pairing: harry/louis, minor background zayn/liam
word count: ~6.76k
warnings: mentions of suicide, depression
summary: harry is a swimmer & louis is the writer who somehow manages to make him come up for air.
a/n: massive thanks to e for literally being the reason anything i ever write makes it past the first page, also r for being a darling, always. title from the poemish things here are mine, so sorry for that. um, enjoy.
"with life comes death."
"with death comes justice," one says.
"justice is subjective."
"so are we."
"consider the stars. consider the orbiting moon. consider the blue, blue earth. consider yourself. do you matter? are you good enough?"
"good enough doesn't always equal good."
"history thinks we are good enough."
"history hasn't got our names jotted down."
swimming feels like suicide.
swimming feels like being five years old, and jumping into a pool, and sinking sinking sinking - a world where children do not die, where their heartbeats do not stop, where hospital visits are a thing of fairytales. they aren’t.
swimming feels like crinkling paper and pulling on shorts that take his breath away and swimming feels like maybe meshing together with liquid gold, and sometimes it burns, it always burns, but swimming feels like not being able to stop, swimming feels as if it’s become a part of who he is, swimming is the only thing he knows can rely on.
his sister sometimes says, “oh, but weren’t you made for it?”
and harry likes to think she’s wrong, but sometimes he can’t help but admit that she may be right.
zayn fancies himself an intellectual. harry at times fancies himself a singer, but he knows that he isn’t. that’s the solid difference between the two of them, because really, there aren’t many more.
the problem is that liam fancies himself in love with zayn (always has, probably always will, year ten and watching them fall in love, year twelve and watching them fall out, three months before the olympics and maybe-getting-engaged, and harry is not jealous because he has swimming, but in a universe where he doesn’t - ) and so that makes it two against one, makes it eight o'clock at night and getting dragged to poetry night.
"this is stupid," he says. liam tells him to shut up and zayn stands in front of the doors for far too long, as if he's trying to gauge if this is real life. the bar doesn't even look all that great, and there's way too much noise radiating from it for harry to be comfortable with. zayn had sworn up and down that it's a quaint and quiet little place, but zayn tells harry a lot of things, and they're not always true.
liam finally drags him through the actual entrance with a grip on the arm that doesn't look all that tight, but from the way zayn almost stumbles after him - always stumbling after each other - harry figures it works.
not overly packed, but there are definitely people there, and harry is not the best with large crowds. zayn says he should be.
zayn says a lot of things.
an offer to go get the drinks, and of course zayn accepts eagerly, though liam has got a narrowed eye, as if he half expects harry to go for a few beers and never return. he has to admit that he thinks about it on the way over, weaving through the closely knit tables and trying not to accidentally knock plates over, keeping his too-long arms tight against his body.
at the bar, there's a pretty brunette serving drinks with a crooked smile and the type of violet pupils that can't possibly be real and more makeup than harry would ever know what to do with. he wonders how long it takes her to get it all off. harry has never really gotten the point of makeup; the girls at the recreation center can't exactly enter the pool with green eyeshadow and glossy red lips, but they still look beautiful, and sometimes, the overuse of it only makes them look fake.
gemma tells him, "you're a guy, you wouldn't get it." harry doesn't exactly know what there is to get, but harry is too… simple. according to rita, at least.
"can i get three pints and a large pitcher of chips? very crispy, please, lightly salted."
she raises a brow, bending down to get the pints, and fills them til they're tipping at the brim, looking as if the beer is ready to pour over at any second. "anything else, love?"
"no. wait, yes. two - five burgers and, and a bit of nachos." it seems like a lot whenever he says it aloud, and he can see her eyebrows almost reach her hairline, wondering if it's all for him. he doesn't bother telling her that most of it is. people get worried whenever they figure out his daily calorie intake. bulimia is usually the first assumption, but swimming never comes up.
she tells him the food'll be around in a bit, and he walks back over to the table with the lagers somehow making it with only his two very slippery hands. liam and zayn have chosen a table that is far too close to the main stage, pressed close together and making it even easier for harry to fulfill his ever-present role as third wheel.
he sits down, sliding the drinks across to the lovely couple, thanking them for their obvious gratitude, and determining to not share the fries with them.
up on the stage, there is a striking redhead with the most symmetrical face harry thinks he's seen since, since ever. her voice is lower than it seems like it might be, all sharp consonants and slow, easy vowels. her enunciation is defined, grammar school perfect, and harry could live to be two hundred years old and still never hope to speak so clearly.
he's no idea of the words coming out of her mouth, too focused on how her mouth curves around the letters, the pale sheen of her lips and the alarming frequency with which she licks her lips. harry thinks he might like to go home with her, so of course this is when she gets off stage.
liam kicks him under the table, and fiercely whispers, "stop staring and listen."
harry rolls his eyes, but then he lowers them, making things blurry and not as distracting, not as noticeable and there, so liam probably counts that as a win.
he doesn't know the expression on louis' face when he gets on the stage, nor the flutter of his eyelids when he tries to make sure he hasn't forgotten the stanzas, or what he looks like adjusting the mic stand to accommodate his height. but he hears it, and this is possibly what makes it worse.
"i'm lou tomlinson, really nice to see you lot," and what's probably the most enthusiasm harry has ever thought the audience at a poetry night could muster. "please. this one isn't titled, but it's a bit long."
his food arrives at the table then, but harry barely remembers to thank the waitress. he wants to know why they sound so eager, and fuck, he also really wants to go home and sleep for fucking ages and not get up til it's time for paris, but he can't exactly do that, ugh, so he listens and tries to understand.
"here is the man you love and here is the woman he fucks and this is the surefire path to destruction. we are at the introduction to the elixir to eternal youth - elixir to eternal pain, pain being the motion of his hips slamming into hers, and watching and knowing and wanting and feeling and trying. trying what? trying to survive, maybe, trying to decide whether or not the bond is worth it. the bond is worth it, but the burn from chasing his monsters may not be."
and he continues. and continues. and continues.
he's right; it's very long and not entirely sensical, but harry likes it. he really fucking likes it.
there are thought processes, of course. there's that should i shouldn't i will i type of thing, the sort of indecision better reserved for zayn, sometimes rita, but definitely not harry. those parts don't matter.
here is the abridged version:
liam and zayn go the next week, harry goes with them - zayn and liam go the week after, and harry goes with them. zayn goes the following week, harry with him. zayn calls off the next week, but harry, harry doesn't.
he goes week after week, night after night, and he both listens and looks, and that's maybe the worst part of it all.
here is the surefire path to destruction:
(and, fuck, that's the problem at the root of it all, isn't it - harry notices and louis notices and they never notice the right things. paris, the plush of a desk chair and the press of a keyboard, but rarely each other. always each other, maybe, but - )
louis looks directly at him during a poem, and the way his mouth forms the words looks like sin, probably feels like sin and harry wants to know.
louis says, "consider the stars," and harry considers death instead. louis says, "consider yourself," and harry considers history and how it might feel to become a part of it. louis says, "consider us," and harry considers the curve of his bum instead, the soft skin of his stomach and the dips and arches of his back and the feeling of being completely bottomed out in him and not knowing how to feel or whether all of this has happened far too abruptly.
louis smells like ink, the stain of ink that just doesn't go away, and sweet, sweet gumdrops. tastes sugary on harry's tongue, and harry doesn't know his middle name or where he was born, not for that first come-stained week, all sweaty sheets and too-tight fingers, the type of ache and want that harry doesn't think has ever been this fucking extreme, but god, does he want to.
too broad on this spectrum, here's the sourced edition (louis always says love can't be simplified, and harry is starting to think that he understands that idea, just a bit)
harry shows up on a friday, straight after practice, and he's dead on his feet, the stench of chlorine stuck in his pores, clothes clinging to his skin, and he is really dumb, and too smitten over someone who will probably never even acknowledge his existence, but whatever; story of his life.
emily, the bartender, has gotten on a kick of having him try a new drink every time he shows up, and even orders him something extra from whatever place she's gotten lunch from that day. she thinks harry is both outrageously adorable and pathetic, and he’s not sure which one is worse.
he’s sipping on his coke and listening to louis go on about something, anything; harry’s half-asleep and squinting to see through the haze of his clouded eyes, and harry could and would listen to him whine about the garbage dump off the m1 and still have the willpower to be the slightest bit awake.
harry puts his head down for a second to catch his bearings, and when he lifts it again, the bar is empty save for the clink of emily washing the glasses on the other side. there is someone in front of him.
“em said to not wake you up, but it’s been ages, doll, you’ve got to want to go home by now.”
harry blinks away the sleep from his eyes, feels the rough soprano of louis’ voice drift through and around, filling the air and inducing a sharp pinch in his gut at the proximity. he’s fucking beautiful, isn’t he, fringe fanning across his forehead, bright blue eyes and shiny, thin lips. he’s awfully symmetrical, a thick and hideous sweater loose on his arms.
“hello?” louis says, and there’s a hint of a smile on his face, swiping a hand across his forehead and sweeping his hair off to the side and out of his eyes. he’s caught harry staring, fucking figures.
harry blushes, replies, “yeah, hi, sorry, i didn’t mean to. didn’t know when i fell asleep. what time’s it, please?”
it’s sometime around midnight and harry groans, standing up too quickly and almost tripping over his own feet. louis steadies him with a grip on his upper arm that betrays how delicate he looks, and harry wants to absolutely ruin him.
“do any cabs run by here?” louis’ hand is still on his arm.
“not that i know of. it’s too late for any of that,” he says. “i’ve got a car, let me take you home.”
“okay,” harry replies, licking his lips. “okay.”
there’s nothing particularly special about the car, other than the fact that it’s grey and smells a lot like louis. harry hadn’t known what he smelt like before, but it kind of - reminds him of pens, and paper, and sugary candy, the type that rots your teeth. he doesn’t find a metaphor in this, because he’s not a writer, but he wonders what louis could dream up on it.
harry hasn’t ever needed a car; he spends the vast majority of his time split between three places - the pool, the flat he shares with zayn and liam, and school. the rest is within walking distance or worth taking the bus or a cab for. he knows how to drive, though, can appreciate the motions of louis’ arms as he steers the wheel, the prominent veins when he shifts gears.
it’s been a mainly quiet car ride, and they’ve already turned onto harry’s street when louis casually says, “you’re at the bar pretty often.”
“yeah,” harry says. “i am.”
he doesn’t respond after that, not until they’re in front of the complex and he offers to walk harry up to the third floor, not until they’re in front of the door and harry is digging into his pockets to find his keys.
“any particular reason for that?” louis asks, still shorter even with harry’s head tipped.
harry stands up straight. “yeah,” he repeats. “there is.”
louis nods, almost sagely, pauses for a beat and then is up on his tip-toes, his mouth pressed tight against harry’s. he swipes his tongue across harry’s bottom lip, and then pulls away and back on his heels.
“i like your poetry,” harry breathes out, finishing his previous thought.
there’s a choked noise that seems to come from louis himself, and then he’s pushing harry back against the outside door, reaching up to bite at his mouth and align himself completely. harry curves a large arm around the back of his neck and thinks fuck to himself.
they’re about three blinks away from rutting against each other right outside in the wide fucking open when louis leans back, panting for breath. harry’s hand is still on his neck, and his fingertips half-heartedly reach up to press against his skull.
“your hands are huge,” louis gasps, and pecks a quick kiss once, twice, three times. “i don’t fuck before the first date.”
“okay,” harry says. he snakes an arm down to louis’ waist, wrapping around and pulling him closer in with only the barest use of force, and louis moans, low and sweet. it’s probably the most beautiful thing harry has ever fucking heard.
“but rules are meant to be broken, c’mon, c’mon, unlock the door.” he’s frantic about it, skin flushed as he runs a hand through his hair, left hand gripping the opposite sweater-clad arm.
harry smiles, small and sure, and doesn’t think he’s ever anticipated taking something off more than he does now.
louis isn’t there when he wakes up, but when he checks his cell, there’s a phone call that he definitely didn’t make, so he hopes and wonders.
three days later, he gets a text around ten: hi, it’s louis are you home rn??
he’d been planning on going to sleep, since he’s been up since seven and could barely stay awake to eat dinner with his boys. yeah, he texts back anyway, and knows he’ll regret this so, so much in the morning when coach is making him do the stupid fucking butterfly before he’s even had lunch, but for now, he splashes some water on his face and downs a redbull before making zayn and liam get out and far away from here.
louis is wearing long blue sweats when harry opens the door along with the same sweater from before, and he looks a bit wrecked, like he hasn’t slept in ages, and is hanging onto his last thread.
“are you okay?”
“absolutely stellar,” louis tells him, pulling him down for a kiss and leading them to the bedroom.
harry stops him once he’s got him spread out on the bed, louis trying to get his pants down and off. he splays a hand across louis’ tummy, the sweater long discarded somewhere on the floor. his fingers span to the bones of his hips and louis squirms. “what’s wrong?”
“aren’t you a sweetheart.” harry grunts, and louis sighs. “i can’t write, see, that’s it, nothing to worry about.”
“you can,” harry reassures him. “you’re the best i’ve ever heard.”
“you must not read a lot,” he says, and wrangles out from from under harry so that he can straddle and kiss him, firm and messy, until he’s finally shut up.
the fifth time, louis tells him, “you smell like chlorine. why do you smell like chlorine?”
harry pauses, his mouth open and wet between the crease of louis’ thigh and his knee. “do i?” he reaches a hand out to get the lube on the adjacent counter, slicks his fingers up, slides one in until he can properly arch the knuckle up, have louis keening and kicking his knee out. he almost hits harry straight in the eye.
“yeah. yeah, fuck, you do.” harry curls another finger in, uses his free hand to swipe the thumb across louis’ tip, watches him suck in a sharp breath and nips at his pelvic bone.
“and citrus. chlorine and citrus.” harry rolls on a condom, wonders what it’d feel like without, and pushes in until his balls are pressed tight against louis’ ass.
later, when they’re only an inch’s breath away from passing out, louis murmurs against harry’s neck, “and desperation. like slow desperation.”
the problem is, of course, that harry was already the slightest bit in love with louis, and in between the sloppy blowjobs and swollen lips, there are bits of cut-and-paste conversation and louis carving out a piece of himself into harry’s skin whenever he traces poems onto the back of his thighs, whispers silly songs against his navel.
fast forward three and a half weeks, harry is ten minutes late for a practice. he gets a forty minute lecture from coach and then gets taken out for breakfast to their favorite diner, and the entire time, all harry can think about is if louis has ever tried the chocolate chip waffles before.
coach looks at the distant, glazed look in his eyes when he takes a sip from his coffee and sighs. “well, who is it?”
harry blinks, his head perking up and the hot drink almost jumping over and scalding his fingers. “sorry?”
“what’s their name?” he raises a pointed eyebrow at the marks on harry’s wrists. harry hesitates. “i’m not asking as your coach, i’m asking as your best mate’s dad, pretend that makes it a little less uncomfortable.”
“louis,” harry says, almost as if he’s whispering a secret backstage, in between dark alleys. it feels like it, sometimes, saying his name aloud and past the crevices of his mind.
“wasn’t zayn talking about some poet bloke you’ve been obsessed with by that name? last dinner.”
“i’m not obsessed,” harry complains.
he snorts, takes a bite from his eggs, and continues. “you look happy. animated. but as your coach, i’ve got to warn you against any distractions so soon before the olympics.”
“yeah, i know,” harry replies, but figures that the warning has come just a few weeks too late.
louis drags harry out to a showing of the four previous twilight movies, tells him they’re going to go see the new gosling movie, something that harry really couldn’t object to, because really. instead, he’s stuck watching bella swan fawn over two dudes that’re probably gay. fit as all out, but probably gay.
louis knows every scene, every line, and even though he threatens to withhold sex for eternity when harry laughs at him for five days straight when he tears up during the fourth movie, they both know there isn’t a chance of that coming to fruition.
harry brings him to the beach on a chilly thursday afternoon, clouds overhead and the entire city smelling like rain. it’s may. there are only a few people on the beach, a girl with a book near the dock, a group of teens circled around a bonfire on the other side. harry doesn’t pay them any mind, watches louis strip down to his boxers and run into the water before promptly running out.
“jesus fuck,” he curses, bouncing back on the heels of his feet and blowing breath onto his palms. he looks smaller than the norm, shivering and pouting.
“it’s really bad during the winter.”
“why the fuck are you outside during the winter?” louis’ teeth are chattering. harry walks to the edge of the water.
“endurance. community center was getting retiled, couldn’t spend a full week without training.”
“you talk in the weirdest fashion. short bursts, like snippets of a longer speech. stop being so vague. why were you training?”
“chlorine,” harry tells him, and submerges himself underwater.
the problem with swimming is that he always feels as if he is drowning. he opens his eyes, tries not to blink against the burn of the saltwater and looks down. he’s still close enough to the bottom that his fingers can brush against the sand, seaweed, shells, with more than enough room to bear. he goes out farther and then farther still until the water starts getting murky, and then he pushes himself to go further out. he can’t see the bottom too well anymore, but he can feel a few fish swimming around his legs. he doesn’t panic.
he wonders if he’ll win a gold medal. he wonders if he’ll win any medals. he wants to have faith in himself; regionals were good, nationals were better, the european meet was stellar, and with the fina championships, he supposes he managed to make a name for himself in their little world. but the fucking olympics, god.
someone is calling his name.
he brings his head above surface, takes a breath that burns his entire body, and swims back up to shore.
louis is standing at the edge of the sand, fully clothed, cheeks red as he blows out large, heavy breaths. his eyes are too bright, and the way he pulls harry into his body feels a lot like panic. harry is taking deep gasping breaths against his neck and feels his entire body shake. his clothes are wet, feel like stones weighing his body down.
“why would you, oh my god, harry,” louis is fretting, standing on his toes and making harry bend over so he can take his shirt up and off, rubbing his chest with it to try and get some of the water droplets off. it’s somewhat counterproductive, and he swears under his breath as he pulls his sweater off and slips it over and down harry’s sloping hair. “stupid, stupid, stupid.”
he doesn’t stop murmuring that until harry is bundled up under covers, and the heat feels so good that he almost doesn’t even bother to tell louis that he is definitely overreacting. almost.
“fuck off,” louis tells him. “feel free to act like a dumbass whenever i’m not with you.”
“doesn’t leave me a lot of time, does it,” and harry wonders why he feels so mindnumbingly warm all of a sudden.
“fuck off,” louis repeats, but he’s smiling against harry’s chest and that speaks wonders more than any words ever could. well.
“write me a poem,” harry says.
“no,” louis replies, and goes back to sucking a mark onto harry’s hipbones. he looks up. “why?”
harry tries to speak through the tightness in his gut and the anticipation at louis’ mouth being so close. “because you, you like me. a lot. write me a poem.”
louis has got a thing for extended pauses, apparently. it isn’t until he’s got his legs gripping harry’s thighs as he’s about to sink down that he finally gives harry a proper response. “roses are red,” harry grabs the sides of his stomach and pushes his down. “god, wow.” louis takes a deep breath, doesn’t move for a second so that he can accommodate himself around harry, and exhales.
“violets are blue,” he continues, swerving his hips a bit and giving the most inconsequential and teasing friction ever, “you’ve got a nice hard dick, fuck me ‘til i’m blue.”
“oh my god,” harry gasps out, flips them over so that louis’ legs are perched up on his shoulders and hides his laugh away between a kiss.
“why didn’t you tell me you’re gonna be in the olympics?”
harry chews slowly on his pancakes, sitting cross-legged on the floor of louis’ flat while his hashbrowns finish in the oven. it’s five in the afternoon. he swallows. “didn’t even know you, like. knew i swam.”
“please,” louis scoffs, almost sounding offended. “answer my question.”
“i don’t really tell anyone. ever.”
“i’m not anyone,” louis says.
harry blinks up at him, looks at the intersection where his ankles are crossed on top of the coffee table while he types away on his laptop. he’s not looking at harry, eyes intent and focused on the glare of the screen, almost as if he’s not paying any attention at all, but when harry assures, “yeah. you’re not,” the tint of his blush betrays him far more than some look ever would.
they’re curled under the comforters on louis’ bed, talking about everything and absolutely nothing at all. louis places his hand against harry’s. the size difference is outrageous, louis’ fingers poking up to barely reach the bottom of harry’s own.
“god, you’re huge,” louis breathes.
“i know,” harry replies, grinning crooked. louis snorts, and closes his eyes. they’re quiet for a bit, louis probably falling asleep. harry thinks for a second, says, “y’know, i really, like.” he exhales a harsh breath. “just, yeah.”
louis blinks an eye open, the left side of his mouth curling up. “yeah?”
“yeah,” harry repeats.
zayn takes it upon himself to invite louis to the biweekly dinner, which is kind of. big. the last person harry brought to a dinner was cara, and when they broke up almost a month later, his mom and doniya didn’t speak to him for a week straight, and considering how frequently they tend to blow up his phone to make sure he hasn’t accidentally starved himself to death (as if), that was a pretty great feat.
but louis is - he’s good. he fuses nicely together with everyone, smiles at the right times, smiles at the wrong times, and makes everyone else laugh and fall in love with the charm of his grin.
mr malik, not coach when they’re at the dinner table, tells old stories of when harry was a boy and just learning to swim, the way he’d edge around a pool for hours on end before dipping a toe in. liam tells louis about the time harry waited outside in the cold for a girl to say yes to a spring dance before ditching her the night of because of a rescheduled meet.
“won first place, too, didn’t he?” mrs malik laughs, clapping her hands and excusing herself to get the albums out. harry groans and contemplates banging his head down onto his mashed potatoes. but this is the good chinaware; he’d rather not be the victim of a homicide case.
the point is: harry’s got a pretty big family. they’re not all blood related to him, but they matter just as much, and when he looks around, he feels like a giant fucking sap, and thinks to himself that he supposes he’d like if louis became a part of it, too.
“so about paris,” louis mentions one night. they’re at harry’s favorite diner. it’s louis’ first time, and the way he’s been eyeing his empty plate and the rest of harry’s waffles is worth a laugh. harry slides the dish over and wonders if something so simple could make louis grin at him like that for years on end. which, fuck.
“what about paris?”
“i’ve never been.”
“neither have i,” harry says, blinking slowly. he thinks oh.
“i know.” louis drags his teeth over his bottom lips and licks the excess syrup from the corner of his mouth.
“alright, then.” and that’s the start of paris.
the day after, harry loses a fifth of a second off his record for the butterfly.
“so i’ve got this boy,” louis starts speaking the second he gets on stage, adjusting his mic and curling his hands around the base. they’re at the bar, it’s poetry night, dark out, beautiful, harry walked in with louis by his side but he wasn’t expecting this - the crowd cheers at the very sound of his voice, and harry can’t help but agree with them. “and he’s a pretty nice boy. he likes when i call him baby, likes when i bite him too hard on his neck, likes the way my mouth looks puckered around - ” he pauses and smirks. “around water bottles. i can take a lot of water, and i can swallow it down even better. got a lot to give.”
there’s a roar. liam and zayn are with him tonight, and when they see the strawberry-red tint of harry’s cheeks in the darklit room and start clapping even louder, he wishes they weren’t.
“he’s got stunning curls, green eyes i think could halt the most persistent fuck if they wanted - i think they’ve halted me - and has got the ability to make me write sonnets sappier than anything i ever wrote when i was fifteen and had my first love.” he takes a deep breath. “my boy isn’t my first love, but sometimes, when i see the way he looks at me, i figure that he’d like to be my last.”
louis has a thing for lengthy, simple, striking poems. harry has a definite thing for louis.
“my family’s gonna, um. stay in a little villa over in versailles. make it a bit of a vacation, afterwards, too. if you wanted to, like, you know.”
“yeah, i know.” louis giggles, he giggles, and presses his thumb tight onto the fact of harry’s pulse, burning an indent straight through harry’s bones. the flame is nice; he feels warm all over and he can’t think any word other than yes.
anyway, things change.
fast forward another two weeks: olympics trials are coming in in three and harry is doing more shit than he has in fucking months, maybe a year. he’s performing simple rookie mistakes, swallowing huge gulps of water during a turn and having to come up to prevent choking, not pushing back for enough momentum when he’s flipping around for freestyle - fucking freestyle - and he wants to know what he’s doing wrong, wants to know why he can’t focus at practice for more than three minutes at a time.
coach is panicking, and it’s bleeding through to the dinners, and then his mum is asking if something’s the matter. doctor’s appointments say he’s in the best condition he’s been in since the world champs, maybe even better. no recent traumatic experiences, no distractions -
so louis’ been in a bit of a funk.
more than a bit of a funk, like. and harry doesn’t have a clue about what to do about it.
louis is - sullen, sad. moody, god, definitely moody. he either snaps at every breath harry dares to take or just says, does nothing at all, a sort of apathy that genuinely frightens harry, because louis isn’t apathetic, louis isn’t cold and unfeeling and emotionless. he’s louis and he burns, yeah, shines bright as any diamond harry thinks he’s ever seen. writes sharp, witty things about memories and love and stuff, but he does something, he’s always doing something, and he’s always putting his life into it and now he’s just not.
and it scares harry so much, has him staying up late at night, watching the creases and frowns on louis’ face while he sleeps, wanting to smooth them out with his fingers, but not wanting the bags under louis’ eyes to get deeper than they already are. he doesn’t think louis could afford it at all. he wonders if he could, either.
harry asks louis what’s wrong. louis says he’s fine. harry practices the team relay with cara and greg the next day, against aiden, rita, and azealia, and spends a good twenty seconds staring down at the bottom and wondering what it’d be like to let himself fall. when he gets home that night, water dripping from the ends of his hair, louis is still in his pajamas on the bed, watching old music videos on the tv and not acknowledging that harry’s even arrived.
swimming feels like sinking, and louis feels like floating, and harry wonders which one of them will kill him first.
they’re meant to go out to dinner with niall, louis’ best mate, and his girlfriend, alexandra something. louis hasn’t brought it up once, even though it was his idea, claiming that he wants harry and niall to be like fucking brothers, man, my two favorite boys have got to be tight as nails. louis changes his mind half an hour before, when harry’s stepped out of the shower and is pulling his boxers on, pulling the comforters tighter around him and waving harry off, telling harry there’s no point in getting dressed up when they’ve got no qualms to go anywhere.
harry has been waiting for this day for a solid week. he says, “okay,” and wants to join louis under the covers. he isn’t sure if it’d be well received. “going over to mine, back later.”
when harry gets back, louis isn’t on the bed, in their room, but his macbook is. it’s open to a page with DEATH written across the top in all caps, underlined and bolded, and harry feels his blood start to run cold. louis doesn’t write about death, because louis is afraid to die. louis is afraid to die. he reads down.
blood and guts, wanna die die die die di eididie d e diE, can’t feel anything anymore, don’t feel anything anymore, can’t look him in the eyes, won’t look him in the eyes, shouldn’t look him in the eyes, falling deeper and deeper, can’t see a way out, falling farther out of love with meemememmemememmemememme him. him. my pick me up boy & dont think he’s got an idea of anything. pick me up, boy. just a boy and gonig farther than i ever could would. no clue, no idea, nothing. wonder if it feels like he’s drowning. wanna know how it’d feel to drown maybe then i won’t have to ever feel anytiihing ever a gainnnnnnnnnn
harry sucks in a breath, and blinks. thinks calm to himself and inhales, exhales three times. counts to ten. it doesn’t fucking work.
he grabs his keys and his wallet, runs out of the flat and down the stairs, sprints to the end of the busiest intersection near their street and hails a cab to the beach. he hopes, and he wonders, and he tries his hardest not to think.
louis is fully underwater when harry gets there, and for a second he’s got so much panic, deep in his throat and simmering in his gut, but he manages to find the disturbed water and the wave of relief that punches in his gut feels like nothing he thinks he could manage again. he swims out, hooks an arm around louis’ waist and drags him out of the water. louis’ body is limp, but his eyes open the second harry’s got him on the shore, blinking away the water and taking a deep breath.
harry watches the way louis looks up at him from his spot in the sand, face carefully blank, as if this is just another day, nothing out of the fucking blue. harry wonders if it’s true, if all the greats do suffer from madness.
the trials start in exactly a week, and this is the day louis breaks up with harry.
he looks the most vulnerable harry’s seen him in what feels like forever, his eyes rimmed red and wide, pushing his hair off his forehead almost maniacally.
“i’m a coward,” louis says, and harry tells him, “you’re not.” louis says, “i can’t do this anymore, to either of us,” harry inhales, “louis.” louis says, “we wouldn’t have lasted long anyway,” harry argues, “we could have been so good.” louis says, “just be glad it didn’t get too serious, please, just,” and harry’s voice breaks, “i’m fucking in love with you.”
louis blinks. “i’m sorry.”
and that’s the end of it.
louis leaves harry, louis leaves harry and harry doesn’t think he’ll be able to make it through the summer if he focuses on it at all. he puts his all back into swimming, loses himself in the free-flow and carelessness of the water and wonders if it seems like he’s alright.
he’s not alright.
he gets back to his top scores at exponential rates, gets better at freestyle and loses three seconds off his time on the butterfly, the type of thing that means the difference between first and runner-up, and harry’s never been fond of losing. it’s ironic. lost the only thing he ever felt sure he was good at, lost the only only boy he’s ever wanted to put back together after pulling apart, and.
so he doesn’t think about louis. he gets to paris, and his mum is looking at him with sad eyes, zayn and liam crowd to his side whenever he’s above water, and he almost feels suffocated but he doesn’t mention it. he doesn’t speak much, never really has, but now it’s at a point where coach is starting to worry, sofiya buys him cute little trinkets from the shops they visit in versailles, lights up if they manage to make him crack a smile. he feels pathetic.
he leads great britain in with a kick at the trials, has people giving more than a second’s glance. abc is playing quick little clips of him in between coverage, digging information about him that he’d almost forgotten himself. waliyah tells him they put up a highlight of him winning his fifth first place at fina champs, and harry thinks to himself, well.
he wins eight medals at the olympics, four of which are gold, one for the team relay, and every time he stands on the platform, cord around his neck and flowers placed in his hand, he wonders and hopes if louis is watching. he does that a lot, wonders and hopes, and judging by where his - love life headed, that’s not exactly doing the job.
(when harry gets back to britain, he finds a package waiting for him at the post office. it’s a thin, grey book. there’s no name on the cover, but there is a title, waves washing me out. in small black print on the first page, the opening line quotes, consider the stars. harry takes a deep, shuddering breath and considers death insead.)
he never really gets his head above water after that.