liam says because it’s still whistling.

Louis jumps and tends to it, fixing up two mugs by rote memory at this point. He’s thankful his hands know what to do because his brain and mouth seem to be on permanent lockdown. He doesn’t ask Liam before he dumps three sugars into his mug and hands it over.

“Are you watching a video about chickens?” Liam asks.

Louis leans over and slaps his laptop shut. “Don’t worry about it.”

He knows what it is that has been pestering him about the video, and it’s that he can see how perfectly upset Liam would get over it, how Liam would try for at least a day and a half to make it his personal mission to see that either the chickens or the chicken farmers -- Louis hadn’t gotten far enough into the video to know who the real protagonist was -- would have justice.

He doesn’t like how easily he can see it, how quickly his brain wants to go back to that place where it immediately wonders at how Liam would react to this or what Liam would think of this or whether Liam would like this. Because it’s been two and a half years and Louis isn’t entirely sure closure is a real thing.

Louis rests up against the stove, attempting to maintain a cool exterior as he watches Liam leak rain all over his floor where he stands by the wobbly table with the mismatched chairs.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says. “About Egg Salad.” He even manages to say the name without cracking a smile. For the first time in his life.

“Thanks,” Liam mumbles.

Egg Salad was the best dog, a border terrier at the shelter that had been there for nearly two years. She was five years old and essentially labeled No Good for Adoption because she wasn’t a puppy. Of course Liam immediately took offense to that and immediately fell in love with her.

He didn’t laugh at Liam for picking the one dog that was the Liamiest of the lot. He didn’t mention a thing about it because that was always a quiet thing they shared when the lights were off, when they shouldn’t have been in the same bed because best mates don’t just sleep in the same bed. He didn’t say anything about how often Liam wondered -- without exactly putting it in these words -- whether he was going to become the old dog that was labeled No Good for Love, bound by fate to end up alone.

Liam was usually drunk when he let these thoughts slip through his mouth, all morose and melodramatic, and Louis was usually too sober to tell Liam he’d love him if he was allowed to.

But Liam fell in love with the unadoptable dog and Louis was in love with the idiot who was in love with the unadoptable dog and, before long, he was in love with the unadoptable dog himself. So then they suddenly had a dog together, even though she was properly Liam’s. But it was cool, they were just two flatmates with a dog. It was a perfectly normal thing, essentially co-ownership of a dog.

She was already named Roberta and Louis would have none of that. Roberta isn't a Dog Name. Clearly she would have none of it either, having spent five years of her life not answering to the name. They bickered for weeks until Louis got so mad because Liam was being so ridiculous not choosing a damn name he started calling her Egg Salad because he was at the time elbows deep in a massive bowl of leftover egg salad Liam’s mum had brought them for Easter.

And Egg Salad, as it happened, really took to the name.

Liam… didn’t. But he never made much of an argument against the name and soon that’s all she would answer to. Louis is usually pretty good at getting his way, but most of time it’s for things that don’t really matter.

Liam got full custody of Egg Salad in the break up. Not that it was a break up. What’s it called when friends break up? Is it still considered a break up? Louis had needed a mourning period, which he wasn’t sure how to explain. He had needed time to deal with it and he didn’t know how to ask for it.

Their friendship went up in flames -- Louis set fire to it and Liam did nothing to douse it. They let the fire consume everything until there was nothing left. Louis moved out and Liam moved on, and two and a half years later they stand before each other like strangers. Louis pushed at him because he was hurt, but he didn’t know how to tell Liam to fix it. It still stings.

You picked her and you didn’t pick me.

“Are you all right?” Louis asks, even though that’s a stupid question. But otherwise they’d just stand in silence, Louis sipping at his tea and Liam holding his tea and staring at the floor.

“No,” Liam says.

“Where’s Soph?” Louis asks as lightly as he can manage. It’s not very light at all, truth be told.

It’s not that he doesn’t like her. By all accounts, she was lovely, good for Liam, but the fact of the matter is she won and Louis didn’t, and Louis doesn’t like that.

“Finished with me.”

“After your dog died?” Louis blurts. “I’m sorry, Liam, but that’s fucked up.”

Liam winces, like he’s smarting because Louis attacked him, when Louis would never. Well. That’s not entirely true, because Louis definitely has. And about this.

“No, it was last year,” Liam mumbles. “Was for the best.”

“Ah.” Louis takes a sip of his tea because he doesn’t know what else to do. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he adds and it sounds far more disingenuous than Louis intends.

He is sorry, he supposes, that Liam’s hurting. And he is, in that cruel corner of his mind that’s still vindictive, kind of glad he didn’t get to keep her. He knew Liam’s decision would blow up in his face. He foretold it to anyone who would listen -- so pretty much only their mate Harry -- with smugness. He never really considered himself a viable option for Liam, but when he got right down into the ugliest part of himself, he would have preferred Liam to be alone if he wasn’t with Louis.

“Don’t do that,” Liam says. Apparently he’s a little more transparent than he thought.

“Do what?” Louis asks anyway.

“I know you didn’t like her, but don’t be rude.”

“I never,” Louis objects, because he really wasn’t rude in the slightest. He was downright cordial to her if he had to see her, bought her drinks at the pub, made sure she came to Liam’s surprise birthday party. Cordial as fuck, he was. It was just...

You picked her and you didn’t pick me.

Liam looks unconvinced as he stares at the mug in his hands, leaving it untouched.

“Shit, I’ve got water all over your floor,” Liam says, his expression growing pained as he looks up to Louis.

“You know I don’t give a shit about that.”

“Somebody could fall.”

“Well, it’s just me here.”

Liam grows quiet again, nodding softly, before he sits down on one of the chairs, setting his mug on the table in favor of bracing his head in his hands. He takes deep shuddering breaths that weaken Louis.

Louis doesn’t know how long it’s been, if it’s been eating away at Liam for weeks until he finally broke and pushed himself to do something about it. To come talk to Louis about it. He must be pretty desperate, if he came to Louis.

“When did it happen?” Louis asks before clarifying. “Eggsy, that is.”

“She was on the sofa when I got home today and I figured she was just asleep, but then she didn’t come for dinner, wasn’t answering when I called her, and I didn’t even know, I just thought she was sleeping.” Liam’s voice grows hysterical, manic, and helpless all at once. “She didn’t even look any different, she didn’t look dead, and I let her lie there for hours, my dead dog on the sofa for hours -- ”

“Liam,” Louis says gently, and Liam’s voice cracks with a sob. He wants to reach out for him, but they’ve done that already. They’ve had their free pass and they don’t get another.

“I just left her there. I saw her and I knew she was gone and I couldn’t be there anymore. I had to -- I dunno, I just had to go. She’s still there. I put a blanket over her and she’s still there. Fuck, she’s still there.”

Liam bolts up, nearly knocking over his mug as he sways into the table.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I have to go bury her.”

Louis blinks at him. “In the rain?”

“I have to bury her,” he says again and then he’s out the door.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Louis chants, over and over, a debate raging within him about whether to chase after him.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he says as he sprints to slip on the Vans he keeps by the door and snatch the umbrella he keeps in the closet before he can follow him. He doesn’t know what he thinks he’s going to do about it. He doesn’t know if Liam even wants this. Or deserves this.

“Liam,” he shouts, pulling his umbrella open and slapping down the sidewalk after him. His shoes squelch with the rain and slip a little, years of use and abuse having smoothed most of the soles.

Liam slows to a stop, his chest heaving as he turns to look at Louis. Louis crowds him, holding the umbrella over the two of them.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Louis snaps.

“I have to -- ”

“Bury her, I know,” Louis says impatiently. “Right now? In the rain? Have you even got a shovel?”

Liam’s face falls. “No, I haven’t.”

“You're meant to be the pragmatist in this relationship, Liam,” Louis says before he remembers. It’s scarily easy falling back into his old routine with his best mate, following him anywhere even if he doesn’t want to, there to support him just because he needs help. He had thought things had changed, and for good, but that appears to be the opposite of the fucking truth.

Liam looks stricken. “Louis,” he tries.

“It's whatever,” Louis says quickly. He watches Liam hiccup through the end of crying, screwing his face up like he's trying to stop. “All right, come on.”

They end up catching a bus to the nearest Homebase, running in some ten minutes before they close. Louis performs the single most morbid thing Google search to ever hit his browser history, but he learns a lot.

“We should get a plastic sheet as well,” Louis tells Liam, who nods, not having said anything since they were standing alone in the rain together. Louis takes care of him, guiding him around the store with a gentle hand to his back. It occurs to Louis as their purchases are rung up that they sort of look like they’ve just murdered someone, but the cashier says nothing.

Louis lets him sit in silence as they take the bus back to Liam’s house, the house they once shared together. It looks the same, inside and out, as the last time Louis was here, but it still doesn’t look right with all of Louis’ stuff gone.

He lets Liam walk into the living room first, watches him from across the room as he kneels down in front of the sofa to peel back the blanket over her. Louis can see Eggsy curled up in her favorite spot on the sofa, and that’s when it becomes real. He clenches the shovel in his right hand and bites at his bottom lip hard enough until he doesn’t think he’s going to cry.

“Hey, Eggsy girl,” Liam says softly, his hands resting high above her like he isn’t sure if he can touch her or not. “She’s all I had left and now she’s gone. Don’t have anything else.”

Louis comes to stand beside him, puts his hand on Liam’s shoulder to give him the strength he needs. She looks peaceful and Louis supposes that’s a small comfort. She looks about the same as he remembers, just a bit greyer in the face. It’s strange how animals hardly seem to age as severely as people do.  

“I don’t think -- ” Liam starts, his head shaking almost as hard as his hands do.

“It’s fine,” Louis says because he still understands him. He holds the shovel out for him. “Go on.”

Liam takes the shovel with a grateful look on his face and heads for the backyard, his steps swift like he desperately needs to escape. Louis kneels down in his place.

“Sorry I was too late, love,” Louis says, resting a hand gently on her head. “I missed you. Missed you both so much. I know you took care of our boy. You’re the only one I trusted with his heart.” Louis swallows and sniffs hard to keep himself from crying. They’ve only got time for one blubbering mess, and that’s going to be Liam.

“You’re a good girl, eh? What’s he going to do without you? What’s Liam going to do without his Liam dog?”

He’d know Liam would be okay if he was going to be here to take care of him. He can’t imagine what Liam had felt after things had broken off with Sophia, but he knows Liam mourns hard. It’s all but impossible to hold a grudge when Liam needs him this much. But falling back into his arms isn’t right for Louis now, not if Liam’s going to get his fill and toss him aside the next time someone else comes along. He won’t do that again.

He gently prepares her, wrapping her first in her favorite blanket, a tartan thing that once adorned Louis’ bed in the winter until she stole it so much, dragging it off clenched in her teeth to her dog bed in the corner, that Louis eventually surrendered it to her for good. She’s lucky he loved her so much -- he only lets people he loves get away with keeping his things.

The rain has lightened up to a mist by the time Louis brings her outside. The wet soil is an absolute mess, looks like horrible conditions to be shoveling in, but Louis knows at this point it’s useless to argue against it.

Liam’s thrown his coat off on the ground, his t-shirt soaked through to the point it’s nearly see-through. His face is pinched with concentration like it does when he’s got his tunnel vision on, and Louis knows he does this to keep from crying. It’s another one of Liam’s missions, digging a hole in his backyard, and he won’t stop until he’s done his job.

Louis still hasn’t told him that because he rents this house, what they’re doing is likely illegal. But this is the only true home either of them have known, the only true home Egg Salad has known, really. The three of them deserve this.

Louis lays her to rest because he knows Liam wouldn’t be able to. He spares a thought for what might have happened if he hadn’t chased Liam down the street, if Liam was forced to do this on his own. Liam wouldn’t have been able to do it, he’d have been a mess. Louis selfishly thinks Liam needs him, even after all this time, even after he’d decided Sophia would do. Liam was wrong, but Louis can’t find it in himself to say I told you so.

As Liam starts shoveling the dirt back in, Louis can’t help but feel like this is literal closure, them putting to rest the only thing that’s brought them together after all this time.

“Best dog,” Liam says, brushing his hands off on his trousers when the dirt is smoothed over and done with.

“Best dog,” Louis confirms.

It doesn’t feel like much of a graveside speech, but that’s all that needs saying, really. They both know what Egg Salad meant to them and what they meant to Egg Salad. Maybe there’s too much to say, and that’s what really keeps them from a speech.

Louis’ about to make his excuses and go on home, he’s got to see to his chickens and chicken farmers, but Liam says, “Cuppa?” and Louis says, “Yeah.”

He catches sight of Liam’s hands as he goes to fill the kettle with water and reaches out to stop him. He takes the kettle out of Liam’s hands and sets it down to get a better look at the blisters Liam’s rubbed into his palms.

“Jesus, Liam,” he mutters and turns for the drawer to the left of the oven where the plasters are kept. Still kept. After all this time. He makes Liam wash his hands, even though he winces at the touch of the water and again at the touch of the antibiotic ointment.

“Big baby,” Louis teases as he smooths the plasters on gently over his hands. They’re sort of awkwardly placed, what with Liam’s fingers in the way and all, but at least he won’t worry them any further.

“What happened to us?” Liam asks. “We had everything we ever wanted, and it went to shit.”

Not everything, Louis thinks bitterly, and turns to deal with the kettle in hopes that he can get away without answering. He’s not sure where this is headed, or even where he wants it to head. He’s not sure if they’ve just reached closure and they should just let it go and get on with their lives, or if they’re going to pick at each other until they reopen the wound and everything they’ve spent years burying is going to come to the surface. Neither option feels particularly good.

“I can’t figure out what happened, it just kept building and building, but I didn’t know what we were building towards,” he continues. “Then you left me. And that was it.”

“Maybe I moved out, but you left me first,” Louis argues. That’s the way it was, really, and it’s convenient Liam doesn’t seem to remember that it was basically his idea that Louis move out in the first place. “You set me aside for her. And I know you loved her, but I thought you loved me too.”

“Of course I love you, you’re my best mate,” Liam says, seeming not to realize how present tense all of that is.

If they’re going to do this, then they’re going to do this. Louis can’t pull his punches anymore, not when he doesn’t have anything left to lose. Liam’s already been lost to him.

“You forgot that the second she was in the picture.”

Liam looks surprised at that. “I didn’t -- it didn’t feel like I forgot you. I mean, you were my flatmate, you were always around.”

“It felt like that to me,” Louis says. “There’s more to a friendship than just being around.”

That’s what Liam had assumed, that he could live his life with Sophia and then grab Louis for the moments she wasn’t there. Like Louis was his second choice instead of someone he wanted to make space for in his life. Louis was never going to be someone’s fall back plan.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I just, I suppose I got angry, I just thought you were being so selfish,” Liam says. “You’ve always been rubbish at sharing.”

“No, I’m just rubbish at sharing you,” Louis says, the implication of Louis being selfish stinging even though he realizes it is a touch true. “So that part is on me. I… I got jealous. It was like. You picked her and you didn’t pick me.”

“I can have a girlfriend and a best mate at the same time,” Liam says, somewhat petulantly, like he’s offended at the notion.

“No, Liam,” he says, his voice cutting off as he tries to spell it out without making himself more vulnerable than he wants to be. “I wanted all of it. I wanted to be your best mate and your, uh. Y’know. All of it. But you picked her.”

Liam stares at him dumbly for what feels like hours, and Louis watches him as the realization sinks in.

“I didn’t know you were an option,” Liam says, his face crunching into a frown. “You never said.”

“I didn’t really think I needed to spell it out.”

Liam turns away, lacing his fingers in his hair. “Well, in case you haven’t noticed, Louis, I’m a bit dense. What was I supposed to do, psychically sense you wanted to date me?”

“Well, no -- ”

“Then you don’t get to be mad at me for that. That’s not fair.”

“I know,” Louis says, and he does. “If it didn’t occur to you to just date me on your own, then I didn’t want to force myself on you. I didn’t want to ruin what we had because you didn’t feel the same way. I just. I knew that about you. And I wanted you to know that about me too.”

Liam nods slowly, the wheels churning hard in his head if his expression is anything to go by. Louis’ glad he seems to understand that much. “How long?”

“What?”

“How long have you liked me?”

“Since day one,” Louis admits. It’s all so fucking honest, at this point it’s liberating.

“No,” Liam says, his cheeks pinking as he clarifies, “I mean like liked me like me.”

“Since day one.” He may not have realized he loved Liam on that first day, but he knows, looking back, he’s always felt the same way about Liam. He only realized over time what it really meant.

“Shit,” he says, running his hands over his face.

“Watch the plasters,” Louis warns half-heartedly.

Liam doesn’t seem mad at him for being on a different level than Liam is. His first reaction was not anger that Louis wanted him, but confusion how he didn’t think Louis was available to him.

“If you knew I was an option, would you have picked me?”

“Back then… I think,” Liam says slowly. “Yeah. I think I might’ve, Louis, I mean, you were kind of everything to me. And maybe I just didn’t get it? Like I loved Soph. I did, really. I could have married her, I think.”

Louis sours almost as quickly as he’d started to feel hope. Knowing he was everything to Liam muddied by the thought of him marrying someone else, that’s cruel.

“And I love our mates, you know, the three of them,” Liam continues. “But me and you, it was always different, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Louis says softly.

“I just miss you so fucking much,” he says, his face scrunching up like he’s going to cry again. “I took us for granted then, I just figured, y’know, me and Louis, we’ll always have each other. That’ll be the one thing we’ll never lose. But I lost you anyway. We just let it all go. Why did we do that?”

“Because we’re idiots.” It’s the truth. They had let things escalate so far that they couldn’t take back what they had done or what they had said. They weren’t honest with each other, because honesty would have hurt, or because they thought honesty wouldn’t help. But they were idiots.

“I needed you. Not just because of Eggsy, or because Soph was gone, just. From the second you were gone, I still needed you.”

He is a bit dense, his Liam, but he seems to have come to the conclusion on his own. Louis never wanted him to say he’d date Louis just because Louis wanted him to. It’d be just like Liam to say yes just because he thought it would make Louis happy, without actually considering whether or not he even wanted to say yes in the first place. A gentle nudge in the right direction seems to have set him up for realizing the truth now, but Louis still isn’t convinced he’d have said yes then. Nor is he even certain it matters anymore whether he’d have said yes then.

“And now?” Louis prompts. “You need me now?”

Liam looks over to him, and Louis can see the questions in his eyes as he assesses Louis. He moves slowly toward him until there’s no space between them. Louis fights to keep his breathing steady because he knows what’s coming before Liam even asks.

Liam asks anyway. “Can I?”

“Yeah.”

Liam kisses him, gently, chastely, pressing his soft lips to Louis’ and then leaving them there. Neither of them move to deepen it, though every inch of Louis’ body screams to learn Liam’s taste. Liam’s lips leave his soon enough, but he doesn’t move too far, Louis can still feel Liam’s breath against his lips. Liam looks stunned, like everything he’s ever known to be true about the world is suddenly false, and for a moment Louis worries that may have been too much for Liam, though he technically started it.

But then Liam’s eyes fall closed again as he crashes into Louis this time, his lips moving like they’re on a mission, and Louis can more than keep up with that. Liam tastes and feels as good as Louis thought he would, Louis’ breath leaves his chest in exhilaration as he thought it might.

It’s everything Louis’d hoped for in a kiss, but he still pulls away. “Don’t,” Louis whispers before they go any further.

Liam’s eyes openly slowly, and Louis sees confusion and fear in them.

“We just buried our dog, it’s just a lot going on tonight,” Louis explains. “I don’t want -- I mean, I do want -- I want you so much, but I have to be sure this is what you really want.”

“I get it,” Liam says, but he doesn’t confirm this is what he really wants. He just looks drained, emotionally, physically. Louis wants to wrap him up, so he does. He goes in for the hug, pressing his fingers as hard into Liam’s back as Liam had done earlier at Louis’ front door.

“I shouldn’t have left,” Louis says.

“I shouldn’t have let you go,” Liam says. That’s all that’s left between them. Neither of them really ask for forgiveness, but Louis thinks they both have it.

“I don’t think I can be an option, I have to be your only option,” Louis says, ending the hug so he can look Liam in the eye. “But you don’t have to tell me right now. I wanted to tell you where I’m at because you deserve the truth, but we don’t have to do anything right now.”

“Thank you,” Liam says, pressing a kiss to Louis’ cheek. “Thank you for doing this with me. Thank you for telling me. Just. Thanks, really.”

“Of course.” He knows he’d come running, the second Liam says he needs him. All he needed was to be asked. He just can’t turn off that part of him like he thought he could. Probably because he never wanted to.

Liam leans against the counter and looks off at the rest of the house. “Feels empty now. Just me.”

“You get used to it.”

Liam frowns. “I don’t want to get used to it.”

Louis leans against him. Maybe they’ll build up to that someday, maybe they’ll get where they used to be but better. Maybe it’ll do Liam some good to be on his own, to turn that intense focus on helping himself first before he dives into another relationship -- with a dog, with a person, with anything.

“You said our dog.”

Louis stills. “Yeah.”

“She was our dog, wasn’t she,” he says, his voice dropping low. “Shit. I’m sorry this is how you’ll remember her.”

Louis shakes his head. “I’ll remember her for the shit footie player she was. I’ll remember how you tried to get her to fetch, and she’d go after the ball and just stand before it. Like, look, dad, I found it, isn’t that great? But then she wouldn’t ever bring it back to you, so you’d have to run after it anyway.”

Liam laughs wetly. Crying again. Unbelievable. Louis might be a bit weepy himself. Not that he’d admit it.

“I’ll remember her the first day you saw her. I’ll remember her by the look on your face when you first saw her. I don’t really know that love at first sight is a real thing, but, god, Liam, the grin on your face, that was something really close.”

Liam sniffs hard, scrubbing at his face. “I dropped my phone in the toilet a couple of months ago.”

“That’s nice,” Louis says. Hardly a good answer to how tender Louis’ being at the moment, but he supposes Liam’s trying his best.

“No, I just. I got scared. There’s this picture on it, it’s ancient, of the two of you. You were knocked out on the sofa, absolutely knackered after practice, like, half on half off the sofa, and Eggsy was there, sleeping on your stomach, half on half off you. And I was so worried I was going to lose that picture, like, after all this time, carrying it around with me. Anyway, the phone was completely fucked, but it turns out I had saved a copy onto my laptop.”

“That’s lucky,” Louis says, unsure what to make of it.

“You were important to me. Even when you weren’t here, you were important to me,” Liam says. “And Eggsy’s still important to me, even though she’s gone. I just. I wanted to say.”

Liam’s always been important to him too, important enough that they’ll do what they have to do to heal. They’ll begin to rebuild what they had, with a stronger foundation, with the same plans, with the same vision.

----