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Learning to Breathe

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"Louis. Eleanor's not pregnant."

Everything stops.

There have been a lot of defining moments in Louis' life, moments that he'll remember every sharp detail of, that he'll never be able to forget for as long as he lives; moments, good and bad, that pulled his life into a completely new direction: Harry kissing him, making the Essex team, his accident, telling Harry how he felt in Leeds and the first time they made love. Eleanor telling him she was pregnant. This is another one.

"What?"

Danielle's expression had grown softer. "She's not pregnant, Lou."

He must have given her a look then, like he got that part, but he needed her to explain more. His mind flashes back to every minute detail of the conversation as he runs to his car, completely bypassing the now-empty locker room.

"I didn't figure it out until the other day, when she was still acting like everything was fine."

"Dani, if this is some kind of joke..."

"It's not. I wouldn't joke about something like this, Louis."


Louis still can't wrap his head around any of it. He must be dreaming. He throws his car into drive and holds back every desire inside of him that says to go straight to Harry.

"Are you telling me she was never pregnant? Was this all just-"

"No. I think she was. I-. Louis, I can't really say anything else, alright? It's complicated. Just. Talk to her. Get her to explain."

"Dani."


Louis pulls up to the residence hall dorms. His hands are shaking on the wheel and it's not because of the cold outside. He tries to keep breathing, hold down that feeling of pure relief that wants to burst free. Not yet, he thinks. Not until he knows for sure.

"I know, okay? I know it's screwed up. This is all so fucked, Lou. If I had known that she wasn't planning on telling you, I wouldn't have waited this long."

"How long?"


It had been over a week. Eleanor had known for at least a week that she wasn't pregnant and she hadn't told Louis. She hadn't even tried. Not once.

"We got in a row over it, the other night when she called you. She still won't talk to me."

"Why?"

"I threatened to tell you. She's my best friend, Louis. But you never deserved this."


He thinks he should be used to this, to having his life flipped upside down until it's almost unrecognizable. Just when he's resigned himself, someone comes and turns it all on its head. This girl, his acquaintance at best, had altered his life completely not even ten minutes ago and she didn't even realize.

Or maybe she did. Maybe even if she didn't know all the details, she still knew that this would mean so much more than they both know he'd ever let on.

"You deserve to be happy, Louis."

He's not sure how her words, a girl he hardly knows really, could hit him in a way where he actually believed them for the first time in his life. But they had, and he did.

He'd watched her retreating form until she was just a speck in the distance. And then he'd taken off, his body full of adrenaline. It hasn't waned in the time it's taken him to reach Eleanor's dorm.

He'd wanted to find Harry first, of course, but the last thing he'd ever want to do is tell him this news and have it turn out not to be true. Not that he doesn't believe Danielle (he wants to with everything in him), but he couldn't bear the thought of putting the light back in Harry's eyes only to have to snatch it away again. He never wants to do that again.

And he's mad, is the other thing. Danielle had begged him to not be angry at Eleanor, even though they both know he has a right to be. But she'd been oddly insistent about it. And in that moment he'd wondered if he'd do the same thing for his best friend if the situation was reversed.

Louis' hands are still shaking as he knocks on the door to Eleanor's dorm. He's not even sure if she's here, but he doesn't know where else to start looking.

He can't explain the feeling in his gut when she opens the door, eyes going wide for a second when she sees that it's him. He wasn't sure up until this point why he hadn't just called her and asked to meet, but now he knows. She won't have time to think up any lies or excuses now. She'll have no choice but to tell him the truth. And he's not leaving without it.

"Lou?" She tries to school her shocked expression into something else. "Is everything okay?"

Oh. So they're doing this.

"Can I come in?"

She's wary, he can tell. He wonders if he would have been able to if he didn't know what he knows now.

She pulls the door back to let him into the room and Louis' eyes automatically fly around the small living space, seeking out any physical evidence that she hasn't been telling the truth. He doesn't even know what he's looking for. But he can't stop looking.

He doesn't find anything out of the ordinary. He'll have to ask her. And she'll have to tell him.

A part of him wants to give her one last chance to come clean on her own. The old Louis would have come barreling in and called her out, destroyed her confidence until she said whatever he needed to hear to relieve himself. Isn't that what he'd done to Harry all those years ago? Said the meanest words he could think of, broke his heart until he had no choice but to let Louis go?

It's mostly because of Harry now, that he wants to prove that he can be different, that he's changed. It's harder this time, though. Now that he's not just fighting against something butfor something, too.

He swallows thickly, "How have you been?"

Eleanor looks surprised then, like she expected him to say anything but that.

"I'm- I'm okay."

Louis paces the room, "You never told me what the doctor said. From your appointment on Friday."

He counts the seconds before she answers, and only feels a little guilty for baiting her.

"He-. Louis."

"What?"

Eleanor pushes her hair back off of her forehead. It's only then that Louis takes in her disheveled appearance. It looks like she hasn't left her bed all day. And her eyes are bloodshot, hollow. Again, he wonders if he would've noticed had he not known what he knows now.

"Why are you here?"

Louis watches her take a seat on the end of her un-made bed. He tries to keep his voice light, but his words come out terse and strained.

"El," her eyes snap up to his. "I'm here because, if there's anything you want to tell me, then you should tell me. Now. Tonight."

Eleanor watches him for several seconds, mouth slack as she takes deep, uneven breaths. Then she drops her head into her small hands so Louis can't see her face. He hears her start to cry.

"She told you, didn't she?"

It comes out muffled and Louis can barely hear it. He stays stock still, but his lips turn down at the corners.

Eleanor looks back up at him with her big wet eyes. "I can't believe she told you. I can't believe she fucking told you."

"Why didn't you?" he snaps.

"What?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

She doesn't answer.

"How long were you going to keep lying to me? What did you think? That I was just going to not notice?" She flinches. "I just- I never thought you could do something like this, El. To me."

"Lou..." She stands from the bed.

"No. Eleanor, you can't just mess with someone's life like that."

"Your life?" she cuts him off, "Louis, you have no idea what you put me through when you finished with me! And then you call me out of blue two months ago. And you slept with me, for fuck's sake. But this is still all my fault, isn't it?"

"Eleanor, this is different. You know it. You lied. You told me you were pregnant."

"I was pregnant," she sobs.

Louis bites the insides of his cheeks and watches Eleanor wring her tiny wrists. She doesn't say anything else. Louis suddenly doesn't feel like yelling so much anymore.

"What happened?" he eventually asks, voice softer.

She scoffs, rolls her wet eyes, "Like you care."

"I do," he mutters. Because he does. This is a girl he was with for over a year. And that was his child and even if the situation wasn't ideal, or what he wanted, he wants to know what happened.

"Look, we can forget that this all happened," he offers, "I won't be mad. I'll let it go. Whatever you want. I just need you to tell me the truth, El. Please."

Eleanor wipes at her eyes and tries to collect herself. Her eyes bore into Louis' and he wants to look away, but he knows he can't now.

"I got an abnormal test at one of my appointments."

"When?"

She sighs. "Two weeks ago."

Louis sucks in a deep breath, thinks about how awful the last two weeks of his life have been. Now he knows that hers must have been just as awful for a completely different reason.

"I didn't even know it was something I was supposed to be worried about," she cries, voice high and choked. "I didn't understand."

Louis shakes his head, like he's in that same boat now.

"The baby wasn't measuring," she chokes out, "It wasn't measuring where it was supposed to be for how long i'd been pregnant. And I told the doctor that maybe I got the date wrong. But I knew I hadn't," she sobs, "I knew when it happened, but they told me there was no way because the baby was too small."

Louis feels the burn behind his own eyes then.

"And I didn't tell you and I'm sorry. I'm sorry but I didn't want to admit that it was actually happening. And Doctor Stenrick told me to wait another week to be sure. So I did, but. But they still couldn't find a heartbeat."

They're both crying now. Louis doesn't even understand why, but his heart aches. For her, for himself. For the loss of something he never even really allowed himself to believe was a real thing. But it was. And now it's gone.

His insides feel confused and torn up. He feels guilty for wishing Harry were here to help him make sense of it.

He does the only thing he can think to do, which is step forward and draw the smaller girl into a hug. He doesn't have the right words to fix this, but they both know there really aren't any.

He almost asks her what she'll have to do now. Medically. But he doesn't think he wants to know, really. He's not sure if he could take having to hear her say it out loud.

"I'm sorry," she says against the front of his shirt, "I know I should have told you, but I didn't. And then I couldn't. I didn't want it to be real."

"You wanted to be pregnant?"

She steps back and wraps herself up in her own arms. "I wanted you, Louis."

Louis flinches inwardly, overcome with guilt. Because no matter how mad he is that she kept this from him, it doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day, she's collateral damage in this fucked up scenario she never should have been involved in. And it's all his fault that she was.

"It wouldn't have mattered though, would it?" She's looking at the carpet when she says it.

"What?"

"It wouldn't have mattered one way or another. It would've never changed anything between you and me."

It comes out sounding like a question, so Louis has to answer.

"No," he shakes his head softly, "No, it wouldn't have."

"What did I do wrong?" she asks. And it's so low that he's not sure she meant for him to hear it.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't understand what I did wrong. What did I do? We were good. I thought I made you happy. I thought," she laughs derisively, "I feel stupid for the things I thought, actually. Now."

"El..."

"I just need to know, Louis," she snaps desperately, "I need to know how you were with me for over a year and then you were done. Just like that. I need to know how that happened so I can- I don't know. I just need to know what I did."

He wants to grab her and shake her and say It's not you. This has nothing to do with you. It's me. And maybe, one day, I can tell you why. But not today.

But then he realizes that he's wrong. He can do it today. He could have done it weeks ago. Because it's not changing. He's not going to change. And maybe she won't take it well. Maybe she'll hate him, be disgusted with him, stop loving him all in the span of a second. Maybe she won't understand. But he doesn't need her to. He doesn't need anyone else to understand.

"Dammit, Louis. What did I do?"

"I'm gay," he breathes.

Eleanor straightens as if she's been slapped. She goes so long without speaking that Louis wonders if she even heard what he said. He definitely heard himself say it. It's the first time in his life he's ever said it out loud. To himself or to anyone else. He holds his breath without meaning to, waiting for the other foot to drop.

Eleanor just sits there though, with her arms wrapped around herself and her eyes unfocused. What feels like several minutes seem to pass, though it may have only been seconds. Just when he thinks she won't say anything else, she speaks.

"Did you cheat on me?" It's slow and purposeful. A simple question that needs a simple answer.

"No."

"Is he the reason you finished with me?"

Louis' heart skips, "He's-"

"I know who he is," she clips, "It's that boy. The one from the car park after the game. Isn't it?"

Louis is still, and his silence is all the answer she needs.

Her face crumples and she takes her seat back on the bed. She sobs pitifully.

"El... I'm sorry. I can't-"

"Please leave," she cries, begs.

"What?"

"Leave, Louis," she looks him square in the eyes, "It's over, yeah? Everything worked out for you. So just leave."

Her eyes are big and wet and pleading. He wants to tell her that he's sorry. Sorry for dragging her into this. Sorry that she had to love someone who could never love her back. Sorry that he ever made her feel like she had to deal with this by herself.

Mostly he's sorry because she's just a girl who got caught in the middle of something a lot bigger than her, something she never should have been a part of.

Louis bites his lip and gives a small nod, because there's nothing else he can give her that's going to make any difference, and heads for the door.

He walks away from Eleanor Calder then for the last time. He doesn't look back.

000

It's completely dark outside when Louis finally makes it back to the complex. His movements are slow and weighted. Because for all the relief that should be inside of him, there's still a layer of doubt and fear that he can't get rid of. The only place to go now is to Harry, wherever he is. But what if this doesn't change anything? What if too much has happened and Harry doesn't want him back? Louis can't stomach the thought. Because without Harry none of this means anything, does it?

Without Harry, Louis doesn't really understand how any of this works. He wonders if it could have been anyone else, if anyone else could have ever made him feel this way. He doesn't think so.

He grabs his phone out of his bag as he parks and curses when he sees that it's dead. He pockets it and instead of going home, takes off across the lot to Harry's building. He finds A10 and doesn't waste any time, knocking loudly until someone answers.

He's got Harry's name halfway out of his mouth when he sees that it's Josh who's opened the door.

"Hey, mate, y'alright?"

Louis doesn't answer for a second, actually contemplating the question.

"I think so," he decides, "yeah." He smiles then, a little. "Is Harry here?"

Josh is giving him this sort of amused look as he shakes his head, "Nah, he took off after practice."

"Oh," Louis frowns, "Do you know where he went?"

Josh only shrugs, "No idea, mate. Sorry."

"Oh. Right, then," Louis says lamely. He's never really talked to Josh all that much before, which is weird, considering he's done deplorable things in the boy's flat right underneath his nose. One particular instance comes to mind, when he had Harry on his knees after practice one day, watching him mouth at his cock skillfully, and he'd frozen when he'd heard Josh come home early. He remembers panicking and trying to pull Harry up from the floor, but Harry had only looked up at him with all of his faux innocence and kept his head bobbing until Louis came down his throat. Louis remembers that orgasm vivdly.

"Will you tell him I'm looking for him? When you see him?"

Josh still looks sort of confused, but says he will.

Louis is already halfway down the breezeway, headed back to his own flat. He'd stop by Liam and Zayn's, but he doesn't want anyone but Harry to be the first person he tells this to. It's got to be him. Face to face. He jogs back to his flat quickly. He'll plug his phone into the charger and call Harry and ask him to come over. He's not sure if he'll say yes, but Louis' so full of hope right now it's hard to think negatively.

He bursts through the flat door and tosses his keys on the table.

"Niall!" he calls, "Have you seen my charger? It's an emergency."

No answer. He must not be home.

He pulls his phone out and tries to turn it on.

"Shit," he breathes, throwing his bedroom door open.

Before he even makes it three steps into the room, he freezes when he sees Harry lying on his bed.

He gasps audibly, "Haz..."

Harry sits up slowly. He looks tired and restless, like he's been here for a while maybe.

"You know, I don't even know why you have one of those things," Harry gestures to Louis' useless mobile, but his voice isn't unkind.

"What are you doing here?" Louis finds his voice over his racing heart, "I was just looking for you."

Harry's mouth quirks up the slightest bit, "I waited for you, after practice. But you never showed up. So I came here."

Louis' heart double beats in his chest. "Why?"

Harry sits up all the way and swings his legs off the bed and Louis almost stops breathing altogether, silent as he waits for Harry's explanation.

"Because I need to talk to you. I've been thinking a lot since the other day."

"You have?"

Harry nods, smiling a little. And Louis can see he's preparing himself to say more.

"Louis, I thought two years ago, when you left - I thought that was the hardest thing i'd ever gone through. But I was wrong."

"Harry, please. Before you say anything else, I need to tell you-"

"No," Harry breathes, standing up abruptly from the bed and closing the distance between them, "No, you've done all the talking for the last few weeks and it's my turn. There's a lot I need to say and-"

"H, I know, but you don't understand-"

He's cut off, literally, when Harry reaches forward and covers his mouth with one of his hands. In any other situation, Louis might laugh at the gesture, lick Harry's palm to be a shit, but now it just makes him freeze in place.

"Louis, you've got to let me get this out now or I don't know if i'll be able to."

Harry looks so desperate then that it makes something tug in Louis' chest.

"Louis?"

Louis breathes through his nose and keeps ahold of Harry's gaze. He finally nods.

"You promise?"

Louis nods again, Harry's hand moving with his face before he finally drops it.

"Okay," Harry lets a breath go. And then he laughs a little, like he might start crying if he doesn't. Louis wants so badly to reach out and hug him.

"You see, i've been, uh," he sniffs, "I've been trying to stay away from you. If you didn't know."

Louis resists the urge to tell him that yes, he knows and that he's been miserable because of it.

"I didn't want to, at first. Dammit, Louis. I was so far gone that I think you could have told me anything that day and I wouldn't have cared. And like, after I left all I wanted to do was come back. I don't think I ever wanted to not come back.

But I knew it was only a matter of time, and that you were going to have other responsibilities, to people who aren't me and I- I tried to stay away from you because I thought that's what you needed. I thought it's what I needed."

Louis feels the back of his eyes burn.

"But like. I still remember how I felt when you left two years ago. No matter how much has happened since then, I still remember it. I remember how fucking awful it felt to lose you and then-" he wipes at his eyes, "And then I turned around and did the same thing to you. I didn't just leave because I thought it'd be easier for you. I left because I couldnt handle it and I left you alone to deal with it. I left you. I'm so fucking sorry."

Louis' throat burns with unshed tears. "Haz, no-"

"Because I actually thought about it, you know?" Harry clips, "I thought - maybe a year from now, or five, or ten - maybe then I won't want you anymore but - I dont think i'm ever going to not want you, is the thing. Because all of this - it means something. It can't be for nothing. Louis, I can't feel this way for nothing."

He's crying now and Louis doesn't stop himself this time, and pulls him in so he can bury his head on his shoulder.

"Harry..."

"No," Harry pulls back, "No, i'm not done. Fuck. It's just - I feel like i've spent my whole life waiting for you, Louis. And I don't want to give up. I can't. If I walk away now, i'll regret it for the rest of my life."

Louis' heart races. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying i'm all in. Okay? I'm saying it doesn't matter what's happened, i'm here with you. I don't want to be anywhere else. Because," he reaches out to take Louis' face in his hands, "Because I belong with you, too. I always have. No matter what happens, that's never going to change."

Louis' mouth falls open just as Harry surges forward and kisses him. It's raw and unpolished and a little desperate, and Louis decides that this might be his favorite way to kiss Harry.

Louis doesn't want to let it end, because he missed this way too much, but the words are clawing at the back of his throat. He pulls away gently. Harry's eyes are still closed, but he's smiling and Louis can't help but think this is my boy; he's mine, always.

Louis puts on a grin to match Harry's and they sway together for a second, smiling stupidly at one another. Once Louis catches his breath, he speaks.

"So. You're saying that even if Eleanor were pregnant, you'd still want to be with me?"

Harry's eyebrows crease in confusion, but he nods anyway. "Yeah," he whispers, "Yeah, that's what i'm saying."

Louis smiles, whispers back, "And what if she's not?"

Harry straightens. "What?"

Louis' smile grows even wider, while Harry's falls off his face completely, replaced with shock and confusion. Louis lets him process, nods his head at all the un-ansked questions he can see swimming behind his eyes.

"Louis. Don't joke. Don't-"

"I'm not," he says seriously, grabbing hold of Harry's face.

Harry stands there for several seconds, mouth open and eyes wet.

"She's? She's not?"

"She's not."

"You know? For sure? Louis. Fuck," he whimpers, throwing his arms around Louis' shoulders and burying his face there. Louis holds onto him tightly, and thinks he won't ever forget how good he feels in this moment for the rest of his life.

It's as if Harry's emotions are directly tied to his. The relief he kept expecting to feel since Danielle told him the truth has finally touched him in full force, like somehow it couldn't before, like it was waiting until the moment Harry was able to feel it too. It's hard to explain, the way it sits in his body, fills up his bones and lungs and suddenly he doesn't feel like he's sinking anymore, but floating instead. Lighter. Okay.

"Don't you ever fucking do that to me again!" Harry rears back to swot his arm. Louis gives a choked laugh.

"Well, I was trying to tell you but you sort of cut me off, didn't you? I mean, I was afraid for my life for a second there, honestly. You seemed pretty serious."

Harry tries to look indignant but winds up laughing. He pushes Louis in the shoulder again for good measure. Louis grabs his fingers and pulls him forward until they're standing head to head again.

"And besides," he says softly, "I would've missed your lovely speech."

There's no hint of teasing in his voice as he says it, and Harry blushes pink and looks away. Louis catches his face and pulls it back up, lets his thumb press into the center of Harry's cheek where his dimple would be.

"I told my mum," he says softly, "About you and me. About me."

Louis bites his lip nervously at the confession, but Harry's eyes have grown so soft and warm that he suddenly wishes he had more good things to tell him, if only so he can keep him looking at him like this forever.

Harry reaches up to hold Louis' face steady so he can't look away.

"I'm so proud of you."

The way he says it makes Louis tear up again. "I don't deserve you," he mumbles. But Harry shakes his head.

"You do."

"Well, I'm working on it," Louis compromises and leans forward to kiss the protesting look from Harry's face.

Harry sighs happily against his mouth and pulls them backwards until they're lying on the bed. They don't talk much after that, saying everything else they need to underneath Louis' duvet and against each other's overheated skin.

They fuck gently, and then not. Like they've got all the time in the world and yet none at all, not enough.

Harry's grip is unwavering as Louis sinks into him over and over, whispering promises and declarations against his skin, and Harry bucks up against Louis' thrusts and meets him halfway every time.

"I missed you," Louis says, seconds before they both come apart, and when Louis collapses on top of him, Harry keeps him there, and holds him until he can catch his breath.

"Later," Louis says. "I'll tell you everything later. Just - stay with me?"

Harry rubs slow circles into his back, kisses the crown of his head, and mumbles, "I'm still here. No where else to be."

Louis hums in agreement, letting his eyes slip shut. Harry couldn't be more right. There is no place else to be. Because Louis found home a long time ago. In a boy. In his best friend.

Tomorrow he'll tell Harry about today. Every bit of it. And tomorrow, when he wakes up first, he'll watch Harry sleep and he'll think about his life and this boy and everything he's taught him about existing in the world; About choices and fate and allowing himself to not be afraid to love someone with his whole heart.

For now though, he's content to reach down and tangle Harry's fingers with his and listen to them breathe. In and out. In and out.