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like a bastard on the burning sea

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The rain is falling in sheets and Louis can smell lamb in the oven. Those are the two things he notices as his breath fogs up the window, Harry laughing into his neck, and he turns his cheek to catch the cool glass. 

“H,” he murmurs, smile against Harry’s hair, “we have like, people out there. Stop it,” he laughs, batting Harry away, “Harry, oh my god,” he says as Harry’s teeth graze across his jaw, “‘ve you had a couple too many drinks, darling?” 

Harry stops to glare at him and his patronizing little darling, and it only makes Louis laugh again. 

“Hey,” he says, leaning up to kiss him quickly. He’s still pressed up against the wall and the window, pane cool on his neck. “Hey, you alright, though?” 

Harry kisses him right back, nods, right hand curled into Louis’ t-shirt and left holding himself up against the window, like he’s a particularly big footballer coming to hit on Louis in the cheerleader’s locker room. Louis doesn’t know when he started thinking of his life as an American high school movie, or of himself as a cheerleader, but he thinks he’s into it. 

“Yeah,” he says, “nervous. Just a bit.” 

Louis smiles, runs a hand down his cheek before giving it a light tap. 

“Just our friends,” he says quietly, and then, “hey. We don’t have to. If we’re not ready, or whatever, we can wait.” 

Harry just rolls his eyes, smiles, kisses Louis on the cheek. 

“Right,” he drawls, “Lou. You should see the look on your face. You’re fucking…I dunno. Glowing, or something.” 

Louis blushes furiously, pushes him away before pulling him back in by his belt loops. 

“You do know you can’t actually get me pregnant, don’t you?” he says ridiculously, against Harry’s lips, “try as we might. That’s not how this works. And I don’t glow, thank you very much, I happen to be excited.

Harry smiles, nips at his earlobe and threads their fingers together. 

“Seriously,” Louis says, “don’t wanna do it unless you do.” 

It takes Harry a second to respond, but when he does, it’s with a nod and an expression that makes Louis realise just how big this all is. 

“Yeah,” he says, swallowing, “yeah, c’mon. Let’s do it.” 

And Louis should notice, in the way Harry lingers behind him as they leave their room, in the tremble of Harry’s fingers and the flick of his hair and the lip-bitten smile. But he doesn’t, because – and he will remember this feeling more than anything else – this moment, now, is the happiest he’s ever been in his life. 

“Where the fuck did you get to?” Zayn asks suspiciously as they come back into the living room, Louis pulling Harry along and settling next to him on the couch. 

Everyone’s here for a lazy Sunday lunch, which is a flimsy pretext on account of the fact that they’re not forty years old, but everyone’s taken it rather well. Zayn’s checking the meat in Harry’s absence – Louis does not and never will add much to a kitchen scene, though he’s always good for a wash up – Perrie’s curled up on the couch with a glass of wine, and Niall and Ellie are being disgusting and kicking each other over the coffee table. Liam’s fixing a lightbulb, actually, because neither Louis nor Harry have any idea how to do it, and looking at them now it’s all rather odd. 

“We had a mindblowing shag, surprised you didn’t hear us,” Louis snaps for no particular reason, but Niall just shakes his head. 

“Liar, your hair’s too intact,” he says, and then when fixed with a handful of questioning glances, “what! I lived with you when you two started going at it like rabbits, I know what you look like post-orgasm.” 

Louis blinks at him again, just to make him go red and squirmy. 

“Fascinating insights,” he says slowly, “you gonna write my biography for me, then? Fill it with material like that?” 

Everyone laughs, except Harry who looks a million miles away, and they all notice. 

“You right?” Perrie asks, peering round Louis to look at him, “you look petrified.” 

She looks at Louis next, and narrows her eyes. “And you look far too pleased about it,” she says, “what’s going on?” 

“What’s going on with what?” Zayn asks, wiping his hands on his jeans as he comes back over. 

“Are you having an asthma attack?” Ellie asks, staring at Harry, and Niall nudges her again, pouts. 

“You never ask me if I’m having an asthma attack,” he says, and she just laughs, kisses him as she leans forward to get her drink. 

“S’the curls,” she shrugs, and Louis fixes her with a half-joking stare that very clearly says hands off

There’s a sort of lull, except for Liam still tinkering with the light and the stepladder creaking, and Louis sighs. 

“Since Harold over here has possibly the worst poker face of all time,” he says, “we may as well do it now.” 

Four pairs of eyebrows lift in interest. Zayn just smiles at the ground, gives Louis a little nod. He has no idea what that means, but Zayn’s oddly observant about things like this, so Louis lets it slide. 

“Um,” he says, turning to look at Harry, and he just nods at him, gives his leg a little squeeze. 

“You wanna do it?” Louis murmurs to him, and Harry just gives him a look that says, we all know you’ll butt in anyway, but kisses him gently, reassuring. 

“Are we here to watch you make your sex tape?” Niall asks loudly, and not sounding altogether put off by the idea. Harry flips him off, winks anyway, and they high five over the coffee table. 

“I’m so here for that,” Perrie says, shooting Zayn a sort of apologetic glance, and he shakes his head despairingly but doesn’t reply, just nods at Louis to keep going. Louis is so glad he ran into Zayn in first year Lit, and suddenly this is so, so wonderfully big, and real, and here. 

“Well,” Liam and Niall say at the same time, and Louis groans into his hands. 

“We should’ve send a bloody email,” he says to Harry, and Harry just laughs into his ear, rubs his shoulders for a second. Maybe they should film a sex tape instead. Might be easier. 

“Just do it,” Harry murmurs into his ear, and okay, Louis thinks, yeah, just do it. 

“So,” he says with a clap of his hands, “um, we have, like, an announcement? Kind of? Are we calling it an announcement?” he asks Harry, and Harry nods. 

“You’re such a yes man,” he murmurs, and everyone’s sort of looking at them fondly and Louis feels like his chest’s about to burst. 

“Fuck, alright. So. This one and I,” he says, halting and looking back at Harry every two seconds, “we, like. Decided a while ago, I guess? Like four or five months? How many months?” 

“Four or five,” Harry supplies, and Louis nods.

“See, that’s why I love him, he knows months,” Louis says, patting Harry on the leg. Everyone laughs, probably because they can tell he’s nervous, but it’s fine. He’ll take it. 

“But, yeah, um, four or five months ago we decided, like – and bear with me because this is like, an intensely fucking complicated process with no vaginas involved – we decided we, like, well. We, um, we want to have a baby? Kind of? No, well, definitely,” he corrects, “we, like, definitely want to have a baby.” 

He pauses for breath more than anything, but he’s glad he does, because the noise in the room is brilliant. Harry’s hand grips his shoulders harder, Perrie shrieks delightedly and rounds on Zayn – I knew you knew something! I knew we bought champagne for a reason! – and Zayn just holds his hands up in surrender, and Louis will deal with him later because how the fuck he already knew is beyond him. Niall laughs like it’s the most brilliant thing he’s heard in the world, Ellie starts crying because she is, like, a midwife, after all, and Liam, well, Liam fucking Payne smashes a lightbulb. 

“Jesus!” Louis says as it crashes to the floor, laughing into Harry’s neck, “holy shit, Li, pull it together.” 

Liam just looks between them, outraged. 

“Next time you drop a bombshell like that can you make sure I’m not up a ladder?” he says, but his eyes are smiling and Louis is so, so fucking happy. His best friends are all in one room and looking at him like they’re the proudest people in the world, his favourite boy is wrapped around him with those endlessly long limbs of his, pressing a kiss to his cheek, and down the hall in their room is a stack of paperwork that, with any luck, will have their spare room filled within a year. 

“Well bring it the fuck in,” Niall says finally, and that’s all it takes for Harry and Louis to stand and be absolutely inundated with five people falling all over them. 

Louis’ just a little teary as they break away, Zayn’s arm still looped around his shoulder, and he fixes him with a glare. 

“Don’t say anything nice,” he tries and fails to snap, “if you make me cry I’ll kill you.” 

“You’re already crying,” Zayn points out, and Louis can’t even be outraged at his powers of deduction. 

“You knew,” he says, eyes flicking across the room to where Harry’s being peppered with kisses by Perrie and Ellie, “how do you always know?” 

He shrugs, smiles quietly. 

“Dropped your Breaking Bad back last week when you were at work,” he says, “there was paperwork all over the table.” 

Louis glares at him some more, and Zayn laughs. 

“How far along are you?” he asks, and Louis hits him over the head. 

“Tally up pregnancy joke number one, Z Malik, fifth minute,” he shouts to no one in particular, but Zayn just rolls his eyes. 

“I mean, like, in the process,” he asks, slapping Louis right back. 

“Oh. Well. Like? We’ve gone past preliminary acceptance at like, two agencies. Which is, like, big, but also not. It’s a fucking Herculean task,” he says, and then his voice softens, “but I’m, like. I’m so excited, y’know,” he says, and when he looks back up at Zayn he’s almost sure he’s not the only one with tears in his eyes. 

“M’so proud of you,” Zayn says as he pulls Louis back in for a hug, and fuck it, Louis thinks, it’s his party and he’ll cry if he wants to. 

He can see Harry over Zayn’s shoulder, pulling a tray of potatoes out of the oven. They lock eyes and smile over all the heads in the room, and when Louis looks back on it, he wonders why he never noticed that Harry’s smile stopped at his lips. 

** 

That was two months ago, now, and it’s raining again, raining for the first time since that day. It’s coming down in sheets, and Louis leans his forehead on the window, mug cradled between hands and Harry’s grey knit and thinks, what the fuck went wrong. 

Sometimes everything feels so distant now that he doesn’t know what to do next, in case it all falls down. That’s never seemed likely before, but then again, they’ve it’s never been like thisbefore. Things change, Louis supposes, and he has no idea how to go back.

It’s Saturday morning, and Harry’s at the gym with Liam. Which in and of itself isn’t a big deal, Louis supposes, but lately Harry seems to always be somewhere that doesn’t involve him, and this feels like another nail in the coffin of something bigger than he can articulate. 

It started the say after they told everyone, called their mothers that night, and Harry didn’t come to bed with him. Said he had too much energy, needed to tire himself out a bit, and when Louis’d winked and said, I can help you out there, Harry had just kissed him goodnight and told him he’d be there in a bit. 

An hour later and Louis fell asleep, and the nervous flip of his stomach hasn’t left since. 

They haven’t spent a whole day of the weekend together in ages, because Harry’s at the gym or Harry’s seeing his friends from work or Harry’s got some huge and pressing task to do that isn’t here, isn’t with him, and if Louis thinks about it too much he feels sick. He’s thrown himself back into work after a relative lull, which Louis could put down to the somewhat unpredictable nature of family portraiture, but with everything else it’s just…it’s a lot. It’s a lot made worse by the fact that summer’s just started and Louis has no lecture halls full of students to teach for three months, so he’s sat here every day feeling so out of his depth that sometimes he doesn’t move for hours. He wonders if Harry even notices. 

He doesn’t tell anyone, doesn’t breathe a word of it, because as long as he doesn’t crack it could all just be in his head. 

The paperwork they have due in a couple of weeks sits in the same spot as it did the day everyone came over, and Louis’ stopped asking him to sign here and initial there. There are only so many times he can hear him say later, or after dinner, or, how about next weekend, because it sounds an awful lot like something bigger that Louis doesn’t want to hear.

Not knowing is the worst part. Not knowing what he’s done, not knowing where they’re going, not knowing where Harry’s head is at, or why he’s there. He asked Liam once, if Harry had said anything to him, and after an hour of being browbeaten and triple checking that everything was okay, Louis’d resolved not to ask anyone again. 

His phone buzzes with a start, and he pushes himself away from the window, goes over to the couch where it’s wedged between two cushions. 

Seven years later, and Harry’s still saved as Harry Isobar, from when they met at a party of a college Louis didn’t go to and Harry was too young to legally be attending. It almost makes him want to cry. 

Heyy, bumped into Ben so we’re going to get lunch. I’ll see you later? X  

More than anything, Louis doesn’t like the question mark. 

** 

Harry gets in on Friday night, camera hitched over his shoulder, and Louis feels like he hasn’t seen him all week. 

“Hey,” he says, trying to keep it absent, trying not to make himself spring up as though it’s a big deal Harry’s walked through the door.

Harry’s eyes lock onto him on the couch like he’s not expecting him to be there. Louis doesn’t know what that means, but it makes a lump rise in his throat. 

“Hey,” he says, locking the door and throwing the contents of his pockets down on the sideboard. He seems soft, tonight, tired. Louis wonders if that’s good or bad. He doesn’t let himself look up and check, just keeps staring at his laptop like it’s interesting him at all.

Harry, unlike the last however many nights, doesn’t head down the hall and stay in the spare room fucking around with his photos for hours. Instead, he dumps his bags, kicks his shoes off, and pads over to the couch, lifts Louis’ legs and drapes them over his lap, curling up into the cushions. Louis forgets any and all pretense of distraction, closes his computer and rests his head so he’s looking straight at Harry. 

“You look nice,” he murmurs unthinkingly, because he does, “long day?” 

Harry nods sleepily, traces his fingers round Louis’ wrist a little. It’s always, always been his favourite thing, the way Harry does that, how big his hands are compared to his. Tonight it makes his breath ragged, and before he can overthink it he leans forward, kisses him properly, quietly, like maybe it’ll fix whatever this is. 

Harry’s lips are warm and pink and Louis’ kissed him like this so many thousands of times but tonight it’s different, urgent. He wants him back, he decides there, as Harry’s fingers tangle in his hair, and tug him closer, he wants all of this back. He climbs into Harry’s lap in one practiced motion, knees framing his hips, and he feels his skin heat up as Harry drops his hands to his waist and tilts his head just right, groaning into Louis’ mouth as he grinds down. 

“Shit,” Harry breathes, fingers working into Louis’ skin, and Louis smiles against him, messes his hair up because he can, because he wants to. They’ve not so much as gotten each other off in a week, and Harry’s not fucked him properly in two. It makes the panic rise in his chest, suddenly, and he kisses him harder, laugh dying on his lips. He needs this now, not just because he’s already hard like he was when he was nineteen and Harry kissed him like this, but because it’s a symbol, or something. They’ve not had good sex in weeks, sex that isn’t a chore or sort of an obligation, after seven years of it not even being a question. This feels better, almost, spontaneous, like it used to be, and just as Louis drops his hand to the button of Harry’s jeans, Harry pulls away. 

No, Louis thinks, no, no, no, and he hopes it’s not written all over his face. 

“Hey,” Harry says, flushed and breathless, “hey, we have, like. That deadline due soon. For, for the agency.” 

Louis blinks, tries to shake out the fuzziness in his head. 

“Yeah,” he says. 

“Why don’t we do it,” Harry says quickly, “it’ll probably take a while, right? We should finish it this weekend. Let’s start now.” 

“Really?” Louis says, a thousand times braver than he feels right now, dropping his hands to the line of Harry’s dick in his jeans. He rubs him slowly, pressure building the way he likes it, and Harry’s eyes close as though he’s trying to fight it. “Don’t think we could start in like, an hour or two, by any chance?” Louis asks right in his ear, and it’s after a few seconds that Harry laughs quietly, pulls his hands back up. 

“No, c’mon,” he says, “let’s do it now. Things are all in our room, right?” 

Louis looks at him for a long, long moment. He tries to think of one time that Harry’s ever told him no, and nothing comes to mind. 

“Yeah,” he says, standing up, running a hand through his hair, “yeah, I’ll. I’ll go get it.” 

He walks down the hall, splashes some water on his face in their bathroom and does not look at himself in the mirror, does not want to know what’s etched across his face. He grabs the forms they need and a couple of pens and when he gets back to the living room, Harry’s just staring into the distance, like he doesn’t know where he is. 

The look in his eyes is terrible. Terrifying. Makes Louis’ stomach switch places with his heart and then go back again.

It’s okay, he tells himself. It’s okay. This is a good thing, maybe, that Harry wants to do this now. That Harry’s initiating it, not the other way round. Recklessly, maybe, but reckless is better than absent. 

It has to be, or Louis’ got nothing.

He could ask. Could sit down and kiss him and say, what’s wrong, baby, and Harry would tell him and maybe he could fix it. But if he asks, it’s real, and all Louis has right now is the slim chance that this is all in his head, that this is his neuroses-addled brain dialing it all up to eleven. 

So he walks back into the room, ignores the way Harry tries and fails to brighten his face, and then sits there ticking boxes in silence until Harry gets tired and goes to bed. 

“We’ll finish it tomorrow,” he says, and Louis swallows and flicks the TV on. 

** 

They don’t finish it, because that night, everything shatters.

Louis doesn’t know it yet. Right now, his legs are tangled with Harry’s on their too-small couch and Harry’s reading a tax return upside down and Louis’ half watching him and half trying to remember his medical history off the top of his head. 

“Do I have TB?” he asks, pondering, and Harry smiles and kicks him. It’s a little thin for Louis’ liking, but he’ll take it. 

“Do you have TB?” Louis asks, pointing at accusingly him with his pen, “something you’re not telling me?” 

The flinch makes Louis’ heart stop. 

“Shut up,” Harry murmurs, “I’m a perfectly healthy specimen of a human being.” 

Louis raises an eyebrow as though unconvinced, and wills his pulse to slow. 

“S’weird, isn’t it,” he murmurs suddenly, out of the blue, “it could be, like. A year. And we’ll like, have a baby.” 

Harry’s smile flickers.

“Yeah,” he says. 

“I was talking to my Mum the other day,” he says, snuggling down into the couch for a bit, ankles wound round Harry’s, “and she said that the first few weeks are like, twilight zone shit. Like you can’t really believe it, y’know, because there’s just this tiny person clinging to you who, like, absolutely needs you. She was doing a post-natal callout, the other day, with this couple, one of the guys’ sister was their surrogate, and she said she nearly started crying because it reminded her of—" 

“Stop,” Harry says suddenly, and everything goes very still. 

Louis realises, in that moment, that he’s been clicking his pen, and now his finger’s just hovering over the button, like he’s forgotten how to move. 

The lump rises in Louis’ throat out of nowhere. It hits him, suddenly, how ridiculous this is, how they’re sitting here making plans more long term than anything in the world, and Harry can’t even look at him. 

They’ve had their rough patches before. Had fights that lasted weeks, had one winter break where Harry stayed at Liam and Dani’s, Christmas 2009 where Louis told him to fuck right off out of his Mum’s house. It’s happened, they’ve never been Zayn and Perrie, miraculously able to get over any bump with a shrug and a fuck. But this, this has never happened before. They’ve never been in limbo. 

And limbo needs to end, because all of a sudden, Louis can’t not know anymore. It goes against every instinct of self-preservation he has, but he makes himself sit up, move closer. 

“Haz?” he asks gently, “you…everything alright?” 

Harry takes a breath, closes his eyes for a second. 

“What’s wrong, love?” he asks again, voice barely there, scooting forward, and Harry flinches away, bites his lip and shakes his head. 

“Don’t, Lou,” he says quietly, “please, just don’t.” 

And Louis’ heard that so, so many times lately – maybe not in so many words, but it’s there. Every time Harry goes for a spontaneous run with Liam, every time he’s in the study working late, every time Louis’ felt that panicky tug in his chest because Harry’s floating away from him in infinitesimally tiny waves.

“You’re scaring the shit out of me,” he says, voice blunt and cracked, he can hear it, can here the façade falling around them, “we’re…we’re sitting here, doing all this,” he says, gesturing at the table and the floor scattered in paper and references and medical records and everything from their gas bills to their bank statements, “and you won’t even look me in the eye right now.” 

Harry blinks, looks up, like Louis’ set him a challenge. He doesn’t say a word. Anything, Louis wants to yell, say anything. Make it better.

Instead, instead he does this. 

“Louis,” he says, and Louis can’t remember the last time his voice sounded like that; going up at the end, almost guilty. That thought makes Louis freeze. “Lou, we need to—“ 

“You can’t,” Louis says quickly, harsh, “you can’t fucking break up with me. Not here, not like this.” 

And Louis isn’t expecting Harry’s eyes to fill with tears, but they do. 

“I’m not,” Harry says, almost broken, and Louis can hear the heaviness in his breath and the see the rise and fall of his chest, and then, “Jesus, I wouldn’t…Lou. Lou, I fucked up.” 

Louis’ blood turns cold, but he makes himself take a breath, swallow back the panic and the tiny scream in his throat. He makes himself take Harry’s hand, prepare for whatever this is, for the unraveling of the last ten weeks. 

“Okay,” he says slowly, “well, that’s okay. It’s gonna be okay, we can fix it, yeah?” 

Harry’s smile, bitter and watery, makes Louis want to break in two. He says nothing, but Louis can see the words in his mouth like bile, can see the way they’re there and getting closer to being here; like the will to splash into a particularly cold pool or the burst of adrenaline that comes before jumping out of a plane and floating to the ground. 

Somehow, Louis thinks they’re not going to land so well. 

“Talk to me, darling,” he murmurs in Harry’s ear, his face in his hands, kissing his cheeks and his nose and the corner of his mouth, like if he kisses him enough he can suck the poison out, “tell me. It’s okay, it’s okay.” 

And Harry’s crying just a little bit now, wipes roughly at his eyes and sits up straight, like he needs space, needs a crack between them to fill with whatever’s on his lips. 

Louis doesn’t understand why he needs to be so far away. 

“Lou,” he says, raspy and dry, “you have to stop.” 

“Stop what?” Louis asks immediately, voice high, immediate, stop what, stop what, stop what, I’ll stop anything.

“Looking at me like…like you can fix it.” 

“I can,” Louis says, reaching over to him again, but Harry flinches, “I love you. And I’m like, here for it, you know, whatever it is that’s making you—“ 

“I slept with someone else.” 

And the first thing Louis thinks is that now, yeah, he knows why Harry wanted to be so far away. 

And then he knows nothing at all, and his heart’s caught somewhere between beats, and he thinks this might be what it’s like to drown. He can hear the blood freeze in his head, feel his limbs lock into place, eyes forgetting to blink. They’re absolutely still, and Louis doesn’t speak what feels like an interminably long time. 

“You what?” he asks. It’s not even a whisper. It’s a breath. 

Harry’s crying properly now, silent but constant. His lips are pulled into a line and his eyes are brimming and all Louis can see is the way his knuckles are white from holding his knees. 

“I’m sorry,” he says shakily, and it’s like a bullet, tears through Louis so fast that he flinches, “Louis, I’m so—“ he cuts himself off, squeezes his eyes shut, and Louis sees stars in the corners of his vision and realises he hasn’t taken a breath.

It’s his first breath this side of the line, and he very nearly stops midway. 

It’s so, so fucking quiet.

“I,” he says, still barely audible, “I, Harry, I…are we talking college? Or, or what, when you went backpacking…” 

He trails off, because he has no idea what he’s asking, why he’s asking it. If he wants to know the answer to any of the questions in his head. He has no idea how to do this. He’s been dating the same boy since he was nineteen.

For the first time, the nausea hits him like a train. 

“Don’t say this year,” he whispers suddenly over the lump in his throat, because Harry hasn’t said a word, and he’s not looking like he wants to, “don’t fucking say it. Don’t say it was after…” he looks to his right, to the table scattered in papers and plans and things that scream forever. “Shit, H, don’t…don’t fucking do it to me.” 

Harry swallows. It’s all Louis needs. 

“Oh fuck,” he murmurs, and he untangles his legs from Harry’s suddenly, puts his feet on the floor, combs his fingers through his hair. He wonders what to say next. Wants to ask who he was, if indeed it was a he at all, if that would make it better or worse. Wants to know how many times, wants to know when, when was it that Harry lied – was it the trips to the gym, the working late, the going to get take out, all of it, wants to know what he looked like, if he looked like Louis, if he was a bigger guy, who could hold Harry down and make him— 

It’s too much, and he breathes out harshly, stands up before he throws up. 

“Louis,” Harry says miserably, and Louis can’t hear his voice unless he’s asked him to speak, like some last tendril of control, so jumps back in. 

“Do I know them?” he asks quietly. 

Harry stares at him, shakes his head.

“No,” he says, scratchy, “Lou, I barely fucking know him, I swear, I swear on my life—“ 

“Shut the fuck up,” Louis says, and the room drops silent in an instant. 

“It was nothing,” Harry says quickly, once a beat has passed, “I promise you, it was nothing, I was drunk and scared of, of all of this and h—“ 

Louis rounds on him so fast that the words freeze in Harry’s throat, eyes wide and unnerved. 

“What the fuck are you playing at?” he spits, “you don’t get to talk right now, unless I fucking want you to. That’s how this works.” 

He doesn’t expect the red hot flash of anger, he doesn’t expect anything he’s feeling right now. His head is so, so sore, all of a sudden, and he winces at in involuntarily. 

The anger fades; he feels grey. 

“How many times?” he asks, eyes shut, left hand running over his face, massaging his temple for a second. 

Harry takes so long to answer that Louis wants to shake him. 

“Three,” he says hoarsely, and Louis’ eyes fly open at that, stomach lurches, because he was expecting once with everything in his body. 

“Three?” he echoes, and it is inexplicably now, during all of this, that his eyes fill with tears for the first time, “Jesus fucking Christ,” he says, and then like the gravity of this has hit him properly, slower, Jesus, fucking, Christ. 

“It’s not like that,” Harry says miserably, and he looks like he wants to stand, only Louis thinks he’ll kill him if he moves, if he comes any closer, “I promise. I promise you, it wasn’t, it wasn’t an…” 

“What?” Louis asks, “wasn’t what? An affair? Just three drunk shags, you think that makes it—“ 

He cuts himself off, voice cracking before he can say better, before he can do any of this, before his legs start shaking so much that he has to sit down again, falls heavily into the arm chair across from the couch. 

He’s going to burn that couch, he thinks straight away. Burn it to ash. Then their sheets, then their bed. Then he’s going to burn this place to the ground, and maybe, if they’re lucky, he’ll spare the rest of the building.

“I’m so sorry, Lou, I’m so, so, sorry,” Harry’s stumbling over his words, saying them again and again, and Louis almost tells him to get his inhaler before that thought makes his chest lurch, “I’m so sorry. It was a mistake, and, and, it was stupid, and I can’t live with that, without you knowing, without—“ 

“I don’t give a shit,” Louis says, words ripping slow and deadly through the room, “what you can live with.” 

Harry falls quiet, and Louis looks at him for four whole seconds before it’s just too much, and he has to look away, before the next tear rolls and the next hot-faced apology trails miserably from his lips. 

“Get out,” Louis says suddenly, “right now, get out.” 

He stands suddenly, walks to the window over the kitchen sink and stays there, unmoving, knuckles whitening where he’s leaning his weight. 

“No,” Harry murmurs, “Lou, don’t—“ 

“I don’t care where you go,” Louis says, voice starting to tremble behind the layers of dangerous calm he’s settled himself behind, “I don’t care. I don’t fucking care. Just get out.” 

Harry’s palms are pressed to his eyes, Louis can see in his periphery, the way he stands, like he’s aching to walk over, like he’s too petrified to actually do it. 

Louis wants to hit him, and he wants to cry, and he wants to sink to the kitchen floor and never get up again. 

Mostly, though, he just wants Harry to leave. 

“Get out,” he says again, and Harry doesn’t move, keeps fucking standing there like a lost dog, “I swear to God, H…” he cuts himself off, bites his lip, “Harry,” he corrects, “just get the fuck out.” 

And Harry, after opening and closing his mouth once, then twice, walks to the door and gets his coat. He shrugs it on silently save for the sniffles and the occasional hitched breath, picks up his keys, and looks back to the kitchen for a moment. 

“I love you,” he says, and Louis drops his head, finds himself staring at the drain. There’s a piece of corn in the sink from stirfry last night. 

“You don’t get to say that anymore,” Louis says quietly, “I…I know you can’t live with it, but I don’t know where the fuck you got the idea that I could.”

He can hear Harry’s brain whirring, almost, can see the absolutely broken expression on his face. 

“Get out!” he yells, and as soon as the door slams seconds later, Louis finally lets his legs give out. He doesn’t get up for a long, long time. 

** 

The sun is creeping through the cracks in the shutters and it’s making Louis want to kill something. Not metaphorically, either, but kill something with his bare hands, obliterate an actual organism. 

It’s lucky Zayn’s the only person in spitting distance, because of all the sentient beings in the world, Louis probably wants him alive the most.

“Tell me this isn’t happening.” 

His voice is vacant, he can hear it himself. Harry’s been gone for three days. Zayn’s been here for an hour and they’ve had tea and Louis’ thrown it up for no good reason. Too much milk, or something, too much fucking everything. 

The sun’s getting brighter. He doesn’t know why that surprises him. 

“Lou,” Zayn says, and it’s the first time they’ve said anything in sixty minutes. Louis supposes it’s the first time he’s acknowledged it out loud, except to Harry. He clenches his fist. 

He should call his mum, and his chest heaves with that, rises right off the couch, and Zayn grips his ankle tighter. 

“Tell me this isn’t happening,” he says again, and he wonders why he hasn’t yelled yet, “please.” 

“I can’t,” Zayn whispers in the dark. Why’s it so fucking dark, Louis wonders, it makes him want to kill something. 

It seems to be a pattern, of sorts. 

“It’s like a fucking coffin in here,” he says suddenly, too loud, sitting bolt upright and flicking the shutters open, “Jesus Christ, no one’s died.” 

Zayn bites his lip as Louis flops back down. It feels like there’s something underneath his skin, like the scream from that night is still trapped in his throat. 

“D’you wanna talk about it?” he asks quietly, “d’you wanna go out? We can, I dunno. Get coffee. Get a train to somewhere. Go to fuckin’ Paris, I dunno.” 

“As tempting as the city of love is,” Louis snaps, and Zayn shuts up. 

“Sorry,” he mutters a moment later, and the anger is white hot and simmering right from his legs to his head and he can’t fucking shake it. 

“You wanna get drunk?” Zayn asks tentatively, “we’re good at that.” 

Louis does not want to get drunk. Louis wants to hit Zayn right in his pretty face because it’s not fair, that he gets to be fine and Louis gets to feel like someone’s harvested his organs and sold them on the Soviet black market. He wants to hit Zayn and then he wants to hit Harry and then he wants Harry to fuck him and then he wants Harry to die and then he wants Harry to come back to life and then he wants to go to Spain with him and then he wants him to explain why he did it and then he wants Harry to die again, and again, and again, and then maybe they’ll be even, or something. 

He wonders where Harry is, and the thought makes angry tears prick up. 

“I want to fucking kill him,” Louis says hoarsely, and he’s sure the only reason he’s not on the streets right now looking for him is Zayn’s hand on his ankle, “you know the first thing that I thought, when he told me?” 

“No,” Zayn says, carefully blank. 

“I thought about burning this couch,” he says, “I thought about burning everything. Why did I think that?” 

Zayn doesn’t answer. 

“Lou,” he says, but Louis cuts him off, anger hissing underneath his skin.

“Don’t, Malik,” he spits, “just fucking don’t. I didn’t call you for the fucking monogamy lecture, so don’t even go there. I’m not fucking interested. Don’t say it, don’t breathe a word of it, don’t give me any of it, because I can’t fucking deal with that right now.” 

The venom in his own voice scares the shit out of him enough to make him sit up. Zayn looks like he’s been run over by a bus.

“I wouldn’t,” he says, shocked, “Louis. I would never. That’s…that’s my thing. Our thing. Pez and I. I would…I would never.” 

“I know,” Louis murmurs into his hands, and he doesn’t expect the surge of fucking feeling that courses through him, and then his tears are spilling over for what feels like the first time, but is really only the first time in front of someone else, “oh, Jesus.” 

And then Zayn’s there and his palms are rubbing circles into Louis’ back and his shoulder’s soaked by Louis’ eyes squeezing shut, and Louis feels like he’s going to throw up again.

“I’m so angry,” he says quietly, muffled into Zayn’s shirt, “and it’s not enough. I don’t. I can’t. I don’t know what I’m meant to do.” 

“I know, babe,” he murmurs into Louis’ hair, listening to him cry, “m’right here. What can I do?” 

Louis doesn’t hear him, doesn’t hear anything except for the most dreadful thought that’s made itself known so far. 

“I love him so much.” His breath hitches in his chest and for a moment he’s shaking so hard he feels like he’s about to die. “I love him so, so much.”

It takes him a second to make himself take a breath. When he does, Louis’ pretty sure Zayn’s not coping with this, so he wipes his eyes and sniffs in a way that’s entirely unattractive. Harry’d kill him for it.

Jesus.

“Sorry,” he says, “I didn’t mean to make it, like—“ 

“Louis fuckin’ Tomlinson, are you listening to me right now?” Zayn asks slowly, tilting his head up with his index finger, “you can say, or do, or fucking scream, anything you want to, okay, and I’m gonna be right here for all of it.” 

All of it. It sounds so big. It makes him want to crawl under the couch and actually, physically die. 

“Okay,” he says instead, taking the most unsure breath he’s ever mustered, “fuck, right, okay.” 

He clears his throat, then closes his eyes again. He loves him so much. 

“I need you to do something for me,” he says loudly, if only it was louder than his head. He stands up, paces the room twice. Zayn just nods, like he knows Louis needs to be in control, or at least give the appearance of it. 

“I need you to turn, like, some very angry music on very loud. And I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom and try very hard not to kill myself. And you’re going to throw all of this shit away.” 

He gestures at the pile of forms and papers and adoption agency brochures that he still hasn’t touched, and he does not look at them. 

“Just. Get rid of them. Burn them, preferably, take a shit on them, I don’t care. Rip them to shreds, put ‘em in a bin very far from anywhere I’ll ever go. I can’t keep walking past it or I’m going to…” he stops. Whatever. Superlatives and hyperbole and all the exaggeration in the world lost their meaning three days ago. 

Zayn nods. 

“And then. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll keep trying very hard not to kill myself and we’re going to drink a lot of vodka and if I die it will be a happy accident.” 

Zayn looks at him like his plan has some flaws. He’s potentially correct. Louis doesn’t care, mostly because his layer of control right now is very thin and if he starts to think beyond the next five minutes he’s going to fall down and cry and he probably won’t be able to stand up again. 

“Okay?” he asks, and Zayn looks at him dubiously.

“Okay,” he says, “you should eat some food.” 

“When I say I’m trying very hard not to kill myself,” Louis says as he floats down the hall, “I mean, I’ll move out of the way if a piano falls through the ceiling. Probably.” 

“So no food?” Zayn calls, “I’ll get you whatever you want.” 

“No,” Louis says, and moments later he hears Zayn start up some Metallica. The bathroom tiles are cold underneath his feet. He used to stand on Harry’s feet, in winter, and fuck that. Fuck it all. 

On a whim he snaps Harry’s purple plastic toothbrush in half, and for a second it makes everything okay, so he snaps his razor too, then his fucking fancy lavender soap from Italy, throwing the pieces in the bath. He pours his aftershave down the sink and he smashes the bottle in a spare drawer and he throws his moisturizer into the bin so hard that it splits in two. He has no idea how he’s doing it, it’s like some hulk cross mother-with-a-baby-trapped-under-a-car shit, and well, isn’t that a fucking great joke, babies, and to stop himself from punching the mirror he bites down very hard on his wrist and throws out every bottle of lube in their bathroom, and then smashes his own aftershave, crushes Harry’s expensive bath salts down the sink and holds himself up on the counter and cries until Zayn drags him out and pours half his liquor cabinet down his throat. 

That is day three, and it barely registers as a low in the grand scheme of things. 

** 

More than anything, he wishes it wasn’t June. 

Actually, more than anything he wishes the only person he’s ever fallen in love with hadn’t fucked someone else three times while Louis sat at home with a stack of adoption papers waiting to take the definitive leap into long term commitment with him, but that’s neither here nor there. 

So, more than anything, he wishes it wasn’t June, because he has two months and a week left of summer break and therefore no reason to even try and pull himself together. 

He still hasn’t died, which is unfortunate, because waking up every day is a massive fucking downer. 

There’s a knock at his bedroom door, and automatically he rolls over onto his side and pretends to be asleep. 

“I know you’re awake,” his mother says gently, smile in her voice, and Louis frowns like he’s fifteen and being woken up for school.

“No you don’t,” he grumbles back, and he hears her laugh quietly before opening the door. 

He turns to scowl at her, and for the thousandth time in his life his chest actually hurts because she’s so, so wonderful. 

He mustered up the wherewithal to call her on day eight. She already knew, of course, that something was wrong, because Louis normally calls every other day and Harry will usually at least text Lottie once a week and throw in a say hi to your mum for me for good measure. He sat on the balcony and chain-smoked half a pack of Zayn’s cigarettes and when he finally told her he focused very hard on a dent in the plastic chair across from him.

Louis focuses on tiny things a lot when he tells people because if he feels like he’s talking to a scratch on the wall or a dead pixel in the TV it makes it marginally easier.

Coincidentally, that’s a total load of bullshit, but he tells himself poetic nothings like that in the vain hope this is all a particularly bad dream. 

He hadn’t asked her to come down, because she has a job and the twins are still at home and if there’s anyone with a stupidly busy life that doesn’t need her twenty-six year old son asking her to drive three hours south and stay in the flat he until recently shared with his boyfriend of seven years, it’s probably her. He could never, ever ask that of her, feels bad as it is being self-indulgent enough to cry at her for an hour on a Wednesday night when she’s got mouths to feed and loads of washing to run and a shift the next morning. 

When she’d offered, he’d said no, before being politely informed that he didn’t actually have a choice. So he’d hung up and kicked Zayn out, put his spare key under the doormat and went to bed until she got there. 

This is the third day she’s knocked on his door to get him up and he loves her so much that for a second, he forgets that his life is over. 

Then he remembers, so turns his head into his pillow and tries not to scream as she opens the blinds. She makes a little sound, comes and sits on the edge of the bed and puts a hand on his leg. 

She doesn’t ask anything stupid like how’re you going? or feeling any better?, just sits there and waits for him to talk. 

“I’m hungry,” he says blankly, and she squeezes his knee.

“You want a fry up?” 

“No.” 

“What do you want?” 

“I want to die.” 

He’s not entirely sure how serious he is when he says that. Zayn always took it Very Seriously, and it had pissed Louis off for no good reason. Everything pisses him off for no good reason. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t give him concerned eyebrows, just nods, runs a hand over his back. 

“I know, baby,” she says, “you might feel like that for a little bit.” 

She has this wonderful way of talking where nothing is forever and everything is changeable. He feels like he can breathe around it, when she talks like that; you might, a little bit. 

“And then what?” 

She doesn’t answer straight away, so he turns onto his side and cracks an eye open. She smiles, runs a cool hand over his cheek like when he was in primary school with a raging fever. Well, either with a fever, or after he’d run the blowdryer over his forehead to get out of school. He wonders why he ever thought that’d work; she’s a fucking registered nurse. 

“Why don’t we just do this for now, hm?” she says, and he nods. That sounds less awful than anything else. 

“I should get out of bed,” he says quietly. 

“Do you want to?”

“No,” he says, and not that she asked, but, “the sheets still smell like him.” 

And then there it is again, and he feels so dreadfully little and so fucking pathetic, more than anything, just pathetic, and he fists a hand into his pillow and tries not to cry. 

“Oh, Lou,” she says, and he doesn’t wait for her to ask, just sits up and falls sort of miserably into her, almost overrun with how fucking instinctively comforting it is to be able to give her a hug. There’s no one else, absolutely no one, he’d rather be with right now. Bar one, maybe, but he’s not an option. 

He doesn’t really even realise when he cries anymore because it all feels the same in his head; tears and smashing arbitrary objects Harry holds dear and insomnia and whatever’s in between. But he must be, because she’s stroking his hair and kissing his cheek like she did those handful of other times he’s cried on her shoulder since he was fourteen, so he wills himself to sit up, stop. 

“Sorry,” he murmurs, “I love you.” 

“I love you too, baby,” she says, and he smiles at that tearily. 

“You used to call me that in front of my friends,” eyes closed and head on her shoulder, “when I was like, fifteen.” 

“Only by accident,” she says, and her hands don’t stop moving down his back and he could probably fall asleep like this. She gives a little laugh into his hair. “You’d get furious at me for it. Wouldn’t do anything I asked for bloody days.” 

He smiles. He wishes he was fifteen. Maybe not, actually, maybe eighteen. Maybe five. He doesn’t know, but he wishes he wasn’t here. 

So embarrassing, Mum,” he says in a voice more resembling that of a Neanderthal than his teenage self, and she snorts.

“You’re kidding yourself if you think your voice’s ever been that low.” 

He laughs. It’s nice. He wishes he could stay here forever, could keep her forever, so he wriggles forward until she gets the message and holds him tighter. 

“Can I ask you something?” he says shakily, and he squeezes his eyes shut for a minute, wonders if his tear ducts are getting paid overtime for this.

“You can absolutely ask me anything,” she says, “you can ask me anything or tell me anything whenever you want to.” 

He rolls his eyes. 

“You know, if I’d known that was a pre-prepared opening in times of traumatic life events, it would’ve comforted me a lot less when I came out.” 

She smiles into his hair. “What’s on your mind?”

And right, yeah. Can’t deflect with his mother. He forgets that sometimes. He sits up slowly, wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. 

“I don’t want to, like. Bring up things that’ll upset you,” he says thickly, “but.” He swallows, waits for her to nod, blurry as it might be to him right now. 

“How’d you do it?” he whispers, “how did you just…start getting up in the morning. And, and going to work, and eating when you were meant to, and seeing your friends without wanting to kill them. How did you just…be okay?”

She looks at him for a moment, smile at the corners of her mouth.

“First or second time?” she asks wryly, and he visibly pales, rubs his eyes. 

“Sorry,” he says, “sorry, I shouldn’t’ve—“ 

“I’m kidding,” she says, drawing him back in for a moment, “shh, I’m kidding. You want to know, really?” she asks, and he nods. “Well, the first time I had a beautiful little baby who needed me to be okay. So I was. And the second time I had, for all his attempts to convince me otherwise, the best boy in the world doing far more than I could’ve possibly asked of him. That’s how I was okay.” 

“That answer doesn’t help me,” he mutters, “also it’s lame.” 

“I know,” she says, “that’s why I didn’t tell you earlier.” 

She kisses his hair and he feels, suddenly, panicked. 

“I don’t think I can do this,” he says, “I don’t think…shit. Shit. He’s just…” he falters miserably, “he’s it, for me. He’s always been it. He’s my favourite person in the world and he’s the best person I know and…Mum,” he croaks, as though she can fix it, “I love him so much. I think I hate him and I break his stuff and I say I want to kill him, and I just. I love him so much. And he didn’t…fuck. I don’t. I don’t know. I can’t even think about it. I don’t think I can do this.” 

He needs her to say something, needs her to tell him otherwise, but she doesn’t. She lets him sit there until he starts breathing like a normal human being and opens his eyes, and then she tugs him up to his feet so she can hug him properly, and he wants to smash his head against her shoulder until he passes out. 

“I know,” is all she says, and it’s the first person Louis’ believed it from, “I know. But you’re gonna be okay, Lou,” she murmurs, “you’re gonna be okay.” 

“You have no proof of that,” he says, “you’re the strongest person I know. I’ve never had to be like that before. I don’t think I can do it.” 

She doesn’t say anything for a long, long moment. 

“Well, hey,” she says, “got out of bed, didn’t you?” 

Yes, he supposes, he did. Fan-fucking-tastic. He lifts his head and bites the inside of his cheek and keeps trying not to scream. Gently, he lets her go and pulls the door open and walks down the hall. 

“Where’re you going?” she asks calmly. 

“I haven’t snapped his favourite records yet,” he says, “so I’m going to do that. Starting with the Stones ones.”

“Why?” 

It’s the first time anyone’s asked him that since he’s started making his way through each room and breaking all of Harry’s things. It makes him stop. 

“Because it’s the only thing that makes me feel okay,” he says slowly, before looking at her again, like he’s twelve and needs her to validate everything he does, “it’s like. If I break enough of his shit, maybe I won’t be angry. Or maybe he’ll feel like I do. Or something. I don’t know.”

She nods. 

“Want to help me with breakfast instead?” she asks. 

He levels with her from across the room, half expects her to hold her hand out and lead him to the kitchen. She doesn’t, but it’s in her eyes, and he relinquishes with a sigh. 

“Can I crack the eggs?” he mutters darkly, and she laughs, nods him over to the fridge. 

** 

The thing about having his world shat on by the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, is that, well. That’s exactly it. It’s not the world, it’s his, and at the three-week mark crisis mode ends for everyone else and Louis doesn’t know how to deal with that. There’s an expectation, unspoken, but he can feel it, that he’s going to start being Okay now. Which is interesting, because yesterday he very calmly and calculatedly stepped out onto the balcony and burnt Harry’s college sweatshirt with his lighter and then broke two plates for not fitting into the dishwasher. 

His mum goes home, obviously, and it’s not that he was expecting her to stay forever, it’s just that he was expecting her to stay forever.  He makes out like he’s fine and he helps her pack up and he waits five minutes, just in case she’s forgotten something and comes back, until he curls up on the couch with his knees to his chest and tries not to feel like the loneliest person in the world. 

He doesn’t know how to do this. He doesn’t know how to move onto phase two like everyone else seems to be doing, mostly because he has no idea what phase two entails. He feels exactly like he did the first day, before he called anyone, before he pulled himself off the kitchen floor, only now he feels like he’s meant to feel something different. Like his blood’s not meant to boil anymore and he’s meant to want to go outside and he’s meant to, God, what, call his friends, or go out, or do something other than cry or sleep or smash his fist into a wall, and then there’s Harry and he can’t even, like, think about that. 

“Fuck,” he says to the empty flat, from where he’s lying aimlessly on the couch, “fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck.” 

He stops, and it’s too quiet. 

“Fuck!” he yells, and then again, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, as loud as he can, holding the u until his lungs are seconds from giving out on him. 

He goes to yell louder, but is cut off by a knock at his door, and Jesus Christ if it’s a neighbour coming to tell him to keep it down he’ll go back to his original plan of burning everything, and this time include the building. 

Every time someone knocks at the door, a little part of him hopes it’s going to be Harry.

This time, however, it’s not. He opens it with his heart in his throat, and it’s Niall. Louis blinks at him for a long moment, because he’s quite literally seen no one but his mother and Zayn and the pizza guy and Lottie via Skype for three weeks. 

“Hey,” Niall says, like he’s turned up at a house party and not the end of Louis’ existence, “I have beer.” 

Niall. Beer. Okay. His brain is short-circuiting, but can do this. He clears his throat. 

“I’m more of a hard liquor man these days,” Louis says faintly, “but. Um. Hey. Come in.” 

If Louis had to place bets on where Harry’s staying, Niall’s wouldn’t be bottom of the list. He’s probably, realistically, with that group of people Louis doesn’t really know, with Lou or someone, but if he had to choose someone Harry would go to out of the five of them, it would probably be Niall. 

And it’s nothing personal, because Louis loves Niall more than he loves most of his extended relatives and pot noodle and his black Topman jeans combined, but he is not going to let anyone come here and do Harry’s bidding for him. 

He knows he’ll have to talk to Harry again at some point in his life, he realised that three days ago, in the midst of throwing his favourite brown boots in the charity collection down the road. He’s just hoping that piano crashes through the ceiling before he gets to it. 

“Hey,” Niall says, closing the door and following Louis inside. 

Louis has never had an awkward encounter with Niall Horan in his life. He has walked in on Niall Horan having sex with two other people more than once in college and he can still definitively say they have never exchanged an awkward silence through the entire eight years of their friendship. 

Everything changes, Louis supposes. 

“Look—“ 

“Lou—“ 

They stop. Niall gives a little laugh. 

“This is weird, isn’t it,” he says, and Louis smiles. What a word for it. Weird. 

“I’d say cataclysmic,” he jokes weakly, “but weird works too.” 

“Yeah,” Niall says, looking at the ground, and then something changes. He sighs, looks Louis right in the eye, and the pity Louis’ been dreading seeing there for weeks now is, mercifully, absent. Mostly, he just looks a little retrospective. “Hey, look. I have beer and a bunch of shit Zayn told me to bring round, but mostly I just wanna give you a hug. You’re like. You’re one of my favourite people, Lou. S’it okay if I give you a hug and hang around for a bit? I miss you.” 

Louis feels so many things all the time, now, but one of the things he’s absolutely learnt is that he’s somehow lucky enough to be surrounded by the best people in the world. 

“I’d like that a lot,” he says, and Niall’s all smiles and about time eye rolls, and then he’s pulling Louis in and swaying them side to side and laughing into his ear.

“Christ, Lou, have a shave would you,” Niall says, “s’like hugging fuckin’ Santa.” 

“I broke all the razors,” Louis says bluntly, “and like. Everything else, too. So.” 

“Yeah, Zayn said,” Niall nods, letting him go, “got you a new pack. And like, groceries and whatever. And soap. No offence mate, but I’m glad I did, because you smell like shit.” 

The soap here smells like Harry, Louis thinks, so does the shampoo. So does everything. 

He doesn’t say it out loud, because making Niall sad is worthy of trial at The Hague. He just. He doesn’t know. It’s nice, to have someone he feels like he’s not exclusively weighing down with all of his bullshit. 

“Legend,” he says instead, “what else?” 

“Popcorn,” Niall says, “which was gonna be mine, but. You can have it. Beer. Strawberries? I don’t know why, really, but—“ 

“I love you,” Louis says, draping himself over Niall’s shoulders as he rifles through the bag, “I miss you. I’m tired.” 

“You wanna go to bed, Tommo?” he asks, “watch a movie?” 

Louis goes to say yes, but it sticks in his throat. If they were to go to bed, Niall would be getting in next to Louis. That’s Harry’s side. He doesn’t even let himself there anymore, bar once, one weak moment awake in the early morning last week, rolling over to find him not there. 

“No,” he says quickly, “let’s stay out here. You mentioned something about beer?” 

“Thought you’d never ask,” Niall says, “put something on telly, I’ll deal with all this shit.” 

He does. He restocks the fridge and tidies up, a bit, the shitstorm of destruction that Louis’ become accustomed to since he broke that first toothbrush reduced to something resembling manageable. He takes the garbage out and does the dishes and is on his way down the hall when Louis calls after him. 

“Where’re you going?” 

“Fresh sheets,” he calls back, and Louis’ heart slips into panic mode for the first time all afternoon. 

“Don’t,” he says, too loud, “please.” 

It sounds plaintive, weak. He doesn’t care. He hasn’t screamed yet, but if Niall so much as goes in there, he might. He could barely handle his Mum perched on the edge of the bed, let alone fresh sheets, someone scratching up everything that’s still them, the them before all of this. 

Niall doesn’t press it, appears a few seconds later and falls down on the couch next to him, and there’s a Seinfeld marathon on one of the channels Harry insists they pay for and they’re halfway through The Checks when Louis can’t take it anymore. 

“Man, he’s sick,” Niall grins, presumably pointing at Kramer, “it takes a lot to be funny like that, I reck—“ 

“How is he?” 

Louis hasn’t asked anyone about Harry in three and a half weeks. He’s not called Harry, not sent a text. He wouldn’t know if he’s received either, because Zayn and his Mum did a pretty good job of round the clock selective screening. It’s been radio silence. He hasn’t asked. Hasn’t wanted to know, mostly, couldn’t know, but something about Niall being here, about the net widening fractionally, has Louis panicked. It’s real, now, realer than before. Everyone knows. He hasn’t considered that before, but everyone knows. Niall knows, so Ellie would know, so Greg would know, so douchebag Nick from uni could know, feasibly. If he knows, there’s a high likelihood that everyone knows. 

And Louis doesn’t even know how Harry is. 

“I dunno,” Niall says with a shrug, eyes still on the TV, “he got into some shit a couple years back, some racist thing he said on stage—“ 

“Not Michael fucking Richards,” Louis says quietly, and then Niall freezes, flicks the telly to mute and turns to him. 

“You haven’t asked anyone else that,” he says quietly, picking at the couch, quirking a sad smile, “you think I’m a double agent?” 

Louis shoves him in an effort to remain calm.

“Zayn’s the only other person I’ve spoken to,” he says, “and I know he’s like. Not seeing him. Or whatever.” 

Niall nods, then looks up at Louis, and Louis is surprised by the intensity in his eyes. 

“I hope you’re not, like, mad, that I’m not freezing him out,” he says quickly, muddled, “because I know he fucked up. I know that, and, and that’s not in dispute. But, like, everything’s a bit up in the air? And that’s not me telling you it shouldn’t be, or whatever, but it’s just a fact. And I guess. I don’t know, it sounds less shitty in my head, but I guess, like? He could use someone there too? Even though it’s his fault.” 

Louis doesn’t say anything, tries to process all of that. 

“Shit,” Niall murmurs, “Lou, I’m sorry. I didn’t—“ 

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Louis says, and it’s truthful, “I get it. Really, I do.” 

Niall nods, and Louis can’t take this.

“How is he?” he barely whispers, and Niall flinches. 

“Like,” he says, “bad? Really bad, y’know.” 

“Good,” Louis snaps without thinking, tries to breathe; calm the anger coiling in his stomach, “I mean. Okay. Whatever.” 

Niall’s brow’s furrowed, like he’s confused, and he is, probably. He’s never seen Louis like this before. Louis’ never seen Louis like this before. 

“He’s called,” Niall says, “like, a lot.” 

“I wouldn’t know. I said I didn’t want to talk to him, so. Zayn and my Mum, y’know. Dealt with my phone, and stuff.” 

“Yeah,” Niall says, “well. I think he’d be ready to talk, or whatever, when you are.” 

“Well how fucking good of him,” Louis mutters, before catching himself. It’s not Niall’s fault. It’s not Niall’s fault, or Zayn’s fault, or Liam’s fault, and he wonders, fleetingly, where the fuck Liam is. It’s not on any of them. 

For the first time, he allows himself to wonder just who’s fault it is, and he has to close his eyes for a minute. 

“Sorry,” Niall says, “Lou, I’m so, so sorry. I can…d’you want me to go?”

Louis blinks at him, tries to smile. 

“Not really,” he says, “but it’s not exactly a laugh a minute here, and it’s Saturday, so. Don’t let me keep you in this chamber of misery.” 

“D’you wanna go out?” Niall asks.

“No,” Louis says, immediate, tired, “I just. I got out of bed before midday today, and that’s like, a win for me, lately. I don’t think—“ 

“—No, s’fine,” Niall says hurriedly, “I just though I’d check. Hey,” he says gently, “you want some good news, though?” 

Louis smiles, closes his eyes. “There is nothing I want more,” he says, “hit me.” 

“Next episode’s The Chicken Roaster,” he says, moving up the couch till he’s tucked into Louis’ side, “and we have beer, and popcorn.” 

“And strawberries,” Louis says, and Niall laughs. 

“You’re gonna be okay, Tommo,” he says, “everything’s gonna work out. Yeah?” 

Louis doesn’t respond, just turns the TV up. Tell me this isn’t happening; it’s the first thing he said, and he’s still waiting for it to come. 

** 

According to Cosmo, a month marks the time to take stock and get logical. He has no idea why he’s reading Cosmo articles, but that was the first hit after he googled how to get over your partner cheating, so. He’s reading Cosmo. 

On the long, long list of very fucked up things going on in his life at the moment, it’s the least of his worries. 

Up until now, he supposes, everyone’s been getting logical for him. Niall took a load of Harry’s shit for him the other day, Zayn pops in with food and hugs four times a week, stole his PayPal details out of his phone and pays his bills when they’re due, and his Mum calls at midday, rain, hail or shine, to get him up. People start creeping back into his life, too, start inviting him out again. For the most part, he doesn’t go. He can’t do it. Last Friday, when he was feeling less like throwing himself under a bus than usual, he finally gave in, went to lunch with Zayn and Liam and Niall and Perrie and Ellie, and as soon as he walked in, knew it was too much. He sat there for half an hour before making his excuses, and the nausea of being there without Harry stayed for a day. 

The point is – and his head hasn’t been great at being staying on topic lately – but the point is, he’s supposed to get logical. 

He hasn’t spoken to Harry in a month, which is something that until now he’s not been able to confront. He’s not really able to now, either, but there comes a point where it’s not a choice. He wonders if they’re broken up, technically, doesn’t want to think about that, if he owes him more than a get out and a box of his stuff, if he’s supposed to…well, what. Talk to him. Go to counseling with him. Fucking forgive him, and God, Louis can’t even think about him without wanting to find a very deep hole and fall into it, so he feels like that’s a lost cause, closes his laptop for a bit and takes a very long nap. 

Getting logical seems to be a catchphrase, because it’s what every goddamned self-help-improve-your-life-counselling-dot-com piece of shit website seems to be telling him. Things like inviting your partner to come and clear their stuff out, if it’s over. Things like getting coffee with them or inviting them to spend the night and reconnect. He’s meant to figure out how he’ll make rent and bills and work and commitments either in the new arc of his relationship or in the early stages of singledom. 

All the words make him want to vomit. He needs someone to do this for him, because he’s got no idea. None. Nada. Nein! Harry would shout, because when Louis was twenty-one they watched all of Hogan’s Heroes over three weeks at Harry’s stepdad’s bungalow and since then Harry’s had an affinity with German catchphrases. 

Louis hasn’t seen him in a month, and he throws up for the first time in weeks. 

Shit, he thinks, shit. 

Getting logical seems to be a task for someone far more equipped to deal with this than Louis, and three hours later he’s sat on the bathroom floor with an old bottle of Harry’s favourite fucking rum between his legs and his phone in his hand and all he wants is to hear Harry’s voice. 

It’s all he’s wanted for a week. It’s all he’s wanted since, for the first time with Niall, he spoke his name and the world didn’t cave in anymore than it already had. He wants to hear his voice. He wants to hit him. He wants to see his face as he’s fucking him slowly and when he’s fucking him fast and when he’s laughing drunkenly into his neck and fucking him seconds from passing out. He wants to feel the ridges in his hands and the dimple in his cheek and he wants his chicken-wrapped-in-ham-wrapped-in-love Friday night dinner special and he wants. Fuck. He wants him, so much, so overwhelmingly, that he smashes his head back against the bathroom cabinet and winces at the pain that rips through his skull. 

And fuck it, he thinks, and his brain is cloudy and the tiles are cold and when the tiles are cold Harry’s meant to be here and let him stand on his feet, so fuck it, fuck it all. 

He waits five seconds, just in case by some miracle someone’s going to knock and stop him doing this, and then he speed dials one, puts the phone on speaker, and closes his eyes. 

It rings once. It rings twice. The third ring is shaky and he thinks his signal cuts out but it rings a fourth time. And a fifth. He’s breathing too hard to hear the sixth but it rings a seventh, and then there’s a rustle, and he feels like his throat’s going to close over when— 

Hi, this is Harry Styles, I’m probably in a shoot or like…um, busy. But, uhh, leave your name and your number and I’ll get back to you. Cheers. 

The tone beeps, and suddenly it’s the closest they’ve been since he kicked him out four weeks ago. 

They were going to have a baby. 

“My feet are cold,” he says hoarsely, blinking that thought away, voice echoing softly off the tiles. He doesn’t know why he says it, but it’s what falls out first. “I walk in here every fucking night to brush my teeth and my feet are cold and it makes me think of you. D’you know how unfair that is?” he asks, clearing his throat, trying not to slur, “because I sit here fucking…fucking festering in this bullshit all day and you’re still in my head when I come to brush my fucking teeth.” 

His breathing is ragged and he can feel the lump in his throat and God, there was a time in his life he didn’t break down into alcohol-induced tears every day, but it seems like a long, long time ago. 

He pauses like he’s expecting Harry to say something.

“We were going to have a baby,” he says harshly, without warning, and it’s like bile in his mouth, “a fucking baby, and, and it was going to be so good. D’you know what it was like, to call my Mum after all that fucking happiness and tell her…” He can’t say it, hits his head back on the cabinet again. One tear rolls down his cheek, and he wipes it away, won’t cry, because he’s trying to be angry, he’s trying to hold it together. 

“You were the first person I ever told, about my Dad,” he says, louder, “and my fucking stepdad. You knew, more than anyone, why you, and fucking deciding to have a kid, and all the commitment bullshit was a big deal to me, and you did it anyway. You fucking went out there with all those hipster shits that you know and you fucked the first boy that’d have you,” he snarls, “and I hate you so, so fucking much sometimes, I hope you know that, I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anyone.” 

He has another drink and tries to calm down and he can’t, because this is his direct line to Harry and he wants to make him hurt, all of a sudden, the anger flaring like it did the first day with Zayn but a thousand times more, because he’s here. 

You’re such a selfish fucking bastard, Harry Styles,” he says, picking his phone up and speaking right into it, “I’m sat on this fucking floor because you’re sucha cunt, and I hope you listen to this a thousand times, and I hope you cry, and I hope, God, I hope—” 

And the sob that escapes him then takes him completely by surprise, ripping through him so wholly that he scratches his nails across the marble to try and make himself stop, and he can’t. 

“I miss you so much,” he says, voice wavering the whole time. He presses his lips together, palms to his eyes, knees to his chin, tries to stop himself falling to all the heart-stopping sadness just beneath the anger, “I miss you so, so fucking much, you don’t even know. I wake up in the middle of the night and I just…you used to be there,” he rasps, “you were fucking there every night for seven years, even when it was shitty. When it got hard. And I just. I don’t know how to wake up without you there. I don’t know what I did,” he croaks, finally, and the words sound strangled falling out, “I don’t know what I did, and I need to know, I need to fucking know, because I’ve sat here for a month and it’s the only thing I’ve thought about. The only thing, and I feel like maybe I’m going to die because it’s…it’s so big,” he whispers, “and I don’t know what I did to make that happen.” 

His breath hitches, and he’s so miserable, he realises. Definitively more than the anger and absolutely more than the hatred, he’s so, so fucking desolate and it’s so much fucking louder than anything else. 

“I was so happy,” he says, choked and wobbling, “I was so, so happy, and you just…you weren’t. You fucked someone else, three times,” he spits, “and I just…I don’t know how I’m meant to get over that. I don’t know how I’m meant to go through every day for the rest of my life knowing you were out there fucking someone else while I thought…” he blinks out a tear or two, “I thought we were so happy.” 

He needs to hang up, he knows, because he called to yell and snarl and bitch, and instead he’s saying this, and his eyes are barely staying open and he feels hungover even though he’s not gone to sleep and he wishes, for the first time in a while, that he could just drop dead instead of doing this. 

“I love you,” he says, dropping his head and laughing, bitter, “do you know how fucking pathetic it feels, every time I think that? Because…because you couldn’t fucking find it within yourself to tell me you were unhappy, or not fuck some boy at a bar, and I…I sit here, and I know all that, and I just, like. I just love you. It’s all there is, still. I hate you and I want to kill you and I’ve broken all of your shit, and I just. Nothing works. I love you so much. And not knowing if that’s enough anymore scares me more than, like, anything. Ever.” 

He’s quieter now, tired, and his finger hovers over the disconnect. 

“Call me later,” he says, “or don’t, actually. Don’t. Or. Or whatever. I just,” he whispers, “I don’t know anymore, H. I don’t know how to do this. I’m too tired. 

And before he can keep going, before he makes this worse than he already has, he makes himself hang up. His phone rings five minutes later, and he clutches it in his hand as he passes out on the tiled floor. 

** 

Louis wakes up the next morning and everything hurts and his phone is ringing and it’s Harry. In his morning haze, he nearly picks it up, and then he remembers everything, he remembers the night before, and he lets it ring out and goes back to sleep, in bed this time. Harry’s side is still unmade, creases from weeks ago.

 Louis wakes up to his phone buzzing the morning after, too, and he does not pick up. Harry calls the fourth time when he’s gone for a run, and the ninth time when he’s in the middle of Tesco, and the fifteenth time when he’s in bed at three in the afternoon with a too-warm vodka and coke, and Louis does not pick up. He calls, again and again, and Louis can’t pick up, won’t pick up, because he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know if he has it in him to do this, so instead he lets it ring out and then he stares at the wall for a very long time, until he falls asleep or someone comes over or Harry calls again and restarts the whole process. 

Harry calls for the thirty-sixth time when Louis and Zayn are on the balcony four days later. 

“That’s disgusting,” Louis says, waving his hand and turning up his nose as Zayn somewhat accidentally blows smoke in his face, “why’ve you enjoyed doing that to me so much since I was eighteen?”

“Because it shits you off, and I’m a dick,” Zayn says, grin lazy and tired, “seriously. Stop deflecting. How are you?” 

Louis rolls his eyes. 

“You look exhausted,” he says, instead of answering the question, “go home. I’m okay.” 

“Are you really, though?” Zayn asks, “because in my experience, you’re almost always lying to me when you say that.” 

Louis doesn’t say anything, looks out over the balcony for a few seconds. 

“I did something stupid,” he murmurs, loose thread on his jeans finding its way between his fingers, “I called him.” 

Zayn seems to consider that for a moment, nods slowly. 

“Were you drunk?” he asks, and Louis nods shortly.

“Was it late?” he asks, and Louis nods again. 

“Did you cry?” and Louis huffs out a little laugh, nods again. 

“I’m always fuckin’ crying,” he says, “I’m like, ridiculous, have you noticed?” 

“No you’re not,” Zayn murmurs, “c’mere.” 

He puts his cigarette in the ashtray, a bowl Harry’d made at school when he was fourteen, and gives Louis a hug, before pulling away and stretching out. 

They sit in silence for a minute, Louis’ brain ticking over slowly. His phone’s on the table, he’s watching it, and it hasn’t rung in two hours. He wants him to call again – won’t answer it – but needs him to keep calling. Needs proof he’s still interested, hasn’t given up. 

Zayn’s watching him, which is always dangerous. 

“How many times has he called?” he asks curiously, and Louis bites his lip. Of course he can read it on him, just like he could read it the time Louis threw up on the shirt he’d leant him and the time he lost his iPod and the time he and Harry were going to have a baby.

“Thirty five,” he says quietly, “thirty five. And I can’t fucking pick it up.” 

Zayn nods, because he always knows when he’s meant to just listen. 

“I should be ready,” Louis says suddenly, “and…and I want to be. I just. I can’t make the first move. That can’t be me, in all of this.” 

Zayn nods again. 

“I don’t,” Louis says suddenly, and he doesn’t know how to say it out loud, so says it bluntly, “I don’t know if we’re broken up. That feels so, so weird. I don’t know if he’s still mine or not. I don’t know if I want him to be. And I don’t…how am I meant to pick up the phone, without knowing that stuff? It’s been a month. More. And I feel like I’ll never figure it out, y’know. It’s so…it’s so much.” 

“Yeah,” Zayn says, steadying hand on his leg, “yeah. Can I say something, though?” 

Louis nods, chews his lip and looks at the floor. 

“I think—“ 

And before he can keep going, Louis’ phone starts vibrating on the table. It makes them both jump, cutting the silence, and Louis freezes, can’t look anywhere but right at it. They can both see it from here, Harry Isobar, with a picture Zayn, actually, had taken at the bar one night, Louis slapping a kiss on Harry’s drunk-red cheek. 

It’s so long ago, and as it keeps ringing, Louis has to look away. He remembers that night, because it was the day they’d got the call to say they’d made it through preliminary acceptance at their first agency. They’d been all over each other all night; Harry’d nearly gotten him off in the bathroom before Louis made the executive decision to have some dignity and go home. 

He wonders if Harry had fucked someone else at that point, and slams his hand down on the table so hard that Zayn jumps again. 

It rings out, the silence returns, a bird lands on the telegraph pole across the road. 

“Thirty six,” Louis says quietly, rubbing his thumb over his throbbing hand. 

“I think,” Zayn starts again, “I think you’re going to need to pick up the phone before you get your answers.” 

Louis smiles, looks at the ground. 

“I wish I could,” he murmurs, “I wish…I don’t know. Make it better,” he says, “I’m begging you, here. Make it better.” 

Zayn laughs, a little quiet, a little sad, ruffles Louis’ hair. 

“Just think about it,” he says softly, “don’t have to pick up number thirty-seven, or forty, or whatever. Not till you’re ready. But it doesn’t go away if you just keep doing the same thing,” he says, “and I think. I think anything’s got to be better than this, y’know? Knowing has to be better.” 

Louis feels small, all of a sudden, and looks to Zayn for reassurance that he’s still here, maybe. 

Zayn just smiles, nods at him with a little glint in his eye.

“You know something,” he says, “I’ve been blowing smoke in your face for weeks, trying to make you yell at me like you used to. S’the first time you did it, today.” 

“Baby’s first carcinogen,” Louis says dryly, and Zayn laughs. 

“If you’re not ready, Tommo, I get it,” he says quietly, “I do. But, mate. You can absolutely do it. A hundred per cent. And whatever happens, like. We’re all here for it. We, like, love you a surprising amount.” 

Louis laughs, pockets his phone, and looks at Zayn with a small smile.

“Go home,” he says gently, “Pez’ll kill me if you stay here again.” 

You’ve got someone to go home to, he wants to say, don’t fuck that up, but he bites his tongue. 

** 

It’s four in the morning and Zayn left at seven and Louis can’t sleep. Granted, he hasn’t been to bed, still on the couch in his jeans and a t-shirt watching infomercials, but he knows he won’t be able to anyway, so. He doesn’t bother trying 

He’s considering buying a Shark steam mop when his phone rings on the table. He ignores it, puts a pillow over it and waits for it to stop. 

It rings again, ten seconds later. He moves the pillow and replaces it with a coffee table book his Mum got them last year, 1001 Things To Do Before You Die. He’s never read it, wonders if answer your phone is one of them.

It rings again, and the fourth time Louis throws the book on the ground, snatches his phone up, and rejects the call. He’s never done that before, usually lets it ring out, but it’s the middle of the night and he’s overtired and his patience is wearing thin and his panic is only getting more unavoidable. 

Harry calls again, and Louis rejects it straight away, and again, again, again, his finger hitting the button hard and Harry redialing faster every time, and it’s almost like they’re doing this; fighting, yelling, except they’re not, because Louis’ flat is empty save for the sound of the TV trying to sell him a set of titanium knives.

He’s breathing hard, and finally, the next call doesn’t come. Two minutes pass in silence before Louis lets himself think he’s in the clear, assumes Harry’s given up for the night, and then he closes his eyes, sinks down into the couch out of pure exhaustion, suddenly hitting him right in the chest. 

Seconds from a fitful, crick-in-the-neck-inducing sleep, his phone vibrates again. He goes to hang up, half asleep, but it doesn’t keep going. It’s just once. 

He opens his eyes, looks at the screen, and the sight makes his stomach lurch. 

Pick up, please. I know you’re awake. 

Harry hasn’t texted before this. Save for his message tone, it’s the first time Louis’ heard anything from him in so, so long. 

He shouldn’t reply, but he does anyway. 

I can’t.  

And he realises, that without meaning to, he’s doing this. He barely has time to let his head spin with that before Harry’s typing again. 

Why?  

What a good question, he wants to say, ten fucking points to you. But his eyes are heavy and the sadness is always more than the anger at night, and lying on the couch alone, curled up in a throw big enough for two, Louis almost can’t feel the anger at all.

He doesn’t have an answer, really, not one he can type out and send as a neat little message. But he does try. 

I need more than a phone call.

It even surprises him, that that falls from his fingers.

What do you need?

I don’t know, he says truthfully, and then, I just. I need more than a phone call, H. It’s not enough for me right now. 

Harry doesn’t reply for a long time, which is maybe no more than two minutes. To Louis, it feels like a small lifetime, and then Harry’s barely typing before his message comes through. 

Okay. Yeah, you’re right. Okay.  

And Louis knows, then, that this is going to happen, and he’s not sure that it’s a reality he can deal with. He flicks the TV off and the room is plunged into black and he thinks he knows, now, what people mean when they say their heart is in their throat and their hair is on end, what it means to be petrified. Because, everything aside, he knows Harry better than he knows anyone. There are times he can’t predict himself; bar this, this fucking catastrophic shitstorm he missed, he can always predict Harry.

When the knock on the door comes, Louis still jumps, but he is expecting it. 

It takes some time to make himself stand, to answer the door. He almost doesn’t. He’s almost convinced himself to pretend to be asleep, and then he sees Harry’s shadow through the crack in the door, and he’s so close that to say no isn’t an option.

And for the first time in a month, when Louis opens the door, the only person he wants to see is standing there, and it takes all his strength not to slam the door in his face. 

There is no moment, through all of this, that even compares to how Louis feels now. That even touches the flood in his head or the rush of his pulse, that comes close to the surge that works its way through his whole body, because there, in a red and black plaid shirt, in his black jeans and a pair of new boots, with his hair messed up by the wind and his face an absolute fucking mess of emotion, is Harry. 

Louis wants absolutely nothing more than to jump into his arms and be pinned up against the wall and kissed until the air has trouble finding his lungs. He wants to feel his skin and his hair and the way he smiles when Louis whispers in his ear, and he wants so much that he thinks he might pass out.

Harry’s so, so beautiful, and Louis wonders if two people have ever looked at each other across a threshold with quite so much lying broken between them 

“Shit,” Harry says finally, and his voice, Louis has to close his eyes, “hi.” 

Louis can’t speak. 

“I’m,” Harry says quietly, and he looks like he’s about to cry, looks exactly how Louis feels, but he blinks it back, “say something. Please, I just. I’ve played that message so many times. I can’t…that can’t be the last thing I hear from you. 

Louis can’t speak, and Harry’s face veritably cracks into two in front of him at the sheer fucking silence. Louis is never frozen silent. Harry knows that. Harry’s face is one of absolute terror, and Louis wants to hit him and kiss him so much that he leans his head on the door, makes himself breathe. 

He’s right there. 

“You said more than a phone call,” Harry says quietly, doesn’t dare step inside, “this is all I’ve got. I’m…I’ve got nothing else, Louis. This is it. Please. Please just say something. Say anything.”

Say anything. It almost makes Louis want to laugh, because he’s had so, so many words, so many tears and spills and smashes and now, here, he can’t move. But Harry’s at the door, and if Louis sends him away, he thinks maybe that’ll be the end. That maybe he’ll never be able to do this again, never be able to bring himself to the edge like tonight. 

He doesn’t say a word. His head is messy and his eyes feel like they’re burning, and he turns from the door and lets it swing slowly towards closed. He presses his palms to his eyes for a moment, before walking over to the sideboard, grabs his wallet and his phone and his keys. 

The door’s about to slam shut when he opens it again, when he sees Harry with his hands in his hair, pacing and biting his lip and looking a second from a sob

He sees Louis locking the door, on the same side of it as him, and his face freezes, and Louis can’t speak. 

Except he has to, now, because his brain’s in overdrive and he’s locked the door and this, he has decided, is how he wants to do it.

“Come with me,” he says, and that’s all. The lift is quiet and they do not look at each other. The ding as they hit the basement sends them both jumping. They don’t laugh. Louis steps out first, unlocks the car from across the lot, and Harry’s close behind. 

Louis wonders if they’ve even got petrol, if the shitbox they drive is even going to turn on. He hasn’t used it; he doubts Harry has. Odd, he thinks, how many things fall into dust without them. 

“Where are we going?” Harry asks as they get to the car park, voice echoing hollowly between the concrete, “Lou, I’m, I…where are we going?” 

Louis rounds on him and his eyes are wild. It’s the first time he looks at him properly, shadows cast deep across his face. He looks tired, looks like the sleep Louis always wants and never gets. He feels unhinged, now, and every time he looks at Harry it’s so, so overwhelming, and if drowning was a month ago then he wonders what this feeling’s called. 

“I don’t know,” he says finally, “but we’re going to drive for a long time, because I don’t want to do this here. I don’t want to do this somewhere I might be again. And when I want to stop, we’ll stop, and then we’re going to talk, and I might drive you back or I might leave you out there.” 

Harry doesn’t even say yes, just gets in the passenger seat and waits. 

** 

A blue Honda zooms past as Louis and Harry sit on the hood of the car. They’ve been sitting there for six minutes and two seconds. Louis’ been looking at the hands on Harry’s watch. 

“We haven’t talked sober in a while,” Louis says quietly, still audible over the growing traffic, and Harry nods. 

“No,” he says, “no we haven’t. We haven’t talked at all.” 

The sun’s risen, just. It’s fourteen minutes past seven. Louis always drives a highway to clear his head, and they’re maybe half an hour out of Manchester now. He has no idea why. He drove the M6 and the M1 for three hours and pulled into an arbitrary emergency bay and now they’re here. That’s all he knows, and his head is spinning, because Harry’s sitting next to him and this is the furthest he’s been from his flat this side of the line Harry drew that night. 

Their flat, he thinks. 

He can’t avoid this forever, he supposes, which is unfortunate, because he’s done a good job trying. 

He stands up, can’t take the stasis anymore, wipes his hands on his jeans. Harry looks like he’s going to follow, but Louis shoots him a look and he stops. 

“This is how this is going to work,” he says, “you will fucking answer what I ask you, and I might not throw you in front of four lanes of traffic.”

Harry nods, squints at the sun as he looks up at Louis. To be fair, he probably wasn’t banking on needing sunglasses when he came out at four in the morning. 

“Yeah,” he says, and that’s all, and he doesn’t mention the fact that Louis’ almost a head shorter than him and has been to the gym far less. 

Probably because he doesn’t want to get thrown into the traffic, Louis supposes. 

He takes a breath. Pretends he’s in a movie, pretends this isn’t his life, pretends he isn’t here. 

“Where’ve you been living?” 

“Ben’s,” Harry answers without hesitation, “his attic.” 

“Who bought you your shit?” 

“Niall and Liam” 

“Have you seen them a lot?” 

Harry blinks, mouth turning down. 

“A bit. Yeah. I dunno. They’re waiting for you to make the first move, really.”

“Zayn?” 

“I don’t know,” Harry says quietly, “he hasn’t returned my calls, so.”

Right, Louis thinks, steeling himself, okay. This isn’t so bad. He’s three questions in, and he doesn’t want to snap himself in two. A silver BMW growls past. Harry’s still sat on the car, and Louis takes a few steps away before coming back. 

“How’ve you been, really? Without making it sound better or worse, how’ve you been?” 

Harry smiles, and it’s terrible, and he fiddles with the right sleeve of his shirt. 

“Fucking…dreadful,” he settles on, “or worse. I don’t know. I haven’t gotten out of bed a lot.” 

“Good,” Louis snaps. He closes his eyes. Maybe he was wrong, he thinks, maybe this was stupid. The air is morning cold, fresh, he breathes it in and tries to be okay. 

“How’ve you been?” Harry asks, and Louis stops pacing across gravel, looks at him.

“I don’t know, Harry, how do you imagine you’d be feeling, if you were me?” 

God, it’s biting, his voice is vicious. He can’t help it, it makes him feel calm, it makes him feel satisfied, to give Harry little cuts like that. How awful he thinks, how fucking awful, that it’s come to that. 

Harry’s face contorts and he looks away. There’s a pause. 

“I don’t know,” he says, “but it’s all I think about.” 

Cry me a fucking river, Louis wants to say, scream, in his face, you couldn’t fucking live a day of it.

He loves him so much. 

“Interrupt me one more time and you can fucking walk home,” he settles on saying, and then, without warning, before he falters, “now why’d you do it?” 

Harry stops moving, fiddling, breathing, so quickly that Louis’ almost concerned. He opens his mouth, but Louis isn’t ready, so covers it in malice. 

“Don’t um and ah,” he says, “I don’t know if you can tell, but my mood’s liable to change a fucking lot at the moment. Don’t bullshit me, don’t you fucking dare.” 

“Okay.” 

“So why’d you fucking do it, you selfish prick,” he says loudly, and when his voice cracks Harry looks away. 

Let him hurt, Louis thinks, let him cry. Let him turn away like it’s all too much. Let him feel half of what Louis’ felt for the past five weeks. 

“Louis—“ 

“Why did you fucking do it?” he yells, and it makes Harry’s head look up, “don’t fucking look away from me. Just tell me,” he croaks, voice dropping, “just say it. Please.” 

Harry nods, wipes the back of his hand over his eyes. 

“Okay,” he says, “okay. But you have to…it’s not logic, Lou. It’s not…” he trails off, grinds his teeth, almost, annoyance flaring. It’s like he’s resolving himself to do this, and Louis’ breath sticks in his throat.

Three cars go past before he speaks again. Louis fights not to launch himself in front of one of them. 

“I got scared,” he says, finally, and it’s so quiet, “you didn’t. You didn’t do anything, and you didn’t not do anything. I just. I panicked. I panicked and I drank too much and you were a million miles away and I fucked up.” 

Louis shakes his head, sniffs. 

“Not enough,” he says, “that’s not good enough. You don’t fuck someone else and get away with it in a sentence, I can’t live with that.” 

Harry doesn’t say a word, walks back to lean on the car, and Louis’ chest is tight. He can’t watch Harry walk away, not even a few feet, can’t stomach the imagery of it. 

“You wanted it, too, didn’t you?” he asks suddenly, following him until they’re inches away from one another, “or, or what? You lied? To what, to indulge me, thought it’d all work out if you just pretended to want to start a family?” 

“Of course I wanted it,” Harry says quietly, antithesis of the venom in Louis’ voice, “of course I did.” 

And he never says enough, he never keeps going, and Louis wants to hit him till he talks. 

“Then what the fuck?” he asks angrily, pushing him before turning away, walking to the side of the highway, until he could step out a fraction more and be run down. He turns his head, sees Harry watching him. “What the fuck was it all for, I don’t understand.” 

“It was meant to be an abstract,” Harry says suddenly, and for the first time all morning he’s saying something that Louis wants to listen to, maybe, “it was…shit, Louis, we’re twenty-fucking-five and twenty-seven years old. It wasn’t…it was never meant to go anywhere, this time, it was a start. A fucking test run for five years time when we had a chance in hell of God, of getting anywhere.

Louis blinks at him, turns totally from the road, walks closer, can’t miss this. 

“And then by some fucking miracle, we did,” Harry says, “it started to happen. And, and suddenly you’re talking about fucking colour schemes and, and in a year we could have a kid, and it scared me. I was fucking scared.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Louis croaks, “why didn’t…you could’ve just told me.” 

Harry snorts, pushes himself off the car, gravel crunching underneath his feet. 

“D’you even know what kind of a person you are to let down?” Harry asks, breeze carrying his voice, and he rushes his thumb under his right eye and the back of his hand over his left, “what was I meant to say, in between the monologue, and the calls from your Mum, and, and then we told the others and there was no way out. You were so happy. I…I couldn’t do that to you. I was scared, and out of my depth, and I fucked up.” 

“So you just decided to fuck it off and put your dick in someone else,” Louis spits, “like that wasn’t going to let me down, like that wasn’t going to cause a bit of a problem, like—“ 

“You asked me why, Louis,” Harry says, and he raises his voice for the first time, “you were the one who asked me why. I’m not saying it makes sense, but…that’s it. That’s all.” 

Louis thought it would make him feel better. He really, really did. Knowing has to be better, except for how it’s not, and he turns away, let’s out a tiny silent scream into his fist. 

“I should’ve known,” he says, ashen, “I should’ve realised. I…oh my god, I should’ve asked. It was all there,” he says, “and I just. I didn’t. I did nothing.”

Louis could deal with not knowing. He can’t deal with the pressure on his chest that says it’s on you, that says it’s your fault.

He thinks he might throw up, braces himself on the hood of the car.

“It’s not your fault,” Harry says behind him, “it’ll never be your fault, you have to…you have to know that.” 

“But it is,” Louis says, turning around, “don’t you get it? You couldn’t…you couldn’t fucking tell me, and, and, oh, God,” he says, and it hits him so hard and the tears are so overwhelming and he doesn’t even notice Harry’s holding him until his legs just about give out. 

He wants to push him away, wants to throw him off, wants to say don’t fucking touch me, and he’s not strong enough for any of it. Because he’s so, so fucking tired, and sad, and overcome and confused and he’s so, so in love with this boy and he feels like if he lets go he’s going to forget how to breathe. 

“I hate you,” he murmurs into Harry’s shoulder, but pulls him closer, bites down on the cotton of his t-shirt, shudders as Harry kisses his hair and his forehead and his arms encompass him so totally, “I can’t fucking do this.” 

“I’m so sorry,” Harry whispers, “I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did it and I’m sorry I hurt you and I’m sorry I’ve fucked it all up and I’m sorry I didn’t—“ 

“No,” Louis says, and before he knows what he’s doing he pushes him away, so he stumbles backwards, and Louis walks the other way, “no, that’s not fair, you don’t get to do that, you don’t get to say sorry and have it all better.” 

“I’m—" 

“I fucking love you,” he yells, and someone blows a horn driving past, and he kicks up a cloud of dust in absolute, overwhelming, distress, “and, and God, I don’t trust you right now, and I don’t understand you, and I hate you, a lot, but…I still love you,” he says, “and that’s never gone away. And I don’t fucking know how you can say you feel the same when you did all this,” he says, and he bites back the to me

Harry stops in his tracks, stops moving, stops flicking his nails together, stops tugging on his shirt. 

“Louis, I didn’t get out of bed for a week,” he says, “I slept and I threw up and I pissed and I slept.” 

“Join the fucking club,” Louis snaps. 

“And then, like, no one picked up the phone, for a long time. And no one returned a text, and your Mum, Jesus, she had your phone one night and gave me a fucking earful, and.” 

He stops, closes his eyes, and Louis’ seconds from warning him to stop playing the pity card lest he want to get left in the middle of a highway when he says, “and I didn’t even care.” 

Everything snaps quiet in Louis’ head.

“What?” 

“I didn’t care,” he says, “because all I could think about was getting you back. That first fucking night, when I knocked on Ben’s door, the first thing I said was I want to go home.” 

Louis snorts, turns away, and then turns back for no reason. 

“That’s a fucking story book,” he says, shaking his head, “that’s a fucking Hallmark card. Don’t do it.” 

“But it’s true,” Harry says, “and it hasn’t changed. I want to come home. I want it, so much, and I know…” he closes his eyes, “I know that might not happen. And I know if it does that it might not…we might not be able to do it,” he says, “but I want it. I snuck into a college party when I was seventeen and you’re the only person I’ve wanted ever since.” 

Louis bites his lip. “That’s not true,” he says quietly, “because you fucked someone else.” 

He sees the way that rips through Harry, the way it absolutely breaks him, and Louis doesn’t feel satisfied, doesn’t feel vengeful, seeing that now. He’s just so, so tired. 

“Yeah,” Harry says, “and the last time it happened I cried, and then I came home, and then I went twenty-four hours before I couldn’t do it anymore.” 

Louis doesn’t say anything, looks at the ground and the road and a black Subaru and a tree and the sky and the car. Then he looks at Harry. 

“I don’t know what to do,” Harry says, “but tell me what it is, and I’ll fucking do it. I’ll do whatever you need, whatever you want. You’re so…” he trails off, bites his lip, “you’re so gorgeous, Lou. You’re my favourite person in the world, and I’d really like to make you believe that again, if you’d let me.” 

It’s so much, and Louis needs to go home, and Louis needs to sort out his head, and suddenly, he doesn’t want to be here anymore.

“Yeah. Well. I think you’ve probably done enough, for today. Let’s go,” he says, and the car is silent for three hours back to London. 

Louis lets Harry walk him to the door, for no other reason than he’s too tired to stop him, almost doesn’t have the wherewithal to tell him to leave again. But they get to their floor and Louis remembers what their apartment looks like right now, what it represents, all the brokenness and emptiness and anger between those walls, and he can’t let him in. 

“You should go, H,” he says quietly, and Harry’s eyes close so slowly and painfully it’s like they might not open again. 

“Please,” is all he says, “please, Lou.” 

His voice is miserable and cracked and it’s instinct, when Louis puts a hand on his arm, tries to soothe him; like riding a bike, Louis supposes, never forget it. 

“I’ll call you,” he murmurs, “I will, I promise. I just. I need a couple of days.” 

Harry opens his eyes, nods, and with a kiss pressed to Louis’ cheek and a glance over his shoulder, he’s gone. 

Louis opens the door and he does not stop moving until he falls into bed. He’s driven six hours, had the life drained out of him in the process, and he cannot go another minute doing this until he gets some sleep. 

** 

So, he thinks, when he wakes up the next day, let the clean up commence. 

He has a cup of tea, turns the TV on for some background noise, and tries to figure out his game plan here. 

He gives himself two days, to pack up the last six weeks of destruction and make his next move with a clear flat and a clear head. He goes chronologically, bathroom first, sweeps out the glass in the drawers and buys new everything; toothbrushes, razors, soap, shampoo, all the things he’s broken. He goes to the living room and deletes all the bad TV he’s recorded since Harry left and tidies up the CDs and DVDs and Harry’s records, which he never actually got around to snapping. He washes his clothes and throws out all the shirts of Harry’s he’s ripped and all the cigarette-leg jeans he’s cut, and refolds the rest, right next to all his own stuff. It makes his hands shake, but he does it. He tidies the study and restacks all of Harry’s boxes of negatives and very calmly puts away the How to Decorate a Nursery books he hasn’t so much as seen in all this time. That’s hard. It’s really hard, but he doesn’t cry, just puts them behind the bookshelf for another day, somewhere very far down the track. 

It takes him a long, long time to change the sheets, but he does do it. Somehow, through all of this, it feels like one of the most awfully profound things he’s done. It almost feels like a victory, like the definitive what’s next that he’s been looking for. 

It knocks the wind out of him, and he thinks it’s a good thing. 

And then he has to make a decision.

“Good evening this is the Tomlinson residence, Daisy speaking,” his sister parrots down the line, and Louis smiles so hard it takes him a moment to answer. 

“Hey, cutie,” he says, “remember me?” 

“Lou!” she yells, “I miss you!” 

‘Miss you too, button,” he says, “hey listen, I’ll call soon, I promise, but can you put Mum on for me?” 

“Yeah,” she says, before screaming, Muuuum, it’s Lou! up the stairs, and not ten seconds later he hears her wrangling the phone off Daisy and the speaker rustling past her hair. 

“Louis Tomlinson, have you even heard of answering your bloody texts?”

He laughs, winces as he remembers the reams of messages he ignored all weekend. 

“Sorry,” he says, cheek on his knee, “weird few days.” 

She doesn’t say anything, and he hears the clink as she picks up her glass of wine, turns the TV down and shoos the girls away. 

“What’s going on, then?” she asks quietly, and he takes a very deep breath. 

“I need to ask you something, and I want you to tell me the truth,” he says slowly 

“Okay.”

“Do you think,” he starts, closing his eyes, “do you think it’s stupid, or, or like, I don’t know. Weak. If I take him back?”

She doesn’t say anything for a long time, though he hears her tapping her nails on her glass though, knows she’s there. 

“I think,” she says slowly, “that as long as you’re the most important person in whatever decision you make, then no. It’s none of those things. Even if it turns out you think you’ve made a mistake. I think it’s the maybe the strongest thing you can do, forgiving someone.” 

“I haven’t forgiven him,” he murmurs, “I don’t…I don’t know how, yet.” 

“Of course,” she says, “of course.” 

He blinks, tries to wrap his head round all of this, around everything she’s done, and like everything, it’s too much.

“I love you,” he says quietly, swallows thickly, “I just. You’re the best person I know. Thank you. For coming to London and answering the phone and all of it, you know, and doing everything for me, and—" 

“Lou,” she says quietly, smile in her voice, “you got out of bed. Not me.” 

He laughs and cries at the same time, bites his lip so hard he can taste metallic. 

“You’re so lame,” he croaks, “this is why I’m like this, you know. It’s your fault.” 

“I know,” she says, “and I’m pretty bloody proud of it. I’ll talk to you later, baby. Go get him.” 

“Yeah,” he says, “yeah, okay,” and then she’s gone, and then he’s got to do the single biggest thing of his life. 

He would have a drink to calm himself down, but for the first time in weeks, he thinks he wants to be sober.

Harry’s phone rings once, then twice, and Louis’ head is leant on the cool brickwork when he picks up. 

“Lou?” he says, out of breath, panicked, and Louis swallows. 

“Hey,” he says, quiet and calm, and he’s not sure what hearing his voice is making him feel, but he knows he wants to find out, “so. I was thinking. If you’re not busy, or whatever. D’you wanna, like…” he trails off. 

D’you want to come over, it’s all he needs to say. 

He can hear Harry’s breath, shaky, on the other end. 

“D’you want to come home?” he says finally, and Harry makes a sound that makes him smile, despite everything, like he’s taking his first breath in six weeks. 

“Are you sure?” he croaks, and Louis closes his eyes. 

“No,” he says quietly, “but. I want to try. I want you to come home, and that’s, like. That’s all I’ve got so far.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, “okay. Okay.” 

“H?” he says, tentative. 

“Yeah?” 

“You might, um. Want to pick up some new clothes, at some point. And milk, we need milk. Don’t forget the milk.” 

Harry laughs like he’s not sure if he’s allowed to, but it’s a start. 

** 

The first three months are rocky, to say the least. 

When Louis opens the door that first afternoon, it’s the beginning of something neither of them have ever done, and it’s hard. There’s a space Louis can’t fill, a gap that manifests when they’re meant to be close – on the couch, sidling past each other in the kitchen, bumping legs underneath the table. Every touch is uncertain, there’s a pull back, however small, every time. Louis will wake up in the middle of the night to Harry breathing softly next to him, and after weeks of missing that so, so much, he can’t take it, pads out to the living room and wakes up on the couch to Harry glancing at him from the kitchen with a frown that Louis, inexplicably, feels guilty for putting there. 

It’s hard, but they keep trying and it gets better, fractionally. Work starts the week after Harry comes home and Louis revels in it, likes feeling like he’s doing something again, teaching, achieving something. Granted, the artful avoidance of how was your summer from colleagues and students wears thin after a while, but it’s good for him, he knows it, to be outside, to be around people not interminably caught up in all of this. 

When he gets home and Harry isn’t there, though, the nausea hits him so hard that he cannot think of anything to do but sit on the couch and stare at the TV until he gets home. He knows, God, he knows that Harry’s at work, or getting groceries, or is having a couple of quiet ones with Niall, and yet. And yet he doesn’t, really, can’t make that logic settle, because the brutal fucking truth of it is that he was just as convinced of the same two months before, and that didn’t end so well. 

He thinks Harry knows, when he comes in from work or the gym or wherever he’s been, thinks he can see it all over Louis’ face, the worry and the relief all at once. The flashes of guilt across Harry’s face don’t go unnoticed either, but it’s okay. They’re trying to be okay, so Harry will throw his bag on the floor and kick his shoes off and when he pulls Louis closer and flicks the channel to something they might actually want to watch, presses a kiss to Louis’ temple, he thinks they just might get there. 

Maybe more than anything, sex is the most difficult part of all of this to get back to normal, because it’s a thousand times bigger and more immediate than any other reminder. The second night Harry’s home, when he’s got a hand on Louis’ hip and his teeth on his pulse point, grinding down slowly, all Louis can think is he fucked someone else, and he can’t do it. When Harry wakes him up on the first Saturday morning with a hand stroking his dick through his briefs, his skin warm and hair tickling his face, all Louis can think is he fucked someone else, and he can’t do it. 

The furthest they get is Tuesday the next week, only it kills the mood a little when Louis has to ask him if they need to use a condom. Harry doesn’t bother keeping on trying, that time. 

It panics Louis a lot, actually, more than he’d like to admit and more than anything else does. He fucking hates himself for it, hates that he can’t let it go, hates that he can’t shut his head up for long enough to try and fix this, but there’s nothing he can do. Harry doesn’t bat an eyelid when he feels Louis tense up, just whispers let me make you feel good, and it’s stupid and corny enough to almost make Louis relax, except it doesn’t. When he pushes Harry away, eyes closed and breath ragged, Harry just says it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, pulls him close and kisses him lazily till they’re too tired to be sad, till Louis falls asleep with his head on his chest. 

There’s no great resolution on Louis’ part to put it behind him, there’s no conscious decision. Harry texts him one afternoon to be at their favourite restaurant, down near St. Paul’s, by eight o’clock, and Louis doesn’t question it, gets home from work and forgets the tutorial papers he’s meant to mark and gets ready for dinner. He’s there early, takes the table, and when Harry walks in ten minutes later it’s the first time since he’s been home that Louis feels his chest clench in a good way.

He’s so, so beautiful; Louis’ thought those same four words since he was nineteen but tonight, here, he thinks he’s somehow never really seen it until now. They have fun, and it seems like a given but it’s not, lately, that Louis will just enjoy being around him, and tonight he does. Harry’s ridiculous, makes him order three courses and asks for another candle for the table, leans across to kiss him all night and buys him flowers on the way home; all the things they never bothered with after the first few years. This is him doing it properly, Louis realises, this is him trying, and when Harry takes his hand and tugs him the couple of steps to the door with a laugh, Louis feels something click. 

He doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know why he feels anything, anymore, why those things change, but they do. Slowly, small things and little routines click back, and this is a big one. Louis doesn’t fight it, takes a breath, and instead of letting Harry wander off to the couch when they get inside, tugs on his belt loop, waits till he turns, and leans up and kisses him. 

It’s the first time Louis’ instigated anything and it hits them both at the same time. Harry pulls him closer straight away, instinct, but it’s gentle, and he cups Louis’ cheek with one hand, fits their mouths together and bites down on his lip. He tastes like red wine and pastry, and Louis smiles against him, feels his whole body move with how good it feels, finally, to have him back, to want this. 

Harry pulls back after a moment, hair messy from where Louis’ threaded his fingers through it, cheeks pink. His eyes say are you sure, and Louis’ little nod says yes, and then he’s laughing quietly into Louis’ neck, and yeah, Louis thinks, yeah, he’s sure. 

Harry kisses him right down the hall, opens the bedroom door with a hand snaking past Louis’ waist, and steadies Louis’ fall back onto the bed, takes his wrist as he climbs over him, knees bracing Louis’ hips. Louis tugs him down, and they look at each other just for a moment, lock eyes, before Harry kisses him again, lips warm and hands sliding underneath Louis’ shirt. His hands swipe up Louis’ sides, sure and strong, and Louis rolls up into it, feels the goosebumps break out over his skin as Harry kisses the corner of his mouth and his neck and dips down to his collarbone, Louis’ hands finding his hair again.

“I can’t—” Louis says, just as Harry moves a leg in between his, rocks up and makes the breath catch in his throat. Harry stops straight away, pulls back and studies his face, and Louis lets the pause last a little too long. Keep him on his toes, and all that. 

“—Breathe in these jeans,” he finishes finally, when he’s sure he’s not going to moan as he speaks, and Harry stares at him for a long moment, before shaking his head, laughing like he can’t quite believe it. 

“I fucking love you,” he murmurs, lips on Louis’ as he sinks his fingertips into what he can get to of Louis’ arse, biting a little too hard on his lip, and Louis laughs too; fingers caught up in his hair, skin caught up in the heat between them, head caught up in Harry.

Harry makes quick work of Louis’ shirt and then his jeans, tossing them somewhere on the floor, and then his own, and then he’s everywhere. His left hand rests in the dip of Louis’ waist, his right on Louis’ cheek, and when Louis hook his legs around him and pulls him closer, grinding up into him and sending them breathing heavily into each other’s mouths, it’s the closest he’s felt to okay through all of this. 

“You’re so,” Harry pants, voice low and sending Louis’ skin tingling, arousal low in his stomach, “you’re so—“ 

“Haz,” Louis says against his lips, chests pressed together, “more, like, now.” 

“Yeah,” Harry says, sitting up, blinking a little as he leans over and finds a bottle of lube Louis miraculously spared in his great overhaul, “yeah, okay. Hey, though, c’mere.” 

He drops the lube on the bed, forgotten for a moment, and Louis makes a small noise of annoyance because he wants this, now, but Harry just smiles, kisses him gently before dropping to his jaw, grazing his teeth. Louis shudders, keeps his fingers wound tight in Harry’s hair as he kisses a line from his neck to his shoulder, his collarbone, his chest, kisses over his heart and just next to his nipple and then the other one. Louis’ fallen silent, breathing heavily with how much he’s missed this, how good it is, to have Harry here and kissing him quiet again, his mouth over his ribcage and drifting down to his waist and his stomach. Where he leaves little bites he kisses over them, where he finds skin he likes he lingers, teasing and gentle, and when he starts biting at Louis’ inner thigh, face nuzzled into his dick, fleetingly, Louis’ skin feels like it’s on fire. He groans, pushes up into him without thinking about it, but Harry ignores him, nips at his other thigh instead. 

“Harry,” he whines softly, all semblance of control lost, and Harry just hums quietly, shucks Louis’ briefs and then his own and kisses the head of Louis’ dick where it lies achingly hard against his stomach. 

“Jesus, Styles,” he says, and he sounds wound up but his limbs are pliant, everything feels fuzzy, and when Harry finally sits up and slicks his fingers, Louis can see his little smirk at the audible sigh of relief that escapes him. 

“Shut up,” Louis says, failing miserably at anything close to authoritative, and Harry laughs, and then he’s sliding a pillow under Louis’ back and his finger’s circling his hole and when he pushes in, Louis doesn’t hear a lot, because it’s been so, so long and Harry’s all he ever wants.

Harry stretches him open slowly, heart-stoppingly slowly, leaning down and kissing him quiet every time he adds another finger, and it’s exactly how Louis needs this tonight. Just the right amount of fun, sweet enough to be sorry, slow enough to mean something, because it does, this time, it means more than maybe every other time they’ve done this since the first and Louis’ whole body is moving with how much that is. 

“You alright?” Harry asks, sitting up for a moment, and Louis nods, little moan escaping his throat as Harry crooks his fingers. 

“Yeah,” he says, barely there, breath ragged, “yeah, yes, yes, I’m good.” 

He pulls out slowly and Louis moans at the loss, so Harry kisses him quickly, mouth falling open as he slicks himself up. Louis decides, then, that he needs this now, so not-so-subtly pulls him closer with his legs, and Harry smiles. 

“Hold your fuckin’ horses,” he says, and Louis’d bite right back at him, but in that moment he grips Louis’ thigh with one hand and his hip in the other, and sinks into him so slowly that Louis just about passes out.

“Shit,” he breathes, eyes fluttering shut and his hands on Harry’s, and then after a few seconds, “okay, okay, move.”

Harry does, slowly, pulls out and then pushes back in again, all the way this time, and Louis’ legs fall open around him, looking for more, needing more. Twice more and Harry starts to build up a rhythm, leaning down to catch Louis’ lips as he fucks into him slowly, making Louis arch up and cry out with it every time his fingers dig into his skin and he thrusts up. Louis’ close, too close; he wants to last in this moment forever, have Harry like this forever. Harry’s hand comes up and tangles with Louis’ just above his head, grasping at each other as Harry starts to come apart and lose his control, nails dug into Louis’ hip for leverage, and when he leans down and whispers you look so, so gorgeous, Lou, you always look so lovely like this, that’s all it takes, and Louis comes with a shudder that wracks his whole body, and as he clenches around him Harry follows soon after. 

When they’ve come down, and Louis opens his eyes and turns to look at him, he realises they’re still holding hands. Harry smiles sleepily, tugs on his fingers and kisses his wrist, just on his pulse, and for the first time, Louis knows this is going to last. 

Harry wakes him up with a trail of kisses down the shell of his ear the next morning, and Louis just cracks an eyelid, watches him for a moment. 

“You know,” he murmurs, wincing a little as he moves, “some of us are trying to sleep.” 

“Oh yeah?” Harry says with a grin, brushing Louis’ hair off his face “well. Some of us think you look too nice sleeping and want to say hi. That okay?” 

Louis blinks. 

“Yes,” he says decisively, “yeah, no, that’ll be fine.” 

There are days he thinks he can’t do it and nights he can’t be in the same bed as him and there are frantic, hushed phone calls to whoever he thinks of first when it’s all too much. The uncertainty lingers for a long, long time, longer than he expects. But in the middle of that, there’s everything else. There’s the first time he realises he goes a day without thinking about it, there’s Harry popping in when he knows he’s got long office hours with lunch and a trashy magazine. They start dating each other again, eye-rollingly lame as Louis brushes it off to be, but it works. It’s good for them; plans, fun, feeling like this is new again. They go for lunch at places they can’t really afford and Harry takes him to his favourite markets one Sunday, takes stupid photos all day and let’s Louis sit with him while he develops them the next day. There are nights out and nights in and nights where they talk and hurt and try and make it through a bad day and there are nights they don’t say anything at all, don’t need to, because they’re okay. 

Everything fixes, slowly. There comes a day where Louis stops finding little bits of broken nothings strewn through the flat, there comes a time when his Mum stops watching Harry with pursed lips, there comes a night where for the first time the lot of them are together again and he thinks it’s exactly how it used to be. 

“Lou,” Harry murmurs one night, shifting between the sheets, “Lou, you awake?” 

“Mm,” Louis says, biting down on his shoulder until he laughs, “what’s up?” 

“Just thinking,” he says, and Louis rolls his eyes in the dark. 

“Always dangerous,” he smiles into Harry’s chest, “what’s on your mind?” 

Harry’s quiet for a long moment, and Louis realises it’s going to be more than goodnight as he starts speaking.

“I just,” he says, “I like, lie here before I fall asleep, and I think about a million things, or whatever. I think about you the most, though. And I just, I don’t know. But there’s nowhere else I’d rather fall asleep than right here. It’s the last thing I think every night.” 

Louis’ silent, doesn’t know what to say, and Harry shifts underneath him, pulls him closer.

“I just, like, always want to say that to you, and I want you to know that all the time,” he says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, “love you, y’know.” 

“Yeah,” Louis murmurs, kissing his jaw, eyes heavy, “yeah, I know. Love you too, as it turns out.” 

Harry seems satisfied with that and is asleep in moments; Louis’ awake a little longer. He brushes his fingers over Harry’s skin until he’s calm enough to drop off, and when he wakes the next morning, it’s to the smell of Harry cooking bacon in the kitchen, and he stretches, turns his cheek to catch the cool plush of the pillow. 

Everything fixes, slowly. 

Harry and Louis fix last, but that’s okay, he thinks. He got out of bed. He can do the rest. 

**