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Every Story Has Its Scars, Ours Is a Brand New Start

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Louis never saw himself here. He simply couldn’t imagine it. Well, he could’ve if he tried hard enough he supposes, but he definitely didn’t see himself here this soon. In a few years perhaps. Lots of years according to all his mates who’ve always appreciated Louis’ particular wild sense of spirit. However, it seems almost everyone, including himself, had it wrong.

He didn’t see himself standing up on shaky legs and listening to the person across from him vow to choose him; to love him, because their dreams and their life and their family together now come first, no matter how recently those three things may have come into existence.

There are no expensive wedding bands to slide onto each other’s fingers. In truth, there wasn’t much time for that sort of thing. They both agreed to use rings they already had, but Louis doesn’t think that takes away from today. If anything, it just shows how committed he and Chris are to making this work, and all for the right reasons; for one reason Louis thinks as he rests his free hand over his stomach.

A life with his unborn child is what Louis wanted. When he told Chris that a month ago, Louis hadn’t exactly envisioned a life with him in it too. Louis figured he’d walk as soon as he found out, but people can surprise you sometimes when you least expect them to, dreams can change in an instant, and suddenly, life is nothing like you imagined because somehow, it’s better.

The deep breath that Louis releases isn’t full of fear like his trembling hands might suggest when their officiator grins at him. It’s full of excitement and an unfortunate case of nerves because he’s only going to do this once so it has to be perfect.

“I, Louis, take you, Chris, to be my partner in this life we’re building together. I promise to accept you and to love you just as you love and accept me, and I want everyone here today to know that I choose you too. Happily.”

Louis wiggles his fingers when his own ring comes to rest against his knuckle. It’s an old silver one his grandfather gave him years ago that used to collect dust at his mother’s house because jewelry has never really been Louis’ thing. He can’t believe the difference a few months and the promise of forever can make because currently, this ring means the world.

Their witnesses are few in number but great in love, pride, and applause for them when they finally kiss. It makes them both laugh and takes Louis right back to the fateful kiss they shared on the night they met; a little hurried from the anticipation and suspense of everything coming together, very drunk, though on life this time instead of too much alcohol, and with the underlying sense of something bigger than Chris and himself taking place in the universe.

Something much, much bigger. 

Five Years Later

Spring

Louis wakes in slow stages to the feeling of a tiny finger brushing along the slope of his nose and a muffled giggle a few inches away that lets him know this has probably been happening for way longer than he’s been conscious for. He lies there as still as possible, hardly even breathing as he pretends to still be asleep.

He cracks one eye open enough to make out the blurry shape of his son creeping forward with a smile on his face. Nathan successfully tickles him on the nose again and then covers his mouth with both hands to hold in his giggles. It’s a wasted effort because they ring out loud in full force when Louis suddenly springs his arms forward to entrap him around the waist and yank him onto the bed with a deep roar.

Little limbs start flying and trying to escape as soon as Louis pulls the covers over them and digs his fingers into Nathan’s sides. Louis’ ears are practically bleeding from all the laughter and high-pitched squeals he gets in response but he keeps tickling him anyway because he loves that sound. He always has.

“What do you want, huh? More tickling, you say?”

Louis eases up on him when Nathan’s cheeks start to turn pink, practically breathless from laughing so hard.

“No! I just wanted food!” he explains, his hands up in surrender and his shoulders tensing up to his ears in anticipation of the second tickle wave he can probably feel coming.

Food?” Louis grimaces like even the idea is preposterous. “Nope. Sorry, we’re fresh out. We don’t have any of that here.”

“Yes, we do!” Nathan insists too late as Louis digs his fingers between his ribs again.

Fresh peals of laughter erupt and fill the air around them before dying quick deaths from the sound of the bathroom door swinging open on the other side of the bedroom. Louis throws the covers back as Chris steps out with a towel wrapped around his waist and water still clinging to his skin.

He hadn’t paid much attention to the sound of the shower running when Nathan woke him up a moment ago. He honestly hadn’t even realized the other side of the bed had been slept in. Chris got in so late from work last night that Louis didn’t even hear him come home.

“Er- Good morning. Or good night I suppose,” Louis jokes to himself since his husband doesn’t seem to find humor in it. Clearly, he’s not in the mood today. He throws a pointed look over his shoulder at Louis before he starts rifling through the drawers for clothes.

“I’m leaving soon,” Chris announces in lieu of returning Louis’ greeting.

Much like Nathan waking him up by initiating a tickle war, what that statement really translates to is a desire for food so Louis smacks a kiss to their son’s face which has now thankfully returned to its normal color, and then stands on his feet.

“Sure thing. I was just getting up,” Louis says, sneaking in one last opportunity to tickle Nathan on their way to the kitchen.

As far as breakfast goes, it’s pretty easy to please his five-year-old, so that’s where Louis starts. He slides a large bowl of frosted rice krispies in front of him and then lets Nathan pour the milk so he can hear the cereal snapping and popping as he digs in. Louis smiles as he watches his son humming to himself as he pours more cereal into the bowl just for the hell of it, looking as happy as a lark in green dinosaur pajamas.

Louis can’t remember Chris mentioning anything about having to work today as he gets started preparing his breakfast. He empties the last of the hash browns from the freezer into one hot skillet and then cracks a couple of eggs into another wondering if maybe Chris did mention it and Louis simply forgot. Either scenario is likely, however he decides not to bring it up when his husband sits down at the table a few minutes later.

He’s not dressed for work like Louis assumed he’d be. He’s in jeans instead of his usual slacks, but it’s the weekend so Louis supposes it doesn’t matter what he shows up wearing at the firm. He takes a sip of the fresh coffee waiting for him as he types out a message on his phone, hard frown lines marring his face when the drink turns out to be much hotter than he was expecting.

“I can sit that in the fridge for a minute if you want,” Louis suggests while simultaneously shooting his son a look of reprimand when he reaches for the cereal box again just because the pieces left in his bowl are no longer making noise.

“It’s fine,” Chris clears his throat, now focusing on the plate Louis sets down in front of him. Things don’t look fine when he leans in to examine everything that’s there. He tastes the potatoes straight off and apparently finds no fault, but then he pokes his fork at the two over easy eggs which do look a bit darker around the edges than Louis meant them to be. He should’ve taken them off the stove sooner.

“Sorry about the eggs,” he apologizes, already thinking of ways to fix the sour look on Chris’ face as his jaw tenses and he scratches through his short blond hair. “I can scramble some more really fast. O-Or I can make you something else instead.” Louis stands and walks over to the fridge to see what they have. He needs to go shopping soon so there aren’t many options. “We have bacon. And I can always do eggs on toast if you’d like. That’s quick.”

His husband doesn’t give any indication of wanting any of those things when he suddenly stands up from the table.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m running behind anyway. I have to go.”

“O-Oh, okay. Hopefully you can stop for something on the way, then? Sorry again.” His apology doesn’t fix breakfast nor does it make his husband look any less annoyed that Louis fucked it up. He should’ve been paying more attention instead of worrying about work schedules.

Chris slips on his jacket before sliding his untouched eggs in front of their son who just blinks at them.

“He’s allergic,” Louis kindly reminds his husband. Chris seems to remember that important detail a few seconds later and pulls the plate back to where it was.

“I’ll be late,” he says to no one in particular. “My case load is pretty heavy, so.”

“Okay,” Louis nods. “We’ll see you tonight then. Have a good day.”

Nathan stops trying to sneak more cereal to call out a cheerful, “Bye, daddy!” to which his father gives a half-hearted nod so Louis tries his luck next.

“Babe, Nate’s talking to you. He said goodbye.” His efforts don’t warrant much more of a reaction. Just a quick wave over Chris’ shoulder as he answers an incoming phone call with a bright hello. Louis wishes he could’ve answered Nathan with that same enthusiasm. Their son would’ve been happy with even half of that.

Nathan lets out a small sigh when the front door closes. With a sigh of his own, Louis takes Chris’ seat at the table to lessen the sting, but it’s not the same. He and Nathan spend time together every day. It’s Chris who works all the time. It’s his attention that Nathan wants so badly.

“Your dad is just in a rush, love. He’s busy at work,” Louis tells him as he picks up Chris’ abandoned fork and finishes the eggs he didn’t want instead of throwing them out or sending their kid into anaphylactic shock.

Nate doesn’t comment on his father’s work schedule. He never does, but his eyes say it all with how sad they’ve gotten over the last couple of minutes and Louis can’t take it. He shouldn’t ever have to look that way.

“Hey, you. Want to do something really fun before football practice later?” Louis grins when he lightly kicks at Nathan’s bare feet with his own beneath the table.

“Yeah,” he quickly agrees. “Like what?”

“Want to get dressed and then go to… the big park?” That’s not it’s real name, but it’s the biggest park they have on this side of Doncaster and Nathan loves it the best so that’s what they call it.

Louis watches as his son’s face regains that bright, happy glow that should always be present. It’s Louis’ personal mission in life to make sure that it is. They haven’t been to the park in a while. Louis was hoping Chris would be able to make it the next time that they went, but he’s been working almost every weekend. Maybe once his case load eases up they’ll all get to go together.

“Can we rent a paddle boat? Ooh! And can we get popcorn too? The kind with the caramel?” he asks with the same big, blue eyes that Louis sees every time he looks in the mirror.

It’s cool enough outside today that Chris took a jacket with him to work, and after all the frosted cereal Nathan just consumed it’s safe to say he could do without the extra sweets, but his son is smiling again and him being happy makes Louis happy, so freezing to death on a sugar high it is.

“Of course we can, love.”

*

It’s a Monday afternoon after Louis gets home from dropping Nathan off at school, grocery shopping, and running all his other beginning of the week errands that he gets a text from his best mate asking if he has time for a quick lunch while things at the office are slow. Louis grins at the message and immediately stops unpacking food to answer him because he hasn’t talked to Liam in forever.

It’s been much too long, but even so, he hesitates saying yes right away knowing that he should probably stick around the house to take care of the billion things he needs to. Chris wouldn’t like him taking off like this, but his fingers are already moving to accept Liam’s invitation before he can talk himself out of it.

He’s been feeling a little off lately; tired mostly and lonely during the day while Nathan’s at school and everyone else he knows is at work. Maybe spending time with his best friend is just what he needs to pick himself back up. Anyway, it’ll be nice having a little adult interaction for a while and what Chris doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

Louis knows he made the right decision by slacking off on all his responsibilities to drink cappuccinos and eat overpriced sandwiches at the tiny café near Liam’s job when his best friend greets him at the door with a bear hug like they haven’t seen each other in three years rather than three weeks.

“Um, Li? I’m pretty sure you can let go now,” he snorts when their embrace drags on past the standard ‘two pats on the back’ rule that most people adhere to in public places. Not Liam though. He doesn’t even care that they’re making a scene as he tells Louis how much he’s missed seeing his stupid face.

His friend does let go of him eventually, his brown eyes alight with fondness when Louis takes the empty chair across from him at their usual little square table.

“Jesus. If you’re gonna squeeze me to death and miss me this much then don’t wait so long next time to hang out with me.” Louis rolls his eyes though he’s only teasing because in truth, Louis has missed him so much more. He remembers a time before he got married when they could hardly go a day without seeing each other.

“Well, it’s not my fault it’s been so long,” Liam scoffs. “I’ve tried getting in touch with you but you’re not exactly an easy person to track down. I called twice just a couple of nights ago.”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs, remembering that very night. “I know you did. I’m sorry. It was late and it wasn’t really a good time. You know days are usually much better for me,” he says as he opens the menu sitting in front of him that he has memorized from how often he and Liam used to come here. Louis glances up from it when he feels Liam’s eyes locked on him instead of his own menu.

“You mean, it wasn’t a good time because you were busy, or it wasn’t a good time because he saw it was me calling and wouldn’t let you pick up?”

The deep breath Louis lets out as he closes his eyes is the only sound that passes between them for several long beats of time. “Neither. I mean it wasn’t a good time because it just wasn’t. I was with Nate,” Louis explains.

He doesn’t tell Liam that Nathan was up so late because he was nervous after his dad had finally come home from God knows where with his colleagues and couldn’t lower his booming voice or stand up straight from the amount of drinks he had. He also chooses to leave out the part where he purposefully let Liam’s call go to voicemail for a second time that night when Louis went back to his own room because then Chris would’ve realized it was him calling and Louis really didn’t need yet another argument about his ‘nosey’ friends on top of a drunk husband.

It’s like Liam can hear every thought that filters through Louis’ mind when the knowing, unconvinced expression he’s wearing stays in place.

Right. Whatever you say,” he answers tightly. His clipped response is almost enough to make Louis wish he had just stayed home.

Liam has pretty much always disliked his husband and Chris has hated him right back since day one. Louis doesn’t know why that is considering he and Chris didn’t start having problems until months after Nathan was born. He had made the mistake of telling Liam about one dumb fight they had that went a bit too far because they had both been drinking. It ended with Chris losing his temper and pushing him so hard into their bedroom wall that it left a permanent dent and Liam has distrusted the man ever since. Thankfully, Chris hasn’t been able to chase Liam away like everyone else he’s scared off from Louis’ life, though not from lack of trying.

“Li, please,” he whispers. “I haven’t seen you in weeks. Can we not do this today? I just want to spend time with you without bringing Chris into it just this once. Please?”

Louis would get down on his knees and beg for him to change the subject if he had to, but his eyes must look as desperate as he feels because soon enough Liam is forcing himself to nod in agreement.

“Alright. Fine. We’ll talk about something else. For now.” His jaw is tensed like that’s the last thing he wants to do, but he doesn’t say anything more. The relief that Louis feels is instantaneous.

“Great. Thank you,” Louis smiles as he reclaims his menu and rereads all its options. “In that case, I want a sandwich. No. A giant sandwich. A giant sandwich with so much cheese on it that I’m not going to want to hear the word cheese for the next year.”

“I think I want bacon on mine, but just the regular amount and on normal-sized bread,” Liam grins as he picks up his menu too.

Their waiter brings by their usual order of cappuccinos and Louis sits up in his chair to shrug off the denim jacket he grabbed before leaving home. He works his left arm out of its sleeve but then freezes and rethinks the action once he remembers the bruise on his right arm that’s mostly faded by now, but he knows Liam’s sharp eyes will surely see.

Liam notices the aborted movement as Louis tries to casually slip his arm back into the jacket which only serves to draw more attention to the fact that he was hurriedly taking it off just seconds ago.

“Er- I think bacon sounds good too,” Louis quickly agrees as he settles back into his seat and ignores the fact that he’s practically sweltering under the influence of his hot drink and the sun shining into the small confines of this café.

“Yeah, I guess…” Liam frowns. “It’s pretty warm out today though,” he comments. “Actually, it’s the warmest day this month. You aren’t hot wearing that?”

He is burning up but he can’t say that.

“Hmm? Oh, no, I’m fine,” Louis assures him. “I was just straightening out my sleeve.”

“Really? By taking your arm completely out of it and then shoving it back in. That’s a bit strange don’t you think?” Liam comments in that familiar suspicious tone that Louis was trying so hard to prevent.

“No, it’s not strange,” Louis assures him again. “It’s an old jacket and the fabric gets scratchy sometimes. It’s nothing.”

“Oh, I see,” Liam nods, no longer even pretending to read the menu. “Well, if it’s nothing, then you should just take it off. Since it’s so scratchy and all.”

Louis should’ve just kept the damn thing on because now Liam’s never going to let it rest. They both know that his unwillingness to take off his jacket has nothing to do with the actual jacket and now his best friend is going to obsess over it for the rest of forever. Louis is such an idiot.

“Stop staring at me like that,” he grits out when Liam refuses to look anywhere else with those eyes that know him better than anyone else’s.

“I would if you’d just talk to me and tell me what’s going on. Why won’t you take off the jacket?”

“Liam. I’m not doing this with you today,” Louis warns. “I already told you to just drop it. It’s noth-”

No,” Liam persists. “Take off the jacket and let me see your bloody arm.”

No, because I said to fucking drop it so drop it!” Louis snaps much louder than he meant to. “Chris and I had an argument a few days ago and maybe it got a little out of hand, but so what? Adults argue sometimes, Liam. It doesn’t always have to be some huge thing like you’re making it out to be.”

“Interesting you should say that because we’re two adults having an argument right now and no one is touching anyone else. Strange that, isn’t it?” he mocks without a trace of humor on his face.

“That’s because it’s not the same. We aren’t in a relationship, Li. And you’ve never been married so you don’t get it. You can’t and I don’t expect you to.”

Louis feels himself jump when Liam slams his menu shut against the table with his fist making a loud bang resound from the store front. Louis ducks his head when everyone in the café stops to look their way.

“Do you even hear yourself when you say shit like that? I don’t understand why you always make fucking excuses for him!”

Liam notices their audience when the building goes silent after his outburst and takes a deep breath to calm himself. Eventually, his hands steady where they had been shaking in frustration on top of the table. Louis has to take a couple of deep breaths of his own just to clear away the illogical fear and panic currently crawling up the back of his throat. He can’t remember a single time before now that he has ever sat across from his best friend and had that reaction. He doesn’t understand what the hell is wrong with him. It’s just Liam.

“I’m sorry I yelled. I’m so sorry,” he apologizes, looking more like the overly protective puppy that he really is. “But, Lou, a little out of hand is saying something you didn’t mean or- or even raising your voice in the heat of the moment,” he whispers with a guilty expression. “A simple disagreement shouldn’t leave you hurt or with marks on your arm so bad you don’t want anyone else to see.”

“That’s not what this is,” Louis insists for the millionth time. “I know you two don’t get along, but he’s my husband and people lose their tempers when they’re upset sometimes. Chris loses his temper sometimes, but it’s not like he means it. I get angry sometimes too, Li. It happens.”

Apparently, that’s not the case as Liam’s narrowed gaze would imply.

“Oh? So, Chris is walking around hiding his arms in jacket sleeves too, then?” he quips. “Because according to you it’s a completely normal thing that every couple does to each other, right?”

Louis doesn’t have anything to say to that which he thought would make Liam happy since he’s always so hell-bent on being right about this, but Louis’ lack of a response just makes his eyes look incredibly sad instead as he presses the heel of his hands into them.

“Louis,” he sighs. “You and Nathan deserve so much better. I worry about the both of you all the time. I’m a mess every time I don’t hear from you for a while because I think ‘This is it. He’s really hurt you this time,’ and I just- I don’t understand how we got here.”

Liam tries to meet his gaze again when he lifts his head but Louis avoids it completely choosing instead to stare at the napkin holder at center of the table. It’s less judgmental and doesn’t seem half as disappointed in him as Liam currently does.

“You’ve always been the strongest person I know, Louis, but when it comes to him you just…I don’t know. It’s like you just give up and I hate that he’s done that to you. I don’t want that Louis. I want my friend back,” he whispers. “I miss you.”

Somehow this quiet, candid side of Liam hurts more and makes him feel even worse than when he was angry. Liam says he’s different from how he used to be, and even though Louis can’t pinpoint what exactly about himself has changed, he knows that Liam is right. He just can’t admit it.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Li, because I haven’t gone anywhere,” he shrugs with a small grin. “I’m right here.”

“Yeah. Except, you’re not. Not really,” he says quietly. “And I don’t know if you can’t see what he’s done to you or you just don’t want to, but you’re not here.”

*

His conversation with Liam sticks with him the rest of the day no matter how hard he tries to forget it. His phone calls and lunch dates with Liam usually involve his friend checking in on him and Nate and fussing over the two of them as per usual, but they’ve never left Louis feeling so shitty about himself.

Seeing Liam was supposed to make him feel better not worse.

Luckily, Louis starts to feel a bit more like himself by the time school finally lets out and he gets to pick up his son. It’s hard when he’s at home by himself during the day and all he has is time to think. At least with Nathan home he has purpose as well as someone around to make him laugh and warm his heart all at the same time since Chris rarely does.

The thing is, Louis’ not an idiot like everyone seems to think. He’s aware that his marriage isn’t perfect but that doesn’t mean that it’s as bad as Liam assumes either. Louis has such an amazing life with his son which is all he ever wanted. Chris didn’t have to propose to him when he found out Louis was going to have Nate. He didn’t have to offer Louis a life with him in it too but he did and Chris asked for them to spend their lives together. Now Louis is one-half of a partnership that has its problems, sure, but whose marriage doesn’t?

Chris may not be the greatest at expressing his feelings, but Louis knows that he loves their son. The two of them don’t get to spend as much time together Louis would like, but that doesn’t diminish their bond in the slightest. And although other people don’t necessarily see it or believe it, Louis knows that Chris cares about him too.

Dinner is cooked and ready by six o’clock just like every other day even though Chris hasn’t answered him yet about when exactly he’ll be home from work. Louis hasn’t seen much of him for the past few days; weeks really. He usually comes in so late that Louis is already asleep and their mornings move so fast that they can’t really talk then either. He figures it’s going to be more of the same tonight when he puts Nathan in bed around nine and he still hasn’t heard anything back about when his father will be getting in.

He had wanted to show Chris an animal book he made at school, but it’ll just have to wait until morning. Louis tucks Nathan in and then sits next to him with one of many of his beloved storybooks in both of their laps. Chris may not be there to read to their son before bed at night, but that doesn’t mean Louis can’t try to make up for it by being there for him always.

When Louis wakes a few hours later, it’s to the feeling of someone touching his face, but it’s not playful or gentle enough to be Nathan. Louis opens his eyes to someone bent over him and the overwhelming smell of whiskey filling his nose. He tastes it when Chris kisses him and loudly licks into his mouth like Louis isn’t lying right next to their son in his bed.

“Stop it. You’re waking him up,” Louis whispers when he sits up and away from his husband to put some space between them. It only takes Louis’ sleepy brain a second to realize Chris is so drunk that he probably doesn’t know where he is.

Nathan’s still asleep Louis realizes when he pulls the covers up around his shoulders and better tucks him in. It’s nearly midnight. Louis didn’t mean to crash in here, but he was just so tired that he must’ve drifted off.

He dog-ears the corner of the page he fell asleep reading aloud but the book clatters to the ground when Chris grips him by the back of the neck to force his tongue into his mouth again.

“Come on. Get up,” he murmurs, making Louis’ stomach turn from the bitter aftertaste of his kiss. Louis pulls away from it and instantly regrets doing so when Chris glares down at him. “What’s your problem?” he demands.

He lets go of Louis’ neck to wrap his large hand around his bicep and yank him onto his feet and it hurts. He’s squeezing the same spot that he bruised a few days ago when Louis tried to be the bigger person during an argument and walk away, but Louis doesn’t dare say anything with Nathan sleeping so close by. He dutifully follows Chris out of the room, refusing to make a sound until he quietly closes their son’s door behind them.

“You’re drunk and you’re hurting me,” Louis says once they’re inside their own room. He would’ve willingly gotten up on his own to follow Chris here without being led like a dog, but he didn’t even give Louis the chance.

Chris toes off his shoes and then grabs at the drawstring of Louis’ joggers to take them off. Louis doesn’t mean to pull back when Chris leans in to kiss him again but it’s like an automatic reflex when he turns his head away from his husband’s bruising mouth.

The action doesn’t go unnoticed. Chris snatches his hands away from him and glares down at him again until Louis feels so small that he prefers to stare at the floor rather than at his husband.

“I don’t get you. You complain all the time about how I’m never here and then when I am and I try to spend time with you, you act like this.” He rolls his eyes at the way Louis jumps when all he does is gesture towards Louis’ hunched shoulders.

“I-I wasn’t complaining. It’s just really late, Chris, and you woke me up.”

“So?” he spits. “What? You don’t want me to touch you now? You’d rather sleep?”

“That’s not what I meant. I do want to spend time with you,” Louis whispers, because even though Chris has been drinking and he’s not being particularly nice right now, Louis has missed having his attention. Of course, he’d much rather sit down with his husband and have an actual conversation every now and then, but Chris has never been a big talker. They don’t have time for a lot of things with his unpredictable work schedule but Louis’ not going to whine about it on the one night that he’s here and just trying to be a normal couple.

“I don’t have to put up with this you know,” he tells Louis after a few long beats. “I don’t have to waste my time being here if you’re just going to-”

“No, babe. I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Louis says, finally meeting Chris’ eyes again. They’re brown just like Liam’s but they’ve never held the sort of fondness for him that his best friend’s do. Right now, they’re a little faded which can only be the result of having too much to drink tonight. They’re also full of disappointment like they always are when Louis makes things more complicated than they have to be.

Louis steps forward to kiss him, ignoring the fact that Chris tastes nothing like himself at the moment.

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers again against his neck as he starts undoing the buttons at the top of his shirt.

Chris responds the way Louis was hoping he would, by leaning his head back at his touch with a pleased sigh. Louis trails his lips down his neck and over his exposed chest as his eyes catch the shadow of something beneath Chris’ collarbone. Louis stops his efforts immediately and runs his fingers over the bruise, his stomach sinking when he recognizes it as a row of dark love bites that weren’t there when Chris stepped out of the shower this morning.

“What are those?” Louis asks dumbly even though he already knows full well what they are. He knows love bites when he sees them. He also knows his mouth wasn’t the one responsible for putting them there.

Chris lets out an impatient sigh as he glances down at his own chest. “It’s nothing,” he says as he bats Louis’ hand away from his skin. “Don’t worry about it.”

He holds Louis’ chin steady and resumes kissing him like nothing is wrong here when literally everything is. Those marks on his husband’s skin are all Louis can think about; that, and the image of someone else besides himself putting them there.

“No, but, I don’t understand. If you’ve been at work and then with your colleagues at the bar then when did-? Who did-?”

His questioning only makes Chris sigh again like he’s the one being inconvenienced by Louis not being dumb enough to miss the fact that he’s been with someone else.

“Look, babe, I already told you it’s nothing, alright? It’s not a big fucking deal and you had to find out sometime. You’ve never even noticed before so just pretend like it’s not there now.”

Louis’ mouth feels dry, his tongue heavy under the weight of the billion things he wants to say right now but doesn’t know how with Chris staring down at him like he’s an idiot. All those nights that Chris said he was working and then went out afterwards for a couple of drinks to loosen up now make a lot more sense to Louis. So do all the weekends where his husband disappeared without a word instead of cheering Nathan on at his football games or watching movies with them as a family on the couch.

“You know, the person who gave me these didn’t just stand there like this. I actually left him to come home to you and now I’m wondering what for,” Chris complains when Louis can’t do anything except stare at him and wonder what he did so wrong that warranted being cheated on. Maybe he should’ve done more. Maybe he should’ve asked Chris how he could be a better husband, though he guesses he shouldn’t be so surprised that Chris would do something like this to him. According to everyone else it was only a matter of time.

Louis wants to back away from him but the dangerous look that Chris is giving him right now makes him scared to even try from fear of ending up with a ring of bruises around his other arm or maybe even someplace worse.

“I-I’m not sure what you want me to say here,” Louis admits.

“You don’t have to say anything, babe, because no one else even matters right now. You’re the one I wanted to see, love. I mean, I thought you would’ve wanted to see me too since it’s been so long, but I guess not.”

It’s twisted, but it actually makes Louis feel better to know that in some small way, Chris missed him. Louis knows he should be mad at him. He should be angry and upset, and he is; it’s just mostly directed at himself. It hurts knowing that Chris has been lying to him. That he’s been choosing to lie to him in order to be with someone else, and all Louis can feel is a strange sense of disappointment in himself because all this time he thought he was good enough has been a lie too. Apparently, he’s not even good enough for sex anymore since Chris is getting it from someone else.

He doesn’t pull away when Chris kisses him and then picks up undressing himself where Louis left off with shaky hands. He gives into guilt surging through him, and even though Louis feels sick to his stomach when he gets down on his knees in front of his husband, he takes Chris into his mouth and does his best anyway wondering who was here in his place earlier tonight; if they knew he had a family waiting for him back home.

He feels like shit tonight so he was hoping to get Chris off with just his mouth but he pushes Louis away before he comes. It feels like a death march when Louis walks over to the bedside table as ordered to get the lube. He takes off his clothes and lies down to open himself up all the while his husband watches from the foot of the bed.

“Come here,” Chris says after Louis has only been working himself open for a few seconds.

Louis doesn’t immediately get up because he’s still not prepped enough but Chris walks over to the side of bed and pulls him up by his arm anyway. He presses a painful kiss to Louis’ lips that’s mostly teeth and then bends him over the bed in the rough manner Chris always uses when he’s been drinking.

It hurts when Chris quickly pushes inside and starts to fuck him but thankfully the sting only lasts a little while as his body adjusts to the pace. Louis’ back aches in this position but he doesn’t try to move until Chris lets him up and asks him to lie down on his back.

This position is easier on his spine. He feels better in general until Chris starts getting close and he leans down over him with blown pupils and nothing within their depths. He closes his hand around Louis’ shoulder but then slides it up to his throat for more leverage as he chases his orgasm.

His hips are snapping into Louis at such a steady rhythm that he’s having trouble pulling air into his lungs. Louis tugs at his wrist but Chris’ hand doesn’t budge.

“Babe, you’re hurting me,” he says, his breaths becoming shorter as Chris steadily chokes them off. “I can’t breathe. Please.” His words come out in desperate gasps but Chris doesn’t hear him over his own drunken murmurings into Louis’ ear about how good he feels and how close he’s getting as his grip gets tighter.

It's like breaking the surface of an ocean pressing in all around him when Chris finally comes and his hand falls away from his neck. Louis sucks in air like life itself and wipes at the tears that had gathered in his eyes when he started to fear that Chris wouldn’t let him go.

The bed dips to his left when Chris flops down next to him to catch his breath. He doesn’t even notice anything is wrong until he turns his head and sees Louis scrubbing over his wet cheeks as he holds back sobs.

“What’s wrong? Shit. Did I hurt you?” he asks, his half-lidded eyes swimming with something that resembles remorse, but it’s hard to tell. He knows Chris says and does things sometimes that he doesn’t mean, especially when there’s alcohol involved, but he’s never been so rough that Louis could’ve really been injured. He’s never come close to doing something so reckless that could’ve ended Louis’ life.

Just thinking about it and then imaging Nathan growing up without him makes him want to vomit. Louis winces when he swallows the feeling down, hoping the evidence of tonight won’t show up on his skin tomorrow.

He sucks in a sharp breath and jerks away from Chris’ touch when he tries to comfort him with a kiss to his shoulder.

“Baby, I’m so sorry. I just- I spaced out for a moment, but I didn’t mean it. You know that, right? You know I’d never hurt you. I love you,” he promises, and it sounds so much like a real apology; like all the other apologies before that always leave Louis questioning whether or not they’re genuine.

Louis doesn’t know how long he sits up afraid to lie down in his own bed and too scared to try and go anywhere else. His phone vibrates on the dresser across the room just after midnight. His mother is never up this late, so he knows it must be Liam. It’s probably a text goodnight along with another apology about their argument today, but Louis doesn’t dare get up to go check; it’s just not worth the risk.

His phone doesn’t vibrate anymore, returning the room to complete silence. Nathan must not have heard anything that happened over the past hour because he hasn’t come creeping into their room tonight to check if his parents are done fighting. He hates that Nathan gets so anxious just hearing loud voices, and what Louis hates even more is that he and Chris are one-hundred percent to blame. Their son is scared because of them.

All Louis can think when he glances over at his husband fast asleep and his grandfather’s ring around his own finger is that Chris proposed to him. He chose Louis to build a life with. Chris wanted to be with him and their son and Louis wanted to be with him too. At the time, Louis thought that was the right thing, both for himself, and for his child, but now Louis’ sharing a house with a man who’s never there and whose love oftentimes feels a lot like being smothered and snuffed out like a candle that once burned a bit too bright.

Much like Liam said today when he looked at Louis like the fight and the life has been drained right out of him, Louis doesn’t know how he got here. He didn’t know what exactly he was setting himself up for when he vowed to belong to Chris forever, but he knows for sure that he didn’t choose this. Nobody would.