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“Albus, please look at me. I want you to talk to me if there’s something wrong.”

Albus slammed the glass dish down in the drainer and turned to glare at his mother. “I told you before, Mum, nothing’s wrong! God, why do you have to ask me a million times? I. Am. Fine.” He threw the damp tea-towel at her and felt only slightly guilty when she flinched, her face tense with worry.

“That bruise on your throat, Albus—”

Albus let out a sharp burst of laughter. “What is wrong with you?” he asked her, shaking his head in disbelief. “I told you—nothing. Is. The matter. I’m sick of being picked at, that’s about it. Look, just get a life and mind your own business, will you? I'm tired of this.” He whirled around and left the kitchen, his mother staring white-faced and frightened after him, and hurried up the stairs to his bedroom. 

When he pushed open the door, Louis was already there. The cold knot of dread and anxiety in Albus’s stomach instantly eased.

“Louis,” he breathed.

“Is everything alright?” Louis asked him, an undertone of panic in his voice. He crossed the room and lifted Albus in his arms, holding him tight. “I left as soon as I got your Owl. I was worried. Are you okay?” He set Albus back down on the floor and anxiously searched his face.

“I’m fine,” Albus told him, reaching up to touch Louis’s cheek, which was cold and slightly damp. “I needed to see you, that’s all. God, I hate breaks. I hate not being with you.”

Louis’s expression turned troubled. “I know,” he said, brow furrowed. “I know, I hate it too, but we can’t be together all the time, Al. You know why.”

Albus stared down at his feet and nodded. It was his fault. They fought so often now and it was all because of him. Nine times out of ten Albus was the instigator—he did things he knew would make Louis angry with him, sometimes even deliberately—and when Louis snapped and wound up hurting him, things were always terrible for both of them: Louis would pull away from him, petrified of what he was capable of; and Albus would end up with marks, bruises and scratches all over his body that he couldn’t explain and didn’t know how to heal.

He looked up at Louis, determined to be as perfect for him as he could. “How long can you stay?”

Louis brushed the back of his hand against Albus’s cheek, staring down at him fondly. “Not long,” he admitted. “No one knows I’ve gone. I’ll have to be back soon.” Sighing, he sat down on the edge of Albus’s bed and patted his knee. “Come here.”

Albus didn’t need to be asked twice. He climbed up onto Louis’s lap and wound his arms around the other boy’s neck, burying his face in the crook of his shoudler and inhaling the scent of his skin. “I’ve missed you so much,” he murmured. He pressed his lips to the hollow of Louis’s throat, kissing him, over and over.

They’d only been apart for three days this time, but for Albus it was like a lifetime. Louis had been distant with him for much longer, ever since the incident that had left the bruise on Albus’s neck—when Louis had lost it and choked him. Albus couldn’t stand the reserve that had grown between them.

He felt disgusting and ugly and undesirable when Louis wouldn’t touch or kiss him. He was so guilty about provoking Louis the way he’d done that it made him sick when he thought about it. He wasn’t sure what it was that was wrong with him, what made him behave the way he did, but he hated himself because of it. All he wanted was for things to be as they were in the beginning, when there’d been nothing but love between them. When Louis had never raised a hand to him. When Albus had never thought, let alone spoke, the ugly things he had said to Louis.  

He leaned back to stare at his cousin, who was looking back at him with a terse expression. He seemed disapproving, his mouth a tight-line, and at the sight of him another crushing wave of disappointment fell over Albus. He wanted to do the right thing by Louis, wanted to be the right thing, whatever that was, but he couldn’t tell what Louis wanted him to be. It was almost as if he had forgotten the person he’d been when Louis had first noticed him; had first loved him. He wasn’t sure whether he could ever be that person again. Perhaps he could pretend.

Louis brushed his knuckles along Albus’s face, and gently fingered a lock of his dark hair. “Why are you thinking so hard?” he asked, with a sad sort of smile. “Talk to me. I hate seeing you like this. What’s wrong?”

“Me,” Albus answered him, covering Louis’s hand with his own. He averted his eyes then, ashamed of himself. “It's me. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done. I wish you weren’t still angry with me. I’m trying to change, can’t you see that?”

Louis looked pained at this. “I don’t want you to change, Al. You don’t need to change. The only one of us who needs to change is me. I’m trying too. Can you understand that?”

Albus blinked away tears. Louis wiped them away with this thumbs.

Slowly, Albus nodded his head. “You’re different,” he admitted, feeling suddenly nervous. “I know you’re trying to change, and I love you for it, but I wish you wouldn’t. You don’t need to change. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Louis let out a noise of impatience. “I hit you,” he bit out. “I hurt you, forced myself on you. I thought awful things about you. Sometimes I still want to hurt you. Do you want me to be like that, Albus?”

Albus shook his head. “But I made you do those things, Louis,” he whispered. “If I hadn’t have done what I did, you wouldn’t have been angry and—”

“Stop.” Louis caught Albus’s wrist, so tightly it was almost painful. His eyes were hard. “Stop saying that,” he said through gritted teeth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sick of hearing you say these things, you’re so twisted, sometimes it’s almost like you’re possessed, I just…” His cheeks were splotched with red now, and Albus knew he was angry.

Louis let out a low breath and finished, in a calmer voice, “I did those things because I wanted to. You didn’t make me. I would have done them no matter what.”

Albus bowed his head. “Alright. I won’t say anything else, Louis.” He'd done it again, provoked him. At least this time he'd had the sense to shut up while he was still ahead.

Longingly, he touched his cousin’s face, running the tips of his fingers along his jaw, and leaned forward to kiss him. As soon as he did Louis turned his head and Albus’s lips caught his cheek instead. He let out a defeated sigh.

“Not now,” Louis told him, in a strained voice. “Not yet. I won’t until I know I can trust myself not to hurt you.” He took Albus’s face in his hands and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead instead.

Albus’s heart sank. It wasn’t enough. He needed so desperately to be close to Louis, to feel his hands on him, that nothing in his world would be right until Louis decided he’d been punished long enough.

“Go to sleep now.” Louis lifted Albus off of his knee and guided him onto the mattress. Smoothing his hair back from his forehead, he whispered, “Bonne nuit, et fais surtout de beaux reves…” He kissed Albus twice on each cheek, lingering for so long that it was painful, and with a muffled crack he was gone.

Albus rolled onto his stomach and buried his face in his pillow, his ears ringing in the awful silence. He felt Louis’s absence as if the boy had been cut from him with a knife.