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Louis wakes up that morning to Harry’s face hovering above his, looking at him with clear fondness and adoration. With a quick glance to his right, Louis notices that it’s just past 10:00am. It’s fine – it’s the weekend, they don’t have anything to do, and they can afford to sleep in. He looks back up at Harry who’s propped up on one elbow, leaning over so that he’s practically on top of Louis, and bites his lip, waiting for the other boy to say something.

“Hey babe,” Harry murmurs, ducking down to press a sweet kiss to Louis’ lips.

Louis smiles softly into the kiss, waiting for Harry to pull back before he greets the other boy.

“G’morning, Haz,” He replies softly, rubbing one eye with a balled up fist, eyelids heavy with drowsiness.

The bed sheet slips down his torso as he does so, revealing the smooth expanse of his skin, tainted only by a scattering of bruises along his hips.

“Sorry about these,” Harry whispers, gently pressing the pads of his fingers into the dark marks that align perfectly with them.

“It’s okay,” Louis croaks, voice still rough from sleep (and maybe a little from the things he did with Harry last night). “You didn’t mean to.”

“No, I didn’t,” Harry says quickly, voice stern.

Louis is quick to reply. “I know; its fine.”

“Good,” Harry says, voice still harsh, before his face softens and it looks like he might even be a bit apologetic about the tone he used. “You want to make breakfast now, babe?”

Louis grows quiet. “You know I’m no good at cooking,” He says meekly, bowing his head solemnly as if he were truly very sorry about the fact that he lacks cooking skills.

“Fine, God, just make the tea then, I’ll make breakfast.” Harry growls, a flash of anger crossing his face.

Louis opens his mouth to apologize, but Harry is up and out of the bed before he can, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, “fucking useless.”

The moment was nice while it lasted.

+

Breakfast is nice – Harry seems to have calmed himself down and has made a delicious meal of bacon and eggs, something that they don’t eat often. Louis could never pull it off and Harry says that it’s too much work. Louis suspects it might have something to do with the occasional offhanded comment he receives from the younger boy about his weight. He tries not to think about that too much.

Louis makes tea and Harry kisses him when he grabs one of the cups from him – a gesture that still sends butterflies fluttering in his stomach after all this time with Harry. (He doesn’t think about how that might be because of how rarely Harry is this affectionate. He doesn’t.)

Harry doesn’t even say anything when Louis goes to collect their used dishes from the table to wash and accidentally knocks over the salt shaker. He just makes an annoyed sound and rights the salt shaker in its place, glaring, brows furrowed, as Louis hastily brushes the spilled salt into his hand and dumps it in the trash can.

“I’m so sorry, I –” Louis tries to apologize, but he stops when Harry waves his hand, a clear dismissal.

“Don’t worry about it.” Harry says, but it’s less of a suggestion and more of an order. “Now get dressed, I’m going out.”

“You want me to get dressed when you’re going out?” Louis blurts out before he can stop himself, instantly looking surprised – and guilty – at his own words.

“Yes.” Harry says, voice gruff. “Don’t argue, just do.”

“Well, where are you going?” Louis asks, and then immediately curses himself for his impulsive speaking.

“Fuck, Louis, just stop asking me questions. It’s very well none of your business, is it? Just go get dressed.” Harry orders, before standing up from the table and pushing himself past Louis, who’s still standing nearby, dirty dishes in hand.

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers to Harry’s retreating figure, before placing the dishes in the sink and hurrying to get dressed.

When he’s done, he comes out of his and Harry’s shared bedroom to find Harry waiting for him, looking smiley as ever.

“After I get dressed, I’m going to be out all day and I might – I probably will, actually – be gone until after dinner. I’m sure you’re capable enough of taking care of one meal by yourself.” Harry says, voice patronizing.

“Of course,” Louis agrees without complaint. At least Harry is looking happy again.

“Oh, and I have things I want you to do as well,” Harry continues, and Louis has to do his best not to audibly sigh. “Starting with taking care of those damn dishes. They should’ve been done by now, anyways.”

Louis doesn’t point out that Harry had ordered him to get dressed before he was able to do them – he just nods his agreement, silent and submissive, like Harry wants him.

“Then I want you to do the laundry. Don’t forget to put them in the dryer like you did last time. I expect the bathroom to be clean and organized when I’m back, as well. Oh, and the carpet’s looking filthy. The kitchen could use some washing up. And for God’s sake, take a shower. I’m sure you’ll think of other things to do as well,” Harry prattles off the list, not seeming to care how much he makes Louis do.

Instead of arguing like one would in normal circumstances, though, Louis just nods obediently.

“Great, thanks babe,” Harry says, pecking Louis on the cheek like he was actually giving him a choice.

“No problem,” Louis says weakly as Harry goes into their bedroom to get changed for whatever the hell he’s going to get up to while he’s out.

Louis decides he’d better start now – given the size of their flat, this may take a while. He decides to do the dishes last, after he’s eaten dinner, instead of doing them twice. He dislikes the vacuuming the most, so he decides to start with that.

As he’s pulling the vacuum and its cord out of the supply closet, he hears Harry call out to him.

“Love you!” Harry yells.

“Love you too!” Louis replies, shouting back to him, a genuine smile on his face.

After he hears the front door open and close, signalling that Harry has left, he waits five minutes to see if Harry will come back (in case he’s forgotten something), before connecting his iPod to their stereo and blasting music into the house. He prefers to listen to music while he cleans rather than silence – it keeps him from getting bored and gives him something to dance to. Harry doesn’t like when he plays his music loudly, though, dismissing Louis’ taste of music as “stupid” and “immature” and definitely “not worth listening to”.

Louis loves it, though – loves bopping along to the soundtrack of Grease or dramatically singing along to new album by The Fray. If he can’t enjoy cleaning, at least he can enjoy the music.

+

It takes Louis hours to get all the cleaning done – Harry assigned him so much to do and the flat’s so big and Louis really wanted to be thorough. He skips over both lunch and dinner – he can have food when he’s done.

He’s just putting the cleaning supplies that he used on the kitchen under the kitchen sink and in the cabinet there when the front door swings open, alerting him that Harry is back. He hastily shuffles into the living room, relaxing into the couch with a smile, making sure he looks presentable, eager to please his boyfriend.

When Harry staggers into the living room, Louis’ lips turn down, his smile dropping to a frown.

“Are you…drunk?” He asks, standing up to look his boyfriend up and down disapprovingly.

Harry walks over clumsily, standing in front of Louis, his eyes glassy. “What’s it to you?”

“It’s 7 o’clock, Harry.” Louis replies.

“So?” Harry slurs, his eyes looking unfocussed.

“Fuck, Harry,” Louis swears, gripping onto his drunken boyfriend, trying to lead him away from the couch and to their bedroom.

Harry seems to have other plans in mind though, as he stumbles over to the kitchen instead, holding onto the fridge door’s handle for support. Louis follows him, intent on getting his boyfriend to bed, when Harry’s eyes catch on to something.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” He roars, and Louis jolts, startled.

The older boy looks around, confused.

“What?” He asks, then his eyes land on the sink and – oh.

Because he never had dinner, he had forgotten to do the dishes.

“You useless little bitch!” Harry yells, getting up close to Louis and pressing him against the fridge door, the handle digging into his back. “One fucking job, Louis!”

“I – I’m sorry, Harry,” Louis whimpers, squeezing his eyes shut. “I was – I was cleaning the rest of the house, and I –”

“Don’t even try making excuses!” Harry growls, eyes blazing with anger.

“It’s fine, I’ll do them now, I’ll get them done, just go to bed,” Louis pleads, eyes still closed.

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Harry screams, his already-red face from inebriation turning even redder.

Harry lets Louis go from the position he has him, trapped against the fridge, and Louis breathes a sigh of relief. Harry’s not done yet though, apparently, because the younger boy brings his hand up, driving the palm of it across Louis’ face, slapping his cheek with as much force and coordination he can muster in his drunken state. Louis chokes out a whimper, head lolling to the side, eyes welling with tears, but stays otherwise silent.

You see, Louis is used to this – used to having Harry ordering him around, and shouting at him, and beating him – this is normal for them. Harry keeps it to the minimum when other people are around so you wouldn’t suspect a thing, but this is a regular thing for Louis.

“Look at me, god damn it!” Harry shouts, one big hand coming up to grip tightly onto Louis’ jaw and wrench it back to face him.

Louis opens his eyes after a moment, breathing heavily and shaking in fear, eyes silently pleading for Harry to forget about it. Harry just glares at him, chest heaving, before eventually letting him go, stumbling back a few steps.

“I’m going to bed,” He says, voice gruff and words slurring. “Don’t even think of joining me until you do the fucking dishes.”

Louis nods frantically.

“Understood?” Harry asks, eyes narrowed to slits.

“Yes, yeah, of course,” Louis squeaks, nervous that he’ll anger Harry any further.

“Good,” Harry says, before he turns his back on Louis and walks away, tripping over himself as he drunkenly makes his way to their bedroom.

The tears he was so desperately trying to hold back stream down Louis’ face once he’s gone. He wipes his nose and sniffles, trying to stop himself from full-blown sobbing, before turning to the kitchen sink and doing as he was told. Like always, he’s ever obedient, he thinks bitterly.

+

Louis climbs into bed with Harry that night with dried tear tracks on his face – not a rare occurrence but one that hurts just as much. His cheek still stings a little from the impact of Harry’s hand, but just the knowledge of how Harry wanted to hurt him and the words he called him hurts much more than the actual pain of the hit.

This happens way too often and it’s certainly not healthy, but Louis knows Harry loves him, and even if he didn’t, Louis wouldn’t have the guts to leave him. His relationship shouldn’t scare him, he knows it shouldn’t, but he thinks of the good times he has with Harry and the love he does get, despite the hurting, and it’s all too confusing and muddled and complicated for him to figure out. Besides, Harry is what he’s used to. It sounds awful, but it’s true. Harry is safe – maybe not physically, but he knows what to expect with Harry. Harry’s constant.

Louis’ heart clenches even more when Harry snuggles up to him in bed that night, mumbling what sounds like an apology, but he can’t be sure, not with what state Harry’s in.

Louis falls asleep that night with a mess of thoughts buzzing in his mind, none easier nor more pleasant to think about than the rest.

Chapter Text

Louis met Harry through a mutual friend in his first year of university where he studied the Dramatic Arts. (It was on a scholarship – there was no way that his family would be able to afford sending him to university.)

Louis shared a dorm with another guy named Zayn who was studying English, and they became fast friends. Zayn and Harry had known each other since high school and had remained friends even when Zayn went off to university and Harry went to work with his father who was the CEO of a large, successful corporate business.

Louis and Harry had been introduced to each other when Zayn had invited the two to go drinking with him. Louis had heard about Harry before meeting him that night at the bar, but had never seen him, and the moment the younger boy stepped into that bar, Louis’ breath had been taken away – Harry was gorgeous, dressed up in a beige Henley long-sleeved shirt and tight black trousers, curls perfectly styled in a messy but attractive look.

The two had flirted all night, leaving Zayn feeling like a bit of a third wheel, and before they all parted ways, Harry and Louis exchanged numbers and Louis got himself a peck on the cheek, Harry being ever the gentleman.

Louis got a text only a few days later from Harry asking him out on a date, which he agreed to go on easily. (After, of course, squealing and gushing to Zayn about how perfect Harry was with his eyes and his curls and his everything for a few minutes before Zayn threw a pillow at his face.)

Their first date was amazing – it was the best date Louis had ever been on. Harry had picked him up late in the afternoon with a basket in his hand and they had a picnic in the park while the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. (It was cheesy, it really was – a sunset picnic – but it was really cute and Harry was wonderful and Louis was a hopeless romantic, anyways.) 

Louis was practically throwing himself at Harry by the end of the night, inviting him over back to his place under the pretext of having some post-date drinks. (He could text Zayn to get him out of there, because really, they both knew what Louis meant by ‘drinks’.) But Harry, he shook his head at that and said goodbye to Louis with a sweet, chaste kiss on the lips and words of, “I like you and have too much respect for you for that”.

Louis could feel his heart melt and went back to his dorm that night with happy butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. One date in and he could already feel himself falling for one Harry Styles.

(Louis didn’t once stop to think about the tight-lipped smile and the forceful hand Harry used to push his away to do it himself when he accidentally dropped his can of pop into the grass next to him, the drink almost spilling out onto the blanket Harry brought, him blushing and apologizing for being so clumsy. Anyone would’ve been annoyed with him.)

+

They went on frequent dates for a month before Harry asked Louis to be his boyfriend. He didn’t hesitate to say yes; through the whole month, their dates were just as amazing as the first, and Louis continued to be completely charmed by the younger boy who treated him like an angel. He was perfect.

One of his other friends – Liam – warned him that Harry wouldn’t be like this forever, that no human being was as perfect as Louis described Harry to be, but Louis laughed it off, because really, Liam was ‘such a worrier’.

After becoming Harry’s boyfriend, Louis was really, really happy. Not only was he doing well in his university classes, but now he had a loving boyfriend along with him.

Harry was the pretty much the same, treating Louis like a princess, despite what Liam said.

Louis would admit, though, that he was a bit controlling. When they got food, he would always be really insistent on what Louis would order, and he wouldn’t let Louis buy anything like clothes for himself unless he was there. He claimed that he just liked to join Louis with things like that, and Louis had always been pretty clingy himself, so he didn’t think much of it. Louis thought it was sweet that Harry liked to be so involved with his life.

Harry would get really irrationally jealous, too, even of Louis and Zayn’s friendship, but Louis couldn’t lie; he liked the feeling of Harry wanting him all to himself, he liked the feeling of being wanted. Besides, when Harry went a bit too far with his jealousy, he’d always apologize right away. Louis didn’t mind all that much. It wasn’t that bad.

Harry punched a guy once for persistently trying to come onto Louis at a bar one night, and maybe that’s when Louis should’ve seen that Harry had violent tendencies, but all he could think about was getting Harry away from that bar to calm him down. That guy deserved it, Louis convinced himself, and it was kind of hot on Harry’s part anyways.

And Louis didn’t mind being dominated in bed – in fact, he loved a good, rough fuck as much as Harry did.

These things probably should have been the first warning signs, but Louis hadn’t been in many committed relationships before, and it felt nice. And all the rest of the time, Harry was endlessly sweet and caring and the perfect boyfriend.

Louis just couldn’t admit to himself that Harry might be anything short of perfect for him.

+

The first time Harry hit Louis, it was half a year into their relationship, and it was over something pretty stupid. They had fought before, many times; Harry got angry pretty easily. It was never as bad as this though. Harry wasn’t typically one to hold a grudge – when he was angry, it was hot and fast. Usually Louis could calm Harry down enough, before either of them said or did anything they’d regret, and they’d both get over the fight pretty quickly. Not this time though.

It started that day when Louis was just getting back to Harry’s flat from one of his evening university courses and Harry was waiting for him. With Harry’s money from his father, the flat was way bigger than Louis and Zayn’s dorm, and Louis spent a lot of time there, always meeting with his boyfriend there after his classes, as per Harry’s request.

It was almost like he lived there.

When he got in, Harry got up to greet him, cheerfully asking him if he wanted to go out that night.

“You know I can’t, I have to study,” Louis said, shooting his boyfriend a small, apologetic smile. “Sorry, babe.”

Harry scoffed. “Don’t ‘sorry babe’ me,” He replied, scowling. “You’re constantly busy. It’s frustrating. We never spend any alone time together.”

Louis frowned, upset because his boyfriend was upset. “I know, but I just want to do well in university. Not everyone has the perfect job lined up for them at birth like you do.”

They had talked about this before; how Louis’ always either at university, buried in a book, or going over some sort of script for his drama course. Harry hated it.

“I told you, you don’t even have to go to university! My family has enough money for the both of us!” Harry said, his brow furrowed as he scowled at Louis.

Louis sighed, exasperated. They had talked about this before, too – Harry wanted Louis to just throw away all the hard work he had done at university and the future and independence and chance for a career he was building for himself in favour of quitting and living with Harry and having Harry’s family’s money and Harry’s future job at his father’s company pay for everything he ever needed.

“Please baby, I told you,” Louis said quietly, trying to be calm so that Harry would calm down too. “That’s not what I want. I want to do things for myself – I love you, but I don’t want to always rely on you!”

“So what, you don’t think this relationship will last? Is that it?” Harry growled, and Louis could tell he was growing angrier by the second.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Louis tried to explain, voice as soft and soothing as he could make it. “You know I love you, I just want some independence too. I want to be able to take care of myself – it has nothing to do with you.”

Harry seemed to think about that for a second, but didn’t look any less angry, or intimidating.

“What, you don’t think you always being busy with university and never having any time for me has nothing do with me? That’s what you think?” He retorted, fists clenched and back straight as he practically loomed over Louis, a threatening pose he frequently took when arguing with the smaller boy. “It has everything to do with me.”

Louis frowned, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “Stop it, that’s not fair. You’re twisting my words into something that I don’t mean.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Ugh, you’re so fucking annoying. I’m not ‘twisting your words’ – honestly, you’re such a child.”

A flash of hurt crossed Louis’s face, before he schooled his features into a look of anger.

“How can you call me a child?” Louis snarled, stepping closer to Harry so he was crowded up in his space. “You’re the one who’s so fucking clingy that he can’t fucking be apart from me for two damn seconds so that I can work on making a life for myself! You’re the one who’s depending on his Daddy to get a career and has had every single fucking thing in his life handed to him!”

When Louis saw the look on Harry’s face after that, he instantly regretted his words – the taller boy’s nostrils were flared, his brows furrowed, and his mouth lips were pursed, his whole face contorted into an expression of fury. It was a sensitive subject – Louis knew that Harry was sick and tired of his work at his father’s company being devalued because he was his son.

Louis opened his mouth to quickly apologize. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean –”

Harry cut him off before he could finish that thought though, the interruption coming in the form of a firm slap to the face, the palm of his hand connecting with Louis’s cheek with a harsh SMACK!

Louis’s mouth fell open in shock as he recoiled from the slap, bringing his hand up to cup his cheek, gently touching the reddened, tender skin there with his fingers. He whimpered as he felt the spot where he had been hit, and when Harry looked into his eyes, they were filled with fear.

Harry instantly looked regretful and stepped forwards with an outstretched hand to comfort Louis and apologize, but Louis flinched backwards.

“Don’t touch me,” Louis hissed, the words spat out with venom.

“Louis–” Harry tried to start, but Louis stopped him.

“I can’t believe you, Harry,” Louis said quietly, his face crumpling, voice low and cold.

“Please, Louis, just–” Harry tried again, stepping up to the smaller boy who looked so fragile, grabbing onto his wrist to stop him from moving while he tried to explain himself.

“No! Let me go!” Louis shrieked, removing his arm from Harry’s grasp. “Leave me alone!”

“Ok, ok,” Harry gave in, putting his hands up to show that he wasn’t going to touch Louis, but that just made the smaller boy flinch. “I’m sorry babe, honestly.”

“I never thought – not this – not from you,” Louis choked out a sob, before bolting out of the front door, running out of the building and into the parking lot.

Louis wrenched his car door open and climbed into the front seat, closing the door behind him and jamming his key into the ignition. He didn’t turn it, though, just rested his arms on the steering wheel and dropping his face into them as his body was wracked with sobs. Louis couldn’t stop crying – he thought he had finally found a nice guy that he might even want to spend the rest of his life with, and Harry had betrayed that.

He didn’t know how long he sat there crying his eyes out, but the next time he lifted his head was when he heard the tap on his window. He quickly rubbed at his eyes, trying to wipe the tears away, frowning, before turning to look at who was the source of the noise. His frown deepened when he saw that it was Harry standing there, looking contrite, and Louis felt a stab of heartache go through him. Sighing, Louis unrolled the window.

“What do you want?” Louis asked, voice hoarse from crying as he glared at the figure standing outside of his window.

Harry crouched so that his head was level with Louis’s, and Louis could see that he had been crying.

“To apologize,” He said, looking at Louis with sorrowful eyes.

Louis cracked a small smile, the corners of his mouth twitching up slightly.

“You’re not gonna leave me alone until you do, is that it?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head.

“Fine, go on then,” Louis said.

Harry took a deep, shaky breath, before he started speaking.

“I’m so, so sorry Louis, and you have to believe me. I have no excuse for what I did, and I can’t believe I did it. Fuck, I hit you, and I feel terrible for it, honestly. I love you so much Louis, you know that, you mean the whole world to me. We’ve been dating – what? 6 months? – and already you’re everything to me.” Harry sounded so sincere as he spoke, and Louis could feel himself tearing up again “You’re amazing, you know, and there’s nothing I regret more in my whole life than what I just did. I know it’s – it’s awful to ask this of you – but could you find it in your heart to forgive me?”

Louis hesitated, and Harry backed away from the door, motioning for Louis to come out.

“C’mon baby, let’s go upstairs. We can watch a movie – whichever one you like – and I’ll make you dinner, and I won’t even touch you if you don’t want me to. I’ll never touch you again if that’s what you want, if that’s what it takes to spend time with you. Please, Louis.” Harry was begging now, and Louis could feel his resolve, along with his heart, cracking.

Tentatively, Louis removed himself from the car, closing the door behind him and collapsing into Harry’s surprised arms.

“You can touch me,” Louis murmured, and Harry did, carefully closing his arms around the smaller boy. Louis tilted his head up to look into Harry’s eyes. “Just don’t – don’t ever do that again.”

“I won’t – I wouldn’t – I promise, I love you,” Harry repeated it several times, reassuring Louis, who was relaxing in his arms.

“Okay, yeah, I love you too,” Louis said, ignoring the voice inside his head that was screaming at him to get away from this man who hurt him. “Let’s go upstairs, yeah?”

“Of course, baby, anything you want.”

+

The second time Harry hit Louis, Harry was drunk and it was more of a tight grip on his wrist followed by a harsh shove than an actual hit, and rather than apologizing afterwards, Harry stumbled into bed and fell right asleep.

He was sorry in the morning, of course he was – he kissed each of the bruises on Louis’s wrist and convinced him that he didn’t know what he was doing and he was so tender that Louis had no choice but to believe him.

Louis told his friends the bruises on his arms were from tripping and falling. They believed him.

+

The violence kept on coming and Harry kept on making up excuses and Louis kept on accepting them. Besides, what would Louis do? Leave him? He was much, much too in love for the old Harry that didn’t hurt him for that.

Along with the violence there was verbal abuse too, not like Louis would call it abuse, but it was mostly off-handed comments about Louis’s weight and his worth and whether Harry should even bother sticking around, but who else would be there for Louis? Who else would want him?

Sometimes it hurt more than the physical stuff. Louis had always been insecure, and with all the things Harry said, that was only heightened. But he couldn’t get away from Harry, not when he knew how gentle and tender the other boy could be, and... and... Who else would want him?

Louis bought makeup for the cuts and the bruises to stop his friends from asking questions.

At least the sex was still good.

(It happened often, at least. Louis wouldn’t dare deny Harry that. What if Harry decided that enough was enough and he was leaving Louis for being so useless? Who else would want him?)

+

Louis ended up moving into Harry’s big, fancy flat eventually. It was more gradual than not. Harry would just keep insisting that Louis spent more time at the flat and suddenly all his stuff was moved over there from all the times he’d needed it and maybe Harry wouldn’t give him a key, wouldn’t give up that control, but when Louis had gone over a week without even stopping by his dorm, he brought up moving in to Harry.

Harry seemed eager to have him over more. (Louis told himself it wasn’t at all anything to do with Harry wanting control. That was absurd.)

Louis couldn’t just sell his dorm room because it was already paid for, so Zayn just got the extra space and Louis told himself that at least next year when he had planned to split a flat with Zayn, he could use the extra money from not paying rent to send to his family. Harry wouldn’t make him help pay the rent at this fancy flat.

+

In time, Louis’s life practically fell apart until the only thing secure in his life that he had was Harry. Harry compelled him into quitting university and stopping his semi-job that he loved of participating in local plays that would pay him for his acting. Harry wanted Louis to be around the flat all the time for him – to spend time with only him.

Louis told himself it was fine. It was fine. He didn’t need that stuff, anyways. Harry would take care of him, like he said he would, because only one of them had to work, and Harry made plenty enough money at his father’s job and then some for the both of them to live well. Maybe Louis would have a new bruise every day but Harry gave him money to support his family and Harry was the only one who would ever love him, anyways. He should be thankful for everything Harry did for him, he knew that.

And it wasn’t like Harry was crazy. Harry would let him have contact with his friends and his family and he’d let him go out as long as he was back by a certain time and when Louis thought about it, it was all very understandable.

+

Even present time, Louis owes Harry, Louis is at fault for anything bad that happens, Louis is the one who is lucky that Harry is sticking around, not the other way around.

Louis knows that. Harry tells him so every day.

Chapter Text

Louis’s bent over the sink, washing the dishes from Harry and his breakfast and his lunch. He nearly jumps out of his skin in surprise when he feels two arms wrap around his waist and a head come to rest on his shoulder.

“Did I scare you?” Harry asks, removing his arms from around Louis and using them to spin his boyfriend around so that he’s facing him.

Louis shakes his head, smiling sweetly, because maybe Harry did startle him, but he knows how much Harry hates when he gets all jumpy.

“No, I just didn’t expect you to be home so early,” Louis says, and then quickly tacks on a: “But it’s nice to see you.”

“Mm, yeah, Dad left me off early, said he wanted time alone to concentrate on his work and that there was nothing useful I could do there,” Harry frowns for an instant, but then takes in what Louis’s doing and the frown’s gone. “Thanks for taking care of the dishes, babe.”

Louis gives him a genuine smile, and he can feel his stomach flutter with happiness because Harry’s being so sweet to him.

“Not a problem, you can go relax, I’ll finish them up,” Louis says, and prays that Harry doesn’t snap at him because he did just tell him what to do, and that’s bad, very bad.

Harry doesn’t seem to notice though.

“You better,” Harry murmurs, and his voice is quiet but the order is clear.

“I will,” Louis reassures him quickly, picking up the rag he was using to wash the dishes as if to prove to Harry that he’s going to.

“Alright, you get to that,” Harry tells him, and his voice may be harsh but there’s a smile on his face. He’s trying to be nice, Louis can tell.

Louis nods obediently, and turns to get back to cleaning up their dishes. He can hear Harry’s footsteps as they walk away from him, but they pause for second.

“Louis?” Harry calls his name out, and Louis turns his head to see that Harry’s stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the frame of the door and looking at Louis.

“Yeah?” Louis asks curiously.

“Zayn invited us to go out to dinner with the boys tonight,” Harry says, referring to their regular group of friends that typically go out together consisting of Harry’s long-time friend and Louis’s former roommate Zayn, Louis’s long-time friend Liam, and another lad they only just met a few months ago or so named Niall. “Not a bar, just a nice restaurant.”

“Okay,” Louis responds, acknowledging the fact that Harry spoke but not voicing his opinion on whether or not he wants to go out or not so as not to conflict with what Harry wants to do.

“We’re going, so I expect you to wear something nice. I’m not taking someone who looks like you do now,” Harry says gruffly, and then he’s gone, out the kitchen and away from Louis.

Louis sighs, because Harry was being so nice, and Louis loved it, but Louis knows Harry’s just being honest – he probably looks like shit, unshowered and in unflattering clothes that probably make him look gross, washing away at dirty dishes. Harry’s right not to want to take him out in the state he’s in – Louis knows he’s just doing him a favour by pointing out how awful he looks so that Louis can fix it.

Louis finishes up the dishes and quickly goes to his and Harry’s bedroom to pick out clothes to put on after he showers for that night, even though they’re probably not going to leave for a while. Louis’s too ashamed of how he looks and can’t bear for Harry to see him again with how ugly he is at that moment. He has to make sure to be perfect for Harry all the time, lest Harry get tired of him and how he looks.

+

Louis and Harry arrive at the restaurant late because Harry didn’t like what outfit Louis picked out for himself and made him change. Louis had looked in the mirror and realized how right Harry was – he picked out terrible clothes that made him look fat and ugly and disgusting and why would Harry want to go out with him if he looked like that?

Louis feels good wearing his best clothes as he enters the restaurant, though, with Harry’s arm possessively slung around his waist. The hostess leads them to the table, a booth, that the three other boys are already sitting at and Liam is the first to notice them, his eyes glancing down to Harry’s tight grip on him, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“Hey lads!” Liam greets them cheerfully, which draws Niall and Zayn’s attention to them.

“Oi, why are you two so late?” Niall teases from his spot next to Zayn, watching as the couple slides into the seats across from him, sandwiching Louis between Liam and Harry.

Louis hides his wince as Harry’s hand grips onto his thigh, his nails digging in and pressing bruises into the skin there, clearly placing the blame on him. (It’s always Louis’s fault. Louis knows that already.)

“Louis here is pretty high maintenance,” Harry says with a laugh as if he finds it funny, but the hand on Louis’s thigh tells a different story.

“I second that,” Zayn chuckles, leaning across the table to playfully ruffle Louis’s hair.

“Hey!” Louis exclaims in protest before he can stop himself, quickly glancing at Harry to check that he’s not angry at Louis for contradicting him.

He doesn’t look like it, but the grip on his leg tightens by a miniscule, barely noticeable amount. Tentatively, Louis places his hand over Harry’s and turns it over so that he can lace their fingers together. Harry calms a bit, his shoulder relaxing.

“Mate, I was your roommate once, I know how long you take to get ready,” Zayn mocks him, and everyone at the table laughs except for Louis, who just pouts exaggeratedly.

Before the discussion can go any farther, a waitress arrives to take their drink orders. She goes around the table asking each of them what they want, and when she gets to Louis, he doesn’t even get the chance to open his mouth before Harry is speaking for him.

“He’ll just have some water,” He cuts in, earning himself a few weird looks from their friends, but Louis just nods happily to ease their concerns – he doesn’t need any of them commenting on it and just angering Harry, anger that the larger boy will just take out on him. “And I’ll have a beer for myself.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back with your beverages,” The waitress says, writing the last of the order down on the notebook in her hand, smiling at the group politely before walking away.

The table erupts in discussion once again, but Louis just silently opens his menu, scanning the list of items for a meal that will contain the least amount of fat. Everything on the menu looks so rich, though, and he knows that most of it will annoy Harry if he orders it.

He settles on a salad with strips of grilled chicken on the side, and he relishes in the smile of approval he gets from Harry when the waitress comes back around with their drinks and he asks for it.

“Is that all you’re gonna have?” Liam inquires as soon as the waitress has left, and Louis bites his lip nervously, trying to think of an excuse.

“I – I’m just not all that hungry,” Louis explains, smiling shyly. “I’ll have some of Harry’s if mine’s not enough.”

Liam nods at that, seeming satisfied with the answer he got, and Harry, pleased, starts rubbing patterns into the back of Louis’s hand with his thumb, their fingers still laced together.

The food takes a while to get to them and the boys all cheer when it’s placed on their tables, the waitress smiling apologetically. Louis’s stomach has been quietly growling for a while now and he’s absolutely starving. Thankfully, even though what he ordered doesn’t seem like it would offer much sustenance, the portion is large and the chicken looks delicious.

Louis doesn’t have much against eating – he likes food, loves it even. He just knows how much Harry disapproves of him eating a lot and gaining weight. (All Louis wants is Harry’s approval.)

Louis’s only about halfway through his meal when Harry leans over, his dark curls brushing against his cheek.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, babe?” Harry practically hisses into his ear, the words sharp and a clear order to Louis.

Louis nods and drops his fork to his plate, forcing a smile despite the way his stomach protests, still hungry and aching for food. He looks down at his plate longingly and then over at Harry’s, watching how the younger boy digs in to the large, juicy steak he ordered, clearly not concerned about weight gain like Louis’s supposed to be, because Harry can eat anything without being fat and ugly like Louis will be.

Louis can’t help the tears that he feels pricking at the corners of his eyes, and with a sharp inhale, he pushes himself up from the table and turns towards Liam.

“Could you please excuse me, I need to visit the loo,” Louis says quietly, not wanting to draw attention to himself, but he already has and he can feel every pair of eyes at the table on him.

Liam glances at his face and looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t – just slides out of the booth and lets him get out.

Louis breathes deeply as makes his way to the washroom, walking over to one of the sinks and pushing up his sleeves so that he can run the tap and splash water on his face. He calms himself down, slowing his breathing, before grabbing a paper towel and wiping away the water – and his tears – from his face.

He’s too busy looking at himself in the mirror that he doesn’t notice the bathroom door swing open and another person enter. Suddenly, the reflection of Liam behind him is in the mirror, and with a gasp, he spins around to face his friend.

“Fuck, you scared me!” Louis cries out, eyes wide.

Liam chuckles nervously. “Sorry, Lou, I just wanted to check on you.” Liam says, voice soft. “You – are you okay?”

Louis brings a hand up to swipe his fringe to the side and away from his face, sighing.

“Yeah, I’m great,” Louis lies, smiling to make it more believable.

“You don’t look great,” Liam replies, frowning skeptically.

“Wow, thanks mate,” Louis says sarcastically.

“Oh, you know what I mean,” Liam laughs out. “Just – are you feeling okay?”

Louis opens his mouth to reassure Liam that he’s fine, but changes his mind and shakes his head instead.

“No, actually, I’m feeling a bit sick, that’s all,” Louis tells him, and he’s only half-lying.

“Oh. Did you tell Harry?” Liam asks, looking concerned, his eyes scanning over Louis’s face as if investigating how sick he is and how he can make it better.

“No, I didn’t want him to worry,” Louis says, laughing lightly, ignoring the sick churn in his stomach and pushing the chant of he wouldn’t worry, he wouldn’t care, it wouldn’t matter, that suddenly goes through his mind to the back of his thoughts. “He wouldn’t have let us come, would’ve just wanted to stay home and take care of me or something.”

Lies, lies, lies. He wouldn’t worry, he wouldn’t care, it wouldn’t matter.

“Oh. That’s sweet.”

There’s a long pause while Liam looks at Louis, calculating, trying to figure him out. His eyes flit over Louis’s body, giving him a once-over, and Louis gulps when they rest on his forearms and Louis realizes that his sleeves are pushed up and he has uncovered bruises there.

“What are those?” Liam demands, his arm shooting out to grab on to Louis’s wrist to display the bruises and prevent Louis from pulling his sleeves down and tucking his arms away.

“Uh...” Louis pauses, hesitating as he tries to figure something out to say that isn’t the truth.

(Liam would overreact. It’s not a big deal – what Harry does to him – because he deserves it anyways, but Liam would make it a big deal.)

“Did Harry do that to you?” Liam asks accusingly, his voice rising in volume.

“No! God, of course not!” The lie slips off Louis’s tongue easily, as he wrenches his arms away from Liam’s grasp and pulls his sleeves down so that the bruises are out of view. “How could you say such a thing?!”

Louis acts completely offended, like the thought of Harry ever doing that is so absurd, so horrific, so completely out-of-character of his boyfriend. (It’s not.)

“I just – I’m sorry Louis, but he seems so controlling, and harsh with you sometimes, and I just – I’m sorry,” Liam apologizes quickly, trying to rectify the situation and calm Louis down. “I just thought – I jumped to conclusions, I guess. I love you Louis, you know that. I just always want to make sure you’re okay, I’m sorry. You just – how did you get them, then?”

Louis forces out a laugh at that, trying to ease Liam’s concerns.

“You’re such a worrier, Li, honestly,” Louis says lightly. “I just – I tripped, that’s all.”

“Really? And got those bruises from just tripping?” Liam inquires disbelievingly.

“I was going up stairs!” Louis explains quickly.

“Where?” Liam asks, crossing his arms over his chest.

“At the – Christ, I can’t remember! Jesus, why does it even matter, Liam?!” Louis exclaims, throwing his hands up exasperatedly. “Stop worrying so much, you’re such a mother, God!”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, Lou,” Liam soothes, trying to calm Louis down. “You know how I worry. Let’s just get back to the table, yeah?”

Louis takes a deep breath, turning to take one last glance at his reflection in the mirror, before looking back at Liam and smiling.

“Yeah, of course, let’s go.”

Louis and Liam walk back to their table where the three boys are finishing up their meals, and they all look up to shoot them concerned looks from their spots. Louis and Liam smile as they slide back into their seats, and Louis prays that no one says anything.

Harry, however, leans over to whisper into his ear.

“You okay, Lou?” He asks quietly, but still audible to everyone at the table.

Louis nods, taking Harry’s hand back into his own again, and looking over at Liam, not missing how guilty the younger boy looks upon seeing the interaction.

The waitress comes by once everyone is done with their meal to ask them if they want desserts, and Louis has to cough to hide the way his stomach grumbles when she starts listing their options to a curious Niall. Louis’s thankful when everyone, including Niall, declines ordering a dessert, because he thinks he might’ve cried if he had to watch someone eat something like a delicious, decadent slice of cake in front of him while he didn’t even get to finish his salad.

Everyone pays for their meals, Harry insisting that he pays for Louis’s, and the couple parts the rest of the group to go home, opting out of accepting Niall’s offer to have them come over for drinks.

Harry drives Louis home, and the instant they get through the front door of their flat, Harry has Louis pressed up against the wall, lips finding his. Louis instantly forgets his hunger because Harry is there, kissing him with fervour, pressing the line of his body against Louis’s, and it feels so good.

Harry stops suddenly, though, ignoring Louis’s whine of protest, pulling back from him and gazing intensely into his eyes.

“What did Liam have to talk to you about privately so urgently in there?” Harry asks, voice low and demanding. “And don’t lie and say that you two didn’t talk, you’re not two girls who have to go to the bathroom together.”

“Now, Harry? I thought we were gonna –” Louis complains, upset that Harry cut off their make-out session for this. (Any chance Louis can get to get affection from Harry, no matter how heated, is one he’s gonna take.)

“Yes, now.” Harry growls, his tone offering no opportunity for Louis to argue.

“It was nothing,” Louis lies, and then sighs upon seeing the flash of anger in Harry’s eyes, relenting. “He just thought I looked off, that’s all. He wanted to check up on me.”

“And what did you tell him?” Harry demands, his hands coming up on either side of Louis to encase him against the wall.

“Just that – just that I was feeling a bit sick,” Louis tells him, breathing heavily from the remnants of his arousal towards Harry and his growing fear. “That’s it, I swear.”

Louis doesn’t even think about, or register, what that means about their relationship if Louis has to lie to Harry about how concerned Liam was in fear of Harry preventing him from seeing Liam anymore, because maybe Liam would find out how Harry treats him, and that’s a bad thing. That maybe the way Harry treats him is something that Liam should be worried about. Louis just knows what Harry wants to hear and he wants to give that to him.

“Good,” Harry says, and then he’s kissing him again, harder than before, his tongue forcing itself into his mouth and practically down his throat.

Louis makes a noise of surprise but then relaxes into the kiss, bringing his hands up to tug on Harry’s curls, relishing in the attention he’s getting from his boyfriend. (Despite how Harry treats him, Louis will never stop being attracted to him, he thinks.)

Without consent from Louis, Harry grips onto the older boy’s thighs and lifts him off the ground so that he has to choose between falling or wrapping his legs around the younger boy’s torso.  Louis chooses the latter, surprised by Harry suddenly lifting him up, but content with where this is going.

As Harry carries him towards their bedroom, Louis pushes the niggling thought that maybe he shouldn’t be letting Harry control and manhandle him so much like this when he already does so much during regular life to the back of his mind. It’s not true. This is just how they work.

Harry commands and Louis obeys. Louis gets punished if he doesn’t. A ton of relationships must be like this – it just makes sense, right? Someone has to be in charge.

Chapter Text

Louis can tell that it’s going to be a bad night as soon as Harry gets home from his work at his father’s company and Louis sees the look on his face. Harry’s lips are pressed into a tight line, his forehead is crumpled, and his whole body is tense, down to his hands that are clenched into fists. He gets this way sometimes after work, and Louis knows that Harry’s father treats him poorly and more like some unpaid intern than his actual working son, so usually it has something to do with that.

Harry never opens up to him about that sort of stuff, though, and if Louis brings it up he just gets even more angry, so Louis skirts away from the topic of his father on nights like these (and all the time), and just does his best to keep Harry calm. Louis’s learned the hard way that it’s best to steer clear of Harry completely and avoid getting in his way rather than trying to service him or talk to him about it, so that’s what he tries to do.

Louis quietly stays out of Harry’s way as best as he can while still being useful to him. He tidies up the kitchen while Harry relaxes in the living room, and then quickly cleans up after Harry in the living room while the younger boy goes to the bathroom.

Louis can sense that Harry’s irritation is just growing as the evening goes on, though, and it all comes to a head when Louis quietly makes Harry a cup of tea and steels himself as he goes to the bedroom where he is to bring it to him. The younger boy chooses that moment to come out, swinging the door open and walking right into Louis, sending the teacup flying out of his hand and crashing to the ground, shattering and spilling hot tea all over.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Harry screams, losing control, his hands flying up to his curls and pulling at them like he wants to rip the hair right out of his head.

His face is bright red with anger and his eyes look wild and furious, and Louis braces himself, shaking with fear as he watches Harry’s fury unfold. Harry doesn’t hesitate in throwing a punch at Louis’s face, his fist coming into contact with the smaller boy’s cheek. It’s like Harry’s anger was just accumulating all night as he grew hotter and hotter with unreleased rage and now it’s all exploding out of him in a fit of fury.

“You little bitch! What the hell?!” Harry continues to cuss Louis out, his eyes practically bulging out of their sockets while he swears, using every explicit word he knows. “Fucking shit! Cunt! Wanker! Can’t do one damn thing right in your fucking life!”

With every word, he sends another wild punch at Louis’s body, each one either completely missing him or cracking down on him with brutal strength. After a few of his powerful hits, Louis falls to the ground with a whimper, his eyes welling up and spilling over with tears as his back falls right onto some of the broken up, sharp pieces of the teacup.

“I can’t fucking handle this right now! Damn it!” Harry screeches, as he flexes his fingers, eyeing the mess made on the ground.

Louis curls up instinctively, trying to protect himself from Harry’s wrath. It’s hard to pretend that Harry still loves him when he’s like this, but every hit has Louis repeating he’s just angry, just upset, he lost control for a moment, it’ll be over soon, soon he’ll be back to the loving, wonderful boyfriend you know he is to himself in his mind.

The tears roll down Louis’s cheeks and he’s sobbing now as Harry starts kicking at his stomach, his back scraping roughly down on the shards of the shattered cup.

“Fucking useless! Can’t do fucking anything!” Harry yells. “I don’t know why I still keep you around when you can’t fucking hold onto a damn teacup! Stop crying, you fucking deserve this!”

The words sting almost as much as the kicks and Louis cries out, his hands flying out in an attempt to get Harry away from him, to push him away, away, away.

“Stop! Please, Harry,” Louis chokes out, gasping for air. “Enough! Please! I’m sorry!”

Louis continues to beg for Harry’s mercy, his words broken up by his sobs, and Harry quickly loses his momentum, his anger and energy draining as it boils over and he slows down his attacks on Louis’s frail body. Breathing deeply, Harry backs away from Louis, and when Louis lifts his head, feeling weak and bruised, he swears that he sees a look of horror appear on Harry’s face. It’s gone as soon as Louis spotted it, though, as Harry’s face crumples into an expression of annoyance.

“Get the fuck up and clean your mess up,” Harry orders. “I’m going out.”

And then he’s gone, away and out the front door, slamming it shut behind him.

Louis lies on the floor for a while, just crying, but he knows if he doesn’t clean himself and the hallway up soon, Harry might come back and be even more pissed. Louis waits for his breathing to slow and the tears to stop falling before he picks himself up off the ground, careful not to step or place his hands on any of the broken pieces of the teacup.

Gingerly, he pads over to the bathroom he shares with Harry, wincing with every step. His whole body is killing him – even his wrist is throbbing from the way he fell onto it. He knows he should probably go to the hospital, but they always ask questions and there’s no way he’d be able to think up a believable explanation for this. He knows if he told the truth Harry would get in trouble. (And maybe that there should be an indicator of how unhealthy and wrong their relationship is, but Louis thinks nothing of it.)

Besides, none of the damage is probably all that severe or permanent, Louis tells himself. It never is. Harry wouldn’t do that to him. He vows to himself that he will go to the hospital if any of it doesn’t seem to be at all healing and just worsens after a few days, and leaves it at that.

When he gets in the bathroom, he turns so that his back is facing the mirror and he’s looking over his shoulder to see as he carefully pulls off his shirt, careful not to have it drag any of the shards that might be imbedded in his skin.

When he gets it off, he can see that there are some, and quickly, like ripping off a bandage, he wrenches them out of his skin, crying out as he does and wincing when he sees the blood spill out of the cuts. He rummages in their medicine cabinet for anything that could help him heal his wounds, but to no avail.

He grabs one of the cloths they use to clean their faces and turns the tap on, pouring water onto it. Whimpering, Louis uses the cloth to clean his cuts, wiping the blood from them and making sure they won’t get infected. None of them look too deep – nothing that he’d need stitches for. He doesn’t have any bandages, though, so he’ll just have to be careful while he moves around and hope that none of them bleed too much.

Louis rubs his aching wrist as he turns back around so that he’s facing the mirror, inspecting his front in it. His face is bruised and purpling and one of his lips is split. On his chest and his abdomen and particularly where his ribs are, his torso is littered in ugly bruises that hurt immensely to touch, and hurt even more so when he tries to move around.

In summary, he looks and feels like shit.

There’s not much he can do about the bruises besides ice them though, not that he knows of. He won’t be able to go out until the swelling on his face can go down, and even then he’ll have to put concealer on to cover up the bruises that will certainly be there for a while. All Louis can hope for is that Harry will be gentle with him in the following days and that he’ll be able to keep from angering him.

Louis sighs as he looks at his reflection in his mirror, bringing the cloth up to his face to cautiously wipe away the drying blood. When he’s done, he sets the cloth down and slowly walks out of the bathroom and down the hallway, avoiding the mess he made as he goes to supplies to clean it up.

Louis finds paper towels in the kitchen to soak up the tea and a broom to sweep the cup up with, and brings them down the hallway. Slowly, he sweeps up the shards into a dust pan and sets it aside to dump into the garbage in the kitchen later, and then he crouches down to wipe up the tea with the paper towels.

When he’s done and the broken cup pieces and tea-soaked paper towels have been disposed of, Louis gets himself some ice to wrap up in two cloths, one to press to his face and one to rest on his wrist to lower the swelling. During the whole process, he tries to keep the thought of Harry and what he might be doing and whether or not he deserved the beating away to the back of his mind.

When the ice melts down, Louis is too exhausted, in pain, and emotionally drained to do anything other than slump down onto his side of his and Harry’s shared bed. Despite the bruises there, he lies on his front, foregoing wearing a shirt so that the cuts on his back can get some air. He vaguely remembers his mom saying something about cuts needing air to heal when he’d refuse to remove his band-aids as a child, but he might’ve just made that memory up, or she might’ve been lying.

He doesn’t know, but what he does know is that Harry wouldn’t be too happy to get home to blood all over his sheets, so lying on his front it is.

+

Louis is roused from his sleep hours later when another body climbs into the bed next to him. He lifts his head to see Harry next to him, not smelling of alcohol thankfully because Harry is an angry drunk and if Louis said or did something wrong he probably wouldn’t even think about how injured Louis is already before hurting him.

Harry’s eyes are open but he’s not looking into Louis’s – instead, he’s scanning over Louis’s back, taking in the wounds there. One of his hands comes up to carefully trail his fingers over the cuts, sending shivers down Louis’s spine with his tender touch.

“I did that?” Harry croaks out, his voice weak.

Louis bites his tongue as he nods slowly, gazing at Harry’s face to gauge his reaction. Harry looks pained as he examines Louis’s bloodied back, and Louis’s heart flutters when the younger boy leans over to gently press his lips to Louis’s back, kissing down the knobs of his spine.

Louis exhales slowly, relaxing back into the mattress, and he can feel sleep pulling him under. Before he falls out of consciousness, though, he swears he hears a murmur, quieter than a whisper and barely audible, come from Harry, but he may just be dreaming.

“I’m sorry.”

+

Louis wakes up in the morning to an empty bed and the strong smell of bacon wafting down from the kitchen towards his bedroom. With a groan, Louis lifts himself up from his stomach and onto his elbows, breathing deeply as he feels the strain on his bruised front and sliced up back. His wrist feels alright, thankfully, but he’s still in a lot of pain.

Before he can move anymore, though, the door to the bedroom is swinging open and when Louis looks over his shoulder, he sees Harry slowly approaching him, a tray in his hand filled with delicious-looking breakfast foods – pancakes, bacon, eggs, and a glass of juice.

“Hey Lou,” Harry greets him, voice level and face hardened, giving away no emotion.

Louis just smiles at him, pushing up from his elbows and onto his hands, slowly turning himself over and sitting up so that his back is leaning against the headboard.

“Hang on, let me help you,” Harry says quickly, rushing over to the bed and setting the tray down at the foot of it before joining Louis and standing by his side.

Harry crouches down and supports Louis’s torso as he moves the pillows behind him, propping them up to keep him as comfortable as possible.

“Thanks,” Louis mutters, the word coming out bitter and he can see a brief flash of remorse go across Harry’s face.

It’s gone soon, though, and Harry follows it up with a sigh as he reaches for the tray, bringing it over and offering it up to Louis. Louis takes it with a weak smile, extending his legs so that he can put it on his lap.

Harry stands up, then, looking awkward as he watches Louis feed himself.

“I – I’ll just leave you to it then,” Harry tells him quietly as he backs out of the room. Before he closes the door behind him, though, he says a final: “Enjoy.”

Louis’s face breaks out into an uncontrollable grin as soon as Harry’s out of the room and despite his injuries he feels amazing – Harry has never, ever, been this sweet after being so angry with Louis. He could get used to this. (He knows he shouldn’t, though, because this probably won’t happen again. Louis deserves his punishments – there’s no need for Harry to look so apologetic and treat him so well afterwards.)

The whole affair only causes even more confusion for Louis, though, who before this was having enough trouble trying to figure out how he felt for Harry and in return whether or not Harry even cared for him at all. Harry’s just so unpredictable and hard to figure out and Louis can hardly sort out his own thoughts, let alone try to decipher how his boyfriend’s feeling.

He decides to leave it, though, and just enjoy how Harry’s currently acting while it lasts. At least the food’s clearly delicious.

+

Just a little over a half hour later, Louis is sitting in his bed with a full stomach and a tray full of empty plates besides the odd scrap of food. He stacks up all the plates and carefully stands up from the bed, holding his breath and wincing as he feels the ache of his bruises and the prominent sting of his cuts.

The pain kind of blurs out into a numb sort of feeling as soon as he’s stood up, and with a deep breath, Louis makes his way out the doorway of the bedroom, timidly walking down the hallway, swinging his head around as he looked for a sign of Harry.

When he gets past the living room, he sees Harry wordlessly rise from the couch and come over to him, smiling tentatively as he takes the tray from Louis and brings it into the kitchen, setting it down on the counter before walking back over to Louis.

“Do you think you’ll be mobile enough tonight?” Harry asks, his eyes flitting over Louis’s half-naked body. “Will – will you be able to move around without hurting too much?”

Louis pauses while he considers why Harry’s asking, his thoughts instantly going towards wondering if Harry will want to have sex with him so soon after hurting him so badly. He hopes not, but he doesn’t want to disappoint the younger boy after he was so nice to him.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” Louis responds, half-smiling at Harry.

“I – because – I’d like...” Harry looks nervous almost, and Louis can’t imagine why. “I’d like to take you out, if that’s okay with you. On a date. Would – would that be okay?”

That is not at all what Louis thought he was going to say, because why would Harry be so scared and nervous to ask him that? They’ve been on plenty of dates before, a lot of them happening without Harry even asking Louis, just telling him to get ready because they were going out.

For a second, Louis considers the notion that Harry actually thought for a second that Louis wouldn’t want to go out with him after he hurt him, but he labels that as his own wishful thinking and forgets about it.

“I’d love that, Harry,” Louis replies with a smile, which Harry returns, and he bites his tongue but he can’t resist from prying. “But – but why did you – I mean you never usually ask, and I just –”

“Well fuck it Louis, I’m just trying to be nice,” Harry interrupts him harshly, smile gone and scowling now, out of the blue and startling Louis.

“N-no, I’m sorry, it sounds great,” Louis says, trying to remedy the situation, not wanting a repeat of last night or anything close to that.

Harry sighs, his hands coming up to comb through his head of curls, looking angry, whether at himself or Louis, Louis’s not sure.

“Right,” Harry says curtly. “Well, be ready by eight o’clock, I’m taking you to a movie. For now, I’m going in to my Dad’s office to get some work done. Get – get some rest, I guess.”

Louis’s head’s almost spinning at all these turns Harry’s mood is taking, but he smiles and nods like he knows Harry wants him to anyways.

As soon as Harry steps out of the house, Louis ignores Harry’s request for him to rest in favour of washing all the dishes from breakfast that Harry left out. Harry didn’t ask him to, but Louis knows that he’s the one who’s got less to offer in the relationship, so he’s got to at least do the housework.

His whole body is aching, though, so he doesn’t do anything after the dishes – he feels a ball of guilt in the pit of his stomach for it, but he lounges on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea and watches the marathon of What Not To Wear that’s playing on TV.

The tea relaxes him and he drifts off to the television’s distant murmurs of Stacy and Clinton cracking down on a woman’s tendency to drift towards the manlier clothes in the stores. He wakes up with a start a few hours later to the front door slamming and who must be Harry storming down the hallway and into their bedroom.

Louis rubs at his eyes as he picks the blanket off himself and folds it, setting it down on the couch cushion next to him before turning the TV off and grabbing his now-empty cup of tea. After washing off the cup of tea in the kitchen, he cautiously makes his way down the hallway and to their bedroom, peeking his head into the doorway to check up on his boyfriend.

“Harry?” He calls out timidly to the figure of the man who’s lying on the bed with his face stuffed into a pillow.

“Get out,” Harry orders him, swiftly grabbing a pillow off the bed and chucking it at the door, effectively shutting it on Louis’s face.

Louis squeaks in surprise, stumbling back a few steps. Well, given the mood Harry’s now in, there go their plans for the night. Louis considers going in and questioning Harry about what happened, whether it was about his father, if he needed anything, but he knows he’ll probably just end up saying the wrong thing and making it worse, so he just flops himself back down onto the couch and stares down at his lap for a while, not really thinking about or doing anything.

Only a few minutes later, Harry emerges from his room and comes to sit in the spot next to Louis. He clears his throat, before speaking.

“We – we’re still on for tonight, yeah?” Harry asks, and when Louis turns to look at him, Harry is gnawing at his lip, looking both frustrated about something and even a bit shy, God knows why.

Louis smiles brightly at him in an effort to lighten the mood, gently patting Harry on the thigh with one of his small hands, reassuring him.

“I look forward to it.”

+

That night, they eat the leftovers from a previous Chinese takeout dinner they had a while ago that were shoved to the back of their fridge. It’s informal and comfortable and they sit on the couch and Louis giggles because at one point Harry tries to feed him noodles with his chopsticks like one of those cheesy couples on TV but it ends up slipping out from in between the two sticks and falling onto the fabric of the couch their sitting on. Louis claps a hand over his mouth right after for laughing at Harry’s misfortune, but Harry snorts out a laugh and doesn’t get angry so Louis just lets go, cracking up.

It’s lovely, really, because for some reason dinner seems to always bring some form of argument or other and ends up being stiff and tense but it’s not like that tonight and Harry’s all smiles and Louis wants to live in this moment.

Harry takes him to the movies after and they miss the one they went there to see because of traffic and so they buy tickets for the next one playing and its some children’s animated movie and apparently it’s been playing for a while because the theatre is practically empty. They sit in the back and end up making out halfway through before slipping out in the middle of the movie to go home and finish from where they left off like hormonal teenagers.

Louis is giddy as he and Harry make their way back to their car, their hands swinging in the space between them. When he looks over at Harry, the younger boy looks happy as well, his dimples out as he smiles back at Louis.

When they get back to their flat, Louis practically tugs Harry to their bedroom, injuries forgotten, connecting their lips in a heated kiss as they stumble in. Harry literally sweeps Louis off his feet, picking him up bridal style and carrying him over to the bed. He sets him down gently, very gently, before crawling up the bed and climbing atop Louis.

Harry ducks his head down to press his lips to Louis’s, his hands roaming over the smaller boy’s body. His fingers slip under the hem of Louis’s shirt as they continue to kiss passionately, Harry licking hotly into Louis’s mouth. As soon as Harry gets Louis’s shirt rucked up, though, he freezes, stalling the movements of both his hands and his lips.

He pulls back from Louis, and the boy underneath him whines, needy hands trying to pull him back down to continue.

“What’s wrong, Haz?” Louis asks cautiously, not wanting to pressure the other boy or bother him in any way.

“You’re – we shouldn’t do this, Lou,” Harry whispers, eyes downcast. “You’re still – you’ve still got those injuries.”

Louis scoffs. “It’s fine, I don’t mind.”

“No,” Harry says, sounding like an order, and that’s it, discussion’s over. “Goodnight, Louis.”

Louis sighs as Harry rolls off of him and settles down on the opposite side of the bed, and it all comes crashing down on him, suddenly. It hits him, then – Harry is always, always in control, no matter what circumstances, and no matter how sweetly Harry treats him, Louis is not going to gain any power in this relationship. No matter how nice Harry is being now, he still intentionally, consciously gave Louis all the wounds that are on his body.

And it’s confusing, that’s what it is, because Louis loves Harry and Harry seems to love him back, and shouldn’t that be enough? Shouldn’t their relationship reflect that? But it’s not that simple, nothing ever seems to be simple in between them because Harry is impulsive and unpredictable and no matter how much Louis loves him, how much Louis gives to him, Louis doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to figure Harry out.

Louis closes his eyes that night and tries to fall asleep with a heavy heart, conflicted. He wants Harry to love him and he wants Harry to treat him like he treated him today all the time and he wants to be with Harry – he’s so, so dependent on Harry – but he can’t change his boyfriend and mold him into what he needs from him, he’s got to take what’s he’s got because that should be enough, especially when he barely deserves Harry the way he is.

He wants it all – he wants Harry, but he also wants a relationship where he doesn’t have to be scared, or confused, or conflicted at all about his feelings, and just thinking like this makes him feel guilty because he should be grateful for what he’s got. Still, the thoughts remain.

That is, until Harry reaches an arm out from his side and pulls Louis in so that the smaller boy is tucked against his chest, head nuzzled into the crook of his neck. With his face buried into Harry’s neck, all of Louis’s negative thoughts are instantly gone from his mind. All he can concentrate is on the warmth and the coziness and the scent of his boyfriend’s body and how curled up into Harry’s side, to Louis, it feels something like home. How could he ever even think about losing this?

Chapter Text

Days pass and Harry's behaviour remains much of the same as it was after what Louis has dubbed ‘The Tea Cup Incident’ - he's still stern and controlling, but the violence he'd usually use on Louis is kept to a minimum. 

He gets cold and distant sometimes but Louis will take that any day of the week over being beat around. As a child, Louis used to think that being ignored by his parents because they were disappointed in him was even worse than being yelled at or roughed up a bit, but after living with Harry, he's had a change of heart.

He can live with a lack of affection (not like he'd usually get all that much) or even a lack of interaction in general between him and Harry if it means that he won't be verbally or physically assaulted by the younger man because, well, neglect seems to be at least a step up from hurting.

Harry starts spending a lot more time at work, too, and Louis can't figure out why because he knows that working for his father at that company can sometimes make Harry unhappy. Louis has an inkling, though, that Harry is intentionally avoiding him for some reason or other.

Privately, Louis considers the possibility that Harry is staying away from him to avoid hurting him, but when he really thinks about it he decides that that doesn't make a lick of sense. Harry doesn't care all that much, and him hurting Louis is completely in his control. Louis's sure that Harry hurts him as punishment and because he deserves it, not by accident.

Sure, sometimes Harry looks regretful for the punishments he enforces, but everyone takes things too far sometimes. Just because Louis deserves the punishments he gets doesn’t mean that Harry has to enjoy dishing them out, Louis reasons. That makes sense, right?

Louis thinks he might just over think it all sometimes - Harry probably just has more work than usual that he has to get done, and he can't just skip out on it just because he doesn't always get along with his father.

Harry doesn't have to have an ulterior motive for everything he does.

+

One day, just a little less than a week after that night they went out to the movies, Harry gets home from his job in a full-blown blind rage.

Louis's stationed in the living room, wiping down the inside of their windows, something he hasn't done in ages. As the front door to their flat slams, Louis jolts in surprised, his head snapping around to watch Harry as storms in. Cautiously, trying not to make any sudden movements as if Harry were a snake posed to strike him, Louis sets his spray bottle and the paper towel he was holding and using to clean the windows onto their coffee table, turning slowly to assess Harry's mood.

He looks furious, his facial expression one that Louis knows very well - Louis sees those furrowed eyebrows and that clenched jaw even in his sleep sometimes, he’s that familiar with it.

Harry stomps his feet like a child throwing a tantrum as he rounds the couch that separates the living room from the hallway, entering the space Louis's standing in fear in. Louis smiles at him weakly in a futile attempt to brighten his mood, but Harry is way too enraged for silly tricks like that, not that anything Louis can do can calm him down at any time anyways.

Harry clenches one of his fists and draws his arm back like he's going to punch out at Louis and Louis recoils backwards, bracing himself for the impact. Harry's arm extends, his fist flying out, but at the last second before he hits Louis, Harry twists around, his fist coming into contact with the cushioned back of their couch. Harry lets an outraged cry as he does, sounding frustrated and exasperated and really, really ticked off.

Louis breathes a sigh of relief as Harry’s fist flies past him, missing him by a mile and hitting the couch instead.

Harry spins back to face Louis again, then, his arms coming up and his hands gripping tightly onto the sides of Louis's shoulders, restricting the smaller boy's movements and trapping him there. Louis cowers in fear, thinking about how Harry has finally snapped and is ready to beat him to a pulp. Harry shakes him for an instant but then seems to get a glimpse of Louis's terrified face and his own expression softens as he loosens his grip. After a moment of breathing heavily with closed eyes, Harry lets go of Louis completely, the older boy exhaling the breath he didn’t know he was holding as he does.

Harry turns away, then, burying his face in his hands. Louis watches his back as he rubs over his face, waiting for the other boy to say or do something. When he doesn't, Louis bites his lip as he brings up a tentative hand to rest on Harry's shoulder.

"Hazza?" Louis says quietly. "Do you - do you maybe want to talk about it?"

Harry turns back once again to face him, mouth open as if he wants to answer, but just as a noise of frustration comes out of his mouth, he spins on his heel and slips away, walking back towards their bedroom to cool down.

"I love you!" Louis cries out weakly to his retreating form.

He hears no answer, just the click of their bedroom door shutting behind Harry.

+

Louis and Harry don't speak much that night and Harry's doesn't initiate anything of the sexual nature between them, but even so, the following day Harry's spirits seem to be much higher. Louis sees no clear reason for the change - no reason for why Harry greets him in the morning with a smile and a peck on the lips - but he's certainly not complaining. 

For a moment, Louis thinks Harry looks even proud of himself, only God knows why.

Harry doesn't go into work that day, and he's in such a cheerful mood, that Louis brings up something he's never been brave enough to ask from Harry. Ever since Harry’s sudden no-violence streak started, Louis’s been pondering this question he has to ask Harry and thinking up the ways he could go about it, but he hasn’t found a better moment to do it than now.

It takes him until dinner to build up the courage to mention it, but as they sit eating the meal Harry cooked at the small round table in the corner of their kitchen that they use when it's just them and the big dining table is too large, Louis knows now is as good a time as ever.

"Harry?" Louis voices after chewing and swallowing his mouthful, breaking the silence that was filling the kitchen while both boys had their mouth full with food at the same time. 

He waits for Harry to look up from his plate and nod before continuing.

"There's something I’ve been wanting to ask you..."

"Well go on then," Harry urges him with a curious expression on his face. 

Louis hesitates for a moment, his heart suddenly seizing up with fear that if he goes through with asking for this, it will completely turn Harry's mood around and he'll lose the affection (or simply the lack of violence being inflicted upon him) that he was enjoying so much.

If he doesn't ask now, though, he knows he never will and that self-inflicted regret for not doing so will eat him up even more than anything Harry does ever could. (In theory, that is. It’s what Louis’s telling himself, at least.)

Louis inhales deeply, readying himself, grateful that Harry is being patient while he thinks of how to word his request.

"I - well, you know how I was a bit upset about quitting university," Louis starts with, his eyes scanning Harry's to try and calculate how he's taking it. Harry just nods after a moment's hesitation, and Louis continues. "I just - I was watching TV the other day and I saw this commercial for an online school like - like a Uni, but you do it all on the computer, at home. Less of it, too."

Harry opens his mouth to get a word in, but Louis cuts in before he can.

"Now before you say anything, I just want you to hear me out. Please." Louis tacks on the end after seeing the brief flash of annoyance go across Harry's face. "I know what you hated about university was that I was away so much but...but with this, I can at least get an education and I - it won't be as much work, and I'll be at home, and like, you won't even notice a difference, I swear! I'll do my work when you're at work and - and pay attention to you when you're at home."

Harry's expression softens a bit at that, but he still looks a bit reluctant.

"Lou, please, you know I'll take care of you," Harry says, and Louis smiles a bit at him. "You don't need any 'education' with me, it’s completely unnecessary and just a waste of time, you must understand that."

"I know you'll take care of me, Haz, and I appreciate it," Louis replies, trying to keep his mind from flashing back to memories of lying on the ground in hot tea and sharp shards while Harry delivered kicks to his body. "But I want - I just want this for myself, just to accomplish something. You do so much for me already Harry, I just want..."

Louis's voice trails off, the sentence breaking off as he looks down at his lap, plate of food forgotten. He looks back up after a moment of pause, trying to build his confidence and keep from stuttering his way through this.

"I don't even have to do drama or anything," Louis says, trying to take a different approach. "I know you thought it was a dumb career approach and....I'm not sure how well it translates into an online course, anyways."

"Louis, don't you think our lives are fine the way they are?" Harry demands, mood flipping like a switch. "Why are you so eager to change the way things are? Aren't you satisfied with this?"

Harry gestures around the flat and Louis leans towards him, nodding seriously.

"Yeah - yeah, I am, honestly, it's just - please, I just want to do a few courses, that's it," Louis says quickly, fumbling over his words as he desperately tries to convince Harry. "Just to - just to have a backup plan, you know."

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because Harry stands up from the table suddenly, his chair shuffling backwards as he slams his hands on the table in front of him, their cutlery jumping.

"A backup plan? So what? You're planning on leaving me, then?" Harry shouts at him. "Or is it that you've just realized how quickly and easily I could up and leave you? Are you planning for that day? Because I could, you know, if you keep up this fucking nonsense!"

Louis can practically hear his own heart shatter as he hears those true, true, true words. It’s a thousand times more painful knowing that Harry’s just being blatantly honest and not making stuff up to scare him. It’s not an empty threat.

"No! That's – I didn’t – that’s not what I meant!" Louis protests, the words he wants to get out mixing together as he tries to explain himself.

Harry raises a hand to get Louis to stop stammering out the explanation of his previous words.

"We're done talking about this, it's not happening." Harry orders through a forced, tight-lipped smile.

“Okay,” Louis murmurs, giving in, hanging his head in shame. "I'm sorry.” He’s unsure of what he’s apologizing for, which part of their conversation, but it feels like the right thing to say.

Harry doesn’t seem to care about apologies, though, and just harrumphs, turning to leave. He seems to think better of it suddenly, though, when he walks over to Louis, crouching down to press a kiss to his cheek.

"No, I'm sorry," Harry whispers, and then stands up, taking on a more serious expression. "I trust that you can clean this up yourself and forget about that silly request of yours."

Louis nods his head obediently, feeling dazed as he watches as Harry walks away, disappearing down the hallway. That really wasn’t how he wanted that to go, but…it was a dumb idea in the first place. He shouldn’t have even asked.

+

Of course, Harry's back to his cheery self the next day. Naturally, Louis's left confused, a feeling he isn't unfamiliar with. Lately, he’s been in a constant state of trying to figure things out – whether he’s trying to decipher his own feelings, Harry’s mood, or what he can say or do that won’t set Harry off, Louis’s always analyzing everything.

He can’t help it – he just doesn’t like not knowing things. Unfortunately for him, the more Louis tries to figure it all out, the more he over thinks it all and just confuses himself even more.

Louis's emotions seem always be a whole jumbled up mess, but hey, no one ever said relationships were simple. There’s nothing different about his and Harry’s relationship – all couples have complications. Maybe theirs are just a little less common.

With a sinking feeling, Louis realizes that the only person he has to convince of this is himself. Of course, that only makes him feel guiltier about the fact that he can’t be satisfied just having Harry. Perfect Harry who he doesn’t even deserve as it is. It’s never enough for him.

Ungrateful, ungrateful, ungrateful.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later, Louis finds himself at Liam’s place with Zayn and Niall. Harry’s still being a random mix of sweet, cold, and controlling, which is confusing Louis to no end, but at least he still isn’t hitting Louis like he usually would be.

Harry isn’t there with him now, though. The day before, Harry had mentioned that an important client to his father was coming over to the flat on this day to check out who the heir to the company they were considering making a deal with was going to be.

Louis had asked Harry what he wanted him to do, and Harry looked almost apologetic when he said that Louis would have to find somewhere else to be because his father had told him that the client might not take too well to finding out about Harry’s personal lifestyle choices. (Being gay, that is.)

Louis was fine with it, he didn’t really mind, even though it seemed to bother Harry, but at least it wasn’t because Harry was embarrassed of him that he had to leave to go somewhere else today. (Secretly, Louis was enjoying the fact that Harry seemed bothered that Louis couldn’t be there. Realistically, Harry’s probably just offended that the client will be upset if he’s gay, he knows that, but Louis likes to think that it’s that Harry will miss him.)

When Louis told Liam, he seemed almost oddly eager to invite Louis over to go hang out with him, Zayn and Niall. Louis thought nothing of it, though, and was just content that he found somewhere to go and didn’t just have to hide out in one of the rooms in their flat and stay completely silent while Harry charmed his potential client like fucking Harry Potter or something. So Louis goes.

Now, the four friends are just lounging around, bottles of various alcoholic drinks opened up as they sit around on Liam’s couches, drink-filled glasses in hand. None of them are drunk or even tipsy as they all have to get themselves home somehow except for Liam, who’s at his own house, but is just not that much of a drinker.

Niall’s finishing up a story about his latest drunk hook-up when the topic of Harry comes up.

“So,” Liam says suddenly after being silent for a while, speaking completely out of the blue. “How are you and Harry doing?”

Louis, who was watching Niall who’s red-faced and laughing because the tale he’s telling is pretty funny and he’s always been the type to laugh at his own jokes, turns to look at Liam, who’s looking back at him intently.

“Uh, good?” Louis replies, and it’s not a lie, because Harry’s been wonderful compared to usual.

He’s just confused because the subject was brought up at such a random moment.

Liam nods, and Louis watches as his younger friend shares some sort of look with the other two boys. Louis bites his lip, trying to decipher what they must be communicating non-verbally, but he can’t read the identical expression they all wear. It’s some sort of a mix of pained, and nervous, and cautious, and what’s with them?

Niall joins in on the new topic then, too.

“Yeah? He being good to you?” Niall asks, and suddenly the air feels tense and when Louis glances around at his friends he sees them all staring him down, seemingly suddenly very interested in what he has to say.

“Yeah, of course, like always,” Louis responds, brow furrowed in confusion as he tries to figure out what his friends are up to, because all of them look suspicious and even semi guilty. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, you know Harry and I have known each other for ages, yeah?” Zayn says, and Louis nods slowly, because yeah, of course he knows that, that’s how they met. “I just – he’s always been sort of... Like, he’s always been the guy who has to have everything his way, and he has to be in control, and if anything goes wrong he’d always freak out a little bit.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Louis asks, crossing his arms in front of his stomach as if to protect himself from his friend’s words because he’s pretty sure he’s got this figured out in terms of where this is going and he is not pleased about it at all, because God, he’s been over this with Liam before.

“Now don’t get mad,” Liam starts cautiously, wringing his hands together anxiously. “We’re just worried about you, and we want to help...”

“What is this? Some sort of your guys’ warped version of an intervention?!” Louis cries out, rising from his seat.

“No!” All three of his friends say simultaneously.

“Lou, calm down, take a seat,” Niall urges him, and Liam and Zayn nod, encouraging him to relax back onto the couch.

Louis takes a deep breath and sits back down, his hands fidgeting around and playing with the hem of his shirt as he nervously waits for what his friends have to say, body tense with anticipation.

“We just want to know one thing, and we want you to be completely honest with us,” Liam tells him, eyes soft and voice soothing. “We all love you, Louis, and we just want you to tell us the truth. We’re your best mates, me especially. This is all we want from you. Please just promise us that you’ll answer our one question truthfully. We just need this one little thing from you, that’s literally it. Can you promise us that? Just that?”

Louis glances at the front door as if looking for a way to escape from this sudden interrogation, but he can’t just get up and run away from his friends at a time like this. He can’t say no to them wanting him to promise to tell the truth, either, because that’s just suspicious. He knows what they’re going to ask, though, and he can’t actually tell the truth, either. He’s lied to them before, and he can do it again. He has no choice, he reasons. Harry wouldn’t want him to go spilling secrets about their relationship, and he lives to please Harry.

“Okay,” Louis says, gulping, but faking a casual grin like suddenly he has no idea what they’re even talking about. “Okay, Jeez, I’ll be honest. I promise. Now, what is it you have to ask me so direly? Gosh, you guys are acting so fucking weird.”

He expects Liam to be the one to ask, but it’s Zayn who looks him deep in the eyes and opens his mouth to speak.

“Does Harry hurt you?” Zayn asks, no beating around the bush and getting straight to the point.

Louis gapes at him, not having expected him to have come out with it so directly. He was anticipating a gentler approach, but then again, he had also thought it would’ve been Liam to say it too – he didn’t have any expectations for how Zayn would ask it. He was planning to act surprised anyways, so he guesses his shocked look at how Zayn went about it is in his favour.

In a split second decision, he decides to go for an angry reaction.

“What?!” Louis practically shrieks, standing up abruptly. “No! I can’t believe – how could you ask me that?! How could you suggest something like that about not only the guy who’s my loving boyfriend, but also one of your oldest friends?!”

Louis thanks God for all those acting lessons he’s taken so that he can pull off being so completely appalled by the idea that one could possibly ever think Harry could even lay a malicious finger on him.

All three boys stand up to calm him down at the same time, but before any of them can say anything else, Louis is whipping around to face Liam.

“And you! Are you the one who planned this?!” Louis shouts at him. “We’ve discussed this before! Harry’s perfect for me! I’m completely, irrevocably in love with him, and you keep bringing this dumb shit up! What the fuck would make you think he’d hurt me?!”

Louis doesn’t even have to fake his anger because why would his friends bring this up? Why would they act like they care, like it matters that Harry roughs him up a little bit when he deserves it? They want some drama, a fun story, a reaction, that’s what they want.

Louis mentally berates himself for thinking so lowly of his own friends because he knows they do care, at least a little bit because no one could doubt Liam’s sincerity. They just don’t understand some things. They especially don’t get him and Harry.

“Louis, please,” Liam pleads with him, and fuck his puppy eyes. “Please just take a few deep breaths, calm down and sit back down, we can talk about this. I don’t want to – I don’t want you to be angry with any of us, I just want us to talk a bit, that’s all we have to do.”

Louis lets out a noise of frustration, but he can’t deny Liam when he looks like he’s on the verge of dropping to his knees and begging, so he sits back down again.

“We’ve been watching you guys for a while,” Niall starts to say. “And we just – we’re your friends, you know that, and Harry just – he treats you so badly, can’t you see?”

 “No, he doesn’t!” Louis protests, scowling at his Irish friend.

“He does, though,” Liam argues, his hands pulling at the hair on the top of his head in frustration. “I don’t know how you don’t – I mean. Either you’re lying to us now or you’ve just been making excuses for him to yourself and you just can’t see how terrible he is to you. He’s way too controlling than he should be, I’ve seen him tell you what to eat, I’ve heard some of the terrible things he says to you, and sometimes you have these – these bruises.”

Louis frowns, trying to work it out in his mind. The bruises thing gets to him, a bit, because if they think the occasional ones he’s not able or is too lazy to hide are bad, they haven’t even seen all the ones he covers up with clothes and makeup.

He’s got to get out of this, though.

“He doesn’t – he’s not like that,” Louis insists, a long list of lies he can use popping up in his mind. “The controlling thing is just - I get anxious about decisions and stuff, he just helps me with it, we’ve discussed it. And the eating thing is something he’s been assisting me with too; he’s been helping me keep track of what foods go along with my diet. And the bruises...how could you even think Harry would hit me? I’m just clumsy, alright? I do a lot of work around the house, accidents happen.”

Louis shrugs nonchalantly as if he’s completely unaffected, as if he hasn’t just spouted out a half dozen lies. Some of them are pretty weak, and he’s completely ignored Liam’s statement about Harry saying bad things about him, but he’s been put on the spot. Niall at least looks convinced, but he’s known Louis and Harry for the least amount of time and has seemed to be the least engaged in the conversation.

Liam and Zayn, however, look doubtful.

“Anxious? You’ve never been anxious about decisions before,” Liam says, and that’s very true, but Louis knows that Liam can’t be certain of that, and he can still lie his way out of this.  “Or at all, really.”

“I just hid it well,” Louis retorts, angry with himself when his voice comes out so defensive and guilty-sounding.

“And you’re telling us the complete, 100% truth?” Zayn questions him, eyes sharp and probing.

Louis licks his lips nervously, trying to keep his face from giving away any of his guilt for directly lying to his best friends when he told them – he promised them – that he wouldn’t.

“Yes,” He replies simply, voice thick, avoiding any longer answer in fear of having a shaky voice if he says any more.

“Really?” Liam asks dubiously, and Louis nods with as much confidence as he can muster.

“Honestly, you guys are such worriers,” Louis tells them, laughing awkwardly in a desperate attempt to defuse the tension, and brighten things up a bit. “I can’t believe you’d even consider that... really, don’t you think I’d tell you if Harry was abusing me or whatever you think he’s doing? I mean, you guys are my best mates, like you said.”

Louis’s never made a link between abuse and his and Harry’s relationship before, especially not aloud, and just talking about it has his stomach churning. It’s not what Harry’s doing to him, he mentally tells himself. He’s not being abused, he’d know if he was. Abuse is a serious thing. Harry’s just honest to him and punishes him when he goes out of line. It’s perfectly reasonable. His friends just wouldn’t see it that way, that’s why he has to lie.

Liam sighs. “Alright, we’re sorry. Just – we’ll forget about it, okay?”

Louis just keeps on going, wanting to crush every single little doubt they have so that they will never, ever bring this up again. “Truthfully, he’s wonderful and I love him so much, and I don’t know where the fuck you even came up with that absurd nonsense. Just lately he’s been especially sweet, even more than usual, and he’s been taking me out on these amazing dates and we – we’re just both better than ever. I don’t know what you guys are seeing.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” Zayn asks quietly then. “Us or yourself?”

Louis frowns, going over the words in his head, feeling sick almost, but grateful when Liam elbows Zayn in the side. Zayn holds up two hands defensively.

“Okay, okay, sorry. I’m sorry. Let’s – we can talk about something else, if you want.”

Niall cracks a joke, then, to ease the tension and the topic is dropped quickly as they get back to conversing like normal. Well, normal plus a little awkwardness.

Louis doesn’t let Zayn’s words stick in his mind, knowing better than to torture himself by going over and over thoughts he’s gone over millions of times before. He’s got experience with this.

+

Louis goes home that night and Harry greets him with a big smile and a hug and he knows the meeting with the client must have gone well.

“Missed you babe,” Harry mumbles into Louis’s ear as he holds him close, and Louis’s heart swells because he’s only been gone for a few hours and he lives for the affection he gets from Harry. “I wish you could’ve been here, it went great.”

Harry pulls away and frowns a bit, then, and Louis guesses that it’s because he’s upset about the fact that it might not have gone so well had the client known about Harry’s relationship.

“I’m glad it did,” Louis tells him, and returns the smile that that gets out of Harry. “But it’s okay; I had fun with Liam, Zayn, and Niall.”

Harry seems to realize something, then, and as he does, his mood seems to take a complete 180 turn, an occurrence that Louis is not unfamiliar with.

“Oh yeah?” Harry asks, his voice suddenly sounding something akin to a growl as his eyes go dark and his lips purse with annoyance. “Did Liam feel the need to ‘check up on you’ again? Is that what happened? Did Niall and Zayn join in too?”

Louis freezes, because how did he know? First of all, he thought that Harry had bought it when he said that his little conversation with Liam at the restaurant had been about him feeling a bit sick and nothing else, but Harry seems to have caught on to what it really was about. And second of all, how on Earth was Harry now so sure that again today it had been about the same thing?

Harry seems to know more about what Louis gets up to than he lets on, and maybe it’s just that he’s predictable or Harry’s just somehow accurately paranoid, if such a thing exists, but it’s unsettling to Louis nonetheless.

“N-no, of course not, that – that wasn’t it,” Louis stammers, cursing himself for the way his voice shakes as he stutters the words out. “We were just having a few drinks, a little bit of banter, that’s all.”

“Don’t fucking lie to me!” Harry snarls, using one arm crossed against his chest to push Louis up against the wall of their hallway, while the other is drawn back threateningly, ready to strike if need be.

Louis whimpers, feeling tears already welling up in his eyes, his whole body shaking in fear because Harry hasn’t yelled like this and gotten all angry and violent in what feels like so long – compared to when he would get like this every day, that is. He looks down, tucking his chin so that it rests against his neck and his face is shielded as Harry goes off in rage.

The hand that wasn’t holding Louis against the wall comes down to grip onto Louis’s chin, forcing his head upwards.

“Look at me when I’m speaking to you!” Harry orders, spit flying out of his open mouth.

Louis winces but forces his eyes open so as not to disobey Harry. Tears are streaming freely down his face now, and this is it, Harry’s no-violence streak is officially going to be over, he’s about the hit me, he thinks. Louis takes a shaky breath and then lifts his eyes up from where they were previously glued to the floor to look at his wrathful boyfriend.

Louis makes the hasty decision to change tactics and quit denying and tell Harry what he wants to hear, no matter how much trouble it will get him in.

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers, the words almost inaudible as he gets them out in one shaky breath. “I’m sorry, you’re right, they were asking about – us again, but Harry I…”

 “What?” Harry demands, looking furious. “You what? What did you tell them?”

Louis has to physically stop himself from dissolving into sobs at the angry, piercing glare he’s getting from Harry as the other boy waits for him to get himself together and answer.

“I told them that you were wonderful, that we were doing great, and that I loved you, and that –” Louis pauses for a moment as he hiccups, his pressing urge to break down catching up with him. “And that you loved me.”

Harry’s entire body seems to freeze at that as the words seem to register, as he processes what Louis’s trying to say and he analyzes the situation, the way he’s forcefully pushing the smaller boy against the wall. Louis stays silent as Harry tries to calculate what to do, tries to connect the facts that Louis was speaking of him so highly and so lovingly and now here he is being punished by Harry’s impulsive strength.

Harry stills looks frustrated, but for a second there’s a glimmer in his eye that Louis catches like the frustration is directed towards himself, as he releases the older boy he had trapped up against the wall, his arms falling back to his sides.

Harry brings his hands back up to tug at his curls, letting out a loud yell, and Louis flinches backwards. Harry looks up to see the way Louis recoiled and his face crumples in sadness, taking in how frightened his smaller boyfriend looks.

“I’m sorry,” Harry croaks, raising his head back up to look into Louis’s teary eyes. “Don’t be scared.”

Louis immediately straightens up his posture, composing his face. “Sorry.”

That seems to pain Harry even more. “No, God. That wasn’t – that wasn’t an order.”

“Oh.” Is all Louis says, because he’s beyond confused right now. When is Harry going to hit him?

“I’m so sorry baby,” Harry says softly, advancing back towards Louis, but instead of hitting him, he presses a kiss to his lips, and why is he doing that? “So sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Louis replies in between the kisses Harry is peppering to his face.

“I overreacted, I’m gonna make it up to you,” Harry promises. “Gonna make you feel good.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, breathless as Harry trails kisses down his neck. “Okay, yeah.”

Louis gasps when out of nowhere, Harry knocks Louis’s knees over with one arm, sweeping the smaller boy up into his arms bridal style in one fluent move. Louis giggles as Harry carries them down the hallway and into their bedroom, carefully lying him down on the mattress before crawling on top of him.

“I love you, Louis,” Harry murmurs, and Louis feels his stomach flutter with adoration, his fear towards his boyfriend completely erased.

Harry opens Louis up that night carefully, with soothing words and whispered apologies and a brushing of kisses. Louis cries out as Harry pushes into him but the younger boy hushes him with a quiet profession of love and a tender hand rubbing circles over his cheek.

Harry goes slowly, much gentler than usual, and each time he buries himself back into Louis, he’s whispering words of praise and affection and they’re affecting Louis just as much as the actual touching. The energy in the room is an odd, conflicting mixture of energy that you could liken it to bursts of electrifying sparks of pleasure, and a calm sensation of love and affection.

It’s perfect – they both tip over the edge together, lips sealed together as they breathe each other’s air, gasping quietly into each other’s mouths. It’s bittersweet for Louis as Harry pulls out – as much as he feels loved, his thoughts couldn’t help but drift towards the negative, the tiny seed of doubt that only blooms into something more as he thinks about it.

Harry murmurs one last apology before he’s sinking into the mattress next to Louis, ready to fall asleep, but Louis’s mind is elsewhere.

What was this to Harry? Because the younger boy has been apologetic about things before, this isn’t a first. It’s a constant back and forth – sometimes Harry is ruthless, other times he seems terrified when he realizes he’s harmed Louis in any way, physically or emotionally.

It’s draining for Louis...but Harry’s been so endlessly nice to him lately. Why is it so suddenly different? Why has since that one incident, it’s been less of an outwards back and forth and more of a struggle that Louis can see within Harry?

The words are out before he can stop them.

“Why have you been so nice lately?” Louis blurts out, but it’s quiet and he wouldn’t be sure if Harry even heard him if at those words he hadn’t shot up from where he’s lying down next to Louis into a sitting position so fast it was like he’d been stung.

“Sorry?” Harry whispers.

Louis can feel his face heating up as he realizes he has to repeat the words he so impulsively spoke.

“I just – I was wondering why...” Louis takes a deep breath as he tries to remember how he worded it, as he tries to come up with a way to make it less blunt. “You’ve just been really...lovely lately...and I wanted to know if maybe there was a reason?”

Harry’s brow furrows as he goes over the words in his mind. “What? You want to know why I’m not hitting you?” Harry asks, voice scathing. “Is that it? Is it presenting a problem to you? Is there something wrong with it?”

“No!” Louis exclaims. “No, of course not. It’s – it’s great. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. Never mind me.”

Harry stays silent for a while and Louis figures that that’s the end of that, so slowly he relaxes into his spot on the bed and closes his eyes, ready to go to sleep.

Before he can even start to slip out of consciousness, though, Harry starts shuffling over a bit from his side, throwing his arm around Louis and pulling him to his chest so that Harry is acting as the big spoon.

Harry starts to whisper something, then, and Louis begins to wonder if he’s going to be making a habit out of these midnight confessions.

“I’ve always been pretty self-assured, as you might know, but I have my moments,” Harry says slowly, and Louis wonders if he’s meant to hear this or Harry just thinks Louis’s fallen asleep very quickly. “And there’s no time I hate myself more than when I hurt you.”

In favour of allowing himself to have one night where he falls asleep with a smile on his face, Louis doesn’t think too hard about how truthful that sentence may be, nor how it would at all match up with Harry’s consistently hurtful behaviour.

Instead, he turns around in the circle of Harry’s arms, presses one kiss to the curly-haired boy’s lips, and then lets himself rest with his face pressed against Harry’s chest, the quiet sound of his love’s heart beat lulling him to sleep.

Chapter Text

They say that all good things must come to an end, and Louis doesn’t consider himself a pessimist, but he wholeheartedly concurs.

He didn’t used to think so but a lot changes that night, so. Allow him a bit of cynicism.

It’s a Friday night and Harry seems tense. He’d been slacking off a bit at work in favour of working on his and Louis’s own happiness, but this week his father had been calling him in for longer hours in order to pick up that slack. Quite frankly, it was getting to him, Louis could tell.

Logically, the only solution is a night out clubbing. According to Zayn, that is, who had met up with Harry sometime that week and had decided that on Friday, their little friend group of five would hit the clubs so that they could all loosen up a bit, Harry especially.

Louis can see that Harry’s reluctant because he’s irritable and exhausted and doesn’t feel like spending the night with a bunch of people crammed together in some loud, sweat-filled, headache-inducing building. Louis himself thinks it might be good for Harry, and even if the younger boy is set off in any way, even if Louis makes a mistake, Harry always acts civil in public, so.

Not that either of those things will happen. Louis just knows that Harry is a little on edge.

When they’re both dressed and ready to go, Louis in one of his best outfits and actually feeling pretty confident about going out, Harry is still wary.

“Can’t we just stay home tonight?” Harry groans, going up to Louis and resting his large hands on the curve of the smaller boy’s arse. “We could have our own fun together.”

Louis bites his lip, looking tempted, taking in the way Harry’s smirking at him. “Haz, you know we can’t,” He tells him carefully, not wanting to anger his already-annoyed boyfriend. “We promised the lads we’d go.”

Harry huffs, and Louis can tell his irritation is building. “Who fucking cares?!”

“Harry...” Louis says, cautious.

Harry gets a mischievous glint in his eye, then, and Louis watches warily as the taller boy gets even closer to him, pressing their chests together and leaning forward so that Louis can feel his hot breath on his neck.

“Mm, they won’t notice if we don’t show up,” Harry murmurs, voice smooth and seductive as his hands run upwards from where his hands were on Louis’s arse, feeling up his sides.

“Harry, c’mon,” Louis says, but he’s giggling as he pushes the younger boy away from him. “Later, the boys are expecting us.”

He’s been feeling more comfortable with teasing Harry lately and denying him things, but clearly today Harry is not in the mood. Louis can tell he’s upset him as Harry’s face contorts into one of actual anger, not just mild frustration.

“Fine, Jesus fucking Christ,” Harry growls. “You don’t need to be such a bitch about it, God.”

Louis flinches away, trying to assess Harry’s anger.

“Sorry,” Louis says, sighing, mentally berating himself for being so reckless with his words and assuming that just because Harry’s been a bit more apologetic lately doesn’t mean he still can’t be set off when he’s already annoyed.

Harry just purses his lips, sticking his hand out for Louis to take. Cautiously, Louis grabs it, wincing slightly at Harry’s crushing grip as the younger boy drags him out of their flat.

+

As soon as they reach the club, Harry takes on a whole other persona. Suddenly he’s not the easily-irritated boy he just was moments ago, and he’s the charming, cocky boy that Louis fell in love with.

Harry leads them over to their friends, shoulders relaxed and hand in the back pocket of Louis’s jeans.

“Hey lads,” Harry greets them, smile lazy and posture casual.

There’s a chorus of ‘hello’s from the three other boys, and Niall is passing them both a drink. Louis takes his, but doesn’t miss the way Harry side-eyes him, subtly pressing closer into his side as a warning not to drink too much. Louis is a handsy drunk. And, well, calories and such. (Louis really hopes it’s the first part that Harry really cares about, being the jealous guy he is.)

Louis has to stay sober enough to make sure that Harry doesn’t drink too much, anyways. They drove here, and there’s no way in hell that Harry would let Louis drive his car back.

Dropping his drink back onto their table and waiting for Harry to quickly down his, Louis  turns to his younger boyfriend and crooks a small smile.

“Want to dance?” He asks.

Harry quickly glances over at the boys, who are laughing, and Niall is encouraging him, cackling out words of, “Go on Harry! Get some!”

“Sure,” Harry says decidedly, grabbing onto Louis’s hands and dragging him through the crowd.

Harry and Louis step onto the dance floor and dance for a bit, Harry keeping a tight grip on Louis’s waist and glaring at everyone who even glances in their direction.

“I’m glad we came here, Lou,” Harry rasps into Louis’s ear, getting a smile out of the smaller boy who’s dancing against Harry with his back to him. “But I’d much rather have you back at home. Alone.”  

Louis shivers at his words, excited for what Harry’s suggesting.

“Yeah,” He says, spinning around so that he can speak into Harry’s ear over the loud music. “I’d like that. I just have to go to the loo real quick though, give me a minute?”

Harry sighs in annoyance, but nods.

“Fine, I’ll go tell the boys we’re leaving.”

Louis nods and squeezes his way through the crowd, then, finding his way to the bathrooms. He’d go back at theirs, but he knows that as soon as Harry gets him through that door, he’ll be all over him.

The bathroom’s empty when he gets in there, the stalls grimy and unoccupied. He finishes up quickly, going over to the sinks and washing his hands, looking at himself in the mirror. He splashes a bit of water on his face, trying to wash some of the sweat from the heat of the club off it.

When he turns around, he nearly jumps ten feet in the air as he runs into another man, one he didn’t even notice coming in.

“Shit, sorry!” Louis apologizes quickly, stepping back and letting the man get around him.

The man doesn’t budge though, and just stands there as he takes in Louis’s appearance, the way he’s checking the smaller boy out being blatantly obvious. The man isn’t unattractive, not really, but he’s a bit beefy and definitely not Louis’s type and Louis has Harry anyways, so. He isn’t interested – he just wants to get around this guy and go home with Harry.

It’s clear the guy has something else in mind, though, because when Louis tries to swiftly step around him, he sticks his arm out to stop him, pushing him back in place in front of him.

“Hey, hang on baby, not so fast,” The man says, smirking. “Where does a little twink like you have to get to in such a rush?”

Louis gulps, feeling increasingly uncomfortable and if he’s being honest, a little scared.

“I j-just – uh,” Louis stutters, coughing nervously, eyes flickering around in search of a way around this beefy man who has him cornered against the sinks. “I was just getting back to my boyfriend. He’s, uh, he’s waiting for me – out there.”

“Oh yeah,” The man says with a knowing glint in his eye, words surprisingly coherent for how drunk he looks. “I know who you’re talking about. I’ve been watching you, waiting for my chance to get you all alone, you see?”

Louis realizes then that this isn’t just some chance encounter. The guy had probably been waiting all night for Louis to break away from Harry and be isolated.

“He’ll be here soon,” Louis replies quickly, gulping when the man seems unfazed.

“Too bad he’s not in here now then, yeah?” He murmurs, slowly stepping closer to Louis.

“Um,” Louis says, mouth going dry as the man, walking drunkenly, reaches him and starts pressing him up against the sink, hands starting to grope him, running down his sides and grabbing at his arse.

“You want to get into one of those stalls over there?” The man whispers into his ear, pulling at the hem of his shirt, and Louis can smell the alcohol on his breath.

His senses kick into action, then, and Louis starts pushing at the man, desperately trying to get him off him.

“No. Please get away from me,” Louis tells him, voice as firm and warning as he can make it, desperately trying not to let it shake and give away his fear.

The man doesn’t listen, and keeps on touching Louis, unrelenting.

“No, get off, stop it! I don’t want this, please get off,” Louis repeats the words like a mantra, pleading with the stranger to leave him alone so that he can go back to Harry and forget about this.

The man doesn’t seem to care what Louis wants, though, just gets more insistent, tugging at Louis’s shirt and getting it rucked up to his chest, allowing him access to the button of his jeans.

“So pretty, can’t wait to fucking ruin you,” The stranger slurs into his ear, and Louis whimpers, tears starting to prickle at the corners of his eyes as he realizes that this is happening, that he can’t stop it, that no matter how much he pushes at him, he won’t be able to match his strength.

Louis chokes on a sob as the burly hands continue to press at him, getting under the waistband of his jeans and running up his back and –

And then suddenly, they’re gone, ripped away from him as the body stumbles back and Louis looks up to meet the gaze of two bright green eyes, and Harry. Harry’s come looking for him, he must’ve, and now he’s here to save him and Louis doesn’t think he’s ever been happier to see him in his whole life.

Louis doesn’t hear what Harry hisses into the guy’s ear as he pushes him towards the door of the bathroom, but it must be pretty fucking threatening because the man looks terrified as he hobbles away, stumbling over his own feet as he tries to get out of there in his drunken stupor.

Louis thinks he’s going to be enveloped in warm arms and comforting words, then. Really, that’s exactly what he expects. Instead, what he receives is an angry glare from Harry as he’s grabbed by the wrist and violently pulled out of the bathroom.

Harry is practically physically dragging him across the club floor as Louis stumbles behind him, confused. They brush past the boys who give them worried glances but can do nothing as Harry pulls him towards the exit.

“We’re going home,” Harry tells him, voice gruff. “We need to talk.”

“Okay,” Louis says slowly, stumped as to what’s up with Harry this time.

Honestly, can’t he get a bit of sympathy? He was almost forced into sex by another man in the bathroom – couldn’t Harry give his mood swings rest just this time? Couldn’t Louis get a bit of comfort here?

Harry is stony-faced the entire ride home, knuckles white as he grips onto the steering wheel tightly, jaw set. Louis feels close to tears in the passenger seat, still scared from his encounter at the club and really hurt that Harry isn’t even going to acknowledge what happened, isn’t going to reassure him that everything’s okay.

No, instead of the comfort Louis thinks he might just deserve, just this one time, Harry’s pissed off, and not even at the guy at the club. To Louis, it seems like Harry is angry at him, and he doesn’t know why.

What has he done this time?

The car ride home is tense, to put it lightly.

+

Harry is on him the instant they get through the door, and not the way Louis was thinking about earlier. It’s in the shouting way, not the sexy way.

 “What the hell was that?!” Harry yells at him. “Back at the club?”

Louis gapes at him, truly bewildered. “What are you talking about?”

“You were all over that guy in the bathroom,” Harry accuses of him, slamming one hand against the wall next to Louis’s shoulder.

Louis chokes. “What?!”

“You heard me,” Harry continues, eyes shooting daggers at him. “You being the little slut you are were fucking offering yourself up to the first guy who came into the bathroom with you!”

Harry hasn’t had an episode like this in a long while, and Louis was already a bit shaken from earlier, so he has to use all he’s got not to start trembling in fear.

This time, he’s standing his ground. They’ve gone so long with Harry being so good to him; he doesn’t want this to end.

“That’s not what happened!” Louis protests. “He was forcing himself onto me! Didn’t you see that I was crying? That I was scared?”

Harry looks genuinely surprised by those words and Louis wonders if he didn’t actually notice either of those things. Harry’s never wrong though, apparently.

“Oh, stop fucking making excuses for being a little whore!” Harry shouts.

Louis can feel a thick ball rising in his throat and he knows he’s close to tears and he has to swallow around it, has to stay strong in the face of Harry’s anger.

“I’m not,” Louis says as calmly as he can manage. “I was almost – he was going to rape me, Harry. Do you understand me?”

Harry looks like he’s finally getting that maybe Louis isn’t making stuff up, but he can’t seem to accept that, because suddenly, his hand is flying out and is slapping across Louis’s face. Louis bites his tongue to keep from crying out, to keep from completely breaking down because here they are again.

“Stop fucking lying to me!” Harry snarls, and then his face crumples. “Am I not enough for you, or something? Is that it? Is that why you had to sneak off to that bathroom and get off with some stranger?”

“I didn’t want that! God, Harry, you’re misunderstanding,” Louis tells him, trying not to let his frustration into his voice, trying to keep calm in hopes that Harry will follow suit. “I went to the bathroom and he cornered me and I told him ‘no’ but he kept on going. Won’t you just listen to me for once? You were the one who stopped him in the nick of time from doing something that I didn’t want, I assure you.”

Harry’s silent for a long time, hands flexing as he tries to figure it all out.

Louis can’t take this. He can’t take more tense nights, more days of stepping on eggshells around Harry in hopes that he won’t lash out, won’t hit him.

“I’m leaving,” Louis announces decidedly, voice quiet as he steps away from Harry. “I’m packing a small bag and I’m leaving and you can come find me when you’ve figured out that I’m not lying to you, that in fact, I love you and wouldn’t do anything to betray you like that. Let me know when you understand that I’m not out to get you, that this relationship isn’t some twisted power competition like you seem to think it is.”

Harry’s head snaps up from where it was hung as he stared at the ground at that, and Louis can see the panic on his face. Louis only believes half the words he’s saying, only wants some of that from Harry, but it seems to be getting to him, and for a second Louis has the crazy thought that his younger boyfriend is going to do something dramatic (and a little bit romantic) like beg for him to stay, or swear to change.

Of course not. Instead, Louis watches as Harry’s face twists into one of smug mockery.

“Oh yeah, is that right?” Harry sneers, and Louis gapes at him. “Where are you going to go, huh Louis? Back to your broke-ass family? Is that where? You’re not the one who should be deciding when you leave or not. You’re the charity case in this relationship.”

Louis intakes a sharp breath, biting down on his trembling lip to keep from dropping his jaw. That one hit close to home, and he finds his hands balling into fists. Closing his eyes, he tries all the anger managing techniques he knows – breathing slowly in and out, counting to ten – but he’s never been more angry at a single person.

He’s never really been angry at Harry that much ever, really, just frustrated or hurt or exasperated. But now, this is different, because Louis is sick of it. Louis is sick of Harry acting like a child who got his toy taken away, and yeah, Louis can get pretty self-deprecating, but he’s just spent time knowing what it’s like to live with Harry acting as a mature, loving partner, and he wants it back. He’s angry.

Slowly, Louis raises his head to look directly into Harry’s eyes, fixing him with an intense glare.

“No, fuck you!” Louis spits, and he lunges at the taller boy, throwing punches like they’ll be able to fix this.  “I’m not a fucking charity case!”

Harry doesn’t move as Louis hits him over and over again, frozen with shock. Louis’s kind of clumsy with how upset he is and the punches land sloppily and they don’t even hurt all that much, but Louis has never retaliated like this and Harry doesn’t know what to say or do.

“Lately I’ve been thinking that you were a good fucking person, Harry! I’ve been thinking that maybe this long thing between us was working out and that maybe you were fucking changing, that maybe living with you wasn’t going to be scary anymore!” Louis screams, face red and beads of sweat building on his forehead as he launches himself over and over again at his boyfriend. “I was fucking wrong!”

Louis stops for a moment, takes in the way Harry is still and unmoving, slow, small smile creeping onto the taller boy’s face and what the fuck? For a second, Louis considers the notion that Harry is actually genuinely psychotic, but quickly realizes that that’s just his pent up rage talking.

“You done?” Harry asks, and his voice is a bit strained but he’s fucking teasing him now.

Louis takes in a few ragged breaths and then really fucking loses it, shrieking and running at Harry, knocking into him with his whole body weight. He may not be particularly heavy or strong, but Harry is taken by surprise and he stumbles backwards, knocking into a decorative floor lamp and sending it crashing to the ground.

At the loud sound, Louis is snapped back into his senses. He can feel horror rushing through him, because oh my god, he’s just physically attacked Harry. And yeah, Harry’s done this to him plenty of times, but now he’s no better than him. He’s so confused, can’t make out in his muddled mind who deserves what and who was right and who was wrong and he doesn’t have the time to, either, because he hears three shocked gasps coming from behind him, and he whips around.

“How long have you been standing there?” Louis asks quickly, voice panicky as he takes in the fearful looks on the three boys who are standing in their foyer’s eyes.

For some reason, Liam, Niall, and Zayn have come to their flat.

“Long enough to see you plow into Harry,” Liam replies weakly, looking at the bruise on Harry’s face from the one punch Louis managed to connect with a point above Harry’s neck. “Harry told us you were leaving but when we saw you guys exiting, we just thought – Harry looked so angry and we wanted to check on you, but –”

Liam pauses, eyes going back and forth between Harry and Louis, trying to figure it out in his head.

Niall stays silent, but Zayn doesn’t – he looks furious, in fact, as he takes a step forwards.

“What the fuck, Louis?” Zayn screeches in his face, gesturing towards Harry and the broken lamp. “All this time we thought – we thought that you were the one getting hurt, not doing the hurting!”

It clicks, then. They think that Louis is the abusive one.

“No, this isn’t what it must look like to you guys! I can explain! Let me explain!” Louis pleads, stumbling over himself to walk forwards, towards his three friends.

He can feel his heart breaking when he notices them flinching away from him, scared.

“Louis, I think you need to calm down,” Niall tells him softly, face composed by his eyes giving away his fear. His fear of Louis. Fuck.

“No!” Louis protests, turning on his heel to grab at Harry, trying to pull him over. “Harry, explain! Explain to them what happened! Harry, please!”

"Louis, I think you should step away from Harry for a second," Liam says gently, eyeing the tight grip Louis has on Harry's wrist.

Louis scowls, but drops the limb he was holding.

Harry, please,” Louis begs. “Tell them this was the first time, tell them it's out of context, tell them this isn't what – I’m not –”

Louis cuts himself off, gasping for breath after getting all those words out at the same time.

Harry has to explain. It's bad enough that Louis’s gone through all this, he doesn't want to lose his friends too just because he snapped once. He thinks he deserves it, sure - he was acting just like Harry - but that doesn't mean he wants it.

“Okay, Lou,” Harry agrees, and Louis breathes a sigh of relief.

Harry's going to clear this up. Louis doesn't know how much he'll say, if he’ll admit to hitting Louis, but he’ll at least explain that this was the first time this happened. Then Louis can make his apologies for losing control and their friends can leave and Harry and he can move on. Louis hopes so, at least.

“You don't have to listen to anything he says, Harry,” Zayn interjects, and Louis wants to strangle him. “Don't let him make you say something that's not true.”

“No, let me speak,” Harry says, flashing a reassuring smile towards Louis, who relaxes a bit. 

Harry pauses as he collects his words, formulating his explanation. Louis feels a bit more at ease. Harry will somewhat sort this out, he's got to.

“Go on, Haz,” Niall urges him, expression soft. “What happened?” 

“Well,” Harry starts, leaning back against the wall of the hallway they're standing in. “Tonight, it all started when I went to tell you guys that Lou and I were heading out. Louis went to the bathroom, so when I was done talking to you, I went to go find him. To my surprise and utter horror, he had another guy cornered in there, trying to coax him into sleeping with him. Louis was trying to cheat on me right under my nose.”

The boys all gasp, but Louis’s is the loudest.

“What?!” Louis cries out. “What the fuck, that's not true!”

“Let him finish,” Zayn hisses.

Louis opens his mouth to protest, but under Zayn’s glare, he closes it again.

“Thank you, Zayn,” Harry says, voice sugary sweet. Louis’s starting to think his hopes aren’t going to come to fruition tonight. “So anyways, that's sort of why I was dragging Louis away like that. When we got home and I tried to have a serious talk with him about it, Louis just flipped out! He couldn't believe that I was upset that he wanted to get with another guy. I was trying to share my feelings with him about it, trying to work it out, but he wasn't hearing it.”

Louis can’t take any more of this.

“You're a fucking liar!” Louis screams, tears welling in his eyes because his friends are eating the story up, nodding and humming sympathetically at the right parts. “How are you guys believing this damn work of fiction he’s coming up with?”

Maybe the yelling isn’t helping to convince his friends, but he can’t help it – he’s angry and frustrated and really fucking confused.

“Louis, please,” Liam says quietly, and Louis feels nauseous.

His friend doesn't even look the least bit suspicious of what Harry’s saying.

It’s clear that the boys aren’t going to let either of them get away without them hearing the rest of the story from Harry’s side, so Louis shuts his mouth and lets Harry speak. He’ll defend himself at the end.

“I knew what I was in for, so I braced myself for it,” Harry tells them, and he has actual genuine tears in his eyes and he's choking up, the manipulative fucker. “It’s – it’s not abnormal for Louis to hit me when he’s upset, so I knew it was coming. You guys walked in soon after.”

“You little fucking bitch,” Zayn growls, rushing at Louis and pinning him to the wall. 

Louis cries out in surprise at being tackled by Zayn so suddenly. This position, however, is not one he’s unfamiliar with. He’s been yelled at while being forcefully pushed against a wall a fair few times before.

“Zayn,” Liam says warningly, bringing a hand up to rest on Zayn’s shoulder, who sighs and lets Louis go.

“Sorry,” Zayn spits out, his apology entirely unconvincing and devoid of meaning. “I’m just pissed that this little fucking cunt has been hurting my friend and I didn't notice!”

“That's not true, I swear!” Louis protests, trying to explain. “I couldn’t get Zayn off me, do you think I could overpower Harry? And besides, haven't you seen that I’ve been the one who always has bruises?”

“Yeah, from beating on Harry,” Zayn mutters, but he’s ignored.

“Are you saying Harry's the one who's been hurting you, then?” Liam questions Louis, the intense gaze he has on the smaller boy unwavering, Liam looks dubious, unsure.

Louis, scared of the repercussions of what the words he wants to say would be, glances at Harry, taking in the slight way he shakes his head, jaw clenched and eyes threatening, going unnoticed by everyone but him.

“N-no, of course not,” Louis replies nervously, heart racing as he tries to figure a way out of this.

“Then what, Harry’s been making this up just for fun?” Zayn asks sarcastically, disbelieving.

“I – no – he just – I –” Louis stutters, trying to stand up for himself without ratting Harry out. It's impossible.

“Louis, just stop,” Niall says suddenly, the first thing he’s said in a while. “We saw it with our own eyes. We can see the bruise on his face. Just stop. It's over.

Louis huffs in exasperation, tears starting to stream down his face as he realizes his friends have lost complete trust in him. The last thing Louis sees of his friends before he’s running down the hallway and hiding out in their bedroom is the pained expression on Liam's face. 

It must be hard to find out your best mate’s a psycho abusive boyfriend, Louis thinks bitterly as he locks the bedroom door behind him, turning his back to it and sliding down it, sitting on the ground with his face resting on his knees.

Distantly, he can still hear the boys talking.

“C'mon Harry, we’ll get you away from him, you can come stay with me until we can sort this out,” He hears Zayn say, voice comforting. “You can't be with him anymore, you know that? Not when he hurts you like you’ve said. We’ll get him moved out eventually and you can get your place back, but for now come with me and one of us will get some of your stuff from here for you tomorrow. We’ll all help you move on from this, right lads?”

Louis hears a chorus of agreement, before the front door is opening and closing and the flat goes dead silent.

For a few moments, Louis just sits and listens to his own heartbeat and his shuddery breathing.

It hits him then, that he’s lost everything - his boyfriend, his friends, and the only home he has. He has no more money to send to his family and he'll have to go back there and tell them what happened and how he's screwed up everything. He’ll have to completely restart his life in a different town, because there's no way he can stay in this one where Harry and what he's sure are his ex-friends still live.

Louis’s whole body trembles as he starts sobbing – big, loud sobs wracking his body and tearing through his heart. He wants to scream, wants to throw up, wants to run after Harry and his friends and beg them to listen to him.

All he can manage, though, is climbing into his and Harry’s bed – not his anymore, he reminds himself – and dropping his head to the pillow that smells like Harry, falling asleep with tear streaks down his face and a heart heavy with regret, among other things.

Yeah. All good things must come to an end, indeed.

Chapter Text

The morning might be even harder for Louis than the night before.

He wakes up in a state – hair mussed, eyes filled with sleep, and bones aching – but he’s drowsy and his automatic reaction when waking up in the morning is to reach out to Harry. When his hand pats the cold spot next to him, though, he remembers what happened and he’s suddenly very aware of the soreness of his eyes from all the crying he did, and with a jolt, he sits up.

Panic fills him as all of the feelings from before come crashing into him like ocean waves against the face of the rock, powerful and out of control. His whole body trembles as he starts gasping for breath but no matter how hard he tries he can’t seem to successfully fill his air with lungs as all the emotions and the dread and the guilt resurface, clogging his throat with a hard lump.

In his mind, they’re wrapping their tiny claws around his esophagus and pulling up, dangling him in the air and suspending him the vast expanse of the ocean – he’s got to gulp in enough air now before he falls.

It’s dizzying, but eventually he comes to his senses a bit more. He’s hyperventilating, he realizes, and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t have to figure it out himself, though, because suddenly there’s another weight on the bed and there are strong arms wrapping around him and a low voice whispering reassurance and a gentle hand petting his hair.

Louis closes his eyes, breath slowing and the panic subsiding as the voice talks him through it, instructing him to calm down and to count his breaths and to relax. As soon as he’s sure he won’t fall apart again at any moment, Louis opens his eyes.

“Harry?” Louis questions, voice hoarse but tone hopeful.

His heart shatters all over again when he turns his head to see that it’s Liam who’s comforting him.

“Sorry but no,” Liam says, eyes sympathetic. “Harry and Zayn are at Zayn’s flat together.”

“And Niall?” Louis asks, frowning.

He can feel Liam shrug. “Not sure. I think he...”

“Wanted to get away?” Louis guesses. “From this mess?”

Liam changes positions so that they’re facing each other.

“Well, yeah,” He replies, head nodding hesitantly as he bites his lip.

“I understand the feeling,” Louis mutters.

“So...how are you holding up?” Liam asks worriedly, big brown eyes sincere and open wide.

Louis goes to reply to the question, but then thinks of something.

“You don’t hate me?” He whispers, eyes downcast as his small hands toy with the blanket that’s pooling around his waist, breathing in a sharp intake of breath as he waits for the reply.

Liam’s brows furrow.

“No, of course not,” He says, and Louis lets out a sigh of relief. “You’re my best friend, I could never hate you.”

“But I –” Louis begins to say, but Liam interrupts him.

“Louis,” Liam interjects. “Are you absolutely sure that Harry isn’t the one who’s hitting you?”

Louis gapes at him, taken by surprise by the question.

The words – the truth – want to come out so badly, but he can’t bring himself to out the true nature of the relationship between him and Harry. Not now. It’s nice, knowing that maybe his friends aren’t as gullible and as untrusting of him as he thought, but being honest now is futile.

In Louis’s mind, at least, there is no gain in telling Liam now. He’s already lost Harry and his friends are already divided enough as it is and what’s throwing more confusion into the mess going to solve? Louis can barely sort out his own thoughts, there’s no use putting his own side of things out there for his friends to pick their way through, to decide on what they believe and what they don’t and argue over it.

At this point, lying about how Harry treats him is almost second nature. It’s a habit he just can’t seem to kick.

“Y-yeah,” Louis croaks, looking away from Liam’s intense gaze.

Liam looks skeptical, and a bit exasperated, but there’s nothing else he can do.

“Fine,” Liam says finally, after a few moments of just looking Louis over.

“Fine,” Louis agrees.

“Well,” Liam says, and the tension is palpable.

Interactions between Louis and Liam are usually easy, never awkward, but there’s an enormous elephant in the room and it’s pretty damn hard to ignore.

Louis falls back into his bed, squashing his face into the pillow, not having anything else to do.

“Why are you here?” He mumbles, miserable.

“To get some of Harry’s stuff,” Liam says quietly, like he knows it’s something Louis doesn’t want to hear.

He’s right. Louis has to physically purse his lips to keep the anguished sound in.

“Okay,” Louis replies tightly, forcing a small smile. “Well, go ahead.”

Liam rises from the bed slowly, like Louis is a bomb set to explode at any moment if he’s not gentle. Liam claps his hands once, like that will set things into motion.

“Alright, I’ll get started packing some things,” Liam announces. “If you need me, Lou, just say so. For anything. If you want to talk, then...”

Liam’s voice trails off as he realizes Louis is barely listening – he’s rolled over so that he’s lying in the bed on his back, eyes glued firmly on the ceiling.

“’Kay,” Louis says distractedly, and the way he says it is light but the way his voice crackles a bit gives his true weakness away.

“Okay, Lou,” Liam murmurs, voice soft, as he makes his way out of the room, hand flicking at the light switch on his way out.

In Louis’s panic, he didn’t realize that Liam had turned the lights on, but he does now, when they’re turned off again. Louis presumes that Liam will get Harry’s stuff from the bedroom last, when Louis’s collected himself and is a bit more stable. In his mind, Louis objects to the fact that he’s being treated like a fragile china doll, to be handled delicately.

Maybe Liam’s right to treat Louis like that, he realizes, when just hearing Liam’s footsteps walking around and collecting up Harry’s stuff sets him off, has the tears flowing freely.

From so much time of consistently being close to him, Louis never realized just how much he needs Harry.

Liam’s quick. He gets everything Harry will need for a prolonged stay at Zayn’s, and then he’s ready to leave, opening the door to Louis’s room just a crack, where the smaller boy is still in the bed.

“I’m leaving now,” Liam tells him softly. “Like I said, if you need anything or want to talk... just call me, okay Lou? Please.”

“I will,” Louis promises. He won’t.

“Goodbye, Louis,” Liam says, and then he’s gone.

Without Liam there as a reminder of where Harry is, of what Louis’s gotten himself into – well, it doesn’t hurt any less.

+

Louis spends days and days on end in bed.

He turns on the TV that’s on the wall on the other side of the room, goes to the bathroom every once in a while, and sets snacks and water bottles on the night stand.

He doesn’t eat much of what he sets out, and doesn’t shower, either.

He’s done crying, too.

He’s not sure what he feels – there’s the strong sense of guilt and regret and sadness he has at the beginning, but when he thinks about it, he’s not sure of the root of the feelings. He misses Harry, of course he does, and he’s regretful that he’s gone, but the more he thinks about it, the less sure of whether it’s Harry himself that he longs for or just company.

He’s in a sort of limbo – he feels numb, most of the time, with this dull pain that’s just gathered that he can’t seem to shake. It’s like this dread is weighing him down and his thoughts are heavier than any physical thing he could ever carry. It’s a funny way to put things, but he’s almost bored, or tired, rather than sad.

He’s tired of crying over Harry, that’s for sure, but he can’t help but dwell over why Harry would play it off like Louis was the abusive one. There were so many other explanations that could’ve been said that would still put Harry in a positive light. He’ll have to get over it, eventually. It’s clear that Harry’s done with him. He’s probably been thinking about how to leave him for a while, now.

Just thinking about his future is enough to make him sick to his stomach. He’ll have to move out, eventually, when Zayn and Liam and Niall decide they’re ready to come and kick him out and help Harry get settled back in. He’ll have to go home, probably, and find the best job he can to support himself and his family.

Right now, he’s feeling so shitty, so completely utterly unmotivated, it’s hard to sort out his priorities.

So he stays in the bed, ignores the outside world and watches over-dramatized soap operas where he can pretend that his problems are less relevant than they are.

Thinking back on his and Harry’s relationship, he feels like he should be relieved that he’s out of it. After Louis sorts this out, leaves this house and goes home, Harry can’t hurt him anymore. But Harry had become such a large part of his life, has left such a huge hole in him – he can’t possibly think of how he’ll ever fill this void. Because yes, Harry was controlling and angry and cold, but he was his boyfriend and he had his moments and Louis was clinging to him so hard that letting go would be the most difficult thing Louis will ever have to do.

Every day, Louis lived for the private moments where he’d see the underlying romanticism and sensitivity that Harry held so close to himself. Those moments may have been surrounded wholly by brutality, but living like that – enduring the worst moments and relishing the best – is the only thing Louis knows of at this point.

Louis’s not sure how to function without Harry. As dangerous as he was, Louis is so extremely dependent on him.

+

A week after Harry left him, Louis calls his mom.

He’s not ready to talk to her about the situation he’s in, but he wants to hear her voice so badly. He’s got to get used to it, too, because in a short while, he’ll be hearing it all the time. (Assuming he’ll build up the courage to tell the truth to her about what happened and be allowed to live back at home and have to tell everyone that those funds from Harry they relied so heavily upon have been cut off, that is. Not like he has a choice.)

Louis smiles when she picks up the phone with a distracted “Hello?” and he can hear who he assumes are his sisters bustling around and screeching and playing in the background.

“Mum?” Louis replies tentatively, for the first time in a week feeling something even remotely akin to happiness.

“Louis?!” She questions, overjoyed to finally hear from him. “Louis, is that you?”

“Yeah Mum, it’s me,” Louis laughs.

“It’s been so long since you called me!” Jay replies, and it’s a complaint, but she sounds happy. “Has that Harry boy been keeping you busy, then?”

Louis’s stomach churns at the mention of Harry, but he takes a deep breath and hopes that when he speaks his voice won’t shake.

“Er, yeah,” He lies. “Yeah, I guess I was just always preoccupied. Sorry, Mum.”

“Oh sweetie, it’s okay, I’m just glad you’ve called,” Jay says. “Harry’s so lovely; he seemed like such a gentleman all those times you’ve visited.”

“Yeah, he’s great,” Louis says, and then tries to change the subject. “So how are the girls?”

“They’re fine! I would have you talk to them, but Daisy and Phoebe are at a friend’s house and Heaven knows where Fizz and Lottie have gone off to, those social butterflies!”

It’s disappointing, but Louis similes even wider at the mention of his sisters.

“Say hi to them for me?” Louis asks.

“Of course, darling,” Jay replies. “So why did you call?”

“What? A boy can’t call his dear mother just to say hi?” Louis gasps, mock-offended.

“Well yes, sweetie, you can, but you haven’t called in a while,” Jay explains. “Are you sure there’s nothing you need?”

Yes, Louis thinks. A place to stay. Comfort. His life back.

“No,” Louis lies. “Honestly, I just wanted to catch up. I was feeling bad that I haven’t contacted you in a while.”

“Oh, well then I’m sorry for being presumptuous,” Jay apologizes, and Louis laughs. “We can just talk then, of course we can, darling.”

 “Thanks mum, I missed talking to you,” Louis says sincerely. “So what’s new?”

As he leads a much-needed conversation with his mum, Louis tries as best as he can not to think about what’s happened recently. He wouldn’t want to burst into tears while on the line with her – then he’d have no choice but to confess what’s happened.

He knows he’ll have to talk to her about it eventually, but he’s set on putting dealing with this whole thing off as much as he can. When he has to, he’ll tell her he has to come home because they broke up. (He’s still not sure he’ll share all the details.)

+

In the few days that follow his call with his mom, Louis begins to realize more than ever how dependent he is on Harry. He can feel a physical need for him in his gut, and it just gets more and more painful as the days pass. He feels stupid for yearning for Harry this much – hadn’t he spent so much time considering all the cons of dating him?

Despite how much pain Harry’s put him through, and despite how much he’s sure that Harry’s done with him, Louis can’t help but still need him.

The void’s still there.

He’s not surprised, of course not – he wasn’t foolish enough to think he’d be able to walk away from a relationship this long completely unscathed. He hadn’t expected this nearly suffocating need for Harry to return, though.

Those strong feelings to rebel against Harry and assert his position in the relationship he had on the night Harry left are completely gone at this point.

Louis doesn’t know what to do with himself.

+

Two weeks after the first night, there’s a knock on the door.

Louis hasn’t been out much, but at least he’s been out. He went for a walk one day, and went shopping another. It’s better than nothing.

He’s migrated from hibernating in the bedroom to actually moving around the house. He hasn’t been doing much, though.

He’s heard of people who would clean obsessively in situations like this, but Louis feels sad and numb and weighed down and even getting out of the house for his short walk was enough exertion for him.

When he hears the knock, Louis’s heart sinks. Slowly, he rises from his position he took on the couch that day to watch the horror movie marathon that was on TV. (He doesn’t even like scary movies.)  

Louis walks over to the front door of the flat, getting on his tiptoes to look through the peep-hole. When he sees who’s there, he immediately feels like he’s going to throw up. Today’s the day. On the other side of the door is Harry, who’s accompanied by Zayn and Liam.

He can’t just ignore them, though, especially when he’s living in Harry’s flat right now. So, after smoothing over his crumpled shirt and taking a deep breath, he grabs the doorknob and swings the door open.

“Hey,” Louis croaks, and immediately regrets not clearing his voice before speaking.

“Hi, Lou,” Liam says first, eyeing him sympathetically.

Zayn is quiet, but is sending him a fierce glare, while Harry is just standing there, looking something akin to smug, God knows why. Louis wants to kiss him so fucking badly.

“We’re here to kick you out,” Zayn speaks up gruffly.

Harry elbows him in the side. “Hold on a minute,” He says. “Let’s just talk for a bit, yeah?”

Talk. Louis can do that. Louis can definitely do that. (Whether he can do it without bursting into tears and/or begging for Harry back is something entirely different.)

“What the fuck, Haz?” Zayn questions, turning on the younger boy. “I thought we were just here to move you back in. You’re getting on with your life, right?”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Liam interjects. “To talk, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Louis says weakly, trying to keep the hopefulness out of his voice. “We can talk. That sounds...good.”

Harry nods and without another word, pushes past Louis and makes his way over to the living room. Liam follows right after, then Zayn (albeit a bit reluctantly), and Louis trails behind, mouth feeling dry with nervousness.

Liam, Harry, and Zayn sit on one couch with Harry in the middle while Louis sits on the armchair opposite from it, shifting in it uncomfortably.

“So,” Harry starts. “I have a proposal.”

Louis can tell that Liam and Zayn weren’t expecting this because they’re both looking towards the younger boy with a confused expression on their faces.

“O-okay,” Louis stutters.

Honestly, Louis has no idea how his friends could believe that he’s hurting Harry when here they are, Harry confident as ever and Louis trembling like a scared cat.

“If you are capable of conducting a civil, mature relationship built on trust and mutual respect, and if you are capable of being with me without feeling the need to lay a hand on me or to verbally attack me,” Harry says, and Louis’s heart is bursting so much with hope that he doesn’t even care that Harry’s suggesting that it was him who was the one who wasn’t able to before. “I am prepared to forgive you and continue living with you as your faithful, loving boyfriend.”

Louis’s stomach is fluttering at that last sentence and he wants to fling himself into Harry’s arms. Liam just looks stunned, but Zayn, however, looks less impressed.

“What?!” He screams, head whipping back and forth, alternating between looking at Harry. “You’re prepared to forgive him? To live with him after all he’s done? Are you fucking crazy?! Are you secretly a masochist? What the fuck?!”

Harry seems like he was ready for this reaction.

“Zayn,” He says calmly. “I have thought long and hard about this decision and it is the offer I’m making and sticking to. If Louis accepts, then when you have left, he and I will have a long chat going into detail about this.”

Louis wants to scream in delight. He can’t believe what Harry’s offering.

Long and hard?!” Zayn screeches before Louis can even get a word in. “You’ve been away from him for two weeks! Do you know what you’re asking to get into here? People like him never change!”

Liam steps in then.

“Harry can take care of himself,” He says softly, trying to be reasonable. “They’ll talk it through and Harry will be able to decide what he wants to do by himself. If anything bad happens, he can call us. For now, I think we should leave, Zayn.”

“Are you guys all nuts?! Did you all miss the part where he said Louis was abusing him?!” Zayn yells.

“Zayn, please,” Harry says gently, and Zayn pauses, breathing heavily as he scans the scene.

“I – I do accept, by the way,” Louis interjects. “The offer. Or deal. Or – proposal. I accept it.”

Zayn looks like he’s going to throw a full-blown fit or do something crazy like force Louis out of the flat and lock the doors and bar the windows and never let anything at Harry again.

Harry, however, seems to sense this too.

“Liam’s right, Zayn,” He tells him firmly. “I’ve got this. Thank you, but I know how to handle myself now. If I want out in any way, I’ll know what to do, don’t worry.”

Zayn looks like he wants to argue, but with a big sigh, he relents.

“Fine,” Zayn agrees. “But I’m calling you tonight to see how your talk goes. And you’ll call me again sometime in the next few days or I’m coming over. You got that?”

“Yeah, Zayn,” Harry replies, cracking a smile. “Thanks, man.”

Harry and Louis say their goodbyes to Liam and Zayn pretty quickly, and before they know it, they’re alone together. Louis feels like he’s been shoved in a washing machine that was set on spin cycle – his life keeps flipping and turning around and he feels dizzy, almost, confused by what’s just happened but overall happy because he has Harry back.

Louis can’t just pretend the past couple of weeks haven’t just happened, though.

“Why?” He blurts as soon as the door closes behind Liam and Zayn.

Harry turns his head to look at him, brows furrowed in confusion. “Why what?”

“Why did you tell them, that night, that I –? Why did you – do you want to leave me?” Louis asks, voice small, nervous. “I just – are you done with me, is that it? I don’t understand.”

Harry’s mouth sets in a firm, straight line. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs. “You are.”

+

That night is weird. It’s not that they act any differently together, or anything, but that’s the weird thing. It’s like they’ve just picked up where they left off.

They have dinner together at the table and talk about what they’ve been up to and it’s so normal for the two of them that it’s just bizarre. Louis doesn’t mind it, though. It’s better than spending his days moping about being left and ignoring the fact that he’s going to have to figure his future out.

They even watch the tail end of the scary movie marathon together, Louis curled up against Harry’s side. Harry seems tense, but Louis is happy enough that he can ignore it.

What seemed like such a big problem just the day before has completely disappeared. He has Harry again. It’s hard to think that just hours ago he was devastated and everything’s been completely turned around again.

+

The first time they kiss since their separation isn’t until night-time.

They’re getting ready for bed, and it’s almost like Harry isn’t even thinking about it when he presses Louis against the wall of their bedroom, sealing their lips together in a sweet, chaste kiss. Louis squeaks in surprise but then melts into it, his hands coming up to toy with Harry’s curls.

He sighs happily, so fucking content to just stay in this moment.

Harry, however, seems like it was just a split-second decision, not meant to be anything that was supposed to last long, and he’s ready to go off to bed already. They break apart pretty soon after the kiss started – Harry pulls away and just smiles at him, brushes Louis’s fringe off his face for him with a soft, careful hand, and draws back, going over to the bed.

Louis follows after him like a puppy, climbing into bed happily, nuzzling his way over to Harry so that he makes his place in between his arms. Harry makes a small noise that seems suspiciously like a complaint, but Louis ignores it.

However, Louis can’t let go of one thing before they drift off. Suddenly, he sits up, clicking the lamp on the nightstand on.

“Harry,” Louis whispers.

Harry uses his elbows to push himself up, opening his eyes and turning his head to look at Louis and scrunching his face up in complaint at having his attempts to fall asleep disrupted.

“What?” He asks harshly.

“Why?” Louis asks again, for the second time that day, and he can feel Harry’s whole body tense up. “Please, that’s all I want to know. Why?

He doesn’t have to expand. Harry knows what he’s asking. With a sigh, Harry straightens his back and brings his legs in so he’s sitting in the bed cross-legged, facing Louis.

“I panicked, okay?” Harry says as way of explanation, and this moment is one of the times Harry has been the most honest with him. “I just – there was no way out of it without explaining why you freaked out and... I didn’t want them to know the reason. It just seemed easier to fabricate the lie and it would trap you and leave you with few ways out without – I just, it was... admittedly, the whole thing wasn’t my best idea.”

No ‘it was a horrible thing to do’. No ‘sorry’. Just a measly ‘it wasn’t my best idea’. Louis realizes it’s the most open Harry’s going to get and he’ll just have to take it.

“So you don’t want to leave me?” Louis asks slowly, brings his knees up to his chest as a defense.

“No,” Harry replies, shaking his head, and he crooks a smile, taking one of Louis’s hands into his own. “No, I came back, didn’t I?”

That’s not much, that doesn’t explain Harry’s ‘deal’ today, but Louis will have to take it. He’s still a bit confused, though, just wants to clarify that he’s got everything right.

“Okay, so – but –” Louis starts, but Harry interrupts him.

“Enough,” He commands, voice leaving no room for argument, hand squeezing tightly onto his, his grip becoming painful to Louis. “It’s over.”

Louis nods, feeling tears pricking at the corner of his eyes from Harry’s telltale rough behaviour.

“Okay,” Louis replies quietly, reaching over to shut the light back off. “Goodnight then.”

Distantly, Louis remembers something that Zayn said earlier, when he was yelling.

“People like him never change.”

Chapter Text

Harry and Louis are back at square one.

Or square two, really, if square one was the honeymoon stage of their relationship where Harry was a perfect gentleman and square two was the point in their relationship where Harry would consistently verbally and physically harm him.  When assessing the situation in his mind, Louis stays away from the word “abuse”.

It’s not abuse, Louis reminds himself daily. It’s Harry putting you in your place when necessary.

Suffice to say, Louis is back to living in fear anytime he does or says something that could possibly anger Harry. And lately, Harry seems even more agitated after his confession and explanation of why he lied to their friends.

Somehow, though, Louis convinces himself that Harry is doing him a favour with the hitting and the punching and the cruel words. Harry is doing what any boyfriend should do, and is helping him become a better person. The way he does it is rectifying any of Louis’s bad behaviour with punishment. It’s logical, in Louis’s mind.

Besides, even if Harry’s actions are too much, Louis has experienced firsthand how he reacted to life without Harry. Louis’s stuck between a rock and a hard place – either he’s miserable with Harry’s actions or he’s downright depressed, lost even, without him.

The solution of manning up and dealing with Harry’s behaviour is clearly the most obvious and effective one, Louis reasons. It’s not like Harry’s some crazy psychotic abusive partner. He just gets mad sometimes. Everybody does.

Louis just overreacts and acts like a fucking baby when Harry gets angry.

When he thinks about it, all the problems they experience are his fault. Why is he complaining?

+

This one particular morning, Louis is being extra quiet as he and Harry eat breakfast together. Harry has been growing increasingly irritable as the days pass and Louis suspects it has something to do with the frequent calls he gets from work.

Louis knows Harry’s dad is hard on him and Harry wants to be at home more often relaxing, but lately he’s been having extra hours he has to put in at the office and even when he is at home he keeps getting called up and asked to do tasks from their house.

Louis doesn’t blame him for being in a sour mood. He just knows that this means he’ll have to be extra cautious around him. Just last night Harry screamed and yelled at him and threw the brick-like remote at him when Louis interrupted him while he was watching a football game on the television. All Louis wanted was to tell Harry he was turning in for the night and to invite him to join him.

Harry looks like he’s in a slightly better mood this morning though, which is good, but Louis doesn’t want to disturb the peace by saying or doing something dumb, so. He stays quiet, while Harry raves about the game from last night.

“The fucking referee was such an arsehole, he had no fucking idea what he was doing, I swear,” Harry says through a mouthful of toast.

Louis nods, making a quiet noise of agreement, keeping his eyes downcast. Harry may seem happy enough, but he’s getting pretty worked up over the game. Louis doesn’t want to take any chances or say the wrong thing.

It’s silent for a few moments, so Louis looks up quickly, making eye contact with Harry and noticing the curious expression on his face.

“Is something wrong?” He asks, frowning.

“No, not at all,” Louis replies, cracking a smile to reassure him. “Everything’s fine. I was just... really focussed on what you were saying.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry laughs. “C’mon, tell me what’s up! You’re so quiet this morning. I don’t like it.”

Louis smiles genuinely, happy knowing that Harry is concerned for him. The way he said “I don’t like it” worries Louis a bit, but he brushes it off.

“I’m just a bit tired, that’s all,” Louis lies.

“You’re such a shit liar,” Harry says, but he’s laughing and he doesn’t sound angry. Good signs. “You went to sleep at like 9 o’clock last night!”

Louis shakes his head, laughing. If only Harry knew how many lies he’s had to spin over the time of the two of them being together.

“I’m just a bit down today, no big deal,” Louis replies, picking up his and Harry’s now-empty plates and bringing them over to the sink to wash them.

Harry follows him over.

“We should do something to get you cheered up! We should...” He pauses for dramatic effect, and Louis just turns to look at him, lips turned up in amusement. “Have a bros night!”

Louis brightens up a bit at that. That does sound like a fun idea, and just the fact that Harry actually wants to plan and organize something tonight just to lift Louis’s spirits is so sweet and cute and the thought itself puts a smile on his face. Then Louis thinks of something, and it dampens his mood a bit.

“I don’t think...” Louis hesitates, trying to figure out how to say this properly. “I don’t think our friends really want to see me right now. Especially not Zayn.”

There’s an awkward silence for a few beats as they both think of what to say to that. What’s Harry supposed to reply to that? Sorry I made your best friends think you’re a crazy abusive monster to me, whoops?

“Er, yeah – right, I forgot,” Harry says, and he sounds a bit remorseful. “Well, I’ll just tell them to act – um – normally. Like, I’ll tell them not to say anything.”

Louis sighs. Harry clearly wants this and Louis isn’t one to purposefully deny Harry of what he wants. Besides, it could be a good way for Louis to re-connect with their friends.

“Okay, yeah, I guess that sounds fun,” Louis replies, forcing a smile, trying not to seem too anxious about spending a night with Zayn, who probably wants to rip his head off, tie it to an anchor, and throw it into the sea. “Invite them then. What do you want to do, even?”

“Let’s go bowling!” Harry suggests excitedly.

This is the first time in what feels like forever that Harry’s been this happy and playful, and Louis loves it. He suspects, though, that this “bros night” is more for Harry to get his mind off work and such than anything else.

“Bowling?” Louis giggles. He likes the idea. It’s fun, there’s no drinking involved, and it has a nice atmosphere.

“Yeah, why not?” Harry says, grinning.

“Alright,” Louis agrees. “You better impress me with your killer bowling skills.”

“Oh, I will,” Harry says, pecking Louis quickly on the cheek. “I’m going to call the boys now. You can finish cleaning the dishes, right?”

The authoritative tone Harry takes on makes Louis a bit uncomfortable, but he doesn’t let it get to him.

“Yeah, alright,” Louis replies, watching Harry go.

+

Harry joins Louis in the living room (where the older boy decided to wait) as soon as he’s finished calling up their friends.

“So?” Louis asks, looking up at Harry from the couch expectantly. “What’d they say?”

“Well, Zayn refused,” Harry tells him with a frown. “Said he was busy.”

“Shocker,” Louis mutters under his breath.

He’s relieved, in a way. Louis can’t say he wasn’t a bit scared to spend a night with Zayn. He wouldn’t be surprised if Zayn ended up punching Louis sometime during the night for, like, laying a finger on Harry in any way that might seem the least bit aggressive. And Zayn’s extremely non-violent. A tap on the shoulder would seem aggressive to him.

Harry stares at him, but he doesn’t look annoyed. “Sorry, come again?”

“Nothing,” Louis says, recovering quickly. “How about Liam and Niall?”

“They’re both up for it,” Harry announces gleefully. “We’re meeting at the bowling alley at 8:00pm!”

“Sounds great, Harry,” Louis replies, smiling at Harry, ignoring the feeling at the pit of his stomach telling him that this is not a good idea.

How bad can it be, though? It’ll be fun. It’s just bowling with friends. At the very worst it might get a bit awkward at points. There’s nothing to be worried about, he tells himself.

Harry smiles back at him and wordlessly pecks him on the cheek, going off to do whatever it is he does without another word. Louis watches him go, shrugging off the bad feeling and just enjoying the fact that Harry wants them to all go out together, just for fun.

Fun. It’ll be fun.

 +

Louis feels a bit silly arriving to the bowling alley that night with Harry because it seems that the only other people there are families with young children and groups of middle-schoolers, but he’s determined to have fun this night, so he brushes it off.

Niall and Liam get there not long after, and either they rode together or met each other at the front door because they come in at the same time. Louis can just catch the tail end of their conversation, Niall saying something about how his friend works at the bowling alley or something.

Niall catches on to what’s off about the situation fairly quickly.

“Hey, aren’t we gonna wait for –” He cuts himself off when he sees the look on Harry’s face. “Uh, is Zayn not coming?”

Liam side-eyes him. It’s not an odd question to ask given that whenever they go out as friends, it’s always the five of them, but under the circumstances...

“Nope,” Harry cuts in, words stilted. “He’s busy.”

“Well, this’ll be fun, eh lads?” Liam blurts out before Niall can say anything else, trying to get him to drop the matter.

Louis nods, grateful for the change in subject, but Niall isn’t deterred.

“He’s not busy,” Niall continues, brows furrowed. “I swear, he was asking a few days ago about me and him doing something together.”

“Maybe something came up,” Liam suggests, at the same time that Louis says something under his breath.

“What’s that?” Niall asks Louis.

Louis shifts nervously. “I just said... it’s probably my fault,” He admits. “I don’t think Zayn wants to be around me very much right now.”

Niall frowns. “Yeah, but... He said he wanted to hang out with us more not too long ago. I don’t see why...”

“Jesus Christ Niall,” Harry interrupts him, irritated. “If you want to hang out with Zayn so badly why don’t you just fucking go over to his place already and do so?”

Niall looks taken aback.  “Fine,” He says, looking confused as to what brought on Harry’s sudden outburst. “I’ll just go then.”

Niall looks over at Liam and Louis to see if either one will protest at his departure, but when he gets nothing from them he turns around with a huff, speed-walking away.

It’s silent for a few moments, before Liam speaks up.

“So,” He says, coughing awkwardly. “You guys good?”

“Yeah, everything’s great,” Harry replies, speaking for the both of them.

Liam nods. “Louis, you good?”

“Yeah, awesome,” Louis says, and it’s not completely a lie. He’s been okay. And they’re going to have fun tonight, the three of them. Everything’s good.

Liam seems to think he’s lying, though, because suddenly he’s getting closer to him. He places a gentle hand on his back, pulling him in for a one-arm hug, and Harry glares at him as Liam presses a comforting kiss to Louis’s head.

“I hope so,” Liam whispers.

Louis smiles, nodding. “Yep, all is good,” He reassures Liam, voice light.

“Alright, break it up you two,” Harry says jokingly, winking at them, but Louis can see the fire in his eyes. “That’s my boyfriend Liam, c’mon, hands off.”

“Of course, mate,” Liam replies, raising his hands defensively.  

“Yeah, that’s right, step away,” Harry says, but despite him trying to make it sound like a joke, it’s starting to get a bit tense. So. Louis interrupts the unveiling scenario before it gets too far.

“Alright,” He says, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go get a lane and actually get bowling here, shall we? I’m ready to smoke you lads, let’s get started. You’ll need time after to nurse your wounds.”

Liam laughs, but it sounds a little bit forced.

“Alright, I’ll go ask for a lane, you guys go on and get yourself some shoes,” Liam says, and before either of them can argue, he’s already making his way over to the front desk.

“C’mon then,” Harry chirps, grabbing Louis’s hand and happily tugging him over to the counter where an employee is waiting to lend bowling shoes to people.  He seems the least affected by the tension.

They tell the girl working there their shoe sizes, and she disappears in the back to grab the shoes. As they wait, Harry turns to Louis and presses his lips to his neck.

“Harry, stop,” Louis protests, uncomfortable. “We’re in public, come on babe.”

Harry just giggles, continuing to kiss up Louis’s neck, pausing at the line of his jaw and sucking a mark there.

“People are watching,” Louis complains, but he knows it’s futile. Harry obviously was jealous of him and Liam – which is absurd – but at least he’s choosing to take out his jealousy on Louis by claiming him as his own with affection and not violence.

“Don’t care,” Harry says as he connects his lips with Louis’s.

Louis kisses back reluctantly. It’s nice in a way, knowing that Harry is upset by the thought of Louis with someone else, but now is not the time and place for him being this affectionate.  They live together, for God’s sake; they have lots of other opportunities for this.

Louis finally pushes Harry off when Liam comes over.

“I asked for a lane for two,” Liam tells them. “You guys seem to be eager for a date night.”

“No!” Louis says right away. “No, it’s okay, we invited you for a reason!”

Liam just smiles, shaking his head. “You guys deserve it. Louis, you could use a date night. Harry too.”

Louis wants to protest again, not wanting to have both Liam and Niall leave on account of him tonight, but Harry speaks first.

“Thanks, man,” He says. “I’ll reimburse you for paying for the lane later, yeah?”

Liam nods, and then goes in for another hug from Louis.

“Text me if you need me,” Liam whispers, and it’s reminiscent of when he came over not long ago to get Harry’s stuff. “For anything.”

Louis nods and pulls back, not wanting to look over at Harry because he knows he’ll be upset. Harry seems to be especially sensitive to Louis’s missteps tonight, but he also seems like he really wants this night to be good. Louis really, really wants it to be too.

“Have fun you two,” Liam says, and Harry nods, watching Liam leave with a wave.

Harry turns to look at Louis, joining their hands together. “So it looks like it’s just us! Not much of a bros night, but we’ll have fun!”

Louis beams at him, thinking that maybe things will run a lot smoother with the two of them than it would with their friends.

“You’re still getting creamed,” Louis teases.

“We’ll see about that,” Harry shoots back at him, narrowing his eyes in a challenging way.

They both laugh together. It’s fun. Everything’s fine.

+

Louis’s all talk and no walk, apparently, seeing as Harry is absolutely destroying him at bowling. Louis’s struggling to even lift the bowling ball, and then there’s Harry rolling it down the lane effortlessly and getting strikes over and over again.

“You’re definitely cheating!” Louis accuses him after Harry gets two strikes in a row.

He bites his tongue after, afraid he’s gone a bit too far with the playful competition, but Harry looks ecstatic.

“Shut up, you sore loser!” He replies gleefully.

Louis just pouts back at him, picking up his own bowling ball and waddling over to the lane, carrying it in both hands. Just for fun, he holds it with two hands and spreads his legs, bringing the bowling ball back through his legs and then rolling it forward on the floor. It makes its way slowly down the lane, but when it reaches the pins, it knocks down all but one of them.

“Yes!” Louis cheers, turning around to confirm that Harry saw what he just did.

Harry claps his hands. “Very good. You did that with the skill and grace of an old lady.”

Louis sticks his tongue out at him. He still has one more chance to knock the other pin down, but the second bowling ball he throws down the lane misses it completely. Still. He’s proud of his 9 points.

It’s Harry’s turn, then, but just as he’s reaching to get a bowling ball, his phone rings. He reaches into his pocket, frowning when he sees the name on the call display.

“It’s my dad,” He grumbles.

Louis sighs. The night was actually going so nicely. “Are you going to answer it?”

“I have to,” Harry says, apologetic, and then brings the phone up to his ear. “Hello?”

Louis can’t exactly hear what Harry’s father is saying on his end of the line, but the conversation doesn’t go well. They’re arguing, and Harry seems to be trying to refuse something his father wants him to do. Louis winces as he hears the growing anger in Harry’s voice, and when the phone call ends and Harry spins around him with a furious look on his face, he knows the night’s fun is pretty much over.

“I can’t fucking believe him!” Harry roars, fists clenched, advancing on Louis.

“Haz, calm down,” Louis says gently. “Come on, we’re in public. Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

Harry doesn’t seem to like Louis’s words, but he does seem to register the fact that they’re in public, so he backs off a bit, lips pursed.

“He wanted me to come into work,” Harry explains after a few deep breaths, voice tight. “I said no. He’s fucking pissed at me.”

“Do you want to go in, maybe?” Louis suggests, because he doesn’t want Harry to get into trouble with his father. “I won’t mind.”

“Do you fucking want me to leave or something?” Harry yells, and people are starting to stare now.

Clearly getting the call from his father set off some switch in him, because just like that, Harry is in a rage. In his head, Louis chants don’t make a scene, don’t make a scene hoping that somehow that will stop Harry from flipping out in public. That’s crazy, of course it won’t.

“No, baby,” Louis says softly. “I was just wondering if you wanted to.”

Harry goes up to him, grabbing a fistful of his hair and pulling him in close. Louis whimpers because it fucking hurts and Harry’s never been violent with him in public. Not to this extent, at least.

“If I wanted to, don’t you think I would have you stupid shit?” Harry growls.

Someone pushes Harry off him, then.

“Whoa, calm down mate,” The stranger – a man – says. “Is there a problem here?”

The question is directed at Louis.

“No,” Louis answers quickly. “No, nothing’s wrong. We were just messing around.”

“Are you sure?” The stranger persists. “I mean I saw you two before, you looked like a little more than friends. He doesn’t do this often, does he? Do you need help?”

“We were just messing around,” Louis repeats through gritted teeth, trying to get this stranger to go the fuck away. He’s only making this worse, because Harry looks even angrier now.

The man gives up, then, backing away with his hands up. “Sorry, lads. I just wanted to make sure no one was getting hurt.”

“Well, no one is, so you can leave now,” Harry states. “Actually, I think we’ll leave.”

Harry grabs Louis by the wrist and drags him to the exit. Louis barely has time to take his bowling shoes off before they’re out of the building and Harry is forcing him into the car.

The ride back is silent, but Louis’s panicking the whole way. In his mind, he’s realizing something. He’s realizing how something must be so very wrong with his and Harry’s relationship if he actually has to defend some of Harry’s less severe actions to a complete stranger. He realizes that maybe the way he and Harry interact isn’t a normal thing. He realizes that it isn’t just Liam, the biggest worrywart he knows, who notices something off between him and Harry, who thinks that Harry’s a bit too harsh with him.

He’s realizing all that, but he has no fucking clue what to do about it. Figuring out that maybe, just maybe there is actually the possibility that he’s in, dare he say, an abusive relationship, doesn’t change the fact that he’s so dependent on Harry. It doesn’t change the fact that a week away from Harry was so fucking torturous. It doesn’t change anything, especially not that he loves Harry.

It does, though, make him angrier over the fact that what he’s now realizing that Harry does to him is what his friends think he does to Harry.

The ride is tense, to say the least.

+

Surprisingly, Louis isn’t thrown against the wall as soon as they get into the flat. Harry tries his best to keep calm, pacing angrily throughout their home as he takes deep breaths. It’s the email alert he gets on his phone that sets him off.

It must be from his father, because the moment he checks his phone to read it, he’s chucking the phone across the room. (It lands on the couch, not that it matters. Harry could buy a new one.)

Harry screams, and pushes Louis against the nearest wall.

“I can’t fucking take this!” Harry yells at him, face red from the stress.

Louis’s heart is racing, and he knows his face must be a mask of terror, but he’s still holding onto hope that he can calm Harry down. He opens his mouth to speak words of comfort, but the door to their flat’s flying open before he can. Obviously they didn’t lock it.

Harry releases him immediately, spinning around to see who their uninvited guests are. It’s Zayn, Liam, and Niall.

“Uh, hey,” Zayn says.

It’s awkward as Harry and Louis just stare the three of them down in confusion, no words spoken.

“Weren’t you supposed to be busy tonight?” Harry asks Zayn finally, breaking the silence.

Zayn ignores the question. “We just – we came to check on you guys.”

“Uh w-why?” Louis stammers, looking between his three friends in confusion, still a bit shaky from Harry’s most recent outburst.

“My friend works at the bowling alley, like I was telling Liam earlier,” Niall starts, shifting nervously on his feet as he explains himself. “She – she said she recognized you two as mates of mine. Apparently you got in a little – uh – scuffle? I don’t know exactly. She texted me though. To let me know. Um. We just wanted to see –”

“If I was fucking abusing him, is that right?” Louis blurts out, irritated, but he can’t help it. He regrets the words as soon as they’re out of his mouth, and he can’t believe he said them, but he doesn’t take them back.

“No!” Liam denies, at the same time that Zayn just shrugs.

“Well,” Zayn says. “Everything’s alright, then?”

“Yeah!” Harry replies cheerfully, as if he wasn’t full Hulk-mode just 30 seconds ago. “Louis’s getting so much better! You’ve been so nice to me lately, isn’t that right?”

That’s the last straw. Louis can’t fucking take the pitying looks his friends are directing towards Harry.

“I’m always fucking nice to you!” He explodes, and all the dams are breaking and a rush of frustration towards Harry is flowing out of his mouth and he just can’t stop himself. “I’m not the fucking piece of shit who was being abusive!”

Zayn, Liam and Niall are staring at him in shock, and Harry’s frozen, mouth open. Louis keeps going, turning towards his friends.

“I haven’t been hitting him, he’s been hitting me! He’s the one who’s been verbally and physically attacking me and I fucking love him and I could handle the pain but I can’t handle you guys looking at me like I’m a monster!” Louis screams, tears coming out of nowhere and streaming down his face. It’s all so sudden, but truth be told, this has been a long time coming. “I’m not! I swear to God! He beats me! It’s been going on forever and I never told you guys because I don’t want to ruin our relationship but I can’t stand this!”

“Please believe me! You guys are my only fucking friends and Harry, you’ve taken so much away from me - don’t take this! Please! Don’t fucking take this! Don’t hurt me in this way! You’ve given me bruises and you’ve broken my heart but don’t take my fucking friends too!”

Louis can’t breathe. He can’t believe that he’s saying all this, and he can’t breathe. His face is damp with tears and he’s all snotty and his lungs are collapsing and he’s struggling to take a single breath and it fucking sucks. He’s so confused with himself, so disappointed with the lack of a significant reaction from his friends – they all just look equally confused.

His friends are all looking at him, staring at him and inspecting him like he’s some kind of animal in a lab who’s gone mental, and he can’t take it. He can’t take it. It’s like the past few weeks have been building up to this like a rollercoaster being pulled up a track, and now he’s at the top and hurdling down and he can’t stop and the pressure is so intense, he can’t get a single gulp of air in. He can’t take it.

His friends don’t say anything, just continue to stare at him. He can’t take it. He’s gone, spinning on his heel and darting to his and Harry’s bedroom. He doesn’t stop there, he keeps running, into the attached bathroom where he can lock the door behind him and huddle in the bathtub, shower curtain closed and protecting him.

He feels like a fucking coward for running after he confessed all that and he knows how angry Harry must be but he really can’t handle this right now. He already regrets running his big stupid fucking mouth. He should’ve just stayed quiet. Now he’s hiding in a goddamn bathtub, for fuck’s sake.

Even from the bathroom, behind the locked door and the force-field that is the shower curtain to him, he can hear Harry defending himself. He can hear Harry explaining that he’s just having a bit of a freak out, and that it’s normal. (Which is true, in a way. It hurts, still.)

He can hear his friends agreeing, in a tentative sort of way, and he can hear them offering Harry shelter at their places. Here we go again, Louis thinks. He’s fucked up again.

He really can’t take this.

Chapter Text

Louis spends the rest of the night after Harry left once again trying his hardest not to lie around and mope. He’s been through this already, and it sucked, and he won’t let himself fall back into staying in bed all day, feeling heavy and weighed down and like he has no energy to do anything.

Instead, Louis treats the separation as if it were final. He has absolutely no idea where he and Harry even stand anymore, but he’s tired of halting his life for complications that arise out of his relationship with Harry. In fact, that night as Louis lies in bed and tries to think about literally anything else but Harry, he grows even more determined to take up those online courses he had talked about.

Out of all times, this is when he makes up his mind about it. He wants his life to be about something more than Harry. He still loves him – of course he does, Harry’s only been gone for a few hours – but the ache he feels from their separation only encourages him in his idea of taking those classes.

He’s not even sure if he’ll take the online ones, just like he has absolutely no idea where he and Harry stand. Having some sort of plan just makes him feel more secure, like he’s not living in his possibly abusive (he’s still sorting that out in his mind) boyfriend’s house with no job and minimal education and – oh yeah, Harry’s gone and all his friends may or may not hate him.

Louis’ doing his very best to keep it together.

+

Zayn is the very last person Louis expected to be at the door when he opens it after he hears a knock the next day, but. There he is, standing at his doorway, expression unreadable.

Louis spent that morning going through his routine mechanically – waking up, making the bed, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing his teeth, going and going and going. He doesn’t know how to feel about Zayn’s arrival, but he’s wary, knowing how protective Zayn can get over Harry.

“What do you want?” Is the first thing Louis says, immediately feeling guilty for how rude it must’ve sounded. Zayn seems unfazed, though.

“I’m just here to talk,” Zayn explains, looking at him expectantly, eyeing the way Louis is blocking the doorway. “You going to let me in?”

Louis ignores the question, staying positioned in the doorway. He has a few things he wants to get out of the way first. “Where’s Harry?”

“He’s at work,” Zayn recites, as if he was expecting these questions. He probably was.  

“And Liam and Niall?” Louis asks, eyebrow raised. “Where are they?”

“They’re at mine, where Harry’s staying,” Zayn tells him, looking at him like he’s waiting for some kind of reaction, some kind of acknowledgement of what happened and how he feels about it. “They’re staying back because I just wanted to talk one to one, and they’re going to keep Harry away.”

Louis is skeptical of Zayn’s intentions, but he sighs and opens the door wider so that Zayn can come in. “Okay, let’s talk.”

It’s awkward as they both stand around inside, unsure of what to do. They’ve been friends for a long time, roommates too at one point, but the situation is uncomfortable. Louis makes up his mind and leads Zayn to the living room where they can talk, offering him a seat.

“So?” Louis prompts Zayn once they’re both seated, Louis on the couch and Zayn on the loveseat, facing him.

“How are you?” Zayn asks first, and Louis shrugs.

“What do you want me to say?” Louis sighs, exasperated. He’d really hoped he might get one day to himself to sort his mind out, maybe even write his thoughts down like some angsty teenager. “That I feel fucking awful that my friends don’t believe me? That I feel guilty because I lied? That I don’t give a single shit because somehow I’m secretly some psychopath?”

Zayn purses his lips, cringing at his words. “Fair enough,” He says, and –

What does that even mean? Louis thinks, guessing that Zayn probably didn’t know what else to say.

There are a few beats of uncomfortable silence as Zayn watches Louis, expecting him to say more, but he doesn’t, just stays quiet, waiting for Zayn to get on with whatever he’s come here to talk to him about. Louis’s confidence in speaking about stuff like this with his friends has grown over time, and although he feels guilty for how rude he’s being, he doesn’t regret it.

“Okay, um,” Zayn starts finally, seeming nervous suddenly, hand scratching at the back of his neck. “I just – I want you to be completely honest with me, Louis.”

“Fine,” Louis replies immediately. “I’m ready to be honest.” And he is. Louis’s had so many thoughts and feelings bottled up inside him for so long and he’s so, so ready to get them out.

“Does Harry hurt you?” Zayn asks him bluntly, not wanting to drag this out any further. “Physically, I mean.”

Louis tries not to flinch at those words. He takes one, two, three seconds to quickly gather himself before opening his mouth to answer with brutal honesty. “Yes, he does.”

Zayn lets out a sigh at that, and it sounds like he’s not sure whether to be relieved at Louis’s honesty or to be saddened by his answer. Louis seems to think the sigh means that Zayn doesn’t believe him, because instantly he’s pulling his shirt up to prove it.

“I’m not – look, I’m not lying,” Louis says, a bit desperately. There are clear bruises on his hips from when Harry manhandles him, and when Louis rolls up his sleeves there are more, in the shape of fingerprints.

Zayn flinches away from him, clearly upset by the sight. “Louis, it’s okay, I believe you. We – Liam and Niall too, I mean – all believe you. We especially know for certain that you’d never hurt Harry.”

The words surprise Louis, and it’s a happy surprise, but he can’t help but feel a bit confused. “But I don’t – I don’t understand?” He tries to formulate what he wants to say, but his heart’s starting to race. This is not what he expected from Zayn today. “You were always…siding with Harry?”

Zayn nods, knowing what Louis’s having trouble understanding. “We all suspected that Harry was lying, you know,” Zayn starts to explain, wringing his hands together – a nervous habit. “You were way more believable. Emotional, if that makes sense. Like, Harry didn’t seem like he cared? He didn’t seem very hurt?”

Zayn takes a break to breathe, like he’s trying to compose himself. “And you’d always – Liam told us about times when he’d notice Harry being a bit rougher with you, or him… putting you down, I guess.” The words sound distant to Louis, like he’s hearing a story about some random people Zayn knows and not him and Harry. “Always observant, that one,” Zayn adds on with a weak laugh.

 “Okay, so you always believed me,” Louis sounds it out, nodding slowly, still having trouble fitting all the pieces together. “But then – on that night when Harry said those things and claimed that I was…” Louis gulps, shifting nervously. “That I was hitting him. You all sided with him. I don’t get it…”

Zayn cracks a small smile, looking like he expected all of these questions. “You have to understand, we had no choice but to believe Harry,” Zayn tells him, and Louis frowns. “Or at least act like it. You had denied our suspicions so many times. You outwardly voiced on that night that Harry wasn’t in fact hurting you, so what were we to do?”

“You had no choice,” Louis repeats, more to himself than to Zayn.

“Yes, and it was all an act on Liam and Niall’s part,” Zayn explains tentatively. “They had to be careful with Harry, pretend like they believed him, keep him from doing anything he’d regret. He was away from you so we thought it was okay.”

Louis intakes a shuddery breath, overwhelmed by all the new information. “What about you?”

Zayn gulps at that, looking ashamed. “Harry and I have been mates since we were young, you know? I guess I was just – I mean, he was still a good friend, all things considered. His life with you was pretty private so I just – I was clinging on to the thought that maybe, just maybe it was all a misunderstanding and one of my best mates wasn’t actually…”  

Zayn trails off, but Louis gets what he’s saying. It’s so easy to disconnect from what your friends do behind closed doors and just treat them as they are to you. Louis gets it. There’s just one thing that Louis doesn’t understand.

“Okay, so if Liam and Niall and you to some extent did in fact believe me,” Louis says, speaking slowly so he can get all his words out the way he wants them. “Why did you let me think you all hated me? Why did – why did you not say anything when Harry came back to me?’

Zayn shakes his head, his face looking like he’s in pain. “I already told you why I acted the way I did, that I was in denial,” He replies, expressing his regret all over again. “And I must confess, I can’t be sure about Liam and Niall. We haven’t talked about it all too much. I think – I think they were just afraid. They care about you so much so I can’t explain their reasoning behind it fully, but…”

 “Taking action would just make everything seem so real, you know?” Zayn tries to explain to him. “And that sounds so fucking selfish and I think we all hate ourselves for it, but it’s so much easier to ignore it and pretend that maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. You seemed happy when you were back with him, so…”

Louis’ slowly starting to get it all, but it’s taking him some time. He’s barely come to terms with the fact that maybe Harry and his relationship isn’t as normal and healthy and reasonable as he was telling himself it was, and now all this is being dumped on him. What Zayn says makes sense to him, though, and if he’s being honest with himself, he’s just glad that his friends don’t in fact think that he’s some violent guy with anger issues. The implications of that thought on who Harry might really be to him are too much for him for today.

“Alright, so…” Louis wants to recap everything that was said to him, wants to make sure he’s got everything right, but even this short discussion has him mentally exhausted. It’s a lot to take in. “Just. You guys don’t hate me?”

The way Louis says it is so innocent, a question with such an obvious answer that it incites a loud laugh out of Zayn.

“No, Lou,” Zayn says fondly, shaking his head. “No, we don’t, I promise.”

Louis nods, smiling slightly. “Okay. So. What now? Where do we go from here?”

Zayn opens his mouth to say something, but a flash of guilt crosses his face and he decides against it. Louis watches him for a moment, waiting for him to say what he was going to, but he never does.

“Zayn?” He prompts. “What is it?”

“I was just going to –” Zayn cuts himself off, shaking his head. “No, I can’t say it. It’s not – it was a bad thing to say, it’s an unfair thing for me to ask of you.”

Louis scrunches up his face, confused. “Ask of me?”

“Never mind.”

“No, tell me!” Louis insists, curious now. Clearly Zayn feels guilty about what he wanted to say, but Louis doesn’t want him to keep it in. Whatever it is, he clearly was seriously thinking about it and Louis doesn’t want him to keep it in. Louis’s ready for complete, one hundred percent honesty today.

“I just – I have to be honest,” Zayn begins by telling him, and Louis smiles and nods, because that’s exactly what he wants from this discussion. “I don’t know what to do. Because… God, this is going to sound so terrible, but. I really value Harry as a friend, I’ve known him for so long, and I. I don’t want to lose him?”

Zayn says the last part almost silently, and Louis has to strain to hear him. Zayn looks like he’s waiting for a bomb to explode as he waits for Louis to reply, but Louis’s taking a few moments to turn the thought over in his mind.

Before Louis can say anything, Zayn starts to backtrack, looking like the guilt’s eating him up. “No, oh my God, just forget that. That’s so – it sounds so fucking selfish. That’s unfair to you, Louis.”

By the way Zayn’s speaking, Louis can tell that he’s supposed to feel hurt that Zayn wants to be friends with Harry, but he doesn’t really get it. To be frank, he doesn’t care all that much, considering that when Zayn showed up at the door this afternoon, he thought it was to yell at him.

 “No,” Louis says shortly, interrupting Zayn’s rambling of apologies. “Stop it. I understand.”

Zayn looks at him as if he’s crazy. Maybe he is, because he’s really not grasping what the big deal is. “You do? Because –”

“I don’t want to lose Harry either,” Louis says bluntly, and Zayn stares at him, eyes wide.

“Uh,” Zayn says like what he’s said is completely unjustified. “What do you mean?”

Louis’ eyebrows furrow. “I mean, like, there’s a reason I haven’t left him? I still love him, and the hitting… it’s really not that bad…” The words go against everything he was saying and thinking yesterday and he’s just confusing himself but he’s still clinging, clinging, clinging on to the thought that they can easily get through this as long as Louis denies the hurting enough.

“You’re lying to yourself, mate,” Zayn says frankly, staring Louis right in the eye, trying to make him understand. “It doesn’t matter how bad you think it is. Under absolutely no circumstances should your partner physically harm you, let alone verbally.”

“Yeah, but we love each oth –”

Zayn just shakes his head firmly, and Louis cuts himself off with a sigh. There are a few moments as Zayn just watches Louis sit there in silence, head down as he thinks.

“I don’t what to do,” Louis admits quietly, eyes glued to the floor.

Zayn hums thoughtfully, standing up and moving so that he’s sitting on the couch next to Louis. “We’ll figure it all out together, yeah? You’ll be okay.”

Louis smiles at him appreciatively, scooting over on the couch so he’s pressed against Zayn’s side. “I hope so. I was thinking about maybe taking some online courses, you know?”

Zayn looks at him, a bit surprised. “Really?”

Louis closes his eyes for a moment, shrugging. “I don’t know, I just want to move on with my life.”

“Wait, so…” Zayn starts, looking pensive. “You and Harry are –?”

“I don’t even know,” Louis states honestly. “Just stay with me for a bit, yeah?” Louis asks, changing the subject. He doesn’t want to talk about this anymore. He trusts Zayn. Everything will sort itself out eventually, he tells himself.

“You want me to? You’re sure?” Zayn asks gently. “You don’t want some time to yourself?”

Louis considers it for a moment, but decides that no, he’s spent enough time by himself lately. “No,” Louis replies. “We haven’t hung out together just us in so long. It’s about time, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Zayn says softly. “I’ll text Liam and Niall to tell them I’m staying, and they’ll…” Zayn doesn’t want to bring Harry up again as Louis’ clearly moving this day towards completely forgetting about him for the afternoon, but he also wants to reassure them that they’ll be alone for the whole time.

 He doesn’t want Louis to fear any interruption and as a result, be anxious while he should just get a chance to just relax. Zayn clears his throat before speaking. “They’ll make sure Harry stays away all afternoon for sure, okay? So we don’t have to worry about him for the afternoon anymore, sound good?”

Louis nods, and his confidence is slipping as he retracts back into himself, exhausted from being so brutally honest with Zayn and from having all that information loaded onto him. For such a short discussion, it was pretty eventful, and Louis feels overall better after having it. Now he just has to let himself relax, give himself one day of not fretting over his and Harry’s relationship.

Louis lets Zayn get them some blankets to cuddle under together on the couch, and then watches as Zayn sets up the TV to play Breaking Bad on Netflix.

“Thank you,” Louis says quietly, tucked under Zayn’s arm, only his head poking out from the warm, fuzzy blanket he’s wrapped up in. Zayn doesn’t say anything, just moves his arm so his hand is resting on the top of Louis’ head and he can pet his head affectionately.

Louis drifts in and out of sleep like that, against Zayn under the blanket, Walter White lying to his wife and cooking meth on screen. The way Zayn’s fingers are comfortingly running through his hair over and over again has him so relaxed, and the tension he’s built up is slowly slipping away as he finally allows himself to relax.

In the back of his mind, Louis knows he still has so much shit to deal with, with both Harry and his friends, but he knows he just has to be happy at the news Zayn’s brought that his friends are in fact on his side, and he has to appreciate the time he’s getting to spend right now with Zayn.

All things considered, today turned out a lot better than expected and Louis feels ten times happier than he did the day before.