leave me alone, i know i'm not making sense
but i know i can't let you come any closer
it's my security, it's my self-defense
i keep on doing all this over and over
neon trees, "helpless"
It’s hard, he thinks sometimes, living in a world colored by everyone else. He squints, tilts his head to the side, trying to puzzle out if he’s even left a mark (and he thinks he sees it sometimes, a splash of blue next to the yellow, or the splatters of red overlapping the green in the corner, but then the sun shifts and he blinks and it’s gone).
He’s a sort of patchwork boy, the roughly sewn edges tucked out of sight under a jumper or beneath a leg of his trousers, only the pristine bits peeking out for all the world to see. And he likes it better that way, tells himself that he’s stronger, sturdier for it, but he catches his hands shaking, his breath catching, and he wonders.
He won’t let anyone in, he decides, not really, not fully; it’s too much of a risk, in the long run, and so he closes himself up, runs his fingers down his cotton armor. He sneaks in though, this boy whose fingers stumble around his cameras, whose smile is so bright he wants to keep it wrapped round his wrist, and suddenly his chest is too small, and his heart is beating for two.
Love, Harry whispers to him in the dark, a hand splayed across Louis’ chest, his fingertips drumming along with the rhythm of his heart. Love, Louis tries to whisper back, but he can’t form the word, can only think fragile, muted, broken, and so he ducks his head, loses a kiss in the mess of Harry’s curls. And it’s a promise, almost, but it’s silent and barely noticeable and already slipping through the cracks.
He gets most of his writing done in their flat, long lazy mornings spent stretched out on the couch after Harry’s disappeared off to the studio, his notebook propped up against a pillow. Harry doesn’t quite understand it, Louis’ process, always asking if he’d rather write holed up in the office Harry never uses, where there’s silence and unfamiliar spaces and a computer he could use. But Louis likes it, likes the cramp in his fingers after he fills up the pages--and it had surprised him once upon a time, to discover how many words he’d had hidden away, and it had surprised him even more, still surprises him, that people want to read them--and he likes the way the sun dances across the floorboards before he’s had his tea; the way he can sit in the chair by the window, feet dangling off the side, notebook pressed against his knees, and look out the window at half past five to see Harry walking home, a stack of folders and prints tucked under one of his arms, his curls poking out from beneath his beanie.
He doesn’t understand, either, how Louis can work with his day broken up into bits: Niall wandering in to finish the bit of breakfast Louis hadn’t, flicking the channel to a football match; Zayn calling, his voice frantic because he’d changed his lecture and now the essay section of his exam didn’t make sense and he hadn’t a clue how to fix it; or Liam texting him to tell him that one of the lads at the paper was clutching his latest book, that the pages were bent and earmarked and covered in tiny notes. Harry doesn’t get it, the way Louis could need the noise and clutter (and he does need it, when it comes down to it: he needs Niall pressed against his side, crumbs dropping onto his notebook and into his trainers, eyes crinkled at the corners and telling Louis he’d outdone himself this time; needs Zayn pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, underlining bits as he reads, telling Louis that this line and that section are going to be his next tattoos; and he needs Liam marking up his rough drafts in a red pen, scribbling smiley faces next to the bits that he likes), because to Harry, the world is something that you reach out and take, not something you edge towards. And Louis can’t find the words to connect the dots, so he just shrugs and smiles, drops a kiss onto Harry’s cheek, telling him that he likes the interruptions, that they keep him on his toes.
But Harry doesn’t give up, not quite; he nestles up to Louis at night, whispering about how he popped round the office earlier and stocked an entire drawer full of tea and fresh notebooks, telling him in between kisses about how the office is so quiet, he could write loads and loads and not have to worry about people interrupting him. Except you, Louis wants to whisper back, imaging Harry skiving off a bit of work to come around, leaning against the doorway before Louis realizes he’s there, watching the way he squints when he writes something he knows he’ll have to go back and fix later, the way he smiles--a small one, quiet, and a bit crooked around the edges--when he writes something he likes. Sorry, Haz, he whispers instead, heart stuttering at the thought of writing in a room that isn’t littered with the bits of his life, with the pieces of himself he likes best, my pencils are too used to the flat, might rebel if I move them without warning, wouldn’t want a disaster on my hands. And then he’s tangling his fingers in Harry’s curls, fingernails scraping against his scalp in the way that makes Harry’s bones melt against the mattress, and he’s pressing kisses, messy and warm, against Harry’s throat (and he’s thinking, too, that there’s a poem in this somewhere, something about heartbeats and blurred lines and burning lungs, just as surely as Harry’s thinking that there’s a photograph in this, something quiet and subdued and delicate), and the discussion is shelved and forgotten, already collecting dust in the growing darkness.
When he’s alone, when the silence is pressing against him until he thinks he might choke on it, he traces the burn mark on his shoulder that isn’t there, remembering the way he’d tripped over his own feet after Harry had bumped into him before they’d even met; the way he’d wondered if maybe he carried a hidden electricity with him, if maybe he wasn’t real (if maybe he’d left a mark, something permanent Louis could point to later). “Wanna photograph you,” Harry had mumbled to him, his voice thick with drink and his fingers dancing along his camera strap.
“Why?” Louis had asked, knuckles going white around the pen he was holding.
Harry had shrugged, biting his lip and ducking his head. “Evidence,” he said finally, “otherwise I might think I dreamed you up.”
(He’d gotten the photograph in the end, tugging Louis into a corner and folding whisper after whisper into the skin of Louis’ neck, but he wasn’t listening, couldn’t listen, was still stuck on the might think I dreamed you up, was focused on swallowing down the but I’m nothing special that kept bubbling up. He had thought, later, buried under his covers, something in him still shaking, that he had never seen anything half as bright as Harry’s eyes.)
“D’you remember,” Harry starts one night, dropping his camera on top of Louis’ stack of notebooks, “that poem you wrote for me? At that coffeeshop?”
Louis says nothing, only taps his pencil against his ankle and waits, remembering. He’d woken up that morning with a half-lingering dream like a ghost in his lungs, dragging Zayn to the coffeeshop so he could have something to throw himself into, something to expel that shadow under his skin. Zayn had buggered off twenty minutes later, though, shrugging his jacket back on and muttering something about meeting Niall for a quick bite, and Louis had been left scribbling words on the receipt for Zayn’s coffee. He’d looked up to see Harry dropping into the empty seat across from him, sleep-rumpled and impossibly delicate, and that feeling was back in his lungs, growing in the spaces between his bones until he thought he might drown in it. “Wrote this for you,” he’d mumbled, shoving the scrap underneath Harry’s fingers, wondering if this is what it would be like from now on, Harry fitting into the gaps he had left.
“Look,” Harry says proudly, jerking Louis back into the present, hiking up his shirt and twisting towards Louis, showing him the red-tinged words, his words, scrawled against his ribcage. And he can make out a bit of it, enough to pick out which part he’d chosen (and he wonders, reaching out towards Harry, if he picked that bit on purpose, if he’d known that was where Louis had fumbled over saying I love you, sneaking it into the margins and line breaks instead; he thinks Harry knows, and suddenly, he can’t breathe). “Officially yours now,” Harry tells him, dimples showing, looking so much younger than he has any right to be, “marked and everything.”
Louis stays silent again, only presses his fingertips to the words, closing his eyes and letting that beat, that lazy thrumming, tattoo itself onto his skin, a mark of his own to keep.
(He can scarcely wait until the skin’s healed over before he’s shoving Harry against the couch, sucking bruises onto the words, dark and purple and even more his.)
Life doesn’t really happen until the evenings, when Louis shuts his notebook and Harry comes home smelling like chemicals. It becomes a pattern, the way Louis will perch on the chair and wait, the way Harry will kiss him hello before he’s even shut the door, and they fall into it, holding hands and tumbling into the grooves like this is what they’re meant for.
They tug the other boys along with them, Liam with his ink-stained fingers, Zayn and Niall with their smoke-tinged giggles, until they’re a part of the pattern too, and Louis thinks sometimes that they’ve become family, or maybe something more than family. He thinks of how Harry’s snuck into the spaces of his life, and wonders if they have as well (he wonders too if the inside of his chest is just a jumble of other people, wonders if there’s anything left that he can hold onto and claim as his, but that sort of wondering hurts, a sharp jab somewhere near his ribs, and he forces it out of his mind).
And so their nights are spent together, Harry in the kitchen cooking and Niall sneaking his camera off the counter and snapping pictures (Liam leaning over Louis’ shoulder and pointing out something to him in the paper; Harry bent over the stove, nose wrinkled as he tests the sauce; but mostly they’re of Zayn: Zayn pulling a face and trying not to laugh, Zayn fishing a cigarette out of his crinkled pack, and when Harry finds them on the roll the next morning he can’t quite bring himself to delete them, and instead prints them off, sticks them under Niall’s doormat on his way home from work). And it’s quiet, the way they all fit together and it works somehow, and Louis looks at them all and thinks how lucky he is, thinks that maybe this is where he’s meant to be.
“S’nice,” Harry mumbles one night, dropping onto Louis lap and nodding towards Niall and Zayn, curled into each other on the couch, barely paying attention to the action movie Niall had put on earlier. “I want that,” he breathes, reaching down and finding Louis’ hand.
“What, someone to kiss like you like you’re about to break?” Louis scoffs, because it’s scary, what Harry’s asking him for and it’s easier, isn’t it, to joke about and nobody can get hurt if you just kiss in corners and on lazy Sunday mornings.
“Could be nice,” Harry shrugs, and he’s smiling, Louis can tell without looking, and suddenly he’s thinking that it’s alright, that it’s Harry, and nothing could be wrong when Harry’s smiling.
“Alright then, china doll, let’s see what you’ve got,” Louis tells him, leaning over and kissing him, and he can hardly tell if Harry’s smiling anymore because he’s smiling now, and his teeth are crashing against Harry’s and yeah, he thinks, he can do this.
Harry loves too easily, loves too much. He loves with his hands spread and his palms up, and Louis envies him for it, adores him for it (not loves, never loves; the word is too heavy, too bulky, and it doesn't quite fit in the spaces Louis' got left under his skin, and it becomes half a poison in his mind). "Angel," he whispers between kisses, fingers pressing down on Harry's wrist and catching his pulse.
"Do I get wings, then?" Harry whispers back, breathless and smiling.
"And a halo," Louis tells him, kissing the corner of Harry's smile, tapping his fingers along the delicate veins, bending down to kiss them next. "Maybe even a flaming sword."
"Could do with a flaming sword," Harry says, tugging Louis back up so he can kiss him properly.
(These were the moments Louis liked best, tucked and hidden away with their duvet acting as a fort. It was easy, inside their flat, secluded from the rest of the world. It was out there that things got tricky, got turbulent, and he'd much rather lock Harry away and keep this world for himself.)
Harry had said it first, the I love you, y’know tumbling out of his mouth one night when they sat together, knees knocking, shoulders brushing, huddled under a blanket and frowning at a stack of Harry’s photographs. I know, Louis had answered, leaning over and dropping a kiss on Harry’s shoulder, trying not to notice the way Harry tilted towards the touch, the way his eyes closed for a moment.
And they’d paused, looking at the photographs spread across the table. Frozen with Joy, Harry was calling this collection, something to do with a song from an indie band he loved, but it fit them these photos spanning smiles and grasps and glimpses (he wondered for a beat if Niall and Zayn knew, if they cared about being the focus of Harry’s exhibit, but he remembered Niall giggling into Zayn’s shoulder as Harry shoved a camera at them, remembered even clearer the way he could feel Harry’s breath catch from across the room at the way Niall and Zayn looked at each other, moved around each other, and the question died on the tip of his tongue), and Louis leant against Harry. They’re lovely, he’d told him, gonna take the world by storm when you show them.
Would you still like me if they were rubbish? Harry asked him, his curls tickling along the edge of Louis’ jaw. I’d like you even if they were blurred and smudged and shadowy, Louis answered, and that was how they did it, being serious without being serious, saying the words without saying them.
(Louis hadn’t said it for months afterwards, gasping it against Harry’s mouth one morning with the windows frozen over and snow piled up in mounds on the walkways, and Harry had kissed him harder than he ever had after that, holding onto his hand like he was afraid Louis might melt away when the sun came back.)
It amazes him, sometimes, how full of life Harry can be, the way he rushes home from the studio, bouncing on his toes and lighting up the flat, stumbling over his words about how they’re portable and the world is theirs for the taking.
“Slow down, love,” Louis tells him, biting back a grin and dropping his pencil onto the counter. “Not going anywhere.”
Harry throws him a look at that, eyes bright and shining, lips tugged into a grin, and Louis ducks his head and looks away. “We’re portable!” he says again, and Louis wonders if he’s missed the beginning of the conversation, if this was another one of those times where Harry’s going off a text he’d sent hours ago.
“We’re not locked down, no.”
“Exactly!” Harry beams. “We could take a mini-break, maybe?” he goes on, voice shrinking a bit like he’s afraid to even be asking, like it’s too much too fast too soon. “Li worked it out for us, found a place on the coast.”
“The coast?” Louis asks, tilting his chair back and thinking. His eyes fall shut and he imagines it for a beat: Harry’s cramped car and the way the seats still smelt like Zayn’s cigarettes even after two bottles of air freshener; a room where he could hear the swell of the waves, where Harry’s heartbeat might not feel so loud; writing with the sand between his toes, Harry scampering over the sand dunes, the wind tangling his curls and his camera clutched in his grasp. The coast, he thinks, the words turning over in his mouth, like he’s trying them on for size to see how they fit. “Think I’d like the coast,” he says a moment later, catching Harry’s glance and smiling a bit.
“Thought you would,” Harry says softly. “And Lou?” he adds at the door, fingers curled around the frame. “Don’t want you to go anywhere.”
And then he’s gone, his footsteps fading down the hallway to the bedroom. It’s silent, for a moment, and Louis sits at the counter, mouth curled to the side, weighing Harry’s words. “Not going anywhere,” he says again, because it’s true, because he wants it to be true, because it’s the saying them that will turn it into a promise (he isn’t sure which it is, wonders if he has to figure it out, when Harry wasn’t there to hear it, when the words are so faint they’re almost not even there, too thin and washed out to even be seen).
Before they leave for the coast, Louis ducks into the spare bedroom and sneaks one of Harry’s cameras off the shelf, the older one his mum gave him for his sixteenth birthday. “C’mon, love!” Harry shouts from somewhere near the front door, “got a long drive ahead of us!”
“S’not that long,” Louis grumbles back, quietly enough that Harry can’t hear it, but he shoves the camera into his bag, packing his jumpers around it so it won’t jostle too much on the drive down.
“Gonna get a lot of work done on this trip,” Harry says happily, half tripping down the stairs in front of Louis. “Views are supposed to be amazing, and I’ve been meaning to step back from portraits, y’know, and Zayn kept telling me that the salt air is good for writing, whatever that means.”
“Think he meant it’s good for his hair, did you see the way he almost cried when Niall shoved a baseball hat on his head the other day? I thought he was about to explode, and Niall just skipped away like it was nothing.”
“They work, don’t they? Z and Niall?” Ahead of him, Harry stops, fingertips skidding along the railing, his battered trainers scuffing against the edge of the stairs.
“They do, yeah.”
“Bit like they were made for each other.” He’s looking away from him, head tilted towards the bottom of the stairwell, but Louis looks at his hunched shoulders and the bit of clenched jaw he can see, and he knows the expression Harry’s got on. Knows it’s the one where his cheeks are flushed, tinges of red etched onto his skin; knows that he’s biting the edge of his lip and that his brow is furrowed a little.
“Haz-” Louis starts, dropping his duffle and stepping right behind Harry. His hand hovers in the space between them for half a beat before he drops it, only to raise it again and clutch at Harry’s shoulder, bruising the skin beneath the jumper. “We work too, y’know,” he says quietly before retreating back the few steps and grabbing his bag.
They’re silent until they reach the coast, Louis’ head swirling with words and phrases and Harry slowing the car down every mile or so to change the song, but Harry shoots Louis a smile at every red light that’s too bright for the confined darkness of the car, and something in Louis feels like it’s on the verge of breaking apart.
It’s easier at the coast. There’s something about the smell of the sea, something about the way Louis can turn and turn and see only the stars and the distant shore, that doesn’t make his chest feel so tight. “Tired, love?” Harry says, and he’s smiling again, that too-bright smile, and Louis can feel the tips of his lungs burning, so he pulls away, shakes his head.
“Wanna go swimming?” he says instead, jerking his head towards the shore.
“Lou, it’s almost midnight.”
“So?” Louis shrugs, already walking away and tugging his jumper off. “We’re at the coast aren’t we?” And his voice is already fading, whipped away by the wind, and Louis keeps walking forward, falling into the darkness and hoping that Harry is following him.
(And he’s stumbling over the sand dunes and reaching down to gather Louis’ clothes in his arms, but he’s following.)
The sea ends up being near freezing, and Louis scrambles out, tiny waves breaking around his ankles, the caps white against the black night. “Here,” Harry says, handing over the clothes he’d pulled off, waiting until he’s dressed again, water dripping down his temples, clothing sticking to him in damp patches, before pulling off his own jumper and tugging it over Louis’ head, standing so close Louis can hear his heart beating. “You need it more than I do,” Harry mumbles, reaching around to tug the back of the jumper down, his nose brushing Louis’ shoulder. “Y’know,” he starts almost absently, taking a step back and glancing at the sea, “Niall told me that the white bits of the waves are the souls of mermaids or something. Wonder if that’s an Irish thing?” He pauses, reaching up to push his hair out of his eyes, twisting to look at Louis before turning his gaze back to the sea. “Wanna talk about your midnight swimming impulse?” he asks quietly.
“Needed something to wake me up and I didn’t think tea would cut it,” he tries to joke, but his voice is too thin, too frail to properly carry it off, and he’s shaking, bones turning to icicles underneath all his layers. He doesn’t say why he really did it, the way he needed something to knock the breath out of his lungs, to stop the burning spreading through his chest, but he doesn’t need to; Harry looks at him for a moment too long before holding out his hand and pulling Louis back to their room.
Harry’s gone when Louis wakes up, and he stares blearily at the dent in the sheets like he isn’t sure how it got there. It isn’t until he’s gotten up and cleaned his teeth that he sees the note: Gone to shoot the sunrise and those views Liam wouldn’t shut up about. Come find me when you wake up? -H x
He smiles for a moment, looking down at the careful script and the bit of jam smeared across the corner, and then he’s grabbing the bag he never properly unpacked and he’s out the door.
He sees Harry first, head tilted against the glare of the sun, camera swinging against his thigh. His shadow is stretched across the sand, a giant, almost reaching Louis, and he thinks he almost gets it, the reason the cameras are more a part of Harry than anything else. And he thinks of his notebooks, of the scraps with penciled scribbles on them, and wonders if he could ever create anything half as tangible as a photograph, and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s fishing around in his bag for the camera he’d brought along--he’d been half planning to slip it into Harry’s duffle or onto the dresser because the seaside made Harry think of his mum, made him homesick, and he thought it might help--his fingers fumbling around the edges.
(He keeps the camera a secret for the rest of the trip, and gets the film developed once they’re back in London, trying not to think about the way Harry would groan if he knew how much film was being wasted for the sake of this one snapshot. And he smuggles the flimsy paper folder home in his bag, slides the photograph out when Harry’s in the shower, and his breath catches when he looks at it. It’s smudged, and a bit blurred, the sun glinting a little too harshly in the corner, but Harry’s standing tall, his hair a mess and his jawline sharp, a hint of his shadow nudging along the bottom. He tucks it between two of his jumpers he knows Harry will never touch--no one should wear that shade of blue, sorry love--and doesn’t take it out to look at again; it’s enough, somehow, simply to know that it’s there, crisp and untouched.)
“I think,” Louis starts one night, a week since their trip to the coast, and his lungs have gone back to burning, to crumbling into ash behind his skin, “I think we should, maybe, stop?”
“Stop?” Harry asks, turning over and nestling closer, an arm thrown carelessly across Louis’ chest, his fingertips on top of his heart. “We haven’t even started anything, sweet, just go to sleep, we’ll save the fun stuff for tomorrow, yeah?”
And for a moment, Louis hesitated, thinking how much easier it would be to just fall asleep with Harry’s hand curled over his chest, how much simpler it would be to wake up to Harry nudging his hip and kissing his jaw. But he wasn’t sure he could do that, wasn’t sure he was built for easy, for simple, and so he sat up, head knocking back against the wall as he shoved Harry’s arm back onto the mattress. “No, I mean that we should stop. This. Whatever this is.”
He can see it dawning on Harry, spreading like a shadow across his face. “I--uh--what?” he asks, propping himself up on his elbows, eyes impossibly large when he tilts his head back to glance at Louis.
“I can’t breathe, Haz, it’s too much” Louis whispers, voice rough and jagged. “And I’m just--I’m not sure I can do this anymore.”
“Right,” Harry says slowly. “Right, okay. We’ll just. We’ll just,” he tries again, the sheets twisted around his hand, biting his lip against the words he can’t find.
“We can talk about it tomorrow if you’d rather, I wanted to wait, it just--slipped out,” Louis says, something piercing his chest at the way Harry looks right now, shattered and broken and tiny. “I’ll--I’ll sleep on the couch or something tonight. Give you some space.”
“No,” Harry says, reaching over and catching Louis’ wrist before he’s even thrown the covers off himself. “Sleep in here tonight?” he asks, eyes so wide Louis can count the gold flecks--one, two, three--edged around his pupils.
“I--course I will,” Louis says, settling back down on the bed, feeling the space between him and Harry stretch on for miles and miles, wondering how it’s possible to feel so far from someone when you can still hear their heartbeat echoing in your ears.
(He wakes up once, in the middle of the night, tangled in Harry, his mouth pressed to the top of Harry’s head, and something in him stops, breaks a bit, when he slips out from under Harry’s grip, slides back to his side of the bed. And he hates Harry a bit then, for doing this to him, and he hates himself even more for letting it happen.)
Harry’s gone when he wakes up, a hastily scrawled note stuck to the bathroom mirror (Gone to work early, sorry I didn’t wake you. We’ll talk when I get home, yeah? Love you, Harry x) and before he even knows what he’s doing, Louis is standing in front of the drawer he’d shoved the photograph in, shaking fingers threading between the jumpers to take it out. And he stares at it for a moment, his breathing shallow, blinking once before ripping it down the middle.
It’s not a full rip; it only makes it to the tip of Harry’s curls, slicing the sunlight into halves, but it’s enough. It’s enough, and it’s broken in his hands, ripped and torn and sullied, and suddenly he wants to take it back, wants to take it all back. He grabs the tape dispenser off the desk in a blur, fixing the photograph and hardly daring to breathe, shoving it back into the drawer when he’s done, not caring that he’s crumpling it even more, not even stopping to look at the damage he’s just patched up.
They don’t talk when Harry gets home later, not really; Louis murmurs an I’m sorry, god, I’m so sorry against Harry’s shoulder, his neck, his throat, his mouth, and they fall back into their lives. And things are quiet again, only Louis still has trouble breathing, thinks that maybe his lungs have finally burned all the way up, and his fingers itch when he walks past the drawer and the broken photograph. And he catches Harry looking at him from time to time, his jaw set and the gold gone from his eyes. But it’ll be fine, he thinks, it has to be fine, because he’s not sure he can do this, but he knows, thinks he’s known all along that, that he can’t do it without Harry (and that frightens him most of all, the way Harry’s not just a part of his life, but this necessary fixture, and sometimes he’ll wake in the dead of the night and glance over at Harry, and consider slipping away for half a second until Harry rolls over and mumbles his name in his sleep and he’s sliding back under Harry’s outstretched arm).
He stumbles from the bedroom one morning to bump into Zayn and Niall in the living room, carrying bags and boxes and sliding them around on the floor, arguing about how much of the mess in the kitchen Niall was responsible for. "What?" he says stupidly, still half asleep. "What the hell's going on?"
"Sorry mate," Zayn says, straightening up from the box of books he was crouched next to and shrugging. "Had to be done, couldn't even sleep thinking about it."
"Was driving him mad," Niall chimes in, perched the edge of a chair he wasn't quite tall enough for, his toes dragging on the ground. "He said that if he didn't clean up after you twats, he'd come here and do you in himself so you didn't die buried in filth."
"Cheers for that," Louis mutters. "Christ, Zayn, is this the entire flat?"
"Most of it," Zayn answers cheerfully. "Still got a few things left to sort. But your pile's over there and Haz's in in the corner, and the shared stuff is all sort of in the middle."
"Right," Louis says slowly, still processing it. And then he's noticing the bits and pieces of the shared pile; the jumper his mum bought him before he'd moved away that still somehow smelt of home whenever he wore it, that weird checked shirt Harry had snagged for a fiver from that basement sale months ago. The shared pile's the biggest by far, the odds and ends of their lives stacked against each other, and he wonders how he feels about that, that he's more jumbled with Harry than he is himself.
"The stuff that's left is in the bedroom," Zayn says, looking at Louis with a raised eyebrow. "Help me go through it, and then you can bug off, swear, Ni and I'll finish the rest."
"Oi!" Niall shouts from the kitchen. "I only came cause you promised a smoke and a trip to that sound exhibit later! Don't pile on more cleaning, Z, or I'll leave!"
"Calm down, sunshine, wasn't planning on letting you doing any of the cleaning, you'd just make a bigger mess. And the quicker Lou and I sort out the bedroom, the quicker we can leave, so Lou?” Zayn says, turning a bit to smile at Niall, already losing interest and standing on his tiptoes to look into the snack cabinet. “I know,” he mutters before Louis has even stepped into the bedroom.
“About the fight? Because that’s--that’s old news, Z. Keep up with times, Haz and I are fine now,” Louis says, trying to smile and failing, kicking at the box Zayn’s dropped by the door.
“What? No, I know about the photograph.” He catches Louis’ look then and holds his hands up, saying, “I know, I know, I should’ve woken you, but I only nipped in to grab the clothes and I already knew where they were, so...”
“Right. But like I said, we’re fine. So.”
“Lou. I know you, okay? Hell, I know you better than anybody, and I just,” Zayn stops and sighs, fiddling with his pack of cigarettes for a moment before continuing. “I just don’t want to see you do anything you’re gonna regret, y’know? Harry, he’s--he’s good for you, Lou. And if you could slow down for half a second, you’d see that.”
“I’m not good at this,” Louis mumbles. “And it doesn’t matter if Harry’s good for me, does it? He--he deserves better than me. I can--I’d be fine, I’d figure out how to be fine.”
“Don’t you dare--Christ, Lou, you’re not--just trust me, okay? Harry doesn’t want anything else; he wants you. So just, stay, okay? This one time, maybe don’t run out?”
“Aren’t you the wise one?” Louis says tiredly, running a hand through his hair until it sticks up in the back.
“I put the photograph into that photo album your sisters made you last Christmas,” Zayn tells him quietly. “Just in case you wondered where it got to. D’you wanna maybe grab some more sleep? Nialler and I’ll be out of here soon enough.”
Louis nods, saying something about needing a glass of water before getting up and bumping shoulders with Zayn. “Hey Z?” he says just before they round the corner. “Thanks, y’know.”
“Hey, what’re best mates for, yeah?” Zayn says, smiling and reaching up to swipe his thumb across the back of Louis’ neck.
Louis manages to duck past Niall’s loud questions about the unopened package of crisps and Zayn’s yelled accusation about fresh crumbs and extra messes, clutching at his glass of water like a lifesaver, weaving his way through the piles of his life. And he’s almost back in the hallway when he sees it, one of his notebooks stacked on the top of Harry’s pile. He stares at it for a moment, long enough for Zayn to turn around and start telling him how he’d found it buried under a mess of Harry’s pants and wondering out loud how they could stand to live like that, messes all over the flat, before he just reaches down and grabs the notebook and walks away, shutting the bedroom door behind him.
Harry comes home, barreling through the door and finding Louis still in the bedroom, curled into a ball with the notebook tossed underneath the bed. “Why’s the flat so clean?” he asks, dropping his bag by the dresser. “And why’re you in bed?”
“That the answer to both questions, then?” When Louis doesn’t answer, Harry frowns a bit, dropping onto the bed and curling himself around Louis, hands sliding underneath his shirt. “You okay, Lou?”
“Why did you have one of my notebooks with your things?” Louis asks, and it’s so blunt, like he’s accusing Harry of something, that he almost wants to open his mouth and shove the words back in, swallow them down and maybe spit them up as something different, but they’re out already, and he wants to know the answer.
He can feel it, Harry’s heart jumping against his back, his fingers twitching against his ribcage. “Wanted to know what you were thinking,” Harry says into his shoulder.
“You can ask me, I’ll tell you.”
“No, you won’t,” Harry says, and it’s so quiet, his voice, quiet and shattered and bruised, that something in Louis stops for a moment. “I just--you keep so much locked away, Lou, and I don’t know if you do it on purpose or not, but it’s hard, Lou, it’s hard. You don’t make it easy. And after the other night...I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“It’s not on purpose,” Louis tells him, but then that’s a lie too; he’s much too carefully constructed for things to slip out. He’s still for a moment, wondering what else he can say, finally settling on, “it’s hard for me too, Haz.”
“I just,” Harry starts again, because he’s never been good with words, not when they matter, not when everything seems to hinge on them. “It feels like you’re slipping away sometimes, and you come back eventually, but--” he stops, takes a shuddering breath and pushes his forehead against Louis, his curls tickling Louis’ neck. “I’m just scared you won’t come back one day.”
“Hey, hey,” Louis says softly, sliding out from Harry’s grasp and turning over, “I’ll always come back, okay? Always.” And it feels like it did in the beginning, when his heart felt like it was close to bursting and he could barely sit still for thoughts of Harry. And he thinks, he thinks that Zayn was right; that he maybe needs to stay for once. “You’re my forever boy, Haz,” he says quietly.
“S’cheesy,” Harry whispers, looking up through his lashes at Louis, and he can feel it again, that burning in his chest, that close-to-breaking snap beneath his ribs, and he ignores it, leaning closer to kiss Harry on the forehead, on the nose, on the lips. “I like cheesy though,” Harry breathes, his hand gripping the back of Louis’ neck and holding tight, keeping him close.
“Did you like them?” Louis asks suddenly. “The poems?”
Harry kisses a trail across Louis’ jaw before answering. “They were your best,” he says simply.
“Y’know I wrote them just before we moved in together,” Louis tells him. “They’re--they’re about you,” he says, ducking his head a bit, wondering how admitting that can make him feel more vulnerable than he’s ever felt.
“Knew I liked them for a reason.”
“Keep that up, and you’re not getting any more poems.”
“Would much rather have you anyway,” Harry says, wrapping his arms around Louis’ neck.
They fall asleep in the end, Louis’ hand trailing down Harry’s hip and resting on the tattoo (mine, he thinks just before he drops off, mineminemine), and Harry pressing one of his smiles into Louis’ collarbone. And Louis imagines his scars, his patches and rough stitches, fading with every beat of Harry’s heart until they’re gone, melted away through the mattress and floorboards. And he wonders if he’s stronger for it, if he’s sturdier without them, but then Harry turns in his sleep, mumbles something about Lou and forever and he thinks he is, thinks he’s never felt stronger.