when harry closes up shop and goes home his mum is waiting for him in the living room.
“your appointment is in ten minutes, harry, i thought you’d be home faster than this. let’s go,” she says, and she hikes her purse up her shoulder, and she walks out the door.
harry follows. he knows that if he doesn’t immediately, she’ll honk her horn and say, “why did you take so long? you’re so irresponsible,” and harry will bottle it up and clench his fists and take it.
they go to mary’s office and his mum kisses the side of his face with, “i’ll be back in an hour. bye, sweetie.” and she leaves and harry’s heart pounds harder with each step toward mary’s door and then he’s in and sat down and mary’s red, red smile is everything and he’s, he’s—this is him. harry is a boy who goes to counseling twice a week and nothing else.
“how have you been this week?” mary asks him with her feet planted on the ground, one foot slightly crooked from her fall when she went hiking in ’03. harry remembers this because he remembers things.
“i have been fine.”
mary nods and writes something—god knows what—onto her pad of paper. “fine? what classifies as ‘fine’, harry?”
harry thinks. “i haven’t hit myself. like, on the head like i do. i haven’t cried in a while. haven’t had my mum yell at me.”
“does your mother yell at you often, then? how is your relationship with your mother?”
harry sighs. he pulls on the curl that’s by his eye that’s named ‘sam’ and it springs back up and into its rightful place. he answers and mary asks and harry answers and mary asks and harry answers.
then, “i’d like to try something with you, harry.”
“alright,” he nods, but he zones out and thinks about a life where he had been productive in school and had boyfriends and girlfriends and friends, mainly. (“if you just applied yourself, harry, you’d be so successful.” probably.)
they try this thing where harry closes his eyes and mary tells him to picture things and they do that until time is up and he’s robotically walking to the car with tears gathering themselves up in his eyes because this is his life. people ask and harry answers and he is a boy who goes to counseling and he is a boy who has nothing impressive to offer the world.
gemma’s there to pick him up instead of his mum and he smiles when she smiles because that’s how humans interact. she pouts, though, and that leads harry to believe that she can see that her brother is a boy and nothing more.
“are you alright?” she questions when they’re driving back home, the semi-warm cheshire air blowing through the small hole in the ground of the car and harry presses his toe over it to stop the gust of wind.
“i am fine.”
harry nods. harry is a boy and he goes to counseling and he has a family and he has food and yet he cannot be so much and he could not be any less.
they’re sitting at the table when harry brings up the subject of getting a psychological evaluation.
"i just think that if i get an evaluation, i’ll understand, like—”
"—i'll feel complete and—"
"love, stop." harry stops. "you just want an answer. what are you going to do when you get one? you're just going to have another label and you'll let it define you."
"no i won't. i don't plan on taking medication. i won't change—i just want to know. are all people like me? are they paranoid; are they terrified of leaving the house? do they have panic attacks when people come into their shops to buy things?"
his mum rubs her temples and drops her glass down onto the table. "harry. no. you are not—you're one of a kind.”
"do you think charles dickens would have sat in his room with a laptop all day if he had one?"
this time, gemma says something: “i think you need a vacation. maybe we’ll go on a family one, and we can just bring you a bed because you’ll just sit in it all day.” she laughs.
harry tries not to let his hurt show. he turns his face away—looks at dusty looking at him—and wishes he were a cat, too. people don’t make fun of cats.
“goodnight,” he tells his family, and they stop their awkward laughing and look at him while he stands. they’re concerned; it’s in their eyes. he just doesn’t care.
two weeks later he’s driving on his own to a pretty campground by a pretty lake and it’s all very pretty and he was very much forced.
he hadn’t wanted to go. but he’s eighteen and he could go and he figures that he should give his family a break away from him. they love him and he loves them, but. he supposes he’s a drag to be around. (they’ve joked about it—they’ve said little quips that suggest harry is a debby downer but with amused smiles so harry smiles back because that’s what humans do.)
his campsite is very nice and it takes him only an hour and a half to set up the damned red tent that was ten-fifty at the store. the only hitch with the placement of the site is that it’s right in front of the water and it’s right next to someone else and that someone else is singing “pocket full of sunshine” obnoxiously loud. their voice cracks on the “pocket” and catches on the “sunshine” but it’s sort of nice.
when everything is good and it’s 7pm and he’s already eaten his pre-made meal of an egg sandwich and orange juice, he hears the singing start again but this time it’s quieter and more careful; concentrated.
“what a beautiful face i have found in this place that is circling all round the sun,” the someone sings, and harry knows that it’s neutral milk hotel and he knows that if he were thirteen years old again, if he had an ounce of confidence, he’d march right over to that person and sing with him.
so, instead, he curls up into a ball in his tent and listens to the someone sing and feels the night fall ever so slowly over his body and thinks that’s a metaphor, everything’s a metaphor, and falls asleep when he hears a nearby zipper zip twice and everyone’s asleep and harry’s just a boy and this is his life.
it’s crystalline, it’s shattering, it’s the one thing harry can’t handle—water. he thinks of the trillion metaphors that are associated with it, how probably half of them could apply to himself. it’s deep and vast and mysterious and you don’t know what’s underneath. it’s him, yeah. harry is his fear. harry is water.
he looks down in front of his toes again and inspects the flickering light that bounces across the water’s surface. the liquid is clean the first few inches and harry can see nothing else after it, just black. that’s more terrifying than anything, really.
“are you going to jump, or are you waiting for it to pull you in?”
harry spins around and sees a stark naked boy standing there with a hand on his hip. he’s—completely naked. harry gapes and gawks and says nothing because he doesn’t know how.
“well?” shorty’s eyebrows pop up with the word, and he comes off like he’s all annoyed and impatient, but harry can see in his eyes that he’s not—not really.
“i don’t like water.”
“then why are you standing on a wooden dock surrounded by it?” he grins—flashy and toothy and bright—and walks closer to harry.
harry’s natural instinct is to move back, get out of the way, but shorty looks like he wants to be near harry so he tries not to lean away too much.
“somethin’s wrong with you, i think. you’re a weird fish.” shorty stops himself, his whole body jolts forward like he’s just remembered something, and then he practically screams, “i get eaten by the worms! and weird fishes!”
so harry tells him, “i like radiohead, too.”
“picked over by the worms. and weird fishes.” the boy jumps into the water, then, in the shape of a ball and he creates such a large splash that harry squeals and runs down the dock to get away from the wetness.
shorty’s head pops up out of the water after a few seconds and spots harry and swims down the dock. “jump in, idiot. won’t let you drown or anything.”
“i don’t like water.”
“and i don’t like vagina, but i still spent five years of my life eating it. sometimes you gotta do some things to figure out other things, you know?”
harry chokes. if he were in a movie, he would smile and say, “what the hell,” gracefully leaping into the water and getting over his fear. shorty would swim over, smile all pretty up at him, and kiss him and they’d go back to the tent to make sweet, sweet love.
but this isn’t a movie, no matter how badly harry wishes it were. so instead he says no and walks down the dock until shorty’s words are gone and he’s sheltered in his tent. there are five days left of his ‘vacation’ and he is glad he didn’t plan to go for two weeks.
when harry stumbles out of his tent the next morning, shorty is sitting on the log in front of his fire pit and is cooking (what appears to be) a fish tail.
“god, i’ve been waiting for you forever. i was thinking of disassembling your tent on you, but i guess i’m too nice. do you want some bass tail?”
harry ignores him and sits on the little blanket with ducks on it—it’s not his, but it’s there—and sighs. “you’re wearing clothes this morning,” he says.
the thing is, he knows that he should be feeling little flutters in his tummy and he should be thinking hey, here’s a cute boy, try it out, but he can’t. he knows that even a friendship with this guy would end with a heart-crushing end, that if harry lets himself think that this could stay, he’d be sourly mistaken. so he just curls in on himself, wraps his arms around his knees, and hides his face in his chest.
“does that displease you? i can change,” shorty says, quiet, and there’s a shuffle of twig on metal and a ‘plop’ of fish tail onto a cardboard plate. it sounds gross.
“it’s quite alright.”
“i’m going on a hike this afternoon, would you care to join me?” shorty asks him and when harry looks there’s fish hanging out of his mouth but it’s frighteningly endearing. his pink lips suck in to keep the fish from falling out, his little tongue licks, and the fish is gone.
shorty leaves, then, throws his cardboard plate in the fire and harry mumbles “that’s carcinogenic,” but shorty’s gone and harry’s alone, like always, except for this time there’s no one in within fifty clicks but a short boy with small lips, a tiny nose, and a loud mouth.
harry’s at the water’s edge, poking his fingers at dancing, slippery minnows and scrunching his nose up when one slides through his index finger and thumb. he makes a cup out of his hands and one little guy swims in, but harry’s too slow and he slips away. metaphors, metaphors, metaphors.
it’s the evening, and the moon is casting an ivory light over the water, and it’s enough that harry can see to the bottom of the lake still. he’s not afraid, because it’s shallow here, he can control what’s happening, and that’s good.
“do you see little minnie in there? she has a purple fin.”
harry turns and it’s shorty, because who the hell else would it be. “i think so. i tried to catch one, but it swam away. do you think they’re scared?”
the sand crunches softly under shorty’s feet while he walks over, crouches down next to harry. “maybe. i got something for you, though.” he reaches into this pouch hanging over his shoulder and carefully pulls out a jar filled with something. it’s about fifty ladybugs. “see them?” he asks, and yes, harry can see them. “named ‘em all georgina. i’m gonna set them free, thought you would want to do it with me.”
harry takes the jar, forces down the growing swell in his heart. “they’re pretty. where are we gonna put them?”
shorty’s nose crinkles while he thinks, then he takes the jar back and places it into his pouch. “come.”
they walk through a lot of bushes, trees, and roots that harry trips over, until they arrive at a clearing that looks like that one from twilight.
“don’t tell me you’re about to take your shirt off and sparkle, now,” harry manages to joke, and shorty laughs so hard that harry thinks he might have to pat him hard on the back. it doesn’t make sense, because vampires don’t glow at night, but shorty still seems amused.
“good one, fingers. hm,” shorty hums, placing a hand on his tummy, “this is a nice place. would you like to do the honors?”
harry nods, takes the jar, and puts his eye up close to the glass. all the little bugs are flying around, thinking where are we what’s happening where’s mom am i here forever, and harry unscrews the top and holds it above his head.
they fly out in a flurry like snow, but red and buzzing, and it’s really pretty, so pretty, especially when harry looks over to see shorty staring up with a little content smile and his eyelashes nearly touching the tops of his eyebrows.
“think they’ll be much happier here, uh huh,” shory whispers, laying himself down on the grass like a starfish. he shakes his head so very lightly with his eyes fluttered shut, like he’s sniffing a flower, and harry really would like to set a warm blanket on him up to his neck, so he’s warm and safe.
“be safer a mile away from where they were before,” harry says sarcastically, and he sits and crosses his legs by shorty’s small feet. “how did you collect them all, anyway?”
“oi, be kind,” shirty warns, slaps a hand out in the middle of the air. harry leans forward so it’ll hit his shoulder. “i spent all afternoon getting them. it was on their own decision, too, did you know? i held the jar up to them and they’d just fly right in, like, sure louis, i’ll go into your jar.”
“your name is louis?”
harry swallows. so he’s louis, he eats fish tails, he collects bugs. he also mentioned that he didn’t like girls, but harry ignores that bit.
louis sits up and their knees are touching. “harry. that’s a lot different than fingers. i think i like fingers better.”
harry snorts and looks down at his hands—there’s nothing special about them, especially not his fingers. they’re just fingers. look a bit like big worms. “louis is a lot different than shorty, too,” he says, and watches as louis springs up onto his feet and gasps.
“are you shitting me? you think i’m short? did you know that i could fuck you up?” he shouts, stomping his foot after each sentence, and a flock of birds fly out of the trees and soar across the night sky.
louis’ energy makes harry’s heart speed up and he stands up too, close to louis to show that he’s short, and louis looks up indignantly and harry leans down to be at his level.
“you’re short, shorty,” he says, so quietly that even the sky couldn’t hear him, and louis takes in a soft breath and puffs it out.
it feels like they’re in a little bubble; harry likes that metaphor. bubbles are safe and no one can get hurt in one, so he decides that louis is a bubble and he’s safe enough.
“yeah, well you’re too big,” is louis’ comeback, but it’s without conviction and he says it almost desperately, like please listen to me, i’m right, listen.
harry clears his throat at the intimacy of their position: harry leaned down so his face is inches from louis’, their feet nearly touching, and he backs away slightly. crickets chirp, the night’s own little song, and he feels louis wrap a hand around his bicep.
“let’s go have a campfire then,” louis tells them, and treks them back to their temporary home.
the fire starts quickly because of how dry the air is, and when it’s growling and growing bigger and licking up into the air, louis picks up twigs and rocks and tosses it into the pit.
they make burgers—a veggie burger for harry—and louis eats his in two bites. he pats his little tummy and leans back like he’s so very full, but then he whips out a bag of marshmallows and pushes four onto a metal prong.
“you know what i’ve learned, harry?” louis says after a while of cooking, the sparks of the fire dancing by his feet and the twinkling stars shining in his eyes. “if you drink enough vodka, it tastes like love.”
and really—that’s the saddest thing harry’s ever heard.
“do you—” harry swallows, “do you know what love feels like?”
a burning ash falls on louis’ calf. he doesn’t react. “thought i did, like. thought i fell in love with all my boyfriends; typical shit—they cheated on me. just one of those things, you know? anyway.”
“i’m sorry,” harry says honestly, and he shuffles over on his knees to louis. it hurts, the rocks grinding into his bony joints, but it’s nothing compared to what’s in louis’ eyes. “i’m sorry.” he rests his head in louis lap; he’s closer than he’s ever been to anybody in years.
“it’s. i. it’s okay,” louis stutters above him, and after he carefully places his prong down, he threads his fingers through harry’s hair.
harry knows what’s going on. he’s read it in books: two people meet each other in a prettier world than what they’re used to, they like each other, and after they leave that world and go home, it’s just a painful memory they don’t like to think about. he knows this because it’s happened before. he was at a music festival, he met a boy, and they were close and touchy and laughy and kissed a few times through giggles. harry’d gotten home from the festival, called him, and he’d told harry that it was just a ‘music festival thing, you know?’ he knows.
“are you going to tell me what’s wrong with you, or are you going to make it seem like i’m the only crazy one?” louis asks. he pushes harry’s curls out of his eyes, just a swipe of his palm, and harry grabs it and holds it on his cheek.
he’s missed contact—much more than he thought he had. now that he’s got it, he might as well take advantage of it. he knows they’re much more comfortable because of the beers they’ve had, but. he’ll take it. he’ll take it and fucking run with it.
“i’ll tell you later,” harry mumbles. “if i can.”
louis goes ‘mmm’ and strokes harry’s face, then takes him into the tent.
harry is pliable when louis crawls between his legs, when he kisses down harry’s chest, when he takes harry into his mouth and bobs.
harry is ‘ah, ah, ah’ing when louis hallows his cheeks and mewls when louis rubs his fingers on this spot, and he’s whining when he comes and louis takes it all.
harry is shaking when louis crawls back up, kisses his lips, and curls into his side for sleeping.
harry is crying when he wakes up in the morning and louis’ not there.
they don’t really talk about what happened the night before, but it’s not awkward, either. louis’ at his tent a few hours later with some more bugs in a jar, and they go over to the clearing (which is much prettier during the day, but more enchanting at night).
“i’m sorry for leaving you,” louis whispers at the air while they’re laying down on their backs, heads beside each other’s and limbs spread out.
“well. i just thought—i don’t know. it’s. yeah.” harry doesn’t want to say that it’s okay. it broke his heart, honestly, when he woke up expecting to see a little louis beside him.
“i’m just used to having to leave. i feel bad, you know. i won’t leave next time.”
harry’s heart jumps at the prospect of a next time, but he shrugs and reaches to touch a hand to louis’. “please,” he says, doesn’t know what he’s asking for, doesn’t care if he gets nothing in return.
“yeah—it’s. i know. i got you.” louis threads their fingers together and harry thinks that louis feels the same way, that this is a storybook type situation, that it’ll be forgotten when they go back home. “we’re going to go swimming today.”
harry shakes for a moment, but it’s just that—a moment, and he says “okay,” and louis squeezes his hand so hard that harry’s sure he’ll feel it for the rest of his life.
see, harry gets into the water just fine, but when it sinks in that he’s actually in water, he starts to have a panic attack and he gets paler and paler and his toes curl up because fuck, he is going to die in this water.
the thing, though, is that when louis holds his hand and they walk into it together, harry is just fine. he maybe makes louis’ hands lose circulation for a bit, but when they’re submerged up to their hips, harry’s not even breathing hard. they stay there, that deep, and louis turns and grabs harry’s jaw to pull him down. he kisses along harry’s chin, his bottom lip, his nose, and then he turns and leaves. it’s—well.
harry stays in the water. he figures that’s what he’s supposed to do, so he stays in it, and he walks a little further out. facing demons and all that, he thinks. louis pads out on the dock and sits with his feet dangling into the water near harry, and when harry’s up to his shoulders, he starts to shake.
“louis, lou,” he calls a little desperately, and there’s a slight splash, and there’s louis there pulling him back to shore and saying little things like you did really well and i’m proud and you did that all on your own.
he doesn’t feel like he did, but he doesn’t say anything.
they go back to harry’s camp and harry shivers and curls up on his blanket, and louis wraps himself around and they breathe together and they’re just one body split into two and they were meant to be this way. harry knows that, if he knows anything.
“i want to fucking float above the clouds, harry.”
harry looks over at louis, takes in the sight of the fire casting big, exaggerated shadows over his face, and breathes. “i would. i would let you if i knew how. i’d do that.”
louis stretches his feet, flexes his toes on the log that’s resting just before the fire pit, and nods toward harry. “i know you would,” he says, and he nods again, and his eyebrows are furrowed like he’s trying to figure it out. he says a few minutes later, “i think that, like, there should be towers, you know? towers that are ten times higher than the clouds, so you could look down at the earth. look down and realize that there are bigger things to life than jobs and school and seeing if you can get that god damned promotion, if you can get the next fucking iphone, if you can have one last fuck with your ex before you let yourself start to grieve. you know, harry, i just think there should be towers higher than the clouds.”
harry understands this very well; he does, and he thinks that louis needs to be touched, so he walks over to louis’ blue chair that’s kinda of like a butterfly—picks louis up and sits down and pulls louis back down onto him. he’s bigger, he knows that, and when louis snuffs and curls up so his entire body is on harry’s, harry is even more aware of it.
harry nuzzles his nose along louis’ ear until louis stops his quiet crying. he says, “i’m afraid i might die for you now.”
louis giggles a little, he turns till his lips are smushed against harry’s chin. “you don’t have to call me yours, my love, but damnit, i’m calling you mine,” he hums right back, and harry knows he missed a few lines, and louis knows it too, but they say nothing and just hold each other until the moon is telling them it’s time to go to bed, now, you’re both awfully tired.
so they go to bed, they wrap each other up like blankets, and they sleep like their only worry is whether they’ll wake up as close together as they were when they fell asleep.
louis is gone, again, when harry wakes up. only, he’s not outside the tent, nor is he in his own site, and all his bags are gone. the panic sets in very quickly and he’s also very quickly crying, wondering if he just made louis all up and now he’s gone and harry’s truly alone again in his world. that is, until he sees a small note on a rock next to the fire pit.
does my love make your head spin? it says in one the one side, and on the other is a series of numbers. it should be reassuring—to know that louis is still alive, but it’s terrifyingly horrible to know that louis isn’t there anymore. they don’t have the safety of their pretty world, that they can’t just go on a hike and get bugs or face fears like water or kiss when they want. it’s just another number that harry will call and get the reply of ‘it was just a camping thing, you know?’ and then it’ll all be over and harry will be bitter and—well. that is harry’s life.
he calls anyway.
“harry fingers,” louis says. sounds like he’s in a large crowd—harry hears things like get out of the way, man, and draws the conclusion that louis has stopped walking.
harry makes a stupid decision and blurts out, “can i love you?” and then starts sobbing. loud, ugly, snot-dripping cries that make him sound like a kid who’s lost at an amusement park but he truly could not care more if he tried. he’s had his heart in pain for long enough that this is nothing.
there’s a lot of crackling on the other end and then it’s all quiet except for heavy breathing on the other end. “yes. yeah, you can. love me. you can do that. when you’re ready, just. come find me. you can find me.”
and normally, harry would freak out and think how on earth am i supposed to find you there are billions of people and only one you just one, but instead he tells louis “okay” through sniffles and they hang up. normally harry would instantly give up and say it’s a lost cause.
only this time, he packs and goes home and he fucking finds louis.
(it’ll be a great story to tell their kids, he thinks while they walk hand in hand across the golden gate bridge; this’ll be a great story to tell his mom, he thinks while they go scuba-diving together in mexico; this is a great lifetime, he thinks, while he crawls into bed with louis for the thousandth time out of thirty-thousand more.)