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“I need a place to stay,” Louis was panting heavily and dripping water all over the hallway in front of their - Harry’s - apartment.

It’s not like he wanted to be there, staring down at the mat outside of their - his - door. He remembered being in the store when Harry first picked it out. (“Get it, Lou? Whalecome? It’s a picture of a whale!) The once bright blue whale was now a faded and worn almost-grey. The metaphor was not lost on Louis and had he not been sleep deprived and soaking wet, he might have been able to come up with a perfect analogy comparing the rug to the current status of his relationship with the man on the other side of the door. “Please, Harry? Just open up. I literally see your shadow moving along the bottom of the door. I know you’re home.”

He was met with silence, not that he was surprised by it. If the roles were reversed, Louis might not have let Harry in, either. Still, he waited. Given the last three days, he wasn’t above (or below) begging. It’s not like he could even go anywhere else at this point. He’d camp out if he had to. Eventually Harry would have to let him in, right? Then again, after the last few days, he was ready to just use the spare key he still had, unbeknownst to Harry. Louis stood watching Harry’s shadow move back and forth on the other side. The fact that He hadn’t walked away all together was a good sign. Yet, the entryway remained closed in front of him.

Two more minutes and he was going in with or without Harry’s permission.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

...one hundred and eighteen Mississippi, one hundred and nineteen Mississippi, one hundred and twenty Mississippi.

He reached around to dig inside his backpack for the spare key.

“What are you even doing here, Louis?” he heard Harry ask faintly through the door.

“Trust me, if I had anywhere else to go,” he paused and reflected on the absolute shit show his week had thrown at him. He sighed, “If I had anywhere else to go, I wouldn’t be here. I promise you that. You know you’re the last person I would ask to help me.”

Moments pass in silence. Seventy-two Mississippi’s to be exact. A lot had been done to hurt his pride lately, but this took the cake. Begging outside of his ex-boyfriend’s apartment that used to be his apartment, having not uttered a word to each other in years was an all-time low. And, as far as Louis and Harry were concerned, Louis didn’t think there could possibly be any more of a rock bottom than when they broke up.

Just as he gave up all hope and decided finding a nice bench in a park was better than this humiliation, he heard the unlocking of the door. It didn’t swing open and Louis watched the shadow retreat. It wasn’t much, but it was unlocked. That was something better than nothing, and Louis tentatively placed his hand on the knob and turned.

He quietly slipped inside the still-yet-not-at-all-familiar apartment and took off his back pack, setting it on the boot mat, hoping it wouldn’t get everything drenched along with it. He slipped off his spongy Chuck’s and hung up his dripping jacket. He heard Harry in the distance and didn’t know if he should wait there or go find him. He opted for the latter.

“Thank you, for opening the door...” Louis trailed off, not really sure what else to say.

Harry swung around to face him for the first time in nearly two years. Louis soaked him up. Harry’s hair was shorter than last time, by a lot. A handful of grey hairs were evident in the stark overhead light. He still knew how to fill out a plain t-shirt and the sweatpants he was wearing were borderline obscene. It’s like he had intentionally bought  them to emphasize his dick. The fabric was both loose and clingy and Louis forced himself to look away before it became even more uncomfortable for the two of them.

“You painted,” Louis commented.

Harry raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement, though his arms were crossed and his lips pursed.

“I like it,” Louis continued, seemingly just for the sake of hearing his own voice since Harry wasn’t offering up any response.

Still tall, still beautiful, still silent.

“You always said you wanted a yellow-”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Harry cut him off. “And why do you look like a homeless man? There’s been rain this whole week. Do you not check your weather app or believe in an umbrella?”

“-kitchen.”

They both stood, frozen in the moment.

“I...I need a place to stay.”

“There are hotels.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“And I don’t have a rocket ship, but that’s not your problem just like you not having money isn’t my problem.”

“No, I mean. I have money. I just don’t have any money with me. Or credit card or driver’s license either for that matter.”

Louis watched Harry stare at him blankly. He couldn’t argue that he probably did look like a homeless person. He hadn’t showered in days. His dress pants were soaked through and wrinkly in all the worst places. His hair, despite getting a shower from the rain, was unwashed and matted to his forehead and his facial hair was scruffy and unkempt.

In all of the worst case scenarios he thought about late at night for seeing Harry again, this somehow was worse than all of them. It wasn’t just seeing him again. It was seeing him while being so dejected that made it as horrible. And yet, seeing him again gave his stomach butterflies. Louis would never admit that though, he’d just blame it on the lack of sustenance the last few days.

“The fuck, Lou?” Harry said it more like a statement than a question, but Louis knew he needed to answer him.

“Can I have a drink of water? A shot of bourbon? Tea? I don’t care. Just - Can I get something to drink before you lay into me?”

Silently, Harry grabbed two coffee mugs out of the cupboard and and ducked behind the counter. Louis knew what was coming next and for that he was thankful Harry still knew him enough to know that the bourbon was most needed. After some rummaging around under the sink, Harry popped back up with the bottle. He poured heavy-handedly and pushed a mug in Louis’s direction before pouring himself just as much.

“Can I sit?”

“You could shave the cat for all I care as long as you tell me why you showed up at my doorstep after two years looking like that.”

“Wait, Gretchen is still alive?” Louis asked hopefully. That cat was as mangy as all get out and was ready to die years go, but still, he would love to see her again.

“No.”

That was all Harry offered, so Louis took it as his sign to sit down and explain himself. Harry stayed on the other side of the room, now table and counter and a thousand other things between them.

“I wasn’t even sure you still lived here. I found a tattered metrocard on the sidewalk outside of the airport and used up all remaining rides just to get here. Honestly, I was half expecting you to have moved after-.”

“I like it here,” Harry interrupted him. They both knew how that sentence ended and Louis was grateful he didn’t have to say it.

“I know.”

Louis was once again met with silence. Not comfortable, the way it used to be. More like the silence that Louis felt the need to keep talking through just to fill the time and space. Except this time he didn’t know what to say. What could he possibly have to say to Harry after all this time?

“You never even called. Not once.”

“I know.”

“And now you just show up completely unannounced and make all of your problems mine. Again.”

“I know.”

“Can you fucking say anything else? I hate when you think you’re diffusing me by placating me. It only pisses me off further.”

“I know.”

“Out! Get out now! Go find someone else to fix your problems.”

“Sorry! No, please. Give me one minute. Just one minute to explain.”

“Explain why, after two years you show up on my door without so much as a whisper in the meantime? Explain how you just left like a fucking coward while I was in class and never bothered once to even let me know you were alive? Explain how you could have gone to Liam and Zayn or even Niall and instead you come here? Sure. I’ll give you one minute, but I doubt you’re going to be able to convince me otherwise.”

Sixty Mississippi’s.

Louis knew he had to work fast because if there is one thing he knew about the man standing in front of him, this person he’d known over half his life, it was that when Harry Styles had his mind made up, there was no changing him.

“I’m sorry, Harry. You just...everything in me hurts and I don’t have the energy to deal with the mountains of paperwork I have to do, just to get home. I got sacked,” he looked up at Harry who kept his face stoic. “Actually, let me start over. I lost a huge account and then got sacked. Literally. I’m only here for a business trip and it went horribly. I got the call on my way to airport that, aside from coming to collect my belongings, I was no longer welcome on company property. I was pissed and tossed my phone on the seat next to me. I unloaded my bags from the trunk and then realized I left my phone inside the Uber about forty seconds too late. No big deal, right? I can always get a new phone. So I checked into my flight at the counter like the olden days. I checked my bag and all was right with the world. Until I somehow managed to also lose my wallet somewhere in the fucking terminal. I swear I had it in my backpack. But then it wasn’t there. And with no ID or license, I couldn’t board my flight. Without a phone, I couldn’t call anyone to help. So, my flight left and my luggage went with it. Along with my dignity. I felt like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. I spent two days of wandering around the airport and literally not a single idea of how to fucking get home, I realized you are literally my only hope. I’m sure it’s been over a minute since I started talking. So I’ll just collect my things back up and leave you be. You’re right. I could try and make my way to Liam and Zayn’s.”

Louis made move to stand and Harry just rolled his eyes.

“Sit down. They moved, anyway.”

“Then why did you say I should have tried there?”

“Because I still don’t understand why you picked here first.”

“Call it muscle memory.”

He wasn’t lying at that, either. The moment he saw the metrocard, his feet just did the work for him and before he knew it, he was standing outside the building where he used to live.

Harry blinked twice and gulped down the remaining bourbon from him mug.

“I assume you’d like a shower?”

“You have no idea.”

“Well I hope muscle memory can take you down the hall. I’ll...I can get you some dry clothes, too.”

“Harry,” Louis started.

“Go. Shower and change. Then we’ll figure out what to do next.”

*****

The moment he heard the bathroom door close, Harry gasped for air. It was like he was holding his breath without realizing for the last ten minutes.

Louis was there. In his home. The home they used to share. He was there because the job Louis left him for no longer wanted him, and isn’t that just some karmac poetic justice.

Harry stood, leaning over the kitchen sink and tried to recall every single detail of the last half hour that lead him here, starting with Louis standing outside their - his - door. Despite everything, the wet and dirt and slight smell, Harry had to admit Louis looked good. Older. More mature. He looked like the west coast was treating him well. His skin seemed almost golden, even with it being well into fall. His eyes did look tired, but how much could Harry expect of Louis under the apparent circumstances?

He turned on the sink and cupped cold water in his hands enough to splash his face. He scrubbed over his eyes and cheeks, hoping maybe when he opened them back up, this whole thing would have just been a dream, that Louis wouldn’t be here. And just maybe...maybe if he scrubbed hard enough, Louis would never have even left.

He patted the water off with the dish towel hanging off the stove. He looked up and saw the mug Louis had been using. Still there in real life.

Water isn’t a time machine.

He looked at the mug and almost went do down the rest of Louis’ bourbon. Instead he went to the bedroom and gathered some socks, a pair of joggers, hands pausing over the bottom left drawer handle before moving up and grabbing a t-shirt from the drawer above it. Louis didn’t need to know there was still a drawer of his things that he forgot in the wash during his rush out of the apartment and Harry’s life. (And if Harry sometimes wore his t-shirts because he was lonely, well Louis really never needed to know.)

Harry knocked on the bathroom door.

“Louis? I have clothes for you.”

Louis opened the door just a crack and held an open and expecting hand out to take the dry clothes. His arm was littered with a few more tattoos than Harry remembered. Not big ones, but enough that the skin looked different than Harry remembered. That thought nearly killed him. Logically, he knew there would be parts of Louis’s life he didn’t know but it never occurred to him there would be parts of Louis’ skin that were different from what Harry had spent most of his life memorizing. Not wanting to dwell, and realizing Louis was probably fully naked and waiting on the other side of the door, Harry thrust the clothes and Louis and turned away.

“Thank you, H,” Louis said, barely above a whisper.

It was almost enough to make Harry turn back and touch him. That’s what he always said, just one more touch and that would be enough. Except he also knew that was a lie. Because the kind of touch he wanted to do was with his mouth, kissing every inked mark over Louis’ skin that Harry hadn’t kissed before. No. A simple touch would never be enough. It was almost better, the way Louis just left him.

A clean break is easier to mend than a messy one.

Harry went to get his laptop and started to look up rules and laws for finding replacement ID’s. By all accounts, Louis was screwed. At least for the next few days. Which meant Harry was screwed, too. He might be hurt, but he wasn’t heartless. Louis needed somewhere to stay and he was already here. Harry managed to get through the last few years without Louis, and now this was some litmus test the universe threw at him to see if he was, in fact, as over Louis as he tells himself daily. 

The only problem? He already knew this was one test he was going to fail.

Before long, Harry heard the bathroom door open and footsteps approaching.

Deep breaths.

“You have no-” 

“So it looks like-” 

They both started and stopped in unison. That was always something they found themselves doing. They use to chalk it up to the amount of time they spent together. Perhaps, it was more than that. Their moms always joked about the twin flame theory of soul mates. But it would do no good to think too hard about that now. Soul mates don’t just leave.

Soul mates also don’t just let them leave and not try to follow.

“Go ahead,” Harry nodded to Louis. 

“I was just going to say thank you. You have no idea how much I needed that. I feel like a new person.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“What were you going to say?” Louis asked.

“Just that, according to this,” Harry spun the laptop around, open to the DMV website. “You’re pretty much fucked.”

Louis sank down in the chair next to Harry, reading the open browser. Harry could smell his shampoo and body wash radiating off of Louis. He had changed brands and scents since the breakup, but somehow it still smelled like Louis. He forced himself to shake off the feeling of want and instead busied himself on his phone, looking up hours for the social security office.

“So, Monday morning is the earliest I could even get paperwork.”

“Why didn’t you think about that before showing up here on a Saturday afternoon?” 

“I...I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t know what to do and I just thought…” Louis left the end of his thought hanging in the air. He always did that and it drove Harry mad. That was Louis though. Always starting something without ever really knowing where it’s going to take him, leaving it up to everyone else to piece it all together. 

“Doesn’t matter. Looks like you’re stuck here until then. You hungry?”

“You don’t have to-”

“Yeah I do. Can’t let you just starve. I was going to order take out tonight anyway. A bit extra won’t be a problem.”

They settled on pizza and Harry made his way to the fridge to grab the menu that had taken up permanent residence since their first night in the apartment. (“Harry, we have to keep it on the fridge. It’s our first-ever take out menu!)

 “Pick whatever you want. I’ve got to make a phone call and then we can order. Feel free to use the laptop to check in with whoever. I logged out of all my stuff, so you should be able to email or whatever.”

“I,” Louis hesitated. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“It is what it is,” Harry said. He didn’t mean for it to come out as snide or condescending as he was sure it did. It wasn’t meant to mock Louis’ tattoo, but that had always been their motto, come hell or high water, they couldn’t change facts. The best they could do was just keep plugging along. “It’s fine, Lou.”

Except it wasn’t. The only person he’s ever loved and the only person who has ever broken his heart are the same person and he is sitting at the kitchen table that they picked out together and it just looks right in ways that has taken Harry years to get over.

Harry walked into the bedroom and closed the door. He took several deep breaths and scrolled through his starred contacts until he found who he was looking for.

“Hey. It’s me. Sorry, I can’t do dinner tonight. Something...something big came up.”

*****

Louis gathered up all the information he could he could find, browsing website after website. First step was to call his banks and stop his credit cards. He emailed Lottie asking if she could dig around for his birth certificate. Next he needed to head to the DMV and see if there was any chance to get a replacement ID without his social security card. Beyond that, he really didn’t need to check in with anyone. He supposed that was one perk of being alone the last two years.  

He wanted to be respectful and give Harry his space, but that was almost a half an hour ago. He got up to stretch and turned to see something silver catch his eye. Tucked in between old notebooks and what looked like some filed away bills, Louis retrieved the frame that he’d know anywhere, but seeing the actual picture almost knocked the wind out of him.

It was the day they moved in together. Both of their moms were with them, smiling almost as big as he and Harry were. They had asked a neighbor to snap the picture, both boys holding up their new keys on matching keychains. Louis was barely 20 and Harry, barely 18. They had no idea what living in the city was going to actually be like, but they had not a care in the world because they had each other. Eight years and a lifetime ago, they were happy. They were in love. This photo was proof.

Suddenly Louis heard Harry’s muffled voice elevate. It snapped him from the memory of that day, how the moment their moms left, it was him and Harry against the world and they celebrated that fact with lazy, languid hands-and-knees-for-days fucking. He shook his head as if to clear out the memories and tucked the picture back into the kitchen hutch. Louis decided to creep his way down the hallway under the guise of needing to use the bathroom. He stopped outside of the bedroom door, becoming more and more attuned to what Harry was saying.

“You already said that!” There was a break, Louis assumed it was for the otherside of the line. “I don’t! ... No, I promise you. … That was one time and I was drunk and I didn’t actually go through with it. … I’m not still in love with him. … I am not! … Look, there’s nothing I can do about it. He’s here already so I just have to get through the next 48 hours. ...Please. Just trust me, ok? ...Yeah, yeah. I love you too.”

Louis made a mad dash across the hall and closed the bathroom door as quietly as he could to not give Harry any indication that he was eavesdropping. He heard Harry open his door and make his way back to the kitchen. Louis flushed the toilet to keep up the charade and also give himself a second to process. There were a thousand questions flooding his mind at once. 

Who was he talking to?

What happened, or didn’t happen one time when Harry was drunk?

Was there even a remote chance Harry still loved him?

How?

How?

How?

 Louis looked at himself in the mirror and it was like every single feeling he’s ever had for Harry came flooding back at even the mere possibility that Harry could still possibly maybe even potentially have even the smallest feelings left for him. That’s all it took. Truth be told, that was all it ever took for Louis. Whatever Harry felt, Louis instantly felt a million times more. It’s why he left.

What other choice did he have? 

Harry said no.

Harry said no.

Fourty-five Mississippi’s later, Louis found his way back to the kitchen and found Harry making tea. Harry looked over his shoulder and Louis wanted to desperately to pretend like he’d never left. Like he had just gone home for a weekend but then came back...back to his home. To Harry.

“I, uh, I don’t care what kind of pizza we get,” Harry said.

“Me either. Just no-” 

“Mushrooms. I know,” Harr turned back to the almost-whistling kettle. “Finish the tea and I’ll call it in, all right?”

Louis stared at him blankly. Nothing was fucking all right. Nothing at all.

“Everything’s where you left it,” Harry said, barely concealing a tone of bitterness.

Louis almost snapped back but bit his tongue and instead nodded in agreement. The thing is, Harry was right. Louis did just leave it all behind. The tea. The mugs. Harry. 

He watched Harry walk into the living room and Louis found his way to the cupboard. The canister of Yorkshire was exactly the same amount full as when he left. Harry never was a Yorkshire man, always preferring Earl Grey. But the fact remained, Louis’ tea was there. Maybe it was Harry being lazy, but that’s not even remotely a possibility. It was there and it made his heart race at the thought that maybe Harry left it intentionally.

Finishing making the tea the way he knew (still hoped) Harry preferred he eventually joined Harry in the living room. Most of the pictures had been changed on the walls and shelves. But everything else remained the same. He handed Harry his mug and sat at the opposite end of the sofa.

“I know this has to be awful for you, my popping back up here. But I can’t thank you enough. Truly. I just...I didn’t know what else to do.”

“It’s not that bad, Lou.”

They sat in silence, a bit less shackling than the last silence. 

The next thing Louis knew, Harry was shaking him awake. “Pizza’s here. Eat, and then you can sleep.”

Louis couldn’t argue with that. He had a few slices, thankful for the warm food. He had survived mostly on found granola bars and a pack of almonds from the bottom of his backpack.

“Can we,” Harry swallowed the last bite of his crust. “Can we start this all over again?” 

“Start what again?” Louis asked, unsure if he was scared or hopeful.

“Today. This. Can you explain why you showed up on my doorstep?”

Louis pinched himself for even entertaining the possibility Harry was talking about them. How fucking stupid he felt. It had been two years. It’s not like Harry was sitting around waiting for him after all this time.

“Right. So. My firm, well, my former firm, was dealing with this small start up company. They kept modifying our contract and not really committing. So I got sent here to deal with it. It’s not that I didn’t know my job was kind of on the line if I didn’t get them to sign. But I just really thought I could do it. I got there and gave them our last and final offer to get them to sell and they just...didn’t. I called my boss and explained they went in a different direction and he flipped, told me to start looking for a new job and hung up on me.”

“I’m, uh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No, you’re not. You hated that job from the get go.”

“Well, you’re not wrong about that. But I am sorry you got let go.”

“Yeah, well. It is what it is, right? Anyway, I had just pulled up to the airport when I got off the phone and I was fuming so I tossed it on the seat next to me and started to gather my things, completely not realizing I left the phone in the car until after I was standing alone on the sidewalk and the Uber was pulling out of the drop off zone.”

Louis paused and picked the pepperoni from the last slice on Harry’s plate. As soon as he realized what he was doing, he pulled his hand back as if burned. Old habits die hard.

“It’s fine. Take them.”

“I’m sorry. It’s-”

“Muscle memory,” Harry finished for him, picking up the pepperoni and putting them onto Louis’ plate. “So what are you going to do now?”

“I’ve got to call the bank first thing, Monday.”

“No, I know. I mean. What do you plan to do now, without a job?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead. My first thought was just getting home,” Louis sighed.

“So you ended up here.” 

Louis opened and closed his mouth at least half a dozen times but each time he tried to say something, it wasn’t quite the right thing to say.

Harry might be onto something. There is no reason he couldn’t have gone to Zayn and Liam. He still talks with them on occasion, but it had admittedly been awhile. Same with Niall. But he ended up outside of his - Harry’s - door instead. He came home, even if it wasn’t his home anymore.

“I think we can continue this conversation tomorrow. No offense, but you look like shit and I think sleep, real sleep, would do you good.” 

“You’re probably right. Are the linens still in the hall closet?”

“They are, but...take the bedroom.”

“Harry, no.”

“Louis, yes. You’ve been sleeping in an airport terminal for two days. You need the bed more than I do.”

 “But your back, H.”

“I’ll survive. Besides I already have a chiropractic appointment Monday morning.”

“No you don’t. Terrible liar, remember?”

“You’re right. I don’t. But as soon as I wake up on Monday I’ll schedule one.”

“At least let me help you make up the sofa.”

“I’ll take care of it. Just...let me clear a few things in the bedroom, then it’s all yours,” Harry excused himself from the table and Louis couldn’t do much more than blink back tears that threatened to spill over.

Harry’s always been too good to him. There was no way Louis could ever repay him, especially after everything between them. There had been so many times Louis wanted to just pick up the phone and call to say hi. He wanted to call when he was restless and nothing could settle him down like Harry forcing Louis to count 100 Mississippi’s.

Counting Mississippi’s started the night Louis found out his mom was sick. Louis thought he’d never be able to breathe again. Harry held him with such extreme care and counted out loud with Louis until slowly his vision cleared and his lungs filled to capacity. (“Come on, Lou. Three Mississippi’s in, three Mississippi’s out.) Ever since then, Louis counted everything in Mississippi’s.

Louis picked up their plates and was washing them off when Harry came back out. 

“Make yourself at home. Shouldn’t be too hard.” 

And. That hurt, but Louis couldn’t deny he deserved it. He kind of wished Harry would just let him have it entirely. Yell, kick, scream...something. That was the thing Louis never understood about any of it. Harry never fought for him to stay, or come back. He just let Louis go. Not that he’s putting fault on anyone. Both of them fucked it up.

 “I’ll finish cleaning up. Go ahead and get some sleep. We’ll figure out more tomorrow.”

“Thanks, love. I’ll see you in the morning.” Louis hurried down the hall and closed the door before he could see any reaction, or maybe lack thereof, Harry would have at the accidental nickname. It just sort of happened and this time Louis couldn’t stop the tears from coming.

It was an adrenaline let down. That’s all. At least that’s what Louis told himself. It had nothing to do with being faced with sleeping in his old bedroom, much unchanged, while being twenty feet away from the one person who has ever loved him.

Yeah. Purely adrenaline.

*****

Harry woke up to Louis banging around in the kitchen. He pretended to sleep a few minutes more, just listening to the sounds Louis was making, sounds that hadn’t filled the apartment in years. Louis was usually right shit in the kitchen but he did manage to perfect breakfast in almost any form. Harry heard sizzling and figured he should at least get up to offer to help.

He sat up gingerly, the couch being much more harsh on his back than he thought it would be. In the middle of his stretching, he caught a glimpse of Louis, shirtless, standing at the stove. There was a new tattoo on his left shoulder. A date. 12.7.16. The day his mom had passed. Harry’s heart ached. Jay was as much his mom as his own mom, Anne, was. Her death rocked them all to the core. But still. More skin altered without his knowledge.

Louis’ hair stood up in about a thousand different directions, just like always. Harry thought Louis appeared to have thinned out quite a bit. Muscles were defined in ways Harry had never seen. His shoulders stood pushed back and his torso seemed to stretch for days down to his waist. The sweat pants Harry had picked out for him were now slung low on his hips. His ass was just as pert as Harry remembered and he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it many a late night, in spite everything.

Apparently thinking about Louis’ ass this early in the morning caused certain things to happen to his own body and there was no way Harry would ever let Louis see him in that state.

 “Morning, Lou,” he commented quickly on his way toward the bathroom. Immediately Harry locked the door. He figured he’d have about fifteen minutes before breakfast would probably be ready. He’d gotten off in far less time, and having Louis home - here - he’s sure it won’t even take a third of that time.

He flipped on the shower and hopped in. The moment water hit skin, his hand flew to his cock and started pulling. It didn’t take too much effort or thought to get himself fully hard. Thinking of a bronzed Louis Tomlinson half naked in his kitchen was more than enough to do the trick. Thinking of a most likely fully naked Louis Tomlinson sleeping in his bed - their - bed put him entirely over the edge. He came in quick, hot spurts, head resting against the shower wall, panting heavily.

That had to be some kind of a wank record.

He reached for the shower head and washed away all evidence the last four minutes even happened. Shampooed and scrubbed, he stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around himself. It was three feet across the hall to the bedroom, and he forgot to grab fresh clothes before going into the bathroom. He figured he could sneak by no problem.

Except.

Harry walked smack dab into Louis the moment he stepped out of the bathroom.

“Shit!”

“Fuck!”

They both shouted in unison. Harry watched as Louis’ eyes took him in from head to toe. He also watched water droplets trail down Louis’ skin from the abrupt contact with Harry’s wet body. He took a step back and clutched onto his towel a little bit tighter. 

“Sorry, I was just coming to tell you that breakfast was ready, whenever you are.”

“Give me two minutes and I’ll be out.”

Louis nodded and Harry swallowed, hard.

One hundred and twenty Mississippi’s.

He could do this. And if not, well, Louis would be gone again tomorrow and he could once again pretend like he wasn’t absolutely devastated by it.

Reflexively, he went to the bottom drawer on the left side of the dresser. He grabbed an old Stone Roses tank top of Louis’ and began to put it on before realizing what exactly that meant. The problem was, he needed some sort of contact with Louis. Even when Louis was right there, within reaching distance, he wasn’t. Not really. He was still a million miles away. Harry decided touching Louis’ old shirt would have to suffice. Instead of taking the tank top off, he threw a hoodie on overtop and pulled up some joggers.

He also grabbed a fresh t-shirt for Louis, because if there was one thing Harry knew, it’s that he wouldn’t survive much more time with Louis out there half naked.

*****

The rest of Sunday morning went by relatively peacefully between the two of them. They ate quietly, Louis pretty proud of his breakfast, though the truth was he only learned how to make breakfast because of Harry. It was their deal. Louis grocery shopped and did made weekend breakfast, Harry took care of almost all their dinners, and dishes.

It probably wasn’t fair, but it worked for them. Louis realized many times over that was probably the definition of their relationship. It wasn’t fair, to either of them (for various reasons) but it worked. And it worked well. Until it didn’t. An eight year relationship built on lifetime of friendship, gone in the blink of an eye.

Harry said no.

Louis decided to change their arrangement, at least for today. It wasn't much in the way of a thanks, but maybe it was enough to show Harry he really did feel thankful. He finished his last few bites and stood up to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

“I can do that,” Harry said.

“It’s no problem. Really.” Louis was prepared to fight but Harry let it go. Louis couldn’t figure out this Harry. Passive was never a word anyone had used to describe Harry’s and ever since...then...that’s the only thing Louis could think about. Passive Harry, just letting it all happen.

Harry had moved into the living room while Louis finished up the dishes. Many, many Mississippi’s later, Louis joined him. They spent the afternoon walking on eggshells around each other. Harry offered the use of his laptop to Louis again. Louis gratefully accepted while Harry read or busied himself on his phone.

“When did Liam and Zayn move?” Louis asked after some time.

“Oh, um, about a month back? They wanted to start the adoption process so they bought a house. It’s nice.”

Louis was happy for his friends. They deserved a family. But yet Louis couldn’t help but be incredibly jealous. He and Harry always wanted a big family. If someone would have asked him three years ago if Liam and Zayn would beat them to the punch, all four of them would have laughed.

Louis breathed in three Mississippi’s and exhaled for another threee.

“And Gretchen? when did she die?”

“Um, shortly after...shortly after you left. She threw a blood clot in her leg that traveled to her heart.”

“Shit. That really sucks for her. Sounds painful.”

“The vet said she went pretty quickly, all things considered. I wasn’t even home with her. I was in class and she was tucked up in her bed and by the time I got home, she was gone.”

“I’m sorry you had to handle that alone.”

“I shouldn’t have had to.”

Louis froze. He knew this was coming and was honestly surprised it took them the 24 hours together to get there. 

“Harry, look,” Louis started.

“No, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

“It wasn’t. You have every right to be upset. I showed up here out of the blue and you have every right to be upset about that. But as far as Gretchen is concerned, she could have been with me. With us. Out there. Maybe-” 

Harry’s mouth dropped wide open. “Are you really suggesting it might not have happened had you taken her with you?”

“What? No. Harry, I’m saying she maybe wouldn’t have had to die alone and you definitely wouldn’t have had to deal with it alone. We could have dealt with it together.”

Harry’s jaw clenched. “Yeah, maybe. Maybe if you hadn’t left like a fucking coward we sure could have.”

Louis’ mind reeled. Sure, he left. But he only left after Harry said no. He left because Harry wanted him to, because Harry didn’t want to go and Louis would never force him. He left because he had to. 

“If doing what you wanted of me makes me a coward, then so be it. But I left because I took a job, a job that I applied to for us. I thought you’d be happy for me. I thought you’d want that. For us. We could have gotten out of this shit hole.”

“This place has never been a shit hole to me. You know that. I’m sorry being here was so miserable you just had to leave.”

“I wanted you to come with me. You said no, Harry.”

“Like hell I did! You never asked. You came home and told me to pack my bags. Like I was some kind of puppy that you could just drag along. It wasn’t a conversation. It was a demand.”

Louis felt himself replaying that night in his head, as he had done so often over the last two years.

“What are you on about? What do you mean I never asked you? You are the one that told me to apply in the first place.”

“Right. I told you to apply. But then you just accepted the offer without talking to me. We never discussed anything beyond the long shot of applying. And then you got it and i was so happy for you because I knew you deserved it. But I was one semester shy of graduating. Four months and I would have been free to leave with you.”

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“You. Never. Asked.” Harry punctuated each word with a pounding of his fist on his knee. “I loved you, Lou! I would have followed you to fucking Neptune had you just fucking asked!”

Realization dawned across Louis. Harry didn’t say no. Harry didn’t say no because Louis didn’t ask. He never even gave him the chance to say no. “I’m...I’m so sorry Harry. I thought-”

“That’s the problem. That’s always been the problem. You thought I’d just follow, like I always did. You asked if you could kiss me when I was fifteen years old. I said yes because I knew then I wanted you to be my first and last kiss. You asked me to be your boyfriend when I was sixteen and I said yes without a single doubt that I wanted to be with you. You asked me to apply to your college so we could be together. I said yes because I already missed you too much, even though you came home every weekend. You asked me to move in with you instead of living in the dorms. And I did without question because I didn’t need a dorm mate when I had a perfectly wonderful boyfriend to live with instead. You asked if we could get a cat and I let you pick whichever cat you wanted. When you picked a mangy one-eyed tabby, I said yes because you were so excited when you asked if I loved her, too. But then you just took that job without even giving me a thought. It was the first time that you just expected me to follow you. And I would have. But you never asked.”

“Oh my god, Harry. I never asked.”

“I was going to marry you, Lou. Or, I was going to ask you to marry me. I was going to come home from class and propose and tell you that I loved you more than this shitty apartment, and I loved you more than our friends. I loved you enough to go, as soon as I graduated. Because if we had to be apart for four months, that was fine if we got to spend forever together.”

“Harry-”

“Let me finish! I’ve waited for two years to tell you this. Please, just let me.”

“Okay.”

“I came home and you were gone. Only you weren’t really gone. You packed your bags and I was left with the ghost of you. All of our pictures. All of our friends,” Harry started to rip off his sweatshirt to reveal Louis’ old shirt. “All of your fucking clothes that you left in the wash. You left me here and I was ready to marry you. I was ready to give up everything had you just fucking asked me to! But you were just...gone.”

Before Louis realized what he was doing, he moved into Harry’s space, feeling Harry’s chest heave into him. Twenty-three Mississippi’s staring into nothing but green.

“You never asked, Lou,” Harry started crying. “I wanted forever with you but you never-”

And just like that lips were on lips, skin threatening to break from the inside where teeth bumped. Hands grabbed skin and cheeks and hair and whatever they could reach. Mouths parted and tongues collided.

“I’m sorry, H. I’m so sorry!” Louis breathed into Harry’s waiting mouth. “I’m so-”

Harry just pushed him backwards, hitting the hallway wall and knocking down some wall art. Louis pushed back, knocking Harry into the small table and crashing down a lamp. They zig-zagged their way down the hall until finally they made it to the bedroom.

Kissing Harry was like coming home. Being here was like coming home, because it was home. Louis was back here now, the last two years be damned. He was here and he never wanted to leave again, at least not without Harry.

 “I love you, Lou. I love you so much,” Harry pulled back to whisper. “I know you have to know. I’m a terrible liar. But still. I tried to not love you. Every day I’ve lied to myself and everyone else, thinking maybe if I said it enough, I’d start to believe it.”

“You still love me?” Louis asked with a sight tremor in his voice. Harry loves him. It was almost too much to have hoped for. But Harry had him backed up against his - their - bedroom wall, licking into Louis’ mouth like every late night fantasy he had about the love of his life for the last two years. Dizzy from the blood rush to his head, Louis kissed him again. And again.

“Yeah, I still love you. I never stopped. Missed you so much,” Harry breathed back into Louis’ mouth.

“Thank god. I missed you, too. I’m so sorry. I love you, H. I left because I thought...it doesn’t matter anymore. You love me and I love you and I’m so stupid. If you’ll have me, I want to stay. Here. With you forever. Never should have left. It’s you, Harry. It’s only ever been you.”

*****

“Hurry up, babe!” Harry was at least ten steps ahead of Louis, running through the airport. “The flight leaves in seventeen minutes. I swear to god, if you make me miss our honeymoon, I’ll divorce you right here, right now.” 

“One minute, Styles! I have to tie my shoe!”

 “Oi! It’s Tomlinson now, haven’t you heard?” Harry held up his left hand, light reflecting off the polished band that adorned his ring finger. “One minute and then I’m leaving you.”

“One minute. I promise.” 

One Mississippi...