It is 5:28am, and Louis’ losing his boy today.
He feels sick. He’s curled up the balcony, chair creaking slightly as he tucks his legs up and rests his chin on his knees.
It’s that familiar nausea; days like today always bring it. He can’t quite sit still, always shifting or moving or fidgeting, because if he pauses he thinks he might freeze. Louis taps his fingers impatiently, wishes suddenly that Zayn were here so he could bum a smoke off him. He’ll see Zayn tonight, in any case, it’s sort of a ritual that when their boys board that plane they spend a few miserable days together, because company is always nice at the beginning, and the company of someone who understands is better.
It’s 5:28am, and in two minutes their alarm will go off, Harry will wake up. In three and a half hours he’ll be gone. Three more months. Three more months with Harry completing his last tour of duty. He’ll be home safe, after that, back at the base nine to five. But he has ninety-odd days to get through in Afghanistan, first, and an hour in that place is dangerous. Ninety days is a lifetime.
He tries to think about something that’ll calm him down, mundane nothings. His job, his big desk, Executive Assistant plaque that means more to his boss than him, the weather, the crack in the wall, anything.
It doesn’t work.
He swallows, takes a deep breath and rests his head back against the wall, shuts his eyes for a moment. He didn’t sleep all night, of course, and it’s catching up with him now.
He supposes he should take the opportunity to get used to the silence.
Of course, at that moment Louis hears the sliding door move just a fraction, and looks up. Harry’s poking his head through the door, watching him with this unbearably fond look on his face.
“Hey,” Harry says, smiling, “what’re you doing out here?”
I don’t want you to go.
It’s the first and only thing that will enter his head every time he looks at Harry today, he knows it. He’ll never say it out loud, of course, but those words are a constant stream in his mind; I don’t want you to go, I don’t want you to go, I don’t want you to go.
“Just wanted some air,” he says with a smile, Harry walking over and standing in front of him, hands lazily entwining with Louis’. He’s smiling, small and retrospective. Louis’ chest feels preemptively tight, but it’s not time for that yet.
“Yeah. Hey,” Harry says, face lighting up in a smile, “I love you.”
Louis rolls his eyes and laughs; they’re always so, so ridiculous on mornings like this. And this isn’t even the worst of it; Harry’s only been home for two weeks on his mid-tour respite. When he goes after six months, they’re more or less tripping over each other to see who can say it first.
“I love you too,” he says, standing up. He throws his arms around Harry’s neck and jumps up, wrapping his legs around his middle. Harry laughs, hands coming to hold Louis’ against him, and Louis loves that, the feeling of his fingertips pressing into his skin.
He kisses him gently, can feel the muscles in Harry’s shoulders and back flexing and tensing under his weight. There aren’t a lot of advantages to dating a boy in the army; this, however, is one of them.
Harry breaks off after a while, lazy kisses falling to a smile and their foreheads pressed together.
“M’gonna have a shower,” he murmurs, voice a little strained under Louis’ weight, and Louis loves that, “come with?”
“Sure,” Louis says, feet curling against the cool tiles as Harry puts him down again. It’d been quite a night last night – always is, when Harry’s about to go back. He can’t drink on those nights, but boy can he fuck. Nonetheless though, Louis’ happy to go for round two this morning. He dreads the day he won’t be able to; but for now he’s twenty-six and he’ll be damned if he turns down a shag.
He turns from Harry and goes to make his way inside, but hears Harry chuckling behind him.
“What?” he asks, turning back with narrowed eyes. Harry just bites his lip and smiles.
“You’re walking funny,” he says with a shit-eating little smirk on his face. Louis hates him. “You’re actually walking funny. Getting old, Lou.”
“Shut up,” Louis glares, darting away from Harry with a yelp as he goes to try and wrap him up in his arms from behind. What he really means to say, of course, is I don’t want you to go, but he won’t.
He lets Harry go into the shower first, wraps himself up in the duvet for a moment and tries to centre himself, calm the nausea in his stomach and the pounding in his head; I don’t want you to go I don’t want you to go I don’t want you to go. By the time he makes it to the bathroom and opens the shower door, the room is full of steam and the smell of soap; Harry grins as he slips in, curls an arm round Louis’ waist and kisses him properly, water running between them. He fucks Louis up against the bathroom wall relentlessly, hard, his breath hot and wet in Louis’ ear, moans drowned out by the sound of the shower. He rocks up into him, again and again and again, and Louis tries not to think of it as goodbye, as the last time, tries to enjoy it. He fists a hand in Harry’s hair, tugs on it with a stuttered groan, and when he comes, Louis tries to keep his eyes open, because these are the last few hours he’s going to see Harry’s face for a long, long time.
There are too many clocks at the base, Louis decides. Always have been, since the first time he came here to see Harry off. That time, it’d only been a few weeks in Sudan, a small peacekeeping mission. Sometimes he wishes he could go back and tell that nearly catatonic version of himself to chill the fuck out, and to trust him, because things get a thousand times worse.
He glances round the holding room for a second, takes in the all too familiar sight. All the boys in uniform, kissing teary girlfriends goodbye, hugging small kids while their wives watch on, lips pressed into a tight smile and eyes worried. From eight till eight thirty, the place is generally chaos, everyone running around and saying hello and goodbye, last minute checks and packing. But at that half hour mark the shift always comes in; it gets quieter and a little more subdued and if they’re anything like Louis’, everyone’s hearts get a little heavier, it becomes a little harder to breathe and think straight and put one foot in front of the other.
He hates these mornings. Hates the way the nervous, dull fear sits in the air, hates even thinking about the other people here because Jesus, he doesn’t know how they do it. He can barely handle it, and he’s only got himself to worry about. There are women here with two or three kids, mortgages, cars and school fees and, like, lives.
Then again, Louis always ends up resenting them a little bit too. That they can walk in here and more or less kiss their boyfriends or husbands until they pass out, be picked up and spun round like something from 1918. And, like, Louis isn’t complaining, he knows they’ve got it pretty good in the UK. Harry can walk in here and say oh, hey, this is my boyfriend, and not be dishonourably discharged and strung up for the world to see. But still. It’s the army, and as tolerant as it is on paper, Harry knows better than to trust that completely.
Louis sees Zayn and Liam in the corner; Zayn leaned up on the wall rolling his eyes as Liam laughs and runs a hand down his cheek, but smiling a moment later, threading his fingers through the tags around Liam’s neck. He draws his gaze away after a moment; he and Zayn will commiserate later. It’s a tradition, of sorts, that on days like this they watch the plane leave, find the nearest bar, and drink themselves under the table. Besides, he has his own goodbye to focus on.
“Don’t let that fucking couple next door keep using the car space, okay, I mean it. They’re such arseholes about it, if they want it make them pay the fifty quid a week.”
Louis just blinks up at Harry a little disbelievingly.
“That’s it? You’re about to fly off for three more months and your parting words are about my parking space?”
Harry laughs, threads his fingers through Louis’ gently, between them, a little hidden. “No,” he says, “no, I just…you know. I’m bad at this. It’s the worst part.”
Louis nods, smiles down at his shoes. “Yeah, I know.”
“We board in three minutes,” Harry says, glancing at his watch. Louis always loves how he looks in uniform, all pressed and strong and proud, shoulders broad, jaw set. He likes the way he has his bag slung over his shoulder, the lazy walk in his boots, the metal flash of his tags. Today, though, it’s just making him want to burst into tears.
“This is a record,” Louis notes, “this is the longest I’ve gone on one of these mornings without crying.”
Harry laughs, surprised.
“Am I losing my touch, Lou?” he asks, pressing a kiss to Louis’ right cheek, then his left. Louis stops him from placing the third on his lips, though, smiles at him gently and brushes a thumb across his mouth instead. Harry always gets a little handsy on these mornings, and Louis doesn’t want him to do something he’s going to regret. His thumb catches on Harry’s bottom lip, drags a little. Harry just laughs again, but it’s quieter. Louis can tell he’s just looked at the clock behind him.
“Nah,” he replies, grinning, he knows that the fondness in his eyes can probably be seen from space but he doesn’t really care anymore, “course not.”
He runs a hand down the curve of Harry’s neck, wishes he could see his collarbones and the swallows and the star. “Just saving myself. I was considering breaking security and running out onto the tarmac this time. Too much?”
Harry hums a little and pulls Louis in by his belt loops. Louis doesn’t stop him this time, can’t, suddenly. Harry hugs him impossibly tight, breathing him in, his neck and his hair and his smell.
“Maybe,” he murmurs, like he’s trying to bury the words under Louis’ skin, “maybe a tad.”
Louis glances back up at the clock from where Harry’s got his head pressed into his shoulder. 0843. They’re running out of time now. He never knows how to do a long goodbye, the drawn out saga. He never knows how to do it until it’s a matter of seconds till Harry’s gone, and then it’s like his brain kicks into overdrive. He feels it now, the way his heart flips and tries to jump out of his chest, the way his arms involuntarily hold Harry tighter, the way his legs feel like they might give out, if he let them. The tears prick at his eyes, fall into Harry’s neck as he tries valiantly not to let them spill over.
“’M gonna miss you so much,” he says, voice small, lips pressed to Harry’s ear. He’s acutely aware of how shaky his own breath sounds, how shaky he feels, like he might topple over should there be a particularly strong gust of wind. Harry pulls back from the embrace that holds them like a vice, brushes his fingers tenderly through Louis’ hair.
“’M gonna miss you more, babe,” he whispers, all husky and gravel and Louis isn’t going to hear that for so many, many weeks and he has to bite his thumb to stop himself letting out a choked little sob at that.
“Not possible,” he says, voice wavering, sniffing a little to try and regain some semblance of self-control. “And, you know, at the risk of sounding completely fucking redundant,” he says, swallowing hard, “please be safe. Please. Please come home.”
“I always come home, Lou,” he says, and before Louis can respond, Harry takes him by the wrist and drags him through the small terminal door, round the corner into a corridor.
Louis knows it well, it’s the Goodbye Corridor, has been countless times. But it’s 0844, if the clock in here is anything to go by. And suddenly he feels like he hasn’t said enough, like it’s come too quickly and he’s not done enough, not told him how much he loves him, how much fun this two weeks has been, how much more fun it’ll be when Harry’s home properly, where they’re going to go on holiday, that he knows his top five favourite shirts, bands, TV shows, that he makes Louis want to go and save the world or give all his money to Oxfam because he’s just so good that he makes Louis want to be good too, and Louis wonders if he’s ever told him that. Because what if I never get to tell him again, and he fucking hates himself for thinking that but he can’t help it, none of them can, no one in this whole terminal, it’s always there, niggling away, and Louis suddenly feels like there’s not enough air in this long dark corridor to fill his lungs up.
“Haz, babe,” he says, a little choked up, and then “Harry,” because maybe if he just keeps saying his name something will change, he’ll have more time, because he just needs more time, needs a few more minutes, just a few. Just to tell him everything once more.
“Oi,” Harry whispers, pressing him back into the wall, “it’s okay. I love you too. We’ll talk, we always do. They have this thing called the telephone now, you know, have you heard of it?”
Louis laughs, a little hysterically, fists a hand in Harry’s shirt before he can stop himself. It’s rough, khaki, he doesn’t like how it feels but it’s something; it’s attached to his boy and that’s the only thing it needs to be right now.
“I need to go, Louis,” he says quietly, “so you gonna kiss me or—“
And Louis doesn’t need Harry to finish that sentence, just surges up and catches his lips with his own with a little noise, a little stuttered breath. He can feel Harry smiling against his lips, his hands snaking around between Louis and the wall and holding his small waist and Louis wants to cry because Harry knows he loves that. Harry always says he thinks he could fold Louis up and keep him in his pocket; Louis wonders vaguely if they could try that now, just in case he’s right. Harry tilts his head up, tongue flicking into Louis’ mouth, hands roaming to his hips and his arse and fuck, it’s 0845, Louis can hear the commotion outside, and Harry’s pulling away and no, I don’t want you to go, he thinks desperately, and it’s so loud in his head that he wonders if Harry can hear it too.
Harry lays one last kiss on him, sweet and slow and tender, before pulling away. Louis can see it in his eyes, the way he’s getting himself into the right mindset now. He takes a deep breath, runs a hand through his hair.
“C’mon,” he says quietly, picking his bag up and brushing his fingers over Louis’ hand one last time, “come see me off.”
Louis does. He watches him walk out onto the tarmac, jogging to catch up with Liam and Niall, his best friends since they trained together at Harrogate, and Louis wipes roughly at the tears on his cheek.
He catches a small smile from one of the women across the room, she’s older than him, maybe in her late thirties. She has a look in her eye that says I know how you feel, and Louis wonders how long she’s been doing this. How long he’ll be doing this, how many others there’ll be after Afghanistan.
The boys pile into the C130 in single file, and Louis sees Harry disappear up the ramp after Liam.
Bye, he thinks, please come home.
“’Nd then,” Zayn says from where he’s sprawled out on Louis’ couch, waving emphatically and spilling beer onto the floorboards, “and then, I jus’ said, like, fuck you, ‘f I wanna go ‘s Alice Cooper t’ Halloween, I motherfuckin’ will.”
Louis has absolutely no idea what he’s going on about, then again, he’s fairly sure Zayn doesn’t either. Zayn laughs a little delightedly at that, buries his head in a cushion and groans loudly. They’ve been drinking since midday and it’s coming up on midnight now, so. It’s been a marathon, to say the least.
“I feel like shit,” Zayn slurs, “what day ‘s it?"
Louis sighs. “Still fuckin’ Monday.”
It feels like so long since this morning. He wonders what Harry’s doing, if he’s okay, if he’s on night patrol and up thinking about him, or is he’s sound asleep, dead tired from the plane. It’ll be getting on four thirty in the morning there, Louis’ so used to the conversion now that he can still do it when he’s downed about three hundred beers. Which is saying something, because he’s not even sure he can walk in this state.
“Eighty-seven,” Zayn murmurs to himself, and Louis snaps back into the real world, “eighty-fuckin’-seven.”
“Wassat?” Louis asks, finishing his drink with a smack of his lips.
“Eighty-seven days till Liam an’ Niall an’ Haz are home,” he says, “we counted last night.”
“Oh,” Louis says, glancing at his watch. It’s 12:02. “Well. Eighty-six, now.”
Zayn hums thoughtfully, and Louis feels himself drift off to sleep.
The first week is always utter wank.
By the time he’s got rid of the crick in his neck from sleeping in the armchair that night, not to mention his two-day hangover, he’s fairly sure he’s going to die.
But that’s okay. Because it’s Thursday, which means tomorrow is Friday.
Tomorrow is Friday. Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, and Louis’ not heard such good news in what feels like years because today’s Thursday which means tomorrow is Friday and when Harry’s away Louis basically lives Friday to Friday. Friday’s the day Harry calls home, and in the absence of his father and the death of his mother and the undisclosed location of his very fucked up sister, home is Louis. (Louis kind of hopes he’d be home for Harry anyway, though.) He gets a half hour of call time along with a quarter of his company. Liam’s day is Wednesday – Zayn’d not let go of his phone the whole day yesterday, nearly drove Louis insane with all his nervous finger tapping and chain smoking, but Louis knows how it gets.
Tomorrow’s Friday, and Louis holds onto the thought of that like it’s the breath in his lungs.
Louis opens his eyes, adjusts to the light in his room. It’s Friday.
It’s Friday and Camp Bastion is four and a half hours ahead of Louis’ flat in Mornington Crescent (well, their flat, really, this is where Harry stays when he’s on leave and most weekends when he’s at the barracks, so theirs, his, whatever, it’s all semantics), so if he’s right it’s just past midday over there. So sue him, he’s up early.
He gets out of bed and has a cuppa and reads the paper halfheartedly, doesn’t shower because if he misses this call he’s quite seriously not getting out of bed until Harry comes home.
So he waits. And waits and waits and waits and considers going for a run or doing his laundry but strikes both those things down because they’ll probably be too time consuming and he’d go to the pub but what if it’s too loud and he doesn’t hear his phone, and he kind of wants to call his Mum but can’t be on the phone because it’s Friday and Harry’s calling today, Jesus, Louis, pull it together, and he just about considers cutting his week long leave from work short, but thre’d be a temp there anyway, and now that he’s looking at it the curtain rod is kind of crooked and he should probably fix it but he’s not got a ladder and it’s not like he’d know how to fix it anyway and—
Louis starts and claps a hand over his mouth to stop a surprised and entirely undignified squeal escaping him.
That’d be the phone. He should answer it.
He picks it up and slides his finger shakily across the screen, puts it on loudspeaker.
“You are receiving a call from,” the prim automated voice cuts out, replaced with another, “Royal Army Base Camp Bastion.” The first voice chimes back in. “To reject this call, please hang up now. To accept, press—"
“Christ,” Louis hisses to himself, pressing 1 before it tells him to. He’s done this what feels like a few thousand times, he knows the drill.
The phone rings twice, then connects. It’s a crackly line, satellite phones inevitably have that affect, but he really doesn’t fucking care, because it’s Harry.
“Lou?” His voice comes down the line, Louis can hear the smile in it and practically see the dimples and he has to rest his head on his knee for a moment, steady himself. He takes a deep breath, like if he takes in enough air he’ll be able to smell the green tea extract in Harry’s shampoo.
“Lou, you there?”
“Yeah,” he croaks, a little louder than probably necessary, but yes, he’s here, “hi, darling. How…” he takes another breath, and he hears Harry laugh down the line, a little strung out and all nervous energy and Louis wants to die, because it’s his boy and he’s not spoken to him for what feels like a small lifetime and he’s here, now.
“How are you?”
He hears a rustling, expects that’s Harry falling down on his bed or something. He’s so far away. Louis feels it right in his chest, that distance.
“M’good,” he says, and he sounds tired but Louis thinks he’s telling the truth, “hot. So fucking hot here, Jesus.”
“Yeah,” Louis says, “well. Few thousand cute boys packing the place out, Haz, I expect it is.”
Harry just snorts, and Louis has to bite his lip because he can see the look on his face, the delightfully bewildered furrowed brow. Except, of course, he can’t, and it sits on him a bit like a deadweight.
“You’re so dumb,” he says fondly, “tell me about London.”
So Louis does. He tells him what he’s eaten for dinner and about his ASOS jeans that came yesterday that are sinfully too small for him. He tells him about Zayn and the new Gosling film and that pop star who got caught getting too handsy with her model best friend by the Mirror. Louis’ gotten good at this, is the thing. When they’d first started doing this – and Louis will never forget that, Harry all bright and shiny and new and so tantalizingly out of his reach – Louis had never known what to say when Harry said that; tell me about London. But now, now he catalogues everything. Reads an article and thinks Harry’ll like that, hears a song on 4Music or 1Xtra and writes down the name of it if he thinks it sounds like that stupid indie stuff Harry likes, buys him a t-shirt if he sees something that makes him think Harry. That sort of thing.
And for a second, sometimes, if he talks enough, if Harry laughs or gasps or makes an impressed little noise in the right place, it’s almost as though he’s sitting right next to him. Just for a second.
“You still there?” he asks suddenly, because Harry’s not said anything in a while.
“’Course,” Harry says, “just like hearing you talk.”
Harry hangs up twenty-seven minutes later, and Louis’ heart doesn’t quite stop aching. Because that’s it, he’s got a whole week to wait to hear him again, now. It’s been five days. Eighty-two to go, he thinks, and fuck, he always forgets how hard this is.
The next Friday, he and Harry only get to speak for a few minutes because they’re doing a training exercise over a three-day weekend, and well. Fuck. He’s had a shit day, and now this article is sitting in front of him like a big fuck you.
414 British servicemen have died in Afghanistan so far, and Louis feels sick.
He shuts the paper, tosses it out and goes to bed. His feet are cold, and his electric blanket is a million miles away.
“Yes, precisely. We plan to halve our troop numbers in Helmand province by the end of 2013, and moving into 2014 only have the minimum number of soldiers necessary, so that there can be a smooth transition and handover to the Afghan forces come the end of Operation Herrick.”
“And that’s something you can guarantee, Prime Minister?” the journalist presses, glancing at her notes.
He nods, assured. “Of course, absolutely.”
Louis flicks the TV off and goes to call his Mum. He better be right.
The snow thaws for the last time this season. Harry isn’t here to see it. Harry loves winter; he’s not a creature of heat. (Louis ignores the fact he spends half his time in a bona fide desert.)
The ache in Louis’ chest grows, and although he tries to brush it off as something else, he knows it’s because it’s nearly April 2.
April 2 appears kind of out of the blue, funnily enough. Louis’ been trying to keep busy, going to work, going to the gym once or twice; it’s important to get back into everything, his own life, after the first couple of weeks. He’s had a not-awful fortnight, which is about all he can hope for when Harry’s overseas.
But it’s April 2, now, and it’s been a month.
More importantly, though, it’s been three years.
Louis’ stayed up till midnight even though he has work at 8am, because it’s important to him. Even if Harry’s not here, it’s important. He wants to celebrate it properly.
He distinctly remembers the fourth day of Harry’s mid-tour break, when they’d realised their anniversary would be while Harry was away.
“No,” Harry had pouted, pulling Louis closer so he was sat in between his legs on the couch. Louis’d just leant back into him, pressed a kiss to his cheek. “No, no, no, we’re not allowed to go three years without me here.”
Louis’d smiled at that, hooked Harry’s legs round his own. “’S’nothing we can do, babe. It’s okay. We’ll have the next one.”
Harry had sighed, unsatisfied with that. “You know the present for three years is, like, leather,” Harry’d grumbled, “the sexiest one, and I don’t get to be here for it.”
“I think those guidelines are for wedding anniversaries,” Louis had noted dryly, “but still. You better not’ve bought me a whip that I can’t use, or I’ll end you."
Harry laughed into his hair, chest pressed to his back, silence taking over for a moment.
Then, “write me a letter,” he’d said suddenly, “write me a letter and I’ll write you one and we’ll swap and we won’t open them till the day. It’ll be nice.”
So they had. And Louis’ rifling through his bedside drawer now, memory playing like an old record in his head, until he pulls the card out, big loopy Louis on the front with a little heart on the i.
He thinks his heart might break in two. He tears the envelope open, though, pulls out the goofy card with two little ducks nuzzling each other on the front. Trust, he thinks. He opens it, gingerly, wills the lump in his throat away.
I’m going to be a couple of oceans away from you when you read this, unless you’ve opened it early in which case, fuck you. But I hope you haven’t. I hope it’s April 2 and you’re sitting on your bed and doing that thing where you bite your lip so you don’t get too teary, like when we watch Love Actually.
Louis lets out a surprised laugh, bites his lip harder and sniffles a little.
I’m so sorry I’m not there, babe. You know this stuff means the world to me, and you do too, and I’m just so sorry. I don’t mind missing Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s. But I’m sad I’m missing this.
I don’t even know what to write, really, because I’m not that good with words. But you’re sitting opposite me right now and I think you’re reading the TV Guide even though you’re holding up Business Day. You look lovely in your glasses, Lou, you don’t wear them enough, which I’m sure your optometrist will tell you too. But anyway. You’re sitting opposite me and every time I look over at you I keep smiling like an idiot. And I smile like an idiot every time I think of you when I’m away, too, when it’s too hot over there and I can’t sleep or when we’re out in the desert for eight hours or whatever. Even when I’m just at the base back home, and I’m cold or tired or angry; you always make me smile. I don’t have a lot of people in my life who I know are gonna be there, which is why I joined the Army in the first place, I guess, and I’ve met some great people who I know’ve got my back. But no one’s ever been there like you’re there, Lou. So thank you, for all of it. For the key to your flat so I can always walk in, for the low fat milk you have in the fridge just for me, for buying me concert tickets you’ll know I’ll want even though you think the band’s dumb.
But mostly, I guess, thank you for being there every time I come home. Thank you for being the person I think of when I’m on the other side of the world and I think of home.
Three years is 1095.726 days, did you know that? I didn’t. I googled it. But the point is, I’ve been yours for one thousand and ninety
five six days, now. And I want to be yours for a thousand and ninety six more, and another few after that.
I love you, and I hope you make me smile like an idiot for a million more years. I hope I sometimes make you smile like that too.
Lots of Love,
(PS: your present’s in the cornflakes, you twat, bet you didn’t think to look there. Xxxx)
Louis reads it again, the whole way through, then his favourite parts, then just one line: Thank you for being there every time I come home.
He wipes at his eyes, pushes his hair off his face and stands up, pads out to the kitchen and opens the pantry, smiling in spite of everything. The letter’s still held fast in his hand, he doesn’t expect he’s going to let go any time soon.
He fishes the cornflakes out from the back of the pantry, Harry’s right, he didn’t check the box, mostly because cornflakes are disgusting. But he sticks his hand in, comes up with a box and a note.
Give you the whip when I get home! Happy leatherversary. H x
He lets out another little laugh that kind of threads in with his tears, and with his goddamned shaky fingers he opens the box.
It’s a book, or something. Louis furrows his brow, not quite sure what it is. He sets the letter down, box too, and pulls the book out. Then he opens it.
And it turns out that it’s not a book, it’s a leatherbound photo album.
He flicks through it slowly, biting his lip the whole time. He and Harry in Paris, freezing their arses off two Christmases ago, Harry’s 21st, his Mum’s wedding night. Reels and reels of photobooths from clubs and bars and parties, Louis drunk in Harry’s uniform one night; he, Harry, Zayn, Niall and Liam dicking around on photobooth, the two of them shirtless and clutching cocktails in Barcelona, that day they went to Manchester for no apparent reason and eaten at that endearingly shitty Italian restaurant they love. The grainy iPhone photo taken by Niall of the time Harry had first come back from Afghanistan and an embrace so tight Louis’ not sure how he survived it.
And then it’s small things, like Louis’ coffee mug on the bench and photos Louis didn’t even know Harry had, the two of them around the flat, Louis sprawled across the couch and reading, wearing nothing but one of Harry’s white shirts and his briefs, Louis in his aviators looking thoroughly unimpressed at Harry’s barracks, a photo Harry’s obviously taken himself of him making the album.
And then on the very last page is Louis’ favourite picture in the whole world, that his sister had taken when they’d gone to Italy with Louis’ family last year. The two of them asleep on each other in an airport, maybe it was Venice, Louis thinks, the world moving impossibly fast around them, a blur, but the two of them sleeping softly, solidly, amidst it.
Harry and Louis and all the little bits and pieces that make up their world, and yeah, Louis’ not bothering to bite his lip now, he just smiles and cries quietly all at once.
For the first time in thirty-one days, it doesn’t feel like a million miles when Louis falls asleep.
Harry calls two days later, Friday. Louis punches 1 into his keypad so quickly he thinks he might’ve broken the phone, but the line connects soon enough.
“Harry!” he all but shouts, “good morning, babe, or wait, is it afternoon there? I’m shit at maths,” he laments.
There’s a small silence.
His voice is quiet, guarded. Louis closes his mouth, bites back his slightly hyperactive word vomit. He swallows.
“Okay,” he says gently, “how you going? Miss you.”
Harry sighs, lies down Louis thinks, from what he can hear. “I’m just tired. Really tired, you know.”
I miss you too; Louis thinks, please. It doesn’t come.
So he waits for what always comes next; tell me about London. But it’s just silence. He’s not sure they’ve ever had one of these conversations without that question.
“Yeah, babe, I can imagine,” he says, let’s the sentiment in his voice hold for a moment, “hey, I read your card, though. Proper catch, you are.”
He expects Harry to laugh, even just to smile. To say, I got yours too. Happy anniversary and two days.
He doesn’t, however, expect that. His heart rate quickens, or maybe falls, he can’t tell.
Your card you card your card, the one you wrote me, and please don’t say you’ve forgotten it, the best card I’ve ever been given, the card I’m considering sleeping with every night you’re not here.
“Your card,” he says again, carefully, trying to keep the edge out of his tone but failing.
Harry sighs. And if Louis’ not mistaken, he sounds irritable. “Louis, what? My card for what?”
Louis traps his breath in his lungs, closes his eyes for a long moment. He shouldn’t be disappointed. Harry’s on the front fucking line of a goddamned war, for Christ’s sake. It’s not a felony if he’s forgotten an arbitrary date in their calendar. He’s got one or two things going on.
It doesn’t stop the sinking feeling that runs through Louis’ whole body, drags him down.
“Anniversary, babe,” he says quietly, “it was Wednesday.” And I stayed up till midnight, he thinks, and I slept with that card in my hand.
“Oh,” Harry says after a long moment, and for a second he thinks it might be okay, that Harry will apologise and rifle through his bag till he finds Louis’ card, read it as they’re on the phone and maybe, maybe, maybe it’ll be okay.
Instead, Harry says “shit,” like he’s forgotten to put the towels in the drier or record The Voice, and Louis wants to cry.
Louis swallows, takes a deep breath.
He forgot. 1095.726.
“Yeah,” he says, out into the silence, “shit. A bit.”
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” Harry snaps.
Louis blinks. Thinks he might need to check he’s got the right number, because this whole conversation has been stilted and odd, but that tone, harsh as though he’s looking for a fight, that’s not his boy.
“Look, Lou, I’m sorry I forgot, but no need to get all fucking melodramatic on me,” Harry says, in there before Louis can even wrap his head around what’s happening, “do you think you could just say, oh, hey Harry, you’re in the middle of fucking Afghanistan, it’s okay if you forgot our anniversary and not treat it like a federal fucking case?”
Louis opens his mouth, closes it again.
“I said, like, four words.”
Harry snorts. “Yeah, with about a thousand fucking words worth of passive aggression embedded in there, so cheers for that.”
“Jesus, Harry, what the fuck?” Louis’ reeling, voice a little high, panicky. He doesn’t know how to do this, doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to spend the thirty minutes he has fighting.
Harry’s silent for a long moment, and Louis thinks he might’ve hung up. His stomach lurches when he speaks again.
“I’m trying, Louis. I call every week and shit, I try. I’m sorry I’ve got a little more on my plate than worrying what my hair’s gonna look like if I don’t blow dry it, but—“
“What the fuck does that mean?” Louis asks quietly, and he’s so fucking humiliated, feels so childish and stupid, at once for giving a fuck about three years when Harry’s sitting in a demountable in Helmand province, on the other hand for rising to his bait. It doesn’t stop him.
“I have a job too, you know, and bills, and friends and my family. Not to mention my fucking boyfriend who’s roaming around Af-fucking-ghanistan for a living. So don’t go acting like it’s all fucking dandy for me, Harry, everyone’s got shit.”
Harry snorts, and it’s derisive and mean. “Yeah, well, I’m sure it’s a struggle,” he bites back, deathly quiet, “why don’t you tell me all about it.”
The silence hangs in the air between them; Mornington Crescent, Northern line transfer at King’s Cross to the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Terminal 3, Gate 113, arrive in Kabul, go south to Helmand. All the air along that route from this flat to Camp Bastion, Louis thinks, thick with whatever this is, with whatever Harry’s mind is doing right now.
Louis doesn’t rise to his challenge again. It’s not that he couldn’t, there’s no one who knows how to fight dirtier than Louis when he needs to. It’s, quite simply, that he’s too terrified to, too afraid of what’s happening here.
“You don’t have to call if you don’t want to,” he says quietly, “if. You know. If it’s gonna upset you this much.”
No, he thinks, no, no, no, you absolutely have to call, please, please know me well enough to know I don’t mean that.
“I’m not upset,” Harry says roughly, “I’m fine.”
Louis wonders just what in God’s fucking name Harry’s seen today – heaven forbid, what he’s done – because this isn’t his boy.
Happy anniversary, he thinks.
The line goes dead.
Five days later – three years and a week, but he doesn’t think about that – he thinks he should probably tell someone, because he’s not been able to relax ever since that day.
Zayn comes over after work, Chinese food in one hand, bottle of wine in the other.
“You look like shit,” he says when Louis opens the door, but he’s not joking. There’s a softness in his eyes, because he knows, is the thing, he’s the only person in Louis’ whole life who knows, and Louis just sort of falls into him, let’s Zayn hold him up for a minute, because it’s been five long days of doing it himself and he’s so tired.
He lifts his head from Zayn’s chest slowly. “Hi,” he says miserably, “sorry. Come in, and all that.”
Zayn does, closes the door and puts a hand on Louis’ shoulder, steers him to the couch and starts unpacking the food. Louis’ barely slept since Friday, he likes that someone else’s taking control for the time being.
He passes Louis a spring roll. “Bad week?” he asks, “you kinda fell of the radar, Lou."
“I know,” he murmurs, “sorry. But Z, shit. Harry…” He trails off, listless.
“What is it, babe?” Zayn asks gently, “you look so sad.”
And Louis is sad, right to his bones, because Harry feels so far away. Harry is so far away, and Louis’ is used to that, as used to it as he can ever be. He’s not used to this, though. He’s not used to it being a question, whether Harry’ll ring him.
So he tells him. He tells Zayn everything, the letter and the album and the call, and Zayn winces in all the right places and by the end has pulled Louis in for a hug, rubbing small circles into his back.
“Oh, Lou,” he says, “I would’ve been here in a fucking nanosecond if I knew, mate. I’m so sorry.”
“Me too,” Louis says, quirking a small smile. He feels washed out, now, all the buzzing, anxious energy replaced with a kind of numbness.
His fucking boyfriend is in Afghanistan and for all he knows, isn’t going to call on Friday. He doesn’t care about much else, not really. It’s all background.
“Liam did that once, you know,” Zayn says suddenly, and it makes Louis sit up. “Like. Few years ago. Just before we met you guys. We were talking and I brought something up, I dunno. Something about how I had to go to some party all alone, I was obviously kidding. And he just…fuck,” Zayn says, shaking his had like he still can’t believe it, “lost it at me.”
“What happened?” Louis asks.
“He just, like, really dug into me. Kinda like Harry, you know, you’ve got nothing going on in your life, I’m trying my best, all that.”
“Yeah,” Louis murmurs, “s’what he was like.”
Zayn grabs a box of noodles, hands one to Louis.
“Didn’t sleep until he called the next Wednesday,” Zayn says, rolling his eyes fondly, “all but tripped over himself trying to apologize.”
Louis just laughs, a little, he loves Zayn so much, for being here, for getting it, for knowing what to say. For bringing him noodles and wine, too.
“I think they feel guilty, sometimes, when they’re out there,” Zayn says suddenly, “Liam told me that once.”
“Why guilty?” Louis asks. Harry loves prawns in his noodles, he remembers out of the blue, so he leaves one aside automatically, before remembering that Harry’s not actually here. He feels a pang of vague queasiness at that; and he doesn’t eat the prawn.
“I guess because we’re back here, waiting for them, and they don’t know how to deal with that,” Zayn says slowly, “I only ever said it once to him, y’know. Imagine if it was me going over there, how would you feel, all of that bullshit when you have those fights. His eyes just about popped out his face. I don’t think they like thinking of it like that."
Louis nods, considers him for a moment. “I know he didn’t mean it,” he settles on saying, “I just. You know. Wish I could hear from him, or something.” Wish I could see the dumb way he sulks when he’s angry, wish I could hear the angry music coming from his iPod.
“I know,” Zayn says, smiling sympathetically, “but hey. Five weeks down, right?”
And seven to go, Louis thinks, but he doesn’t say it.
Zayn stays for a few hours. They kick back and watch Match of the Day and Louis doesn’t care in the slightest about the fucking Scottish Premier League, but he feels better, lighter, than he has in days.
“Talk about England, God, I hate this,” Zayn yells at the TV, voice getting slightly louder as he goes, “I can’t watch this anymore, sorry. Mind if I flick around?”
“Go ahead,” Louis says, tossing him the remote, “you know it’s only Scotland though, yeah, it’s not like, Lucifer’s Cup, or anything.”
Zayn flicks him a look that just makes him laugh. “Shut up,” Zayn says, before the TV grabs his attention again, “oh, look. Kardashians.”
“Nope,” Louis declares, “vetoed. We’re not watching this.”
“Are so,” Zayn retorts, topping up both their wine glasses, “don’t pretend you’re too good for it, Louis, don’t chuck a bloody Harry Styles-esque snobbery episode at me.”
“Oi!” Louis cries, tossing a cushion at him, “he’s not a snob. And I am too good for this, thank you very much.”
Zayn just rolls his eyes, points at the screen one of them is crying, dabbing at suspiciously waterproof eyeliner with the corner of a tissue.
“Oh please,” Louis says, “that’s fucking—“
The doorbell rings, and Louis stands up, wanders over to the intercom, wine catching up with him a little. He buzzes whoever it is up without saying anything, it’s just the pizza they ordered, because two boxes of noodles are never enough.
“That’s so ridiculous,” Louis says, “I guarantee you her make up’d be a mess by now.”
“How would you know? Got a secret career in drag you’ve not told me about?” Zayn teases, and Louis just laughs over his shoulder as he hears footsteps stop outside his door.
“Yeah, mate, you know me. First pet and street isn’t it?” He opens the door a little, still not turning round to see who’s there. “So what, I’m like, shit, what was that cat’s name, Mittens—“
Zayn’s face has gone very, very pale. Louis stops talking. Zayn’s looking over his shoulder, craning his neck to see who’s at the door.
Louis pulls it open wider, and finally turns to see who’s there.
“Sir, are you Louis Tomlinson, designated proxy of Lieutenant Harry Styles?”
He doesn’t even remember it, not really. All he sees is the camouflage green, the decorated left breast pocket of the two men at his door, the grave eyes staring back at him. The way the one on the left opens his mouth and starts speaking, but all Louis can hear is Harry Harry Harry Harry Harry Harry, over and over, like someone’s shouting it right into the back of his brain.
The crash of red as he drops his glass, hands shaking furiously, shards flying and settling like dust over his feet and the boots of the men at his door, the sharp little cry that escapes his mouth as he takes a step back, eyes wide and full of terror, the same terror that’s turning his blood cold in his veins.
And the last thing he remembers before he throws up, before Zayn’s arms somehow appear around him, holding him up, is the last thing Harry said to him.
When Louis was sixteen, he’d gotten himself arrested. He’d been caught drinking at the oval with some of his mates from school, and was the only one dumb enough to start running away with a beer still in his hand.
The police had carted him home by the scruff of his neck, told him to sit in the car while they spoke to his mother.
His mother had fainted as soon as she’d opened the door, because she’d thought Louis’d been in a car accident. He didn’t even get in trouble, not really, because she was too busy crying over the fact that he was just a little drunk and not lying sprawled on a dark road somewhere.
Louis has no idea why this story pops into his head, but he makes a mental note to apologise to her profusely, because of the many ugly and terrifying moments Louis’ experienced in his life, nothing beats last night, uniforms at the door.
He remembers to take a breath.
Harry is not dead.
Those are the four words that keep Louis sitting upright, keep him listening as best he can to the rotating group of CNOs and Lieutenants and officers in Harry’s branch that traipse in and out of his flat.
Harry is not dead.
And that’s the word that has him throwing up for the third time, rushing to the bathroom and holding himself over the toilet, shaking so hard he thinks he might just snap in two.
There was an IED. Just outside the boundary of Bastion where Harry was patrolling. Harry and five other guys, blown halfway to heaven by kilo upon kilo’s worth of explosives.
And you better hope it’s not the whole way, his brain says before he can stop it, and he wants to switch himself off, go on standby for a bit, because he doesn’t think he can do this.
Harry and five other guys. That was the sentence that had Zayn go from best friend to party-with-a-vested-interest in six seconds flat.
“Could you, um,” Zayn says, hands not moving from Louis’ shoulders. He feels numb all over, like he’s not really here. The only reason he’s registering this is because Zayn’s voice is a welcome change from the droning of the man in front of him. “Could you say who the other five are?”
The Lieutenant shakes his head. “Sorry,” he says, “can’t release personal information to the public.”
“Of course,” Zayn says hurriedly, “just. My boyfriend’s on tour in Helmand too. Can you just…” he swallows, “Liam Payne? He there?” He blinks a few times. “Niall Horan?”
The Lieutenant considers him for a while. Fletcher, his uniform reads. He casts his eyes down the list momentarily.
“No,” he says shortly, “not here.”
Zayn’s shoulders sag in relief, and for the tiniest of flashes, Louis fucking hates him, wants to punch him till his knuckles bleed.
He shudders and sits up straight, extracts himself from Zayn’s hands for a moment. He leans forward, runs his hands through his hair.
“Can, you, umm,” he says, furrowing his brow, shaking his head slightly. The sun’s just rising, an odd cool light. “Is there any news?”
“I’m going to go and place a call at the base now,” someone says. Louis’ met her before, somehow, although he’s no idea where. She touches a hand to his arm that makes him jump.
“Great,” Louis says, although what he wants to say is okay, and next time could you’ve done it five minutes before I ask? but doesn’t, because it feels like there’s too much and not enough information in his head all at the same time.
“Mr Tomlinson—“ the Lieutenant starts, but Louis cuts him off.
“Louis, please,” he says, so strange that they still bother with formality.
“Louis,” he amends, “is there any reason why you’re Lieutenant Styles’ next of kin? It’s just irregular, is all, to have someone outside of parents or a spouse. We looked for any documentation that said otherwise, there was none.”
Louis blinks up at him, confused. “Oh,” he says, “yeah. Well. Harry’s, umm, his Mum died. And his Dad, like, was never around. And he has a sister but we don’t know, like, what continent she’s on.”
And his favourite colour is blue and on Mondays we get ten pound nachos from that weird place in Notting Hill and I got him tickets to see a Harold Pinter play when he gets home because he’s so absurdly cultured and he likes that kind of thing.
“So,” he finishes instead, “yeah. Just me.”
The Lieutenant nods. All seems to be in order, then, Louis thinks, except for how it’s not.
Zayn’s sitting a fraction too close, and Louis just needs space, needs all these people out of his apartment and to stop hovering like they’re going to need to prop him up.
“Z,” he says, “go home and get some rest.”
“I can stay if you want,” he says, “I’m here, Lou.”
No you’re not. It’s not your boy. It’s not your boy it’s not your boy it’s not your boy.
For the first time, he realises, Zayn doesn’t get it. He can cry and hug and empathise all he wants. It’s not his boy. And it shouldn’t, but that’s seems so, so unfair to Louis. He can’t even look at him; the worry in his eyes feels false, trite, surface, because it’s not his boy.
“Get some rest,” he says quietly, and Zayn slips out five minutes later, closes the door behind him.
From what Louis can gather, Harry’s been in surgery for eleven hours. Or a thousand years. Whichever, it’s all the same now.
Eleven hours doesn’t sound great to Louis. Harry is, apparently, in desperate need of an actual hospital but nowhere near stable enough to survive the trip there.
And God fucking damn it, but Louis would’ve thought in the however many hundreds of years of the Royal Army, someone might have figured that conundrum out by now.
All he can think about is every World War II film he’s ever seen, every half standing, dust covered, understaffed field hospital he’s ever glanced at on TV.
He shakes his head, takes a breath.
Lieutenant Fletcher and who he has learnt to be Captain Anderson are talking in hushed tones at the door.
Captain Anderson drops her head, and Louis springs up.
“What happened?” Louis asks immediately, seeing stars, breath shaking. She looks up at him sadly.
“One of the others,” she says, “internal bleeding, couldn’t stop it. 1218 GMT. 1648 local time.”
So. 415, then.
And Louis wishes he could find it within himself to be upset, to furrow his brow and ask for a name, but he can’t. The only thing he can think is it’s not Harry.
Harry gets out of surgery. For half an hour, and then his lung ruptures, and he’s back in there, indefinite surgery time, not sure what the procedure is, we don’t know the extent of the damage.
Everything is uncertain. Louis’ mind is very, very blank.
Because he’s not there. He can cry and navel gaze and yell and care all he wants, but he’s not there. He’s in fucking England, in his flat, while Harry’s getting half a lung and God knows what else stitched back together, hour after hour after hour. And Louis wonders how long they stitch for before they give up.
Eleven hours seems like a long time. He wonders if they’ll do another eleven.
“Jesus,” he whispers, bites his thumb as he stares out the window.
A day later, Louis gets the letter. Postage paid Army envelope, express stamp on the front. He thinks that maybe it’s the official documentation of Harry’s condition.
Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry
Over and over and over in Harry’s handwriting, half the page. And then,
No, but I really am sorry. I had a shit day and I was a prick, and I love you so much, and if I could make you dinner and light a candle to say sorry properly, I would. I read your letter as soon as I hung up. You’re too good for me, Louis Tomlinson.
53 days to go, though, right? I’ll call on Friday, of course I’ll call. Always will. And Happy Anniversary, babe.
Thinking of you always
Lots of Love,
Louis folds it back up, swallows as he puts it on the table. He goes to bed, and doesn’t get up for a long time. Because that, right there, flimsy bit of paper with the spider’s scrawl Harry calls handwriting on it, that might just be the last thing he’ll ever hear from him.
I always come home.
Two days after that, and Louis remembers to take a shower. Mostly because Harry has been critical but stable for a whole day now, which is apparently a win.
He looks in the bathroom mirror and his eyes are raw and his hair is disgusting and his nails are bitten right down. Harry used to tell him to get that chilli-flavoured varnish to stop him biting them. Louis’d told him to fuck right off if he thought he was going to wear nail polish.
He thinks he’d wear nothing but a garter and a Victoria’s Secret corset for the rest of his life if he could just have Harry home. Harry would like that joke. He’d laugh and his eyes would twinkle and he’d tug Louis down onto the couch and say might have to take you up on that offer one day, Lou.
And this is Louis’ mind right now, something inconsequential that he notices that triggers some stupid memory of Harry that triggers a million what-ifs; what if Harry were here, what would he do, what would he say, what would his hair look like, what would he be reading, what would we be doing.
But he needs to focus.
“Louis,” the army doctor says gently. His name is Nick, Louis remembers that, for no other reason than Harry would always tease him when he nicked himself shaving.
“Yeah,” he says, “sorry. ‘M’listening.”
“It’s okay. Take all the time you need.”
“No, I’m okay. Go.”
He nods, takes out a report with a very large red HERRICK – BASTION FIELD HOSPITAL stamp on the front.
“This is the surgeon’s report, I had it sent back because I don’t think anyone’s properly explained Lieutenant Styles’ injuries to you,” he says, “that sound about right?”
Louis nods. His stomach seems to claw at him from the inside out.
“Okay, so, stop me if there’s anything you don’t understand,” Nick says, the Grimshaw standing out on his starkly pressed uniform. He and Harry had a friend with that last name, once, he thinks vaguely.
He needs to focus.
Nick begins. It’s quite the list. Harry’s going to feel proper tough when he gets home.
If, Louis reminds himself, because he was given a talk yesterday. A lowering-your-expectations talk.
When, his brain argues stubbornly.
He has a shattered collarbone and shoulder blade, seven broken ribs. His lungs are both punctured; one is working again, one is not. He’s on breathing assistance. He’s on blood thinners and thickeners at the same fucking time, because they need to stop the internal bleeding but avoid clotting in his brain. He possibly has an infection, gaping wound in his arm not treated properly, because it was the only injury not set to kill him. Blood in his chest cavity, fluid that they have to keep draining.
He’s not awake, like his body’s too tired, too broken to wake him up, too preoccupied just holding itself together.
Louis knows the feeling.
Nick stops talking, and there’s only one question Louis has, the question that’s been on his mind for four days.
“What are his chances?” Louis asks quietly, finally. “Really. What…what are the chances he’s coming home?”
Nick blinks, like he’s weighing up whether to tell the truth. The guardedness on his face drops. “Seventy per cent,” he says softly, “seventy per cent chance you’ll get him home.”
You don’t have to call if you don’t want to. If. You know. If it’s gonna upset you.
Louis throws up for the first time since critical but stable, because if that’s the last thing he’s going to get to say to Harry, he swears he’ll never say anything again.
Harry wakes up five days, three hours, and forty-seven minutes after the bomb.
Louis finds out twenty-two minutes later.
“Shit,” he breathes, laughs tiredly and humourlessly into his fist, “shit.”
“It’s good, Louis,” Nick says; he’s come to deliver the news. “Not out of the woods. But it’s good.”
He calls his mother, his sister, his friends back home, because he wants to share this. Wants to tell anyone who’ll listen, because maybe if everyone knows, whoever’s up there pulling the strings might just spare him.
Harry’s awake and Harry’s weak and Harry’s asleep, a lot, actually, for someone who’s being spoken of as awake, but whatever.
Louis doesn’t get to talk to him.
He begs, just for five minutes, just to hear his voice. But it’s a blanket no, they can’t get his heart rate up because he absolutely cannot start bleeding again, nothing can throw off the all too fragile balance his body is trying to hold onto right now. They’re keeping him sedated a lot of the time ahyhow, just to maintain that. They promise that Louis won’t want to speak to him right now, anyway, he’s delirious from the drugs, body exhausted, his voice is probably shot, they say.
Louis’ briefly furious, irrationally so. He refuses to speak to anyone for an hour, then realizes he’s being a twat.
They need him to sign some forms, he’s Harry’s medical proxy after all. So he puts his game face on and opens the door, walks back out to the living room that more or less resembles a small army base now.
They smile at him, pitifully. He fucking hates that, like he’s a kid throwing a temper tantrum.
“Sorry,” he says, and he hopes it’s convincing.
Sometimes, Louis thinks, the sun can’t quite break through the clouds, bright as it may be.
(Two weeks since the bomb is when they get the news, and Louis’ whole timeframe now seems to be since the bomb.)
Harry gets a fever overnight, 107. They have to sedate him, again, because his body’s on fire and he’s in pain. It’s hurting him, tearing through his already barely-there immune system. Harry’s hurting, and it makes Louis want to scream. The wound on his arm is apparently getting worse and there’s an infection working its way through his bloodstream, just as they were going to send him to Germany, to the US Army hospital there.
Louis doesn’t believe in God. Never has; as far as he can see, God’s never done much for him, for anyone else as a matter of fact.
He prays anyway.
They’ve kept Harry sedated for three days. By now, the fever’s subsiding, slowly, but his arm is fucking toxic, skin burning and weeping God knows what and Harry isn’t sleeping, is writhing all alone in a fucking field hospital up to his eyeballs in painkillers, and the thought of it makes Louis shudder. They’ve decide to put him back under, but for some reason, Louis’ not got the call that it’s been successful yet. It usually takes fifteen, sixteen minutes for the confirmation to get back to Louis, but not today.
Something, he assumes, is wrong.
It’s been twenty-six minutes, and where the fuck is Nick, because he was meant to walk in here ten minutes ago and give a nod and a reassuring smile that Louis was supposed to take a little comfort out of. And that hasn’t happened yet, not today.
Nick comes in. It’s been thirty-nine minutes. He looks strung out.
“What happened?” Louis asks, voice hoarse. He thinks his heart rate would pick up, if it could, but it’s been going like this for two weeks now. He’s maxed out on clichéd reactions to stress.
Nick runs a hand through his hair, looks at Louis for a long time, as though he’s appraising him, trying to see if he can take whatever he’s about to say. Louis’ sure he can’t, but he straightens up anyway.
“He…” Nick starts, “he won’t take the sedative. Mask or IV. Won’t let them do it.”
Louis opens his mouth, doesn’t understand, so closes it. “Wh…” Louis starts, “why?”
“We’re not sure. Delirium, maybe, perhaps the pain’s screwing him up. Anger, we’re not sure. He’s been taking a lot of drugs. Sometimes there are effects like this, but we need to get him down again. Give the antibiotics a chance to kick in.”
“So do it.” Louis doesn’t mean it to sound cold. He’s just so tired, doesn’t understand why it all has to be so hard. So up and down and hopeful one minute and fucking horrible the next. He’s so exhausted.
“We can’t,” Nick says, “it’s not necessary sedation. It’s a course of treatment, but it’s not necessary. We can’t just give it to him without his consent.”
Louis snorts, turns from Nick and starts for the window. Of course they can’t. Why would it be any different to every other fucking thing they’ve done in the last two weeks.
“So,” Nick says, “we. Umm. We want you to talk him into it.”
Louis turns back around to look at him so fast that he hits his knee on the coffee table. He doesn’t even register it.
“What?” he asks hoarsely.
Nick looks genuinely troubled by this, like he’s trying to keep Louis hopes down. “He’s suffered a major trauma and not seen or heard anyone familiar for two weeks,” he says, “he’s disoriented, I’m sure. Scared. We think it might help, if he hears your voice.”
Louis blinks, nods at him to go on.
“He’s not going to be able to talk back, he’s still on the ventilator. But just talk to him. Tell him all the boring shit you can think of, anything that’ll make him feel like he’s at home.”
No. His brain is overrun with questions and impossibilities and problems and no. He sits back down, shaky.
“I can’t do this,” Louis whispers. “I…I can’t fucking…what, tell him how the weather is and, and, fuck,” he says.
“I know,” Nick says gently, “I know. It’s a lot. But I need you to do this, for him. Talk to him. Tell him you’re waiting for him, that you’ll see him soon.
“And will I?”
He doesn’t mean to say it. Doesn’t mean it to spill out like that, harsh and cracked and blunt. Nick swallows, nods.
“Yeah,” he says, “you will. Once we put him under for a couple of days, drugs’ll clear his infection, he’ll go to Germany. He’ll stay there for a bit, maybe have a couple of procedures done, then he’ll come home. Remind him of that. Remind him you’re here.”
Louis sits back down, bites his nail. He doesn’t want to do this, because what if he fucks it up, what if he makes it worse, what if Harry doesn’t want to hear his voice, doesn’t remember him in his state of drug-induced delirium.
Louis doesn’t think he could handle that.
“He knows that,” he says, “he knows it already.”
“And if it were you, Louis, wouldn’t you like a reminder?”
Louis breathes in sharply at that, flicks his eyes up to Nick.
His brain stops whirring, like someone’s jammed the gears. Because yes, yes, yes, a thousand times over, of course he would. If it was him, and he was getting the chance to hear Harry’s voice, he’d want it so much.
“Yeah,” he says finally, “yeah, okay. Do it.”
There’s no going back after that. The link to the field hospital is set up in a matter of minutes, Louis’ given a phone and pushed down on the couch and someone’s dialing him through, speaking to nurses and doctors and staff on the ground, making sure they can put Louis straight through to the OT when they need to.
“Try not to cry,” Nick says, and Louis just stares at him, “I know it’s hard. But we want him calm, not anxious and hyped up. Try not to cry. Just tell him whatever pops into your head, stupid things you’ve seen on TV, things you’d tell him if he was making his weekly call. Tell him you love him. Then tell him to take the goddamned sedative.”
Louis blanches, and Nick smiles.
“He’ll hear your voice and he’ll take the drugs and he’ll get better,” Nick says, “we do this stuff a lot. Every month. It works. You’re helping him get better.”
Louis nods, opens his mouth to speak, but is overridden by a Lieutenant he vaguely recognizes striding over.
“We’re linked to the OT phone,” he says, “when you’re ready, Louis.”
Louis isn’t ready. He brings the phone to his ear anyway, takes a deep breath.
“Mr Tomlinson?” He’s startled at the brusque voice, guesses it’s a nurse.
“Yes,” he says, “hi.”
“Hi. As they’ve probably told you, we’re having a bit of trouble getting Harry to go back under.” It’s awfully refreshing, hearing someone call him Harry. “Are you ready to talk to him?”
“Yes,” he says.
“Okay. I’m giving him the phone now.”
He hears a soft crunkle, rustling in the background, the nurse saying, here, we have someone on the phone for you. She sounds like she’s smiling a little. He wonders if Harry is too. If he can smile.
He can hear the ventilator, methodic, slow, in and out. It calms him. Everything feels quiet. Louis takes another breath, tries to stop himself throwing up or saying something selfish and stupid and ridiculous; why the fuck were you out there, why the fuck weren’t you being careful, why the fuck aren’t you home safe.
“Hi,” he says instead, shakily, and before he can get another word in hears a flurry of activity, something metal clattering to the floor, the beep of the monitor getting a little faster. Shh, he hears the nurse say, shh, shh, shh, it’s okay.
“Don’t make a scene, Haz,” he says with a little smile, vision going a blurry through the tears in his eyes. He doesn’t even know where that comes from, but the monitor settles. He can hear Harry breathing again.
“Hi, darling,” he says, and he can hear Harry struggling around the breathing apparatus, like he’s trying to get words out.
And the thing is, Louis realizes in that moment, he doesn’t need to get them out. Doesn’t need to be able to speak. They’ve had this conversation so many times before. He knows what Harry wants to say.
Suddenly, he knows exactly what to do.
How are you, Lou? It’s like he can hear it, almost, almost, almost.
“I’m good, babe,” he says, biting down on his lip so he doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t cry, because he needs to calm him down, not rile him up, “it’s fucking cold, actually. Bit weird for April.”
He pauses, squeezes his eyes shut tight and counts to three, tries to centre himself.
“I’m, umm,” he says, “I got you tickets the other day, to Arcade Fire in June. I’m gonna take you. I’ll wine and dine you, Styles.”
He looks up. Nick gives him an assuring little nod.
“And then you’re gonna let me take you to Rihanna,” he says with a teary laugh, hooking his hand over his shoulder, like he’s protecting himself from all of this, “and you’ll pretend to have fun, because she’s a queen.”
He has no idea what he’s even saying.
“We beat Chelsea this weekend,” he goes on, sees the paper lying on the table, “they’re fucked. Nearly out the top four. They reckon the Reds’ll make it, if they win their next two. Fucking miracle, isn’t it,” he muses as though Harry was a tube ride away. He bites his thumbnail. Nick nods again. “Oh, and I forgot to record X Factor for you, but that beefy guy got out. He sang Johnny Cash or something, it was horrible.”
He pauses, listens for the sound of Harry’s breath, the slow beep. Nick taps his watch, keep going, he mouths.
“I, umm,” he says, because he’s got to do this now, “I don’t have a lot of time, I guess. But you’re sick, Haz,” he says, “and, and I’m gonna get you back sooner if you do what they say.”
He pauses, blinks out the tears in his eyes. He doesn’t sniff, doesn’t want Harry to hear it.
“And I love you. So much. I’m gonna be there when you get home. I’m gonna be at the base and I’ll take you home but before we can do that,” he says, smiling a little through his tears because in spite of it all, he can hear Harry breathing, and the gravitas of that has kind of just hit him, “before we do that, you’ve got to let them put you back to sleep for a bit.”
He hears a small grunt on the other end of the line. He has no idea what it means, so he uses his gut instinct instead. It’s all he’s ever needed with Harry, really.
“I know you’re scared,” he says, “I know, and you’re being so brave. I’m so proud of you,” he whispers, “but you’re in pain, and. And I can’t, you know. I can’t sleep when I know you’re hurting.”
He pauses. There’s a silence, like the world has stopped turning just to witness this. Louis doesn’t do words a lot. He loves with touches and gestures and that look he knows he gets in his eyes that says, I can’t see anyone else in this room but you. But words are all he has now, barely. So he has to keep going.
He wipes at his eyes roughly, furiously.
“You, um. In your letter. You said it was 1,096 days, right?” he asks, “you remember that? Well today it’s 1,115. And fuck, Harry, I want to make it more than 1,120.”
He stops again, tries to think what Harry would say to that, what he should say now. He smiles when he realizes what it’d be, tastes his own tears on his lips.
I love you.
“I love you too,” he says, “and I’m gonna see you soon, okay? I’m about to go to bed. Let’s…” he pauses, wonders if what he’s about to say is stupid, then decides he doesn’t really care, “let’s go to sleep together. I’m right here.”
And he almost, almost expects a response there. There isn’t one, of course, but Nick, who’s now got his ear glued to another phone, looks visibly more relaxed, gives Louis a thumbs up. It’s all the confirmation Louis needs.
“Sweet dreams,” he says quietly, his voice is all raspy and broken and before he can say anything else, I love you I love you I love you I love you, the line goes dead.
They get the call sixteen minutes later, Harry’s under, and it’ll be two days until they wake him again.
Louis doesn’t intend on waking up until then, either.
Incrementally is Louis’ word of the fourth week.
By the time they enter into what is the third week of veritable hell, Harry’s getting stronger. Incrementally. He’s staying awake for longer periods of time. Incrementally. His arm is seeping whatever the hell’s coming out of it in incrementally smaller amounts. He can breathe for longer periods of time unassisted.
Louis considers writing a letter to the Oxford English Dictionary and having it struck from the world’s collective consciousness forever.
Slowly, his chances of getting Harry home without a flag are becoming higher.
And even more slowly, he allows the tiniest bit of hope to settle itself somewhere in his heart.
They’re bypassing Germany.
When they tell Louis that, his legs turn liquid. In his state of pure exhaustion and barely-beneath-the-surface continuous panic, he hears we’re giving him a bypass in Germany.
After a cup of tea and a series of hurried no no no no’s, he realizes that he’s getting Harry home sooner than he’d expected, and for the first time in as long as he can remember (then again, he doesn’t remember a lot about anything right now), he feels himself smile properly.
He calls Zayn, because he thinks Zayn might just understand this part.
“Hello?” Zayn’s talking in his very professional I’m in the office so don’t yell an expletive too loudly voice. Louis doesn’t care.
“Hi,” Louis says, and he thinks Zayn half drops the phone at the sound of his voice.
“Lou,” he croaks, and Louis hears him get up and push a door open a few seconds later, hopefully going outside so he can exhibit some sort of emotion, “holy shit. I…I didn’t want to call too much, you know. Didn’t want to ask for news if there wasn’t anything good, you know, and I feel like I’ve—“
“He’s coming home in three days.” He sounds like a schoolgirl telling a friend she’s got a date to formal, giddy and fast and the smile almost louder than his voice. Louis, again, doesn’t care.
“Fuck,” Zayn hisses, “oh my God, Lou. I’m so happy,” he says, and he lets out a teary little laugh. Louis remembers, then, that he’s not the only one who’d miss Harry, should…well. Whatever. “Oh my God, have you talked to him?”
“Kind of,” he says, leaning his head back against the wall of the living room, closing his eyes for a moment, “it’s a long story. Sorry, that’s a shit answer. I’ll tell you one day. I’m just so tired.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” Zayn assures, “how is he?”
“He’s…Z, he’s really good,” Louis says quietly, like he’ll jinx it if he speaks any louder, “he’s breathing by himself, like, all the time. They’re getting him up for a walk today. I think they’ll let me call him tomorrow, before he comes home.”
Zayn lets out a relieved laugh; Louis hears him lighting up, taking a drag.
“I don’t even know what to say,” he says, “I’m so happy, mate.”
Louis smiles, bites his lip, and this time, it’s not to stop himself crying. It’s to stop himself smiling like an idiot. He’s not really let himself believe it yet, but it’s different now that he’s said it out loud. He’s going to see his boy.
“Me too,” he says, “me too.”
He gets patched through to the base five minutes before the designated call time; 1500 GMT, 1930 UDT.
He thinks his heart might flip out of his chest.
Harry, apparently, has different ideas. Quite exhausted from being made to get out of bed and get dressed and shower himself today, Harry is fast asleep.
They offer to wake him, but Louis says no, to let him get his rest, even though he wants to say yes, wake him up, do whatever you’d have to fucking do to make him conscious enough to talk to me.
He doesn’t, though, of course. He’ll see him tomorrow, and that’s enough.
He’s not sure, but he thinks he falls asleep that night with a small smile on his face; his Harry smile.
From about age four to eleven, Louis would categorically not sleep the week before Christmas, just in case Santa should happen to pop in early.
In his last year of high school, he’s pretty sure he didn’t sleep one night through, too busy trying to cram a lifetime’s worth of shitty basement parties into one year.
When he was nineteen, he didn’t sleep because for the first time in his life he had a nice looking boy in his bed and he wasn’t about to pass that up to get a few hours shut eye.
And now, at twenty-six, he’s not slept all night because Harry’s coming home.
Which he supposes is understandable, in a way. Harry’s miles better than the twat he dated when he was nineteen. Harry coming home is like the best, brightest, biggest party he’s ever been invited to.
And really, it feels a little bit like Christmas.
It’s a very strange day. For a start, his flat is cleared out for the first time in a month. There’s no one needing to be here to feed him news, discuss every minute detail or every awful medical procedure for him to sign off on, calm him down if he loses his mind momentarily or has a little cry. It brings with it an overwhelming sense of freedom and a much welcome feeling of finality.
Louis makes a cup of tea, and realizes, with a little jolt, that this time tomorrow he’ll be making two.
Two might just be his favourite number in the world. Two, or one thousand and ninety six.
Harry is due to land in a little over ten hours; at 5pm. Louis expects it’s going to be the longest day of his life.
By the time it rolls around, those two hands on the clock seeming bigger and slower than they’ve ever been, and Louis feels like he’s possibly packed every activity in the world into the last few hours of his life. He’s called his mother, his sister, Zayn, found Harry’s phone in his bedside drawer and fished his SIM card out of the bowl of miscellaneous shit they have on the kitchen counter, because Harry likes it working for when he gets home. He’s tidied the flat up because it’s quite literally not been cleaned in two months, makes sure he puts fresh sheets on the bed and restocks the fridge and why is he doing this because it’s not like Harry’s going to notice, anyway, but he needs to keep himself occupied, busy, because otherwise he thinks he’ll explode with sheer fucking joy.
He finds the card crumpled underneath his pillow, the photo album on Harry’s side of the bed, underneath the duvet. Flicks through it once more and thinks, maybe today we’ll have something to add to it.
His mother tells him to calm down, to lower his expectations, not to be disappointed if Harry’s a little different.
His sister tells him to calm down, to lower his expectations, not to be disappointed if Harry’s a little different.
Zayn tells him to go get him and never let him leave again. But he might be a bit different, Lou, quieter. Just give him time.
When he gets to the air base an hour and a half early, it’s much the same message. He gets sat down with a Major and Nick and the psychologist assigned to Harry’s case.
“We honestly don’t know what he’s going to be like,” the psychologist says, very calm and even. His name is Greg, Louis thinks Harry’ll love him. “Often soldiers in good spirits in hospital can become very disconnected when they come home. Don’t slip back into civilian life like you’re used to with him, experience mood withdrawals, that sort of thing.”
Nick nods, crosses his legs. “That includes from the people they’re closest to,” he says gently, “I’m sure you’ve heard it before, seen it in some of Harry’s colleagues. Obviously, it’s common in soldiers who’re just coming back from a regular tour of duty, let alone ones who’ve experienced a trauma like this.”
Louis nods at him, clears his throat.
“And it’s okay, to feel like you need help with that, to notify us if you think Harry’s struggling at all,” Greg says. “It’s really important, actually. We can only see so much in his demeanor, we need those who know him best to keep an eye on him.”
“Yeah,” Louis says, “of course.”
They tell him where he’ll be waiting for Harry, in one of the private meeting rooms reserved for occasions like this. For security reasons, he’s not allowed out on the tarmac, which somewhat wrecks the Casablanca-esque finale he was going for, but whatever. It’s all background.
He gets told again and again, by what it seems like every second person who passes him, to relax, to breathe, to lower his expectations and have a glass of water and be gentle and quiet and take it slowly and a million other platitudes and empty clichés.
Normally, it’d make Louis want to kill the nearest small animal and just turn him into a nervous, babbling mess. Today, it rolls right off him. He nods and smiles and says thank you to each and every person gracing him with their advice.
It doesn’t scare him.
He thinks quite possibly that nothing will scare him, anymore.
Louis’ oddly calm. Quiet, introspective. He feels small, suddenly, not in an unpleasant way. In a way that says, what’s about to happen to you is so much bigger than anything that’s happened before. Treasure it.
So he does. He holds it close to his heart, as close as he can, remembers all the little details, the droplets of condensation on his can of Coke, the pull he’s tugging at on his jumper, the low hum of BBC News 24 playing on the small TV overhead. The frosted glass of this little room. He thinks, vaguely, that’s it’s all rather symmetrical. Steamed up shower before Harry left, frosted glass now he’s coming home. Tears at either end, a pressure that feels like it’s building up in his chest, albeit different to two and a half months ago. It’s peaceful, circular, and Louis thinks maybe he’ll write it all down one day.
The clock, hanging above him, there are too many clocks at this base, he remembers thinking. Now he wishes there were more. Clocks counting down until 5pm and clocks telling him how long until Harry’s in British airspace, telling him how long Harry’s been flying, how many days he’s been breathing by himself, how many hours till he’ll fall asleep and how many hours till he’ll wake up again. Louis wants a clock for everything, every tiny up and down, for every time Harry will smile at him or get annoyed at him or get another tattoo, for every time Harry will fuck him into the mattress and every time he’ll make him tea and every time he’ll make Louis think, this is the only place I ever want to be.
Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe that’s the whole joy of getting him back, that he doesn’t need that, doesn’t need an obsessive record of every shift and every second. Maybe that’s the best thing; that Harry’s in the clear, that Louis just has him now, doesn’t need the stats and numbers and big long words to keep him holding on.
He doesn’t know, then again, he doesn’t mind. He’s got the rest of his life to figure it out.
Louis’ thought about this day for five weeks now. He’s not sure what he was expecting; his usual brand of verging-on-insane energy when it comes to anything even slightly stressful, perhaps to sort of collapse in on himself, like he does when he’s scared.
He wasn’t expecting the almost transcendental peace that he feels, the way his head feels like it’s sitting straight again, the way his heart seems to beat in a way that says it’s okay, he’s okay, everything’s going to be okay, he’s in the sky, he’s on his way back home.
Which is why, when he feels the low rumble in the air, the growing growl of the plane that he knows is Harry’s, when he hears the thud as it hits the runway, he breathes out for what feels like the first time in weeks.
Harry’s home. And somehow, it feels like he is, too.
And maybe his pulse is picking up a little now, maybe it’s a little warm in this room, maybe his fingertips are bumping together as they shake ever so slightly, because this is real now, there can’t be more than a few hundred metres between them and Louis’ going to, well he doesn’t even know, if he’ll cry or laugh or yell or sort of just topple over, because he’s been holding himself up on not much else but a desperate hope, and this might just be too much.
They said it’ll take him five minutes to get through the base. It’s 1703 now. Louis blinks. That’s one hundred and twenty seconds. One hundred and eighteen now. Seventeen. Sixteen.
Harry’s on his way. Harry’s going to round the corner and he’s going to be in this room, in one piece with red in his cheeks and his lips all cracked like they are every time he flies; uniform with the sleeves rolled up and top buttons undone, boots loose. Dog tags for Louis to twirl round his fingers and pull him in with, the tags that Harry loops around Louis’ neck every time he comes home, like he’s clocking back in, I’m here, I’m safe.
And the air feels thick and Louis doesn’t even know what’s going through his mind, because for all the calm and the peace of before his head feels like it’s going to burst now, like every cell in his body is about to break into two and splinter him into a million pieces, because it’s been a million miles and a million days and a million close calls and shards in Harry’s skin, a million possibilities and lucky breaks and minutes, minutes, minutes not only without him but without knowing that he was going to see the next day.
And now, now he’s going to round that corner, and he’s going to be all Louis’ again.
And just when Louis thinks his head can’t get any louder, his heart any faster.
Because Harry always makes everything burn that little bit brighter, sing that little bit louder. He makes Louis love more wholly and furiously than he ever thought was possible and he makes him feel so much, every day, and now.
Now, like something out of the best dream in Louis’ head, he comes around the corner, legs, torso, and then that face that Louis thinks he could never see again in his life and still know back to front, jawline, dimples, cherry lips, gemstone eyes, those soft curls Louis’ always thought looked so out of place in uniform.
Harry’s in a chair. He’s pale and thinner than usual, his uniform hanging a little loose. His skin is dry and he looks fragile, tired, whole left side of his chest covered in a tight wrapping, face cut and bruises fading.
But as soon as he sees Louis, Louis almost swears it all falls away. The man wheeling him in gives him a tap on his good shoulder, turns back down the corridor and goes. And for one horrible second, just one, Louis thinks maybe he can’t get up. They stare at each other, eyes roaming, as though they’re checking what’s changed, who’s in there, behind the green and the blue after all this.
And it’s almost as if once Harry decides it’s his Louis, he finds the strength to get up. Louis doesn’t move. He’s maybe five metres from Harry, locked into place, breath coming out in ragged little hiccups, because, because, because—
Louis doesn’t know for the life of him who says it first. It’s just them, them, them, them, and yeah, he thinks, two is definitely his favourite number.
Harry’s balancing himself on the arm of the chair, furrows his brow for a minute till he gets his footing. His bag hangs on the back, and as he stands, Louis gets a good look at him. Sleeves rolled up, buttons undone, boots loose.
And it hits him, then, in that moment, as Harry takes a small little step towards him.
“Jesus Christ,” Louis croaks with a burst of hysterical-come-utterly-relieved laughter, “Jesus.”
And he closes that gap between them so fucking fast that he doesn’t even think he has time to blink. He doesn’t hug him, not straight away. He’s bruised and sore and Louis knows his shoulder, his arm, must be throbbing in pain.
So he touches him, gingerly but with enough fucking need to drown them both. Just his cheek, slowly, cups his cheek in his palm and strokes his thumb across it, watches as Harry closes his eyes at the touch, breath still, blinks open and looks downwards and smiles like it’s too much, too soon, like he can’t feel this much all at once.
He nuzzles into Louis’ hand, and presses their foreheads together, gives a deep laugh, eyes shut for a long moment. When he opens them, he brings his own hand to meet Louis’, holds it there. Holds his hand as though he’s been waiting to do it for weeks, like he just needs something of Louis to cling on to, to never let go of again. Louis supposes his hand is a pretty safe bet.
“Shit,” Harry breathes, that baby smile that makes his face light up taking over his face slowly, like he’s just realising he’s here, that Louis’ here, that it’s over. He presses his lips to Louis’ hand, again and again, kisses his palm and his fingers and his knuckles, tiny and feather light, like he can’t let go, won’t let go, and Louis thinks, please, please don’t.
Harry’s lips find their way from Louis’ hand to his cheek, to the corner of his lips, settle on them briefly before his other cheek and back again. Louis’ not shaved in a few days; Harry’s lips graze against his skin slowly, his hands clasping Louis’ and on his waist and in his hair all at once, fingers pressing into the back of his skull, kissing him in short little bursts, desperate and quick and shaky. Louis feels his hands quivering, all of him, and he can almost feel it then, how weak Harry is.
“Hey,” he says gently, pulling away. There are tears on his cheeks, on Harry’s too, running together, salty on both their lips. Silent tears, though, because there’s more now, more than tears, there’s this.
“Shh,” Louis says, “it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
Harry ducks his head back down, kisses Louis again, panting a little, and all Louis can hear is breath, there’s no symphony in his head, no soundtrack or band, it’s just this, the sounds Harry makes as he kisses him, his lips, his hands carding through Louis’ hair and drifting down his back, the little sniffles and hitches as he cries, tears falling onto Louis’ cheeks.
His breath, in Louis’ ear and on his skin, in his hair.
“Hey,” Louis says again, because Harry’s gasping for air, like he doesn’t know what he wants to do with it now he has it back, has Louis back. Doesn’t know if he wants to talk to touch or kiss him or cry or laugh, until he forgets the most important thing. To breathe.
“’M’running out of breath,” he says hoarsely, and it’s the first thing Louis’ heard him say and he has to close his eyes for a moment, steady himself, because he’s here, talking, in his arms.
“Yeah, well. You’re not allowed to do that,” Louis says, laugh folded in with his tears. He wipes at a pretty little tear falling down Harry’s cheek. “Never again, you understand?”
Harry nods, buries his head in Louis’ shoulder, kisses his neck and the shell of his ear and nuzzles himself in there, just for a moment falling into Louis’ warmth.
“Yeah,” he says breathlessly, “I got it.”
And then, and only then, does he draw Louis in, almost crush him against his good shoulder, and Louis’ head is swimming because it’s Harry; the khaki rubbing against his cheek and that smell it carries, Harry, the tickle of his hair and the shape of his hands on Louis’ back.
“You’re home,” Louis murmurs into his shoulder, into that silence between them that fills Louis up. They don’t need to talk, they’ve got forever to do that. They just need this; hand, lips, bodies, heat, eyes, tears, smiles, laughs, breath. That’s all.
Harry hums a low laugh into his shoulder, pulls back. Louis can feel his hands still shaking slightly as he moves them from Louis’ waist to his neck. Gingerly, avoiding his injuries, he takes his tags off from around his neck, wincing a little at the pain of the movement. Louis opens his mouth to ask is he’s okay, if he can do anything, but is silenced by the look on Harry’s face.
He closes his eyes, smiles as Harry hangs them round his neck instead, a bit too long, out of place sitting next to his teal knit, but it’s okay. Harry tugs on them gently, Styles, Harry E., SC495564S, O-, No Religion, those words Louis has memorized like they’re written on his heart.
“I told you,” Harry says, pressing a kiss to his forehead, each of his cheeks, and finally, his lips, relearning, Louis thinks.
“Told me what?”
“I told you I always come home.”
It’s 5:28pm, and Louis’ got his boy back.