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I'm Not Brave Anymore Darling

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Harry is happy. Really, he is. (Okay, not really. But his therapist says that behavioral therapy is good for the soul. So whatever, more lying to himself, it's not like that's not what he's been doing his whole life.)

So maybe he's not happy. But he is in a better place than he ever has been. He's not gonna do that again. And maybe, at this point, it's more his mom's sake than anything (because the look on her face when she found out broke his heart) but still...he's staying sober and trying his best to become a functioning member on society. So really, that ought to be worth something. 

And really, everything's going fine. He is fucking fine. He's doing some vocal coaching here and there, presenting award shows occasionally, and even dabbling in a bit of acting. He's sober and about as not maudlin as he'll ever be. He's fine. And then, for old times sake, his life is upended by Louis Tomlinson. 

Like things usually do in Harry's life, it starts with a frantic phone call from Liam Payne. Harry has been keeping in touch with Liam and, by extension, Zayn. So nothing seems out of the ordinary when Liam's tanned face shows up on his caller ID when he's on his morning jog (daily exercise, another thing that came therapist recommended).

"What's up?" Harry answers, slowing to a brisk cool-down walk. 

"Harry!" Liam responds. Harry reads the panic in Liam's voice and is immediately on edge. 

"What is it? What's wrong?" Harry asks tensely. He hears a brief rustling over the line and then Zayn's voice is in his ear.

"Harry, something's happened." Zayn explains calmly.

"Well, obviously!" Harry exclaims, biting at his thumbnail. He just wants to know what's going on so he can process it and move on. Stress isn't good for his recovery. 

"Louis is in the hospital. We need you to come and--see him." Zayn falters and that's how Harry knows that this is really serious.

"Oh god. Is he dying? Is he dead?" Harry asks, voice going high as his throat tightens. 

"No he's fine. Well he's not f--look he tried to kill himself? The doctors say he's not dying anytime soon but...we kinda need you here Haz." Zayn explains. Harry feels like he's been punched in the gut, all the air rushes from his body and he's desperately trying to hold onto the remnants of something.

"Where are you? I'm on my way." Harry says, tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder as he speeds home to pack his duffel.

*~*~*~*

"Haz, good to see ya mate." Liam says, patting Harry on the back. Harry snorts because it's such a Liam thing to do: act like everything is normal to comfort them in a crisis. 

"Where is he?" Harry asks, injecting the unspoken 'I mean business' into his words. Harry knows exactly what he needs to do and he's going to do it. Liam flinches as if this is exactly what he didn't want to anticipate. 

"Look, Harry, he's fragile right now. You need to handle him--" Zayn trails when Harry gives him the 'you better stop right there' look.

"Don't tell me how to handle him, Zaynnn," Harry hisses, "If anyone knows how to handle Louis bloody Tomlinson, it's me." He didn't spend a year watching a bulimic Louis fall to pieces without learning anything about how to deal with a seemingly fragile Louis. He knows that Louis is never as fragile as you think; he has a lot of fight in him and sometimes all he needs is a little tough love to tap into it.

"Yeah, that's why you guys had such a stellar fucking relationship." Niall interjects sarcastically. And ok, yeah, maybe Niall has a point (not that Harry would ever admit it). He glares and opens his mouth to spout out a not-so-carefully crafted retort when Liam stops them all dead in their tracks.

"I want you all to stop this right fucking now, you hear me? This is about Louis, and only Louis. I know we're all under a lot of stress here, but that doesn't give us the right  to attack each other, got it?" Liam puts every ounce of the daddy direction that he has left into his words. They all listen instinctually; old habits die hard, Harry supposes. 

*~*~*~*

Harry promised himself he would keep it together. He spent the whole plane ride collecting himself so he could keep it cool when faced  with this moment. However, as soon as he walks into a hospital room to see Louis surrounded by tubes with an 'oopsie' smile on his face, that premise basically is thrown out window.

"What the fuck did you do, you bloody fucking idiot?" Harry snarls. Because apparently, after all these years, being around Louis still turns him into a bag of dicks when faced with the prospect of emotional vulnerability. He would apologize if he could get enough air into his lungs to form the words.  Liam gives him that look and Harry can practically hear his disappointed 'Harry Edward Styles, what the fuck are you doing'.

"Tried to pull the plug on this 'life' deal, apparently it didn't work." Louis announces jokingly. Harry winces and its just too much. Only Louis would be twisted enough to laugh in the face of attempted suicide. Harry wants to crawl into a dark hole and never come out. He can't do this. He shouldn't have come. (Even as he thinks that, he knows that there's no way he wouldn't have; he'll always come running if he thinks Louis needs him.) 

"I'm sorry...it's just--you can't have really done this. It can't be real." Harry says, moving to Louis' bedside. 

For the past two years, he's been living on the premise that Louis was living his life as the old Louis. That living without the stress of being One Direction made him happy and he had gone back to being strong and bright and beautiful and loud and overconfident and ridiculous and perfect in a way that only Louis Tomlinson can be.

 Even when being alone made Harry miserable and drove him to the brink of insanity, he kept himself going with the thought that somewhere out there, Louis Tomlinson was happy. That was all that mattered to Harry, and now that he knows that even that is a lie, he feels like he has nothing left. Like he's made of skin and bone and he just can't anymore. Like he's floating away because there's nothing keeping him here anymore. 

"I did. It is." Louis confirms miserably. If Harry thought that he was done having his heart broken by Louis Tomlinson, he was dreadfully wrong.
 
*~*~*~*

"Well, it's been an emotionally taxing day and I, for one, am going to bed." Zayn announces, curled up on a cot in the spare room provided to them by the hospital. They can't stay in Louis' room (he needs his rest, apparently trying to overdose on purpose can be very exhausting) but the hospital was willing to give them the room next to his due to their 'special circumstances'. Harry adds it to his mental 'perks of being an ex-boy band member' list. 

"Why did he do it?" Harry asks, and it's like the shot heard 'round the world. It's the one question they've all been avoiding, fearing the answer. But Harry's always been the masochist and he needs to know. Liam tenses, hunching over on himself, and Harry knows that he knows something. Apparently Zayn does too, because he is immediately at Liam's side, glaring at Harry protectively.

"Liam?" Harry demands, ignoring Zayn's unspoken warning. 

"It's my fault." Liam says, voice crackling with guilt and tension. He looks horrified at himself and if it's that bad than Harry isn't sure whether or not he actually wants to know. (Who is he kidding? Of course he does. But he's self absorbed enough to let himself think that he still cares about other people's feelings.) 

"What did you do?" Harry demands, trying his best to keep the anxiety out of his voice. As stupid as it is, he still cares and he's trying his best to not look too involved in this whole thing. He needs to pretend like he accomplished something in the last two years.

"I was just trying to protect you, Harry." Liam sniffles. Everything suddenly feels to ominous and it makes Harry want to run. He's trapped between his regret of coming here in the first place and his inability to leave because Louis

"Because we have such a great track record with making decisions in Harry's best interest." Niall mutters. Harry's not sure what that's supposed to mean, but it doesn't sound good (just another unresolved issue he's going to be forced to come to terms with). 

"He called and he--he wanted to contact you. And I--I told him you didn't want to speak to him. I told him not to call you because you didn't want to be involved with him anymore." Liam's face is marred by guilt and deep regret. He looks so pained that Harry automatically feels the need to do something about it. Zayn rubs his arm soothingly.

"Right, ok, right." Harry murmurs, struggling to process the information. He stands and paces because he needs to do something before he goes crazy. 

"Harry, I'm so sorry. It's just, you were sober and you were getting better and I just wanted it to stay that way. But I'm sorry." Liam's voice cracks and he looks so sad that Harry has to hug him.  

"It's okay. We all make mistakes. It's not your fault." Harry soothes. Liam cries into his shoulder.

*~*~*~*

"I brought you food." Harry says, throwing a bag of McDonalds into Louis' lap. Louis sits up.

"Oooh food? I love food." Louis says, seeming far too perky for someone who just tried to kill himself.

"Yeah well, you're lucky you can still eat. If you had died--" Harry stops talking when Louis' face falls, "Sorry. I shouldn't--that wasn't my place." Harry apologizes. Louis nods his acceptance guiltily. He bites into a burger and chews thoughtfully.

"Why are you even here?" Louis asks. He doesn't say it meanly, just curiously. 

"Because. You need me." Harry answers simply. Louis looks a little disappointed and Harry can't help but feel like he said the wrong thing.

"What about what you need? Liam said--" 

"Liam...I didn't...he misunderstood me. That's not--not what I meant." Harry doesn't want to throw Liam and his puppydog eyes under the bus so he does his best to talk his way around the issue. Louis seems to accept the explanation with a weak smile.

*~*~*~*

"Why did you do it?" Harry asks a little while later. They're waiting for the boys to return with dinner and he just has to know. He knows why Liam thinks he did it but he needs to hear it from Louis. It may be in vain but he thinks maybe--maybe if he hears the reasoning from Louis than it will make sense. Maybe, he'll be able to forgive Louis for almost dying; for almost leaving Harry alone for good.

"Do you even remember what it felt like, hope?" Louis glances down at his hamburger and swallows before continuing, "Well I do. And I just--I wanted to feel that way again." Louis explains. Harry frowns at the empty jello cup in his hand and thinks that over. And, well, it makes sense. He can understand it. He wandered around, desolate and hopeless, for so long that he can understand the longing for a thing with feathers; can understand the willingness to do something reckless just to feel again. 

"Yeah." Harry breathes. Louis looks like there's something he wants to say, needs to say, but he needs some encouragement. "What is it?" he insists. Louis swallows and Harry can see the bright beginnings of tears in his eyes. 

"I'm sorry. For doing--for being so stupid. I didn't--I should have cared and I  didn't and I'm so, so sorry. I guess, I just thought it wouldn't really affect anybody." Louis plays with his hands in that way he used to do when he was nervous. 

Harry wants to laugh, or maybe even cry, at such a familiar gesture. It's stupid and pointless and beautiful, the things that remain the same after everything goes to hell. Louis is still a child, desperate for the approval of everybody he meets because he was starved of the approval of his own father. And Harry, Harry is still a sixteen year old boy, futilely in love with with a blue eyed hurricane. They're still mutually assured destruction and they still won't work and Harry still wants it despite all of that.

"It's okay Louis. It's okay, I forgive you." Louis nods and he looks so much older than his twenty-three years and Harry wants to take it all away. He wants to break down walls and achieve the unachievable and take away all of Louis Tomlinson's pain. And this, this is what Harry was afraid of. This is the feeling that Harry has spent the last few years of his life running from. 

*~*~*~*

The hospital is willing to release Louis a week early two weeks early as long as someone is willing to stay with him. Harry can see Louis getting restless, filled with hyperactive energy that always comes back with a vengeance. And, because Harry will never learn from past mistakes, he offers to be that person. 

Louis' doctor gives Harry a debriefing and it's pretty basic: watch over him and don't let him do anything stupid and basically don't let him kill himself (the doctor uses different words, but that's basically the gist of it). 

"You're lucky I'm a good friend." Harry grumbles as they make their way to his car.

"Yeah, yeah I am." Louis says. He has a swing in his step and a brilliant smile on his face and Harry feels a familiar bubble of warmth in the pit of his stomach. Fuck. 

*~*~*~*

Things go great the first few days. They sink back into old routines from when they lived together and Louis slowly perks up and it's great. The rest of the boys go home but Liam and Zayn don't live too far away so they come visit on Louis' fifth day home on the hospital. Harry is pretty sure that they're only checking in to make sure that Harry and Louis haven't destroyed each other yet, but he doesn't mention it. 

"So, how are you? Liam asks as they're sitting around the kitchen table. 

"I'm good." Louis says, but he's a little too perky. Apparently Liam notices it too, because he gives Louis his patent 'don't shit me' look. Louis frowns down at his fingers, "I am better. A lot better." he surmises while sneaking cautious glances at Harry, Harry pretends to not notice.

"Good, that's good." Liam says softly. His actions belie his words as he anxiously glances at where Harry and Louis are sitting, pressed thigh to thigh. Harry understands Liam's worries, he just doesn't acknowledge them. He can't acknowledge them because he is still not able to accept what is happening right in front of him. 

*~*~*~*
 
Niall calls the next day and Harry is fairly sure Liam put him up to it. Their conversation is short and to the point and persnickety enough that Harry has to ask about it.

"What did I do to make you hate me?" he asks, because he needs to know. He just wants to know what he did to justify Niall's displeasure. 

"I don't hate you man," Niall snorts. Harry patiently waits for the 'but', "I guess I just--I kinda spent two years blaming you for all the shit we went through. And I know it's wrong and juvenile...but it was easier to deal with when I had someone to blame."

"You don't have to feel sorry for blaming me; it was my fault, after all." Harry means it in the most honest of ways. He's always thought that maybe, just maybe, if he hadn't fucked everything up, they could have made it. Sure, they probably would have all been miserable. But maybe, things wouldn't have ended on such a negative note. Maybe they would all still love each other like brothers and not in the distant way  you love someone that you don't really know anymore. 

"Nah. It wasn't your fault. We all made our mistakes. I think you probably saved us all; sped up the inevitable to keep us from going crazy." Harry doesn't really believe that, but it's nice to hear.

*~*~*~*

"Why hasn't your family visited?" Harry asks on his seventh day with Louis, when be can't refrain any longer. Last time Harry checked, Louis was really close with his family. And as far as Harry can tell, they haven't even called. He can tell as soon as he asks that it was a bad idea; Louis' face falls and he looks devastated.

"They--we don't talk anymore." Louis says. Harry nods and is prepared to leave it at that when Louis speaks up again, "After--after everything happened, I didn't really treat myself right. My mom--she told me not to come around until I got my life together."

"Oh." Harry replies quietly. He didn't keep up with the tabloids after the band split. His sobriety was still on shaky ground and he knew he probably couldn't take it. But he thinks he remembers distant whispers of Louis Tomlinson, on a rampage, destroying cities and panties alike. But, like he said, he really tried to shut that stuff out, "Don't you think it's time you gave them a call?"

"Maybe. I don't know, maybe I'm not ready?" Louis is silent for a couple moments, staring at the carpet thoughtfully, "She thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me, you know? She'll never forgive me for letting you go." Louis says expectantly, breaking Harry out of his thoughts. Harry feels like he's been hit with a bucket of ice water or punched in he gut; it never fails to shock him, reminders of everything that he's lost. And he can't, he can't do this right now. He's not ready. He knows Louis is probably expecting something, but he just doesn't have anything left to give. He's long since accepted the fact that all they can do is destroy each other. It may feel right, but that doesn't make it right. They'll be the death of one another and Harry can't let that happen.

"I can't." Harry chokes and Louis nods. 

"I know," Louis says with a thoughtful frown, "But I'm not giving up. Not on us, not this time." Harry feels like he's bursting and it's not fair that a simple declaration can so easily fill his empty insides. It's like Louis has carved out this place in Harry's soul that only he can fill.

*~*~*~*

Harry is a lot of things. He is selfish and selfless, broken and unfulfilled, determined and lazy, smart and stupid, overdramatic and laid back, reckless and cautious, masochistic as hedonistic. He stops and starts, stays and goes. He is a locked box and an open book. He is the devil on your shoulder and the angel floating above your head. He is a million paradoxes locked into a 140 pound frame.

One thing that he always has been and always will be is unfailingly and unfathomably in love with Louis Tomlinson.  He says always because he thinks he was in love with Louis before he even met Louis. Like a fraction of his self was created to love Louis, to be with Louis. When he met Louis, the first thought he had was 'there you are'. He lived his whole life feeling like something was missing, like he had phantom limb syndrome for a limb that never existed in the first place.

And then he met Louis, and for the first time, he was complete. Even when they hated each other, even when they were doing terrible things and tearing each other apart, they still completed each other. 

Which is why, he thinks, this endgame was always inevitable. No matter what promises he made, it was bound to end like this. They're still mutually assured destruction, they'll still tear each other to pieces without a second thought. But maybe, maybe they can be there to put each other back together again. 

*~*~*~*

The beginning of the end is put into motion by his mother. Harry expected his mother to be the last person to support him falling in with his old ways. However, as shocking as it is, she seems gleeful when she finds out that he's stating with Louis.

"I thought you would hate me doing this. My therapist thinks that he's the worst possible thing for my recovery." Harry says. He hears Anne's familiar 'I beg to differ' snort.

"Oh, screw your therapist. Louis was the best thing that ever happened to you and you know it as well as I do," Harry thinks it's funny, how their moms have that opinion in common. Maybe they know something that Harry and Louis don't, "You were never happier that when you were with him." And Harry definitely can't argue with that.

"Yeah, I know." Harry agrees softly. And now he can't stop thinking about it, how happy Louis made him. He's tried to focus on the bed, like how things ended an all the terrible things that they could theoretically do to each other (all the terrible things they have done to each other). But now that he thinks about it, it wasn't all bad. In fact, most of it was good. They were happy for a period of time; on top of the world with how in love they were. Harry thinks that they couldn't have be as horrid as they were to each other without first being wonderful; they couldn't have been as devastatingly sad as they were without first being devastatingly happy. 

"Maybe, maybe you could just start a friends or something...but I think it'll do you both good to be a part of each other's lives." Harry knows that her heart is in the right place. But is he ready to let Louis back into his life permanently? Can he handle it?

*~*~*~*

It all comes to a head two weeks within Harry's stay with Louis. Things have been a little stilted and awkward since Louis' declaration, and it's driving Harry mad. With want, with need, with anticipation that coils in his gut and denies him sleep.

Spurred by his conversation with his mom and his own desperation, Harry blurts, "Do  something, already." at the dinner table. He simply cannot handle this awkward in between phase any longer. He knows that his mom was wrong about one thing: Harry and Louis can't just be friends. If they're doing this, they're doing this and if they're doing this then Harry would just like to do it already.

"What?" Louis asks inelegantly, with a mouthful of pasta. Harry rolls his eyes because honestly, Louis has always been one for a show. It's probably why he's drawn this out for so long.

"I mean, if you're going to make a move, then make a fucking move." Harry insists. The feral grin Louis gives him makes a scorching heat explode in his abdomen. And then Louis launches into Harry's lap. Their lips and teeth smack together and it's ungraceful and out of practice and a little painful and a lot perfect.

And Harry knows what he said. He knows the promises he's made about resisting this and not putting himself in this position again. But he is, above all else, and addict. And Louis is most definitely his biggest addiction. That's what the drugs were, after all, a subpar replacement for Louis. He just can't resist this any longer, can't keep himself from having.

They end up on the couch, Louis bouncing up and down on Harry's cock with the tan line of his neck glinting in the moonlight. Louis fucking onto him like he's oxygen and Louis can't get enough. He digs his nails and teeth into Harry's body and marks him like he used to and it's so fucking good. The endorphin rush Harry gets from his release is better than any drug. Watching Louis fall apart above him is like coming home in the best of ways. 

Maybe Harry's mom is right, maybe they will end up being more good than bad. Maybe this will be the best decision that either of them of them has made.  

Or, maybe he'll be right and this will end up killing him, this addiction to this beautifully broken man. Maybe it will tear him apart and strip him of everything that once was human. But it will be worth it. He's going to die either way, it's the curse of the living after all. He might as well die by the hands of someone he loves.