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You Knocked Me Off The Ground From The Start

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Louis sits in the middle of his room, legs crossed underneath himself painfully, just like they have been for the past hour. His head is down, ragged hair hanging out over his eyes. His shoulders quiver, causing his fingers to shake. The walls feel like they're pressing in on every side, coming closer and closer, sucking out all air like a vacuum and leaving Louis to suffocate. He closes his eyes, and concentrates on breathing in, out, in, out.

He tries not to think about it. How in just a short couple minutes he'll be returning to hell. He can hear his mum climbing the stairs, and his entire body is tingling, pleading to be saved from his fate, pardoned for the day. The footsteps are coming closer, and then there's a soft rap at the door, his mum telling him he'll be late to catch the bus, that he's already missed breakfast. His stomach groans in protest, but he shuts it up with a sharp wrist to the gut. It's good for him.

He gets up, unfolding his limbs slowly. They ache as they retract, and his spine cracks as he turns to grab his bag. He walks slowly down the stairs, letting his foot fall with a resounding clunk on each and every step. His mum's waiting at the bottom, tired circles under her eyes. She gives him a kiss to the forehead, and pulls him in for a soft hug. She smells like vanilla, and another load of laundry, and home. Louis yearns to just stay wrapped up in her arms, where it's safe and nobody can touch him.

He has to go though, so before he can say anything stupid he's out the door and boarding the bus, already half-full of rowdy teenagers. He finds an empty seat and throws his backpack in, sitting down with a weary plunk. He leans his head against the window, curling his legs up to his chest. His stomach continues to growl, and he's already dreading the rest of the day. It's only eight in the morning and he's wishing he's back home again.

When he gets to Homeroom later that day it's same as always. He parks himself in his seat in the back, but not before being on the receiving end of multiple pieces of crumpled up paper balls and legs extending in a menacing greeting. He pretends not to notice when Andy lets out a faggot under his breath in greeting when he passes by, the uncomfortable tittering of Liam beside him. You know, Liam would probably be a good friend to have, if he wasn't so damn scared.

Louis brushes a hand through his unkempt hair, and focuses on the teacher. He writes new student on the board, and then the door's being opened and a kid's being shoved in. His curly brown hair shakes out over his forehead, and he nervously pushes it back to its place.

"Class, this is Harry Styles. He's come from Holmes Chapel, and it would be nice if you'd all give him a warm welcome." The class is silent. The teacher clears his throat, and points out an empty desk a bit near Louis. As curly walks back to it he sends Louis a smile, and he bite his tongue, averting his eyes. This boy's just like the rest. He may think Louis' normal, but then somebody will tell him and instead of giving smiles he'll be giving snide comments and glares from behind those green eyes.

Louis takes a deep breath, and tries to stop the shaking of his hands. He's finding it hard to focus, what with the lack of food and the fact that there's a new kid, another boy to push him around between classes and tape nasty things to his locker. He rubs his wrist subconsciously, feeding the dull pain. Even with the faded purple fabric as a barrier he can feel the scabs underneath his finger, and his hands begin to tremble even more. He licks his lips, and swallows, tries to keep it together.

Andy's giving him looks over from his seat in the corner, smiling menacingly and Louis can only imagine what he'll find when the class is finished. Maybe he'll bring Liam into it this time. He hopes not. He knows the boy tries to act tough but there's no way brown eyes that wide could actually inflict harm.

There's ten minutes of class left. Louis shifts his gaze to the new boy. He can see the side of his face from this angle, and he's biting his lip in concentration as he stares down at a blank notebook page. He holds a bitten number two pencil in his hand, and he's rolling it back and forth between his thumb and index finger. He finally begins to slowly write, words forming articulately from his thin wrist. Louis watches intently as he fills up a line, and then the next, a paragraph beginning to form.

He's jarred from his thoughts when the bell rings, and the dread begins to pool in the pit of his stomach once again. He rushes out of the classroom, so very close to getting away when suddenly the voice speaks that causes the hair on the back of his neck to stand.

"Hey Tomlinson," Andy says, calmly, his voice carrying across the busy hallway. "How are you today?" Louis stops where he is, silently willing to be left alone. He curls his arms around his chest, digging his fingernails into his wrists delicately. "I asked you a question," the voice is closer now, and continues to come closer.

"I'm good," he answers quietly, because that's how it goes.

"Now that's good. How's your mother doing?" Louis bites his lip, visibly shaking now as Andy begins to circle round him.

"She's alright." He answers, voice unsteady as Andy smiles widely at him.

"That's good," he says, so calmly it sends shivers up Louis' spine. "How's your dad?" He whispers into Louis' ear, and chuckles menacingly. Louis winces, and takes a step back, bumping into Andy's chest. "Answer the question, you faggot."

Louis nods frantically, eyes screwed shut in terror. "He-he's good." Andy laughs again, and shoves Louis so hard he goes tumbling to the floor. He gasps for breath, holding one hand tightly to his stomach to keep himself together. His wrists are itching like mad. He hears Andy leave, Liam probably following after like a sad puppy.

Louis puts his palm against the floor, and takes a shaky breath before picking himself up. When he turns he sees new student Harry Styles motionless at the door, eyes wide and notebook clutched to his chest. Louis' eyes widen as well, and he backs away quickly, nearly stumbling and falling again.

"Are you alright?" Curly asks, taking a step towards Louis. Louis nods frantically, curling his arms around himself.

"I'm fine, really," he says, voice shaking still. Harry stops, and drops his hands to the side. The pair stand there like that, looking at each other for at least a minute. Louis' still shaking, and he takes the moment to compose himself as best as possible. Harry continues to look concerned, and he gnaws on his lip thoughtfully.

"Do you want me to tell somebody?" He asks with his low, quiet voice.

"No, it's alright really, I'm used to it." Louis gives an uncertain laugh, and pulls his jumper sleeves farther down over his wrists. "Thanks, though."

"No problem." They continue to stare at each other for a half-moment longer, and then Louis' clearing his throat uncomfortably.

"Well, I'm gonna go to lunch now." He says, and turns to walk away.

"Wait! I'll walk with you!" Harry says eagerly, coming up beside Louis. He's a lot taller, Louis notices, and very, very skinny. Louis' stomach aches.

"That's alright. I eat in the library anyways," he shrugs, and starts to walk off.

"Okay." Harry says simply, and continues to walk alongside him. "I'll come with you then."

"Harry, that's probably not the best idea." Louis' face is burning. "I'm not really who you should be making friends with."

"You seem nice enough to me." Louis bites down on his bottom lip, and hugs his arms even tighter to his chest. He lets out a small breath.

"Okay then." He says tinily, and heads to the library.

When he walks in it's like a weight is lifted from his shoulders. He loosens his arms from their stance across his chest, letting them hang down for once. It's so peaceful in here, away from the crazy of the rest of the school. Plus there's no Andy. Only books, and quiet. He makes his way over to his spot, a little corner tucked away where nobody can see him. He grabs his book from the spot where he keeps it next to the radiator, and he curls up with his back against the wall. Harry sits down across from him, and leans against the bookcase.

"Don't you eat lunch?" He asks, unfolding the top on his own brown bag. Louis shrugs, even though his stomach is yearning for food. How could he eat anything, when this tall, lanky boy is sitting across from him. He opens his book to the page he left on, and beings to burrow into the story. He keeps getting distracted, however, by the boy sitting across from him.

Harry offers him an apple, but he shakes his head softly. Really, he's fine. He'll be alright. He skips meals all the time. Sure, he's a little lightheaded, but it's nothing that'll kill him.

"It's really nice in here," Harry says thoughtfully, looking around. "I can see why you'd like it." Louis stares at him for a moment before giving him an uncertain smile. Harry smiles back, eyes so wide they look innocent. Louis looks back down at his book, but the words are having trouble materializing on the page. He brushes his hair back out of his face, and takes a deep breath. "I-if you want me to leave I can," Harry says slowly, apparently picking up on Louis' anxiety.

"It's alright." His wrists are tingling. "I'm just not used to people talking to me here." He rests an arm over his stomach, fingernails digging into his side. "Or anywhere, really." He doesn't meet Harry's eye, instead focusing on the word pain, printed on the upper left side of his page.

"Why don't they talk to you?" Harry asks softly, voice barely above a whisper, and every vein and nerve ending in Louis is screaming at him to leave, to run away from this boy before it goes too far.

"Because I'm different." He states, fingers trembling slightly. The book is shaking in his hands, and Harry has to have noticed. He looks at Louis curiously, eyes still warm and innocent. Louis sets the book down. "Because I'm," don't say it Louis, don't, he'll hate you just like the rest, don't be so fucking stupid. "because I'm gay." His wrists are burning, and he digs his fingertips in sharply. He winces upon blurting out the words, ready for the onslaught that's sure to come. Might as well tell him now, get it over with. That way Louis won't get hurt in the end.

When nothing seems to be coming, he slowly opens his eyes. Harry's still there, sitting with an easy, warm smile on his face. He shrugs when he sees Louis looking at him. Louis places a palm to the floor beside him, needing an anchor. He knows what's coming, so why is Harry taking so long? Can't he just get it over with?

"So am I." Alright. That's not what was supposed to happen. Louis blinks, and looks down at his lap, shaken. "It's alright to be gay, Louis." He's shaking his head before he realizes it, his whole body trembling. He wraps his arms tight around his chest, and licks his lips. Harry sits there quietly for a moment, letting Louis compose himself. "Honestly. That's no reason for them to be hurting you, Louis."

"I deserve it, Harry." He says, mind numb. Who does this boy think he is?

"That's bullshit, Louis!" Harry says, voice raising dangerously. Louis winces, and digs his fingernails into his wrists again. The bell rings, and Louis' eyes snap open. He takes a deep breath, and then stands up, knees aching. Harry stands up beside him, and looks down at him with a look of sympathy. At least it's not hatred. "What class do you have now?" He asks softly, and Louis jolts back into reality.

"Biology," which is alright, the kids in that class don't do anything but stare.

"Me too!" His eyes widen, and he smiles brightly. Louis finds himself with a tentative smile forming on his face. Against his better judgment he lets himself be led to class.

And then to English, and then to Calculus. Turns out Harry is in every one of Louis' classes after Homeroom.

Once Louis' safely on the bus home, he lets his thoughts run wild. This boy, Harry, with his curly hair and his sparkling green eyes that are all too innocent, has decided that he likes Louis. That he wants to talk to Louis, and walk to class with Louis, and it's all a bit much. It's scary.

He trudges up the front walk, noticing his mum is already home. When he opens the door he hears shouting from the kitchen.

Lottie and his mum are in the middle of screaming at each other, and Louis just stands there awkwardly with his eyes wide. Lottie looks like she's about to cry, and when she sees Louis she stomps from the room. His mum just stands there for a moment, eyes flying around the room. She takes a deep breath, and Louis steps around to hug her. She wraps her arms around him tight, and for a moment he feels safe again.

"What's wrong?" He asks, and she shakes her head.

"I told her she couldn't go out tonight because your dad's coming for dinner." Louis freezes in her arms. "Louis, calm down, it's alr-"

"Why didn't you tell me he was coming?" He asks, pulling out of her arms. His hands are beginning to tremble.

"I didn't know it would be this big of a deal with you guys!" Louis brings his arms to his chest, trying to keep himself together. He turns to go up the stairs, before he breaks down in front of his mum. He can deal with this.

His room is so quiet. It's nice. He can always count on it being here for him, and for it to never hurt him. He sits down in the middle of the floor, legs crossed underneath him. He lets his head fall, hair shaken out over his eyes. His body quivers, and his fingernails dig into his wrists again. Maybe if he doesn't think about it, it won't happen. Yeah, that's a good idea.

 

----

"Hey Louis." Harry says quietly, taking his new seat next to him. "You alright?" Louis nods, trying not to play at the new slices. Those always hurt the most. Andy isn't here yet, probably late from a smoke out back. Liam is though, and he keeps looking over at Louis with extremely sad eyes. Louis glares back.

Harry pulls out his notebook, and flips back to the page he was on yesterday. He continues to add to it, tongue barely sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

"What are you writing?" Louis asks, before he can think about it. Harry looks up, startled, and smiles.

"It's nothing, really. Well, I'm trying to write a novel. It's not working out very well though." He laughs, and Louis smiles a bit. "Hopefully I'll be able to get it published before I graduate."

"Aren't you worried about what people will think about it?" Harry smiles at him, and shrugs his shoulders.

"People are going to have their opinions. Even if one person likes my book while everyone else hates it, I'll still be proud. Because at least I made one person happy." Louis stares at him thoughtfully, before nodding. Harry's strange, he thinks. There's nobody else like him around here.

 

-----

He doesn't know when school started to get better. A couple weeks after he met Harry though, he started to actually want to go to class.

He starts to open up more, at least to Harry. He doesn't shake as much when he's around him, and he doesn't want to tear his wrists apart anymore, at least not when he's with Harry.

"Can I read your book?" He asks, propped up against the radiator in the library. Harry shakes his head, and bumps Louis in the shoulder. Louis doesn't freeze up with the contact anymore. It's actually sort of nice.

"Not until it's finished." He says, and Louis sighs. "Besides, why would you want to read an unfinished book?"

"Well, what if you aren't around when you finish it?" He states softly, looking at his hands. Harry knocks his knee into Louis'.

"I'll be around, don't worry. You won't be able to get away from me that easily." Louis smiles, and feels his cheeks start to warm. It's nice, sitting in here with Harry. It's quiet, and nobody can find them.

"Hey, want to hang out after school?" Harry asks him that day on the walk to Calculus, and Louis feels his shoulders stiffen. breath. "It's alright if you aren't comfortable with that." Louis smiles tentatively, and nods.

"Sure." Harry grins, and nods back.

After school Louis follows Harry past the long row of busses, past the pick-up area, and right out of school grounds. They trudge along the sidewalk next to each other, his feet seeming so much smaller than Harry's.

They pass by house after house, nearly identical to each other in this part of town. Harry nudges him up one particular drive, with a small tan car parked out front. It's painted white, and there's a wicker couch leaning up against the porch wall. Harry brings him inside, and the smell of freshly baked cookies greets him.

"Hello mum!" Harry calls through the house, slinging his backpack higher onto his shoulder. He beckons at Louis to follow, and Louis finds himself walking through a house far more organized and cleaner than his own.

"Hello, Harry," a woman, most likely his mum, says pleasantly, taking a pan out of the oven. "Who's this?" She asks, quirking an eyebrow thoughtfully.

"This is Louis. He's a friend from school." Harry smiles down at him softly, and Louis can't help but feel his cheeks warm.

"Nice to meet you ma'am," Louis says, extending a hand to Harry's mum. Instead he's wrapped in a grand hug, and he tries not to panic. His body freezes up, and he gently peels himself from her grasp, hands trembling slightly. It's alright. Just Harry's mum.

"Nice to meet you too. I hope I'll be seeing you a lot." She raises her eyebrows in an indecipherable look towards Harry, who blushes softly. Louis smiles, unsure of himself, and looks down at his shoes.

"We'll be in my room," Harry murmurs, and nods towards the stairs. Louis follows him up to the second floor, which is basically just a long hallway with rooms branching off. "This is my sister Gemma's room," he says, pointing to a closed door. "And this is my parent's room," the next door. "The bathroom," he points down toward the door at the end of the hallway. Then he twists the door handle closest to him, the door opening smoothly. "And this is my room."

It smells like Harry. The king bed is neatly made, brown duvet pulled up nicely. There's a desk shoved in underneath the window, which lets in all the light illuminating the small space. His closet door is open, and overflowing with bomber jackets and band teeshirts. Louis steps in a bit, and Harry closes the door behind him.

"It's not very big, but it's good enough for me." He shrugs, and shoves his hands in the pockets of his skinnies. Louis looks around, not really sure what to do. He's never really been in a friend's room before. He's never really had friends, honestly. His fingers are still trembling, and he licks his lips nervously. "Do you mind if we work on the calculus homework?" He asks gently, smiling warmly.

Louis nods, and slips his backpack off his shoulder and onto the floor. He fumbles through, looking for his binder, while Harry clears a space off his desk.

"You can sit on my bed," he says, and Louis nods, still a bit unsure of himself. He finally grabs the right binder, and stands up again.

"Do you have a pencil?" He asks quietly, and Harry nods, taking one out of a can on his desk and handing it to Louis. He then sits down on Harry's bed, and pulls out a piece of clean lined paper. He rifles quickly through the papers in the pocket, looking through for his worksheet. Then realization dawns on him. Shit. "Harry?"

"Yeah?" He turns from his seat at the desk, smiling pleasantly at Louis.

"Did we need to bring our textbook home?" Harry nods, and holds up his thick book. Louis frowns, and scratches at the side of his forehead. He licks his lips nervously, and smooths out his paper. When he looks back over at Harry he sees the boy is watching him kindly.

"I forgot mine?" He says, voice wavering. Harry laughs warmly, and picks his off the desk, grabbing a pencil and his paper as well. He stands up, and walks across to where Louis is sitting.

"That's alright, we can share." He sits down beside Louis, scooting back until his back is against the wall. He pats the spot next to him, and Louis scrambles over. He places the textbook half on his lap and half on Louis', and gets to work.

Louis sort of sits there for a moment, nibbling at his bottom lip. Harry's thigh keeps brushing against his, and it's sort of nice. He shivers at the thought, and looks down at the textbook. The words are blurring through with the numbers. Louis blinks, willing them to go back to normal. He just can't seem to concentrate. He can hear Harry breathing, and he's so close and it's getting to be a bit much. His heart is racing, and he has this overwhelming urge to slice something. Harry's right there, scribbling along intently, and all Louis can do is stare down at his blank paper. He shivers again, trembling slightly.

"Hey, you alright?" Harry asks, setting his pencil down and turning towards Louis. Louis shrugs. He just needs to get his hands to stop shaking. He clenches them into fists, and bites down on his lip hard. "Louis, seriously, what's wrong?" He closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. Just calm down. Don't break down here.

Suddenly there's a hand on his shoulder, and he tenses up. His breath quickens, and he just needs to get out of here. He scrambles away from him a bit, and when he reopens his eyes he glances at Harry. He looks really worried, which causes Louis to do a double take. Suddenly there are hands clamped around his, warm hands.

"Breath, Louis. It's alright." Louis sniffles, and takes a deep breath. Harry's hands are soft. He looks into Harry's eyes, his green eyes that are now directly in front of his. Once the trembling has stilled Harry gently releases Louis' hands. "Now are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

Louis shrugs, fingernails digging into his wrists. He clears his throat. "I just get nervous easily, I guess." He says quietly, shrugging. "I'm not used to this kind of stuff." Harry bites his bottom lip, and runs his thumb over Louis' hand. There's a bit of a silence.

"You know, you're really beautiful," Harry murmurs, and Louis feels the breath catch in his throat. His fingers are trembling, but Harry keeps smoothing over them with his thumb, calming him. He's looking straight into Harry's eyes, the type of eyes that reflect everything and yet are so very clear. The type of eyes that allow you to see right through to that person's soul, the type that allow you to see every single one of their thoughts projected back at you.

Louis sees love.

And then there are soft, warm lips pressed against his, and Louis' shaking so very hard but there are hands ghosting along his cheeks to keep him still, and he's trying his best not to freeze up and he sort of wants to cry but instead he kisses back, closes his eyes and lets the warmth flow through his veins. Harry's lips taste like apple, and cinnamon and Harry, so very soft against Louis', and then he's pulling back ever so sweetly, mouth parted in a gentle smile.

His hands make their way back into Louis', keeping him from digging his nails into his wrists again. His smile widens, and before Louis can help himself he's smiling back, mouth stretching wider than it has in a very long time.

Harry's eyes are shining; green, glittering, and glowing. He nods softly, and stands from the bed, holding out a hand for Louis. He takes it, and lets himself be pulled off gently and into Harry's arms. He lets himself be wrapped in Harry's arms and into the warmth he finds there, happiness radiating off of him.

"I think you're really beautiful too." He whispers, and places his hands softly to Harry's chest. He feels the heartbeat resting there, and he smiles softly up at him. Harry smiles down at him, eyes warm and so beautifully green.

-----

When Louis returns home that night the dread returns. His thoughts begin to ebb away at him, self doubt riddling at his soul. What if Harry doesn't really want this? What if he's realized just how much of an utter fuck-up Louis is?

That night he sits in the middle of his room with his face down and his hair in his eyes, and he slashes his wrists. He takes his razor and he slices his milky white skin, reopening past scars as well as creating new. He cuts for Andy, and he cuts for his dad, and he cuts for the notes taped to his locker written in red sharpie. He cuts for every meal he ever skips, and tonight he cuts for Harry, for his kindness and how fucking open he is, for drawing Louis in and poisoning him with his warmth. For making him start to believe that he could ever be happy, that he even deserves to know what that feels like. Tears drip from his cheeks into the slashes, stinging and mixing with blood, running down his arm. He's trembling uncontrollably now, so much that he nearly drops the blade in his frenzy. He smells the blood and the tears and he wants to puke, to throw up and rid himself of everything he'd felt today, a reminder that he can't be happy. Happy things don't happen to him.

He rolls his sleeves back down, and stands up shakily. He walks slowly to the bathroom, past his sisters' rooms. He doesn't want to wake them. He doesn't want them to worry. He strips slowly, and turns on the shower, letting it heat so that steam is quickly filling the small room. He steps in, letting the water pelt him. His cuts sting, the blood washing away, down the drain along with his happiness. He stands there and watches it go, crying even now. And then he's sitting on the floor of the shower, head down and hair sticking to his forehead pathetically, arms outstretched against the water.

He feels worthless, and everything hurts. The bile is beginning to build in the back of his throat, and he numbly kneels over the shower drain. He sticks his finger down his throat, bringing up his dinner. He continues to puke, throwing up until all that's left is the stomach acid that burns the back of his throat. He cries even harder then, thinking of Harry and his big green eyes and his warm hands and the way his lips felt pressed against his, and he shakes his head. The water has run cold, and he shakes under it's spray. He wants to hate Harry. He wants to drive him away before he decides to leave on his own, before he gets tired of Louis and all his issues. He doesn't want to like Harry, yet he can't figure out how to stop.

-----

"Hey Lou," Harry says softly when he arrives in Homeroom the next day. Louis gives him a tiny smile, wrists tingling. He sits down beside him, and Harry runs a hand gently along his thigh. Louis glances around quickly, making sure nobody has seen. He shifts away from Harry, brushing the hair out of his eyes with trembling fingers. Harry looks at him worriedly through his kind green eyes, and Louis bites his lip, turning away.

Andy's glaring at him again, the evil glint in his eye. Louis hooks his hand under his knee to stop the trembling. He winces at the rough contact against his wrist, but quickly neutralizes his face. He's good at this.

Harry's scribbling along on his page again, nearly filled it up completely. Louis lets his gaze wander up to his face, the curls framing it nicely. The artificial lights make him look rather pale, but his eyes glitter obscenely even so.

When the bell rings Louis jolts back out of it, blinking so to get the image of Harry's chocolate curls out from behind his eyelids.

"You ready babe?" Harry murmurs lowly, picking up his stuff. His gaze flits back and forth between Louis and Andy, a concerned look on his face. Louis clears his throat, and nods.

"Let's wait a few minutes," he says quietly, looking down at his shoes. His arms are locked around his stomach. When the murmur of the lunch crowd has dulled they exit the classroom, and Louis' relieved to see Andy is nowhere to be found.

Once inside the library Harry slips his warm hand into Louis' and guides him gently over to their corner. They sit next to each other, and Harry unwraps his lunch.

"You sure you don't want any?" Harry asks, holding out his sandwich. Louis shrugs. They sit in silence, Louis fiddling nervously with the hem of his jumper.

"Harry," he says in a small voice. Harry looks over, eyes soft. "When you kissed me last night, was that real?"

Harry's eyebrows furrow. "What do you mean, was that real?"

Louis nibbles on his bottom lip, hands beginning to tremble. "I mean, did you mean to do it?" Harry's expression softens, and he gently slips his hand into Louis', stilling the shaking.

"Lou, of course I meant it. You're really special, Louis, and I want to be with you." Louis winces a bit, and sniffles. He's gnawing at his bottom lip now, knees trembling.

"But what happens when you get sick of me?" He whispers, shutting his eyes. He misses the way Harry frowns.

"Louis, dear." He murmurs, running a thumb across his knuckles. "I won't ever get sick of you." He presses little kisses to his fingers, and Louis' eyes fly open. He wrenches his hand away, looking around quickly to see if anybody had been watching. "Lou-"

"Please, Harry, not at school," Louis' frantic now, body shaking violently. Harry's face softens out of its surprised frown, and he nods. He bites his lip, wanting so very hard to still Louis' trembling but not able to. Not here.

"Alright Louis. Not at school." He says softly, and nods to confirm. Louis nods back, wrists tingling.

That day after English they're headed back to Louis' locker. They round the corner, and the hesitant smile drops from Louis' face. There's a sign taped to his locker. A ripped piece of notebook paper, written upon in red sharpie. Blood red. fatass. His hands tremble, and he wraps his arms around his waist subconsciously. Harry bristles beside him, and storms over and rips the note from his locker, crumpling it up and throwing it onto the ground. Louis sniffles.

"Don't you fucking dare listen to them, you hear me?" Harry hisses, eyes flashing with anger. Louis nods numbly. they're right, they're always right, you fatass. Harry's eyes flit up and down his body desperately, and Louis can tell he wants to stop the shaking. He can't stop the shaking. fatass. "Come over after school, alright?" It isn't a question. Louis nods again.

That night Harry holds him. He holds him close to his chest while Louis trembles, breathing in apples and cinnamon and something that's beginning to smell a bit like home. Harry whispers sweet nothings in his ear while he cradles him, kissing every visible piece of skin. He soothes Louis' shaking hands, and Louis burrows into him, feels his heartbeat and lets it warm him.

That night when Louis goes home he doesn't eat dinner, says he had ate at Harry's, and once his mother's asleep he kneels over the toilet and sticks his fingers down his throat. He throws up nothing but water, yet he keeps scraping desperately at the back of his throat over and over, fatass running through his mind like a broken record. At some point he starts to cry, choking back sobs so as to not wake anybody.

He falls asleep trembling, his arms wrapped around his waist and his knees to his chest.

-----

It goes on like this for a while. Harry continues to act normal at school, pretending to be nothing more than a friend, while at home they're busy memorizing every inch of each other's skin. Louis doesn't shake anymore, for the most part.

One day they're sitting in the library at lunch, and Harry's smiling so brightly and his eyes are shining again and all of a sudden everything good is bubbling up inside of Louis. He lets out a tinkling laugh, eyes crinkling up a bit at the corner, and Harry's eyes widen.

"I've never heard you laugh before," he says, breathless, and Louis stops. He blinks a bit, taken aback. When was the last time he had laughed? It hits him a bit, and he frowns. "No, don't stop, it's-"

"No Haz, it's alright." He says, smiling softly. "It took me a bit by surprise as well I guess." He lets out a light chuckle, cheeks warm. Harry grins again, and nods.

-----

"Can I stay over your place tonight?" Louis asks frantically, hands shaking so hard he can barely keep his cell to his ear. He swallows, and pushes his hair back away from his face. He'll be here soon.

"Sure babe, come whenever you're ready." There's a hint of worry in Harry's voice, but he doesn't ask. Louis thanks him, and then hangs up. He never hears the I love you muttered after the receiver went dead.

He stuffs a pair of tracksuit bottoms into his backpack, dumping his unfinished homework out on his bed. He sniffles, and takes a deep breath before adding in another sweatshirt and his iPod.

He hurries down the stairs, and brushes past the kitchen.

"Louis?" His mum calls, and he stops. So, so very close. He gulps, and turns to face her worried gaze. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to stay at a friends," he says, keeping his voice level.

"Louis," she says, putting a hand to her forehead. "You knew what tonight was." He's trembling.

"Mum, I don't want to deal with him right now. I'll be back tomorrow." He slams the front door before she can say anything back. He swallows again, pushing all the thoughts from his mind.

Harry's waiting at the door when he arrives. Louis sends Anne a faint smile on their way up the stairs, but it's gone by the time the door closes. He nearly collapses where he stands, overcome by everything along with the lack of food running through his bloodstream.

"Louis, what's wrong?" Harry murmurs, voice worried. He cradles Louis to his chest, peppering his hair with butterfly kisses.

"My dad's coming for dinner," his voice is embarrassingly high. "I couldn't deal with that." Harry sighs, and runs his hands up and down Louis' arms, trying to still them. He guides him over to the bed, sits him down.

"Do you want to talk about it?" He says softly, running his fingers through Louis' hair. Louis shrugs, and nibbles at his bottom lip. Harry's fingers brush over his cheeks, and he feels them warm.

Soon their limbs are intermingled together as they lie on the bed, Louis still trembling slightly. The radio plays softly in the background, and Harry sings softly in Louis' ear.

"Oh, your eyes, your eyes, make the stars look like they're not shining," he croons, nipping at Louis' earlobe.

"God, you're so fucking cheesy," Louis murmurs, cheeks pink. His wrists are itching again. Harry shrugs, and nudges his nose along his collarbone. Louis cranes his neck to see the clock, which reads ten thirty. He sighs, and rolls over to face Harry's chest. Arms are slung around him, and he nuzzles into Harry's teeshirt. It's nearly second nature by now.

"Tired, babe?" Louis nods, and lets out a content sigh. Harry rubs his back in tiny circles, humming gently in his ear. He reaches over to turn off both the radio and the light, bathing the two in darkness. "You're beautiful, okay?" Louis tenses, but nods nonetheless.

"Thanks, Harry."

-----

The next morning when Louis wakes up there's a half-second of crippling terror before he remembers where he is. He takes a deep breath, and blinks a couple times. Harry's arms are still around him, and he smiles faintly. The Saturday morning sun filters through the blinds and onto his face, causing him to squint a bit as he rolls over to face Harry. He's extra pretty when he's asleep. His hair is all mussed up and hanging off his forehead, and his pretty little eyelashes rest on his cheeks. His pink lips are parted slightly, and Louis presses his own against them softly. He feels eyelashes fluttering against his own cheeks, and then there are warm green eyes staring softly at him.

"Good morning," Louis says, voice raspy from sleep. Harry smiles sleepily, and stretches a bit.

"What time is it?" He grunts, pushing his hair out of his face. "And how long have you been awake?"

"Not very long. It's nine." He states simply, tangling his fingers in Harry's curls. He nods, and yawns.

"Do you want some breakfast?" Harry asks, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up. Louis sits up beside him and bites his bottom lip. His stomach is knotting up painfully. He shrugs, and Harry nods again. "Come on." He nudges Louis out of the bed, wrapping his arms around him for a moment before heading for the door.

Louis follows him, hardwood cold under his bare feet. They walk quietly down the hall as to not wake Anne. Harry guides him by the hand, thumb smoothing out the side of Louis'.

Harry gets to work in the kitchen, pulling out pots and pans as he readies the fixings for eggs. Louis tries not to let the dread pool in the bottom of his stomach at the thought of having to eat this. He's sure he can slip into the shower afterwards. Suddenly something crosses his mind.

"Harry?" He asks softly, and the green-eyed boy looks up. "Does your mum know about us?" Harry smiles softly, eyes warming.

"No baby, don't worry. I just told her you were sleeping over. I won't tell her until you're ready, alright?" Louis nods, a bit uncertain, and curls his hands into fists. They don't need to start shaking now.

"She knows about you though, right?" He asks, and Harry nods, cracking an egg on the side of the bowl.

"Known since I was fourteen." He says, a faint smile on his face. "Walked in on me making out with a boy from school." He chuckles softly at the memory, and Louis shudders a bit. That sounds horrid. "Does your mum know?" Louis nods, a frown on his face. His eyes cloud over a bit at the memory, and Harry must notice because he sets down the second egg. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"No, it's alright. It's just, well, not everybody took it as well as hoped." He gives a self-deprecating smile, fingers trembling. Harry nods kindly, and cracks the egg. "It's all okay now, I guess. My mum's alright with it, which is what matters to me."

"That's good, babe." He pours the egg mixture into the pan, and then crosses around to wrap Louis in a tight hug, stilling his shaking. "I'm glad it turned out good." Louis smiles a bit, and closes his eyes. "I hope you like scrambled eggs." Louis doesn't like to eat anything.

"Yeah, that's fine. Thank you," he says, looking back into Harry's eyes. They're so sincere, radiating out love and warmth.

Once he's finished choking down his eggs he escapes to the bathroom, and he takes his shower. The entire time he purges there's an overwhelming guilt, and all he can think is that Harry's right down the hall, waiting with his bright green eyes and his hugs that smell like cinnamon and apples and his heart-bursting love. Louis trembles more than he has in a long time.

Harry's fingers card through his wet hair, and his lips press to his clean cheeks as Louis says he should be heading home. Harry nods, and lets him go, watches with a loving expression on his face as Louis slings his backpack onto his shoulder. He kisses Harry goodbye, and then he heads off.

------

That Monday Harry stays home sick. Somehow everything goes to shit.

The dread had been building in the pit of his stomach ever since Louis had realized Harry wasn't coming. The text had read a temperature, that his mum had made him stay home. He had said he was sorry, that he'd definitely be back tomorrow. Louis didn't need him tomorrow. He needed him today.

Andy had noticed, of course. The smile had been so wide, so fucking evil that Louis had begun to tremble right there. He had barely made it through Homeroom without breaking down. After he had rushed out of class, but it had been too late.

"Where's your boyfriend?" Andy called as he exited the classroom, a mocking lilt to his voice. How does he know? God, how fucking obvious were they how the hell did he- "Has he finally decided to leave your fat ass?" He's shaking so hard he can barely see. Andy laughs, a sharp, unpleasant sound, and kicks at Louis' ankles. Louis whimpers, and closes his eyes. "God, you're a pathetic little queer, aren't you?" Andy hisses, pushing him just enough to make him stumble, but not fall. Not yet. Louis' arms are in a death grip around his stomach, his fingernails clawing at his wrists painfully.

"Seen your daddy lately?" He laughs again, circling around Louis. "Heard he's been rather generous with the belt." His vision's blurring, words pelting and repeating themselves over and over. fatass, queer, faggot, ugly.

"Please, leave me alone," he pleads, voice sounding fuzzy to his own ears. Andy cackles, and pushes him again. Tears are beginning to form at the corners of his eyes and fuck, he can't cry here.

"Andy, don't you think that's enough?" A voice asks timidly, and Louis glances up to see Liam looking on apprehensively, his big brown eyes flitting between himself and Andy nervously.

"Whatever." Andy pushes him one last time from behind, and slowly walks off, Liam following behind. He keeps glancing back at Louis, a sympathetic look on his face. Louis bites his bottom lip, and sniffles. Doesn't seem like it can get much worse from here. When he gets to his locker it's covered in red. He peels them off one by one with trembling fingers, folding the scraps of paper and sticking them in his back pocket. He doesn't cry.

When he gets home that day nobody else is there yet. His mum's working the late shift, the twins are at daycare, and Fizzie and Lottie are out at friend's houses. He walks numbly up the stairs, hands still trembling. The words are replaying over and over in his head, Andy's laugh still sending shivers up his spine.

He closes his bedroom door behind him, and sits down in the middle of the floor. It's so quiet. It's nice. He rolls his jumper sleeves up, letting his pale arms into the light. They're riddled with scars, some old and faded, some still red and angry. He brushes the pad of his thumb over one, feeling it sting a bit at the pressure. He smiles faintly, and licks his trembling lips. He takes the papers out of his pocket, and unfolds them, placing them neatly on the ground in front of him. Their words blare angrily up at him. He clambers up and over to his desk drawer, fumbling around inside it until his fingers brush against the cool, welcoming metal.

He switches arms today, carving along with his left hand instead of his right. He doesn't even hear the door opening downstairs, or the warming voice calling up to him. His ears are buzzing with the words, Andy's voice blocking everything else out. fatass, queer, faggot.

He does hear the soft gasp of breath, however, when his bedroom door is opened. He looks up, startled, and his blood runs cold.

"Oh Louis," he says faintly, and Louis looks down at his arm, blood marking a red trail down toward his elbow. His mind is numb. He sets the razor down on the ground beside him, and takes a ragged breath. Harry kneels down in front of him, avoiding the papers, a hesitant look on his face. His hands hover over Louis' arm, unsure of what to do.

He finally takes Louis' hand and lifts him off the ground, leading him to the bathroom. It's not like Harry's never been over before. He knows his way around. He cleans Louis' arm, mouth set in a thin line. He finds bandages in the cabinet, and wraps Louis' arm, sniffling quietly. Once he's done he wraps Louis in his arms, stills his trembling.

"It's alright," he murmurs, rubbing his back. "I'm here, it's alright." It's the first time Louis cries in front of Harry. The tears stream down his face, and he sobs, he bunches his hands in Harry's teeshirt and he lets himself go. He cries and he cries until he's left hiccuping into Harry's chest, trembling so hard he can't keep a good hold of his shirt. Everything he's worked so hard to conceal is caving in around him. Harry cradles Louis in his arms, so warm and soft and safe and Louis nearly breaks under the pressure, nearly loses himself to this boy but he holds on, he keeps the one little shred of himself that he has left.

"Are you mad at me?" He asks after a while, voice watery, and licks his lips.

"Oh baby, no. Don't you dare think that," Harry whispers, intertwining his fingers in the hair at the nape of Louis' neck. "I'm going to help you, you hear? It's going to get better, I promise." Louis winces, and digs his fingernails into his wrists. "Babe, stop that," Harry murmurs, clamping his hands in Louis'. He kisses Louis' forehead, and smooths his hair with one hand. Louis' free arm snakes it's way around his own middle, and Harry frowns.

"You are so, so beautiful," he purrs, gazing into Louis' eyes with his, green into blue. Louis winces again, tries to keep the words from his mind. Don't listen to him, he's lying. Harry smooths his hair again, and wipes the tears from his cheeks. "Come with me." Louis nods, and numbly follows Harry back to his bedroom.

Harry picks the blade up off of the floor, and deposits it in his pocket. "Where are the rest of them?" He asks softly, eyes kind. Louis shakes his head, and gnaws at his lip.

"I-that was the only one I had," he says, fingers trembling. Harry frowns.

"Don't lie to me Louis," he says, and Louis winces a bit. He hesitates for a moment, and then walks over to his desk drawer, opening it and quickly finding the plastic bag buried deep in the back. He holds it out to Harry, the four other razors sparkling prettily in the sunlight. Harry takes it gently, and once they're in his pocket he wraps Louis in his arms, kissing him on the forehead. "Thank you baby," he murmurs, and Louis swallows, concentrating on the steady heartbeat against his ear. His wrists itch.

Harry stoops to the ground, studying the papers now scattered across the floor. "Were these on your locker today?" He looks up, eyes murky and a diluted green. Louis nods, trembling. "What happened?" He asks, standing up again.

"I-it was Andy. H-he got me in the hall a-after Homeroom," Louis hiccups, curling in on himself. Harry engulfs him then, surrounding him and warming him from the heart out. Louis sniffles again, fingers balled in fists against Harry's chest.

"You need to tell somebody about this, Louis. It's serious." Harry murmurs, rubbing small circles in his back. Louis starts to cry again, shaking his head frantically.

"No, you can't, h-he'll kill me Harry, please, you-you can't tell anybody," his words are strangled by his tears, and Harry just nods, smooths his hair.

"Okay. I won't tell anybody. Not yet, at least. But you need to promise me you won't do this anymore." He rolls up Louis' sleeve to reveal the unbandaged arm. He brushes lightly at the scars, and then begins to kiss them softly, his other hand still around Louis' waist. He's made it to the elbow, and he presses his lips to the last red, angry scar. He then raises his head, and looks directly in Louis' full eyes. "Alright?"

Louis nods, a painful lump in the back of his throat. He lets out a choked sob, and burrows back into Harry's chest. Everything's gone wrong.

-------

"You coming over tonight?" Harry asks softly, eyes trained on their English teacher. Louis nods, and tries to ignore the knots in his stomach. Two weeks. It's been two weeks since Harry found out. Louis hooks his hands under his thighs to try and stop the shaking. He's always shaking. Not even Harry can still him anymore.

Harry's always so gentle with him. That night he rolls up Louis' sleeves to see only thin white lines, all the most recent cuts beginning to fade. Louis squirms as his warm fingers brush over them, stomach churning unpleasantly.

"Louis, I've been wanting to tell you this for a long time," Harry begins, rolling over so that he's facing Louis under the blankets. His eyes are kind, shining in the near-darkness. "I love you." Louis feels his throat close up, and he scrapes at the healing scars on his wrist, digging his fingernails into the scabs still there. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. "Don't think you have to say it back, babe, I don't want you to say it until you're ready, alright?" Louis nods, mind racing.

He smiles tentatively up at Harry, his fingers trembling slightly. But what's new. He rolls over so that he can snuggle into Harry, who wraps his arms around him sweetly from behind. This way Harry can't see his face.

He can't let Harry see his face tonight. Long after he's snoring softly in his ear Louis stays awake, his stomach churning and hands quivering. He can't sleep. He can't. He feels his throat tighten, and he mentally curses. Why the fuck are you crying, you fucking faggot, grow a pair. He clenches and unclenches his fists, trying to calm himself down before he wakes Harry. Everything hurts.

He doesn't sleep at all that night. The next morning he slips to the bathroom before anybody is awake, and he throws up nothing but water. He cries softly, leaning up against the wall, and feels his stomach clench painfully. Harry doesn't understand. He doesn't. He doesn't love Louis. He thinks he does, but he doesn't. Nobody does. Everybody hates Louis. Even himself.

He doesn't eat anymore after that.

Weeks go by, and he grows thinner and thinner. Harry doesn't seem to notice, only looks pleased when he rolls up Louis' sleeve every afternoon when they're wrapped in each others arms. He only notices the fading scars, not the fact that Louis himself is fading.

He never notices how most of the breakfast he cooks ends up in the trash, and the rest down the drain later when Louis takes his shower. Every night he tells Louis that he loves him, yet he still hasn't looked any closer than skin deep.

He doesn't seem to notice. He's so very gentle with Louis, being sweet to him at school, protecting him from Andy, and then once they're home he protects him from himself.

One Friday afternoon when Louis goes home to get an extra pair of clothes, his mum corners him in the kitchen.

"Louis William Tomlinson, you aren't going anywhere tonight," she says firmly, crossing her arms over her chest and blocking the doorway. "You will stay here and eat dinner with us, and you will participate in the conversation."

"Mum, please, I-"

"No Louis. Your father is trying to reconnect and you're acting like a child. You need to get over yourself!" Louis winces, and hunches in on himself. "Now I suggest you go make yourself presentable. He'll be here in half an hour."

When Louis shuts his bedroom door he sinks to the floor, hands shaking so violently he can't brush his hair out of his eyes. His breathing is fast, and he just needs to calm down. It's alright. Just dinner. His throat closes up in fear, and he grips his hair in despair. He sucks in air, and leans up against his bed, looking at the wall but seeing nothing. It'll be alright. It's fine, he can do this.

He rummages through his closet, and finally pulls on a white button-down that's about four sizes to big. He rolls the sleeves to his elbows, and looks at himself in the mirror. He sees a mess. Hair flattened unattractively against his forehead, greasy and ugly brown. Eyes rimmed in red and dark circles from lack of sleep. A body that is much to big, cheeks that are much too full, a face that is so out of proportion that he has to look away. He takes a deep breath, and the door's being opened downstairs. He can hear his mum laughing warmly, and his throat clenches. He'll be alright.

When he makes it to the table all four of his sisters are already sitting, all happy save Lottie, who looks about as thrilled as she did the first time he came. He sits down quietly, keeping his head trained on his plate. He probably looks a mess, but it doesn't matter. Nobody cares.

He can feel the tension overcome the room the moment his mum and he walk in. They take their seats, and Louis clenches his fists under the table. The food is passed around, and Louis takes as little as possible, barely able to scoop the green beans with the way his hands are shaking.

"So how's school been, Louis?" He asks, and Louis jumps, nearly dropping his fork.

"It's been alright," he says softly, clearing his throat. His wrists are itching so damn bad.

"Louis' gotten all A's so far this year!" His mum crows, and Louis looks up momentarily. His father raises an eyebrow, eyes glittering menacingly.

"Is that so? Looks like you've been spending way too much time studying," he jokes, laughing coldly. "I still think you should join the football team. Builds character." Louis winces, looking down at his plate. He pushes around a piece of chicken, and sniffs. His fingers keep clenching and unclenching underneath the table. Just a little bit longer and he can sneak away. "You need to get a plan going for college, Louis. You can't expect your mum and I to pay for everything."

Louis shrugs, and continues to shred apart the piece of chicken caught in his fork. His stomach is churning.

"Do you even have any idea as to what you want to do once you graduate?" He asks, a mocking tone to his voice. "Or are you going to stay here and be a lazy ass forever?" His fork clatters to his plate, and his mum sighs uncomfortably. He can't deal with this.

His chair scrapes loudly across the floor as he stands up, wobbling a bit with lightheadedness. "Excuse me," he manages to get out before he turns for the stairs, mind fuzzy with thoughts.

His bedroom is always so quiet. He can hear the murmurs from the dinner table below, but he's too far away to hear the conversation. He knows he's about five minutes away from getting it.

And there it is. The footsteps on the stairs, heavy and so very dreadful. Louis sits down on his bed, hooking his hands under his thighs to hide the fact that he's trembling violently.

There's a rough knock on his door. "Open up, you little bastard," his father growls, and Louis' breath hitches. He slowly drags himself to the door, but he's not ready for what greets him when he opens it.

The slap makes him recoil, stumbling and nearly falling. "You think you can disrespect me like that?" He hisses, grabbing Louis by the shirt collar. "You made me look like a fool in front of your sisters and your mother." He lets go, and Louis just catches himself before he crumples to the floor. He's long lost all control, residing on instead tearing at the flesh of his wrists and biting his tongue. "You better watch yourself, son. We wouldn't want anything bad to happen." Louis nods frantically, arms locked around his stomach. His father slams the door behind him, and then Louis' sunk to the ground, sucking in air and scrabbling around for a hold. His vision is blurred, and he can't slow his breathing and his skin feels like it's /burning/and he needs to get out, he needs to talk to Harry.

Somehow he gets his phone out of his pocket and dials Harry's number. The minute he hears the low, soothing voice on the other line he breaks down, hiccuping and crying quietly as he draws his knees to his chest. Harry's worried voice barely penetrates his thoughts, and before he can stop it the phone slips from his hand. His fingers snake into his hair, and he stares blankly ahead, his entire body shaking.

He faintly hears the sound of shouting downstairs, and maybe a breaking glass or two. Finally there are arms snaking around him, and he melts into them. Kisses are left on his forehead and up and down his arms, and he's rocked back and forth gently.

Harry hums quietly in his ears until he calms enough to think straight, and then when Louis starts to freak again he draws him even closer, rubbing large circles on his back.

"It's alright Louis, I'm here. It's alright," he whispers, over and over again, and plays with the hair by Louis' neck.

"I don't know if I can do this anymore," Louis chokes out, voice straining against the tears lodged in the back of his throat. "Harry, I don't think I can."

"Oh honey, no, don't say that." Harry murmurs, voice bordering despair. "I love you so much, you need to know that. I'm never leaving. I'm always here for you." There's a crash from downstairs, and Louis begins to tremble again. "Don't listen to it, Louis. Just breath."

"He's hurting her, Harry," he cries, struggling to free himself from his grasp. "I need to help her." He's sobbing now, fighting weakly against Harry.

"I'm calling the police." Harry mutters, dialing his cell phone.

"No Harry!" Louis cries, tears streaming down his face. "He'll kill me. He'll find me and he'll kill me." He beats at Harry's chest, fists barely making any force against him. "Harry you can't."

Harry frowns sadly at him before kissing him quickly. He then turns his attention back to the phone, and starts talking to the police officer. Louis draws his knees up to his chest, his mouth shut thinly and the tears streaking their way down his face. He stares straight at the wall, mind growing numb again as he fights to breathe. There's another crash from downstairs, and he winces.

"It's alright. Everything's going to be alright," Harry soothes, kissing Louis' forehead after he hangs up. "Shh, it's all going to be okay. I promise."

------

The next morning when Louis wakes up its blissfully quiet. He's in his room, Harry long gone home. He shivers and sits up, rubbing his hands along his bare arms.

He shuffles out of bed and to the bathroom, slipping on a jumper as he goes. Nobody seems to be up yet. His eyes are half closed as he shuts the door behind him. When he looks in the mirror his heart lurches. There's a dark purple bruise reaching its ugly grasp across his cheek, fiery and large and very, very noticeable. Louis lets out a tiny groan, and brushes his fingers over it. He's shaking again, and he steadies himself on the counter.

 

"Harry, everybody's staring at me," he whispers later that day as they sit in Homeroom, the teacher scratching along on the board. He hangs his head, wrists itching.

"It's alright. Don't worry about what they think." Harry's voice rumbles, and Louis winces. Easy for him to say.

When the bell rings Louis jumps, heart racing scarily as he slumps down in his seat farther.

"Harry," he says tinily. "I don't want to go quite yet." Harry nods, and leans back in his seat. Louis watches the class file out, Andy sneering at him as he exits last. Then Louis rises, shakily grabbing his stuff and turning to Harry.

"Let's go babe," he murmurs and leads to the library.

They sit like usual, Harry's arm around Louis' shoulder, Louis' head resting against him. Louis sniffles, and closes his eyes, welcoming the darkness with open arms.

"You alright?" Harry asks softly, running his hand along Louis' shoulder. He nods, and sucks in a breath.

"I'm fine, Harry." He says thinly, and that ends the conversation.

"I love you." Harry murmurs, kissing his temple lightly. Louis shrugs him off, ignoring the burn behind his eyes to look, to make sure nobody saw.

He fights to keep his breathing steady, and without noticing lets out a small whimper. Harry sighs, and pulls him into his chest.

"Louis, it's alright." He says gently, raking his fingers through chestnut hair.

"I'm so tired," Louis says faintly, staring bleakly ahead.

"We can leave if you want, go home and sleep?" Harry offers, but Louis shakes his head. He doesn't understand.

-----

Louis goes home instead of to Harry's. he's relieved to see only one car in the drive, and he stands a bit straighter as he walks into the kitchen.

"Hey mum," he says, walking by quickly.

"Wait, Louis," she calls, and he stops and turns. When she sees the bruise she blanches, hand flying to her mouth in horror. "Oh my-oh Louis!" She cries, and then she's feeling his cheek, tears in her eyes as she assesses the damage. "Oh Louis, I'm so sorry." She says, crying now, and pulls him into her strong embrace. He sniffles, the back of his throat burning.

"It's alright mum, really."

"No, it's not," she cries, holding him at arms length. "I should've never let him back in this house, god I've been a so stupid."

"Mum, stop," Louis urges, shaking his head. "It's fine. How were you supposed to know?"

"How many times?"

"What?" He asks, though he's fully aware of what she wants.

"How many times did he hit you, Louis?" He shrugs, training his eyes to his shoes. "Louis William Tomlinson, answer me godammit!" She's on the verge of hysterical, and he quickly shakes his head.

"Only a couple times, mum, it's fine though." She lets out a cry, and pulls him back into her arms.

"My baby, I'm so sorry," she hiccups, and he closes his eyes. "I'm so sorry." Louis pulls himself away, and shakes his head.

"It's fine, mum, just don't beat yourself up over it, alright?" He needs to get away before he cries in front of her, and so he flies up the stairs before she can stop him.

He sits on his floor against his bed, trying to still the dizziness. He blinks a couple times, and clenches his fingers. he lets his head fall back onto the bed, and lets the dread pool in the pit of his stomach. How much longer can this all go on? How much longer will he be able to hold out?

-----

"It's been a month since you've cut," Harry reminds Louis after school one day, when they're lying together on Harry's bed. Louis shrugs, wrists itching at the reminder. "I'm so proud of you, I hope you know that."

"I know," Louis answers, after a moment. Harry kisses up and down his neck, but Louis just continues to stare absentmindedly at the ceiling. "How's your book?" He asks, blinking.

"It's doing good. Nearly finished," Harry breaths, sucking a mark into Louis' collarbone. Louis nods stiffly, imagining patterns in the pock-marked paint on the ceiling. "Hey, you alright?" Harry asks, finally catching on. Louis shrugs.

"Not really in the mood, I guess." His fingers are trembling. Harry nods slowly, and lays back down beside him.

"Are you ever going to be in the mood, do you think?" He asks quietly, tracing circles on the blanket. Louis sighs.

"I don't know, Harry." He closes his eyes, and concentrates on breathing in, out, in, out. It's so bothersome, breathing.

"Well, that's alright then." Harry murmurs, shifting so that his shoulder is brushing up against Louis'. "I'll wait." He gives Louis a warm smile, and Louis gives him a weak upturn of the lips back.

-------

Faggot. Louis' heart drops to his stomach, and he swallows thickly. Harry stiffens beside him, and peels the taped paper off of Louis' locker.

"I love you. I love you so much." He murmurs, voice barely carrying to Louis' ear in the bustling hallway. Faggot. Louis sniffles, and walks away in the other direction, to Homeroom.

He enters without Harry, and slowly sits in his regular seat in the back. The only other person in the class is Liam, who looks up and smiles sheepishly at Louis' arrival.

"Hey Louis," he says softly, turning around in his desk. "I just, um, I guess," he looks down at his hands, eyebrows knitting together. "I guess I just wanted to apologize. For not ever helping you before, and for staying with Andy when I knew it was wrong. I've been a real ass to you." Louis swallows, and looks into Liam's chocolate brown eyes, wide with hope and sincerity.

"It's alright Liam," he says, giving him a soft smile. "I'm used to it." Before Liam can say anything else Harry walks in, and sits down beside Louis, setting his notebook down on the desk. Harry smiles at Liam, who gives a half- hearted smile and turns back around.

"He giving you a hard time?" Harry murmurs, opening his notebook. Louis shakes his head.

"No. He was apologizing." He states simply, tracing patterns on the imitation wood with his finger. "For bullying me."

"Oh," Harry says softly, and begins to write, gently ending the conversation.

"I'm gonna go to the bathroom," Louis mumbles, and stands up. He grabs a pass from the teacher and then exits, pulling his sweatshirt down farther over his wrists as he goes.

He enters the empty bathroom and stands in front of the mirror, staring back at his face. It's so empty, his eyes a dull, lifeless blue. He clears his throat, and averts his eyes. Faggot. The word builds in the back of his throat like bile, causing him to nearly gag in disgust. He can feel it crawling inside of him, this ugliness that he knows is there but can't get out.

He enters one of the stalls and kneels over the toilet. He scrapes at the back of his throat, gags, tries to throw up the ugly. Nothing comes but water tinted pink. Tears run down his face and he curses, grips his hair as everything builds inside of him, billowing up like a black cloud of smoke.

Finally he stands, knees aching, and exits the stall. He washes his hands and leaves the bathroom, trembling still.

He rounds the corner and smashes into a boy much bigger than himself. He looks up, and nearly cries out. It's Andy, a menacing grin creeping onto his face.

"Hey, watch it, fatass," he sneers, and advances, causing Louis to back up quickly. "What happened to your face, anyways? Daddy a bit angry?" Louis winces, and digs his fingernails into the last of the cuts lining his wrists. "I guess he doesn't tolerate faggots, huh?" He laughs, and pushes Louis back some more.

"Where's that friend of yours?" He asks, still walking towards Louis. "Or did he leave too? God, I can't understand how he put up with your fat ass for so long!" He cackles, and pushes Louis again, nearly causing him to fall. Louis can't breath, he can't do this anymore. His vision is blurring, and he can barely walk.

"Just let me go, Andy, I swear to god I'll do anything just let me go," Louis cries, and grips his own hair painfully hard.

Andy grabs his shirt and shoves him back in the direction of the bathroom, laughing still.

"Don't you dare show your face back in Homeroom today, you hear? Or I'll punch your face in, faggot." He sneers, and then he's turning and walking back towards Homeroom, leaving Louis to keep himself from crying.

He slides down the bathroom wall and onto the floor, and buries his face in his knees, his giant sweatshirt making an almost-cocoon around him. He stays like that for the rest of the period, and tries to keep himself together.

"Louis, oh my god why didn't you come back oh my god are you okay?" Harry finds him at the end of the period, kneels down beside him and pulls him into his arms, pressing kisses to his hair and to his forehead.

"Harry, I'm fine." He says tiredly, closing his eyes wearily.

"What happened?" Harry asks, pulling him gently off of the dirty bathroom floor.

"When I was on my way back I ran into Andy." Louis says, voice sounding funny in his own ears. Harry sighs, and kisses his forehead again.

"Come on, let's go home." He says softly.

------

"Harry?" Louis asks, voice raspy, as he lies in bed wrapped in bigger arms.

"Yeah?"

"I need help." He says softly, closing his eyes.

"What do you need help with, Lou?" Harry's eyes knit together in puzzlement, and he plays with the ends of Louis' fringe. Louis slowly unwraps himself and stands up, just nodding at Harry to stay put. He turns around and faces the closet, looking back at Harry in the full-sized mirror hanging on the door.

First he takes off the sweatshirt, revealing his bony, cut up arms. He takes a deep breath, and then takes off his pants and his shirt, leaving him to stand in his boxers. Harry gasps quietly, and stands from the bed.

"Oh, Louis." He says, and comes to stand behind him. His eyes are filling with tears, and he hesitates a moment before placing his hand to Louis' waist, before running his thumb along each individual rib. "Louis, why? Why would you do this to yourself?" Louis shrugs, and averts his eyes.

"I feel disgusting, Harry." He says, voice wavering. He crosses his arms over his stomach, the back of his throat burning. "I don't deserve you. I don't understand why you've stayed."

Harry shakes his head, and wraps his arms around Louis. "Lou, I love you so much, no matter if you believe it or not. I'm not going anywhere, especially not now." He's crying now, tears running down his cheeks as he kisses Louis' forehead. What a strange pair they make, he thinks, as he looks at their reflection in the mirror. "We'll get you help."

-------

"Hey Louis." Harry says, knocking on the room door softly. "How are you feeling?" Louis smiles, and pats the space next to him on the bed.

"I'm feeling great, Harry." He kisses Harry softly, and rests his head on his chest. "This place is really nice." Harry smiles, and looks out the window to where the sign reading Willow rehabilitation center hangs, and he kisses Louis' forehead. "The doctors say I'm doing really well this week," Louis says softly, his smile causing laugh lines at his eyes to begin to appear.

"That's amazing, Louis," Harry says. "Did they give you a date to when you can come home?" Louis shrugs, and looks out the window.

"I've still got a long way to go, Harry," he says, smile turning somber. "They think a couple more months, if I continue to do so well." Harry smiles, and fixes a stray hair that had fallen onto Louis' forehead.

"Well, I brought something for you that should help pass the time, I think." He stands up, and offers Louis a hand. "I talked to the kind lady at the front desk and she said it'd be alright if we went on a walk out back." Louis lets out a wide smile, and takes Harry's hand.

"How the hell did you do that!" He asks excitedly, straightening his teeshirt. "They never let me outside unless it's a speical occasion!" Harry laughs, and kisses Louis' forehead.

"What, and this isn’t a special occasion?" The pair make their way out into the back garden, Harry picking up his backpack in the lobby on the way.

"It's so nice out today." Louis says softly, and takes Harry's hand in his own. The sunlight warms his shoulders, and he guides Harry over to his favorite spot, a bench right a the foot of a tall oak tree.

They sit, knees curled up and brushing against one another. Harry unzips his bag, and pulls out a thick stack of paper, bound together by three slim silver rings.

"Here," he says, handing Louis the stack.

"My Boy," Louis reads, eyes widening after a moment. "Harry, is this-"

"It's the first draft. Finished it on Saturday." Louis' face lights up, and he gives Harry a long, excited kiss.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so proud of you!" He exclaims, and flips through the pages quickly.

"I thought it would keep you busy while you're here," Harry says softly, warm smile present on his face. He looks down at his boy, nearly healthy again, and his heart swells. The light filters through the leaves of the tree and shine through Louis' hair, causing it to glow like the last embers of a grand fire. Louis looks up at him and his eyes are glittering, and that's when Harry knows he'll be alright. Harry knows that everything's going to turn out okay. He kisses Louis again, the sunlight warming his back and Louis' lips warming his, and he knows that from now on everything will be fine.

Louis looks up at Harry and sees the love in his eyes, and for the first time he sees that Harry does love him and he believes it. It builds in his heart until he's full of warmth, and he lets out a surprised laugh, that sound floating through the air like windchimes blowing in the breeze. “I love you, Harry. I love you so much.” He shakes his head, and laughs again. Harry smiles, and kisses him once more. Louis can feel again, and he feels so very happy. Harry wraps his arms around Louis, and Louis is content, because he's finally home.