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At Least We're Breathing

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                Why. Harry hated that question, not only because he’d heard it so many times in the past twenty-four hours, but because nobody believed his answer; I don’t know.

            He really didn’t know. He didn’t know why he was sad all the time. There was no reason he should be, as he had a pretty good life. His family was middle class; his parents not having quite enough money to give their two children everything they wanted, but it wasn’t like Harry or his sister, Gemma, ever went without anything they needed, and their mom and dad spoiled them when they could. He wasn’t popular at school, but he still had friends and wasn’t bullied or anything like that. His grades were excellent. His teachers loved him. Harry literally had nothing to complain about, but he was still sad and just couldn’t help it. He’d tried. He’d tried to fight the darkness and sometimes he thought he was winning, but then it would come back, worse than ever.

            So that was why Harry drank the bleach. That much he knew, but that wasn’t a good excuse because, “Why are you sad, Harry?” his mom had asked, and that, he had not a clue on.

            And that was why he was going to be spending his summer in a mental hospital. Oh well. He didn’t really care. It was better than being at home, where his mom would be studying him with careful, heartbroken eyes, trying to figure out what she did to make her son decided he wanted to die. It was better than his sister tiptoeing around him like he was a ticking time bomb, or having his dad tell him to suck it up.

            It wasn’t like he would leave the house if he was there anyway. Locked away or not, he was, in the least, a prisoner of his mind.

            His mom cried when she had to leave him, and Harry felt bad, but he knew it would be the best thing for everyone in the long run.

            He listened half attentively as the too-cheesy nurse explained the rules of the hospital to him and went over a brief schedule of what his day-to-day life would be like for the next three months. She apparently sensed his boredom because then she clapped her hands together loudly, her smile growing when Harry broke from his half trance and focused his eyes on her again.

            “Now for the fun stuff! Would you like to go meet your roommate?!”

            “Sure,” Harry answered, knowing if he said no, it wouldn’t really matter anyway.

            The nurse led him down a long hallway and Harry wished she would walk a little faster, feeling unnerved by the multiple sets of eyes that glued themselves to him.

            Finally, they reached the correct bedroom. Though the door was open, the nurse knocked on the frame before walking in. A boy, Harry’s age, looked up and smiled.

            “Good afternoon, Liam,” the lady greeted. “How are you today?”

            “I’m all right. Is this my new…Harry?!”

            Harry already knew Liam, who was apparently his roommate, from school, but he was shocked that Liam knew him. Unlike Harry, Liam had been popular. He was the best football player on the school’s team, and had plans to go professional after graduating. Then, during one of the biggest games of the year, he’d collapsed and, after failing to wake up more than five minutes later, was rushed to a hospital. No one heard from him again, except for his girlfriend, Sophia. Or she claimed she was his girlfriend, at least, though they had never been seen together outside prom court.

            There was heavy speculation on what had caused him to pass out. Drugs, including but not limited to steroids, was the most popular opinion, though there were also rumors of a fight in the locker room that led to a concussion, a deadly disease of various sorts and even a poisoning from a member of the opposing team. Sophia claimed he had been simply been overworked, but that his passing out had nothing to do with why he hadn’t returned to school. According to her, he’d dropped out so he could work and raise money for the child she was carrying.

            Sophia was known to be a little crazy, but anything was possible, Harry had supposed. Personally, he had tried not to form an opinion. He didn’t get the whole ‘gossip’ thing, and he would never know anyway, so why bother making guesses?

            Except he did know now, kind of. Liam had been sent off to a mental institution, so perhaps it had been drugs after all. Whatever. He wasn’t judging. He’d drunk bleach.

            “Oh, you two know each other?” the nurse, Myah, Harry remembered, asked, clearly surprised and maybe even leery.

            “We went to school together,” Liam explained. “How are you doing, mate? Wait, don’t answer that. That’s a stupid question, given the fact that you’re here.”

            Liam gave a little laugh and Harry returned it with the best smile he could muster.

            “Any history I should be aware of?” Nurse Myah asked, giving them both suspicious looks.

            “We worked on a science project together once,” Liam said with a shrug. “And that’s not a metaphor for anything, I promise.”

            That was right, Harry recalled. They had been partnered up earlier the previous year, but he was still surprised Liam remembered him, as he was spectacularly ordinary.

            “All right, well maybe this will be a good thing for you both. Harry, Liam will be your roommate for the next month or so, but then he’s getting out of here. Right, Liam?”

            “I guess, miss,” Liam replied, smiling shyly.

            “No, it’s ‘Yes, Nurse Myah, I will be released, fully happy and healthy, right on my scheduled time.’”

            Smiling and looking a bit embarrassed, Liam looked back to Harry.

            “Personally, I think Nurse Myah should be admitted. She’s too happy, almost like she’s always in a manic state.”

            “Nonsense,” the woman said, but she was smiling. “Now, it’s almost lunch time, so, Liam, I suggest you get yourself down there. Harry, you will be expected to attend tomorrow, but since today is your first day, you have the option to join the other kids for lunch or get yourself situated.”

            “I’ll probably just get unpacked,” Harry said, then looked at Liam. “Nothing personal, mate.”

            “Not at all!” Liam assured him, standing from his bed and tugging at his clothes. “We’ll talk later.”

            “Definitely.”

            “It was nice to see you again!”

            So you say, Harry thought.

            “You too,” he said. Liam gave an awkward little wave and then followed the lady out of the room. Well, Liam was a nice guy, Harry knew, so maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. He was still shocked because he’d never seen any evidence that there was anything wrong with him, but perhaps he’d just pretended like Harry had tried to do until he just couldn’t anymore.

            Harry was actually quite surprised that he was being left alone, given what he was in for, but he was grateful. Out of curiosity, and nothing else, he swore to himself, he gave the room a quick search for something he could use later, if he needed. The bed sheets were the only things that could cause him harm, but not really because there was nowhere to make a noose. Oh well. He’d lost his motivation anyway.

            “Oh, did Liam leave already?”

            A voice by the doorway made Harry turn sharply around, as if he feared whoever was there could read his dark thoughts and would strap him to the bed again. It wasn’t a staff member, though; just another kid around Harry’s age, looking inquisitively at Harry with his wide brown eyes. His hair was pitch black, his skin a dark olive. Though he held himself straight and fought to keep a poker face, Harry had a feeling he was a lot more vulnerable than he let on. Not that he should probably be trying to analyze this guy when he couldn’t even figure out what was wrong with himself.

            “Oh, are you a mute?” the guy asked, like it would be a normal thing, and it was only then that Harry remembered he had been spoken to.

            “Um, no, I’m not a mute,” Harry said. “And yeah, Liam went to lunch.”

            “Oh,” the guy said with a frown. “He usually waits for me.”

            “The nurse made him go,” Harry explained.

            “Oh,” the stranger said again, another smile forming on his face. “Okay then. So you’re his new roommate?”

            “Yeah. I’m Harry.”        

            “Tyler. Well, I’d love to stay and chat, Harry, but I must be getting to my boyfriend.”

            Great emphasis was put on the word ‘boyfriend.’ Clearly, Liam was off limits. And, probably, Sophia wasn’t pregnant. Despite everything, Harry gave a small laugh.

            “What?” Tyler asked, eyes narrowed.

            “Nothing, mate. Don’t worry, though, I don’t want your boyfriend.”

            He expected that to comfort the other a bit, but instead, he frowned, crossing his arms tight over his chest.

            “Why not?” he asked.

            “Um…what?”

            “Why don’t you want him? What do you think is wrong with him? He’s gorgeous and wonderful.”

            “I’m not saying he isn’t,” Harry said, beginning to form a headache. “I didn’t mean anything by it, man. I’m just not a boyfriend stealer or anything. He’s all yours.”

            “Alright,” Tyler said, sounding unsure. “Are you joining us for lunch?”

            “I’m not really hungry and I still have to get unpacked, so…”

            “Okay, mate. See you later then!”

            With that, Tyler turned on his heel and walked away.

            “Wow,” Harry whispered as he walked over to his suitcase to unpack the very few things he’d actually been allowed to bring.

            So, Liam probably wasn’t crazy, Harry concluded, but of course, he would have a crazy boyfriend. That was maybe worse. It was a good thing Harry wasn’t too worried about death because he could very vividly imagine Tyler smothering him with a pillow. This was looking promising so far, Harry thought, and he wasn’t even sure if he was being sarcastic or not.

Chapter Text

            All in all, Harry’s first day hadn’t been terrible. He’d spent it in bed, but that really wasn’t unlike what he did at home.

            Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, Liam had come back to check on Harry and stayed a few minutes, talking with him about the most mundane and impersonal things. Harry appreciated it, he really did, even if he half expected to look over and see Tyler standing in the doorway, plotting his demise. However, as much as he appreciated Liam trying to make him feel welcome, Harry still politely declined to join him in the day room. Getting out of bed just took too much energy and, besides, he wasn’t ready to be stared at again. It wasn’t that he was ashamed to be at the place. He could own up to the fact that he had problems and had done this to himself, but Harry tended to prefer to be invisible, at least of recent.

            Liam returned again after dinner (which Harry had also skipped) holding a plate with a sandwich and some carrot sticks.

            “This is for you,” he explained as he set the Styrofoam plate and matching cup on Harry’s nightstand. “Figured you’re probably hungry by now. Hold on, are you here for anorexia?”

            “No,” Harry answered, mustering the energy to sit up. He was actually quite hungry. “Thanks for this.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            A nurse, male this time, poked his head in to study Harry for a brief moment before wordlessly backing out of the room and making his way down the hall. Liam laughed.

            “Do they always do that?” Harry wondered aloud.

            “They have to do check-ups on us, but, no, he was just making sure I didn’t eat your food for you.”

            “Oh,” Harry said, still a little uncomfortable.

            “Would you like something else?” Liam offered. “I went with something simple, thinking it would be safer, but they had other options and I may still be able to go back…”

            “No, this is fine,” Harry assured him, taking a bite of his sandwich. Liam smiled.

            Once he finished eating, Harry went to the bathroom to change and get ready for bed, figuring he would make it an early night, if he could do so without seeming rude. He already felt bad enough that Liam had been so kind to him and was getting basically nothing in response. Luckily, Liam made the getting to bed early thing pretty easy on him.

            “You going to sleep?” he asked when he saw that Harry had returned in his pajamas.

            “Probably,” Harry said. “It’s been a long day and I’m still tired from…you know…stuff…”

            Luckily, Liam didn’t press for more details.

            “Yeah, man, I understand. I’m just going to go out and chill for a while, but then I’ll be back. Do you need anything?”

            “No thanks. I’m okay.”

            “Okay. See you in the morning!”

***

            Morning, it turned out, came way too quickly. Though he’d gone to bed early-just after seven-it seemed to Harry like he had just shut his eyes before they were being forced open by their bedroom light being flicked on and a deep, stern voice saying,

            “Come on, boys. Time to get up.”

            “Mmph,” Liam murmured intelligibly. Harry rolled over and, to his pleasure, saw that the male nurse had already moved on from their room. Perhaps he could sneak in a couple more minutes of sleep.

            “Liam, Harry! Rise and shine!” a different voice, a female one, said. Liam snored loudly. The nurse wasn’t fooled.

            “Yes, I know, we’re terrible people. Now, come on. Don’t you want to set a good example for Harry?”

            “Too early,” Liam yawned but sat up anyway and rubbed his eyes, his floppy dark blonde hair sticking up every which way.

            “Aww, don’t you look cute?!” yet another voice exclaimed, and then in bounced Tyler, who hopped up on Liam’s bed and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, getting a sleepy smile from his boyfriend, but a disapproving ‘cluck’ from the nurse.

            “What’s our rule on intimate relationships with other patients, boys?” she asked, one hand on her hip.

            “It was a platonic good morning kiss,” Tyler said with an ornery smile.

            “Mm…Go get your showers, boys. Breakfast is soon. Individual showers, I may add.”

            “Not like we have a choice,” Tyler muttered as the lady walked away. Liam proceeded to make him giggle by nibbling on his neck until Tyler looked over, saw Harry and gently pushed his boyfriend off of him.

            “Liam, don’t be rude. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your new roommate?”

            “I thought you said you met him yesterday?” Liam asked, brow furrowed in confusion. Harry’s was the same way.

            “I don’t think so,” Tyler answered, looking at Liam strangely.

            “Yeah, you did,” Harry spoke up. “I’m Harry, remember?”

            Tyler gave Harry the same strange look he’d been giving Liam, and, squeezing his boyfriend’s shoulder gently, Liam asked Harry,

            “What name did he give you yesterday?”

            “What?” Harry asked. It was too early for this.

            “Who did he introduce himself as?”

            “He said his name was Tyler…”

            “I’m Zayn!” the guy who Harry had previously known as Tyler exclaimed before pushing himself off the bed and storming out. Liam sighed.

            “Zayn has Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as multiple personalities,” Liam explained.

            “Oh,” Harry said. “Um, sorry. I didn’t mean to…make him mad.”

            “No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault. He just gets upset with himself because he feels like he should be able to always control it now, even though he’s only been here a month.”

            “It’s not his fault,” Harry tried, not knowing what else to say.

            “It’s not,” Liam agreed, “but he doesn’t see that now. Anyway, he’ll be okay. Come on, we better start getting ready. They’re not going to be so lenient with you today.”

            “Yay,” Harry said sarcastically, throwing himself out of bed. It was a lot harder than it should have been.

            Liam finished his shower before Harry, but waited so they could walk to breakfast together. After filling up their plates, Harry was led to a table in the far back corner, where Zayn was sitting with two other boys, hunched over and stabbing his food moodily.

            “I think that’s Brian now,” Liam said in a hushed voice.

            “How many personalities does he have?!” Harry asked incredulously.

            “We’ve counted five, including himself.”

            “What happened to him?”

            “I wish I knew.”

            The two hushed themselves then as they reached the group. Liam placed a hand on Zayn/Tyler/Brian/whoever’s shoulders, but was shrugged off coldly. Instead of looking offended, Liam gave a small laugh.

            “Yep. This is Brian,” he told Harry as he sat next to the other guy. “He’s straight and a bit homophobic.”

            “Which, I think if he’s so homophobic, he should just leave Zayn alone,” one of the other guys; a smaller boy with fringed brown hair and bright blue eyes spoke. Brian glared at the kid, who shrugged and then looked up at Harry with a smile.

            “You can sit, you know. I’m safe.”

            Setting his tray down on the cafeteria-type table, Harry took a seat next to the stranger nervously. He wasn’t quite sure why he was nervous because he wasn’t scared. He didn’t think the kid was dangerous or anything, but there was something about him that made Harry’s heart pound just a little harder and his palms sweat a tiny bit. It wasn’t a particularly bad feeling, though, and Harry thought maybe that was what made him most uncomfortable.

            “I’m Louis,” the guy said.

            “Hi. I’m Harry,” Harry said back, having to look away from Louis’s attentive gaze. He poked his lone piece of French toast with his fork.

            “The food’s a lot better than it looks, I promise,” Louis spoke again.

            “I’m just not that hungry,” Harry said, and he probably should have been, as the only things he’d eaten the previous day had been a peanut butter sandwich and some carrots, but, then again, lying in bed doing nothing didn’t really burn a lot of calories.

            “Eating disorder?” Louis asked sympathetically at the same time the nurse who was observing their table checked his clipboard, again making Harry uncomfortable.

            “Not an eating disorder,” Harry said, loud enough for the nurse to clearly hear him.

            “What are you here for?” Zayn/Tyler/Brian asked, looking at Harry curiously as he finally took a bite of his food.

            “Zayn?” Liam asked cautiously. Zayn winked and Liam and Louis cheered while the other boy in the group clapped.

            “Oh, by the way, Harry, this is Niall,” Louis explained, clapping the guy on the shoulder. “He doesn’t talk. It’s a PTSD thing.”

            “Post-traumatic stress disorder?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Oh. Well, hi, Niall, It’s nice to meet you.”

            Looking suddenly shy, Niall gave a quick wave before turning his full attention back to his food. Louis gave his shoulder a soft squeeze before placing his hands in his lap.

            “Okay, but seriously, what are you in for?” Zayn questioned Harry.

            “You two first,” Harry said, gesturing between Liam and Louis, who both smiled.

            “Eating disorder,” Liam said.

            “Oh…,” Harry responded. He thought he was prepared for anything, but he hadn’t expected that. He’d seen Liam in barely more than his boxers, as the football team often practiced in nothing more than their sports shorts, and he’d looked a normal weight. Harry didn’t really know much about eating disorders, he supposed, but he’d assumed sufferers to either be extremely thin or large, not…well…fit, as Liam’s biceps and six-pack hinted that he was.

            “Bulimia nervosa,” Liam explained, sensing Harry’s confusion. “Bulimics binge and purge, but are typically a normal weight or even slightly overweight. Put that on top of my weight training and it took two years for anyone to notice.”

            “And another half a year for them to do anything about it,” Zayn muttered.

            “Is that why…at the game…?” Harry questioned, not sure if he should. Liam didn’t look bothered by it, though.

            “Yeah. Well, the technical reason was severe dehydration, but it was a result of the bulimia. I could usually manage it to avoid that happening at games or such, but I went a bit overboard the couple of weeks leading up to it.”

            “Why?”

            Harry mentally smacked himself. He hated that question, so why he thought it was okay to ask Liam, he didn’t know.

            “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “You don’t have to answer that.”

            “It’s okay,” Liam assured him. “To give you the shortest answer, I like food. Certain things have always been denied to me because I’m going to be an athlete, so I binge to rebel, but then I feel guilty, so I purge.”

            “But you’re actually going to be a writer,” Zayn spoke. “So it really doesn’t matter what you eat.”

            “In a perfect world, babe,” Liam said with a smile.

            “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that last part,” the nurse spoke.

            “Sorry, Christian,” Liam said, then turned back to Harry. “Hey, by the way, what are the rumors at school?”

            “Drugs, cancer, attempted homicide…pretty much everything except the truth.”

            “Of course,” Liam said with a small laugh.

            “What about you?” Harry asked Louis.

            “No one knows why Louis is here,” Liam said.

            “Come on,” Harry urged. “You know why we’re all here. It’s only fair.”

            “Actually, I don’t know why you’re here,” Louis pointed out.

            “I drank bleach,” Harry said, surprised by the ease with which the words came out of his mouth. It apparently surprised everyone else too, because Liam’s eyes widened, Niall’s head shot up and Zayn dramatically dropped his fork.

            “Dude…that’s fucked up,” Zayn commented, and Harry’s mouth actually dropped open a bit because the guy who had five different personalities was seriously telling him that he was messed up?!

            “Suicide attempt,” Harry explained.

            “Obviously,” Zayn stated.

            “Don’t be offended,” Liam spoke. “Zayn doesn’t mean anything by it. That was just…unexpected. I’m sorry, mate.”

           “Not your fault,” Harry said with a shrug before he turned back to Louis; the only one who hadn’t seemed to find what Harry said all that abnormal. “Okay, your turn.”

            “Thank you for sharing your reason with us, Harry, but I never said I would tell you mine in return,” Louis pointed out, and the kid had half of a damn smirk on his face.

            “That’s not fair,” Harry told him.

            “Welcome to the world.”

            “Come on. It can’t be worse than downing bathroom bleach, can it?”

            Louis studied Harry for a minute, thinking, and then sighed.

            “You really want to know what I’m in for?”

            “Yes,” Harry said as the other three perked up and leaned in, curious.

            “Okay,” Louis said, lowering his voice. “You can’t tell any of the other patients though, got it?”

            They nodded and Louis sighed again, lowering his voice even more when he continued.

            “I murdered my whole family,” he said after a dramatic pause, in which nobody seemed to breathe.

            “Lou!” Zayn groaned. “I thought you were being serious!”

            “He’s in for being a pathological liar, probably,” Liam concluded.

            “I can see that,” Zayn agreed. “His name probably isn’t even Louis.”

            “Is too,” Louis said. “I legally changed it when I fled my home country of France to escape the authorities.”

            Liam shook his head, turning his gaze to Harry.

            “He’ll grow on you, I promise. There is a reason we let him stick around.”

            Niall shook his head that time, patting Liam on the shoulder as he gestured to Louis.

            “Yeah, I guess it would be the other way around,” Liam agreed. “Louis was here before all of us.”

            “Well, you can’t expect them to let a murderer wander the streets, can you?” Harry asked. Louis beamed.

            “I like him,” he announced. “We’re keeping him, despite his questionable opinion of consumable beverages.”

            Harry laughed then-actually laughed-which startled him a bit. He hadn’t heard the sound of his own real laugh in a while, and he hadn’t felt it for even longer. He, again, didn’t know how to feel about that situation, but Louis smiled at him, so Harry didn’t dwell.

            After breakfast, Harry had to head to his group therapy session. None of the other boys could join him, as they had to be grouped with people of similar problems, and Harry didn’t particularly appreciate that, nor did he appreciate having to introduce himself to the group. Telling Liam and his friends what he’d done was one thing, and Harry would talk about it with the therapist and try to get better, but these strangers didn’t need to know. No matter what the professionals claimed, it wasn’t a ‘no judgement’ zone. Judgement was just human nature, even amongst similars. These kids all thought Harry didn’t belong; that their problems were worse than his, and they were probably right.

            Directly after group therapy, Harry headed back to the room to bury himself underneath the covers and hopefully never have to come out. He kept his light off, but wasn’t allowed to shut the door all the way, of course, and even though it was only opened about a quarter of the way, the light was still too bright. He just wanted darkness. Complete, all consuming darkness…

            “What are you doing?!”

            Harry groaned as the pillow he’d been using to block the light was ripped out of his hands and off of his face.

            “Headache,” he murmured to whoever had rudely disturbed his peaceful sulking. He didn’t really have a headache, but it had always worked when his mother questioned why he was just lying silently in the dark.

            “It looked like you were smothering yourself.”

            “Impossible,” Harry sighed, trying and failing to place the somewhat familiar voice. “I’d lose consciousness first and loosen my grip, thus allowing oxygen to flow again.”

            The visitor said nothing and Harry began to think he left. Peeking one eye open, he saw that he was wrong. Louis was still standing beside him, expression on his face unreadable in the dark. Not that Harry took that long to study him, sitting up quickly (and, wow, he hadn’t moved ‘quickly’ in a while either) and fixing his hair.

            “Oh, hey,” he said.

            “Hey,” Louis said. “Are you okay?”

            “I’m in a mental institution, Louis.”

            “I mean as okay as possible,” Louis said patiently, sitting on the edge of the bed by Harry’s feet.

            “I’m fine,” Harry said.

            “You don’t have to lie to me.”

            “I just got done talking about my deepest feeling so, no offense, but I would really like to just pretend I’m fine right now.”

            “Okay,” Louis said. “Well, since you’re perfectly fine, can I ask you a favor?”

            “I have no idea what I could possibly do for you, but go for it.”

            “Come keep score for the lads and me? We’re having a ping-pong tournament and I think Zayn and Liam give each other extra points, so an unbiased referee would be lovely.”

            “I guess I could do that,” Harry said after a moment of debate. He really just wanted to stay in the semi-quiet, semi-dark room, but for some reason, he couldn’t say no. Louis smiled.

            “Great!”

            Hopping off the bed, Louis held out his hand for Harry, who gave him a strange look before taking it and allowing Louis to pull him to his feet.

            “Zayn and I play against each other, and Niall and Liam,” Louis explained as they began walking. He had yet to let go of Harry’s hand, but that was okay, Harry supposed. Maybe Louis hadn’t gotten hugged enough as a child or something.

            Great. Twenty-four hours in and he was already playing psychologist.

            “Then the winners will play each other,” Louis continued and, oh yes, ping-pong. “You can play the final victor.”

            “I’m not good at ping-pong. I’ll just keep score,” Harry said.

            “You don’t have to be good to play. Zayn was bloody awful, but now I sometimes fear he’ll beat me. Sometimes.”

            “You’re that good, huh?”

            “No. Just better than Zayn.”

            “It’s not very fair that you play him then, is it?”

            “You and your need for fairness; no wonder you’re depressed,” Louis said, but squeezed Harry’s hand, letting him know he was teasing.

            “I never said I was depressed,” Harry told him.

            “Well, happy people don’t normally try to bleach their insides, Harry.”

            “I didn’t say I was happy either.”

            “So what are you?”

            “Just a bit sad.”

            “A bit sad?”

            “Yeah.”

            “You know what you’re feeling better than anybody, Harry, but I think you went past ‘just a bit sad’ when it got so bad that you felt the only way out was to die.”

            Harry didn’t reply, unsure of what to say, because he couldn’t be depressed. He didn’t have a reason to even be sad, let alone anything worse. Sure, it was a chemical imbalance in the brain or whatever, but Harry wondered about even that. Everyone else that he’d come across with depression had a story; had a reason. They knew why they felt the way they did. But not him, and that was almost worse than the constant sadness.

            “Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Louis asked after a bit of a wait with no response from Harry.

            “Nothing,” Harry said. It was all just too difficult to explain.

            “Okay,” Louis said, and then let go of Harry’s hand as they entered the recreation room. Harry wondered why before telling himself that it didn’t even matter in the least bit.

            The three others in their small group cheered (well, Niall clapped) when they saw them approaching, and Harry assumed they were just happy that Louis was returning, but it was Harry who found himself being pulled into a half-hug by Liam once he was close enough.

            “Glad you joined us, mate!” he said, sounding genuine. Harry gave his best smile, figuring since he’d come to join them, he could at least try not to kill the mood with his negativity, like he’d done to his school friends, whom Harry hadn’t even heard from for a couple weeks. Harry didn’t blame them for keeping their distance, though. He was the bad friend, not them, as Harry had been the one to reject their last few attempts at communication.

***

            Louis was the ping-pong champion, but told Niall, the runner-up, to play Harry and then made it his own duty to give the newbie pointers.

            “You have a good technique going on,” Louis complimented after watching the two play for a couple minutes or so, “but it will be easier to hit the ball with a better force if you hold the paddle like this. Here, I’ll show you.”

            Louis moved Harry’s wrist gently as he readjusted his position, his own smaller fingers curling around Harry’s until he felt confident with his grip.

            “I know it might feel weird at first, but try it out,” he said as he let go of Harry and stepped back.

            The new hold was awkward, but after a few tries, Harry managed to get the ball to the other side, block Niall’s shot, and even earn a point for himself. Liam, Zayn and Louis cheered (they were all each other’s cheerleaders, Harry concluded, but thought it was really nice), and Louis literally bounced over to wrap Harry in a congratulatory hug. It didn’t last long-Harry didn’t even have time to hug back, should he have decided he wanted to-but Louis was a little pink when he pulled away.

            “Sorry,” he said. “I tend to get a little over-excited.”

            “It’s okay,” Harry assured him with a small, unforced smile of his own. “You have a lot of life. I like that.”

            Louis smiled and ducked his head briefly before announcing to the group that it was time to move on to another task, and Harry went along without question. This wasn’t progress, he knew. He was out of bed, sure, and okay, he’d smiled a couple of times, but he still felt twisted inside. His mind still wandered to places it shouldn’t, but maybe he could pretend for just a bit longer.

Chapter Text

            Harry’s individual therapy session was somehow worse than the group talk. His doctor seemed to not believe any of his answers; he didn’t know why he felt like he did or when it started. No, he’d never planned on killing himself, so he gave no warning signs. He really did just decide one night that he couldn’t take it anymore. No, nothing happened to send him over the edge. His parents were lovely.

        Dr. Samson didn’t believe a single word of it and then had the nerve to ask Harry why he was getting anxious when he kept prodding for an answer that the teenager just didn’t have.

            “Do you regret it?” the older man finally asked; his last question for the session.

            “I regret that it didn’t work,” Harry said. Frowning, Dr. Samson wrote something on that notebook in his lap that Harry was already starting to despise.

            Yet, as rough of a day as it was for him, Liam seemed to have had it worse. He arrived late to dinner, and when he took a seat, his plate was piled to the top with more food than anyone should eat in one sitting.

            “Do you need all that food, Liam?” Christian, the nurse in charge of monitoring their table (just for Liam’s portion control, Harry learned) asked when the patient sat himself down roughly and dug in without a single ‘hello.’

            “No,” Liam answered simply, “but I want it, so I’m going to eat it.”

            Christian marked something down in his notebook. All of the staff had notebooks, and it was very unnerving.

            “What happened, babe?” Zayn asked, looking worriedly at his boyfriend. He seemed to be himself, so at least the afternoon hadn’t gone terribly for everyone.

            “They surprised me at therapy with a visit from my parents.”

            He said the word with great disgust and Harry frowned. He didn’t know Liam’s parents, of course, but they seemed supportive. He didn’t think either of them had ever missed a single game, at least not the ones Harry had attended.

            “It went well then?” Louis asked. Liam glared.

            “I hate them.”

            “What happened?” Louis said, more serious then.

            “They asked if they thought I’d be ready to leave a couple weeks early. It’s something they’d been talking to my doctor about, apparently, as my dad wants to get me ready for football tryouts next year.”

            “He does not seriously want you to do that again?” Zayn asked.

            “’Course he does. I told him I don’t think I’m quite ready yet and he got mad. Then I told him I didn’t want to be on the football team again anyway, and he got even madder. My mum started crying, as always, and then they had to leave. My dad said he’d see me in two weeks, so I’m making sure that doesn’t happen.”

            “Liam, no. You’re not making yourself sick over this,” Louis said sternly. “They’re not worth it.”

            “I won’t make myself sick if I eat this, okay?”

            “I didn’t mean by purging. It will just happen.”

            “Leave me alone,” Liam muttered, already working on devouring his second roll. Louis took his tray.

            “Hey!” Liam and Christian said at the same time.

            “He has to learn to control it himself, Louis,” Christian said.

            “Which he isn’t going to do if you guys keep letting him eat until he throws up when that’s what he wants,” Louis said. “I know I don’t have a degree in anything, but I think that it’s never best to sit and watch your friend self-destruct.”

            Without another word, Louis took Liam’s tray and dumped a little over half into the trashcan before bringing it back to him.

            “I don’t want it now,” Liam said grumpily before standing and walking away, ignoring Zayn calling out for him. Louis sighed.

            “Having fun yet?” he asked Harry.

            “I don’t think letting him starve himself is any better than if he’d eaten and got sick,” Harry pointing out worriedly.

            “He won’t starve,” Louis assured him.

            “I’m going to go join him,” Zayn said as he watched Christian walk away-probably to tell Liam’s doctor what had happened-and sneakily wrapped some food in a napkin.

            “Tell him he knows he loves me too much to stay mad at me for long!” Louis called as Zayn went to find his boyfriend. Niall stuck out his bottom lip, reminiscent of a pout and Louis poked it.

            “I know,” he agreed before looking at Harry again. “So you just witnessed a Liam meltdown, though that was relatively mild compared to some. It always happens when his parents come for a session.”

            “He doesn’t like his parents?”

            “They push him to be an athlete, but he wants to be a writer. They’re just very different people, but the parents can’t accept that Liam doesn’t want the life they planned for him before he was even born.”

            “That’s pretty shitty.”

            “I agree.”

            “But they must care about him since they put him in here to get better.”

            “I’m sure they care about him, yeah, but they really had no choice to get him help after he passed out at the game and Liam told the doctor about his…um…habit.”

            “You seem to know everything about everyone,” Harry noted.

            “Not everyone,” Louis insisted.

            “But we know nothing about you.”

            “My name was Jonathan before I changed it to Louis.”

            Niall wrinkled his nose, both he and Harry giving each other a smile and shake of the head.

            “You’re still going with that storyline then,” Harry said.

            “Who said it’s a story?”

            “You said you were originally from France. Jonathan doesn’t sound like a very French name.”

            “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were a name history expert.”

            “Well, now you do.”

            It was Louis’s turn to shake his head, turning to Niall before saying, “Full of shit this one is, Niall.”

            Niall smiled and Harry rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t offended. It was hard to be offended when Louis laid his head on his shoulder, sighing contently as he broke off a piece of his own bread and put it in his mouth.

            After eating, the three decided they would go check on Liam and then head outside. It was a nice night, and Louis told Harry it was important to get as much fresh air as he could so he wouldn’t go crazier.

            “Oh, Harry, wait,” the nurse closest to the exit said as they attempted to leave the cafeteria. Harry had never seen this nurse before and was a little weirded out that she seemed to know who he was.

            “What happened?!” Louis asked, acting way too concerned to be serious. Sure enough, he added, “Did someone break into the cleaning supplies?!”

            Harry snorted, but the nurse, apparently named Angeline, narrowed her eyes.

            “Louis, what Harry did is not something to joke about.”

            “I thought it was pretty funny,” Harry allowed. Angeline then narrowed her eyes at him and marked something in her notebook before continuing.

            “Your mother called during dinner, Harry. We told her we would have you call her when you were finished if you’re up to it.”

            “Oh, yeah, okay,” Harry agreed, looking helplessly at Louis and Niall. Louis smiled.

            “We’ll go check on Liam. Just meet us outside when you’re finished. They showed you the way, yes?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Okay. See you soon. Come, Niall.”

            Louis linked his arm with Niall’s and skipped off. Harry watched for a minute with maybe a hint of a smile on his face before looking back to Angeline, who was giving him quite a strange gaze in return.

            “What?” Harry asked, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

            “Nothing, dear,” Angeline insisted. “Come with me. I’ll take you to the phones.”

            Angeline instructed him on how to get connected if he wished to make a call and then went on her way as Harry waited for his mother to pick up the other line. It didn’t take long.

            “Hello?” she asked with what could only be hope in her voice.

            “Hey, mum,” Harry said, making sure he kept himself sounding at least on the edges of happy.

            “Hi, my baby! How…um…how are you doing?”

            “I’m fine, mum. I’m good.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah. I feel a lot better now.”

            A lot was an overstatement, but since he wasn’t currently looking around for something to off himself with, he figured he could stretch the truth a little.

            “Good. I’m so glad,” the woman said, a bit of hesitation in her voice.

            “How are things at home?” Harry asked.

            “Oh, they’re just fine. Don’t worry about us.”

            “I’m just trying to make conversation, mum.”

            “Yes, of course. How do you like the place so far? Is it nice? Tell me the truth because I’ve already found alternatives if you’re unhappy there.”

            Harry didn’t point out that he was unhappy everywhere.

            “It’s fine.”

            “Do you want to go somewhere else?”

            “No, mum. I’m really okay here.”

            “Good. Terrific. Um…how are the other patients? Have you made any friends yet?”

            “Sort of, I guess.”

            “Well, it’s early, Harry. Don’t stress about it.”

            “I’m not.”

            “I’m glad to hear that. Gemma and your father say hi, by the way.”

            “Tell them I said hi back.”

            “I will. Anyway, I don’t want to hold you up, baby. I just wanted to see if you would be up for a visitor or two on Sunday?”

            “Yeah. That’s fine.”

            “Great. See you then. Call if you need anything, Harry. Do you understand?”

            “I’ll be fine, mum. I love you.”

            “I love you too.”

            Harry held in his sigh as he hung up. He was going to be patient with his mother-it was the least he could do after he’d probably scared a few years off of her life-but it was already getting old, being treated like there was something wrong with him. There was something wrong with him, he knew, but there had been something wrong with him for a while. He felt it all the time; he didn’t need people acting weird and reminding him.

            “Is everything okay?”

            Harry came back to Earth at the sound of Angeline’s voice and realized that he’d been staring at the phone for probably about a minute, not moving.

            “I’m fine,” he assured her before stepping to the side to walk around her and go outside, where he quickly found Louis, laying alone and staring up at the slightly cloudy sky.

            “Where’s Niall?” Harry asked as he lay on his back beside the other boy.

            “He stayed inside with Liam and Zayn. He seems to fear the outside a bit.”

            “Oh.”

            A pause, and then Harry asked,

            “How is Liam?”

            “He’s okay.”

            “I guess that’s good.”

            “Could be worse.”

            There was another pause. Louis was the one to break it that time.

            “Harry?”

            “Yeah?”

            “You know with my joking around and stuff that I’m not like…I’m not making fun of you or anything. I don’t think what you’re going through is funny at all, and if I ever cross a line, you have my full permission to punch me in the face.”

            “No, it’s really okay,” Harry assured the other. “I actually like that you don’t treat me like I’m made of glass. You treat me like I’m normal.”

            “You are normal. You have emotions, and depression is a really strong and complicated one, but it’s still an emotion.”

            “I like the way you think about things,” Harry commented.

            “You’re probably the only one,” Louis said with a small laugh. “I like to think I’m deep and somewhat philosophical, but I’m probably just a proper idiot.”

            “Self-esteem issues?” Harry asked.

            “Um…what?”

            “Are you in here for self-esteem issues?”

            “No,” Louis said. “Why would you think that?”

            “People with good self-esteem don’t usually call themselves idiots.”

            “Yes they do. It’s a joke. My self-esteem is just fine. In fact, I may actually have too much of it.”

            “Are you in here because you love yourself more than you should then?”

            “No. Stop trying to guess what I’m in here for.”

            “Why?”

            “Because I don’t want to tell you.”

            “Why?”

            “Stop asking me why!”

            “I hate that question too,” Harry agreed, scooting closer to Louis without even thinking about it. Louis turned his head and smiled at him briefly.

            “Can I ask you something though?”

            “Go for it,” Harry said, turning his eyes back to the sky, feeling strange under Louis’s gaze.

            “How did your attempt fail? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it did, but you really weren’t messing around.”

            “I wasn’t, but it wasn’t something that was planned out. You know how people tend to think and think about how they want to go and write a note and stuff? That wasn’t me. I had mildly contemplated it before, but never in detail. I never thought I would actually do it. Then, that morning, I woke up and knew from that second that it was going to be a bad day. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. I stayed in bed all day, but I couldn’t sleep it away. I figured then that it was never going away, so I decided to make it stop the only way I knew possible. I just didn’t know what method I wanted. The wrists weren’t guaranteed enough. I didn’t have the energy to make a noose. I didn’t want to jump in front of a car and survive or scar someone for life, and I didn’t think I would be able to drown myself. I saw the bleach and it just felt right. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I was almost…excited?

            ‘Unfortunately, as I paced around, finding something I thought would be fool-proof and easy, I had woken my sister. Also unfortunately, I had forgotten to lock the door. I guess she knocked, but I was in my own world. I didn’t hear her. I’d told everyone that I was sick that day so they wouldn’t force me out of bed, so she thought I fainted or something and just came in and caught me chugging bleach like it was water and I was dehydrated. She wrestled it away from me and held me down while she screamed for my parents and called the ambulance.”

            “That had to have made you so sick.”

            “Yeah,” Harry laughed even though it wasn’t a pleasant memory at all. “I was a disaster. I can still taste the stuff too, and it is quite nauseating.”

            “Remind me to thank your sister for saving your life, should I ever meet her.”

            “You don’t know me well yet,” Harry pointed out. “You may decide you hate me and add me to your list of victims.”

            Louis’s face had turned serious while Harry was talking, but he smiled a bit again at that. Good. That was what Harry had been hoping for.

            “You’re safe from my chainsaw,” Louis assured him.

            “Chainsaw? That’s gross, Louis. You really do have issues.”

            “Deep ones. Maybe you should run while you can.”

            “Mm…nah,” Harry said after pretending to debate for a moment. “The prospect of death doesn’t bother me anyway, clearly.”

            “Harry?”

            “Yes?”

            “I think we should be best friends.”

            “I’m not much fun.”

            “That’s okay. You’re fun to look at.”

            “…Are you flirting with me?”

            “Of course not. There is to be no flirting amongst the crazies.”

            Louis sat up and Harry did too, sitting cross legged and so that their knees were touching.

            “That’s too bad,” Harry said.

            “What is?” Louis asked.

            “That you weren’t flirting.”

            “…Are you flirting with me now?!”

            “Of course not.”

            Another smile broke across Louis’s face and Harry returned it a little.

            “I like your dimples,” Louis complimented.

            “I like your eyes,” Harry replied.

            “Hmm,” Louis hummed.

            “Hmm,” Harry mimicked. Louis smiled again and seemed about ready to say something when a nurse called out,

            “Louis! Harry! Personal space, please.”

            “It’s just our knees,” Louis said. “Human touch is good for mental health, Meredith.”

            “Do you think you’re an expert on mental health now, Louis?”

            “I’ve been here long enough.”

            “I can’t argue with that. Now get inside, boys. It’s reflection time.”

            “Reflection time?” Harry asked. He was sure Myah had said something about it when she’d given him a tour and the outline of his daily schedule, but he felt like it had been towards the end, when he’d spaced out.

            “Yeah,” Louis began, standing and brushing off the back of his pants before offering a hand to help Harry to his feet. Harry accepted it.

            “Reflection is just a wrap-up of the day. You go back to your group that you were with this morning and talk about the day and if you think you progressed, regressed or neither. Then you talk about goals for tomorrow and blah, blah, bull shit.”

            “What group are you with?”

            “If I tell you that, you’ll know what I’m in for.”

            “I was just going to walk you to your room.”

            “Right,” Louis said disbelievingly, bumping into Harry gently.

            “You’re impossible,” Harry sighed teasingly. Louis made a fish face, and Harry gave him a strange look, because really, but then he gave in and let a huff of a laugh escape from him.

            “Have a good reflection!” Louis called as he backed away from Harry, waving before turning around and heading down the hallway opposite of where Harry was going.

            “Good second day then, Harry?” the doctor in charge of his group asked when he walked in. It was only then that Harry noticed he was smiling again.

            Maybe he was crazier than he thought. Maybe Louis wasn’t even real; just a figment of his sick and twisted imagination to help him cope with the pain.

            Okay, so that probably wasn’t true (Harry didn’t think it was true at all, but crazy people didn’t know they were crazy and all that), but even if it was, Harry was completely fine with it; at least until he realized that Louis would be leaving him either way. If he was a figment of his imagination, the medicine he knew he was going to be put on would make him disappear and if he was real, he would be leaving soon anyway. This place was filled with misery and hopelessness, and Louis wasn’t any of that. He didn’t belong there, and he didn’t belong with Harry, who would just let him down like he’d done everyone else he’d cared about in his life.

            And since he’d known Louis for less than twenty-four hours, that realization really shouldn’t have bothered him so much.

 

           

 

           

Chapter Text

            After reflection, the patients had some down time to grab a snack and watch TV or something before taking medicine and going to bed. Harry was planning on skipping right to the ‘bed’ part. If they wanted him to take medicine that badly, they could drag him out of bed, but he wasn’t going to be herded in like a sheep for drugs he didn’t even want to take.

            “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”

            Harry stopped with one hand on his and Liam’s door, ready to push it open, and sighed, turning to face Louis, who was slowly getting to his feet on the other side of the hall. He’d clearly been waiting for him.

            “And why not?” Harry asked. He liked Louis, but he was tired and after recently coming to the conclusion that Louis would be gone soon anyway, he wasn’t looking to get any more attached.

            Before answering, Louis glanced around, verifying that no one seemed to be paying attention.

            “Because Liam and Zayn are having a moment,” he explained as he got closer to Harry, whose mouth made a little ‘o’ of understanding.

            “We can hear you,” Zayn called from behind the door.

            “Stop talking!” Liam and Louis said at the same time. Louis giggled as Harry’s face turned red, and laced their hands together. “Come on. I’ll save you,” he told him, leading him down the hallway into a different bedroom.

            “This is your room then?” Harry asked.

            “Yeah,” Louis said simply. “We can go out and do something if you want, but given that you were headed to your room, I didn’t think entertainment was what you had in mind.”

            “No, I mean, yeah, I don’t really want to go out there.”

            “I didn’t think so. You can sleep on the other bed if you want. I don’t have a roommate right now, so it’s clean and everything.”

            “Sounds amazing,” Harry said as he climbed on top of the covers and buried his face in the pillow, letting out a content sigh against its coolness. He really was so tired, and usually he was an expert sleeper, able to fall asleep anywhere at any time, but, for some reason, he couldn’t then. It wasn’t really because of Louis. Respectfully, he wasn’t making a sound. It was almost like he wasn’t even there, but Harry was hyper-aware to his presence and while it wasn’t a bad thing, it still kept him too keyed up to sleep, so eventually he gave up and sighed again, rolling onto his back and staring at the ceiling for a minute or so before sitting up.

            “Something wrong?” Louis asked, leaning against his headboard and picking at his pants.

            “No,” Harry said. “How was reflection?”

            “I didn’t go.”

            “You didn’t go?”

            “I never go.”

            “You mean you don’t have to go to those things?”

            It would have been very nice to know that before, Harry thought.

            “You’re supposed to, but it’s not like they can literally force you to do anything.”

            “Really?”

            “Why, yes, really. Using physical force would be against the law.”

            “Is that the case with everything else here?”

            “Yes, but I recommend you go, Harry.”

            “But you don’t.”

            “I’ve also been here longer than I think you want to be.”

            “How long?”

            “Too long.”

            “You’re so secretive,” Harry commented. Louis simply smiled and changed the subject.

            “If you’re not going to sleep, we might as well go out there. They’ll be calling for pills soon and they get mad if they have to search for you.”

            “Great. I’m so looking forward to this,” Harry said sarcastically, but threw his legs over the bed, prepping himself to stand anyway.

            “Were you on anything before?” Louis asked.

            “No.”

            “Hmm.”

            “Hmm what?”

            “Nothing.”

            Harry gave Louis a strange look, but let it slide, getting to his feet as the other guy did.

            “Hey Louis?”

            “Yeah?”

            “How long are you going to be here?”

            “Longer than you, I’m sure,” Louis said, “so you better get used to me.”

            “That might be hard. You’re a bit much,” Harry teased, but he didn’t miss the way Louis’s smile faltered and dimmed.

            “I’m sorry about that.”

            “Louis, I was joking.”

            “Oh.”

            After a moment, Louis’s smile came back.

            “Yeah, I knew that,” he added. Harry didn’t really think he did and instead of waiting for Louis to take his hand again, he slid his own into the other’s. Louis met Harry’s eyes just briefly, then smiled and looked away, blushing. Harry felt pride in that. He’d never made someone blush before.

            “Does it make me a terrible person if I say that I’m really glad you’ll be here for a while?” Harry asked. “Just because you’ll be with me.”

            “No,” Louis said, voice a bit softer. He coughed to clear his throat. “It does mean you have much deeper issues than I previously thought, though.”

            Louis and Harry quickly found Niall in the rec room, and Liam and Zayn joined right as the nurses began passing out medicine.

            “Feel better now, Li?” Louis asked, voice innocent but eyes revealing something else.

            “Hush,” Liam muttered while Zayn looked quite pleased with himself.

***

            It was somewhat easier for Harry to wake up the next morning; not much, but a bit. It was harder for Liam. Zayn tried to wake him with gentle kisses and face strokes, which Myah pretended to be unaware of, but when that failed, Louis marched in, clapped his hands and shouted,

            “Liam, drop and give me twenty!”

            “Wha-?! Yes, sir!” Liam slurred sleepily, hastily ripping the covers off his body and standing unsteadily, his mind having woken up much more quickly than his body.

            “Just kidding, silly boy,” Louis said in a chipper voice, bouncing forward to pinch one of Liam’s cheeks. Liam scowled. “Time to get ready to eat!” Louis announced, voice higher pitched than normal. “Doesn’t that sound like so much fun?!”

            “I’m not three,” the other guy grumbled, stretching his arms above his head, though his eyes had yet to open fully.

            “So grumpy in the mornings! He’s precious,” Louis cooed before turning from him and hopping on Harry’s bed. “How are you feeling this morning?” he asked, tapping Harry’s nose with his index finger.

            “I’m fine,” Harry said and he didn’t think he managed a smile that time, but at least he had tried.

            “‘Fine’ is a word that actually means the opposite of its dictionary definition, unless we are talking about one’s physical appearance,” Louis said. “Now, I don’t think you were talking about your physical appearance, but if you were, then you would be accurate.”

            Harry thought he blushed then, but if so, at least Louis didn’t notice, as he was too distracted and amused by the way Liam and Zayn’s mouths had fallen open.

            “Double date next outing, yeah?” Zayn asked once he had somewhat come out of his shock.

            “If Louis behaves well enough to go,” Liam added. Harry was about to ask for further explanation, but Louis spoke before he could.

            “Go, stinky teenagers; get your showers so we can eat. I’m hungry.”

            “I might die of starvation,” Liam, who had stubbornly refused snack last night, added.

            “I won’t let this kill you,” Zayn said, seriously. Louis just smiled.

            “Meet me in the dayroom when you’re done, yes?”

            “They just started getting us up. How are you already ready?” Harry asked.

            “Couldn’t sleep,” Louis said.

            “As usual,” Liam commented.

            “So insomnia?” Harry asked, trying to think of what Louis could have been admitted for that involved that disorder.

            “No. I find time to sleep during the day. I’m a vampire. Now enough talking!”

            With that, Louis left. The three others looked at each other and shrugged before obeying Louis’s wishes.

            Harry was in the dayroom before the couple and Niall, which surprised him. He was kind of glad, though. He liked all of the boys, but he also kind of (really) liked having Louis to himself too.

            “Your hair is so dark and pretty,” Louis commented as Harry took a seat next to him on the couch, the smaller boy running his fingers through the other’s wet hair.

            “Thank you.”

            “Mm. So tired,” Louis yawned then, scrunching his legs up so he could lie across the couch, head in Harry’s lap.

            “Why couldn’t you sleep last night?” Harry asked, beginning to play with Louis’s hair instead of the other way around.

            “I’m just a day sleeper.”

            “Aww, are you afraid of the dark?”

            “Very.”

            Harry couldn’t tell if Louis was being serious or not, so he dropped his own teasing tone.

            “You need a roommate to protect you then.”

            “They should have put you with me instead of Liam.”

            “Why didn’t they? I don’t know what you’re in for, but our problems are probably more similar than mine and Liam’s.”

            “Our problems actually have nothing to do with who we’re roomed with. It’s more of an availability thing, and my roommate’s last day was your first.”

            “Guess I should have waited one more day.”

            “But something may have happened where you were successful, and I wouldn’t want that. You might, still, but I hope one day you’re glad that you’re alive.”

            Harry didn’t give a reply. He didn’t have to.

***

            Every day, the patients had to attend either an arts and crafts class or creative expression. That day was arts and crafts, and Harry was glad, as they weren’t questioned as to why they created what they did or what they thought it meant. Arts and Crafts was much more relaxed; much more childish, but Harry thought it was worth it.

            Unlike their group therapy sessions, their special activity groups changed, as it promoted creating more friendships or something like that.

            During breakfast, Louis was approached by a nurse and informed that his group had been rescheduled for the day; he was now to join Harry in his group.

            “What the hell?” Zayn asked as the nurse walked away, smiling.

            “No idea,” Louis said, shoving a part of his bagel into his mouth.

            “I first saw you in Arts and Crafts,” Liam commented to his boyfriend. “You chucked your glue stick at someone’s head and stormed out, and I immediately fell in love.”

            “That was the first time you saw me?!” Zayn asked, looking horrified.

            “Yes,” Liam admitted.

            “That’s why you left secret admirer notes by my door?!”

            “Aww,” Harry only half teased while Liam blushed and went back to his oatmeal.

***

            “Louis!”

            As they entered the room that had been assigned for their Arts and Crafts group, both Louis and Harry looked quickly to the doctor in charge of monitoring their activity.

            “What did I do?” Louis asked, frowning.

            “Nothing. I’m just surprised to see you,” she commented, expression unreadable.

            “My group got changed,” Louis explained.

            “Yes, I know that. I’m glad you’re joining us, Louis.”

            The boys looked at each other, Louis giving a shrug before heading towards a table. Harry followed.

            “What’s your favorite color?” Louis asked, surveying all the available supplies.

            “Blue,” Harry said. “What’s yours?”

            “Red,” Louis answered nonchalantly as he pulled some blue string from a bead kit.

            “We’re allowed to have that?” Harry asked.

            “The string? Yeah, but don’t get too excited. It’s the kind they make baby jewelry with, so it snaps easily.”

            “I wasn’t getting excited. What are you making?”

            “Something that you will probably hate.”

            “I don’t think I’ll hate it. Why would you say that?”

            Louis shrugged. Harry sighed dramatically, but Louis was too lost in his own little world to really care, so Harry pretended to busy himself while attempting to sneak glances at whatever Louis was putting together.

            “Okay,” Louis finally spoke after what seemed like forever but really wasn’t long at all. “It’s finished.”

            Harry turned and, shyly, Louis handed him the bracelet he’d made. On the blue string was a bead of a dog, a heart, then L-O-U followed by an anchor and then I-S, with another heart and dog to finish it off.

            “It’s so you won’t forget me once you’re sprung,” Louis explained.

            “I love it,” Harry assured him genuinely, “but I just got here. I don’t think I’m leaving anytime soon.”

            “Yeah, well, I don’t usually go to Arts and Crafts, so…”

            “Do you go to anything?”

           “I sleep during the day, remember?”

            “I guess we’ll have to fix that so you can attend your sessions and get out of here.”

            “What if I don’t want to get out?”

            “You want to just stay in here?”

            Again, Louis shrugged. Taking the hint, Harry changed the subject.

            “So are dogs your favorite animal?”

            “Yeah, I guess. I’ve never had one, but I think it would be nice.”

            “And what does the anchor mean?”

            “You sound like a psychologist,” Louis pointed out with a smile, but then answered anyway. “I just liked it.”

            “I like it too,” Harry agreed, slipping the bracelet carefully onto his wrist. “You need one too, you know.”

            “Oh, do I?”

            “Yeah.”

            Harry worked quickly, unsure how much time he had left, but luckily he finished with a little time to spare. He had used red string and the same beads as Louis, but with cats instead of dogs and a rose instead of an anchor, spelling out his own name onto Louis’s bracelet. The way Louis smiled when Harry slipped it onto his left wrist (it had to be the left) made Harry want to kiss him.

***

            Once their Arts and Crafts session was over, Louis walked Harry to his scheduled therapy session. It went okay, he supposed. Dr. Samson talked much less that time; letting Harry talk as much or little as he wanted and marking in his notebook, expression flat.

            By mid-afternoon, Harry was growing tired physically and emotionally, and he wanted nothing more than to bury himself under his covers again, but instead, he went to the rec room to see if he could find his group of, for lack of a better word, friends. When Louis saw him approaching, he smiled widely and bounced over.

            “You decided to join!” he pointed out unnecessarily.

            “I did,” Harry said anyway. “Is that okay?”

            “No, of course not,” Louis said, winking before slipping his hand into Harry’s and leading him closer to the others.

***

            Harry was glad he skipped laying in the dark alone for hanging out with the boys, he really was. Seeing Louis smile-and having him give him an occasional touch on the arm or hand- was worth it, but his sore body wasn’t too happy with him, and was now preventing him from sleeping, even though ‘lights out’ had been almost thirty minutes ago and Liam’s light, even breathing was making his eyes grow heavy. Again, Harry typically had no problems falling asleep. Perhaps his body was in shock.

            Or perhaps he couldn’t get a certain blue-eyed boy with a stupidly perfect fringe out of his head.

            Louis would be awake now too, Harry knew, if what he said about not sleeping at night was true, which it probably was. Louis was alone in his dark room, unable to sleep; and, in turn, Harry couldn’t sleep either.

            Sighing quietly, Harry sat up and rubbed his eyes. Getting in trouble at the mental hospital was something he should avoid, he knew, but this not falling asleep thing was about to drive him completely mad and there was only one way he thought might remedy it.

            “Going somewhere?”

            Harry’s feet had just touched the ground when a voice from over by Liam’s bed made him gasp and spin, trying to see through the dark who had spoken when he knew it wasn’t Liam. His roommate had started his light snoring, which luckily never got too loud, but that signaled he was completely out of it for the rest of the night.

            “Relax,” the mystery intruder spoke again, in a whisper. “It’s just me.”

            “Zayn?”

            “Yeah.”

            “When did you get in here?”

            “Sometime while you were violently beating your pillow. Are you okay, man?”

            “Fine. Just couldn’t sleep and since Louis apparently doesn’t sleep at night, I thought I might go see what he’s up to.”

            Zayn was quiet for so long that Harry thought he fell asleep sitting up and staring at him, which was kind of creepy, but then he said,

            “Good idea. I’ll fix your bed for you so it looks like you’re still in it, so you don’t have to hurry back.”

            “You have lots of experience with this, don’t you?”

            “Yes.”

            “Cool. Thanks. So…how do I get to his room without getting caught?”

            “Honestly, that’s more luck than anything, though there is some skill involved. I recommend crawling, and keep your eyes up and your ears open. If you see or hear anything, take shelter in the nearest bedroom until you count to at least fifty. And of course, be very, very quiet. Seriously, don’t even sniffle.”

            “Right,” Harry said, feeling less confident already. “See you later then, if I don’t get kicked out.”

            “You won’t get kicked out. No one is that lucky.”

            Harry flashed Zayn a quick smile that he may not have even been able to see and then dropped to his hands and knees, hoping his heartbeat was only loud to his own ears.

***

            By some miracle, Harry made it to Louis’s room without even being close to busted and he let out a breath that he’d held in for an impossible amount of time before rising to his feet.

            Louis’s back was turned to him, and Harry wasn’t one hundred percent sure that he was asleep, but approached anyway. Louis shifted, pulling his sheets closer to his chin, and Harry reached out his hand, gently touching Louis on the shoulder.

            Louis screamed like he’d thrown him from the bed.

            As feet ran down the hall, Harry raced to the other side of Louis’s bed and dropped onto his stomach, holding his breath again and hoping for the best.

            “Louis?” a female nurse inquired, worriedly. “Was that you, dear?”

            “No, ma’m,” Louis answered after a slight hesitation. “It wasn’t me.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “I think I would know if I had screamed like a banshee, Celine,” Louis said with a small laugh. His voice quivered a little and he cleared his throat.

            “Alright,” Celine said, not sounding completely convinced. “Go back to sleep, then. Everything is fine.”

            “Okay. Good night, Celine.”

            “‘Night, sweetheart.”

            Harry kept holding his breath as he heard the nurse’s footsteps fade. A few moments after he couldn’t hear them anymore, Louis’s bed creaked as the other boy leaned over just enough to see who was hiding in his room.

            “Hello?” he asked, apparently unable to make out Harry in the dark.

            “Hello,” Harry said back. “It’s Harry.”

            “Oh.”

            Louis’s voice clearly held relief.

            “You scared the piss out of me,” he said.

            “I couldn’t tell,” Harry muttered sarcastically, standing just enough to slide into bed with Louis.

            “Sorry,” the boy said, “but shouldn’t it be obvious to not sneak up in the middle of the night on someone who is afraid of the dark?”

            “So you really are afraid of the dark?”

            “A bit,” Louis admitted, shifting uncomfortably. “Is that totally dumb?”

            “No. You can’t help what you’re afraid of. But won’t they let you use a nightlight if you’re scared?”

            “I refuse to be a seventeen-year-old boy who has to sleep with a nightlight.”

            “So you just don’t sleep?”

            “I sleep...”

            “During the day.”

            “Yes. And you can’t tell anyone about this, okay?”

            “I won’t.”

            “Promise?”

            “Cross my heart.”

            “Good. Thank you. So what are you doing in here anyway?”

            “I come to help you sleep.”

            “And how do you plan on doing that?”

            “I’m not exactly sure yet, but I have a few ideas. Here, lie down and face the door.”

            Reluctantly, Louis obeyed.

            “Close your eyes,” Harry instructed.

            “I don’t want to.”

            “I’m right here, Louis.”

            A noncommittal noise came from the other.

            “Are your eyes closed?” Harry asked.

            “Yes.”

            “Okay.”

            Harry laid down as well, and risked touching Louis again, this time to rub gentle, but firm circles on his back.

            “My mum used to do this when I was little and couldn’t sleep,” Harry explained.

            “Are you insinuating that I am like a small child?” Louis asked.

            “No, just that I am adopting you, so you are my baby and I must help you sleep.”

            “You’re adopting me?”

            “Yes. I know you don’t have a family, given that you killed them.”

            “Hmm.”

            “Hmm. You say ‘hmm’ a lot.”

            “Mhm.”

            “So what was that ‘hmm’ about?”

            “Nothing. It’s just that…if you’re adopting me, then I really should not be having some of these thoughts about you.”

            Suddenly, Harry’s face turned hot and he felt…not quite right. Damn it. This was a terrible idea.

            “I hate you,” he announced to the man lying next to him, who laughed.

            “Sorry. Am I waking things up while you’re trying to put me to sleep?”

            “All right, that’s enough of that,” Harry said, shifting as he took his hands off Louis and adjusted his pajama bottoms.

            “No, no, please,” Louis said, a little louder than was safe. He paused before lowering his voice and starting again. “I’ll stop. I’ll be good, but, please….that did feel really good, in an innocent way.”

            “Yeah?”

            “Yeah.”

            So Harry began again, neither of them saying a word that time. Slowly, Louis’s tense back muscles relaxed and, eventually, his breathing pattern changed to a more even, peaceful sound.

            “Louis?” Harry whispered. He received no reply and assumed he had been successful in putting the teenager to sleep. He smiled, but he didn’t stop for another few minutes, wanting to make sure that Louis was out for good.

            He knew after that that he should go back to his room. Even if Zayn could make it look like Harry was still in bed, Harry wasn’t sure he would be completely hidden behind Louis. He could probably be easily seen. But none of that really bothered him much then, and he simply hid behind the other the best he could and closed his eyes, finally falling asleep.

Chapter Text

            Harry woke at five AM, amazed that he had yet to be caught. There was only about an hour and a half left until the nurses started waking everyone, and Harry knew that now he really should be getting back to his room, as there was already more bustling around in the halls, with the employees preparing for yet another day, but he didn’t want to move. Louis was still asleep, but was stirring, and so Harry thought that moving might wake him up.

            So Harry shut his eyes and fell back into a state of half sleep.

            When he came back to consciousness again, Louis had woken, and his eyes were the first things Harry saw. He liked that. Maybe if that was how every morning started, he would have less bad days.

            “Good morning,” Harry croaked and, wow, his voice was really unappealing in the morning.

            “‘Morning,” Louis whispered softly. “You have to leave now, don’t you?”

            “Probably should,” Harry sighed, rubbing his eyes. “Don’t want to though.”

            “Are you sad today?” Louis asked.

            “Not really. Just don’t want to leave,” Harry said, reaching out to touch Louis’s cheek softly, but as gentle as he was, Louis flinched away.

            “What’s wrong?” Harry asked, frowning.

            “Nothing. Why?” Louis asked, but Harry knew that he knew exactly why, so he asked another question.

            “Did someone hurt you, Lou?”

            Harry had touched Louis’s face again, and Louis half closed his eyes, ready to jerk away, but he didn’t. Softly, Harry traced the outline of the other’s cheekbone, waiting for an answer.

            “It doesn’t matter,” Louis finally said.

            “Yeah, it does,” Harry disagreed.

           “I’m fine.”

         “‘Fine’ is actually a word that means the opposite of its dictionary definition, unless we’re talking about physical appearances and all that.”

            Louis narrowed his eyes, apparently not appreciating having his words spit back out at him. Harry blinked innocently, letting his hand fall onto the bed next to him. Louis looked away, biting the inside of his cheeks, trying not to smile.

            “You need to go,” he said, situating himself under his covers again.

            “Kicking me out now, are you?” Harry teased, knowing Louis was right.

            “Yep,” he replied.

            “But I’ll see you later?”

            “I’m not going anywhere.”

***

            Getting back to his room was trickier than getting to Louis’s. Night/early morning workers were getting off as first shifters were coming in. The lady at the middle desk was busy doing whatever she had to do, but still, Harry made it back, albeit three mini heart attacks later.

        Zayn was already gone and Liam still asleep. Harry moved the pillows and blankets his roommate’s boyfriend had put in place for him and crawled in bed himself. He didn’t fall back to sleep, not that he was really trying. He wondered if Louis had drifted off again. Probably not.

***

           “Long time, no see,” Louis commented when Harry found him before breakfast in the dayroom.

           “It has been quite a while,” Harry agreed.

           “Never let that amount of time pass between meetings again,” Louis ordered.

            “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Harry said.

***

            At breakfast, Harry met the fourth of Zayn’s personalities; a guy named Christopher. He was nice, Harry supposed; quiet, but at least it wasn’t Brian, the homophobe.

            Christopher wasn’t the only new person Harry met that morning.

            Despite Zayn not being Zayn, everyone was in a fairly good mood. Liam and Louis were bantering-Louis thought the chocolate muffins were better while Liam insisted that the blueberry ones were heaven on Earth. Christopher was ignoring them, and when Louis found it necessary to chuck a whole half a muffin at Liam, Niall moved to sit by Harry’s empty side, safe from the crossfire.

            “Hi, Niall,” Harry greeted politely. The blonde smiled and waved, but something behind Harry caught his eye and his hand froze in the air, smile wiping from his face as his eyes widened.

            “What?” Harry asked, frowning as well. “What’s wrong?”

            Niall, of course, didn’t answer, just moved his body, trying to hide himself behind Harry.

            “What is it, Niall?” Louis asked, halting the food fight to follow his friend’s gaze. “Oh. Never mind. I see.”

            “What?” Harry asked, personally not seeing anything out of the ordinary.

            “Josh,” Louis said.

            “Josh?”

            “Yeah. He’s the owner’s son. He sometimes comes when he doesn’t have classes to help out and see Niall and such.”

            “But Niall doesn’t like him?”

            “Quite the opposite, actually,” Louis continued. “Niall is in love with him.”

            As if he knew he was being talked about-or maybe he felt Louis and Niall’s eyes on him-a teenager who Harry could only assume was Josh approached the table. Niall squeaked; the first sound Harry had heard him make, besides the occasional clap he gave the others.

            “Hey, you lot are all still here?” Josh asked once he’d sat down in Niall’s previous seat.

            “We knew you would miss us too much if we left,” Louis explained.

            “You are my favorite group,” Josh admitted, “but that’s why I need you all to get out and come to one of my awesome pool parties that I throw every summer.”

            Niall made another slightly tortured noise, perhaps imagining Josh shirtless. It wasn’t very loud; Harry doubted anyone else heard, but Josh turned to Harry anyway, smiling at the teenager hiding behind his shoulder.

            “I am glad you’re still here though, Ni,” he said. “I was worried you’d gotten released already and just chose not to use my number.”

            Niall shook his head quickly. Josh smiled.

            “Still not talking then?” he said, but didn’t wait for a nonverbal reply. “That’s okay. You should be with someone who just knows what you want, need and deserve, you know?”

            Niall turned a very unhealthy shade of red. Josh’s smile widened.

            “So how is everyone else?” he asked after finally peeling his eyes away from Niall once he’d stared fondly for a few more seconds. “Liam, you look a lot healthier.”

            “Is that code for ‘fatter’?” Liam asked.

            “No. I meant your coloring and everything. You look good. You’re getting yourself back on track?”

            “I’m not sneaking out to puke in the rosebushes anymore,” Liam said with a shrug.

            “Good. Glad to hear it. Zayn-”

            “Christopher.”

            “Right. Well that answers my question. Louis…what are you still doing here, mate?”

            “Spying. Sending notes back to the queen. You know, my job.”

            Josh rolled his eyes, smile still on his face.

            “Of course. So silly of me to ask. And I’ve been so rude. Hello, newbie! I’m Josh.”

            Harry realized belatedly that Josh was talking to him and started.

            “Oh, hi, I’m Harry.”

            “Nice to meet you, Harry. You also are invited to my pool party, whenever you’re free.”

            “Thanks…”

            “No problem. Niall is comfortable with you, so you must be a good one. He’s a good judge of character.”

            “Hey, Josh, what are you doing next Friday?” Liam asked.

            “Not sure. Why?”

            “We have an outing, so I was thinking maybe you’d want to come? We could make it a triple date.”

            “Triple date?”

            “Yeah; me and Zayn, Harry and Louis, and you and Niall.”

            Smiling even wider than he had been before, Josh again looked at Niall.

            “See you next Friday then?”

***

            “Do you know why Niall doesn’t talk?”

            It was just Harry and Louis outside again. Liam was in his individual therapy session. Zayn (or Tyler, as they’d last left him) was waiting for him and Niall still couldn’t bring himself to step outside.

            “Post-traumatic stress disorder.”

            “Yeah, I remember that, but…Never mind. It’s not my business.”

            “He saw his grandfather die,” Louis explained. “They were in a car accident. It wasn’t Niall’s fault, but he was driving because he’d just got his learner’s permit, so he still feels guilty, of course.”

            “That’s terrible.”

            “Yeah. They were really close.”

            “That’s so sad. Does that tie into his fear of the outdoors, or…?”

            “Yeah. He likes routine now, and the safety behind walls. Things could still happen, obviously, but it just feels safer for him to be enclosed in a familiar place than out in the open world.”

            “That makes sense.”

            “He’s doing better anyway. He goes on the outings sometimes now. I know he will next Friday.”

            “He and Josh are really cute,” Harry commented. “But they aren’t together?”

            “No. I think Josh’s dad frowns upon him dating patients. I can’t see that stopping them for much longer, though.”

            “I hope not. They deserve to be happy.”

            “Speaking of happiness, how are you adjusting to your pills?” Louis asked, turning to look at Harry instead of up at the sky, like he had been.

            “Okay, I guess,” Harry admitted, trying to sound nonchalant about it. “I don’t really feel much different.”

            “You’re still having those thoughts?”

            “Not, like, intensely…just…every now and then.”

            Louis’s forehead creased with worry. Harry smoothed the lines with his thumb.

            “Don’t worry. I haven’t figured out a way to do it here yet anyway.”

            He had been attempting to make Louis smile, but he hadn’t succeeded.

            “Lighten up,” he tried. “What happened to the jokes?”

            “Are you trying to find a way to die here?”

            “Not actively. Don’t worry, Lou. This isn’t really the place I want to die.”

            Louis studied Harry, frowning again, for an uncomfortable amount of time. Finally, Harry cleared his throat.

            “Anyway…Can I ask you a question now?”

            “Yes, but I won’t promise I’ll answer.”

            “Fair enough.”

            Harry paused for only a moment then.

            “Who hurt you, Louis?”

            Harry figured Louis had probably been expecting that question, and so was surprised when Louis’s eyes widened in shock, his hand going up to subconsciously touch his face, right under his left eye; close to the spot Harry had been tracing earlier. Harry looked closer, expecting to suddenly see a black and blue bruise appear before his eyes, but of course it didn’t. Any traces of mistreatment had long faded from Louis, at least outwardly.

            “You don’t know them,” Louis finally said, and Harry could tell he was trying to sound nonchalant now as well.

            “I didn’t think I did,” he commented.

            “So it doesn’t matter.”

            “You said that earlier. I disagreed then and I disagree now.”

            “I just don’t really want to talk about it, Harry, if that’s okay with you.”

            “Of course. I just have one more thing to say about it, though.”

            “And what’s that?”

            “Don’t ever think you deserved it, Lou.”

            “I don’t.”

            “Good.”

***

            Sunday arrived; visiting day. Zayn’s family was the first to show up, and his mother almost cried when she found out it was her son she was talking to.

            “Stop acting weird, mum. It’s not a big deal,” Zayn had said, though was clearly embarrassed and trying to hide the fact that he was a bit emotional as well. Harry thought it was sweet, though wondered how long it had been since the real Zayn had seen his family.

            Niall’s parent’s arrived soon after, and then Liam’s sister. (His parents apparently had enough ‘visiting’ earlier in the week.) Then came Harry’s mom (and if he had begun to think she’d forgotten, he would never admit it.)

            The boys were all still in the rec room, along with the family members who had arrived, and Harry didn’t miss the huge smile that formed on his mother’s face when she saw that he was out of bed and communicating instead of laying in dark solitude, like he knew she’d thought he’d been doing the whole time.

            “Hey, mum,” Harry greeted, standing from the couch to give her a hug.

            “Hello! How are you doing?!” she asked, hugging him tightly, but only for a few seconds, aware of the other boys staring, curious.

            “I’m okay. Would you like to meet my friends?”

            “Of course!”

            Harry introduced everyone one by one, amazed at himself for remembering the parents’ and siblings’ names as well. It was only after he’d introduced everyone else that he realized someone was missing, and frowned.

            “Where’s Louis?” he asked. He’d been beside him when his mom had first entered the room.

            “He doesn’t usually stick around for family time,” Zayn answered.

            “Oh,” Harry said, hoping his disappointment didn’t show. He turned back to his mom, rubbing the bracelet Louis had made him absently. “Well, there’s usually one more, but apparently not today.”

            “I’m sure he’s lovely anyway,” the woman said. “It’s nice to meet you all.”

            Sundays were, on top of visiting days, cookout days, weather permitting, and since it was a nice day, the group headed outside. Niall was a bit hesitant, but eventually he did step out. Harry was proud.

            He should have been having a great day. There were no torturous therapy sessions that day, spirits were lifted, the food was better and they even had outdoor games to play, but Harry wasn’t having a great day at all. That familiar, heavy tiredness was weighing him down again, hurting his chest, and he was distracted, half of the time yelling at himself inside his head, wondering why he couldn’t just be happy. The other half of the time he spent wondering why Louis had left without a word and wishing he would come back.

            “Do you want me to leave?”

            “What?” Harry blinked himself back into the real world, turning his gaze from the door, which had just opened, emitting someone that wasn’t Louis, to face his mom.

            “I’ll leave,” she concluded and, on top of everything else, Harry then felt guilty.

            “You don’t have to,” he said. “I’m just tired. Sorry.”

            “You don’t need to apologize. You’re sick, I understand.”

            “I’m not sick.”

            “Yes, well…”

            Anne waved her hand.

            “I’ll be back next week. I think Gemma and your father are going to try to come with me then!”

            “Oh, great!”

            Harry had tried to sound excited. He believed he failed.

            “Are you sure you’re okay here?” Anne asked, lowering her voice.

            “Yeah, mum. I like it here.”

            Or, at least, he liked the people there. Some more than others, and one a whole lot so, but still…

            “I hope so, Harry. You know you can tell me anything, right?”

            “Yeah, of course.”

            After his mom said goodbye, Harry stuck around outside for a couple more minutes before saying he needed a nap and made his way inside. Instead of going to his bed, he entered Louis’s room, finding the teenager sitting, knees up, on his bed, concentrating as he read something from a notebook.

            Oh, Harry thought silently, just a tad bit of his disappointment coming back. Louis was busy. It was best not to disturb him.

            “Leaving already?”

            Louis’s voice stopped Harry as he began to step away from the doorway. Hopeful, he turned back.

            “I didn’t want to interrupt,” Harry said.

            “I was just reading the update to Liam’s story, but I’m about finished. You’re not interrupting anything.”

            “Liam is writing a story?” Harry asked, taking a couple steps inside the room.

            “Yeah. He wants to be a writer.”

            “I do think I remember Zayn saying something about that.”

            Louis nodded.

            “Come in,” he said, patting the bed beside him. “Your mum is gone already?”

            “Yeah. Why did you run off like that?”

            “I didn’t run off,” Louis said, “and I figured you’d like some alone time with your mum.”

            “It’s not like we were alone anyway.”

            “Yeah, but the others had families too and…”

            Louis paused and shrugged.

            “I was just tired.”

            “Have you been sleeping?”

            As much as Louis had claimed to appreciate Harry coming into his room that one night, he had insisted it didn’t happen again, adamant that he wouldn’t be the one to get Harry in trouble.

            “Sometimes,” Louis answered. “Anyway, don’t worry about me. How are you doing today? Really.”

            “It’s an off day,” Harry admitted, “but I’ve had worse.”

            “Can I do anything to help?”

            “Nope.”

            Harry laid down by Louis’s side. Louis reached out as if he was going to touch him, and then changed his mind.

            “I’m sorry you felt like you had to come be by yourself today,” Harry commented, closing his eyes. The room was too bright again. How opposite he and Louis were. One craved blackness and one was afraid of the dark.

            Louis didn’t answer Harry, but seemed to be reading his mind because, a moment later, the bedroom light flipped off and Harry heard the creak of a door shutting as far as they were allowed.

            “Lou?” Harry spoke again.

            “I’m here,” Louis said, the bed dipping down as he crawled back in next to Harry.

            “You didn’t have to do that,” Harry commented.

            “You like the dark.”

            “You don’t.”

            “I like you.”

            Despite himself, Harry smiled.

            “You like me?”

            “Mhm. If this were school, I probably would have already thrown one of those cliché ‘check yes if you like me’ papers at your head.”

            “Well, I probably would have checked yes.”

            Again, Louis didn’t reply. Harry reached out blindly, searching, but all he came into contact with was the cold bedsheets.

            “Umm…what are you doing?” Louis asked.

            “Looking for your hand.”

            “Oh. It looked like your arm was having a seizure.”

            Harry closed his hand when he felt Louis place his into his palm. They didn’t say another word for a long, long time after that. They didn’t need to. Their presence was enough.

            They didn’t separate for the rest of the night, until bedtime.

            “Are you sure you don’t want me to come in after a little while?” Harry asked Louis in a hushed voice as he prepared himself to leave the other’s room.

            “I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Louis said.

            “I don’t mind.”

            “Stay in your room. I’ll see you soon, Harry.”

            Holding in a sigh, Harry said good night to Louis and went to his room. To his surprise, Liam was already asleep, so Harry changed and slid into bed as quietly as he could.

            It wasn’t too much later when he felt a body slide in bed next to him, and he started.

            “See? It’s scary when someone sneaks up on you in the dark,” a voice whispered. Louis.

            “At least I didn’t scream loud enough to wake my dead grandmother.”

            “Hush.”

            “What are you doing?” Harry whispered as Louis lay next to him on the bed. “Not that I mind that you’re here.”

            “I don’t want you to get in trouble. However, I do not give a shit about myself.”

            “That’s not good, Louis. You should care about and love yourself.”

            “You know what I meant.”

            Louis scooted closer, face all but pressed into Harry’s chest. Gently, Harry pulled him against his body, playing gently with the back of his hair.

            “So you like me?” he asked Louis, thinking their conversation from earlier needed to be discussed further.

            “Yeah.”

            “Even though you just met me less than a week ago?”

            “Yes.”

            “Even though my hobbies include drinking bathroom bleach?”

            Louis gave a small laugh.

            “I’m definitely going to help you find a more productive hobby, but yeah; I still like you.”

            “Good. I’m glad.”

            “Is that so?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Why?”

            “Why what?”

            “Why are you glad?”

            “Because I like you too.”

            “Even though I killed my family?”

            “I’m sure they deserved it.”

            Louis paused for only a moment.

            “Is this crazy?” he asked then.

            “I don’t think so,” Harry said. “I was admitted into a mental institute, though, so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask.”

            “Well, what are we going to do about this then?”

            “When two people like each other, they usually go on dates.”

            “I can’t really take you on a date for a while.”

            “Rain check then. In the meantime, let’s jump to part two.”

            “Part two?”

            Instead of giving a verbal reply, Harry lifted Louis’s chin with his finger and kissed from his forehead, down the bridge of his nose and, finally, found his lips. It was very forward for him, to be honest, but for the first time in a long time, he felt a spark; he felt alive. Really alive. His heart had picked up speed. He felt more than just a pain or the dulled sadness which he had come to accept was his version of happiness. He felt want, excitement, wonder, fear…and he loved it all.

            The kiss was sloppy, Harry knew that. But Louis was kissing back just as hungrily, and it was dark and they had yet to learn each other’s bodies well, so it wasn’t their fault that sometimes they lost each other’s lips. It didn’t matter anyway, and maybe it was kind of crazy after all, Harry thought, because he felt more at peace here, far away from home in a mental hospital, making out with someone who may or may not be a murderer, than he did surrounded by people who knew him well and loved him. He almost thought he would stay there forever if he could.

Chapter Text

            Neither Harry nor Louis got much sleep that night. Once they’d finally stopped kissing, Harry drifted off for a bit, but was woken when he felt a pair of lips on his own again. It was just a soft, quick peck with no other motive, but Harry didn’t mind, even if he couldn’t fall back to sleep again after that. He was perfectly fine mildly dozing in between kisses.

            Louis crept back to his room at about four in the morning, and though he felt ridiculous, Harry was worried about him, and not only because he could get in trouble. He didn’t like to think of him crawling blindly back to his room when he was already uncomfortable in the dark. From that point on, Harry would just have to sneak to Louis’s room, no matter what he said.

            That morning at breakfast, Louis sat just a little bit closer to Harry than normal. It wasn’t even noticeable to anyone else, this change, but Harry felt it, and while some of his usual sadness and unexplainable exhaustion was back, it wasn’t unbearable. He still felt more alive than he had in…well…a year or more.

            “I’m in your Arts and Crafts session again,” Louis noted after looking at the schedules they each received.

            “And we have the same Creative Expression tomorrow,” Harry noted.

            “Why do they separate Zayn and me, but keep you two together?” Liam asked with a small frown.

            “Probably because that’s the only way Lou will go,” Zayn reasoned.

            “No,” Louis disagreed. “I mean, yes it is, but I think it probably has more to do with the fact that Harry and I haven’t been caught getting dirty in the bedroom.”

            “Haven’t been caught,” Zayn repeated, putting extra emphasis on the last word and waggling his eyebrows.

            “Shut up, Tyler,” Louis said. Oh. Harry really needed to get better at the whole knowing when Zayn wasn’t himself thing.

***

            Louis was greeted into the Arts and Crafts room with another big smile and excited ‘hello’ from the doctor.

            “The staff really likes you,” Harry commented as Louis led him to a table again; this time, it was the painting table.

            “They’ve had to learn to like me, as they’re probably not getting rid of me until I’m eighteen.”

            “When is that?”

            “December. How old are you anyway?”

            “Sixteen.”

            “So young.”

            “It’s not much younger than you.”

            “It is though. I’m too old for you, I now fear.”

            Harry stared, trying not to yell his protest, but he didn’t like what he was hearing at all. Then, Louis actually had the audacity to smile.

            “You’re a tease. It’s not funny,” Harry said, sounding much younger than sixteen in that instance.

            “I was joking, and I do find it quite funny, to be honest.”

            Oh, of course. He was joking. Harry should have known that. Louis was hardly ever serious. But Harry couldn’t help that he was developing a fear of Louis walking away from him, which maybe wasn’t fair to either of them because, while they’d admitted their feelings and done a fair amount of kissing, Louis wasn’t officially his. Maybe he didn’t want to be. If that was the case, Harry didn’t want to know.

            “You’re mean,” he finally told Louis, who gently pinched his thigh under the table.

            “Nothing’s changed,” he assured him then, quietly. Suddenly, Harry felt much lighter.

***

            “What time is your personal therapy session?” Harry asked as he and Louis left Arts and Crafts a while later. Harry’s session was still a little over an hour away, and he decided if Louis didn’t have to go to his, then he would stay up and they could do something together. If so, Harry would just go back to bed. That was fine too.

            “I dunno,” Louis answered the question.

            “You don’t know?” Harry repeated.

            “Right.”

            “Well, maybe you should check.”

            “Why? I’m not going anyway.”

            “And why not?”

            “I’m going back to sleep.”

            “Lou, I thought the whole point of us spending nights together was so that you would sleep and be able to go to your sessions during the day?”

            “I thought the point was that we liked each other and wanted to spend nights together?”

            “Well, yeah, of course; that too. But you need to go to your sessions.”

            “It’s not like either of us slept much last night anyway, Harry.”

            “True, but we can nap in between. You need to go.”

            “December isn’t that far away. I’ll be fine in here until then.”

            “Okay, but what about when you turn eighteen and you have to leave? If you’re not participating, you’re not getting better.”

            “I’m good, Harry, don’t worry. Just focus on you, okay?”

            The two had reached Louis’s room, but Harry refused to let Louis lead him to the bed, knowing that if he laid down, he would shut down and Louis would, again, be successful in changing the subject from himself.

            “No,” he said defiantly.

            “No?” Louis asked. Harry sighed.

            “Lou…what’s going to happen to you once I get released?”

            “I’ll be right here, doing what I’m doing now, until December and then I’ll be put in a halfway house or something until I find someplace that wants to hire a newly freed mental patient.”

            “And that’s it?”

            “What do you mean?”

            Harry didn’t like the way Louis was looking at him with that frown and furrowed eyebrow, as if he suspected him on the verge of a mental break, though, personally, he knew his feelings were irrational. He had no reason to be angry at Louis. His recovery had nothing to do with Harry.

            “Harry?” Louis prodded when the other teenager hadn’t responded.

            “What’s going to happen to us once I get out?” Harry asked, voice small; half not wanting Louis to hear him. Louis did, though, and while his shoulders drooped, he kept his voice upbeat as he said,

            “You’re welcome to visit if you want, but I’m sure you’ll be perfectly fine going back to your other, normal friends.”

            “Perfectly fine, like I was before?” Harry asked sarcastically, but he didn’t give Louis a chance to reply. “I said I liked you, Louis,” he continued. “And you said the same to me. Maybe it didn’t mean anything to you, but it meant something to me.”

            “Of course it meant something to me,” Louis finally said after a noticeable hesitation.

            “Really?” Harry asked, disbelieving, and a little harsher than was necessary.

            “Of course!” Louis exclaimed, trying to match Harry’s angry tone, but voice not quite reaching it. He cleared his throat, trying to hide the slight quiver. Immediately, Harry’s anger faded and he felt guilty; something that was becoming quite common.

            “Shit, I’m sorry, Lou,” he said, sincerely, suddenly wishing he’d just gone to bed. “Just…sorry.”

            He turned, trying to make a beeline from the room and go bury himself under his own bed sheets, but before he even had one foot outside of the door, he felt a hand wrap around his wrist, tugging him back.

            “Where do you think you’re going?” Louis demanded.

            “Bed,” Harry answered, not looking up until Louis lifted his chin with his finger.

            “I don’t think so” he said, a somewhat odd tone to his voice, but before Harry could question it, Louis had dragged him behind the door, pressed him against the wall and placed a hard kiss to his lips.

            “Am I bad for you, Harry?” he asked when he pulled away, hands still pressing against Harry’s shoulders.

            “No. Why would you think that?”

            “You’re not happy.”

            “I wasn’t happy before I got here. That’s why I’m here.”

            “Yeah, I know, but I wasn’t the reason for your unhappiness then.”

            “You’re not now either. I freaked out a little, and I’m sorry, but it wasn’t because of you. You’re the only reason I’ve felt something besides this craziness the past week.”

            Louis studied Harry’s face very carefully. Then, it was his turn to say, “Really?”

            “Really,” Harry assured him, leaning forward to kiss Louis that time.

            “Will you go to your therapy session though?” Harry asked after they’d quietly observed each other’s facial features for a minute or so, memorizing them.

            “Will you give me another kiss first?” Louis asked. Harry happily complied.

***

            After walking Louis to his session (and sneaking another kiss-just on the cheek), Harry went back to his room, surprised to find Liam there, lying on his bed.

            “Hey. Are you okay?” Harry asked, climbing underneath his own covers.

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” Liam said. Harry wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, but he wasn’t going to try to force him to talk. Liam didn’t give him a chance to anyway.

            “So are you and Louis, like…together now or something?”

            “‘Or something,’” Harry replied.

            “Oh,” Liam said.

            “Is there something wrong with that?” Harry asked when he didn’t elaborate.

            “No, of course not,” Liam answered. “Just be careful. We’re not supposed to form romantic relationships in here.”

            “You and Zayn did it and, no offense, but you two aren’t very secretive.”

            “Yeah, but I have no doubts that that’s why they’re trying to get me released as soon as possible.”

            “They can’t release you before you’re ready though, can they?”

            “Yeah, they can, and they probably will, but that’s okay. Zayn does better when we’re not trying to hide, and as long as they keep him until he’s good and ready, it’s a risk I’m totally okay with taking.”

            “You love him.”

            “Yeah. But anyway, enough about Zayn and me. You really like Louis then?”

            “Yeah, I do.”

            “Good. I know he really likes you too.”

            Louis had already told Harry that, of course, but it was still nice to hear it from someone else.

            “Has he said anything?” Harry asked, unable to stop himself.

            “No. He doesn’t have to say it.”

            “Liam?”

            “Yeah?”

            “Is he okay?”

            “I think so. Does he not seem okay?”

            “No, he seems totally fine, but that’s what’s weird to me. I mean, he has to be in here for some reason, doesn’t he?”

            “He does, but it could just be something stupid, like getting busted with pot or partying too hard or something. Parents throw their kids in here for just being kids sometimes, if they can’t handle it.”

            And then there were people like Liam, who actually had a real, serious problem, but whose parents couldn’t wait to bring him home and have control over him again, Harry realized. The world was truly fucked.

            “Have you ever met his parents?” Harry asked.

            “No. They don’t come to visit, and Louis doesn’t talk about them.”

            “But you think they’re…alive?”

            Liam laughed at that.

            “I don’t think he killed them if that’s what you’re asking. Louis may act like he’s tough shit, but I have seen him actively throw up at the site of blood, so I don’t think he would have the stomach to slaughter those who actually share blood with him.”

            Harry laughed a little, though felt a twinge of sympathy for Louis as well. He didn’t know why he was feeling sympathy, necessarily, but it felt like an accurate emotion to have anyway.

***

 

            Harry was in therapy when Louis got out of his session, but the older teen was waiting for the other on his bed. Harry smiled a little at the discovery.

            “How did it go?” Louis asked as Harry quickened his pace to join him.

            “You first,” Harry said, placing a kiss on Louis’s lips before laying his head down on his pillow, eyes still on the other guys’ wonderful face.

            “It was okay,” Louis said nonchalantly as he began to play with Harry’s hair. He seemed to like to do that, but that was okay because Harry liked when he did that too.

            “Care to elaborate?” Harry asked.

            “Not particularly. Now how was it for you?”

            “It was okay.”

            “You’re a little shit.”

            “I know.”

            “I’m not going tomorrow, just so you know.”

            “So it was more on the bad side of okay, I’m assuming.”

            “Okay just means okay. Not good, not bad.”

            “Like, in the middle.”

            “Exactly.”

            “Or maybe closer to bad.”

            “No.”

            “Okay.”

            “A comfort kiss would be nice though.”

            Propping himself up on one arm, Harry used his free hand to pull Louis’s face closer to his so he could press a good, long kiss on his lips.

            “I want you to be better than okay, Louis,” he said once they pulled apart, bringing the other into a laying position alongside him. Louis moved so that his head was resting against Harry’s shoulder.

            “I’m great,” Louis said. “Therapy wasn’t, but I am.”

            “I’m not sure I believe that.”

            “Just trust me.”

            “I think I trust you with everything except yourself.”

            “You know, Harry?” Louis asked, sitting up and running his fingers through his hair. “I like you, but I don’t like when you think too much. It’s not good for you.”

            “Well, I wouldn’t have to think so much if you would just talk to me.”

            “My lips are good for better things than talking.”

            With that, Louis climbed atop of Harry, straddling him as he kissed his way from Harry’s lips to his neck, collarbones and shoulders. Harry’s eyes darted to the door-they were going to get busted, he just knew it-but he didn’t really care. He would work on Louis later, but it was hard to press the matter of conversation when Louis’s soft, gentle lips were all over the most sensitive parts of his body.

            Louis was evil and Harry loved it.

***

            “Are you feeling better, honey?”

            “Yeah, mum. I’m good.”

            Truthfully, Harry hadn’t really made much progress from when he first entered, but he felt better than when she had been visiting, so he wasn’t really lying.

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah. Stop worrying so much, mum. I’m safe here.”

            “I want you safe and happy, Harry.”

            Harry was pretty sure he heard his mother’s voice crack, and swallowed. He didn’t want her to be upset. Maybe he should have thought of that beforehand, he thought, but he hadn’t been mentally capable of concentrating on anything but his own pain.

            Harry was so selfish.

            Harry was a terrible son.

            He was a terrible person.

            Harry wanted to hurt himself.

            Cheeks burning, as if his mother could read his thoughts over the phone, Harry cleared his throat and shook his head, making sure to put cheer into his voice when he spoke again.

            “So when are you visiting again?!”

            His mother paused. Maye Harry had added a little too much cheer.

            “I was going to come Sunday with your dad and sister, if that’s all right,” she finally answered and, oh yeah, she had already told him that last time she was there. Add ‘forgetful’ to the list of things that made up Harry.

            “Of course it’s all right,” Harry said.

            “Okay. Great. I’ll let you go now, baby, but I’ll see you then.”

***

            “Hey, how is your mu-What’s wrong?!”

            Harry had thought he had been holding himself together pretty well, but at the simple harmless question Louis asked, his tears immediately started coming. He wanted to be embarrassed, but he couldn’t, at least not then.

            “I’m a terrible person,” Harry voiced his earlier thought out loud as he crawled into Louis’s bed next to him. (Why was he in Louis’s room? He had been planning on going straight to his own.)

            “No you’re not,” Louis said. “Why would you say that?”

            “I upset my mum.”

            “How?”

            “By drinking bleach.”

            “Oh. Well, yeah, Harry, of course it upset her, but you’re not a terrible person. You’re depressed.”

            “I’ve got no reason to be.”

            “It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. You can’t help it.”

            “I should be able to.”

            “You’re not Superman. You’re just human, and that’s like saying Zayn should be able to decide to have one personality, or Liam should be able to shut off the switch in his brain that makes him crave the control bulimia gives him, or that Niall should be able to just stop being traumatized.”

            “That’s not what I’m saying, Louis, that’s stupid,” Harry muttered.

            “If they can’t help their problems, why should you be able to?”

            “Because Liam’s parents are shit, Niall saw his grandfather die and Zayn…I’m sure he has a reason too.”

            “Your chemical imbalance is your reason.”   

            “That’s stupid.”

            Louis took that time to lay himself next to Harry, kissing his cheek before setting his head on the pillow.

            “It’s not stupid. It’s an unfortunate fact of life.”

            Harry sighed, tired of debating the issue. Louis wouldn’t understand. He couldn’t.

            “Sorry for laying this shit on you,” he said.

            “No, don’t apologize for this. I want to make you feel better and I know I can’t, but I still want to try to, like…be here for you.”

            “I’m not leaving this bed,” Harry announced after a slight pause. Louis huffed out a laugh.

            “I don’t think you can get away with that, but I’ll sneak into your room, I promise.”

            “No. I’m not letting you crawl through the dark hallway alone.”

            “I’ll be okay.”

            “Yeah, in the end, but I don’t want you to be afraid.”

            “I won’t be afraid. I know you’ll be there at the end.”

            “Louis?”

            “Yeah?”

            “Thank you.”

            “For what?”

            That was a good question. Harry didn’t know what he was thanking Louis for specifically, but he deserved the gratitude anyway.

            Instead of answering that way and risking sounding like a blabbering idiot, Harry kissed him, some of the moisture from his cheeks coming off on Louis’s face. Harry wiped it off. He knew the tears weren’t Louis’s, but he still didn’t like seeing them there, knowing he’d probably cried more than he would ever let anyone know and hating it, as well as the fact that, as much as Louis wanted to be there for Harry, he wouldn’t let anyone be there for himself.

Chapter Text

            “Good morning, Leemo! Morning, Harry!”

            Harry felt a gentle hand twine its fingers through his hair as the voice belonging to the same person spoke in a much softer tone while saying his name than Liam’s. This was a much more desirable way to wake up than the normal ‘rise and shine’ and the brutal light, Harry thought as he peeked open his eyes to gaze up at Louis’s silhouette. In the dim light, he saw Louis smile down at him.

            “Feeling okay today, cute stuff?”

            “Don’t know yet,” Harry replied, resisting the urge to ask Louis when he’d left his room the previous night and if he’d slept well after Harry drifted off. From the other bed, Liam snored. Louis sighed.

            “This guy, honestly.”

            Harry propped himself up with one arm, watching fondly as Louis went to his room mate’s bed, gently pulled the covers from him and began to tickle his side, creating a snort/laugh/choke to come from Liam’s throat.

            “I was sleeping!” he whined, smacking at Louis, who backed off quickly.

            “Well, it’s time to wake up! Our outing is today and the bus is leaving soon after breakfast, so get up.”

            “No. Am sick.”

            Letting out another sigh, Louis laid his hand on Liam’s forehead.

            “You’re not sick,” he announced, though Harry was frowning, worried. Liam hadn’t really gone out of the room much the past couple of days, always going to bed early. It wasn’t his place to say anything, though, so he left Louis and Liam to bicker at each other for a couple minutes while Harry focused on pulling himself out of bed. Apparently none of them were moving fast enough because Myah entered the room, flipping on the light and causing the two who had just woken up to groan.

            “Louis, I thought you said you were going to do a better job than me at this?”

            “I got Harry up,” Louis defended himself. “Liam says he’s sick.”

            “Oh no, baby, you’re sick?!” Zayn asked, running around the corner and past Myah to enter the room and jump on Liam’s bed, brown eyes wide with concern.

            “No, I’m okay,” Liam said, smiling sleepily at Zayn, who gave him a kiss on the lips, receiving a ‘tsk’ from Myah.

            “Did you…Liam…Harry, did Liam not just say he was sick?!” Louis asked.

            “I just didn’t want to wake up,” Liam said, saving Harry from having to say anything.

            “Do you need me to take your temperature, Liam?” Myah asked.

            “No, ma’m. I’m okay.”

            “Glad to hear it. Now get your showers and head to breakfast and, Liam, Zayn, keep your hands, lips and other body parts to yourselves, please.”

            Clearly not caring about that order, Zayn gave Liam another kiss as soon as Myah had gone off to another room. Also disobeying her orders, Liam wrapped his arms around Zayn and pulled him back into a laying position with him, saying something about needing cuddles and snoozes.

            “Hopeless, these two are,” Louis said to Harry, who gave a small smile.

            “Have you decided how you are yet?” Louis asked.

            “Not yet,” Harry said.

            “It’s hard to decide without breakfast. Come, lads.”

            “Ugh food,” Liam groaned. Zayn gasped dramatically.

            “Oh god, he is sick!” the guy’s boyfriend announced, nibbling on his neck and making him giggle.

            “No,” Liam insisted.

            “Well, Liam, if you’re not on your deathbed, then come on!” Louis said. “It’s triple date day!”

***

            Due to their slowness, Niall was already at the table when the rest of the group arrived, but he didn’t seem too worried, sitting across from Josh and grinning widely at whatever he was saying.

            “Aww, so precious,” Louis commented with a put-on sniffle, hand clutched to his chest.

            “Should we give them a moment?” Zayn asked.

            “No,” Liam said, marching to the table and throwing himself down, his tray holding one lone bagel clattering on the surface. Zayn, Louis and Harry all exchanged glances, but followed.

            “Morning, Niall; Josh!” Louis greeted cheerfully.

            “Good morning,” Josh replied while Niall waved, smile still on his face. Zayn and Harry shared their greetings as well, but other than that, everyone was fairly quiet, trying to eat quickly so they could get ready to leave. Well, most of them were. Liam was simply picking the bread off of his bagel and flicking it away from him.

            “You okay, kiddo?” Christian was the one who asked the question that was on everyone’s minds.

            “Fine,” Liam replied, adjusting his shirt and standing up, tray in hand.

            “Babe?” Zayn asked.

            “Meet me on the bus, love?” Liam asked, forcing a smile and kissing Zayn on the cheek before dumping his tray and heading out.

            “Rough few days?” Josh asked.

            “I didn’t think so,” Zayn said, crestfallen look on his face.

            “He probably just didn’t sleep well last night,” Louis said reassuringly. “He’ll go get some coffee or something and feel better soon.”

            “Yeah,” Zayn said, looking unsure.

***

            As more and more people piled onto the bus, ready to go to the art museum that was the hospital’s plan for them that day, none of those people being Liam, Harry feared that he wasn’t going to show up after all, and he could tell that Zayn feared the same thing. They worried for nothing, though.

            “Li,” Zayn sighed in contentment as his boyfriend hopped onto the bus, spotted him and swung himself into the seat next to Zayn.

            “Hey, babe,” Liam said, voice much cheerier than before.

            “You’re all right?” Zayn asked, taking the other’s hand in his own.

            “Yeah, fine. Sorry about earlier. Didn’t sleep much last night.”

            “Told you,” Louis said. Zayn shot him a quick smile before laying his head on Liam’s shoulder. Liam hummed contently, making small circles in his boyfriend’s hand with his thumb. Louis smiled, meeting Harry’s eyes for a moment before turning to the pair seated behind them.

            “You okay, Niall?”

            There was a pause while Niall gave his response.

            “Good,” Louis said. Then he got off his knees and scooted his rear closer to Harry, taking his hand gently and beaming when Harry made eye contact.

            “Are you ready to go out in the real world again, Harry?”

            “Not sure yet,” Harry admitted. Louis didn’t say anything, but gave his hand a small squeeze. That was all he could do, really, and Harry needed it.

***

            People stared. It was obvious this group of teenagers in frumpy clothes and being herded by people with clipboards and fanny packs wasn’t normal, and though, objectively, Harry knew it was probably nearly impossible to tell exactly what was wrong with them, Harry felt like he had his issues written right across his forehead. He wondered if his friends would hate him if he feigned sick and went back.

            “They’re not staring that much,” Louis whispered in Harry’s ear, though Harry hadn’t said a word. “Most of it is in your head.”

            “I feel like they know,” Harry admitted.

            “I know, but they don’t. It’s okay.”

            “You let go of my hand.”

            “Yeah. I didn’t know if you liked being public with things.”

            “I don’t think I’d be fooling anybody anyways,” Harry said.

            “I thought you were straight,” Louis admitted.

            “You did?!”

            “Yeah. I asked Liam if he knew for sure and he told me you were dating this guy for a while in school. I was a little jealous, if I must admit.”

            Louis winked, but Harry smiled, thinking it would be cute if Louis had been serious.

            “It’s over now,” Harry assured him. “Lucky for me,” he added, bumping lightly into Louis.

            “No,” Louis disagreed. “Lucky for me.”

            “Louis, Harry, personal space, please,” a staff member spoke from behind them. Louis smiled guiltily.

            “Yeah, stay away from me, Harry,” he said, sprinting forward to walk a bit ahead with Josh and Niall. He waited for Harry outside the museum, though, so it was all okay.

***

            Harry actually liked art quite a bit. He was terrible at it himself, but he could still appreciate the good art, and even the bad because it all meant something.

            Zayn was even more into art than Harry, and though the others clearly thought they were a bit nuts, reading the information by each work and discussing it amongst themselves, they didn’t comment.

            Niall and Josh stayed as far from the group as they could get away with, and though their limits on touching were even more so than the others, they walked closely. A lot of the time, both of them were quiet, but sometimes Josh would say something to make Niall smile and nod or shake his head. One time he even whispered something that made Niall bat at him and shriek, startling everyone except Josh, who looked utterly pleased with himself as he brought Niall into a side hug.

            “That was the cutest thing ever,” he announced as Niall turned slightly red.

            “Josh…,” Meredith, one of the chaperones, said, warning edge to her voice.

            “Sorry, ma’am, that was completely and totally my fault,” he announced, even if he didn’t look particularly sorry.

            “Five dollars they’re going to be making out later,” Louis said, only loud enough for Harry to hear.

            “Only five?” Harry asked.

            “Five dollars and a kiss.”

***

            As the morning wore on, many of the patients began to grow bored and antsy, causing their behavior to worsen a bit and the chaperones’ stress levels to rise a lot. Louis and Harry were behaving themselves quite well, which meant that little to no attention was on them, so as soon as he saw the opportunity, Louis dragged Harry around a wall so that they were in a darker, more secluded section of the museum.

            “What are we doing?” Harry asked.

            “Whatever you want to,” Louis replied, front pressed into Harry’s body as he placed a soft kiss on the other teen’s neck. Harry shivered just a little, feeling electric.

            “Lou…”

            “Hm?”

            The way Louis’s lips vibrated against Harry’s skin was not fair at all.

            “We’re going to get busted,” he said.

            “Maybe,” Louis admitted. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

            Suddenly, Harry felt a lot less electric.

            “What?” he asked, pulling Louis’s head up so he could look in his eyes. Figuring he may have said something wrong, Louis’s smirk quickly turned to a frown.

            “I mean, not for a while. Not since you.”

            “This is our first outing.”

            “But it wouldn’t be with anyone other than you.”

            A beat of awkward silence passed. Though Harry was a little hurt (which was probably irrational anyway) he decided to break it.

            “Nymphomania?” he joked. Well…Louis never had to know if he was a little bit serious too.

            “No,” Louis said in a whisper after laughing too loudly. “I am not a nymphomaniac. Just a slut.”

            He gave Harry a quick kiss before continuing, maybe to imply that he was joking, Harry hoped.

            “But I’m faithful when I’m with someone.”

            “Are you with me though?” Harry asked.

            “I want to be,” Louis said.

            “Physically?”

            “In every way. The physical parts can wait. I just want to be yours, Harry.”

            Louis’s lips had found their way to Harry’s neck again, but Harry didn’t think that was what caused his electric feeling that time.

            “Okay, okay, you don’t need to bribe me,” Harry teased, lifting Louis’s head again, this time to place a hard kiss on his lips. “But only me?”

            “Only you.”

***

            After a few more innocent kisses were exchanged, the boys decided they should probably get back to the group.

            “There they are!” one patient exclaimed the moment the couple was in sight. Great. So their disappearance had been noticed.

            “Louis! Harry!” Meredith all but shrieked. “Care to explain yourselves?”

            “So sorry, Meredith,” Louis said, and he sounded genuine, though Harry doubted he was. “I was feeling woozy, so I had to go outside. Harry noticed something was wrong and you all were busy, so he followed to make sure I was all right.”

            “You could have told someone, Louis,” Meredith said, looking disbelieving.

            “You were busy,” Louis repeated. “Besides, my head wasn’t right. I’m sorry.”

            She still didn’t look like she was falling for his story, but after hesitating, the nurse asked,

            “Do you need to go back to the clinic, Louis?”

            “No, I’m fine now,” Louis assured her. “It was a small panic attack, but Harry talked me out of it.”

            “All right. Well, you and the doctor can talk about that later then.”

            “Okay.”

            Slowly, everyone turned their attention away from the two; everyone, that was, except Liam, Zayn, Niall and Josh, who gave them knowing smiles.

            “I would appreciate it if you didn’t look so smug at my mental illness, boys,” Louis said.

            “So, anxiety then?” Harry asked.

            “No,” Louis replied.

            “Have I actually already guessed correctly and you won’t tell me?”

            “You will never know.”

            “But I deserve to know,” Harry insisted.

            “Oh? And what makes you say that?”

            “I’m your boyfriend.”

            Harry and Louis both ignored the four other boys gaping at them.

            “You’re my boyfriend of five minutes, Haz, calm down.”

            Haz. Harry had no idea where that nickname came from, but he liked it. Still, Harry pressed on.

            “Will you give me a hint?”

            Louis thought for a minute.

            “The reason I was admitted isn’t the reason I’m still here,” he finally said. That wasn’t very helpful, but Harry felt that it was still meaningful so, for the time being, he let the matter drop.

            “You two are official then?” Josh asked after about a minute of silence had passed.

            “Yes. Yes we are,” Louis answered after glancing at Harry, checking that he hadn’t changed his mind in the past couple of minutes.

            “That’s cool,” Josh said. Then, “That means we have the same anniversary date.”

            Louis screamed, throwing himself first on Niall and then Josh and ignoring the scolding he was receiving.

***

            By the time they were on the bus, headed back to the hospital, Harry was exhausted. He’d forgotten how tiring the real world could be, even though the only things he’d done were walk around looking at other’s art, and make out with a guy amongst some of the best works of the thirties. It hadn’t been just any guy, though, of course. It had been Louis. His boyfriend.

            The whole thing was a lot to wrap his head around. He’d only had one boyfriend in his life, and it hadn’t been very exciting or lasted too long. Harry just hadn’t been all that into him, or in doing anything outside of the school setting, so it wasn’t the other guy’s fault. Simply put, Harry was bad at relationships. Still, this one, he wanted to make work. Even if he wasn’t the perfect boyfriend, he was going to try. He usually got out of bed for Louis, at least, so they were off to a good start.

            “Please go to therapy when we get back,” Harry said in Louis’s ear, slyly kissing the back of his neck before laying his chin on his shoulder. Louis, in turn, laid his head on top of Harry’s.

            “But I don’t want to.”

            “Please?”

            “Why?”

            “I want you to get out so we can do boyfriend stuff. Besides that, I want you to get better.”

            “I told you I’m good, Harry.”

            “Then why don’t they let you leave?”

            “I’m not going to pretend to know why they do the things they do or don’t. I’m not a psychologist.”

            “Okay, Lou, if you insist. But maybe if you cooperate they’ll see that you’re okay and let you go. Don’t you want to do boyfriend stuff?”

            “I’ll be out in December. Perfect time for winter cuddles.”

            “But what about fall? We can do bonfires and drink lots of hot and bad-for-you cappuccino, and you can hold my hand through haunted houses to comfort me.”

            “Don’t you think it would be the other way around?”

            “I think you’re braver than what you give yourself credit for.”

            “Hmm.”

            “Hmm,” Harry repeated.

            “Walk me to my session?” Louis asked.

            “Of course.”

***

            Lunch came before any therapy sessions. Josh stayed, and after taking a bite, promised to sneak the group some ‘real’ food in soon.

            “I don’t think it’s that bad,” Zayn said with a shrug.

            “It’s pretty bad,” Josh disagreed. “I mean, even your boyfriend isn’t eating it.”

            All eyes immediately went to Liam, who had stayed at the table but was, again, just playing with his food. Zayn frowned.

            “Are you sure you’re not sick, doll?” he asked, reaching out a hand to feel his boyfriend’s forehead, but Liam pulled away.

            “Please don’t turn anorexic on me,” Zayn begged.

            “I’m not going to be anorexic, Z,” Liam laughed. “It’s an off day. Eat your lunch and stop worrying.”

            Zayn shot a helpless look to Christian, who gave Liam a worried glance and outwardly sighed a bit before marking something down in that notebook that Harry still hated.

            “I’ll definitely bring real food,” Josh decided, then turned to Niall. “What do you think, Sunshine? What from the real world sounds good to you?”

            Beaming, Niall shrugged. Josh clucked his tongue.

            “I don’t believe that,” he said, before taking a pen from his back pocket and sliding it over to the other teen, along with a napkin. “Write down your three favorite restaurants,” he said. “Whether I’m sneaky enough to get it in here or not, those are important things that a boyfriend needs to know.”

            “Do you know what else is an important thing that a boyfriend needs to know?” Harry tried with Louis. Louis threw a piece of bread at his face, and then laughed about it. Harry tried not to smile, but he just couldn’t help it.        

            “I’ve heard too much,” Christian muttered, but Harry could swear he saw the hint of a smile on the nurse’s face.

            “Christian, can I ask you a serious question?” Louis spoke.

            “I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer it, Louis, but yes, go ahead,” the adult allowed.

            “Why is this place so against us forming romantic relationships with each other?” he asked. “As people, we crave and even need love and affection, right? Hell, a lot of us, not everyone of course, but still, a lot of us, are in here because we didn’t have enough of it somewhere down the line. It can’t take the place of medication and other things we need, obviously, but love is very healing in itself, don’t you agree?”

            Christian hesitated before answering, nervous as all of the boys trained their eyes on him, expecting an answer.

            “I agree,” he finally said, then quickly added, “but there is a difference between friendly love and romantic love, and one is quite a bit more stressful than the other.”

            “But you can’t help which one you feel,” Louis said. Christian shifted.

            “You lot are supposed to be focusing on yourselves.”

            “Do that in the real world and you’re considered selfish,” Louis pointed out.

            “You aren’t in the real world right now, boys,” Christian sighed. “You were taken from the real world because there was something about it that you just weren’t ready to handle.”

            “Maybe, but I don’t think love was it.”

            Christian fell silent then, flipping distractedly through his notebook, clearly done with the conversation. One by one, the group peeled their eyes from him, focusing on Louis instead.

            “Just saying,” the guy said, shrugging before slurping a noddle off his spork. In that moment, Harry couldn’t have loved him more.

Chapter Text

            Harry shouldn’t have really been surprised when his dad didn’t show up on Sunday. He was a good dad, but he had never been great at taking care of them while they were sick. Harry hated the term ‘sick’ for his current state-he didn’t feel sick, he felt sad-but the idea was the same. If his dad couldn’t handle a simple flu, how was he to be expected to handle his child being hospitalized for trying to take his own life?

            Besides, his mom showed up again, and his sister, so Harry still had more than some.

            The moment Gemma saw him, she broke down in tears. No doubt the memories of walking in on her younger brother throwing back bleach like it was whiskey were still burned into her mind.

            “It’s okay, Gem,” Harry said, going over to hug the woman-and pretending he didn’t see his mom nonchalantly wipe her eyes as well. “I’m okay.”

            “You scared the shit out of me!” the boy’s sister cried, hugging him so tightly that he almost wondered if she was trying to finish his job for him by suffocation.

            “I know,” Harry managed, awkwardly patting her back. “I’m sorry.”

            “Okay, Gem, let him go, sweetie,” their mom said, pulling her daughter gently off of her son. “Harry, where are your friends today?”

            She seemed overly worried about the other boys’ absence, as if she thought that Harry had lost all of his friends in the short span of a week.

            “Niall is over there,” Harry answered, pointing in the distance, where Niall was introducing Josh to his parents. “Liam is sick and Zayn is staying with him.”

            And Liam was sick, having woken with a fever the previous morning, and carrying on to that day. The boys were hoping that was the cause of his strange behavior on Friday, though Louis had given Zayn his full sympathies if that was what he was going to have to deal with the rest of his life whenever Liam was sick.

            “Oh, I hope he feels better soon and that the rest of you don’t get it,” Anne said. “There’s another friend, isn’t there? I didn’t get to meet him last time.”

            “Yeah, Louis,” Harry replied, fighting the urge to tell her that Louis was more than a friend. Both his mom and sister would love Louis, he knew, and they already were aware of Harry’s sexual preference towards guys, but since he and Louis technically weren’t supposed to be together, he figured the less people that knew, the better.

            “Is his family not coming again?” Anne asked, a slight frown on her face.

            “Yeah, no, his family, uh…they never come,” Harry said.

            “Well tell him to come hang out with us then!” Anne said.

            “I can try,” Harry replied with a shrug, not feeling very confident at the likelihood of his success.

            “Please do. We won’t mind at all, will we, Gemma?”

            “Nope. Not at all,” the younger woman agreed, giving Harry a strange, almost smug look. Maybe that was just in Harry’s head because there was no way she could possibly know…

            Except he did have the bracelet Louis had made him on his wrist.

            “Okay. I’ll be back,” Harry said, deciding not to worry about it. She couldn’t prove anything even if she suspected, and even if she could, so what? Harry wasn’t ashamed.

            “Hey, Lou.”

            Louis looked up from the notebook he had been reading from-probably more of Liam’s story, Harry figured-and smiled when he saw his boyfriend heading towards his bed.

            “Hi,” he said.

            “Will you come join us?” Harry asked, sitting on his knees in front of Louis and leaning over to place a kiss on his lips.

            “Why?” Louis asked, genuinely confused.

            “My mum and sister want to meet you,” Harry answered.

            “Why?” Louis asked again.

            “Why not?” Harry retorted.

            “That’s not a good reason,” Louis informed him.

            “Please just come?”

            “They won’t like me.”

            “Yeah they will.”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “They will, Lou, I know it. Now what’s wrong?”

            “Nothing’s wrong, Harry. I’m just giving you visiting time with your family.”

            “Okay, but they told me to come get you.”

            “Really?” Louis asked, narrowing his eyes.

            “Promise,” Harry said, then added, “but I want you to join us too.”

            Louis chewed on his lip, deliberating for a moment, then said,

            “Fine.”

            “Yay,” Harry said with a small smile, climbing off the bed and holding out a hand for Louis to take.

            “This is certainly a change of roles,” Louis commented, accepting Harry’s hand.

***

            When Anne and Gemma saw Harry approaching with Louis (and yes, their hands were still together, but that didn’t have to mean anything) they both smiled, Gemma a bit wider. Harry gave a slight glare but sobered quickly.

            “Mum, sister, this is Louis. Louis, this is my mum, Anne and my sister, Gemma.”

            “Harry said you saved his life,” Louis said to Gemma, whose smile faltered a little, but she replied softly,

            “I guess, technically, sort of.”

            “Thank you,” Louis continued. “He’s the best thing to happen to this place in…well…forever.”

            Harry smiled, but no one said anything for a few moments. When his mom finally spoke again, her voice was softer too.

            “Well, Louis, it is very nice to meet you. Now what do you say we go get some food?”

            “Is there a cookout?” Louis asked, to which Anne informed him that there was.

            “This is the brightest summer in England’s history, I think,” Louis said, smiling at Harry. “And not just for me.”

***

            As Harry knew they would, Louis and his family got along great. They were smiling, laughing…If it wasn’t for Harry, they could even be considered ‘normal,’ probably, but Harry wasn’t normal. They weren’t at a nice, happy family get together. His mom and sister were visiting him in a mental institution because he’d drunk bleach and tried to kill himself. It could be considered a moment of weakness, he supposed, except that he knew if he could go back to that night, he would do it all over again, except he would be quieter and quicker. He would be successful.

            And Harry really shouldn’t be having those thoughts while his family and boyfriend were right there, actually enjoying themselves. He felt bad enough that he’d made his mom feel unwanted last time, and still, all he wanted to do was take Louis inside with him and lay in bed. His whole life, he realized, was a weak moment. He was weak. He was pathetic.

            “Your medication still isn’t working then, huh?”

            Harry snapped back to reality at Louis’s voice, looking, panicked, to where his mom and sister had been sitting, except they weren’t there anymore.

            “Where’s mum and Gemma?” he asked, and he hadn’t thought it possible to feel even more guilt, but apparently, he’d been wrong.

            “They went to the bathroom. They’ll be back,” Louis assured him. “I think you should tell the doctor that your pills aren’t working, Haz.”

            “I’m okay,” Harry said, taking a bite of his hot dog and hoping to drop the subject. Of course, Louis didn’t.

            “No, Harry, you’re not. But that’s okay. It’s early and different medications work for different people. Just tell them you think you need a new one and they will switch you to something else.”

            “They’re the experts,” Harry said. “Shouldn’t they know if I need a different medicine?”

            “They’re psychologists, not mind readers. You need to talk to them.”

            “Are you a mind reader?”

            “Maybe,” Louis said with a wink. “Seriously, talk to them.”

            “Okay.”

            “Promise?”

            “Sure.”

            Louis narrowed his eyes, but didn’t have time to press the matter further before Anne and Gemma were back.

            “Miss me?” Gemma asked, swinging herself back onto the picnic bench.

            “Of course,” Harry said.

            “You were supposed to say ‘no,’” Gemma said, and Harry remembered that that had been their typical exchange before he’d been admitted, and he hadn’t really been hospitalized that long, so he probably shouldn’t have forgotten.

            “God, what has this place done to you?” she sighed. Taking a page from Louis’s book, Harry threw a piece of bread at her face, hitting her square in the forehead.

            “Good shot,” a voice from behind him said, cutting off the laugh Louis was giving. Turning his body halfway, Harry saw a man whom he’d never seen before standing there, and frowned. He was having a hard enough time being sociable with his boyfriend and family. He didn’t need a strange guy trying to butt into the group.

            After giving Harry what the teenager could only suspect was supposed to be a smile, the strange man’s eyes traveled to Louis, who still hadn’t turned around, his own eyes focused intently on his plate. Harry’s frown deepened.

            “Hello, Louis,” the man said. “Care to introduce me to your friends?”

            When Louis didn’t answer, Anne jumped to his rescue.

            “Hello there! I’m Anne! This is my son, Harry, who is also a patient, and this is my daughter, Gemma.”  

            Harry loved his mom. The therapists may still be trying to get him to say something and blame her for his problems, but they would never be successful. Harry had the best mom.

            “It’s nice to meet you all,” the strange man said. “I’m Carl, Louis’s dad.”

            “You aren’t my dad,” Louis finally spoke as he rose to his feet. His voice was strong and his stance was steady, but his face was pale, eyes just a little wider than normal. He was scared, Harry realized, and he suddenly wanted to make this random man, Carl, drink bleach. “Anne, Gemma, it was very nice to meet you,” Louis added before widely side-stepping his self-proclaimed ‘dad’ and heading back inside. Carl turned to follow him, but was stopped by Anne speaking to him, and did Harry mention how much he loved his mom?

            “So, Carl,” the woman said, “you have a lovely boy. Louis is absolutely delightful.”

            He hesitated in turning around, Harry could tell, but he did, fake smile plastered on his face.

            “You clearly don’t live with him,” the guy said, and maybe he was joking, but Harry didn’t think so. Judging by the disapproval written on his mom’s face, neither did she.

            “No, I don’t, but he’s welcome over any time once he and Harry are released, or even if he’s released first.”

            “Do you want to keep him?”

            Anne’s eyes narrowed even more.

            “Perhaps.”

            This was about to get very awkward, Harry could feel, but he was saved when he saw Zayn heading towards him, a confused and worried look on his face. He stopped when he noticed that Harry saw him and instead gestured for him to follow. Wordlessly, Harry did, and fortunately, no one asked questions.

            “What happened?” Zayn asked once Harry had reached his side.

            “I don’t know. Louis’s dad, or someone saying he’s Louis’s dad, came to visit and Louis just…walked away. Why? How is he?”

            “Freaking the fuck out. We could hear him screaming from your and Liam’s room and it looks like a tornado hit his room.”

            Harry’s footsteps picked up pace along with his heart. He thought he now had the answer to the question he’d asked so long ago-who hurt you, Louis?-and he wanted to go back and beat this Carl guy until he had to feel more pain than he’d caused his boyfriend, but he also wanted to get to Louis, and he thought he knew what the most important option was right then.

            When Harry and Zayn reached Louis’s room, there were two nurses in the room as well, and Louis was on the bed, looking completely dazed.

            “Harry!” he cried when his tired eyes drifted to the side to see his boyfriend standing in the doorway.

            “Boys, Louis needs his rest,” Laura, one of the nurses present, spoke, standing as if to intimidate the other two and make them leave. That wasn’t happening.

            “Harry, they stabbed me!” Louis cried.

            “They what?!”

            “Sedated him,” Zayn explained. “They used a sedative needle.”

            “Why?”

            “Harry…look at his room.”

            His room was a disaster, with his belongings all scattered about the floor-only Liam’s notebook was still in place-but Harry doubted he actually needed to be sedated. He’d needed to be calmed, sure, but Harry felt that, while he was physically relaxed, internally, he was still a mess.

            Harry really hated these ‘experts’ sometimes.

            “Boys, you need to leave,” Laura spoke again.

            “No!” Louis argued, voice hoarse.

            “Louis, you’ll fall asleep soon, dear,” Laura tried.

            “No.”

            “If I go, can Harry stay with him?” Zayn asked. Laura looked at the teen down the bridge of her nose, but Myah, who was also present, spoke before she could.

            “I don’t see why he can’t. We need to get back to work, and Louis shouldn’t be alone. Besides, he’s too weak to be a threat to anyone anyway.”

            “All right,” Laura reluctantly agreed. “Step one toe out of line and you’ll be separated. Harry, come get us immediately if you need us.”

            Harry nodded his understanding and then, after everyone left, he crawled up on the bed next to his boyfriend and ran a hand through his destroyed fringe. Louis’s eyes flickered closed for a minute, but then he opened them wide again, starting a bit.         

            “You can go to sleep,” Harry told him gently. Louis didn’t reply for a few moments and when he did, it wasn’t about what Harry had just said.

            “Well, now you know why I’m here,” he said.

            “I do?”

            “Yeah. I’m fucking crazy.”

            “No you’re not, Lou,” Harry said, unsure of whether the boy was joking or not. “He hurt you, didn’t he?”

            “He’s not my dad,” Louis said instead of answering.

            “I believe you,” Harry assured him.

            “They sedated me.”

            “I know.”

            “They sedated me so he could take me.”

            “I don’t think you’re going anywhere after the fit you just had,” Harry pointed out, giving Louis a kiss to soften the blow.

            “I hope not,” Louis said, voice becoming more slurred with every sentence. “‘Tis why I did it.”

            “So this was planned then?”

            “Planned last minute.”

            “You really don’t want to leave this place, do you?”

            “Don’t want to go back with him. He’s going to take me.”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “He’s going to take me. Need to hide.”

            Louis did his best to sit up, but got about a quarter of the way there before falling backwards and whimpering.

            “Shh, Lou, it’s okay,” Harry said, messing with his boyfriend’s hair again and silently begging him to never make that heartbreaking noise again.

            “He’s going to take me,” Louis said yet again.

            “You want to hide?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Okay then. Come on.”

            Though he didn’t really think the hospital would let Louis leave after what had just happened, he didn’t know, and, either way, Louis was scared. Harry didn’t like it, and if he could fix it, then he was going to.

            Louis stared, curious and exhausted, as Harry got to his feet to pull Louis up. The sedated teens’ legs gave out, but Harry caught him and slowly steadied him again as much as possible. Then, keeping a firm hold on his waist, he helped him out of the room, first checking carefully for any adults. They were in luck, as none were around, probably under the illusion that Louis would have been asleep already. They apparently had little idea how strong emotions such as fear and sadness could be; stronger than any happy pill or sedative.

            Harry didn’t know where they were going until they got there; the institution’s ‘library’ that was filled with books about inspiration and other things that probably didn’t help anyone one bit. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect hiding spot, but they didn’t have many options, and as it was currently abandoned, Harry hoped it was good enough.

            Louis’s legs gave out for good as they entered, so Harry lifted him and carried him behind a bookshelf, laying him on the ground out of view from the entryway, and then laid hidden himself.

            “That was too easy,” Louis said. “Where is everyone?”

            “I don’t know,” Harry told him. “But that’s not important. Are you okay?”

            “You’re so amazing,” Louis sighed, staring sleepily into Harry’s eyes. Harry couldn’t help but to kiss him. “You make me feel so safe,” Louis continued, eyes starting to shut for longer periods of time. “I’m always afraid but you make me feel safe and you’re always sad but I can’t make you feel happy.”

            “My happiness isn’t your responsibility, Louis,” Harry said, stroking his boyfriend’s arm gently.

            “Want to make you happy.”

            Harry kissed him again.

            “I’ll be happy if you go to sleep.”

            “Can’t.”

            “Yes you can. I’m here. I’ll protect you.”

            “My safety isn’t your responsibility.”

            “…Go to sleep, brat.”

            Louis gave a sort of sniffle, which Harry thought to be a laugh, but didn’t say anything else and soon after that, he was asleep.

            Maybe Louis was right about one thing. At the present time, he might be unable to make Harry happy, but he was still doing something for him. He was giving him purpose. There was still a lot about Louis that Harry didn’t know, but some things were clear; he’d been hurt, probably badly, and the only place he was safe-or felt safe-was at this institution that he was being forced out of in just a few short months whether he was ready or not. So Harry’s purpose, despite what Louis said, was to keep him safe. Louis was strong, Harry knew that, but just maybe Louis needed him, and needed him alive. Quickly, Harry was finding that Louis was becoming more important to him than himself and so whatever he needed, Harry would give to him, even if it meant living with the constant ache he felt inside and out. As long as Louis needed him, he would be there.

            Selfishly, Harry hoped he would need him forever.

Chapter Text

            It wasn’t long before Harry and Louis were caught. Harry didn’t think it would be and had braced himself for whatever punishment they had prepared for him. Still, he almost sighed in relief when he saw that it was Christian and Myah who caught them.

            “Harry…,” Myah sighed, sounding more relieved than disappointed.

            “Shh,” Harry hushed her. “He just fell asleep.”

            “Harry, what were you told?”

            “He was still scared. I wasn’t going to let him lay there in fear while he’s unable to defend himself.”

            “He has nothing to defend himself from.”

            Harry gaped at the nurse because was she serious? Before he could ask her, she spoke again.

            “Christian, take Louis back to his room while I escort Harry back to his family.”

            “I’m staying with Louis,” Harry insisted, getting to his feet as Christian picked up a limp Louis. Luckily, once he’d fallen asleep, the sedative had kicked in all the way and he was out. Harry hoped he was having good dreams.

            “You’re going back out to your family,” Myah replied.

            “Don’t let him take him,” Harry begged.

            “This matter doesn’t concern you, Harry.”

            “Please.”

            Myah sighed again, this one more tortured than the last. “Mr. Tomlinson is gone for the day.”

            A weight lifted off Harry and, though he still wished he could stay with Louis and be there when he woke up, he knew that was a losing battle, so he followed Myah outside, his neck twisted as he watched Christian go with Louis in the opposite direction to Louis’s room. It took everything Harry had not to turn and run back there with them, but he had to take minimal comfort in the fact that Carl was gone and Louis was safe. Maybe he could even get to the room before Louis woke and hopefully keep him from being scared again too.

            “Is everything okay?” Anne asked, worried and pulling Harry into a side hug when Myah had delivered him back to them.

            “I guess,” Harry shrugged. “What happened out here?”

            “Oh, not much. Carl just explained to us a little about Louis and their history. I’m glad you two have each other in your group. It’s nice to have someone to talk to about what you’re going through. I mean, you can talk to us, obviously, but I know it’s probably easier to talk to someone who understands better.”

            “Wait, mum, what do you mean? What do you mean ‘group?’”

            “They sort you by your…health issue for group therapy sessions and things, don’t they?”

            “Yeah…but Louis isn’t in my group.”

            “Oh,” the woman said with a frown.

            “Mum, what did Carl tell you?!” Harry demanded, heart racing. If he were to have a heart attack at any point in his life, he would blame this day.

            “I’m not sure I can say…,” Anne told him nervously.

            “Mum! You can’t just start off saying something like that and drop it! What’s wrong with Louis?”

            Anne hesitated, trying to find the correct way to put everything but, impatient, Gemma cut in.

            “He tried to kill himself,” she said. “So we figured he would be with you.”

            “No he didn’t,” Harry said, unable to believe it. Louis was so opposite of him. He was loud, open…happy. Harry had really thought he was happy. Smiles could be faked, sure; laughs even, too, but Louis had spark in his personality and his pretty blue eyes that Harry had gotten lost in more than once. He’d known that Louis had to have had some kind of history-he was in a mental institution-but this had been the last thing Harry wanted for him.

            “Harry?” Anne asked worriedly. He wasn’t exactly sure why.

            “Louis wouldn’t do that,” Harry said.

            “That’s what we thought about you,” Gemma told him.

            “He’s different.”

            “Yeah, he did it in a normal way.”

            “Gemma!” Anne scolded. Harry swallowed, not because of his sister’s jab at him but because the thought of Louis in the same mental state as Harry had been-miserable enough to take his own life-was almost too much.

            “How?” he asked.

            “We’re not supposed to talk to you about this stuff, honey,” Anne said gently. “It could be triggering.”

            “Mum, just tell me.”

            “Isn’t it obvious?” Gemma spoke again.

            “No,” Harry said.

            “Harry, come on, it’s eighty damn degrees and the kid was wearing long sleeves.”

            “So? That’s just what Louis wears all the time.”

            Gemma raised an eyebrow, looking at Harry as if he were dumb.

            “Then I think it should have been obvious.”

            Harry shifted uncomfortably, hoping to make the terrible images that filled his mind go away. Still, he had to ask,

            “Wrists?”

            “Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!”

            “Gemma, if you can’t be nice, you’re going to sit in the car,” Anne threatened. To Harry, she said, “I’m sorry, baby, I thought you knew.”

            “No. He wouldn’t tell me. He wouldn’t tell anyone.”

            “Well, he’s here with you, getting better, and that’s all that matters!” Anne said, a bit too cheerily. Harry nodded, not sure he agreed, but what could he really say? He couldn’t even think straight.

***

            Anne and Gemma left after a little while longer, part because Harry was still upset, but also because Gemma was in a mood as well. Anyway, Harry was fine with it. He went to Louis’s room right afterward and, amazingly, no one stopped him.

            Louis was still asleep when Harry reached his room, so the younger teen sat on the bed and just waited. It took a while, and Harry almost took Liam’s notebook off the end table and began reading his story, but he knew that would be a rude thing to do without permission, so he sat there literally twiddling his thumbs. Normally, he wouldn’t mind just playing with Louis’s hair or rubbing his back while he slept, but this time, he just wanted Louis to wake up so Harry would know he was okay.

            When he couldn’t take just sitting and waiting any longer, Harry began to straighten Louis’s room. He wasn’t sure where Louis kept everything, but supposed anywhere was better than the floor. He didn’t have much anyway; just a few articles of clothing and a couple of books.

            Luckily, by the time Harry was done, Louis’s sedative started to finally wear off and he began stirring. Hopping back on the bed, Harry laid down and pressed a kiss to his boyfriend’s cheek. Louis’s eyes fluttered open.

            “Harry?” he asked with a barely-there voice.

            “It’s me,” Harry assured him. “Did you have good dreams?”

            “Don’t think I dreamt.”

            “Oh. Well that’s okay too.”

            At least it wasn’t nightmares.

            “We’re back in my room,” Louis noted.

            “Yeah. They caught us. Your…um…Carl is gone though.”

            “Did you get in trouble?”

            “No, not really.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t apologize. It’s fine.”

            Louis’s eyes closed again and for a minute, Harry thought he’d fallen back to sleep, but then he re-opened them and sighed.

            “Lou?” Harry tried.

            “Hmm?”

            “Will you tell me why you’re here?”

            “Not today, Haz.”

            “You don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed, whatever it is.”

            “Yeah I do.”

            That hurt a little. Louis had been the only one who hadn’t made Harry feel guilty or ashamed for what he’d done, but if Louis himself was ashamed for the same thing, then maybe Harry should be after all.

            “No you don’t,” Harry tried one more time. His voice had turned funny and he hoped Louis hadn’t noticed, but by the look on his face, he had.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, blindly and weakly trying to find Harry’s hand on the mattress next to him.

            “Nothing,” Harry lied, taking the other’s hand despite his hurt.

            “You’re not telling the truth.”

            “Don’t worry about it.”

            “What happened while I was out?”

            “Nothing.”

            “Harry.”

            “Carl told us why you’re here.”

            “No he didn’t.”

            “Yes he did.”

            “No he didn’t because I didn’t try to kill myself.”

            Harry stared, confused. Louis sighed.

            “That’s what he said, isn’t it?”

            “Well…yes.”

            “It’s a lie.”

            “You can tell me the truth, Louis. You’re the one who told me that it wasn’t my fault.”

            “It’s not your fault, but that’s not why I’m here.”

            “I don’t understand why you can’t just tell me.”

            Louis sighed yet again, wincing as he shut his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose, and Harry felt, once again, guilty.

            “Never mind. You don’t have to. You’ve had a hard day. Just rest.”

            “Do you want to know?”

            “Only if and when you want to tell me.”

            Louis paused.

            “You’re going to hate me.”

            “I’m not going to hate you.”

            “You don’t know that.”

            “I’m pretty sure.”

            Again, Louis sighed, and then coughed.

            “Lou?” Harry asked worriedly.

            “Feel sick.”

            “You think you got what Liam has?”

            “I dunno.”

            “Well just sleep. We’ll talk later.”

            “No, have to know…if you’ll hate me.”

            Still, Louis’s eyes were re-closing and Harry wondered just how much sedative they actually gave him. Too much, surely.

            “We’ll talk in the morning,” Harry assured him.

            “I’m okay,” Louis insisted, sitting up slowly. Harry helped him along when the struggle appeared too much.

            “I’m worried about you,” Harry admitted.

            “Don’t be,” Louis said. “Am selfish.”

            “You’re not selfish. Why would you say that?”

            “Cuz I am.”

            “Why though?”

            “I’m a fake.”

            “Louis…please just tell me what’s going on.”

            “It was a fake.”

            “What was?”

            “The suicide attempt.”

            Harry held his breath, suddenly unsure if he wanted to hear this after all, but he didn’t interrupt.

            “No one would listen,” Louis continued. “It was the only way I knew how to make them listen.”

            “I’m listening,” Harry said. “What happened?”

            “Carl is my uncle. He had custody of me, so technically he’s my dad, but he’s not. My dad was his brother, but he died when I was eight. Heart attack. Carl blames my mum. She’s mentally unstable and has been in and out of institutions herself. She’s a good mum, but she hates herself and it makes her not a great person to live with. That’s why Carl thinks my dad died because of her. The only reason my dad never left my mum was because of me. She told us I was the only one keeping her sane at all and my dad couldn’t take me away, so Carl also blames me for it.”

            “It’s not your fault.”

            “I know, but he still thinks so and he doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he hates me.”

            “He hurts you,” Harry verified.

            “Sometimes,” Louis said, drawing his knees up to his chin and hugging them tightly. Harry wished it was him that he was hugging instead, but felt this wasn’t the appropriate time. “But no one would believe me, or maybe they did and didn’t care, but I was tired of it and needed it to stop. So I hurt myself bad enough to look real, but I’m just a huge, selfish fake.”

            “Louis, stop talking about yourself that way,” Harry demanded lightly. “You were being abused and you saved yourself. There’s nothing bad about that.”

            “He wouldn’t have killed me.”

            “But he shouldn’t have been hurting you at all.”

            “I know, but I was going to survive. If I would have just waited, I would eventually be free. But instead, I got myself placed here and now other people may be dead because of me!”

            “How do you figure?”

            “Because I’m still here, even though I’m not sick. I pretend to be sick so I can stay, which means other people can’t get admitted in.”

            “That’s not true. You don’t even have a roommate right now, so there are openings.”

            “Starting tomorrow I have a roommate. But I don’t even mean just now. I’ve been here for almost three years, Harry. The couple of times I was released, I made sure I came right back in and we’ve been at maximum occupancy before. What if someone like you had to go back home and then didn’t make it just because of me?”

            “There are other places they can get help.”

            “That’s not the point.”

            “This is, technically, a hospital, Louis and you may not be sick, but you’re hurt and the hospital is for hurt people too.”

            “No I’m not.”

            Holding in a sigh, Harry reached for Louis’s wrist (the right one, which he wouldn’t let Harry touch to even put their ‘friendship’ bracelets on) and pulled up the sleeve, breath hitching as he saw lines-the red faded, but the texture still unsmooth-running both across the skin and down it. Louis’s breath hitched too.

            “What are you doing?” Louis asked, but he didn’t pull away, so Harry didn’t think he was mad.

            “If you were completely okay, these wouldn’t be here. People who are all okay don’t hurt themselves for any reason.”

            “That’s not true. Have you seen Saw? The dude cut off his own foot to escape.”

            “Have you seen the last Saw though? I don’t think there’s any arguing that he had some psychological problems.”

            Louis actually gave a small laugh at that-thank the higher powers-and Harry smiled a bit before saying,

            “Lou, I thought you didn’t like blood?”

            “Who told you that?”

            “Liam may have hinted at it.”

            “Oh. Well, it’s true, I guess. I used to not mind it, but when I did…that…there was so much blood. I thought I went too deep and was going to die. Ever since then, I have been…uneasy around it. And, see? That’s what I’m saying. I was terrified of dying but I’ve let so many people believe that I still want to just because I can’t toughen up and go home.”

            “You shouldn’t have to go back to that.”

            “We discussed this before. Life isn’t fair.”

            “You’re not going back to that,” Harry corrected, leaning over for a kiss. “I’ll be out soon and then I’ll get a job so that in December, when you’re released, we can move in together. No abusive uncles, no halfway homes. Just us.”

            Louis stayed quiet, studying Harry for a bit before stealing another kiss.

            “You can’t stay here tonight,” he said.

            “And why not?” Harry asked.

            “They’re going to have me under close observation. There’s no way we’ll get away with it.”

            “I don’t care.”

            “I do. You need to focus on you and doing what’s best for you.”

            “You’re what’s best for me. Getting out of bed is so much easier when I fall asleep next to you.”

            Harry really thought he saw tears in Louis’s eyes then, but maybe it was a trick of the light because they weren’t there once he’d blinked a few times. No, they probably weren’t tears. Louis’s eyes were still glassy from the sedative, so it was just that and a trick of the light.

            “I’ll see you in the morning,” Louis promised.

            “Do you not want to spend the night with me?” Harry asked, wondering if he’d pushed too hard; if he’d messed everything up.

            “That’s not it.”

            “Are you just saying that?”

            “No! I want to spend every night with you, always, but I really want to do it when we’re both out of here and happy and safe. You’re not going to get released if you keep breaking the rules and if you are, you won’t be happy. I don’t want us to be like Liam and Zayn. I don’t want them to make one of us leave before we’re ready.”

            “Fine,” Harry sighed. Louis was making valid points, he supposed.

            “Give me a kiss?” Louis asked, a tired, but impish grin on his face. Also smiling, Harry complied.

            “I guess this means I should be getting back to my room,” Harry said regretfully. “Do you need anything first? Are you hungry?”

            “No, I’m not hungry.”

            “Do you still feel sick? And is it, like, your head or throat or stomach or…what? Should I have someone take your temperature? Are you dizzy?”

            “All of your questions are making me dizzy,” Louis said with a laugh. “But no, I’m okay. There is one thing though.”

            “What is it?”

            “Make sure I don’t bust my head as I get out of bed to find the bathroom before my bladder bursts?”

            “I can do that,” Harry agreed, standing and going to Louis’s side of the bed, ready to catch him if he fell as he stood shakily to his legs. He didn’t fall, but Harry stayed close by as they walked from the room.

            Louis was stopped as he exited the bathroom, Christian telling him that the doctor wanted to see him immediately.  Probably too tired to fight it, Louis nodded, turning to Harry and saying a quick good night, topped with a kiss on the cheek, before following the man off.

            “How’s Louis?” Liam asked, both he and Zayn, who was nested quite comfortably under the sheets next to his boyfriend, looking to the door as Harry walked into the bedroom. Harry was a little jealous for a few moments before remembering what Louis said about how he didn’t want to be them.

            “Okay, I guess,” Harry said. “How are you feeling?”

            “Better, but I’m fucking starving. I’m going to eat, like, the whole cafeteria at breakfast tomorrow, I swear.”

            “There’s my baby,” Zayn said after a small snort, kissing Liam on the lips.

            “Mmm. Might still be contagious,” Liam pointed out.

            “Don’t care,” Zayn said. Harry smiled-they really were just too cute-but climbed into his own bed, not even bothering to undress as he got under his covers and pulled them up to his chin, closing his eyes after fluffing his pillows and laying his head down. Kindly, Liam got up to turn off the light, whispering something inaudible to Zayn as he got back into the bed. It made Zayn giggle so Harry decided that he really didn’t want to know. Maybe he was still a little jealous, he decided, but didn’t dwell on it. That would be him and Louis soon, in the safety and comfort of their own home. But Louis was right. Harry needed to get better first. He wanted to believe that he would never do anything to hurt Louis, including hurting himself, but he hadn’t ever wanted to hurt his mother or sister and yet, he had. Louis needed stability, and as of now, Harry wasn’t stable. He was at least sane enough to know that. He would tell the doctors tomorrow that he needed a new medication. He would tell them that nothing felt right inside still-or almost nothing. He would keep focusing on Louis yes, but he would focus on himself too instead of burying everything until it exploded. And eventually everything would be okay.

            That’s at least what he had to tell himself to be able to fall asleep that night.

Chapter Text

            Though Harry hadn’t fallen asleep next to Louis, he was right beside him the next morning when Meredith flipped the light on to (rudely) wake them. Louis had himself positioned so that he was perfectly hidden from her view, which Harry saw at the very last second before he moved and exposed his boyfriend. He was afraid that the shock showed on his face, but, luckily, Meredith didn’t hang around like Myah did and she was gone by the time Harry blinked, leaving Liam and Louis still sound asleep. The last thing Harry wanted to do right then was wake Louis, but he knew he had to, so he leaned over and kissed him on the lips. Louis started but smiled after he’d blinked his eyes open to see Harry there.

            “‘Morning,” he greeted, voice gruff.

            “Good morning,” Harry said, and his voice didn’t sound much better. “You came back.”

            “I couldn’t sleep. Sorry.”

            “Why are you apologizing?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “I’m glad you came back.”

            Louis gave a sleepy smile and closed his eyes for another few seconds before yawning and sitting up.

            “Pretend I just got in here, okay?”

            “Of course.”

            Swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting to his feet, Louis stretched a bit before jumping hard on Liam’s bed, causing a loud groan from the other patient.

            “Time to wake up, Payno!” Louis said. “We’ve missed you! Come on, get up!”

            “Go fuck yourself,” Liam mumbled.

            “Maybe later. Wake up!”

            “Mmm…where’s Zayn?” Liam asked when he’d rolled over to see the spot next to him empty.

            “I don’t know. Let’s go find him!”

            “I’ll go find him myself,” he said with a slight smirk that made Louis jump off his bed very quickly.

            “Right. Well, you have fun with that.”

            While Liam worked on getting himself out of bed, Louis turned to Harry.

            “How’s the world for you today, Hazza?”

            “My bed sounds better.”

            Tilting his head, Louis sat down on his boyfriend’s bed, running a finger back and forth across his knee.

            “You should talk to them today about switching your medication.”

            “I will,” Harry assured him. “But don’t worry about me. How did therapy go last night?”

            “Stupid and pointless,” Louis answered with a roll of his eyes. “They’re still not listening. But whatever. At least I have you.”

            With a smile, Louis leaned forward and placed a kiss on Harry’s forehead before hopping back to his feet and holding out a hand.

            “Ready to face the day?”

            Harry wasn’t sure if he was, really, but since he didn’t have much choice, he let Louis pull him up.

            “How are you feeling from the sedative, by the way?” Harry asked as the two headed to Louis’s room so he could grab some clothes before going to shower.

            “A little tired, but I’m okay. Stop worrying about me, all right?”

            “Of course I’m going to worry about you, Louis. I’m your boyfriend.”

            Louis smiled at the word.

***

            For the first time in a few days, breakfast was normal. Liam was back; his mood much better than right before he’d gotten sick, and so Zayn was himself and in a good mood as well. Niall didn’t even know about the drama that had happened the previous day, as he’d been too caught up with Josh. Josh had bought him a dry erase board so he could communicate easier and, with it, Niall told the group that his parents had loved his boyfriend. It was going to be a good day, Harry felt. Louis was safe, and Harry finally knew more about him; possibly making him love him even more. Zayn and Liam seemed to be doing well, both together and separately, and Niall was happy, even smiling while he chewed his food. Harry may not be making as much progress as them yet, but he would mention a medicine switch that day and he would take therapy more seriously. It was all going to be okay.

            He believed that until lunch, when Liam threw himself down at the table with a plate full of much more food than was necessary.

            “Parents visit again?” Louis asked after they had all smiled nervously, glanced at Liam’s plate and then back to each other. 

            “No,” Liam said, shoveling a forkful of noodles into his mouth. From behind him, Christian audibly sighed.

            “Then what happened?” Zayn asked, laying his hand gently on top of Liam’s and preventing him from taking another bite. Harry thought that would set Liam off, but it didn’t. He chewed on his lip for a few moments but when he spoke, his voice was calm, if a bit sad.

            “Tomorrow is my last day,” he said. Zayn physically flinched then, his concerned frown deepening into something else.

            “No. You’re not ready.”

            “I’ll be fine, babe,” Liam assured him, attempting a smile. He sort of reached it.

            “You can’t leave,” Zayn said, voice cracking.

            “I’ll visit every Sunday,” Liam tried. “And I’ll call every night. You’ll be out before you know it anyway, and then we’ll see each other every day again.”

            “I won’t be out soon!” Zayn exclaimed, voice on the edge of hysteria. Christian looked up and Louis quietly hushed Zayn, probably trying to save him from the sedative he was forcibly injected with. Zayn either didn’t hear or ignored it. “Every time I think I’m doing good, I come around and find out that hours of my life have passed without my knowledge! If you go, I won’t even want to be myself.”

            “It’s not like it will change anything between us, babe,” Liam promised, blinking furiously.

            “You say that, and maybe they won’t at first, but your life will go back to normal. You’ll go back to your normal friends and the normal things that teenagers do, which don't include visiting their crazy boyfriend in a mental hospital. You’ll go back to Sophia and then it will be like I didn’t exist at all.”

            “How can you say that?” Liam asked, voice cracking and soft as a few tears that he couldn’t blink away escaped. He didn’t even seem to notice or care. “I love you. There is nowhere else I would rather be than with you, even if it is in a mental hospital. You are what I consider my ‘normal’ life.”

            “I’m a different person every day. Sometimes multiple people in one day.”

            “And I wait for you to come back every time, Z. I can wait as long as you need me to.”

            “Whatever, Liam.”

            Not even bothering to take his tray, Zayn stood and walked quickly out of the cafeteria, leaving the others wanting to say something to make him come back, but no one knowing what that would be. Finally, Liam sighed, standing himself as he took both of their trays and began to walk away.

            “Li?” Louis asked, concerned.

            “I’ve just got to talk to him,” Liam said, though to convince himself or the others, Harry didn’t know.

            “This is why we don’t like our patients getting romantically involved,” Christian commented when Liam was gone. Louis looked at him, then over at Harry.

            “That won’t be us,” he said. It sounded kind of like a question.

            “Of course not,” Harry assured him. “You know that I’ll wait for you, right? I’ll be counting out the days until December…what? When is your birthday, exactly?”

            “The twenty-fourth.”

            “A Christmas baby!”

            “Almost,” Louis said with a small smile, though he didn’t look completely relaxed.

            “I’ll wait, Louis.”

            “I know.”

***

            The day passed terribly slow, growing worse as it progressed. Everyone was quiet. Niall, who was, of course, always quiet, was still more subdued, sitting with the group but picking at his jeans. Liam and Zayn exchanged a few words, and stayed close to each other, but there was no denying that it was awkward; both of them ready to burst into tears at any given moment. Harry really wanted to go and get away from it all, but he owed his friends his support, even if that was just sitting there quietly in case he was needed, though why he thought they would need him, he wasn’t sure.

            Finally, after about an hour of sitting and doing nothing in the rec room once all of their daily activities were done, Liam sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

            “I guess I’ll just go to bed,” he announced, and that was it. Zayn broke down into tears, and didn’t even try to hide it.

            “Stay,” he said. Harry wondered if he meant for the night, permanently or both.

            “I’ll still be here tomorrow,” Liam said softly, running a finger along the back of Zayn’s neck softly.

            “But what if I’m not? I could change at any moment. What if this is the last time I see you?”

            “It won’t be,” Liam said confidently, pressing a kiss to Zayn’s lips after quickly scanning the area to check if they were being observed.

            “I love you,” Zayn said, pressing his forehead to Liam’s.

            “I love you too,” Liam said. “Sneak into my room in a little bit?”

            Zayn nodded and Liam placed a kiss on his forehead before standing and, more light-heartedly, saying, “All right, Tyler, Brian, Christopher and Genevieve; leave Zayn alone tonight. He doesn’t need you, but I need him.”

            That got a smile out of Zayn and Liam returned it before squeezing his shoulder and heading off to the bedroom. Harry really wanted to question about this Genevieve –who was Zayn’s fifth personality, Harry assumed. He was very curious as to how a female split worked in a male body. He didn’t find it the appropriate time to question it, however.

***

            As hard as that day was, the next day was even harder. Harry was hoping they would all start coming to terms with the circumstances, but they weren’t. The only difference was that the day was going much faster than the previous, which that wasn’t necessarily a good thing since none of them, but Zayn especially, wanted to face what they were going to have to the next day.

            “Don’t leave before we all wake up,” Louis said, giving Liam a big hug before disappearing to his own room for the night (or at least until he could sneak back to get in bed with Harry.)

            “I’ll be here until after lunch,” Liam promised, hugging back. Zayn had already gone to his own room, in tears, naturally.

            “Think if you purge it, they’ll let you stay?”

            “Doubt it,” Liam said with a laugh.

            “Damn,” Louis said.

***

            Louis made it back to the room before Zayn did but soon, both were in there, lying with their respective boyfriends, though none of them were having much luck sleeping for a long time. After a while, soft snores came from Zayn and Liam’s bed; Liam’s snores and they seemed to lull Louis to sleep too. Harry wanted so badly to sleep, but he knew Zayn was awake; he could feel the tension and it was exhausting him but keying him up at the same time.

            “Zayn?” Harry whispered, hoping he didn’t wake the other two.

            “Yeah?” Zayn whispered back with a small sniffle. The other two didn’t stir.

            “Are you going to be okay?” Harry asked.

            “I don’t have much choice, do I?”

            “It’s not a choice though.”

            Zayn didn’t answer, but he didn’t really have time to because they both heard footsteps enter the room and, while Harry feigned sleep, Zayn worked on making sure he wasn’t visible.

            “Relax, guys,” the person said, and Harry recognized the voice, but didn’t think it was a staff member. “It’s just me.”

            “Josh?” Zayn asked, and yes, Josh. That was definitely who it was, Harry realized.

            “Yeah. Now, listen, wake up your boyfriends and go outside, on the left side of that big fence.”

            “But why?” Zayn asked. “And aren’t the outside doors locked?”

            “I unlocked them. Just do it. Unless you want to pass up the chance of a night of freedom.”

            “We’ll be there soon.”

            “Great. Try to make it quick, please. I’m going to get Niall.”

            His footsteps left the room and, for a few moments, neither conscious teenager said anything, but then Harry heard Zayn say Liam’s name and shake him so he did the same with Louis.

            “Huh?” Louis gasped, sitting up quickly and drawing back from Harry.

            “Shh, hey, sorry, it’s just me.”

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Josh is breaking us out of here, I guess.”

            “Josh…what?”

            “I’m not really sure,” Harry admitted. “But do you want to find out?”

            Louis seemed to contemplate it for a minute, but then mumbled something incoherent and got out of bed. Liam followed suit, and then Zayn and Harry.

            Trying to get to the back was possibly one of the scariest moments of Harry’s life, he decided. They broke it up; Liam and Zayn escaping first and then Louis and Harry to try to lessen the likelihood of being seen, but nurses were everywhere and they were almost busted four different times. Still, he kept a brave face because it was even darker in the main part of the hospital than back in the bedrooms and Louis had a death grip on Harry’s hand, his breaths coming out too short. Harry wanted to whisper and tell him that it was okay, but feared that would get them caught for sure so he just squeezed his hand back and made his mission to keep Louis safe. Finally, they made it to the fence where Josh, Niall, Liam and Zayn were already waiting.

            “Good job, lads. I’m going to help you lot over the fence then go back through the hospital to say goodbye to everyone and lock the back doors and stuff. Niall has the keys to my car, so get in there and I’ll be out as soon as I can.”

            “But what’s going on?” Zayn asked, crossing his arms and shivering though the night wasn’t cool.

            “I just thought you would want a night of fun,” Josh said. “I heard you’re getting sprung tomorrow, Liam, and wanted to make your last night one to remember.”

            At the mention of what the next day brought, the boys grew silent. Josh continued.

            “Who’s first?”

            One by one, Josh lifted the patients over the fence-rolling his eyes when Liam claimed he was too big for Josh to lift. Niall was last, and he was also the only one Josh bothered to ask if he was okay afterwards. Surprisingly, Niall gave a response of, “Mhm.” Louis smiled proudly.

            “Good,” Josh said. “I’ll be there soon.”

            The five heard their accomplice walk away and, after only a moment’s hesitation, Niall led them to where Harry assumed Josh told him he was parked, which was quite a bit down from the hospital, out of sight. Niall got shotgun, of course, while the four others piled into the back, Louis sitting on Harry’s lap since they ran out of available seating. Harry was actually starting to feel really good now; adrenaline, he was sure, as he knew deep down that this was so, so stupid. But still, he couldn’t help but smile, and he pressed a kiss into the back of Louis’s shoulder; a bit of skin exposed where his too-big nightshirt had slipped off it a little.

            “Your boyfriend is crazy, Ni,” Liam commented.

            “Keep him,” Louis added.

            Fifteen minutes later, Josh finally arrived, giving the boys thumbs up before climbing into the driver’s seat and taking Niall’s hand.

            “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” he asked his boyfriend, forehead creased with concern. “It’s okay if you’re not.”

            Though he looked nervous-petrified, even-Niall nodded. Josh kissed him.

            “Okay. Tell me if you change your mind. Or, you know, hit me or something.”

            Niall smiled, and Josh returned it.

            “All right, lads; first thing’s first. Who wants real food?”

            ‘Real food’ ended up being fast food in Josh’s book, but no one was complaining. The hospital’s food wasn’t terrible, or bad at all, really, but Harry thought that maybe this was the best meal he’d ever had. Maybe that was still the adrenaline.

            After they had their food, the group of them eating like starving pigs, Josh drove to his house, which was a mini-mansion, really.

            “My parents are out of town,” he explained. “Whatever we do tonight is up to you. I stocked up on crisps and cakes, just please don’t make yourselves sick on them, especially you, Liam.”

            “No promises,” Liam said, finding the pastries on the counter immediately and digging in. Niall looked around, then saw something outside that made his eyes widen as he patted Josh’s arm excitedly and pointed.

            “The hot tub?” Josh asked, smile on his face. Niall nodded. “Yeah, that’s ours. Sorry, lads. You’re welcome to use the pool though.”

            “We don’t have swimwear,” Zayn commented.

            “I don’t think any of us have anything none of us have seen before,” Louis said with a wink, lifting his shirt a bit as if contemplating taking it off. Harry was kind of disappointed that he didn’t.

            “Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Zayn said, then, to Liam, “What do you say, Liam?”

            “I don’t know,” Liam said reluctantly, some pastry icing on his upper lip. Zayn wiped it off with his thumb and then licked it off of his own finger, and damn, that was kind of hot too.

            “Why not?” Zayn asked.

            “Not everyone has seen my body since I’ve been…eh…‘recovered.’”

            Harry felt that he was talking about him then, since he had been to the school football matches, admittedly ogling over Liam’s body, unaware of the abuse he put it through, and so he was quick to speak up.

            “You and Zayn can have the pool to yourselves anyway, Li. I mean…if it’s okay with you, Lou, can we just, like…go upstairs or something?”

            Five pairs of eyebrows simultaneously raised. Harry’s cheeks burned.

            “There’s a guest room upstairs and to the right. It’s the room with the yellow bedspread,” Josh spoke. “It has a flat screen TV and nice stereo and…stuff.”

            “That’s fine with me,” Louis said, looking inquisitively into Harry’s eyes.

            “Glad that’s settled then,” Zayn said, taking his shirt off right then and there. Harry was only attracted to Louis , but he could still admit that Zayn was an attractive guy and stared for a moment, only getting more aroused and seriously, what was going on with him?  Whatever it was, he kind of didn’t want it to end.

***

            “Louis, you’re so damn beautiful.”

            “Harry…”

            “Want your shirt off.”

            Louis allowed Harry to pull his shirt off and Harry admired him for a few moments; his toned abs, with just enough softness to make him seem real, but no less beautiful, and then began kissing him again, as he’d been doing for the past five minutes.

            “Harry.”

            “Hmm?”

            “Are you okay?”

            “Of course. Why do you ask?”

            “I’ve just never seen you like this before.”

            “I feel amazing.”

            Honestly, the last time he had felt that good was before he had downed the bleach; when he thought all of his pain was finally going to end. But he was doing the opposite now. He wasn’t dying, he was living, and, for the first time since he could clearly remember, it felt great.

            “Think I’m having an adrenaline rush,” he admitted. Louis laughed, taking Harry’s face and pulling it away from him a little.

            “I don’t think this is the right time.”

            “You were about to have sex with me in an art museum on an institution outing,” Harry pointed out.

            “I was wrong for that. I’m sorry.”

            “It’s okay. I’m not upset about it. I just wasn’t ready then. I am now.”

            Harry tried to kiss Louis again. He wouldn’t let him.

            “You’re not thinking straight.”

            “Well, I am gay.”

            Louis rolled his eyes.

            “You know what I mean.”

            “I’m not drunk, Lou. I know what I’m doing.”

            “Harry, please.”

            “What’s wrong?” Harry asked, frowning and pulling away from Louis.

            “Nothing’s wrong.”

            Studying Louis’s facial expression, Harry didn’t quite believe him.

            “All right, talk to me,” he said, sitting up and breaking physical contact with Louis, though his own body screamed at him for it.

            “I just…I was scared to ask you to be my boyfriend at the museum, which is why I tried to use sex to distract me. For a while, that was the only time I got positive physical contact; when I was having sex with someone, but it never meant anything; not really. You’re different and I want to, I really do, but I want it to be…I don’t know…special, I guess.”

            Louis was blushing. It was the cutest thing ever, and although Harry really needed this, more than he’d ever needed anything from someone ever-he wasn’t going to push it, so he nodded.

            “Okay. Yeah.”

            “Are you mad at me?” Louis asked, biting his lip. It would have been so hot if Louis didn’t look a bit scared.

            “No,” Harry answered, reaching out to put his finger under Louis’s chin and bring his face in for another kiss, but Louis flinched when he saw Harry raise his hand.

            “I’m not mad,” Harry assured him. “And I’m most definitely not going to hurt you. I’m sorry you thought I was.”

            “It’s just instinct,” Louis said, looking embarrassed again. “I trust you, I do.”

            “Good. I’m glad.”

            Harry gave Louis an innocent peck on the lips but then sat back, keeping their knees touching and taking Louis’s hands in his own. Louis smiled.

            “You’re amazing.”

            “I love you.”

            That sentence just slipped right out of Harry’s mouth, and he hadn’t meant to say it, but they were true, so he didn’t panic too much. That was, until Louis’s eyes widened and he seemed to literally stop breathing.

            “Lou?” Harry asked. “You don’t have to say it back, it’s okay, I just wanted you to know…”

            To his horror, tears welled up in Louis’s eyes and he wiped them away quickly before breaking contact with Harry and rolling over onto his side, putting a pillow over his head, his small body shaking.

            Good job, Harry, you broke him.

            “Sorry,” Harry said awkwardly, trying not to start crying himself.

            “No, I’m sorry,” Louis said, voice muffled by the pillow. “This is so awkward.”

            “It’s really okay if you don’t feel the same, Louis. It’s fine,” Harry said, though his heart said differently.

            “No!” Louis said, taking the pillow off his face as he sat up quickly. There were only a few tears on his cheeks, but that was a few too many. “That’s not it, Harry. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.”

            In the next instant, Louis was in Harry’s lap, hands tangled through his hair as he began kissing him again. Harry wasn’t complaining, but…what?

            “Okay, what?” he asked out loud once Louis had pulled away.

            “I love you,” Louis repeated.

            “Well…I’m glad to hear that, Lou, but, um…why are you…why are you crying?”

            “Because I’m a mess,” Louis said with a small laugh as he wiped his eyes. “An awkward mess. I’m sorry.”

            “I just want to know what’s going on,” Harry said. “Was it the way I said it? Was it too soon?”

            “No, Harry’s it’s not you. I mean, it kind of is, but…they’re happy tears.”

            “Really?”

            “Really. It’s just…I haven’t heard that from anyone since before my dad died and, well…that doesn’t even matter anymore because I spent so long trying to get anyone to say it to me, but I don’t think it would have meant anything even if they did because it wasn’t you. I just…oh my god, I’m going to shut up now. I love you.”

            Following through and hushing himself, Louis allowed himself to only kiss Harry, who kissed back, but laughed a little when they broke apart.

            “Are you laughing at me?” Louis asked, though was smiling.

            “No, love, not you. Just…the situation. It’s so absurd.”

            “Yeah,” Louis said, his own smile even wider. “I guess it is. But I still love you.”

            “And I love you.”

            Wrapping his arms around Louis’s shoulders, Harry took him down into a laying position with him, kissing his neck as Louis sighed contently. “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

            “Now you’re trying to make me cry.”

            “Your eyes turn a really pretty shade of blue when you cry,” Harry commented.

            “So you like when I cry.”

            “Only when they’re happy tears. And they were happy tears?”

            “Yes, of course,” Louis said, rolling over in Harry’s arms to face him. “You make me so happy, Harry.”

            “Mmm…and you make me happy too.”

            “Yeah?” Louis asked, looking unsure.

            “I might not be a happy person, but I’m happy with you and that’s more than I had before.”

            “I love you.”

            Giving a genuine smile, Harry kissed Louis yet again. “And I love you.”

            “I love you.”

            “And I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I lo-”

            Louis interrupted with a kiss.

            “Okay, Harry, I get it.”

            “I’m just trying to make up for all the times you didn’t hear it, and should have.”

            “You did that with the first one,” Louis said, and snuggled closer. Harry was looking forward to morning even less.

 

Chapter Text

                “Louis! Harry!”

            Lazily moving their eyes away from the television, where some cheesy movie that may or may not have been making them a bit emotional was playing, the couple saw Zayn standing in the doorway, still shirtless and hair dripping water. He looked happy, Harry noticed. He looked like what he thought Zayn would look like with his counterparts gone.

            “Yes?” Louis prompted when Zayn stopped to smile at the pair cuddling contently in bed.

            “Pizza,” Zayn said. “Do you want any?”

            “Didn’t we just get food?” Louis asked.

            “Liam wanted pizza.” Zayn shrugged.

            “He’s going too crazy,” Louis commented, but climbed over Harry and got off the bed anyway. Reluctantly, Harry followed suit, holding Louis’s hand as they made their way downstairs.

            “I have another treat for you lads,” Josh commented when the three entered the kitchen. He was sitting at the breakfast bar with Niall while Liam waited at the stove for the frozen pizzas to get done, but after giving Niall a quick kiss on the lips, Josh stood, walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a six pack of beer.

            “Does anyone’s medicine react badly with this?” he asked.

            “Who cares?” Zayn replied, snatching a can for himself and one for Liam as well.

            “Anyone else?” Josh asked. Niall nodded and Harry accepted one, leaving only Louis looking uncertain.

            “Lou?” Josh asked then.

            “I don’t know,” Louis said.

            “What’s wrong?” Josh continued. “Are you an alcohol snob that doesn’t like beer?”

            “No,” Louis said with a nervous, almost shy, smile. “I mean, I don’t know what I like.”

            “You’ve never drank before?” Josh asked incredulously. Louis awkwardly shrugged.

            “I’ve been in there since I was fifteen, basically, and before that…”

            He waved his hand, not wanting to finish out that thought, but the boys seemed to understand.

            “It’s okay,” Josh assured him. “Want to try it though?”

            “Sure, I guess,” Louis caved after a moment of debate.

            “You don’t have to,” Liam said.

            “I want to,” Louis insisted, accepting the can he was being offered. Everyone stared as he popped it open, mentally braced himself and then took a drink. And, simultaneously, they all began laughing at the truly appalled face that he made while choking and gagging.

            “That was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” he said, eyes nearly watering. “I really might throw up.”

            With that, he took another swig, choking and gagging again.

            “What are you doing?!” Harry asked, still laughing as he made a grab for the can, but Louis pulled it away.

            “I’m not a quitter,” he said.

            “You really look like you might hurl, man,” Josh said, clearly still amused as well. “Don’t drink it.”

            “I’ll save it,” Louis decided. “Maybe it will taste better with pizza.”

            As if on cue, the oven beeped. Liam gasped excitedly, like he hadn’t eaten all day, and took the food out of the oven, demanding Josh to get them plates immediately.

            Louis didn’t like his beer any better with pizza, but he kept chugging anyway, cheeks starting to flush as he neared the end of the can faster than anyone should finish a beer.

            “Are you okay?” Harry asked after Louis went from cheering for himself to staring off into space.

            “No,” Louis said, still just sitting there, half in his own world.

            “Babe?” Harry asked, concerned.

            “I’ll be right back,” Louis said before heading upstairs. Harry stood to follow while Liam snorted, but said,

            “I’ll go make sure he’s all right. You’re still eating.”

            Harry wanted to tell him that that was okay; that he would go, but Liam was already halfway across the room, so he sat and began picking at his pizza in defeat.

            “He’s such a lightweight,” Zayn commented, smiling amusedly.

            “Be nice,” Josh said. “Maybe it just doesn’t mix with his medicine.”

            “He doesn’t take his medicine,” Zayn said while Niall shook his head at his boyfriend, agreeing with Zayn.

            “How does he get away with that?” Josh asked, and Harry looked up, also curious. He always thought Louis took it every night when he did.

            “Puts it in the back of his cheek and hides it. He says he’s not taking medicine he doesn’t need.”

            “Does he want to get out of there?” Josh asked, shaking his head in disapproving wonder.

            “I don’t think so,” Zayn said. Josh sighed. Harry shoved the rest of his pizza into his mouth, finished off his beer, and stood.

            “I’m going to see what’s taking them so long,” he said, despite the fact that it hadn’t actually been long at all. Still, no one argued about it, so Harry made his way upstairs.

            On the way to the spare bedroom where he and Louis had previously been lounging, he had to pass the bathroom, where he halted. The door had been open previously, but was shut now, the sound of water running from inside, but not quite loud enough to mask the sounds of coughing and gagging.

            “Lou?” Harry asked, rapping a few times on the door. “Liam? Are you both okay?”

            There were a few moments of silence, where neither said anything, but the coughing stopped. Then, Liam said, barely audibly,

            “Yeah, we’re fine.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah, it’s just Lou…the beer…”

            “Does he need anything?”

            “No, he’s fine. We’ll be out in a minute.”

            “Okay.”

            Not wanting to push himself on the others, but too worried to go back downstairs, Harry sunk to the ground outside the door and picked at his pants for a while, waiting. He hated these stupid sweatpants with no strings, but they weren’t allowed to wear anything with zippers or drawstrings. How Louis had ever fallen for him looking the way he did in there, Harry wasn’t sure.

            Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was only a couple of minutes, Harry heard the lock on the door clicking and got to his feet as the door opened. Liam jumped when he saw Harry there, but Harry was too busy looking over his shoulder, searching for Louis, to notice much.

            “Where’s Lou?” he finally asked, confused. He didn’t assume there were too many places to hide in the bathroom, and why would he need to hide?

            “Um…,” was Liam’s reply as he shifted nervously on the balls of his feet.

            “Liam?” Harry asked, finally looking his friend in the eyes. Liam looked guilty and even a little bit scared.

            “He went out front for air,” he finally answered.

            “When?” Harry asked. “I’ve been here the whole time since I knocked.”

            Looking even guiltier, Liam began to chew on his bottom lip.

            “Liam…,” Harry started, pieces clicking. “Did you…?”

            “Did I what?”

            “Make yourself sick?”

            Harry thought the other’s lip might start to bleed if he bit down any harder.

            “Don’t tell Zayn,” Liam spoke after deliberating on telling the truth or not, probably.

            “Are you better at all?” Harry asked.

            “Of course I am. This was just a one time thing. A one last time thing.”

            “Li…”

            “I’m fine, Harry, now, please, you can’t tell Zayn. I’m leaving, and if he thinks I’m not better, he’ll worry, and I don’t want him to worry. He needs to focus on himself and get better.”

            “So do you.”

            “I’m better, I swear. Harry, please.”

            “Fine,” Harry sighed, against his better judgment. He would certainly want to know if Louis was doing the same. “But promise this was the last time?”

            “I promise.”

            Harry nodded. Next, they heard footsteps coming up the steps. A few seconds later, Louis had rounded the corner.

            “Oh, there you are! What are you two doing?”

            “Nothing,” Liam answered quickly. “I just had to use the bathroom, and Harry was looking for you to make sure you were okay.”

            Liam’s smile was in place; the one he had in school all the time; the fake one. Despite his promise, Harry almost spilled the truth. He didn’t.

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” Louis said, smiling over at Harry. His was a real one. “I wasn’t sure for a moment there, but I’m okay.”

            “Good. I’m glad,” Harry said, giving Louis a kiss on the forehead as Liam discreetly made his way past the couple and back downstairs. “I’m going to use the bathroom too and then I’ll be right back down, okay?”

            “Okay, but do you mind if we go back to the room for a little bit instead?”

            “You’re sure you’re okay?” Harry asked, his worry still present.

            “I’m sure. I am a bit dizzy though. I’m pathetic.”

            He giggled as he said the words and Harry huffed out a laugh too because Louis was so cute.

            “You’re not pathetic,” he assured him, squeezing his boyfriend’s hand lightly. “You’re not supposed to drink that as fast as you did, especially the first time, and it is an acquired taste, so…don’t worry. Go lie down and I’ll be right there.”

            Smiling at Harry yet again, Louis bounced up on the balls of his feet to give him a quick kiss on the lips before turning and heading to the bedroom. Harry watched him disappear and then entered the bathroom, locking the door behind him.

            His intentions were innocent; he just really had to go. But, out of nowhere, the thoughts hit him; the bad ones. He was out of the hospital; out of a controlled setting. There were knives in the kitchen, belts in the closets, bleach in the bathroom…

            Do it right this time…

            Harry physically shook his head, pulling up his sweats and flushing the toilet before going to the sink to wash his hands. He was having a good night. There was no reason he should be thinking this way. He had no logical explanation for why he would want to do that to himself again. Of course, he hadn’t had an explanation the first time, but that hadn’t stopped him from being disappointed when it didn’t work. That hadn’t prevented him from wishing it had.

            Louis is in the other room, Harry reminded himself. This is the last thing he needs. Don’t be so selfish, you have a boyfriend to think about now.

            But what if, in the long run, Louis would be better off without him? Harry was selfish, clearly, and Louis deserved to have someone who put his happiness before their own. Someone deserving of Louis wouldn’t be thinking about the deadly chemicals under the counter, knowing how much using them would hurt him. Harry was thinking those thoughts though. Harry didn’t deserve Louis. It would be fine. Louis would move on. His family would move on, and not have to be put through visiting every week or calling to check up on him almost every night. It was the best for everyone, really. Not just Harry.

            A pound on the door made Harry jump, hands flying to turn off the water, and how long had he been mindlessly scrubbing at his hands anyway?

            “Hold on,” he said, quickly drying his hands and making to open the door, but he paused, hand on the knob, eyes making their way back to the cabinet under the sink. If he opened the door, he might not get this chance again for a very long time. He would have to keep going for an indefinite amount of time, feeling the way he usually did, or worse. Though he wasn’t back at one hundred percent, he had still been better than normal recently, which he supposed was a good thing, but he wasn’t expecting it to last. Any day-any moment-it would all come crashing down and he would be back to that same, complete darkness that he had tried so hard to escape. Here was his chance to escape it before it even caught up all the way, he knew. He could succeed this time, he felt it deep down, and that feeling made him feel something else that was familiar, if distantly. It made him feel excited.

            Letting go of the doorknob, Harry opened the cabinet door, almost smiling, but that changed quickly when he saw absolutely nothing. The cabinet was empty; sans some toilet paper and a toilet bowl brush. Josh was smart. He may be reckless; sneaking five mental institution patients out and into his home, but he was smart.

            “Harry! Are you okay?”

            Louis’s voice sounded from the other side of the door as he began pounding again.

            “Yeah, hold on, babe,” Harry called, looking around. Surely, there was something. It didn’t have to be bleach, he supposed. There was the shower rod and the shower curtain; maybe some towels. Harry had his shirt…

            “Harry, open the door!”

            Louis sounded scared, making Harry come out of his near-trance somewhat. He’d promised to keep Louis safe. He hadn’t ever wanted to be the cause of his fear.

            “Harry…Josh! JOSH! Help!”

            “No, Lou, I’m fine,” Harry said quickly, running to the door and flinging it open, heart sinking as he did. There went his chance.

            Louis stared up at Harry’s face, his eyes wide with the fear that Harry had heard in his voice, and then he threw his arms around Harry’s neck, burying his face into his chest and taking in a long, shaky breath.

            “Jesus, Harry,” he sighed.

            “What?” Harry asked, his voice implying that he had at least an idea of what.

            “I’m sorry,” Louis said.

            “What are you apologizing for?”

            “I shouldn’t have left you alone for even a minute, and I shouldn’t have let you leave the hospital in the first place.”

            “What are you talking about?” Harry asked, feigning ignorance. “Everything’s fine, Lou.”

            “You were having those thoughts again, weren’t you?”

            Louis had pulled away, looking dead into Harry’s eyes. How do you know? Harry wanted to ask, but instead, he said,

            “No, I was just using the bathroom.”

            Louis studied him, then shook his head, not falling for it.

            “I’m so sorry.”

            “Stop apologizing, Lou,” Harry said, giving in. “It’s not your fault.”

            “We need to go back.”

            “We’re supposed to be asleep anyway. Nothing will happen tonight.”

            “But you need that routine still. You need the observation.”

            “I have you.”

            Sadly, Louis shook his head.

            “I failed you,” he said.

            “No you didn’t. Why would you say that?”

            “You almost ended it all again tonight.”

            “No I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.”

            “But you almost did.”

            Harry sighed, shaking his head.

            “It was a minor relapse. Let’s go lay down, okay? You’re looking quite pale.”

            It wasn’t a lie.

            “Changing the subject won’t make either of us forget the truth.”

            “It was a moment of weakness. I’m okay.”

            “You’re not.”

            “Lou, please? I don’t want to ruin this night.”

            “And I don’t want to lose you.”

            “You won’t.” 

            Though it was a promise Harry couldn’t keep (though, to be fair, no one could really keep a promise like that), Louis wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck again to give him another kiss.

            “I love you, Harry,” he said.

            “I love you too,” Harry assured him. No matter what, that was the truth, and always would be.

***

            Instead of lying down, Louis and Harry joined the group again. They were just sitting down for a movie and had left the recliner for them. It was an awfully small recliner for both of them, but Harry didn’t mind that Louis was basically all the way on top of him. In fact, he quite enjoyed it.

            By the time they were halfway through the movie, Niall and Liam had fallen asleep. Louis’s eyes had been heavy since about twenty minutes in and Harry kept expecting him to fall to sleep too, but he forced his eyes open each time and shifted until he was awake again, though he wasn’t even paying attention to the movie. Harry wanted to ask what was wrong. He had a bad feeling he already knew the answer.

***

            Once the movie was over, Josh and Zayn sweetly woke their boyfriends, Josh announcing that they really should be getting back, as wake up time was in just about three hours.

            The car ride back was silent. The night had been fun for them all-even Harry, despite his little hiccup-but reality was setting in for all of them; Zayn especially.

            “Want me to stop and get you something good to eat before we get back there?” Josh asked, looking at Liam through the rearview mirror. Niall had fallen asleep again in the front passenger seat, his back to the door as he held Josh’s hand that wasn’t placed on the steering wheel.

            “That’s okay,” Liam said with a small (fake) smile. “I don’t think eating that much was the best idea as it is.”

            “Are you all right?” Zayn asked, looking at Liam for the first time since he woke him.      

            “Yeah,” Liam assured him. “I’m fine.”

            As he nipped gently at his boyfriend’s ear, Harry also heard him say, “We’re going to be okay.”

            A small cry made its way from Zayn’s throat and he buried his face in Liam’s chest. Louis began running a hand up and down his own thigh nervously from his seat on Harry’s lap.

            “What is it?” Harry asked quietly, putting his chin on Louis’s shoulder.

            “Nothing,” he said. Harry held in a sigh.

***

            The fact that they didn’t get caught on their way inside was even more of a miracle than when exiting, but somehow they didn’t. They’d done something good in their lives, apparently, Harry thought as he thanked the universe. Louis had gone to his own room and, though Harry didn’t like falling asleep without him, he was exhausted and was out as soon as his head hit the pillow.

***

            When they were woken up not much later, Harry was perhaps even more exhausted than when he fell asleep and every fiber of his being wanted to stay in bed-as Louis had said, they couldn’t really force him out-but then he remembered that Liam was leaving that day. It wasn’t his day to sulk and feel sorry for himself. Perhaps tomorrow.

            As he sat up, a bit dizzy from how tired he was, really, he saw that Liam was already wide awake, sitting up in bed with his knees drawn up to his chin, just staring at the wall like it would help him out of this undesirable situation.

            “Hey,” Harry said lamely, thinking the question ‘are you okay’ was used too much around that place already.

            “Hey,” Liam replied.

            “Are you ready?”                 

            “Yeah. Like I said, I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about Zayn.”

            “Don’t be. We’ll take care of him.”

            “I know, but I’m not going to like not knowing what he’s doing all the time, or even who he is.”

            “He’ll be himself soon,” Harry assured Liam. “Just himself.”

            Liam nodded, forcing another smile as he got out of bed and stretched.

            “There is something you should know before you go back home,” Harry said, and he probably should have mentioned this to Liam before, but each time he thought about it, the time wasn’t right. Liam had always seemed too happy or too sad. Or too distracted. Or just never ready for…this.

            “What is it?” Liam asked, frowning and looking nervous.

            “Sophia, she, um…she’s telling everyone that she’s pregnant with your child. Most people don’t believe her, but…yeah…”

            Liam stared blankly at Harry for a few moments until Harry swallowed nervously and shifted his position on the bed. Then, he actually, legitimately laughed.

            “Thank you for that, Harry,” he said, rubbing at his eyes. “I needed that.”

            “I was serious,” Harry said, smiling a little himself.

            “I don’t doubt it. I guess an official ‘coming out’ will be in order soon, yeah?”

            “Maybe it will be good for you,” Harry tried.

            “Yeah. Maybe.”

***

            The morning dragged on but went much too fast all at the same time. No one really ate much breakfast, and Christian didn’t even say anything about it. Zayn had a mini freak out before morning therapy, afraid that he would leave Liam’s side and then he would be gone. Liam promised he wouldn’t, and he kept that promise, though barely, as they weren’t even halfway through lunch (which was hardly touched as well) before a nurse approached the table and told Liam that his parents were waiting. Zayn was already crying, but it got worse then.

            “No,” he said to his boyfriend as the nurse waited to escort him away.

            “I’ll see you really soon. Sunday is only a few days away,” Liam said, fixing Zayn’s hair, which wasn’t even messed up, but oh well.

            “I need you,” Zayn tried. Liam bit his lip.

            “Call me whenever. Seriously.”

            “I don’t even have your number!” Zayn cried. Liam furrowed his brow.

            “You don’t?”

            “No! I’ve never needed it!  You’ve always been here!”

            “Ariana, can I borrow a pen and paper?” Liam asked the awaiting nurse. She obliged. He wrote his number down, placed it in the palm of Zayn’s hand and curled his fingers around it before placing a long kiss on his lips. Harry was surprised that neither Christian nor Ariana attempted to stop it.

            “I love you,” Liam said to his boyfriend. “Be good.”

            Zayn was clearly still very upset, but he let Liam stand up then. The teen tugged down on his shirt and then gave the rest of his friends a shaky smile.

            “See you all soon, yeah?”

            “You better,” Louis replied, smiling sadly as Niall nodded, looking quite forlorn himself. Harry was sad too, of course; he rather liked Liam and he was a great roommate, but he felt worse for the others, who had grown and healed with him much more than he had.

            “Take care of yourselves and each other,” he said, massaging a couple circles into Zayn’s back before beginning to walk away.

            “Li?” Zayn called.

            “Yeah?” Liam asked, turning back around as Ariana reluctantly slowed her pace.

            “I am happy for you,” Zayn said. “I’m sorry if it doesn’t seem like it. I am.”

            “I know,” Liam assured him, blowing a kiss. Zayn attempted a smile and almost got there. Liam shot Harry some sort of glance-grateful perhaps?-and then turned his back to them again, and soon was out of sight.

            “This is good for him,” Louis said to Zayn as Niall left his seat to sit in Liam’s abandoned one and hug Zayn from the side.

            “Oh, I know,” Zayn said, flipping his head back oddly and smiling. His voice had changed too. It was higher, the accent different. “I am very happy for him.”

            “Hey, Genevieve,” Louis sighed, looking back down at his plate and poking his vegetables with his fork. Niall slowly let his grip loose from Zayn, still keeping the seat next to him, but distancing himself more. Zayn, or Genevieve, started to happily chew on his/her bread, humming as he/she did so. (Harry was so confused.)

            “Why are you staring at me?” the woman in Zayn’s body asked Harry with a giggle and Harry started. He hadn’t realized until that point that he had been.

            “Sorry,” he said quickly, starting to play with his food just like his boyfriend had been doing.

            “It’s fine, doll,” Genevieve assured him. “It’s not like I don’t get it all the time.”

            Harry glanced at Louis, who gave him a small, reassuring smile, pinching his thigh lightly under the table.

            The rest of lunch passed in complete silence.

 

Chapter Text

                The rest of the day was, to put it mildly, weird. They were all quiet, barely talking to each other, and Genevieve remained in control of Zayn until after medicine time; “I’ll take this,” she had said, “it’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

            Harry wouldn’t have been able to say if she took it or not because he was focusing on Louis who, as Zayn had said, did not take his medicine. He was sneaky, though, and Harry almost didn’t see him spit out the pill even looking right at him and watching for it.

            Zayn was back almost right after medicine was done, which was a coincidence, Harry was sure, because it couldn’t have worked that fast.

            “Welcome back, mate,” Louis greeted carefully, clapping Zayn on the shoulder. “Glad to have you back.”

            “Who was I?” Zayn asked, eyes wide and sad. Harry wanted to hug him, but didn’t.

            “Genevieve,” Louis answered. “She was quite lovely today, particularly because she wasn’t Brian.”

            “But Genevieve likes to make out with girls!” Zayn exclaimed, distraught. “And I don’t want to make out with girls! Just Liam.”

            “She didn’t make out with anyone today,” Louis assured the other.

            “I want Liam,” Zayn said.

            “I know, mate,” Louis told him sympathetically. At just that moment, Meredith approached.

            “Zayn, you have a phone call, sweetie,” she announced.

            “Liam?!” Zayn asked, most of the sadness turning to hope, and then to pure happiness when she nodded.

            “Genevieve makes out with people that aren’t Liam?” Harry asked once Zayn was out of sight.

            “Yeah, well, Genevieve is a lesbian,” Louis told him.

            “But…how does Liam feel about that?”

            “It’s not like it’s Zayn, really,” Louis said with a shrug. “It’s not fun to watch, I’m sure, but he understands.”

            That made one of them, Harry guessed. It wasn’t like he wasn’t trying to understand, and he didn’t hold any of it against Zayn, it was just that the whole situation almost made his head hurt.

            “Don’t worry,” Louis said with a smile, picking up on Harry’s body language. “It took all of us awhile.”

***

            Zayn never came back out after getting off the phone with Liam. After going to check on him, Louis said he didn’t think he would be returning tonight.

            That night was especially weird for Harry before Louis sneaked in like he always did. Zayn had it a thousand times worse than any of them, especially him, and Harry knew that, but that didn’t stop it from feeling empty with the bed across from him vacant and no light snores coming from anywhere in the room. Harry was alone. Typically that didn’t bother him. He stayed by himself most of the time so he wouldn’t spread the darkness that he sometimes felt had to emit from his pores.

            Now was different. He didn’t like the silence. He didn’t like the dark. It was leaving him alone with his thoughts; the thoughts he had grown used to before, but had been somewhat quieted the past few weeks. And they were hitting him hard.

            Sitting up in his bed after an hour of trying and failing to fall into a light sleep in the least-and where was Louis?-Harry sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, hoping to distract himself. He barely felt his own touch.

            This was never going to end, he realized. The sad, heavy feeling. The hopelessness. The tightness in his chest that made it hard to breathe even though nothing was physically wrong. It would always be there, lurking even when Harry felt halfway normal. There was no escape, at least while he was alive.

            “Harry!”

            The soft, but frantic, sound of Louis’s whisper met Harry’s ears and slowly he pulled himself back to Earth, blinking slowly as he tried to make out Louis’s silhouette in the dark. Finally, he made out enough of him to realize he was worried, his forehead creased with concern and eyes wide as they surveyed Harry’s face carefully.

            “What’s wrong?” Harry asked, voice almost making him sound delirious.

            “That’s what I was going to ask you,” Louis said.

            “What do you mean?”

            “You were just sitting there, staring… You didn’t hear me, you didn’t see me…Where’d you go, baby?”

            “Nowhere,” Harry said, attempting a smile. He thought maybe the corner of his lip twitched up.

            “This isn’t helping you,” Louis said.

            “What?”

            “Nothing they’re doing here is working! You’re not getting better!”

            “Shh,” Harry hushed his boyfriend as his voice raised in volume and pitch. “It’s okay. Just kiss me. I’m okay.”

            “No you’re not.”

            “Well, will you kiss me anyway?”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “For what?”

            “I just…I’m sorry.”

            Thinking that he wasn’t getting his kiss anytime soon, Harry went for it himself, his hand making its way to Louis’s hair and tugging just a bit; not enough to hurt, just enough to mean something. Louis made a small noise and kissed back for a moment or two, but then he pulled away, shaking his head.

            “Stop trying to distract me.”

            “I’m not,” Harry only half lied. “I just wanted to kiss you.”

            “Stop pretending in front of me.”

            “I’m not pretending,” Harry lied. “It hurts, Louis, but there’s no reason you should have to be affected by it.”

            “I am because I love you.”

            “Then I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t apologize, just-”

            A footstep right outside Harry’s partially closed door made Louis hush and he and Harry didn’t move, both staring at the door until they heard the footsteps walk away again, and then for a little longer.

            “Just kiss me,” Harry said in barely a whisper, bringing Louis closer.

***

            When Harry was woken the next morning by the typical light being flicked on while an institution employee all but yelled at him, Louis was of course not next to him. That was just as well, though. He should just run while he can; save himself because that feeling inside of him was back, and that didn’t need to touch Louis. Louis was afraid of the dark. If he really knew Harry, he would be afraid of him too.           

            Harry rolled back over that morning without even opening his eyes. He didn’t respond the second time he got the wake-up call and knew that if he made it to the third, it would probably be bad news for him, but he just didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything. Well, except for his family and a couple of his friends…and Louis. Especially Louis.

            Where is Louis?

            Harry’s eyes opened wide when he realized that something was wrong. Louis usually made it into his room before the second wake-up call, or at least shortly after, but there had been no sign of him so far. Harry may have a negative outlook on basically everything, but he had known things had gone well with Louis last night, despite Louis being too concerned over his well-being. They had kissed for a while, and then cuddled, and Louis had fallen asleep in Harry’s arms like he always did, so he wouldn’t just ditch him now. At least Harry really didn’t think so.

            “Harry!”

            “I’m getting up!” he mumbled a little too harshly, waving off whoever it was trying to rouse him. It was apparently a busy morning, though because she was gone before Harry had even rubbed his heavy eyes and turned to see who it was. Oh well. He was only getting up for Louis anyway.

            After grabbing some clothes to change into after showering, Harry first pattered down the hall to Louis’s room. Both his bed and the one belonging to his new room-mate were abandoned, and Harry frowned deeper. Maybe Louis was having a slow morning and still in the showers, Harry thought hopefully, but that turned out to be false, so once he was done with his half-assed shower, Harry hurried to the dayroom, finally finding Louis curled into himself on the couch, holding a book out in front of him though he didn’t appear to be reading it.

            “Lou?” Harry asked once he was within earshot. Louis’s eyes darted over and he smiled a bit as he sat up and put the book down on the floor by his feet.

            “Feeling any better this morning?” Louis asked as Harry took a seat next to him, feeling a little awkward though he didn’t know why.

            “Yeah,” Harry lied, not wanting to make this about him when he felt that something was wrong with Louis too. “Are you okay?”

            “Of course. Why do you ask?”

            “I just…I usually see you before this.”

            “Yeah, sorry about that, I just decided to give you some space this morning.”

            Harry didn’t think his frown could get any deeper.

            “I don’t need space. Not from you.”

            “Oh. Okay then.”

            Louis bounced to his feet, pulling down on the shirt that had ridden up before smiling at Harry again. But something was wrong with that smile. Something was wrong with Louis.

            Harry, what did you do?

            “Do you want some breakfast?” Louis asked.

            “Yeah, sure,” Harry replied, though he didn’t feel very hungry right then.

            Louis was apparently on the same boat and got a simple orange for breakfast. Yeah, something was definitely wrong.

            Good job, Harry.

            “Is Christian off today?” Louis asked their two other friends as he and Harry took their seats at their typical table. Niall shook his head.

            “We don’t need him anymore,” Zayn commented, sounding very bitter about the fact, and realization dawned on Louis’s face.

            “Fuck, sorry, Z, I wasn’t thinking.”

            “Not your fault,” he said, then, “at least it’s one less fag I have to worry about.”

            Harry’s mouth dropped open and even Niall glanced at Zayn in shock, but Louis just sighed.

            “Why can’t you all just leave Zayn alone?” he asked, and oh, okay, it was just a split. That made sense. Harry felt like he was about to get whiplash though. Louis continued, “He can deal with his own pain.”

            “What do you know?” the split-Brian, Harry was sure then-asked, giving Louis a look that showed that he was disgusted he would even have the nerve to speak to him in that way.

            “Because I know he’d be strong enough, if you all would give him the chance,” Louis said.

            “Strong? He’s an emotionally vulnerable fag, but I guess all of you little nutcase queers have to stick together, huh?”

            Harry moved faster than he’d moved in a long time, jumping out of his seat and getting ready to pummel Brian into the ground. Louis and Niall were quicker, though, grabbing Harry and forcing him back into his seat while Brian gave an infuriating smirk.

            “What was that?!” Louis asked, hand still on Harry’s arm after Niall had let go, ready to grab him if he tried to attack again.

            “He can’t talk to you like that,” Harry explained simply. Louis gave a small smile, but shook his head.

            “You’ll hurt Zayn, Harry.”

            Well, shit, Louis was right. And Harry almost didn’t care, but that wasn’t fair. Zayn couldn’t help this. He didn’t deserve to be punished for his mental disorder any more than he already was.

            “Can we go outside?” Harry asked Louis instead.

            “I actually have to get going,” Louis said. “I have an early session today.”

            “Before group therapy?” Harry asked, confused. He didn’t think anyone had sessions before group therapy and only halfway through breakfast.

            “Yeah. I’ll see you soon though, okay?”

            “Okay,” Harry said, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice.

            Louis didn’t even give him a kiss goodbye.

            Is he okay? Niall wrote on his new whiteboard, frowning in concern. So it wasn’t just Harry. Something actually was wrong with Louis, and he had a feeling he knew what it was. Him. His darkness was touching him.

            “I don’t know,” Harry replied before leaving the table, tossing his garbage into the bin on the way out. He thought he missed, but didn’t care enough to check. He had to get out. He had to go back to bed.

            He skipped group therapy that day, and literally squawked at the nurse who came in and tried to take his temperature, which he was sure looked great for his mental health check, but whatever. He wasn’t okay and didn’t care to pretend that he was right then.

            “Babe?”

            Harry opened his eyes-he hadn’t been asleep, unfortunately, just trying to make the rest of the world darker for a bit-and saw Louis a few feet from him, frowning at him in concern. Harry tried to reply, but no words would come out. Louis came closer so that he was standing by the bed.

            “What’s wrong?”

            He ran a hand through Harry’s hair before feeling his forehead and then cheeks. Harry inched away just a little.

            “I’m not sick,” he said.

            “Sad?” Louis asked.

            “Tell me what’s wrong with you,” Harry said.

            “Nothing.”

            “Bull shit.”

            Louis sighed, sitting by Harry’s feet.

            “They busted me sneaking back to my room last night.”

            “What?!” Harry asked, eyes widening.

            “Yeah. I told them that it was the first time it happened and that you were asleep the whole time; that I had been planning to wake you but thought better of it. So when they question you about it, just go with that, okay?”

            “What? No! I’m not letting you take all of the blame for that, Lou. Why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Someone was around the whole morning, Haz, watching and listening. I’m sorry I had to be so distant, but I wanted to warn you before they made a big deal over something.”

            “How much trouble are you in?”

            “Not much.”

            “I’m telling the truth.”

            “No!”

            “It’s not fair for you to take the fall for both of us.”

            “I’ll get in worse trouble if you tell them I lied, Harry, please.”

            Harry sighed, covering his face with the pillow for just a few moments before removing it and sighing at Louis’s worried expression.

            “Why didn’t you tell the truth? I was the one who started us sneaking into each other’s rooms anyway.”

            “Why would I do that to you?”

            “Because it’s better than making it sound like you were just sneaking in to watch me sleep.”

            Louis shook his head.

            “You need them to help you. I’m not painting you out as a rule breaker.”

            “But I am.”

            “They don’t need to know that.”

            “I still can’t believe you would say that.”

            “Believe it.”

            Louis kissed Harry.

            “It’s a bad day, huh?” he said.

            “I love you,” Harry said.

            “I love you too, but that has no relevance to my question.”

            “I don’t want my darkness to get to you.”

            “It won’t.”

            “How do you know?”

            “You’re only dark to yourself. You’re actually really, really bright, you know. My little shining star.”

            Harry raised an eyebrow and actually laughed at how ridiculous that sounded.

            “A destructive meteor, more like.”

            Louis shook his head.

            “Isn’t your session soon?” he asked.

            “I’m not going,” Harry said.

            “Why not?” Louis asked.

            “Don’t want to get out of bed.”

            “I’ll carry you.”

            “Umm, no.”

            “Yes.”

            Standing from the bed, Louis turned his back to Harry and bent forward a little, gesturing for him to hop on.

            “How about we don’t?” Harry commented.

            “We’re going to.”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “I know so.”

            “You are not giving me a piggy-back ride.”

            “Do you prefer bridle-style?”

            Harry laughed, for real then. Louis was amazing.

            “I do, actually,” he teased.

            “Oh. Okay.”

            Turning around, Louis scooped Harry off the bed, albeit not very gracefully, and Harry yelled out, but neither of them fell or were dropped, so they considered it successful.

            Louis got a dirty look when he dropped Harry off at his session and Harry wanted to yell at the therapist for it, but before he could, Louis was gone and all attention was on him.

            “How do you feel about Louis, Harry?” the doctor finally asked after quite an awkward pause.

            “He’s amazing,” Harry answered, forcing himself to stay away from the word ‘love.’

            “You know our policy on romantic relationships between patients, Harry, correct?”

            “I do.”

            The older man narrowed his eyes.

            “Harry, I think Mr. Tomlinson may be getting a little too attached to you.”

            “I don’t mind.”

            “It’s not good for either of your recoveries, Harry.”

            Harry chose not to answer.

            “He entered your room while you were sleeping last night,” the therapist tried.

            “I make his nightmares go away,” Harry answered, somewhat truthfully.

            “I’m just worried about your safety.”

            “Louis is harmless.”

            “He’s sick, Harry, like you, but-”

            “He’s not sick,” Harry interrupted. “And neither am I, but yeah, there’s something wrong with me. Him, though…he’s great. He’s been hurt so badly, but he’s so amazing despite it all. He’s the strongest person I know, actually.”

            Harry had been smiling while describing his boyfriend, but he quieted and shifted uncomfortably as the intensity of the older man’s stare grew.

            “Perhaps you’re right,” he finally said, and those should have been good words, probably, but suddenly, Harry was uneasy.

***

            Louis had another therapy session that afternoon and, even though he had been acting normal after their small talk that morning, that seemed to have changed again by the time he returned.

            “What happened?” Harry asked immediately, standing from his spot on the floor of the dayroom since Louis was apparently not going to plop down on his lap again like he had been before he had to leave.

            “I don’t feel good,” Louis commented. “I think Liam left his germs behind.”

            “Oh no,” Harry said, sticking his lip out in a pout as he felt his boyfriend’s forehead. “You don’t feel warm yet, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

            “Yeah…,”

            “Do you want to go lie down?”

            “Yes, actually.”

            “I’ll go with you.”

            Louis didn’t argue, and Harry slipped his hand into his boyfriend’s as Zayn gave a, “hope you feel better soon, Lou.”

            Louis smiled a little and walked with Harry towards the rooms quietly.      

            “What exactly is wrong?” Harry asked as Louis got on top of the sheets and Harry leaned over him to place a kiss on his still-cool forehead.

            “I’m not sick,” Louis said then, moving so that he could kiss Harry’s lips instead.

            “You’re not?” Harry asked, confused.

            “No.”

            “Then what’s wrong?”

            “Promise me you’ll be okay.”

            “What?”

            “I mean, I know you can’t really promise that, but promise you’ll keep fighting?”

            “Keep fighting what?”

            “The dark.”

            “Yeah, Lou, I’m trying, but what does that have to do with anything?”

            “Promise you won’t get worse, like Zayn did.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            Maybe Louis did have a fever after all.

            “When I’m gone.”

            “When you’re gone?”

            Harry suddenly felt cold.

            “I have to leave, Harry,” Louis said quietly.

            “Leave to go where…?”

            “Home.”

            “Home?”        

            “Yeah.”

            “No. Home is with me. We haven’t gotten our home yet. You’re staying right here until you’re eighteen and we can go somewhere safely together.”

            “No, Harry, I have to go.”

            “Why?!”

            Harry’s voice was frantic. He didn’t care.

            “Is it because they caught you last night?!”

            “No. It has nothing to do with that, really.”

            “Then why do you ‘have’ to leave?!”

            “I don’t need to be here, Harry. You do, and others like you do. These past few days…I’ve seen what that thing can do to you, and you’re not the only one. You can get help. You are getting help, and everyone should get that chance, but they aren’t if I’m here unnecessarily.”

            “We talked about this, Louis. There are other places for them.”

            “Maybe not all of them.”

            “You think one spot will make a difference?”

            “Yes. You’re only one person, Harry, and you’re my one…my only one, and I’m so happy that I found you, despite the circumstances, and I want to make sure someone else is here to meet their one.”

            “You do need to be here, Louis.”

            “No I don’t.”

            “Where else do you have to go?”

            Louis was quiet.

            “With him,” Harry answered himself. “Nope. You’re not doing it.”

            “It’s already done. I’m leaving the day after tomorrow.”

            “No!”

            Tears welled up in Harry’s eyes and spilled out without warning. He still didn’t care.

            “It will be okay,” Louis said. “You won’t have me distracting you and you’ll get better. You’ll get out right in time for Autumn and hot chocolate and scary movies.”

            “But I need you here.”

            “And I need you alive for a long, long time.”

            “I’ll be fine.”

            “Yeah. You will be. And then when you get out, we can work on getting that flat together.”

            “Lou, no! Don’t go!”

            “Just kiss me.”

            “Louis-”

            Taking the lead this time, Louis leaned up and kissed him.

            “This doesn’t make it okay,” Harry said.

            “I love you so much, Harry.”

            “I love you too, Louis. I can’t let you go back with someone who’s going to hurt you.”

            “It’s all going to be okay.”

            “Stay.”

            “I can’t, but when you get better, you can come home.”

            “I love you.”

            “I love you too.”

            Though Harry was still crying, he kissed Louis then and then lifted his wrist-the wrist-and pulled up the sleeve, revealing the angry scars.

            “Don’t do this again,” he pleaded. Louis shook his head.

            “I won’t.”

            “Just because he hurts you doesn’t mean you deserve to be hurt.”

            “I know that, Harry, this was just mistake; a terrible way of getting out, remember?”

            “Lou?”

            Harry’s voice was a whisper, his own lips ghosting against Louis’s as he spoke.

            “Hmm?” Louis hummed.

            “Some of these scars are older than others,” Harry said, his finger tracing the marred skin lightly. “This wasn’t a one time thing.”

            “I was admitted, released and then admitted again because I did it again, but just to get away, Harry.”

            “I was trying to get away too,” Harry said.

            “It’s different,” Louis said. His voice was soft. Giving more kisses, Harry worked on lifting Louis’s sleeve past the forearm, up to the bicep. Other scars scattered the area.

            “Maybe you didn’t want to die,” Harry said, “and maybe you did. I don’t know right now. But that wasn’t the first time you’d hurt yourself. That wasn’t the first time you thought about going farther.”

            “I’m okay now,” Louis insisted. “It was never serious.”

            “You hurt yourself, baby.”

            “I just wanted someone to listen.”

            “So why do you hide them?”

            Louis didn’t answer, and Harry didn’t know if that was because he didn’t want to or just because he couldn’t find the words.

            “You don’t have to answer,” he assured him. “I don’t know your whole story, Lou; not at all. I love you anyway, and I’ll still love you, even if and when I know everything. But I just want you to know that I will listen, always.”

            Louis replied, at first, by continuing to kiss Harry, his hand forming a ball in Harry’s shirt.

            “Maybe I’ll tell you all about it when you come home,” Louis eventually whispered in just one breath before locking their lips together again. Harry wanted to argue and cry that it would be Louis coming home to him, not the other way around, but he couldn’t control Louis any more than he could control his own emotions (which was not at all.) He had been truthful when he told the therapist there was nothing wrong with Louis. All he knew was being abused and so he turned that on himself. It was almost natural, sadly. And Harry was also truly adamant about his darkness not touching Louis, but not because he thought it would take Louis’s shine; just because he was afraid it would bring out Louis’s own darkness again too.

Chapter Text

            Louis left. As much as Harry had been hoping he would change his mind, he went home; back to the abuse and pain. Harry didn’t get it. He didn’t understand why Louis thought leaving was for the best for either one of them. Whether Louis was like the rest of them or not didn’t matter. He belonged with Harry, and Harry belonged with him. Nothing about being at the institution felt right without Louis.

            “Being in an institution isn’t supposed to feel right,” Josh had said when Harry voiced this thought out loud. “Being here means something is wrong.”

            “I want to go home,” Harry said, really meaning that he wanted to go wherever Louis was.

            “How are you doing?” Josh questioned.

            “I’m fine,” Harry said. The other teen narrowed his eyes.

            “You’ll get to go home and be with him when you’re no longer a danger to yourself.”

            That was a lot of pressure, Harry thought, especially when he couldn’t control his mood. He had more bad days than good again, and he couldn’t always force himself out of bed. It just wasn’t possible. He needed motivation, which he had none of anymore. The doctors and nurses shouldn’t be trying to keep them apart, Harry thought. If anything, they should be trying to put them all together with someone because medicine and therapy was fine, but it wasn’t the same as love. Some said that you couldn’t love anyone else if you didn’t love yourself, or that, if you’re sad, love couldn’t change it, but that was all bullshit. Harry didn’t hate himself, but he sure didn’t love himself, especially with these moods he’d been having, and although he always was-and probably always would be-a little sadder than normal, he had felt happiness with Louis, and fuck, he loved him. He’d thought that his sadness had been intense, and it was, but nothing had ever felt more intense than his love for that boy with the fringe and blue eyes.

            The boy that was now gone.

            Maybe it was a bit dramatic to feel like that. After all, Louis wasn’t dead. But by the time four days had passed, he still hadn’t called, hadn’t visited…So he could very well be dead and Harry would have no idea.

            “I don’t think he’s dead,” Zayn tried, wrapped up in his boyfriend’s arms on Sunday; visiting day. Harry had thought Louis would at least show up then. He’d thought wrong.

            “He said he was going to call Liam and try to meet up,” Harry pointed out, “which Liam said he didn’t.”

            “Yeah, but it’s early,” Liam said. “He hasn’t been out that long. He’s probably trying to adjust to real life again. I didn’t call any of my friends until a couple days ago.”

            You at least called your boyfriend the very same night you got free, Harry thought, but kept to himself.

            Nothing changed during the next couple of weeks. Okay, well, that was kind of a lie. Harry’s medicine changed (or at least the dosage, for the third time.) His therapy technique changed. But the situation with Louis didn’t change; he was gone, and probably for good. He hadn’t loved Harry. Harry had just been someone to pass the time with. Louis hadn’t been secretive about the fact that he’d messed around with a bunch of people before Harry. He’d simply told Harry he’d been different, but he probably said that to all of them. For that, Harry wanted to hate the other guy, but he couldn’t. Besides, it was his fault for believing him. He’d known the happiness was a lie, so he should have known the source of the happiness was as well.

            On the positive side of things, Niall and Zayn seemed to be doing better. Zayn still changed personalities more than Harry had seen him do before Liam left, but when he was Zayn, he didn’t act as miserable. He was quiet and withdrawn, but he was at least somewhat emotionally stable, unlike someone else Harry could mention.

            Niall seemed to be doing the best of them all. He still wasn’t talking, but he opened his mouth sometimes, like he wanted to, before shaking his head and writing it down instead. But he was smiley and less reluctant to leave the building, especially if Josh was there.

            Forget therapy. All anyone needed was their soul mate, Harry concluded. Except Louis couldn’t be his soul mate because if he was, he would have loved him back.

***

            On the day that marked the three week point of Louis’s absence, Harry decided that he wasn’t getting out of bed. He was so tired, and the light hurt more than usual. (Harry should always stay away from the light.) So after he had faked the nurse out by sitting up and stretching, Harry collapsed back onto his bed face down and blocked out the world.

            After a little while-he wasn’t sure how long-he thought he felt someone poking, and then shaking, his shoulder, but ignored them, figuring it was just one of the nurses but not caring anyway. That was, until the person jumped on his back, bouncing up and down and making desperate whines. Gasping, Harry sat up quickly, sending the other person toppling onto the mattress beside him. Whipping his head around, Harry saw Niall, and took in another sharp breath.

            “Niall! Jesus!” he sighed, not angry, just trying to get his heart beat to slow down. In turn, Niall stuck out his bottom lip, rubbing a circle onto his chest with his fist, which Harry knew to be the sign for ‘sorry.’

            “It’s okay,” he assured the other man, running a hand through his own hair. “You just startled me. But what is it? What’s wrong?”

            Getting to his feet, eyes wide and cheeks flushed in excitement, Niall motioned for Harry to follow him. Harry frowned.

            “I’m not ready to get up, Niall. I was planning on sleeping all day and, you know, facing the consequences later. But are you okay?”

            Niall nodded.

            “Is Zayn okay?”

            Another nod.

            “All right,” Harry said. “I’m glad. Then is it all right if you show me whatever it is you want to show me later?”

            That time, Niall shook his head.

            “No?” Harry repeated, a bit shocked. He hadn’t really expected a ‘no.’ If he had, he wouldn’t have made it a question. Niall did the ‘follow me’ motion again.

            “Why?” Harry groaned, drawing out the ‘y’ sound at the end, but he knew Niall wouldn’t-couldn’t-answer, so he got out of bed anyway, following the other teen, who was all but skipping down the hall. Harry wasn’t even showered or dressed yet and was sure he would be stopped and told to go freshen up before he even got to wherever Niall was taking him, but he supposed his sleeping hoodie and pajama pants didn’t look all that much different from his regular clothes that he wore in this place because no one said anything. “Niall-” Harry began, but the blonde waved him off, so he shut his mouth and kept following in silence until they reached the cafeteria and, sitting at their usual table, Harry saw what, or who, Niall had been leading him to. His mouth very literally fell open.

            “Louis?” he whispered, so quietly that he didn’t think Niall even heard him. If he did, he didn’t respond, but kept walking until he realized Harry’s footsteps were no longer falling behind him. He turned then, and Harry knew he was staring at him, curious as to why he wasn’t running to jump into Louis’s arms or something, but Harry was immobilized, staring at his love’s face. Talking to Zayn, Louis still hadn’t noticed him, or didn’t care enough to turn and look.

            Harry could also notice Niall open his mouth, as if to call out to him, but then he closed it, shook his head, and walked over, taking Harry’s wrist and giving him a concerned head tilt before leading him off again. Harry let himself be dragged away, despite wondering if he really should.

            When they were less than one hundred feet from the table, Louis finally, finally looked over and beamed, and that was possibly the worst thing he could have done because Harry forgot that Louis didn’t really love him; he forgot it was fake. And then he did run, breaking free from Niall to bolt right into Louis’s arms; the older teen having stood when Harry first darted off.

            “Hi, Harry,” Louis said when Harry finally pulled away. Louis didn’t let him pull too far away, though, and kept his hands on the other’s hips.

            There were so many things Harry wanted to say; What happened while you were gone? Are you okay? Why are you back? Why didn’t you visit or at least call? Do you really love me?

            Harry said none of those.

            “Hi,” he said.

***

            “Are you going to therapy?” Harry asked Louis after breakfast, as the group stood to go their separate ways.

            “Yeah, s’pose I should,” Louis sighed, stretching his arms behind him and making the most adorable facial expression ever as he did so.

            “Are you tired?” Harry asked. “We can totally just go to sleep together. I mean, not sleep together as in, like, sex, but actually sleep.”

            Louis raised an eyebrow and huffed out a laugh as he dropped his arms back to his side.

            “You need to go to therapy, love.”

            Love. He’d called him love. Maybe Harry had been wrong about Louis; not the first time, but the second. Maybe he did love him.

            Or maybe he was just trying to pass the time again.

            “We need to talk,” Harry decided out loud.

            “We will,” Louis promised. “But not right now.”

            “But Lou-”

            “Later, love.”

            There was nothing wrong with what Louis said, per se. He was right; it was therapy time and they really had no time to talk. But the way he said it…There was something about that that Harry didn’t like.

            “I have to shower,” he muttered before going off his own way, fighting tears too. He hoped that Louis wouldn’t follow because he didn’t want him to see. But even though that was true, when he turned and realized that Louis hadn’t followed, well…That kind of hurt too.

***

            Harry didn’t go to therapy. He’d known from the moment he’d gone into the bathroom to shower that he wouldn’t. He would have shown up late and gotten in trouble anyway, and if he was going to get in trouble, he might as well make it worth it, so he went back to sleep.

            He didn’t wake up when the nurse tried to get him for his individual session or lunch. He didn’t wake for anything until he felt a body snake into his bed, lifting his arm gently before putting it over himself. Peeking open an eye, he saw Louis laying there, and the older teen startled when his eyes traveled from Harry’s chest to his face and he saw him looking back at him.

            “Sorry,” he said, voice soft. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

            “It’s okay,” Harry said. “But what are you doing here?”

            “I’ve been thinking you probably woke up alone too many times for the past few weeks.”

            The statement was so painfully true that Harry wanted to cry hearing it out loud. He didn’t.

            “I didn’t mean here, right now. I mean here in general. Why were you admitted again?”

            “Oh. I just missed you is all.”

            “Louis, I know they didn’t admit you because you missed me.”

            “I’m okay, Harry, don’t worry.”

            “You know I’m not going to force you to tell me anything, Lou,” Harry sighed, “but…please.”

            “I was wrong to leave,” Louis admitted.

            “What happened? What did you do?” Harry asked, reaching out a hand to take Louis’s arm, but Louis pulled it away.

            “I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was just so scared for you. Carl, he…he took my phone so I couldn’t call. He had me locked in my room most of the time. When I tried to sneak out to come see you, he…Well, he didn’t appreciate it much. But I had to know that you were okay. I wanted to make sure you hadn’t gone completely back into that dark world. So when he was passed out drunk, I looked for my phone, but when I found it, everything had been deleted. The first thing I did when I left here was program in your number but it was gone.”

            “Aw, babe,” Harry said, placing a hard, meaningful kiss to Louis’s lips. He had jumped to conclusions then. Louis wasn’t ignoring him. He just physically couldn’t get in contact with him. Harry was so relieved, but, still, his question remained unanswered.

            “Why are you here though, Lou?” he asked once he’d managed to pull his lips away from the other’s. “I know you didn’t just call and ask them to come back because you missed me and they admitted you to carry on a relationship they’re against anyway.”

            “They’re not really against us,” Louis said with a smile. “Before I left, Myah made sure I’d gotten your number.”

            “Really?” Harry asked, also smiling.

            “Yeah.”

            “That’s still not an answer,” Harry said after a brief pause where he’d almost forgotten exactly what he had been waiting for Louis to say. “Did you really not cut yourself again?”

            “No, I didn’t,” Louis insisted. “I can’t tolerate blood anymore, remember? And besides, you told me not to.”

            “I know I did, but if you slipped…then that’s okay. I understand.”

            “I didn’t,” Louis said, a little more forceful, but then he softened it with a kiss. “When I found out he deleted your number, I was angry.  I was furious. So I dragged his drunk arse off the couch and socked him right in the nose. I did it three times before he was really conscious and made a grab for me but I got away and ran. When the police found me, they brought me back here.”

            “I’m not going to say he didn’t deserve that,” Harry said, “but you could have gotten in so much trouble, Lou.”

            “I am in trouble. That’s why I’m here,” Louis said, not looking at all bothered by it.

            “How long this time?” Harry asked.

            “Until I’m eighteen, probably,” Louis said. “It’s my third time being admitted. They’re not going to believe a fake smile and all the right words this time.”

            “Did you mean to beat him up and come back or did you…”

            “Lose control?” Louis offered when Harry couldn’t come up with the right way to say it. “No, I knew what I was doing.”

            Suddenly, Louis frowned.     

            “You don’t think they’ll try to get you out early now that I’m back, do you?”

            “Probably not,” Harry said, not really sure at all. “I would rather you be here anyway.”

            “But you’re the one who needs to be here.”

            “I just need you,” Harry said, scooting closer to place a kiss on Louis’s neck.

            “I love you, Harry,” Louis said, “and I know you love me, but I can’t take the place of medicine or therapy.”

            “No, medicine and therapy can’t take the place of you,” Harry disagreed.

            “How have you been the past few weeks?” Louis asked.

            “Fine,” Harry answered.

            “Liar.”

            That voice came from the doorway and the boys turned to see Zayn standing there, arms crossed as he looked at them with adoration and something else Harry couldn’t place.

            “I’m alive, aren’t I?” Harry retorted.

            “Do we have another choice in here?” Zayn asked. Harry almost said that he could probably find a way if he tried really, really hard but decided against it.

            “What was wrong?” Louis asked, looking at Harry with worry.

            “Just missed you is all,” Harry replied.

            “Harry…you’ve got to know how to be fine when I’m not around.”

            “Why?” Harry asked, a bit angry then, but mostly scared. “Are you planning on going somewhere again?”

            “No,” Louis told him, “but that isn’t real happiness. That’s me being a distraction against the pain.”

            “Maybe that’s as good as it’s going to get for me.”

            Louis frowned.

            “I don’t mind that,” Harry added. Maybe happiness was over-rated anyway. He didn’t need to be happy. He just couldn’t feel sad anymore.

            “What am I going to do with you?”  Louis sighed, placing a kiss on Harry’s lips.

            “That,” Harry answered, stealing another kiss for himself.

            “I wish I could kiss it better,” Louis admitted.

            “Aww,” Zayn cooed. Louis shot him a glare, but then sat up, hugging his knees as he started talking to the other man.

            “How is Liam doing? Have you seen him?”

            “Yeah, I see him every Sunday and he calls every night,” Zayn answered with a smile. “He’s doing all right, I think.”

            It was then that Niall appeared in the doorway as well, that bottom lip sticking out as he looked at Zayn, Harry, Louis and then back to Zayn.

            “Niall!” Louis exclaimed. “What is with the long face? This is a happy day! I’m back!”

            Niall nodded, but then shook his head, looking to Zayn and pointing at the guy’s chest.

            “What?” Zayn asked, looking down to see if he had something on his shirt. He didn’t. “I don’t understand. Where’s your whiteboard?”

            Niall shrugged, but didn’t give up. Flattening his hand, he started patting Zayn’s chest.

            “My chest?” Zayn said, looking like his brain might burst from trying to figure out what Niall was saying to him. Shaking his head, Niall drew his hand back, using both to make the shape of a heart. Zayn didn’t look any less confused.

            “Zayn’s heart?” Louis put in. Niall did the ‘sort of’ motion with his hand. Louis thought, and then his eyes widened as he had an epiphany. “Liam?”

            Niall nodded quickly, giving Louis a thumbs up, but Zayn was still frowning.

            “What about Liam?” Zayn asked. “What happened?!”

            Niall did the same ‘follow me’ sign he’d done to Harry earlier but, unlike Harry, Zayn didn’t hesitate; just followed him right out. After giving each other a glance and speaking without words, Louis and Harry followed as well.

            “…Just leave already!”

            Liam’s voice rang out clear the closer they got to the front and Zayn immediately started jogging, going right past Niall and following the sound until they saw Liam, who had his back to his crying mother as a nurse went through his luggage to pick out the things he couldn’t keep in his room with him. He noticed their presence immediately-or at least Zayn’s-and looked over, smile taking away the anger that had been on his face.

            “There are my favorite crazies!” he called. Harry expected Zayn to break out in a smile as well; to run over and tackle Liam and tell him how much he’d missed him, but he didn’t. He didn’t frown, necessarily, but he sure didn’t smile as he crossed his arms over his chest and stared Liam down.

            “What are you doing back here?” Zayn asked at the same time Lauren, the nurse, finished Liam’s bag check and handed him the items he was allowed to take with him. Without a word to his mother, Liam took his suitcase and walked over to join the group. They all followed, Louis at least awkwardly waving to the woman still crying by the front desk.

            “Nothing changed when I got back,” Liam began as they followed him to wherever he was headed; his new room, they supposed. “The night I got back, my dad started making me practice football. He said I had a lot of making up to do if I hoped to make the team this coming year. I told him I didn’t wish to make the team and he said I had no choice but to try and I better succeed. Whatever. So I’ve been practicing, but I hadn’t played in so long and have lost all motivation so I wasn’t doing great. That started the fights, of course, and, you know, shit happened.”

            “Babe, you were doing so well. You were better,” Zayn said sadly.

            Liam glanced at Harry then, just briefly; so briefly that Harry almost wondered if he’d imagined it.

            “And I’ll get better again,” he said. “It was just a one time thing, but they caught me and brought me right back here. Well, mum did. Dad doesn’t know I’m here yet and he’s going to be pissed, but I guess that’s not my problem anymore.”

            “But you need to be here,” Harry said, not mentioning the fact that Liam had told him it had been a ‘one time’ thing the last time Harry had caught him making himself sick at Josh’s house. By the look on Liam’s face, Harry could tell he was afraid he was going to spill the beans, but when Harry remained silent, Liam’s facial muscles relaxed.

            “Not according to him,” he said with a shrug.

            “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not happy you’re back,” Zayn said, then added, “but I’m glad to see you.”

            Liam smiled, stopping in the middle of the hallway to give his boyfriend a kiss.

            “Liam!” Meredith scolded. He giggled.

***

            The group was whole again. Everyone was back there together and things should feel right and normal, but they didn’t. If asked, Harry couldn’t really explain why. Christian was back, monitoring their table or, more accurately, monitoring Liam. The couples were together. There wasn’t an empty space where they were used to a body being. Harry should be borderline happy again.

            But he wasn’t.

            “Go outside with me?” Louis asked after dinner the next night. Harry agreed.

            “Okay, what’s up?” the older boy continued once the two had gone as far away from the building as was allowed and sat in the grass.

            “What do you mean?” Harry questioned.

            “You’re sad,” Louis noted. “Is there a specific reason, or is it just that damn chemical imbalance demanding attention again?”

            He couldn’t help it; Harry smiled a little then.

            “It’s just…is it always going to be like this?” Harry asked, face turning serious again when the smile took too much effort.

            “Like what, love?”

            “Is Liam always going to not feel good about himself unless he purges? Is Zayn never going to get to fully be himself? Is Niall never going to be able to speak again? Are you always only going to feel unsafe unless you’re here, in this place? And am I always going to have this metaphorical dark cloud ruining every moment that should be good in life?”

            “Not always,” Louis said, small frown on his face.

            “But you don’t know that,” Harry said, though he’d been the one to ask for an answer.

            “Okay, maybe not,” Louis admitted. “But I really don’t think so.”

            “There are five of us. All of us have issues. What’s the likelihood that we’ll all get out of this all right?”

            “I don’t know. I’m not good with statistics. But I do know that worrying about that isn’t going to increase the chances.”

            “I can’t help it.”

            “I know you can’t. If I could I would make you feel all better, I would, but I don’t know how. I’m sorry.”

            “It’s impossible, Louis, it’s not your fault.”

            “I made one mistake with my mum that I won’t make with you though.”

            Louis’s mom. Harry was so selfish. Louis had already been through this with his mother and now Harry was here, putting him through it again. He shouldn’t have ever gotten close to Louis, or at least let Louis get close to him. He was so, so selfish…

            “Harry?”

            Harry started at his name.

            “Yes. Continue,” he said.

            “Never mind,” Louis said, lying back in the grass. Harry lay with him.

            “Tell me,” he said.

            “It was stupid,” Louis insisted.

            “I don’t care. I say stupid shit all the time. Lay it on me.”

            Louis smiled a little.

            “It’s cheesy.”

            “Good. I love cheesy.”

            “Really? You don’t seem like the cheesy type.”

            “I totally am. ‘The Notebook?’ ‘A Walk to Remember?’ Yeah, I totally cried.”

            “‘…Titanic?”

            “Oh, definitely.”

            Louis’s full smile was in place then, and Harry felt a bit of ease wash over him. Louis was smiling. Even if he couldn’t make himself feel completely better, if Louis was happy, Harry was at least less sad.

            “You can tell me anything, Lou,” he tried.

            “I was just…I was just going to say that, with my mum, I was too young to really do anything or be there for her. I never asked if she was okay. I never tried to save her. I was scared and I told myself she was okay, even when I could hear her crying about wanting to die from her bedroom while I tried to sleep. But it’s not going to be like that with you. I can’t promise that I can make you happy, but I can promise that you won’t have to be sad alone.”

            Ouch. Harry had thought that he had been prepared for whatever cheesy thing Louis had to say, but he had thought wrong, mainly because the beginning part was the realest thing that Louis had ever told him about himself and it was absolutely heartbreaking.

            “How is your mum now?” Harry asked, reaching out to run a finger along Louis’s jawline from their position in the grass.

            “I don’t know,” Louis said. “They stopped giving her second chances with me the second time she was admitted after my dad died. So I don’t know if she’s still put up somewhere or if she’s free and she just didn’t care to come back. I don’t know if she’s alive.”

            Harry swallowed. He had meant it when Louis said he could tell him anything, but he hadn’t thought about the fact that he may not be strong enough to make it better even a little.

            “That must be so hard,” he said, internally kicking himself afterwards. Way to point out the obvious.

            “Yeah, but I wasn’t trying to make this about me. I was just saying-”

            “I know what you were saying,” Harry cut in. “I’m not alone. You’re here. I know, and I love you for that, but it’s okay to want things to be about you sometimes.”

            “No, I don’t…I wasn’t-”

            “Lou, I know.”

            Harry kissed him.

            “But maybe I want things to be about you sometimes.”

            Another kiss.

            “I like thinking about you.”

            It was Louis’s turn to kiss Harry.

            “I’m sorry I left,” he said.

            “You did what you thought was right,” Harry told him. “But unlike Zayn, I am selfish and I am glad you’re back.”

            “You’re not selfish,” Louis said. “I’m glad I’m back too.”

            For a while, the two just kissed in the grass. When they stopped, they lay there, close but quiet until Harry sat up, deciding to change the subject from either of them.

            “Do you guys really not know what happened to Zayn?” he asked. It had been something that had been on his mind for a while, but of course he wasn’t going to ask Zayn and Liam had given a simple ‘I wish I knew.’ Harry wondered if that had changed yet; if they knew. Not that it was his business at all.

            “We don’t know for sure,” Louis answered, “but we have theories. Severe bullying is what we all kind of think right now.”

            “That’s…really sad.”

            “Yeah, but think about it. We already know he’s faced racism and homophobia. He’s faced that in this fucking insane asylum, and most of his personalities are generic names; Tyler, Brian, Christopher. Brian is a homophobe, while Tyler is probably the truest to who Zayn is; extremely gay and extremely worried that someone will take his boyfriend away. The difference is, Tyler isn’t afraid to show himself. Christopher has basically no personality because he molds himself to the situation. And then there is Genevieve…the feminine side of Zayn that likes makeup and fashion and all the other stereotypically unmanly things Zayn has been teased for liking.”

            “Why does she like girls though?” Harry wondered.

            “I know before Zayn really noticed Liam, he liked one of the patients here that picked on him. That was when Genevieve started making out with girls. It could be a coincidence, but I kind of don’t think so.”

            “Poor Zayn.”

            Harry wanted to say more. He wanted to be able to delve deep enough in all of them to help them all fix themselves and each other, but he couldn’t. Even if he was able, he wouldn’t have had time to even start then anyway because he and Louis were then joined by the rest of their group; Josh included.

            “Hey, we were just talking about you,” Louis told Zayn as he took a seat on the ground next to him.

            “That isn’t very nice,” Zayn said.

            “It wasn’t bad. Just about how I want to borrow Genevieve sometime because she does some fierce smoky eyes.”

            Zayn laughed, shaking his head and looking at Harry, who was also smiling.

            “Is everything all right?” Liam asked, looking between the two boys they had just joined. Harry nodded.

            “Everything is fine, Payno,” Louis assured him. “How are you?

            “I’m good, Louis, thank you.”

            “Good. Zayn?”

            “Yes, I am Zayn and I am great,” the teen replied. Louis smiled.

            “Good,” he said again. “Nialler?”

            Niall gave a thumbs up.

            “Josh?”

            “What the Hell would be wrong with me?” Josh wondered.

            “I don’t know! Normal people aren’t perfect either Josh, jeez,” Louis said.

            “Most normal people aren’t. I, however, am the dictionary definition of perfection.”

            “You should be admitted for narcissistic personality disorder,” Louis commented.

            “Could you please tell my dad that? I kind of want to see what it would be like to be a patient, actually.”

            “You…You want to…”

            Louis sighed.

            “Niall, your boyfriend is fucking crazy.”

            “Hey, I mean, it must be fun, right?” Josh said. “You’re back for round three and Payno here is on round two.”

            “No, we’re going to get out of here,” Zayn spoke. “And next time we’re going to stay out. Got it?”

            “Hey, maybe we should all put our money together and get a huge place for all six of us,” Liam suggested. “Safety in numbers, right?”

            “Do you know how awesome that would actually be?” Josh asked, eyes wide.

            “Yeah, and Josh could be our therapist whenever the crazy starts to show,” Harry said. The other boys all murmured and/or nodded their agreement.

            “Well now you lot have got to get out,” Josh concluded. “This has got to happen.”

            “Six boys, one flat; what could possibly go wrong?” Louis teased.

            “Everything that should,” Josh answered with a smile.

            All smiling, the boys laid back in the grass one by one, dreaming of the future and, for some of them, feeling somewhat positive about it for the first time in a long time.

            “Oh hell,” Josh spoke up, killing the mood.

            “What is it?” Zayn questioned.

            “You all better be fine by the time we move out together because I am not cooking every night just because I’m the only one who can be trusted with sharp objects.”

Chapter Text

 

            Harry was alone in his room the next afternoon. Louis had therapy and Harry had claimed to need a nap. Really, he’d just needed a bit of down time, as he hadn’t even been planning to get out of bed the past couple of days but had somehow allowed himself to be dragged into the living world outside of his head. The others understood, of course. Harry had the best of friends.

            He really did try to sleep for a while, not wanting to be a liar, but it was useless. He had too much going on in his head, both good and bad. The bad was nothing unusual; just Harry’s typical slump that he often felt like he would never be pulled from. But now he had some motivation and, with it, a little bit of hope. He’d wanted to get better for Louis already, of course, and he had tried, seemingly to no avail. But this afternoon had made him realize something. Yes, he and the rest of the boys had issues, but, in a way, that meant Harry wasn’t alone. Their issues were all different; none better and none worse, just different, but that had still brought them together. Maybe they wouldn’t understand what anyone else was going through all of the time, but they all knew what it was like to feel like something else controlled them and their lives. They knew what it was like to feel ashamed and afraid, and they knew what it felt like to fight. Hopefully, they would all know what it felt like to win their fight someday too.

            Therefore, living together would be great; just like their own little mental institution. There would be more people there to distract them from themselves, and more people to pull them out of whatever they were going through when things inevitably got hard again.

            Eventually, Harry wanted it to be only him and Louis, but for now, their new plan might be best. He was a stressful person to live with, and he figured Louis would feel more responsibility for him if it was just the pair of them and that wouldn’t be fair.

            Plus, the more people that lived in the place, the less likely Harry would ever be alone. He liked being alone, and missed it-because even when he was alone in his room there he wasn’t really alone-he knew that he shouldn’t be, maybe ever again. He was still a danger to himself and he didn’t want to hurt Louis like he’d almost hurt his mother, father and sister. Living without Louis for three weeks had been hard enough for Harry, and, just maybe, it would be hard for Louis to live without him too. Harry would never wish the way he felt on anybody, especially Louis.

            As a light knocked sounded on the door frame, Harry turned his head to see Liam standing there, an almost reluctant look on his face.

            “Hey. Can I come in?” he asked, offering Harry a small smile once they made eye contact.

            “Sure,” Harry said, finding it weird that he had to allow Liam permission to enter what used to be their bedroom. Liam walked in, looking around and absorbing the changes-not that there were many-before sighing and sitting on the edge of his old bed.

            “I should have never left,” he spoke. “My new roommate sucks.”

            “I’m sure he’s not that bad,” Harry reasoned.

            “He’s a total homophobe,” Liam said. “Brian would get along with him.”

            “Okay, that is pretty unfortunate.”

            Again, Liam smiled.

            “How is your new roommate?” he asked.

            “Much better than you,” Harry teased. Liam laughed out loud.

            “That isn’t hard to believe.”

            “I was kidding,” Harry said, though Liam probably knew that. “We don’t talk much, really, but he’s okay. He at least doesn’t snore.”

            “I am sincerely sorry about that.”

            “That’s all right.”

            There was a slight pause, and then Harry spoke again.

            “Were you ever better, Liam?” he asked.

            “Of course I was,” the other teen replied.

            “Are you sure? I mean, that one time, at Josh’s…and then when you went home…those have really been the only two times?”

            “Well when I first got here, it was bad. I would go outside after meals and make myself sick in the bushes, but, yeah, that’s stopped. Once I got with Zayn, I basically quit. No one wants to kiss someone that smells like vomit and I know he loves and accepts me how I really am, and not who I pretend to be, so the urges aren’t that strong when I distract myself with him. He’s my stress reliever, so when I knew I had to leave him, and then when I actually did, I fell off the wagon a little bit. It’s not a big deal though. I’ll get better this time, for real.”

            Harry didn’t know if Liam actually believed that or was just trying to convince the both of them, but he didn’t have time to press the matter because then Louis came in, smiling when he saw Harry.

            “I thought I’d find you here,” he said.

            “Because I’m that pathetic?” Harry teased.

            “No,” Louis said as he crawled on top of the bed next to his boyfriend. “Because you are my cuddle bunny.”

            Liam snorted and even Harry rolled his eyes halfway, but Louis ignored both of them, straddling Harry and leaning down to place a kiss onto his neck, biting the skin just a bit. Harry made an involuntary noise of surprise and approval.

            “Whoa, okay,” Liam said with a laugh, getting to his feet quickly. “I get it. I’m leaving.”

            “Love you, Li,” Louis said, biting further up on Harry’s neck than he had before. Harry’s eyes rolled back a bit.

            “Jesus,” Liam breathed before fleeing. Louis giggled. Harry felt his lips vibrate against his neck.

            “The door is wide open,” he pointed out, somewhat reluctantly.

            “Want me to close it some?” Louis asked, not moving away.

            “We can’t close it enough. We’re going to get busted.”

            “Does that bother you?”

            “Well…I mean…yeah, just because I want us to really get better so things are good when we move out together.”

            Louis paused, his lips pressed against Harry’s collar bone. Then, after finishing the kiss with a loud “mwah” noise, he sat up and rolled over onto his back beside Harry, his arms crossed across his stomach.

            “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

            “You don’t have to apologize, Lou. Being with you doesn’t bother me; not at all. I love you and I want to be with you, in every way, but I don’t want you to have to leave again, or me. I don’t know about you, but I’m not okay yet and I want to be okay, for you, which I know I won’t do out on my own.”

            “No, I get it, and I am sorry. I was being selfish. I didn’t think about any of that and I should have.”

            “Hey, stop.”

            It was Harry’s turn to hover over top of his boyfriend, and he saw then that Louis was pouting. Legitimately pouting, and he may have laughed if not for the fact that he didn’t think Louis even knew he was doing it. Harry kissed him.    

            “I’m going to be okay,” he said. “I just need time.”

            “Do you really think that or are you just trying to make me feel better?”

             To be honest, Harry wasn’t actually sure. He admitted so.

            “You said you want to get better for me,” Louis said. “And that’s fine. I want to be a better person for you too, but you need to want to get better for yourself.”

            “For us.”

            “For me and us, but you, too.”

            “Do you want to get better for you?”

            “I’m fine.”

            “Lou,” Harry sighed. “What am I going to do with you?”

            “Not have sex, clearly.”

            Louis was grinning impishly and Harry tried to glare, but he couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from turning up.

            “You only want me for my body, don’t you?”

            “Of course not,” Louis said. “I like your heart and mind too.”

            “You like my fucked up mind?”

            “It’s not fucked up,” Louis insisted, pulling Harry’s face down so that he could place a kiss on his forehead without sitting up too far. “You know, to the outside world, we-the ones in here-are the crazy ones, but when you think about it, the world is really a fucked up place. Most people like to pretend it’s not and act like there’s nothing wrong, even when they’re dying on the inside. That’s what we’re told we’re supposed to do, but why? Maybe we’re not crazy. Maybe they’re the crazy ones and we’re just tired of living in their twisted society.”

            “Maybe,” Harry agreed after giving Louis yet another kiss. “I don’t think their world is going to change anytime soon though, and they’re the majority so that sucks for us.”

            “It does,” Louis said with a smile. “But at least we have each other now. Their majority is a little less.”

            “You can let your non-crazy out around me anytime, Lou.”

            “As can you. Just, you know, not in the form of drinking things that are actually toxic to your insides.”

            “I won’t.”

            “Good. And one day, I hope you won’t want to either.”

***

            That Sunday, Gemma came to visit again. She had only been once; that time when she had left in a mood, and Harry hadn’t asked why she hadn’t come back. He didn’t need to. He wouldn’t want to spend his free time with the person who had traumatized him in that way either. Besides, unlike him, his sister had a life. She had much better things to do on Sundays than visit patients in an insane asylum.

            Whatever resentment Gemma may have had for Harry wasn’t showing then, though, because as soon as he was in arms’ reach, she pulled him into a hug so tight that he let out an involuntary “oof” sound. She was most definitely trying to suffocate him this time, he thought to himself.

            “I’m sorry,” the girl said, still not letting go of her brother, even after he’d patted her on the back awkwardly a few times.

            “Um…what for?” he asked, glad for the first time that Louis had decided to stay back that day. He loved his sister, but he was not above being embarrassed when she got all emotional and sister-ly.

            “I was so rude to you last time,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be. It’s just that, when Louis’s dad was telling us his story all I could think of was you in that bathroom, and then in the ambulance, nearly unresponsive.”

            “He’s not Louis’s father,” Harry stated first, “and it’s all right, Gem. I get it. I didn’t mean to put you through that.”

            “I was just so hurt and confused that you didn’t even tell us that you felt that way, and I was angry at myself for not noticing.”

            “Don’t be mad at yourself. Like you said, I didn’t tell you. I just couldn’t. I don’t really know why. None of this makes any more sense to me than it does to you, but I’m sorry.”

            “Are you getting better?”

            “Yeah.”

            Harry still had a long way to go, but he was getting better, he thought. No, he knew he was. He wasn’t where he should be, despite the fact that he was now over halfway through his treatment, but healing was something that took time. He was optimistic about everything now and even though he hadn’t made much progress besides that, it was something.

            “Good.  The flat is weird without your sulky ass laying in the dark and playing sad music.”

            “I didn’t play sad music,” Harry said with a smile. His sister was poking fun at him now, which he appreciated. It reminded him of the boys. Somehow, it made him even more hopeful.

            “You did too, while lying in the middle of your floor clutching your chest from the agony of it all.”

            “Okay, maybe just once or twice.”

            “All right, that’s not funny,” Anne commented sternly, but she did seem to be happy that her children were at least getting along again.

            “I think it is,” Harry said, leaving Gemma’s side to hug his mother. “It’s really okay, mum. Stop worrying so much.”

            “You’re my kid, of course I’m going to worry,” Anne said, smiling at her son and very obviously refraining herself from doing something humiliating like pinch his cheeks or fix his hair with her spit.

            “I know, just don’t worry so much.”

            “Your words are going to do no good,” Gemma said. “Now let’s eat!”

            “It’s just the cafeteria food,” Harry said. Since it was raining, they couldn’t go outside, leaving them packed throughout the institution.

            “I am not picky,” Gemma reminded him. “By the way, where’s your boyfriend today?”

            “Back in his room.”

            Gemma sucked in a breath and then laughed loudly. Harry was confused as to why before he remembered that he had never actually referred to Louis as his ‘boyfriend’ around the two.

            “Damn it, Gem,” he said, a grin breaking across his face as his cheeks burned. He was blushing, he knew it. He actually hated his sister.

            “Oh, relax,” she said, smiling in a way that showed that she was very proud of herself. “It’s not like it’s a big surprise.”

            Harry looked at his mom, who shook her head, also smiling.

            “And you never said anything?” Harry asked.

            “We figured you would tell us when you were ready,” Anne said.

            “Or when I was tricked into it,” Harry pointed out.

            “I can’t help that I’m a genius,” Gemma said. “My question remains though. Where is he? Now that I officially know he’s dating my brother, I need to officially approve.”

            “I told you he’s in his room,” Harry reminded her. “And now that you put everything that way, I’m not going to go get him.”

            “Oh, come on!” Gemma whined. “I’ll be nice. I’m always nice.”

            “The last time I brought a guy home, you told him he chewed too loudly.”

            “Well, he did. I’ll be nice, though, I swear. I would never be rude to mentally unstable children.”

            “Gemma!” Anne scolded.

            “It’s okay,” Harry said again. “You really want me to go get him?”

            “Yes,” Gemma said.

            “Of course, dear,” Anne said with a smile. “He’s always welcome to join us.”

            “Okay,” Harry said, trying not to smile too big, but it was hard. Her words made him feel a twinge of happiness; pure happiness. It felt good, even if it was only fleeting. “I’ll be back.”

            “We’ll be here,” Gemma said, looking around. Harry didn’t bother to ask if she was looking for something in particular, and hurried off to the bedrooms, something akin to excitement forming in him the closer he got to Louis’s room. When he rounded the corner, he saw that Louis wasn’t alone. Liam was there too, lying across the roommate’s bed. His face was covered, so Harry couldn’t tell if something was wrong and was about to back out and try again later, but then Louis caught view of him from the corner of his eye and turned his head to smile at him.

            “Hey, Haz! What’s up?”

            “Oh, hey, Harry,” Liam said, uncovering his face and smiling at his former roommate. He didn’t look too upset, so Harry smiled back a little bit.

            “Hey. Sorry, my mum and sister just asked me to come get you, Lou, but…you can just come say hi to them later or whatever, if you want…”

            “No, you can have him,” Liam said, sitting up and stretching his arms above his head. “I was just bored, but he’s not even helping so…”

            “Okay, you ass,” Louis said. “I thought my fairytale was very good for a beginner. It’s not my fault I wasn’t born with the writing genes like you.”

            Liam smiled and stood, pulling down on his shirt as he did so, even though it was long enough so as not to expose anything. He did that a lot, Harry had noticed, which was kind of ironic, given as he’d seemed to have no problems working out shirtless in front of the whole school.

            Seemed being the key word, Harry supposed.

            “You should join us, Liam,” Harry said.

            “I don’t think your family wants me hanging around,” Liam said.

            “They won’t mind,” Harry assured him. “Any friend of mine is a friend of theirs and all that.”

            Liam smiled. “You have that type of family?”

            “Yeah. I do.”

            “Nice. I love it.”

            “Are you coming then?”

            “I guess, maybe, for a few minutes.”

            “Good.”

            Taking Louis’s hand in one of his, and Liam’s with his other, Harry led them back to where he’d left his family. He really thought his mom’s smile was going to split her face.

            “Hello again, boys!” she called happily. “How are you?”

            “Fine, thanks,” Liam said while Louis smiled shyly.

            “How are you, Anne; Gemma?” Louis asked.

            “We’re great, Louis, thank you,” Anne said.

            “Food?” Liam piped in. Harry and Louis laughed.

            “Yes, Liam, we’re getting food,” Harry said, gesturing for his family to follow him as he walked to the line. After getting their plates together, they found seats, Harry still in the middle of his boyfriend and one of his best friends, with his mom and sister sitting across from them.

            “So-” the mother began, but Gemma cut her off, staring at Liam as she said,

            “Hey, don’t you go to school with Harry?”

            “Yeah, I do,” Liam answered her with a smile. “It’s kind of sad that we barely talked before we were put in here, but it’s a good way to really know who someone is, I guess, right?”

            “You are not your illness,” Gemma said, so seriously that Harry had to lean back and frown at her, trying to determine if she was actually joking or not. He thought she wasn’t, but then she said, in her usual, chipper voice, “What’s your problem anyway?”

            “You are never coming back here again, daughter,” Anne sighed, but Liam smiled.

            “I’m bulimic,” he said.

            “Like…you make yourself puke? Or do you do it through laxatives or extreme exercise?”

            “I go the old-fashioned way,” Liam said, mimicking a finger going down his throat. Gemma’s eyes widened.

            “Well, that is…interesting. Does it hurt?”

            “Gemma, what the hell?” Harry asked.

            “I’m only curious so that I can better help my patients one day.”

            “Your patients?”

            “Yeah. I’m going to go to school for psychology.”

            “But…you’re going for fashion.”

            “Not anymore.”

            “That’s news to me.”

            “Yeah, well…there it is.”

            With that, Gemma turned back to Liam, a look on her face that told Harry that, had she had a notebook present, she would be taking detailed notes.

            “It hurts, yeah,” Liam told her, not looking bothered at all.

            “Hmm…I suggest you stop then,” the girl said.

            “Gem, you’re going to make a terrible psychologist,” Harry said as Liam laughed at her advice.

            “I am just saying that pain is something that should be avoided and, besides, you need to keep your smile pretty.”

            “And now you’re flirting with your patient!” Harry exclaimed, smacking himself in the forehead.  Liam looked delighted and Louis was smiling too.

            “I’m not flirting!” Gemma said. “You are children. I am just trying to help.”

            “You are being a very insensitive therapist.”

            “Well, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to.”

            “It’s fine,” Liam assured her, still looking rather amused.

            “I’m sorry I dragged you into this,” Harry told him.

            “No, I actually really appreciate the outsiders’ perspective,” Liam said. “She makes it sound so simple, and, like…maybe it can be that simple, you know? To just stop? ”

            “First patient, successful!” Gemma said, literally patting herself on the back. Harry rolled his eyes.

            “Pretty sure he’s bullshitting you.”

            “Pretty sure he owes me for just saving his life and his smile!”

            Despite Gemma’s accidental insensitivity, or maybe because of it, the mood was lighter than it had ever been for Harry before during a visitation. The ice was broken. There shouldn’t even be ice between him and his family, but there was, recently, and he was starting to understand it. They didn’t get each other. His family didn’t get his problems and Harry didn’t understand why it was that hard for them to until then. All parties were a bit naïve and none wanted to hurt each other, so they were constantly tip-toeing around each other and they just needed to stop.

            Maybe it really was that simple.

            At least for some things.

***

            Anne and Gemma stayed a good while. The place was mostly cleared out by the time they finally decided they should leave, and Zayn and Niall had long ago joined the group. (Gemma had looked thrilled when she found out what their issues were.) (She had actually tried to explain to Niall how to physically speak.)  (Harry’s sister was an idiot.)

            “It was lovely to see you all,” Anne said politely as she stood along with her daughter to leave. “I hope to see you again soon. And, Harry, I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

            “Yeah. There’s actually something I want to talk to you about, so call me, yes?”

            “Would you like to talk about it now?” Anne asked, looking concerned.

            “That’s okay,” Harry said.

            “If there’s something you want to talk about, you should,” Louis spoke up. “Lads, why don’t we show Gemma around so she can see how an institution works for when she gets her fancy mind picking degree?”

            “Yes!” Gemma exclaimed.  “Harry, mum, you have your heart to heart and I’ll see you in a few minutes!”

            “It’s really fi-” Harry began, but Louis interrupted.

            “We’ll start with the fun stuff, Gemma. Come on, let’s show you the rec room!”

            Harry watched the rest of the group file out, wondering if that had really just happened and when he decided that it did, he laughed and turned to his mom, who was still staring at him, worried.

            “Relax,” he told her. “It’s nothing bad.”

            “What is it then?”

            “How hard do you think it would be to track a person down?”

            “That depends on a lot of factors, Harry. Who are you wanting to track down?”

            “Louis’s mum.”

            Anne raised an eyebrow.

            “She was a mental patient too,” Harry explained. “She was in and out of institutions for basically Louis’s whole life, and so, when his dad died, he went to Carl, who…isn’t a great person. And, like, even though it’s been weird for us for the past few weeks, I am so lucky to have you here. I know it might not be possible for Louis to ever have his mum back in his life again. She might be locked away for good, or she might not even be alive. He doesn’t know. But I think, even if she’s gone, having closure would help him, you know?”

            “Do you know her name?” Anne asked after a beat of silence had passed as she seemingly evaluated her child. Or maybe she was thinking about something else.

            “I don’t,” Harry admitted.

            “Try to find that out,” Anne said, “and I’ll see what I can do.”

            “Really?!”

            Harry didn’t know why, but he hadn’t expected it to be that easy to get her to agree.

            “I may be biased, but I think every child needs their mummy,” the woman said with a smile. Then, more seriously, she said, “You really care for him, don’t you?”

            “I’d do anything for him,” Harry said. He didn’t think he was exaggerating.

            “Well,” Anne said, sighing, but smiling, “then so would I.”

Chapter Text

            When Harry and his mother decided that Gemma’s tour was taking too long, and probably because she was asking hundreds of questions and making even more an ass of herself than she had before, the two went to rescue the boys. It took a while but, finally, they found the group in Harry’s room.

            “Umm…what are you doing?” Harry asked, concerned when Louis smiled guiltily.

            “Checking to make sure your room is safe,” Gemma replied. “Look how empty it is! Can you believe the things people will use to hurt themselves with?!”

            “Sadly, yes, now,” Harry said. “Does my room pass inspection?”

            “Now I’m not so sure.”

            “Gem, it’s fine.”

            “Now I don’t know if I should be a therapist. I would never think to take out everything that’s missing here.”

            “You’ll learn.”

            “It’s time to go, dear,” Anne said to her daughter. “Visiting time is about over.”

            “Fine,” she sighed, turning to the other boys, and pointing at them individually as she singled them out, she said, “Okay, you no purging, you no hurting yourself, you remember what we talked about; push up from the diaphragm and you…I have no advice for you. Good luck.”

            “Gemma!” Anne exclaimed as Zayn laughed.

            “Well, I’m just a beginner!” the girl shrieked. Anne shook her head.

            “It was nice seeing all of you again and I hope to see you next week. Well, kind of. If you get released before then, that’s great.”

            “Yeah, doubt that,” Zayn told her, voice cheerful as he hopped onto Harry’s bed and laid back.

            “And you,” Gemma continued, pointing at Harry with narrowed eyes. “You better be leaving here with us one day soon.”

            “One day,” Harry said.

            “One day soon.”

            “Whenever he’s ready,” Anne spoke.

            “Soon,” Gemma insisted. Harry gave a small smile and took a couple of steps forward to give her a hug.

            “It’s going to be fine,” he assured her.

            “Oh, Harry, your father might come with us sometime in the next couple of weeks,” Anne added, and Harry doubted it, but he gave her a smile anyway.

***

            “So is everything all right?” Louis asked later that night during free time, when he and Harry were just lying in the former’s bed, embracing the peaceful silence.

            “Yeah,” Harry said, a bit confused. He was in a pretty good mood then, at least for him, so everything was more than okay. “Why?”

            “I was just making sure since you needed to talk to your mum earlier.”

            “Oh yeah, that wasn’t about anything bad,” Harry told him.

            “Good,” Louis said. He didn’t press for more details. Harry knew he wouldn’t.

            “Would you like to talk about your mum?” Harry tried, figuring that was as good a time as any to try and get some information out of him, but also because he genuinely wanted to know if Louis wanted to tell him.

            “There’s not really much to say that you don’t know already,” Louis said after thinking for a short minute. Harry doubted that, but decided to go slow and get the bare necessities for right now.

            “What’s her name?”

            “Jay. Well, Johannah, but her family and friends call her Jay.”

            “That’s a pretty name.”

            “Yeah. I always said if I ever had a daughter I would name her after my mum.”

            “I really like it.”

            “Thanks.”

            “Would you name a son after your dad?”

            “I don’t know,” Louis said. “Maybe.”

            The conversation died out after that again, but Harry felt good about the little bit of information he’d gotten. At least Louis was no longer trying to hide everything about himself from Harry. It wasn’t easy for Louis to let people be there for him, Harry knew. He was so used to being pushed aside whenever he asked for anything, but he was trying, and maybe he actually trusted Harry to not do the same to him.

            “We have another outing next Friday,” Louis spoke again after a couple of minutes.

            “Do you know where we’re going?” Harry asked.

            “Yeah. We’re going to a fair.”

            “A fair? That sounds fun.”

            Harry used to go to almost every fair that was around with his family before a couple of years ago. Harry wasn’t really sure why they stopped, but Gemma had gotten busy with college, college friends and her boyfriend so maybe that was part of it. He hadn’t really been up to it last year anyway, so he was glad that the tradition died out, really, but now, the thought of going with Louis made him a bit excited.

            “So you want to go?” Louis asked, his eyes scanning Harry’s face and smiling at whatever he found there.

            “Yeah. I mean, if you do.”

            “Of course.”

            Louis brushed his thumb across Harry’s cheek as he gave him a kiss on the lips.

            “It’s better than an art museum,” Louis continued. “Maybe it will feel like an actual date.”

            “I didn’t find anything wrong with our museum outing,” Harry said. That had been when he and Louis had become official, so he felt like it might always be his favorite outing, deep down.

            “Nothing was wrong with it,” Louis agreed. “But this time will be better, I promise.”

            “Hmm,” Harry hummed noncommittally, stealing another kiss, and with that, the subject was dropped.

***

            Harry’s medication got switched again, and not just the dosage that time. He was okay on what he had been on. He had less of the full-blown depression episodes and usually didn’t find himself thinking about death or wishing that his attempt at reaching it had gone successfully as often as he had been, but since he was still thinking about those things sometimes, and because sometimes it still physically and mentally hurt to get out of bed, he knew he wasn’t actually okay. The doctor listened and prescribed him something that he said he felt extremely hopeful about. Harry was glad, but a little bitter that they listened to him so easily and wouldn’t listen to Louis at all; at least not when he was telling the truth.

            Only a couple of days after being put on the new medication, Harry was starting to wonder if he’d made a mistake. He felt sick, something that he had been told the first time he had been put on medication was normal for a couple of weeks while he adjusted. He hadn’t at all, though, until this switch, and his mental health was worse too.

            “I just want the other stuff back!” Harry whined to his boyfriend, who was sitting on the bed next to him, rubbing his back soothingly while Harry buried his head underneath his pillow and hoped it wasn’t obvious that he was crying.

            “You haven’t given this a chance yet,” Louis said gently. “Once you adjust to it and don’t feel sick anymore, I think you will feel better emotionally too.”

            “I shouldn’t have to give anything a chance, or play some shitty pharmaceutical guessing game of what will keep me off the edge of a god damn mental breakdown!”

            “It’s not your fault, love.”

            “I know. I get that, but that’s what makes it so unfair!”

            Harry expected Louis to tell him what he had told him at the beginning of his stay there; that life wasn’t fair, but he didn’t.

            “I know, baby,” he said instead, starting to give Harry a massage instead of a simple back rub. It did feel really nice. Harry wished Louis could massage his mind. “I’m sorry you have to go through this.”

            “It’s not your fault,” Harry mumbled. The last thing he wanted was for Louis to feel bad over this when there was nothing he could do to change it.

            “I know it isn’t, but I just hate that you have to feel like this.”

            “And I hate that you have to deal with me when I’m like this.”

            “No, don’t talk like that. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

            “You know if you want to, you can be somewhere else. I wouldn’t blame you or anything. I wouldn’t want to be around me like this anyway.”

            “I’m not going anywhere.”

            Sighing, Harry almost took the pillow off his head because suddenly, all he wanted to do was to pull Louis closer and hold him until they both fell asleep, but then he remembered that he was crying and he was not ready for Louis to see him that pathetic yet, so he didn’t.

            He felt Louis kiss the back of his neck.         

            “I love you, Harry,” he said.

            “I love you too,” Harry said back.

            “Do you think you can eat yet?” Louis asked.

            “No,” Harry said, and he probably could, at least a little, but he didn’t feel like it. He didn’t feel like doing anything.

            “What do you need?” Louis asked, sounding defeated.

            “Just you,” Harry replied, hoping to make that sad tone leave Louis’s voice.

            “Well…I’m here.”

            “I know. So I’ll be fine.”

            Harry wasn’t so sure about that last part at this point, but he knew he probably would be eventually…One day…Maybe…

            “Am I hurting you?” Louis asked as he deepened the massage.

            “No,” Harry assured him. “Feels good.”

            “Does it?”

            “Mhm.”

            So Louis continued, and he nearly had Harry lulled into a nice, peaceful sleep that would have been sure to have him drooling when a rap on the doorframe brought Harry back to the land of the awake.

            “Hello, Louis; Harry,” Meredith greeted as Harry reluctantly removed the pillow from his face, belatedly remembering that the evidence of his pity party was probably streaked all down his cheeks. Oh well. Too late to worry about that now.

            “Hi, Meredith,” Louis greeted as Harry blinked at her, mentally warning her to not take Louis away from him, or make him get out of bed.

            “Is everything all right?” Meredith asked.

            “Fine,” Harry answered while Louis said,

            “His new medicine is making him sick.”

            “Give it a week or so more, Harry, yes?” she asked, though her face wasn’t void of sympathy. Harry just let out a ‘humph’, collapsing back onto his pillow. Meredith continued, “Would you like me to tell your caller to try back tomorrow?”

            “I have a call?” Harry asked.

            “Yes. Your father.”

            Harry lifted his head again, unsure he heard the woman right.

            “My father?”

            “Yes. Would you like to accept the call or…?”

            “Yeah,” Harry said, slowly getting into a sitting position on his knees before standing to his feet. Turning to Louis, he said, “I’ll be right back, okay?”

            “I’ll be here,” Louis promised.

            Harry followed Meredith to the phones and waited to be connected. Once she walked away, he held the phone to his ear, quiet for a moment before saying,

            “Dad?”

            “Harry!” the older man said, like he had expected Harry to reject his call or something. “How are you?”

            “I’m okay,” Harry lied, and he was sure his voice showed that it wasn’t exactly the truth. Of course, it was his dad, not his mom, so maybe that would be overlooked.

            “I’m sorry I haven’t visited,” the boy’s dad said, getting right down to business, apparently. “I just…I don’t know what to say, Harry. I don’t know what to say to make anything better and I’m so afraid of saying something that will make it worse.”

            “It’s okay, dad. I understand.”

            “It’s not because I haven’t wanted to see you.”

            “You’ll see me soon,” Harry assured the man. “But you can always, um…you can visit, if you want to. You can come with mum and Gemma. You don’t have to say anything.”

            “I feel like I should come see where they’ve been keeping my son for so many weeks.”

            “I’m fine, dad. This place is nice. Only come visit if you really want to. There’s nothing you can say that will make it worse. This whole situation…what I did…it has nothing to do with you or mum or Gem.”          

            “Are you sure, Harry? If we did something; any of us, I want you to tell me.”

            “It wasn’t you. It’s all me. It’s all in my head.”

            “Are they helping you?”

            “Yeah,” Harry said. They were at least trying their best.

            “I’ll come visit,” the man decided. “How is next Sunday? I would make it this coming Sunday, but I’ll be out on business…I can cancel though, if you want me to.”

            “Whenever. The Sunday after next is fine.”

            “Good…Now, I can tell you’re upset, Harry, and I would like to help, but I feel like I may be a little out of my element trying. Would you like to talk to me about something or just…erm…have me get your mother?”

            “I’m fine, dad,” Harry said, and he did laugh a little bit. He hadn’t realized he’d missed his dad, no matter how awkward the man could be. “I’ll talk to mum if she wants to talk to me, but there’s nothing I really need to discuss, so…”

            “She was actually about to call you. I beat her to it, but I’ll go get her. I’m glad I got to talk to you though, son, really.”

            “Me too.”

            “Hold on. I’ll get your mum.”

            There was muffled shuffling while Harry’s dad went to get his wife, and the shrill panic in her voice made Harry jump a little bit when the woman did take the phone.

            “Harry! What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing, mum. Why?”

            “Your dad said you sounded upset.”

            “I’m okay, mum,” Harry tried to assure her. “They switched my medication and I’m not used to it yet so I’ve felt a little sick, but it’s no big deal.”

            “You can go back to your old medication, love,” the woman said gently.

            “It wasn’t helping much,” Harry said, and regretted it. His mom was silent for a minute before simply saying,

            “Oh.”

            “Anyways, what’s going on at home?” Harry asked to change the subject. He was mildly surprised when his mother let him and began talking about the renovations they were making to their kitchen and how it was inspiring her to do the rest of the house too.

            “I guess I should let you go,” Anne said after a while of rambling. “Have you talked to Louis to find out more about his mother yet?”

            Of course. Harry couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. That should have been the first thing he told his mother, but he’d been thinking about himself and his own pain, as usual.

            Way to be a great boyfriend, Harry, he silently scolded himself. Out loud, he said,

            “I just found out her name. It’s Johannah, and her nickname is Jay.”

            “Do you know her last name?”

            “Um….”

            Shit.

            “She and Louis’s dad were married before he died, so I’m guessing Tomlinson, but I’m not for sure.”

            Why had Harry been so stupid as to think they would find the woman with her first name only?

            “Tomlinson, you said?”

            “Yeah.”

            “All right, it’s written down. I’ll see what I can do, but no promises, baby.”

            “I know. Don’t worry, I haven’t mentioned it to Louis so he won’t have his hopes up or anything. Thanks, mum.”

            “You’re welcome. Tell Louis hello for me, and I’ll see you both soon!”

            “See you, mum. Love you.”

            “I love you too, Harry, with all of my heart.”

***

            As promised, Louis was still waiting on Harry’s bed when the younger patient returned, and Harry let out a sigh of contentment as he lay down next to him, gently pulling him along. Louis gave him a peck on the lips.

            “Did the conversation with your dad go okay?”

            “Yeah. He said he’s going to visit soon. Maybe the Sunday after next.”

            “That will be nice, I think.”

            “Yeah, probably. My mum says hello, by the way.”

            “Really? Well tell her hi back for me whenever you talk to her again.”

            “You can call her if you ever want to, you know.”

            “I don’t think she really wants a call from a mental patient that isn’t her own child.”

            “She wouldn’t mind. I’m not saying you have to, but the option is there.”

            “I really like your family. Well, what little I know of them.”

            “I have a good family,” Harry agreed. “And you’re going to be one of us, Lou. You are one of us.”

            Louis smiled a little, eyes scanning Harry’s face before he changed the subject.

            “Do you feel any better?”

            “A little.”

            “Do you want food?”

            “I am pretty hungry, but I don’t want to get out of bed.”

            “I’ll bring you back something. They know you’re sick, so they won’t say anything.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Positive. What would you like?”

            “I don’t really care. Not too much though.”

            “Okay.”

            Louis gave him another kiss.

            “I’ll be right back.”

***

            When Louis returned, he had two plates; one for Harry and one for himself. Harry hadn’t even thought about the fact that Louis had been missing dinner for him, and he frowned.

            “You can go out there and eat, Lou. I didn’t mean to make you skip the meal.”

            “I want to eat with you,” Louis said, setting his plate on the bed and carefully positioning himself before picking it back up and beginning to eat. Harry did the same.

            “You won’t have to take care of me forever,” he promised.

            “I don’t mind,” Louis assured him with a smile.

            “I know you don’t,” Harry told him, moving his free hand like a spider across the sheets until he found Louis’s hand and took it in his own.

***

            By early the next week, Harry had mostly adjusted to his medication. His moods were still more unstable than previously, but he no longer felt physically sick all of the time and so could fake it better again. Well, he could around most people. Louis saw through it every time.

            A couple days later, on Sunday, Harry woke up not feeling quite so emotionally heavy. He was even out of bed before Louis came in for good morning kisses, and Louis smiled when he saw Harry already gathering his clothes for the shower.

            “Good morning!” the older boy greeted.

            “‘Morning,” Harry said, giving a small smile back. Glancing backwards to make sure there were no nurses or doctors lingering around the area, Louis took a few steps forward to place a kiss on Harry’s lips.

            “You know,” Harry spoke again. “It’s not really fair that when I first see you in the mornings, you’re already showered and brushed your teeth and I still have my bed head, pajamas and morning breath.”

            “Yeah, but you’re cute in the mornings. It’s like walking into a dream. If you saw me in the morning, you would think you woke up in a nightmare.”

            “I highly doubt that.”

            “I promise you that it’s so.”

            Harry rolled his eyes, but there was still a small smile on his face.

            “You’re ridiculous,” he commented.

            “Perhaps,” Louis admitted. “See you at breakfast?”

            “I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

            It was the first actual breakfast that Harry had attended since Monday, and the boys smiled when they saw him approaching. They’d stopped by his room at least once a day to say hi and see if there was anything they could do, but, getting that Harry needed space from everyone but Louis, they hadn’t prodded. Harry appreciated it, but he had missed them, he realized as he took his seat.

            “Feeling better, Harry?” Zayn asked politely.

            “Yeah. How are you all doing?”

            “Good,” Zayn said. “I only changed twice last week.”

            “Really?! That’s awesome, Zayn!”

            Zayn smiled, looking a bit shy.

            “Liam, Niall?” Harry asked.

            “Great,” Liam said while Niall gave the thumbs up, sipping obnoxiously on his nearly empty cup of chocolate milk. Harry smiled.

            “Good.”

            “They took Niall’s whiteboard,” Louis commented. “Said he was less likely to start talking if he had that assisting him. Personally, I can’t wait to see Josh’s reaction.”

            Niall’s eyes widened, like he didn’t even want to think about it, and the others laughed.

            “And they put Liam on an anti-depressant, finally.”

            “What did you have before?” Harry asked, one eyebrow quirked.

            “Just an anxiety pill,” Liam said. “I don’t really know why they gave me an anti-depressant anyway though. I’m not depressed.”

            “Happy people don’t throw up their food, Liam,” Harry said.

            “Harry, you drank bleach and tried to say you weren’t depressed,” Louis pointed out.

            “Yeah…well…”

            Harry shrugged, not knowing what else to say.

            “I hope you’re adjusting better than me, Liam,” Harry told his friend.

            “Yeah, I’m okay,” Liam said nonchalantly.

            “He’s afraid it will make him gain weight,” Zayn explained, rolling his eyes.

            “I haven’t,” Harry said. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

            “And it’s not like it matters anyway!” Zayn said happily, pecking a kiss on Liam’s lips. Christian didn’t even flinch that time. Harry and Louis smiled at each other.

***

            The day of their outing, Josh once again decided to join them.

            “Isn’t your dad getting suspicious that you want to spend so much time here?” Louis asked him as they all piled on the bus.

            “I’m pretty sure he’s already been told what’s going on. He hasn’t said a word, so I’m guessing he doesn’t care, and I don’t give a shit either way.”

            Niall looked at his boyfriend nervously at the bitterness in his tone. Josh smiled and gave him a kiss.

            “I just mean because nothing would change anything between us anyway,” he explained.

            “So cute,” Louis cooed.

***

            Harry would give the institution credit; they were brave for taking them to the fair for an outing. Even though the chaperone list was doubled from their museum trip, it didn’t stop a few of them from straggling and the typical fair noises were drowned out in screams by various nurses for someone to come join the group. Still, it was fun. Harry pigged out on fair food, and insisted that Louis share everything with him, figuring after the first two times Louis claimed not to want anything that he just didn’t have the means to get it. And then, when his back was turned, he bought him a flower crown too, for good measure. He feared it may have been too cheesy, or that Louis would so not be the type of guy to appreciate a flower crown, but when Louis turned back and Harry plopped it on his head, Louis asked to see the mirror the owner of the booth was holding and smiled.

            “How did you know that red was my color?” Louis asked Harry with a wink.

            “I’ve studied you quite a bit,” Harry told him.

            “Oh, have you?”

            “Yes.”

            “Do you like what you see?”

            “I love what I see.”

            Giving a quick glance to verify that they weren’t the center of any chaperones’ attention, Harry wrapped his arms around Louis’s middle, kissing his neck as he said,

            “and I love what I hear when you speak and I love what I feel from you when we’re touching and what I feel in myself just when you’re around.”

            Louis turned his head to look at Harry, the biggest smile Harry had ever seen on his face. He couldn’t help but return it. After a moment, Louis poked his boyfriend in the nose.

            “You weren’t lying when you said you liked cheesy, were you?”

            “Nope, but at least I didn’t cry after you told me that you loved me.”

            “Hush,” Louis demanded, but he was still smiling as he gently broke free from Harry. They weren’t out of contact for long, though, because Louis laced their pinkies together and stepped closer, hoping to hide the touch from the adults.

            “I can’t wait until we don’t have to hide anymore,” Harry commented.

            “Me neither,” Louis agreed.

            “Speaking of hiding, Lou…it’s eighty five fucking degrees out here.”

            “Yeah?”

            “You’re in long sleeves.”

            “…And?”

            “Aren’t you hot?”

            “No, not really.”

            Pursing his lips, Harry took the hand that wasn’t touching Louis’s and wiped it across his boyfriend’s forehead, showing him his own sweat to make a point.

            “Okay, I’m a bit warm,” Louis admitted.

            “You have a shirt on under that.”

            “Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?”

            “Take the cardigan off, Lou.”

            “I’m fine.”

            “Louis, you’re going to have heat stroke.”

            “Harry…they’re…it’s just that they’re so noticeable.”

            “It doesn’t matter. I already know they’re there.”

            “You do. The world doesn’t.”

            “The world doesn’t pay attention, Louis. If they did, maybe none of us would be in the situations we are.”

            Louis nodded in agreement, but said, “I don’t know…”

            “You don’t have to hide anything, my love. Not when I’m around.”

            Louis stared at Harry, somehow not tripping as he continued to walk at the same time.

            “I don’t want to carry the cardigan around.”

            “I’ll tie it around my waist.”

            “You don’t have to do that.”

            “I don’t mind.”

            Louis was quiet again as he thought. Then, he slowed his walking until he came to a stop and slipped out of the sleeves. The contrast between Louis’s arms was quite astonishing; one completely smooth and flawless, the other marred and tore up, but still, in its own way, flawless.

            “Beautiful,” Harry said, kissing first the smooth arm and then the injured one. “Every inch.”

            “I don’t look like a Frankenstein experiment?” Louis teased. Or maybe he was partly serious too.

            “No,” Harry answered, taking the article of clothing from his boyfriend’s hand and dutifully tying it around his waist.“You look alive.”

            “Well, that I am.”

            “I’m glad.”

            “I’m glad you are too.”

            Stepping closer to his boyfriend, Louis wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed him passionately on the lips. Harry kissed back, and though their eyes were both closed, he somehow still managed to catch the flower crown as it fell from Louis’s head without missing a beat. They kissed until their names were called frantically from the near distance, and then still until they were physically forced apart, giggling to themselves then as they were ushered back to their friends.

Chapter Text

On Saturday, Harry woke feeling even better than he had on Friday. He'd had fun at the fair, and he'd felt good being with Louis and kissing him in public, but getting out had still taken a lot of energy and he was run down by that evening. Louis had noticed, as he tended to always do, and so, after dinner, they'd laid in Harry's bed for the rest of the night, silent, until Louis was forced to leave. Of course, he sneaked back a couple hours later and stayed until nearly five in the morning.

"Don't go," Harry had whispered when he woke, feeling his backside get colder as Louis's body became farther and farther away. And it was summer, so he shouldn't have been cold, but he was, a bit.

"I'll see you in a couple of hours, love," Louis had whispered back, giving his boyfriend a soft kiss on the lips before getting out of bed and exiting the room silently. Harry sighed, barely able to wait for the day when he and Louis could share a bed all night and all morning too, if they wished, but he fell back to sleep quickly by himself.

When Myah woke them up that morning, Harry was up and gathering his clothes before his room mate, even, and he thought he might have been smiling a tiny bit too.

Once he'd found what he decided he was going to wear that day, he set the outfit on his bed and waited patiently for Louis to come in, like he did every morning. He didn't have to wait long, and Louis blinked, confused, before smiling widely at Harry. Harry smiled back.

"Good morning," Louis said, but it came out almost like a question.

"Good morning," Harry confirmed, leaning forward to place a kiss on the other teen's forehead. Somehow, his smile grew wider.

The mood of the entire institution seemed lifted that day, or maybe it was just Harry. He wasn't sure. Either way, he liked this feeling a lot. If he felt like this the rest of his life, he would be just fine. That wasn't going to happen, of course, but Harry decided not to dwell just then. Still, the place seemed louder, brighter, but perhaps only because Harry didn't have the fog over his head for once in what almost seemed like forever.

"Whoa," Zayn commented when he saw Harry and Louis approaching the breakfast table with their plates. "Someone's in a good mood. Was the sex that good last night?"

"Shut up, Tyler," Louis scolded.

"I'm Zayn!" their friend said, looking offended at being called such a name.

"Really?" Louis asked, narrowing his eyes.

"Yeah," Zayn insisted while Liam nodded.

"Hm," Louis hummed and then, "Well stop acting like Tyler, Zayn. We're looking forward to the day he's gone for a reason."

Zayn rolled his eyes, but took a big bite of his omelet, not looking quite so offended anymore.

***

Harry's mom called that night to make sure he was up for their company; hers, Gemma's and his dad's.

"Yeah, of course!" Harry had told her. His good mood had persisted throughout the day. Even after dinner, when he got the call, he was still going and energized when, normally, he would be wearing down by then.

"You sound...cheerful," Anne commented, the tone of her voice a mixture of happiness and caution.

"It's a good day," Harry told her.

"Is it?"

"Yeah."

"So do you think that new medicine is starting to work?"

"Maybe."

Harry didn't care to really think about it and he was tired of talking about himself, so he changed the subject.

"Have you had any luck with finding Louis's mum?"

"No," Anne sighed. "Not yet. There are a few more things I want to try. I checked the obituaries from the past ten years and nothing has come up so that's a good sign, but I'm just not sure, Harry."

"Yeah," Harry said, heart falling for his boyfriend. "Thanks for trying."

"I'm not giving up yet."

"I know Louis would appreciate it if...well...he knew, but I haven't wanted to mention it."

"No, you're right. If he hasn't said anything, it's best to leave well enough alone."

"Is it okay if I go back to him now?" Harry asked. "They're about to start a movie."

"Of course. I'll see you tomorrow. I love you."

"I love you too. Tell dad and Gem hi for me."

As soon as he hung up with his mom, Harry hurried to the area that movie night was held in almost every Saturday. Not that Harry usually went. Or ever.

"Hey, love," Louis greeted when Harry approached, holding his arm out and offering a spot for his boyfriend underneath his blanket.

"How are you cold?" Harry asked, but got under the blanket and snuggled Louis as close as they thought they would be allowed.

"I'm not," Louis said. In the next moment, the lights were turned off as the movie began to play, and Harry suddenly understood.

"It's all right," Harry assured him gently.

"I know," Louis whispered, moving his body slightly closer. Harry felt that they were pushing the limits then, but he didn't mind.

"Did something happen in the dark, babe?" Harry whispered.

"Later," Louis said. Harry nodded, turning his head to face the television screen, but keeping his arms tight around his boyfriend. Slowly, Louis began to relax. Still, Harry didn't let go.

***

"I can't wait until we can watch a real movie instead of something for, like, five-year-olds," Zayn commented once the film had ended and the patients were instructed to go straight to bed.

"We'll have a movie marathon as soon as we're all sprung," Liam said and then, to Zayn, "Hey, maybe the movies should be our first real date."

"We're going to go on a real date?!" Zayn asked, looking thrilled at the prospect.

"Boyfriends go on dates," Liam said slowly, looking at Zayn confusedly.

"I didn't known how open you wanted to be," Zayn said with a shrug.

"I'm coming out officially," Liam assured him. "I just want to do it when you're with me so I can show you off."

***

"So are you out of the closet to everyone?"

It was just after midnight, and Louis was in bed with Harry. They'd done their kissing, which usually lulled them to sleep, but not that night. Louis whispered softly, almost inaudibly, but the place was nearly dead silent, and Harry heard him clearly.

"Yeah," Harry whispered back. "I never had to do an official coming out. My family had always made it clear that they didn't care about that kind of thing, because they would always ask if I liked any girls or boys at school, so when I said I did like a boy, it wasn't a big deal or anything. Because of that, I never tried to hide it from anyone else."

"That's awesome. I love your family."

"I love my family too," Harry agreed. "What about you?"

"I don't really have anyone I need to come out to," Louis said. "There's Carl, I guess, but I'm hoping to never see him again. I didn't even know who or what I liked until I got here, and I've been here so long that the only friends I have left are here too, and they know. I got it easy, I guess."

"You didn't have it easy," Harry said. "Tell me about your so-called slut days."

"You want to hear about my slut days?" Louis asked, slightly incredulously.

"Yeah," Harry told him. Hearing about Louis being with anyone else, even in the past, used to make Harry jealous, but he realized now that it was dumb. He hadn't known Louis his whole life. There had bound to have been people before him, as Harry had had someone in his life before Louis. They were together now, though, and that was all that mattered, and Harry wanted to know everything about Louis so he could love every tiny detail, even the more undesirable ones, because they made Louis who he was and Harry knew he wouldn't have him any other way.

"There isn't really much to say," Louis began. "Once I was away from Carl and the fear, I realized how lonely I was, and how lonely I had been almost my entire life. It started out with one patient here who I knew liked me. I was only looking for something innocent, but he had other things on his mind and I didn't want to be lonely anymore, so I gave him what he wanted. Then he left and I did the same thing with someone else. I developed a reputation, and since there really aren't many people who will give it up that easily here or who knew how to get away with it, I became a go-to, I guess, for boys mostly, but there were a few girls. I thought eventually that someone would stay, but they never did."

"Did you think I was going to leave?" Harry asked. "All those times you wanted to get something going?"

"Yeah," Louis admitted.

"Do you still think I will?"

"Probably not."

"Probably not?!"

There was laughter in Louis's voice when he spoke again.

"What if I don't live up to your expectations when we do do it?"

"I have no expectations," Harry assured him. "I have nothing to compare you to anyway."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I've only had one boyfriend and we messed around a bit, but I wasn't into it. That was at the beginning of my depression, I think."

"Does it bother you then? About me, I mean."

"No," Harry answered honestly. "Do you want to talk about the dark now?"

"It's stupid..."

"I doubt it, but like I said before, a fear is a fear."

"I know it's irrational."

"Most fears are."

"Well, I guess it started when, after the first time Carl found out I was cutting, he locked me in the basement. He said I was just like my mum and needed to be put away too. It was only for a night, but he broke the light so I couldn't find a way to escape, and I was so hungry...I kept wondering how many nights I would be down there until I starved to death."

"Lou...that's terrible."

Harry cleared his throat. Louis started making small circles on his arm with his thumb.

"No, it was a bit dramatic of me, actually. He'd been drunk, and he liked to hit me around sometimes, but he wasn't that bad, and so I should have known I only had to wait it out until he sobered up."

"Lou..."

Harry was nearly at a loss for words.

"No," he finally said. "Your thoughts, feelings and fears are valid. Please don't think otherwise."

"I won't be afraid of the dark one day," Louis said, kissing Harry's lips. "I'm not so afraid of it when I'm with you anyway."

"Well, you'll have all night every night with me when we get our place."

"Were you really in a good mood today?"

"I was. I felt good today."

"'Good' is a step closer to happy."

"I'll get there," he promised. Though he still wasn't one hundred percent sure, he felt more hopeful that it was the truth right then than ever before.

"I want to talk more about you, if that's okay," Harry whispered.

"What about me?" Louis asked.

"You don't have to answer, but if you want to...When did you start hurting yourself? You said Carl locked you away when he first found out, but when was that? I'm assuming that was before the first 'fake' suicide attempt."

Realizing that he was caught in a lie, Louis grew silent. Harry was pretty sure he was holding his breath.

"I'm not mad," he assured him. Still, Louis stayed quiet for nearly a minute before beginning to speak again, slowly.

"I was thirteen," he said. "I knew my mum had done it when she was sad, and I was sad, so I tried it. It didn't help but it did make me feel closer to her, kind of, and so I would do it occasionally when I missed her more than usual. It turned into a cry for help, but either no one noticed or no one cared, and so that was when I went deeper. It was just a cry for help, Harry, and I'm sorry that I did it when there were people who actually had problems that needed help."

"Louis, I told you that your feelings are valid. You don't have anything to be sorry for anything and, though you deny it, you do have problems. Everyone does. There's nothing wrong with asking for help. I just wish it hadn't taken you so long to get it."

"It's okay," Louis said. "If things had turned out differently, I may have never met you. I wish the circumstances were better for you, but I think, for me, things turned out exactly like they should have."

"I wouldn't change anything either," Harry agreed. "I never really believed that everything happens for a reason, and I'm still not sure, but meeting you, and how everything fell into place...it kind of feels like fate, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Louis said. "It does."

"And I wouldn't change anything," Harry repeated.

"You wouldn't change that night?" Louis asked. "You wouldn't change the fact that the ending wasn't actually your ending?"

"I don't think so," Harry said, and then shook his head, though Louis couldn't see it in the dark. "No," he said out loud. "I hate the way I feel most of the time. I hate that something in my mind is so defective that I sometimes go against the basic human nature of trying to stay alive, but I am alive. My ending could change, for the better or worse, but at least I have a chance. Some peoples' endings come way too early and they never even have a chance to change it. All of us in here; me, you, Liam, Zayn, Niall and everyone else, may have to struggle a little more than average on a daily basis, but at least we're still breathing. At least we're alive. I'm actually really, really glad I'm alive."

Louis was quiet for a long while, but Harry wasn't concerned and he waited patiently while Louis found his reply.

"God damn it, Harry," he choked, and Harry knew he was crying, but he also knew that they were good tears. Laughing just a little, Harry gave Louis a kiss, not caring that he got the other's tears on his face.

"I love you, Louis. I can't wait to start our life together."

"I love you too, Harry, but, babe, our life has already begun."

***

"There are my boys!" Gemma exclaimed, making her way to the couch Louis and Harry were sitting on when she arrived the next day. The boys stood.

"Hey, Gem," Harry said, at the same time that Louis said his hello. Gemma hugged Harry first, but then turned to the other teenager, whom she brought into a nice, big bear hug as well. Harry thought he heard some of the air get squeezed out of him, but then Louis laughed and hugged the woman back. Harry beamed.

"Where's mum?" he asked once his sister and boyfriend pulled out of their embrace.

"She and dad are talking to your doctor. They'll be here in a minute."

"Oh, dad did come?"

"Yeah."

"I'll leave you guys alone. See you later,Hazza," Louis said, and turned to walk away.

"No!" Gemma nearly shrieked, grabbing Louis's arm and pulling him back. Louis jumped, eyes wide, but he composed himself before Harry could even finish telling Gemma to be gentle.

"You're staying," she told the boy.

"But-"

"You're staying," she repeated.

"Don't worry," Harry assured him. "Gemma is scarier than my dad, so if you can handle her, you'll be fine."

It wasn't long before Harry's parents joined them, and Anne hugged both of the boys as well. Harry's dad refrained from hugging Louis, but gave him a wide smile and offered a handshake as he introduced himself.

"Aren't they cute?" Anne asked, her eyes actually sparkling as she looked at the two. Harry blushed, though he wasn't embarrassed.

"They are," his father, Des, agreed.

Since it was raining again, the families had to stay inside, but that was all right. Harry felt much less claustrophobic then.

"So, Louis," Des began after they'd all fixed plates and sat down. "I don't mean to pry, but what is your plan for when you're released?"

"I think I'll be going to a halfway house," Louis answered, not seeming bothered at all. "Just temporarily until I find a job and am ready to move out with Harry and some of our other friends."

"That sounds like a good plan," Des told him. "Does this place send you to a nice halfway house?"

"I have no idea," Louis admitted. "Once people leave here, they usually don't come back, unless they're me."

Harry and Anne smiled. The joke went over Des's head, but he went on anyway.

"I'm sure it's a nice place," he said, "but-and there's no pressure to accept-but you are welcome to stay with us until you boys get yourselves situated and ready for real life again. Will you have schooling left, Louis?"

"Uh, yeah, I think just a little, but I'll probably just start working."

"That's fine if that's what you want to do, but if you would like to continue your education, we can make sure that happens."

Louis stared at Des, the gears in his head turning, and Des smiled at him. "Just something to think about."

"Well...thank you," Louis said, and Harry knew he meant it. Though Louis had no idea how much Harry's family knew about him, they were still offering him a place to go; a place where he would be safe and loved. Harry hoped he accepted the offer, for selfish reasons, but for Louis too. He needed to be safe and deserved to be loved, and Harry wanted him to allow it for himself, and Harry knew that there was no one who could love Louis more than him and his family; Louis's family now too.

 

Chapter Text

Once visiting time was over, the five boys, plus Josh, went to the day room to play an intense game of ping-pong and just relax, thinking they had the rest of the night basically to themselves, but it wasn't much longer until another parent arrived; Josh's dad. Josh saw him first, and his smile quickly vanished, a look of plain fear taking its place.

"Josh?" Louis asked, looking behind himself to find the source of their friend's panic. "Oh," he said. Niall fidgeted and even Liam looked worried, but Zayn and Harry exchanged confused looks.

"What is it?" Zayn spoke to the others.

"Josh's dad," Louis explained.

"That's a bad thing?"

"He wasn't supposed to be here today," Josh said.

"Well, he owns the place," Louis rationalized. "Maybe he's just checking up on things."

"Maybe," Josh allowed, "but he's walking straight towards us."

"Hello, boys!" the man greeted. He didn't seem threatening, but Harry was smart enough-and had enough experience-to know that things were not always how they seemed.

"Everything good, dad?" Josh asked, trying and failing to sound nonchalant.

"Everything is fine," the guy told his son. "I just figured I should come see the boy who has taken all of my son's time this summer."

"You've already met him," Josh said, glancing at Niall, who looked even more terrified than Josh.

"Yes, I know," the father said. "Will you two come take a walk with me?"

It was clear that they would rather not, but they didn't really have much choice, so Niall put down his ping-pong paddle and, with Josh, followed the man out. To Josh's honor, he did take Niall's hand, staying true to his word that he didn't care what his dad had to say about them; they weren't going to change.

"Well, that's terrifying," Liam said once the trio was out of sight.

"Poor Niall," Zayn said.

"They'll be fine," Louis told them confidently. "I know it. Haz; you against me?"

***

Josh and Niall were gone a while. The boys had moved on from ping-pong to the mini air hockey set, which was quickly forgotten when they saw Niall heading back.

"Ni!" Zayn shouted, causing a few people to turn. He waited until Niall was a little closer before asking, "How did it go?"

Niall nodded, but his expression was blank.

"Yes?" Zayn verified. "Good?"

Niall nodded again, his smile slowly returning as he gave the group a thumbs up. They all smiled and Zayn pulled their friend into a tight hug.

"Shit, you scared us!"

"You'll have to tell us about the official, formal meeting sometime," Louis told the blonde with a wink. Niall smiled.

Josh returned a few minutes later, greeting Niall with a big kiss on the lips.

"Mr. Devine, that is inappropriate," Louis scolded.

"Not when my daddy owns the place and supports the relationship one hundred percent," Josh argued.

"Let's stay away from Niall's room tonight," Zayn commented.

"Is sex all you think about?" Louis asked.

"Yes," Liam answered for his boyfriend.

"Hey, maybe if I think about gay sex enough, Brian will get disgusted enough to kill himself or whatever. Not that I support suicide."

The last part was added with Zayn looking at Harry, who smiled.

"I think the suicide of a split is fine," Harry said.

"Especially a homophobic split," Josh commented.

"How long has it been since you've switched now, Z?" Louis asked.

"Erm...three days now? Yeah, three."

"That's great!" Josh exclaimed. "Do you still hear their voices?"

"That would have been a form of schizophrenia, Josh," Zayn laughed.

"But...you've asked me before to be quiet because Genevieve and I had clashing personalities and she kept arguing with me in your head."

"I thought that would be kinder than telling you to shut up because you talk too much."

"How rude."

***

When night time arrived and Harry still felt human, he began to grow a little nervous. He loved the feeling, but didn't want to grow too used to it if it was just going to go away and leave him in the same position he'd been in the past year or so. He feared that the longer he went on like this, the harder it would be for him to fall back. And he would fall again because there was no way recovering was that easy; to just wake up one morning feeling infinitely better and have that be that.

At least for the time being, though, that seemed to be the case because he woke the next morning feeling just as good as the past couple of days. It was scary, yes, but Harry decided to go with it. Maybe he would talk to his therapist about it and see if he had any advice on preparing himself for the downfall.

Harry was so concentrated on the fact that he woke in a good mood that he had failed to realize that he woke on his own. It must have been close to wake-up time, because Louis was gone from his bed and the lights were on in the hall, keeping the bedroom from being pitch black, but no one had come yet to rouse them. He didn't feel tired anymore though, and wasn't particularly interested in going back to bed, so he decided to get a head start on his showering.

"Is everything all right, Harry?" Myah asked, clearly concerned when she saw Harry already up and strolling down the hallway.

"Everything's fine, Myah," Harry assured the woman with a smile. "Just thought I would get an early start today."

Myah smiled, taking her pen and notepad from the pocket of her scrubs to mark something down.

That damn notebook, Harry thought silently, and almost laughed out loud.

Before heading to the showers, Harry peeked into Louis's room. He was already up. Oh well. Maybe Harry would run into him in the bathroom.

"Good morning!" Harry greeted the man outside of the bathroom, sent to verify that whoever was entering wasn't an eating disorder patient that they needed to call for someone to keep an eye on while they did their business. Since Harry was not an eating disorder patient, thankfully, because he couldn't even imagine dealing with that invasion of privacy, the nurse simply greeted him 'good morning' back and let him in. Harry watched to make sure the door closed and then walked over to the only shower that was running.

"Lou?" he asked with a knock on the door.

"...Yeah?" a hesitant voice called out.

"Hi. It's Harry."

"Oh."

The door to the shower slid open just enough for Louis to poke his head out.

"I thought that was your voice, but I didn't think you would be up this early."

"Well...surprise!"

Harry smiled, and Louis returned it, but still seemed hesitant.

"Is everything okay?" he asked Harry.

"Yeah, everything's fine. Are you trying to hide something from me though?"

"Am I trying to hide something? No...Why?"

Harry nodded to the door, which was still much more closed than open. Louis raised a surprised eyebrow.

"You want to come in?" he asked.

"Is that okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine, but I don't have much time left before they're going to come in and yell for me."

Thinking quickly, Harry held up one finger before hurrying to a shower a little further down and turning it on. Heart racing a bit-that adrenaline going again-Harry stripped and laid his clothes by that shower before padding back to Louis's and stepping in. Both admired each other with smiles on their faces for a couple of moments before Louis kissed him.

***

They didn't have time to really get anything going in the shower, which was all right with them. They spent about five minutes just taking in each other's bodies with their eyes, memorizing and exploring for a later time. Harry didn't know how much later, but, frankly, it didn't matter.

Once that five or so minutes had passed, the man in charge of bathroom breaks opened the door and hollered in for Louis to 'hurry it up.' Both boys had giggled then, Louis pressing a hand adorably to his mouth before uncovering it and giving Harry one last kiss; then quickly toweling off, dressing and telling Harry he would see him soon.

"Okay, something happened between you two," Zayn commented when the couple sat down at breakfast. They erupted into a fit of giggles again.

***

Instead of getting a phone call from his mother, or even his father, that night, it was Gemma who called.

"Hey, brat," she kindly greeted after Harry picked up the phone.

"Gem?"

"Unless 'brat' is a common nickname for you, I would say yes, this is your one and only sister, doofus."

"Hey. What's up?"

"Not much. I just thought I would give you your nightly call so you don't think we forgot about you and lay on your floor in emotional distress again."

"Mum doesn't want to talk to me then, I'm assuming," Harry teased.

"She's not home. So how are my patients?"

"Your patients?"

"Yeah. Your mates. Um...Liam, Louis, Niall and...something that begins with a 'Z.'"

"Zayn."

"Yes. Zayn."

"You can't even remember your own patients' names?"

"Three out of four isn't bad."

"Stick to fashion, Gem."

"Shut up. Anyway, how are they?"

"Good. Zayn hasn't switched personalities in a few days."

"Has Niall talked yet?"

"No. Not yet."

"We'll have to work on that. What about Liam? Is he still throwing up his food?"

"I don't know. He hasn't tried to go on a binge, so probably not."

"Good. And Louis? Are you treating him well?"

"Of course."

"Good. And how are you?"

"I'm good, Gem."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Fantastic. Oh, hey, you'll never guess where mum is."

"Then you should probably save me the trouble and just tell me."

"She's at dinner."

"Okay..."

"With Louis's mum."

Harry felt his eyes try to pop right out of his skull.

"What?!"

"Yeah."

"She found her?!"

"Actually, dad did. Kind of. You know Drew, his lawyer friend?"

"Yeah."

"He was venting to dad about this stressful case he has of a mum who lost custody of her son when he was younger, and now they're claiming she has no rights to him and refuse to tell her where he is. Guess who it was?"

"Jay."

"Yep."

Harry actually felt a bit dizzy. He gripped the phone tighter.

"She was looking for Louis."

"Apparently so. Drew gave her mum's number this afternoon and she called basically directly after, so they decided to meet for dinner and discuss everything."

"Is mum bringing her to see him?"

"I'm assuming so, but I guess it depends on how tonight goes."

"Why did you wait so long to tell me?!"

"I didn't think that was the kind of thing that you just drop on someone."

"Of course it is!"

"Well, you know now."

Harry did know, and he could barely contain his excitement. Louis's mom, who Louis believed had possibly abandoned him or even died was alive and, more, had been looking for Louis. She wanted to know where her son was; possibly be in his life.

Harry had to contain his excitement, though, because, while things seemed to be looking up, he still didn't want to tell Louis until he'd at least talked to his own mom. Louis was going to be okay, though. Harry knew it.

When Harry got off the phone, he went back to the rec room, where the group was setting up a game of Monopoly. Josh had joined as well, and greeted Harry with a smile.

"Just in time!" he exclaimed. "You can pick first. What piece do you want to be?"

"The shoe."

"Okay. Lou?"

"The boat."

"Li?"

"The car!"

"Z?"

"The dog."

"Ni?"

"Hat."

Everyone stopped what they were doing and just froze. Zayn even dramatically dropped his game piece, and they all turned their heads to look at Niall, who looked just as surprised as the rest of them.

"Did you just...What...Niall?!" Josh stammered, a big smile slowly splitting across his face. The same happened with Niall, who nodded and found the hat amongst the few remaining pieces.

"Niall...you just talked...," Liam said. Niall looked at the rest of them, smiling shyly, though looking absolutely thrilled, as he should have.

"Babe!" Josh exclaimed, pulling Niall sideways into him. Other words seemed to fail him at that moment.

"Can you say something else?" Zayn asked. Niall, still in Josh's arms, chewed his lips, face creased with concentration before he asked,

"Like what?"

The whole group gasped and laughed in pride, every single one of them going over to embrace their friend in a group hug. Niall laughed, but made sure to tell them,

"Boys, I'm claustrophobic."

Niall was going to be fine. And based on the fact that Zayn was still Zayn by the end of the night, making that the fourth consecutive night in a row, he was going to be fine as well.

"If you wake up in time, will you meet me in the showers again?" Louis whispered before he and Harry fell asleep that night.

"I would love to," Harry said.

He did wake up in time, and he felt better than any of the past few mornings, even, and so Harry concluded that he was going to be okay too.

Excitement filled the teen as he entered the bathroom. Maybe things would go a little farther that day, and maybe not, but either way, he was fine with it. He just loved sharing that intimacy with Louis.

When he got into the bathroom, there was one shower occupied, as well as one stall, so they weren't the only ones in the bathroom that morning. That made things a bit more difficult but that was okay. It actually made it a little more exciting, Harry thought. The only problem was that Harry obviously had no way of knowing if Louis was in the stall or shower. He thought it might be a little less weird to try the stall first and so walked to the closed door, ready to knock, when he heard a cough from inside and froze. Another cough soon followed, then another, each getting more and more strained, until Harry heard a gag and unfroze to finally knock rapidly on the door.

"Hey, are you okay?" he asked, feeling bad for whoever was in there, but really hoping it wasn't Louis. He didn't receive a reply. "Lou?" he tried.

"No, I'm fine," the person on the other side of the door said. It was hard to hear with the shower running, and because the person had spoken quietly, but Harry still thought he knew who it was, and it wasn't Louis, but his heart still sunk.

"Liam?"

Silence.

"Liam, open the door, please."

"I can't, Harry. Just...I'm fine. Don't worry."

"Okay..."

Harry didn't believe him, of course, and wasn't going to be able to join Louis in the shower and pretend like nothing had happened, so he used the restroom quickly. Liam came out while he was washing his hands and went to the sink next to him, refusing to make eye contact.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked again.

"Yeah," Liam replied after swishing some water around in his mouth and spitting it into the sink. "I think I'm starting to have a bad reaction to my new medication."

Though Liam still wouldn't look at Harry, that didn't stop him from seeing the guilt in his eyes. Harry knew that guilt. He felt it every time he had a 'bad' thought.

"Really?" he asked. Liam paused before sighing.

"No."

"What happened, Li?"

"I got hungry, and I hate that feeling, so I found out a way to break into the kitchen."

"You...How?!"

"That's not important."

"Okay. You're right, Li."

Another question Harry had was why wasn't anyone in here with Liam, monitoring him, but then he decided that it wasn't important at this very moment either. Somehow, Liam had managed to binge and somehow he had managed to purge, and the specifics weren't what mattered. What did matter was just Liam.

Harry paused and then sighed himself.

"It's going to be okay," he said then.

"I told myself that I would just steal a little snack, but I...I couldn't stop."

"Liam, are you okay?" the guard outside called in, causing the boy to jump.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Liam answered.

"Okay. One minute!"

"You need to come out to your parents," Harry said once the door had been closed again. "You need to tell them the truth about everything. This...pretending...is killing you."

"I know," Liam said, and Harry was sure he was going to cry, but he somehow fought the tears away, "and the scariest part about it is that sometimes I don't even care."

Harry was at a loss for words for a moment, so he just pulled Liam into a tight hug. It didn't last long because he knew the guard would be back for Liam any second, but he made sure Liam felt it, physically and otherwise.

"It's going to be okay," Harry said again as he let him go. Maybe the words were cliché and maybe they would make Liam mad, like they used to do for Harry, but he really believed that they were true and wanted Liam to know that. "You're going to be okay, Li. We all are. I know it."

 

 

Chapter Text

Before Harry joined Louis in the shower, he decided that he wasn't going to tell him about Liam. It would just upset the both of them, and that wasn't good for either's mental health. He was going to keep a better eye on Liam from now on, though. He made it his duty.

As Harry figured, it was Louis in the shower, and he smiled as Harry joined him, eyes traveling from his chest to his eyes before the older teen gave the younger a kiss.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," the other replied.

***

By breakfast, it was obvious that everyone had found out about Liam's late night adventure, though, given that Liam was still sitting at the table, they hadn't discovered who it was. There was commotion, both amongst the patients and the staff. Louis was still in the dark, but made sure to ask what was going on as he took his typical seat at their table.

"Someone broke into the kitchen," Zayn explained.

"Who?!"

"They don't know, but probably one of the bulimics."

All eyes shifted to Liam, who scratched his ear uncomfortably. No one questioned him, but from behind the table, Christian said,

"Oh, they know who it is. There are cameras. I think they're just waiting a bit to see if the person comes clean."

Liam's face paled and Harry wondered if he was going to get sick again. He wasn't the only one to notice.

"Babe?" Zayn asked. "You okay?"

"I'm hopeless!" Liam cried, pressing the tops of his wrists against his eyelids. Zayn put a supportive hand on his back, studying his boyfriend worriedly.

"Why would you say that, babe?"

"I tried to stop myself! I kept trying to stop and I couldn't!"

Zayn glanced back at Christian, but kept rubbing circles in the teen's back.

"You need to tell them, babe."

"They'll make me go home!"

"No, they won't," Christian spoke then. "They're here to help you, Liam."

"Well, they're doing a pretty shitty job of it so far!"

Looking heartbroken, Zayn placed a kiss on his boyfriend's bicep, seeming at a loss for how else to help him.

"Let's go talk to your therapist, Liam," Christian tried. Liam uncovered his eyes and blinked a few times before looking at Zayn.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Zayn assured him. "Just go talk to your therapist, okay?"

Liam nodded and then stood, Christian clapping him on the back before following him out. Zayn watched, and then sighed when they were out of sight.

"I'm so stupid. I should have known he wasn't better."

"You're not stupid," Niall said, and Harry started. He hadn't forgotten about Niall's immense progress the previous day, but he still felt shock and pride-so much pride-at hearing the Irish accent coming from his friend.

"Yeah, his problem is pretty easily hide-able, if you know what you're doing, which he does," Louis said.

"I think the only person able to hide their problems better than him is you," Zayn commented, a small, sad smile on his face. "I still don't know what you're here for exactly."

Though Louis had shown his scars during their fair outing, he had covered them again before the other boys found them. Harry hadn't said anything. Louis had flaunted them; trying to get comfortable with them for a little while, and Harry wasn't going to rush anything.

Louis glanced at Harry for just a moment before slipping off his hoodie, exposing the scars again. Zayn and Niall's eyes widened, both of their mouths forming little 'o's of surprise.

"Ouch, Lou," Niall breathed. Louis laughed.

"Yeah, a bit."

"We love you no matter what. You know that, right?" Zayn verified.

"Yes," Louis assured him. "And I love you boys too."

***

Liam was gone all morning and for part of the afternoon too. When he found them in Zayn's room later (Zayn insisted they stay in his room during their free time, as Liam was sure to check there for them first) he didn't look like he felt any better. In fact, he looked infuriated.

"What happened, babe?" Zayn asked, playing with Liam's hair as the boy threw himself onto his stomach beside him.

"They made my parents come in, so that was just my dad yelling and my mum crying, like usual. So I walked out."

"Babe...," Zayn began, but Liam interrupted.

"No, please don't. I don't want to talk anymore."

"Okay."

Everyone was quiet for a couple of minutes, Zayn continuing to play with his boyfriend's hair until Liam spoke again.

"They know about us now, though."

The boys glanced at each other, all wondering exactly what their friend meant. Zayn was the one who finally asked.

"What do you mean, doll?"

"About you and me. They know we're more than just friends."

"You...Did you tell them?"

"Yeah. Is that okay?"

"Of course. I just wanted to make sure you wanted this."

"Yeah," Liam said, rolling onto his back. "I didn't realize how much I wanted it until after I said it."

Zayn kissed him, and having the great timing that the staff at the institution seemed to have, Meredith came in and clucked at them.

"We're in love, Meredith," Zayn said dreamily, his hands cupping Liam's face as he gazed into his eyes adoringly.

"You're too young for that," the nurse said.

"No," they all replied simultaneously. Meredith looked startled.

"Niall...did you...?"

"Yes, ma'm."

Meredith shook her head, but was smiling.

"I swear, I'm off for one day and I come back to a whole other place."

"That's what happens when you work with the mentally unstable, Meredith," Zayn told her.

"Hmm. It's time for dinner, boys. Come now."

She walked off without another word. Zayn gave Liam another kiss.

"Ready, babe?"

"I don't really want to eat. You go on," Liam said, giving Zayn another kiss as well, but Zayn frowned.

"Are you okay?"

"Fine. I just ate my body weight in cookies and shit this morning," Liam said, tickling Zayn's stomach until he collapsed in laughter on the bed next to him.

"Okay," Zayn breathed once Liam had let up on the tickles. "But I'm staying here with you."

"You need to eat, Zaynie."

"I'll grab a snack later. I'm staying with you."

"We'll try to bring you something back, Z," Louis promised, standing up and stretching. "Ouch," he added as his back cracked.

"That sounded promising," Harry teased, standing as well.

"I'm going to be a miserable old man," Louis said with a smile.

"Something for me to look forward to," Harry said. Then, Louis beamed.

***

Dinner felt weird with not one but two of their group missing and, even though Niall talked sometimes, it was still too quiet.

"Is this what it's going to be like when we all start going home one by one?" the blonde asked, poking at his food nervously.

"It's going to be strange," Louis agreed, "but let's make a deal that we all have to visit every Sunday until we're all free."

"I will," Niall said immediately.

"Me too," Harry added. Louis smiled.

***

When Harry was told he had a phone call that night, he nearly ran to the phone. He had been distracted the whole day, what with Liam's problems and Niall's returned speech, but he had constantly been freaking out in the back of his mind, wondering how his mother's meeting with Jay had gone. Now that it was later and things had calmed down-Zayn and Liam had already disappered from the room when they returned and the boys didn't search too hard, thinking they needed privacy-he was starting to just freak out.

"Mum?" he asked into the receiver as soon as he picked up the phone.

"Hey, honey," she greeted. "I'm guessing you know?"

"About Jay? Yes! How did it go?!"

"It went great, baby."

"Really?"

"Yes. She admitted that it was a good thing that they took Louis away from her; that she has issues that prevented her from raising a child properly, but she just really wanted to know where her son was and how he was doing, as any good mother naturally would."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "You told her where he is though, right?"

"I did. She was upset of course; blamed herself and for a bit, she thought maybe she should leave him alone, but we talked about it and she really wants to come see him, if that's what he wants."

"I know it is," Harry said, "but I'll talk to him about it."

"That would be great, baby."

"So you like Jay?"

"I do like her. I really think she just wants the best for Louis."

Harry smiled, feeling infinitely better. He hadn't realized he'd been this stressed over the situation, but the tension that left his body then suggested otherwise."

"He's going to be so happy, mum."

"I hope so."

"I'm going to go talk to him now, okay? And if I have time, I'll call you back."

"That's fine, Harry, but, real quick, how are you doing?"

"Oh, really good," Harry said, not having to fake it that time. "I feel almost normal now. It's nice."

"I'm so glad, Harry."

"I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"All right. I love you."

"I love you too."

***

Harry took Louis outside to talk to him after ensuring that Niall would be fine by himself for a few minutes.

Louis reacted about how Harry imagined, first with shock, then with happiness, nervousness and the tiniest bit of reluctance, which didn't last long at all. Then he'd hugged Harry so tight that it was a little hard to breathe, but Harry hugged back just as tightly, both of them sniffling and trying not to cry.

"You're not mad at me for doing this behind your back, are you?" Harry asked.

"Of course not," Louis said. "I just love you and your family so much for doing this at all and I know why you didn't tell me. I'm glad you didn't."

***

When Harry called his mom back, telling her to bring Jay on Sunday, she assured him that she would let her know immediately.

The next day, he got the message that they would both be there at precisely eleven o' clock on visiting day.

***

When Liam and Zayn had re-found their group the night that everything happened, it was clear that Liam had been crying again, and even Zayn was almost there, but when the group demanded to know what was wrong, Liam smiled.

"Nothing is wrong," he said. "My dad came back to talk to me, and Zayn too."

"And...?" Louis prompted.

"Well, a lot happened, but, basically, he apologized for making me feel like I was only accepted and loved if I was perfect, or everything he expected me to be. He said he always knew I was different than how he'd pictured his son to be and so he didn't know how to act around me, but he supports Zayn and me, and he told me that he started saving up money when I was hospitalized so I can go to college even if I don't get a football scholarship. It's not much, but he promised that he would get enough to send me off for writing. And I don't have to do football next year."

"Liam, that's great!" Louis exclaimed, blinking against the moisture in his eyes. Liam frowned.

"Lou, what's wrong?"

"Nothing"! Louis cried, his voice shrill as he covered his eyes with his hands. "Just that too many good things have happened the past couple of days and my emotions can't handle it!"

"Aww," Zayn laughed, and they all huddled around for a group hug, even Niall.

***

Louis didn't seem nearly as excited as Harry thought he would be when Sunday arrived. He was quiet when Harry had sneakily joined him in the shower that morning, and just picked at his breakfast. When asked, he assured the others that he was fine.

"Have you changed your mind about today?" Harry asked once the two were alone, laying on Louis's bed and waiting for the guests to arrive. "Because it's not too late. I can call mum."

"No, I haven't changed my mind," Louis said.

"Then what's wrong? And don't tell me you're fine, because I know better."

"I'm just nervous."

"That's understandable, but it's going to be fine. You both have a lot to talk about, but, mainly, you want her back in your life and she wants you in hers. Everything else will fall into place."

"Harry..."

Louis trailed off and sighed.

"Babe?" Harry prompted.

"What if she's disppointed in me?" he asked softly.

"She won't be disappointed in you," Harry tried to assure him, rubbing his arm comfortingly. It didn't seem to do much good.

"I mean, what if she already is?" Louis said. "I know this isn't what she wanted from me."

"Well, nobody wants this for their child," Harry pointed out, "but I'm sure she understands, probably more than anyone. She's probably afraid that you're disappointed in her too."

"I'm not," Louis said. "I know she can't help anything that happened. I just want her better and happy."

"She probably feels the exact same way about you."

Louis chewed on his lip for a minute, thinking.

"Probably," he finally admitted. "I'm still nervous though."

"I know, babe," Harry said, stealing a kiss. "But you want to do this, right?"

"Yeah," Louis answered immediately.

"I think this is definitely a good thing, Lou."

"I guess, no matter how it ends, I'll still have you at the end of the day."

"Of course you will," Harry assured him. "You'll have me at the end of every day."

***

At about quarter 'til, Harry and Louis went to wait in the TV room, where Harry's family typically found him. Louis was still nervous, fidgeting around on the couch and picking at his pants, but Harry knew there was nothing else he could say that would make him feel better. They would just have to let the day play out and see how it went. Harry was confident it would go well.

"You're not going to go when she gets here, are you?" Louis asked when it was five minutes until eleven o' clock.

"Not unless you want me to."

"Please don't."

"Okay. I won't."

It was only a couple of short minutes later when Anne and Gemma arrived, along with a woman who could only be Jay. She looked a lot like Louis, or vice versa, and was clearly just as nervous as her son, but excited too.

Louis and his mother locked eyes, and he and Harry stood as their families grew closer, Gemma rushing ahead of the other two. "Hey, brats!" she greeted, hugging each one. They both said their hellos, and then the older two women were there, both smiling, albeit anxiously.

"Hello, Harry, Louis," Anne greeted, hugging both of the boys as well before turning to Louis's mom. "Jay, this is my son, Harry, and then you of course know your son. He's a doll."

Jay smiled wider then, scanning Louis's face like she was verifiying that he was, in fact, hers.

"Hello, Harry," she said, a bit off-handedly, but Harry completely understood. "And hello again, Louis. I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," Louis said, and then surprised everyone by throwing himself at his mother, whose eyes widened in shock, but she caught him anyway and held on tight, immediately beginning to cry.

"I know it's been years, but I somehow didn't expect you to look this grown," she said through her tears, adjusting her hold on Louis but not letting go. "You're so tall."

"I think that's the only time in my life that I'll hear that," Louis said, and everyone laughed with him. After another few moments, he and Jay pulled away from each other, and Louis wasn't crying, but he didn't look the most emotionally stable either. Harry squeezed his hip lightly, tilting his head to ask silently if he was all right. Louis smiled at him.

"Would you all like to go get a table outside?" Anne asked when no one else spoke, and they agreed.

There wasn't a silent moment at lunch, and it was mainly Jay and Louis talking, but that was exactly how it should have been. Louis filled her in on good moments from his childhood that she'd missed and Jay told him that she had been released and put back in the institution a couple of times during the years, but that she felt good now. She had spent the last couple of years looking for him (she'd wanted to for much longer, but didn't want to be back in his life until she felt she wouldn't let him down again) and just recently saved enough money to hire a lawyer.

"You didn't let me down, mum," Louis said. "And you don't need a lawyer now. I'm here and you can come anytime."

"I will, but only if you want me to," she said.

"Of course I do," Louis told her. "You're my mum."

Jay talked to Harry too, politely inquiring about his interests and dreams and such. She listened intently, though let her eyes wander to Louis sometimes, and she would break into a smile each time. In turn, it made Harry smile as well.

After more than an hour had passed, some of the patients started up a football game.

"Do you want to play?" Louis asked Harry after watching with interest for a couple of minutes.

"I'm bloody terrible, but sure," he said. Louis turned to his mom.

"We won't be long. Will you still be here when we're done?"

"I'm not going anywhere until Harry's family does," she said.

"We're not leaving anytime soon," Anne assured them. Louis nodded.

"Come on, Harry."

Hand-in-hand, they walked to the game.

"Do you think we should ask Liam if he wants to play?" Louis teased. Harry snorted.

"I don't think that's such a great idea, babe."

Liam ended up coming to join anyway, namely to help Harry, who hadn't lied when he said he was terrible. (Gemma had been heard shouting on many different ocassions, asking Harry what in the hell he was doing.) (Harry honestly had no idea what he was doing, so...)

When they finished the game, they went back to their table to see Zayn already there, talking to Gemma about makeup and clothes, and Harry was scared at first that it was Genevieve, but the accent wasn't hers. It was Zayn's, and Zayn was just being himself, completely, for what was probably the first time ever.

"Oh, mum, you already met Zayn?" Louis asked as he sat in his seat and took a drink of his lemonade.

"I did," she said with a smile.

"Cool. Well, this is Liam, his boyfriend."

The two exchanged introductions and then Josh and Niall approached as well. Louis introduced them.

"It's very lovely to meet all of you," Jay said.

"Yeah, you too," Niall said. Gemma spat out the bit of water she'd just put into her mouth.

"He talks?!"

"Yeah," Harry said as Niall beamed.

"And you didn't call me directly after it happened?! When did it happen?!"

"The night mum and Jay met," Harry told her. "I didn't think it was the kind of thing you dropped on someone."

Gemma glared.

***

Anne, Gemma, and Jay stayed as late as they could, and Louis and Jay shared another huge hug before they left, only letting go with the promise that the woman would call tomorrow. Aftewards, the boys went to watch television. No one was really paying it much attention.

"I feel weird," Liam commented and Zayn frowned at him worriedly.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Not in a bad way or anything. I guess I should say that I feel normal. I don't feel like a sick kid in a hospital anymore. This feels like how I think it will feel when we all move out together. I feel like the worst is almost over, for all of us."

"Me too," Niall agreed. The rest of the boys nodded.

"I really think it is," Harry said. Louis smiled and leaned against him.

"So no more breaking into the kitchen?" Zayn asked his boyfriend, who smiled and shook his head.

"No. I think I'm done, for good this time."

"We'll all be out by Christmas then?" Louis spoke.

"By Halloween, I hope," Liam said.

"I think we can do that," Zayn said.

***

Harry woke up in the middle of the night. His clock said 1:04AM, and when he rolled over to give Louis a kiss, he saw that he wasn't there. It was then that Harry realized he'd never felt him come to bed.

Worried, thinking that either something was wrong or Louis had been caught, Harry got out of bed and sneaked to Louis's room as quickly and quietly as he could. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found Louis sound asleep, breathing lightly and peacefully.

Smiling, Harry crawled in bed behind his boyfriend, placing a kiss on his cheek beore laying down. Only waking halfway, Louis rolled over, mumbling Harry's name as he wrapped his arms around him.

"Shh, yeah, it's me," Harry assured him in a whisper. "Good night, Lou."

Louis didn't answer, already back in a full sleep and, smiling again, Harry closed his eyes as well. Louis had let his darkness back in, but a little dark was needed to make sure one wasn't blinded by the light. Besides, Harry knew it wouldn't get the best of Louis this time. He wasn't afraid of it anymore. He would fight it if he needed to, and Harry would fight right alongside him.

 

Chapter Text

“And how are you feeling today, Harry?”

Harry almost laughed out loud at the question. Therapy was so predictable after a few sessions that Harry almost felt like he could be a psychologist by that point.

“I feel good,” he answered anyway.

“Happy?” Dr. Samson asked.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed with a smile. “Happy.”

“That's great, Harry. Your whole demeanor seems lifted.”

“I feel a lot lighter,” Harry told him. “There's just one thing.”

“And what is that?”

“Am I going to be able to handle it when I go back to where I was?”

“What makes you think you're going to go back to that?”

“Well, it's inevitable, isn't it? If you're right in your diagnosis, I have major depression. That isn't cured over night.”

“You are right, it isn't, and you will have some days that are worse than others, as every other person in the world will. My hopes are that by now you realize that they won't last and that you are better equipped to find a solution other than suicide.”

“Yeah, I don't think I'll try to kill myself again,” Harry said nonchalantly.

“Then I must ask you something that I asked you during your very first session,” Dr. Samson said.

“Okay?” Harry prompted.

“Do you regret your suicide attempt?”

“No,” Harry said, and the doctor frowned. Harry continued quickly, before he could write something down on his notepad. “I don't regret it because it brought me here, where I needed to be. If I hadn't tried to kill myself, no one may have noticed I needed help. I could have gone forever hating life and being miserable. I would have stayed drawn into myself and I wouldn't have ever met the doctors-or my friends-who saved me, not only physically but in every other way too.”

Dr. Samson still marked something down on his notepad when Harry had finished talking, but he was smiling again.

“Harry,” he said, “you may be nearing the end of your journey with us. You will need to continue outpatient therapy, of course, but I do not feel as if you need to be confined by the walls of the institution for much longer. I feel like you're ready for the world again. What do you think?”

“I agree completely,” Harry said, and shared a smile with the doctor.

***

Niall was released before any of them, only two weeks later. Josh came along with his parents to pick him up, and Niall didn't even hesitate before walking out the doors.

Harry was released one week later, and it was bittersweet. He was ready, he knew that, but leaving his friends and, of course, his boyfriend behind was hard.

“I'll call every night,” Harry promised, clinging onto Louis as Gemma and his mom carried his things to the car.

“I know you will,” Louis said.

“And I'll visit every Sunday with your mum.”

“I know. I'll be looking forward to it.”

“I love you so much, Louis.”

“I love you, and I'm so proud of you, Haz.”

“Thank you, but you honestly don't know how much you helped me, Lou, seriously.”

Pulling back, Louis smiled at Harry, his arms still wrapped around his waist.

“That goes both ways, you know.”

Harry smiled too, swallowing against a lump in his throat as he took in his boyfriend's face for the last time (for a few days, at least.)

“God, I'm going to miss you so much.”

“That's fine,” Louis said. “Just don't miss me too much.”

Louis bopped Harry's nose with his index finger, and Harry pulled him into a kiss, not caring who was watching.

***

Harry made his parents stop at McDonald's on the way home and he smiled nostalgically as he ate, remembering the time Josh broke them out and loaded them with junk food. That was a good night, minus Harry nearly ruining it by killing himself, but that was then. Harry was different now, and he accepted the things he'd done in the past, but he was determined to keep them there. Soon, he would have new memories; ones that weren't tainted by the black cloud that used to control his life.

***

Harry's home barely looked like his home anymore. True, his parents had done quite a bit of renovating that summer, but that wasn't really the reason. He thought it would look like home when it felt like home again, which he knew it would when Louis was there.

The first thing Harry did when he got into the house, after letting his mom show him their remodeled kitchen, living room and dining room, was go into the bathroom; the bathroom. The one where he'd almost lost his life.

Even though that night had been months ago now, and Harry's brain had been quite muddled, the memories were fresh. He could still recall the pain he felt-mostly emotional, but some physical-as he entered the bathroom, determined to end his life. He knew of the excitement he felt when he'd first gotten the lid off of the bleach and put the bottle to his lips. He could taste the awful taste; smell the nauseating smell. He could hear the screams from his sister, and thought he knew the exact place he fell when she had knocked his weapon out of his hands and held him down while he screamed at her to let him go.

He remembered all of that, but he didn't feel it anymore. He wasn't attached to the pain, guilt, fear, anger...any of it.

Innocently, Harry opened the door on the cabinet under the sink. The bleach was gone, and Harry smiled to himself because of course it was.

When he exited the bathroom, Gemma was standing right outside the door, hand out like she was about to fling open the door herself. They both jumped, and her eyes widened, expression guilty, but Harry smiled at her.

“It's okay, sis,” he assured her. “You don't need to worry every time I'm out of eyesight. I'm fine. I'm good. I don't want to die anymore.”

The woman teared up, grabbing her brother and pulling him into a tight hug. Harry rubbed her back.

“You know, I never thanked you for saving my life,” he said. She let out a choked sob. “I know you'll be a great psychologist someday,” Harry continued. Gemma only continued to hug him.

***

It seemed like it took the nurse forever to connect Harry's call later that night. He wondered what Louis was doing; what activity she had to pull him from to go to the phone. It was weird not knowing. Even though the institution really wasn't that far away, Harry felt like they were separated by an ocean. It was only temporary, though, he knew, and it was a necessary thing. When Louis was released, they would both be their best selves, ready for real life, and able to love each other with everything they had.

“Hello?” Louis answered after what seemed like an eternity. Of course, Harry would have waited his entire life.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Harry greeted with a smile on his face. In his mind, he could see the smile Louis gave him in return.

“Hazza,” he sighed happily.

“How are things?”

“About the same, just a little lonelier. How are things at home?”

“About the same,” Harry said and after a moment, added, “It's a little lonelier than I remember too, though. Of course, it doesn't feel that way right now, so I guess I just miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

The couple talked as long as they were allowed and said 'I love you' three times each before hanging up.

Harry felt good as he fell asleep right after that. He had one day down and was one closer to having Louis there with him.

The next day, Harry spent catching up with old friends. Most had text or called him at least once during his stay at the institution, and his family told him that a few had even come by the house when he hadn't answered. Because of that, most knew about what had happened, and Harry told the others himself. They were all supportive, and a bunch of them went to the movies together and then went paint-balling. Harry told them about Louis, and they said that they couldn't wait to add another friend to their group.

Harry really had great friends, and he almost felt guilty again about shutting them out and pushing them away before, but he knew that guilt wouldn't help or change anything, so he accepted it as part of the past as well and moved on.

The day after that, Harry met up with Niall and Josh, both of whom seemed to be doing extremely well. Niall was talking even more than when Harry had last seen him, just about a week ago, and Harry felt another surge of pride and happiness.

The next morning, Harry found out that Gemma was also seeing a therapist and he couldn't help but to feel a little bad about that, knowing he was the reason for it, but he joined for the last half of her session that day and they both talked, cried, laughed, hugged and healed.

“It's going to be okay, Gem,” Harry told her as they left one hour after arriving.

“I know,” she said, putting her arm around his shoulders as they walked with their mom back to the car. “I get shotgun on the way back also, though, just so you know.”

“But you got it on the way here!”

“So?”

“And you got shotgun all summer!”

“Well, maybe if you hadn't drunk bleach like it was going out of style...”

“Gemma!” Anne exclaimed. Then, “both of you are sitting in the backseat.”

***

When Harry, Anne, Gemma and Jay visited the boys who were still at the institution on Sunday, Louis ran to Harry and jumped into his arms like it had been months instead of days since they'd seen each other. Harry just held him up for a while, until Louis put his own feet back on the floor, and then Harry kissed his cheek.

“How are you doing?” Harry asked his boyfriend.

“Good,” Louis replied. Harry believed him. “How are you?”

“I'm great.”

By the smile on his face, Harry could tell that Louis believed him too, which was good, because it was the truth.

***

Liam, Louis and Zayn were still in the hospital when school started. Talk of Liam had decreased; most people having forgotten about the boy's strange disappearance over the summer. Even Sophia had moved on, though had to stutter out a lie about putting their kid up for adoption when asked. Harry just smiled. People would know the truth soon enough.

***

To everyone's surprise, Zayn was the next to be released. They had added yet another pill to his list of medications first, and he had to see a psychologist twice a week instead of one, like the other two who had so far been released, but he was free, and he seemed to be happy, too.

The weekend after he regained freedom, Zayn called Harry, Niall and Josh, inviting them to the mall. They agreed, and Harry watched, again with pride, as Zayn stocked up on makeup, skinny jeans and all of the other things he liked that he had been too afraid to go after by himself not long ago.

Liam was released the week after Zayn and though Harry liked having him out (Liam joined him and his group of friends at school, making him a lot less popular that year, but he didn't care), Harry couldn't help but to worry about Louis without any of them there with him, but he was strong. Harry knew that he would be okay.

Besides, he was freed a mere two weeks later.

Things between Jay and Louis had been going amazingly, but Anne had made sure to let Louis know that the invitation for him to stay with them was still there; an invitation which he accepted.

Only Anne and Harry went to pick him up, not wanting to overwhelm him on what was already going to be an exhausting, exciting, fearful and life-altering day for him. They sat in the backseat together, Harry in the middle seat despite the fact that it was just them two, and held hands, talking the whole time about the things they were going to do now that both were healthy and free.

Louis helped Anne with dinner that night, despite her assurances that he didn't have to, and so Harry helped too, turning the evening into a messy giggle-fest, though Anne wasn't at all bothered by it.

When Harry's dad walked in and saw the mess, Louis stopped smiling and froze, and Harry realized he was scared. It didn't take him long to figure out that the reason being was Louis's last experience in living with a man that wasn't his father.

Harry didn't know at first if his dad picked up on the fear or not, but Des gave Louis a warm smile and, after taste-testing the meal, gave Louis a light clap on the shoulder. The teen had tensed and flinched, but then Des lightened his touch even more, still smiling at Louis as he said, “You're safe, kid.”

Immediately, Louis smiled and Harry could practically feel the tension leaving his boyfriend's body. When Des let go of him, Harry wrapped Louis in a hug.

“You're safe,” he repeated.

“And you're happy,” Louis noted.

“I'm happy,” Harry agreed.

“And I'm safe.”

Harry nodded, and the two shared a kiss. Anne quickly left the kitchen in search of a tissue.

Chapter Text

“Harry, should I wear the blue trousers or the red?”

“Hmm.”

Harry spit his toothpaste out into the sink and rinsed his mouth before looking to Louis, who was holding a pair of red skinnies in one hand and the same kind, just in blue, in the other. He was tempted to tell Louis that it didn't matter, he would look gorgeous no matter what, but he knew that wouldn't help the other and Harry had vowed to be there whenever Louis needed help. Even if the issue was as simple as not knowing what pair of jeans to wear.

“Well, what shirt are you wearing?” he inquired.

“That depends on which pair of these you choose.”

“Go with the red,” Harry suggested. Louis smiled.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Louis went back to the bedroom-their bedroom-and after running a brush though his curls a few times, Harry joined him.

It had been two months since Louis was released to go live with Harry and his family and, so far, it was going spectacularly. The two shared a room, and Harry loved falling asleep and waking up with him still next to him. He liked not having to worry about either of them sneaking through the dark halls of an institution, though they still had to sneak when they wanted to shower together.

Kissing happened a lot. So far, nothing else had happened, besides a few mild touches, but only because it hadn't felt right. Harry wasn’t worried about it because he knew that, one day, it would. Maybe when they moved out with the other boys in the spring.

Louis's back was turned to the door as he slipped a shirt on to go with his red pants, and Harry sneaked up behind him, kissing his cheek with a loud 'muah' right after Louis's head was freed from his collar, and Louis jumped, but Harry wrapped his arms tightly, protectively, around his shoulders and Louis immediately relaxed into his arms.

“Sorry, baby,” Harry said gently, placing a kiss on Louis's neck then.

“It's okay,” Louis assured him, turning in Harry's arms to give him a kiss on the lips. They stayed like that, foreheads pressed together for a few moments until they heard the doorbell ring and, just a few seconds after that, Liam's voice.

“Hi, Anne! How are you?”

“Fine, fine. And how are you two boys?”

“Really good, thanks!”

“Good. The other boys should be ready soon. Harry! Louis! Liam and Zayn are here!”

The boyfriends giggled, breaking apart so Louis could put his shoes on. After that, they laced their fingers together, making the trip going downstairs a little awkward, but they didn't care.

When they reached the kitchen, Zayn and Liam were at the breakfast bar, being fed cookies by Anne.

“Hey,” Harry greeted, and his friends smiled at him.

“Hey,” Liam greeted while Zayn waved, his mouth too full to speak.

“Where are Niall and Josh?” Harry wondered out loud.

“They're meeting us there,” Liam explained. “Niall decided he wanted to try to drive.”

“Oh, really? That's awesome!” Harry said.

“I'm really surprised you wanted to go to this, Li,” Louis said, taking a cookie out of the bin in front of them.

“I don't mind football now that I don't have to play,” Liam said.

It was Friday, and they were going to their school's football match that night; the first of which Liam would be in the stands, viewing instead of being forced to participate. Though Zayn, Niall and Josh went to separate schools, they were going to the game as well, and Harry wondered if Liam was nervous. He hadn't officially come out yet to anyone at school outside of their group because the situation never arose, but Harry had minimal doubt that, by the end of the night, everyone would know because Liam and Zayn just couldn't keep their hands off of each other.

Liam didn't look nervous, though. He looked completely relaxed, and happy, too.

After finishing his cookie, Liam stood, leaving the rest of the bin of sweets untouched in front of him, and after shoving the rest of his own into his mouth, Zayn stood too.

“Have fun tonight, boys,” Anne said, giving Louis and Harry each a kiss on the cheek. “Louis, you are wearing a jacket, right?” the mom asked, narrowing her eyes at the teen, who was wearing short sleeves despite the fact that it was late November.

“I don't have a jacket that matches this outfit,” Louis answered. Anne's eyes narrowed more.

“You are going to freeze.”

“I'll be fine, Anne,” Louis told her with a smile.

Harry had no doubts that he would be giving his hoodie to Louis by the end of the night, but that was okay.

“You boys going to the game?” Des asked, entering the kitchen as Zayn took his and Liam's empty glasses of milk to the sink, despite Anne telling him not to worry about it.

“Yeah,” Louis answered, holding his fist out for a fist-bump; his and Des's own way of saying goodbye. Des wasn't a hugger, but, the first time he'd gone for a fist bump, Louis had only seen a fist flying towards his face and screamed out loud, blocking his face with his hands. He'd laughed at himself, embarrassed, after that, but Des had hugged him then, telling Louis he was sorry over and over. Louis went for the fist bumps first now, though, and if he didn't, Des would give him a hug.

“Have fun,” Des continued, clapping Harry twice on the shoulder-their way of saying goodbye. The boys thanked him and then hurried out to Liam's car, pretending that they couldn't hear Anne yelling after them, telling Louis to put on a jacket, for Christ's sake.

Louis's mom called in the car on the way to the game. She called every night, assuring Louis that she was fine and wanting the same assurance in return. Louis saw her at least three times a week, every Tuesday when she would go to the Styles' for dinner and every Thursday when they would go to hers. Then Louis and Harry would make sure to see her at least one day during the weekend, if not more, and it was amazing to Harry to see how quickly their relationship mended from all of the stress and trauma it had been put through. He loved them; both of them.

He loved his life.

He still had some bad days, of course, but they didn't happen often, and were never as bad as they used to be; not even close. Louis stayed with him constantly on those days, not because he was afraid Harry would do something, but just because. Besides, Harry wasn't the only one who still sometimes struggled. They all did, as they knew they would. There were days when Niall would have anxiety attacks, days when Zayn had trouble dealing with his own emotions, days where Liam would exercise a little too much and nights when Louis was afraid of the dark again. They always pulled themselves together though, with help from each other, of course, and, despite it all, they were okay. They were happy.

The conversation between Louis and Jay didn't last long-they usually didn't-but, though he had been all right before-Harry could tell that Louis felt even better.

Niall and Josh beat them to the school and were waiting by the gates in front of the football field when they arrived. Hugs and such were exchanged and, when asked, Niall told them that the drive there was terrifying, but he was glad he did it. Josh assured him that he did amazingly.

Zayn didn't hold Liam's hand on the way to their seats, knowing that most people still were unaware of Liam's sexuality, but Liam took his only a few feet past the gates. Some people did double-takes, but probably didn't think much of it. The game was crowded, and Liam could have simply been making sure he didn't lose his friend. He kept his hand on Zayn's leg when they sat, though, and the people who stopped by to ask Liam how it felt to not be on the field (“Great,” he told them) stared, and Harry swore he saw light bulbs go off in most of their heads.

The 'big' moment came when a small group of guys and a couple of girls decided to go for it and ask Liam what had really happened. He'd gotten the question of where he'd been before, but Liam had simply answered 'really sick.' That night, though, he told the truth. The girls gasped in shock, and they all gaped at Liam like he had suddenly just become another person, but they pulled themselves together quickly and asked a million questions that Harry himself would hate answering, but Liam didn't seem to mind.

“Are you all right now?” one of the girls finally asked.

“Yeah, I'm good,” Liam assured her, squeezing Zayn's leg to assure Zayn as well, because he hadn't seemed happy, having to hear Liam reminisce about his eating disorder.

“I'm so sorry you went through that,” the other girl said.

“It's okay,” Liam told her. “If I hadn't gone through that, I probably wouldn't have this amazing guy in my life.”

He kissed Zayn then; a real kiss with tongue and everything. The others gaped while the boys simply smiled. Monday would be interesting for Liam, but he could handle it. They knew it.

After the game was over-they lost, but none of the boys minded-Josh asked if they wanted to hang out some more, but Harry said that he and Louis should be getting home. Gemma would be there early in the morning-she was taking a long weekend from the college where she was studying psychology-and was sure to wake the boys up as soon as she got in. Harry was much less likely to have a bad day if he got enough sleep.

As he figured, Louis had gotten cold a mere twenty minutes into the game. He hadn't said anything, but had nuzzled closer into Harry's side, and when Harry felt his hand, it was freezing, so he'd taken his hoodie off and slipped it over Louis's head, afterward rubbing his boyfriend's hands with his own.

“You didn't have to do that,” Louis had said, smiling at Harry.

“I wanted to,” Harry assured him.

“But you're going to get cold.”

“I dressed with the knowledge that you would be taking my hoodie,” Harry assured him. Smiling, Louis had kissed Harry and rested his head on his shoulder to continue watching the game.

Louis gave Harry his hoodie back, making him promise not to tell Anne that she had been right.

***

“Brother!”

Gemma hopped on top of Harry on the bed, placing a big kiss on his cheek to wake him the next morning. From beside him, Louis snorted and his hand twitched, but his eyes were still closed, Harry saw. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was just after nine in the morning.

“Brother!” Gemma exclaimed again, getting off of Harry to instead give Louis a kiss on the cheek before attacking him with tickles. Louis started awake, laughing and gasping for breath as his legs flailed and he squirmed, trying to get away from the assault.

“I missed you two weirdos!” Gemma said, not easing up. “Say you missed me too!”

“M-missed you!” Louis gasped, face turning red. Harry giggled.

“Say you love me!” the girl ordered.

“Love y-oh god-you!”

“Say I'm the best sister ever!”

“Gemma, gon-gonna pee my pants!”

“Eww.”

Gemma got off Louis immediately, and still giggling a little, he waddled to the bathroom quickly. Smiling to herself, Gemma collapsed down next to Harry, who smiled when their eyes met.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” Harry said.

“How is everyone?” she asked.

“Good.”

“Is Niall still talking?”

“Yeah. He's turning into quite the chatter box.”

“Is he still with Josh?”

“Yeah.”

“And Liam is eating properly?”

“Yeah. He looks so healthy now, it's crazy I didn't notice anything before.”

“And Zayn is Zayn?”

“Yep.”

“And Louis doesn't hurt himself?”

“Nope.”

“Good. Good, good, good. Do the boys all know that we're going bowling tomorrow?”

I didn't know that we were going bowling tomorrow.”

“Well, we are, after we visit Jay. Make sure to tell them.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

Gemma leaned forward to place a kiss on her younger brother's nose. He wiped it off, so she flicked him there instead.

“And how are you?” she asked.

“I'm great,” Harry said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Thank you, Gem.”

“For what?”

“Saving my life. I know I was less than grateful for a while, but, seriously, thank you.”

“Yeah, well, if I'd let you die, I'd have karma coming after me, so I didn't really have a choice, did I?”

Harry smiled and she returned it. He was glad they could talk like this again; glad his sister wasn't walking on eggshells around him anymore.

“Love you, rug rat,” Gemma said, tugging on one of the boy's curls and then letting it bounce back into place.

“Love you too, doofus,” Harry replied.

“Breakfast time!” Louis's sing-song voice echoed from the bottom of the stairs. “It's waffles!”

The siblings sat up, Harry stretching a bit before standing. His sister waited and then they walked downstairs together, the girl watching with a smile as Harry placed a kiss on Louis's forehead before sitting down next to him. Gemma took the seat on the other side of Harry, with Des going next to Louis and Anne next to her daughter.

The breakfast was quiet, with just a few random thoughts being spoken by someone or another, but it was nice. It felt like a breakfast that a normal, happy family would have, and for once in a really long time, that was exactly what it was.