Somewhere along Highway 42, just after it branches off from 57 but before Carlsville, Wisconsin, nestled delicately amongst the trees that line the route rests a homey little cottage heavily draped in flowering ivy with towering lilac bushes at both corners of the cottage facing the highway. Although a driver passing along 42 would be able to see that the cottage boasts of log exteriors that complement the surrounding wilderness with ease, something about the place speaks of another world altogether. A large wooden sign – freshly sanded and painted the first weekend when the bitter cold of winter gives way to the warm breezes of spring and tourism starts up in Door County – stands proudly in a bed of bayberry bushes and verbena, with the words 'The Little Siren' emblazoned on it in neat, blue painted strokes. Once the year is fully committed to spring, the sign gains a daily bundle of wisteria blooms tied with thin strips of birch, hung in such a way that it covers the modest mermaid that the sign also features.
If a driver is lucky enough to drive by when tourist season begins in earnest, a smaller sign appears below the main sign with hours of operation: Tuesday through Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 9am-4pm, Sunday-Monday by appointment only. A number follows below. And if that driver's attention has been piqued enough to investigate The Little Siren, and turn on the little driveway that exists leading to the cottage, they'll find themselves in a small parking lot lined with gravel. The side of the parking lot farthest from the road is blocked by a white picket fence – the white of the fence the same brilliant white as new-fallen snow, regardless of when they visit – while the other two sides are trees to the left and a short, sweeping lawn that runs just past the cottage before it's stopped by more trees on the far side. There's a gate set snugly in the white picket fence; the hinges and handle are iron, while a hand lettered – the hand matching the same blue as the sign in the front - sign warns visitors that beyond the gate is “private property, no admittance, no exceptions”.
The very first thing a visitor to The Little Siren notices are the smells: with just the right breeze, one can smell the lilac bushes, the verbena and the lavender located at the front, or the countless other plants that must be hidden behind the white picket fence. The second is the sound: despite being a very short drive from the highway, standing in the parking lot makes one feel like they've stepped over into another world. Gone are the sounds of the cars driving past – although when one is standing in the parking lot, they can still see them going by – replaced by that of birdsong and buzzing bees.
To say that the little cottage known as The Little Siren exists in its own world is an understatement, one that's punctuated as the visitor makes their way up the cobblestone path to the front step. There, just before the visitor raises their hand to turn the intricately carved doorknob or use the iron ring being held firm in the mouth of the misshapen and grimacing gargoyle doorknocker, the visitor can see the walls of the cottage more clearly. They're not blank wooden walls as the visitor had previously thought on their little drive into the parking lot: to the left and right of the door are large windows peeking out from behind the ivy and showcasing a variety of odd and interesting things from carefully wrapped bundles of dried herbs to bulky cauldrons and broomsticks. That visitor might even get lucky enough to see one of the multitude of cats that call this little patch of Door County home snoozing in the windows. And if that visitor looks down to either side of the stoop, they'll find tall stalks of the lavender they've been smelling since they exited their car.
Finally, oh finally, the visitor to this little glade turns their attention to the door. Below the grimacing gargoyle is a hand lettered sign bearing the name of the cottage and the hours, in the off chance they were missed on the way past or in. And if the visitor happens to come during those hours, if they just so happen to glance at the poor creature holding that heavy iron ring in its mouth as they push open the door, they'll be a little startled to see the eyes open and roll toward the visitor in inspection.
But they're usually too startled by the inside of the shop to notice the gargoyle eying them up before the creature's eyes roll back into its head once more, or the tiny intricately carved symbols that glow and dim in a heartbeat as they cross the threshold. While the outside had been sprawling in the tiny glade, the inside of the cottage is an entirely different story. The main room is large – far too large to fit comfortably inside the tiny confines of the cottage, but only a select few know the true dimensions of the cottage – and except for a stairway on the right wall leading up to a locked door on the second floor, and a pair of doors behind a low counter, the floor space is filled with shelves upon shelves of interesting things and finds. Above, from exposed rafters supporting the second floor, hang more things: dried bundles of herbs and flowers, wind chimes that tinkle every time the door is opened, and the occasional cat's paw from said creature dozing up there.
More cats can be found sleeping among items to be found, and even on the counter. Behind the counter sits a tall, thick, carved piece of wood where a raven perches, bright eyes glittering as it studies each and every person that approaches the counter. It has more than the feline sort to keep it company: a great gray owl and a barred owl roost in the same rafters as the occasional sleeping cat. There's a third owl in the cottage, but it's not noticeable to the visitor until they approach the proprietor of this odd little shop because the little northern saw-whet is small enough to hide in his pocket.
Louis Tomlinson is every bit as odd and unusual as his cottage, a magpie of sorts just as much in his choice of clothing as what he sells in The Little Siren. Although he lives above the shop itself and stays warm and cozy in the freezing cold of Wisconsin winters when the shop isn't open, he opts for jeans and hoodies in the spring and t-shirts and shorts in the summer and fall until it's back to hoodies and jeans for him. In the winter, when tourism season ended a couple weeks before when fall drifted through and he closes up shop like the rest of Door County, his style becomes fleece pajama pants and those same hoodies. After all, the only people to see him in the winter months are family, his only friend Liam, and the occasional person who needs something a bit more than what line his shelves.
A transplant from Doncaster in the United Kingdom, Louis' called the state of Wisconsin home for the past six years, ever since he inherited The Little Siren from an elderly aunt who was getting too old and too tired to continue a business that has been in Louis' family for generations, ever since the first people immigrated to the peninsula. He hadn't been sure he'd like the move when his great aunt had offered him the place; he's got half a dozen siblings back in Donny and wasn't sure if he'd like having all this space to himself. But there's just something about not having to kick your nosy sisters out of your room at all hours, and not having to share a bathroom with sisters who use up all the hot water. Oh, he shares this little glade with a colony of cats, the birds, and the occasional animal he nurses back to health, but it's mostly just him.
It's a solitary sort of life, and probably looks lonely to someone else, but it's his and it's perfect.
Or, it would be, if Liam wasn't being annoying about it.
“Don't you ever get tired of this?” Liam asks. The sweeping hand gesture that accompanies his words leaves Louis a bit confused as to what “this” his friend is talking, causing Louis to look up from his tarot cards.
He looks first to the left, then to his right. The only things he can see are his store, its colony of cats sleeping wherever they like (he's pretty sure a few are sleeping in other rooms of the cottage altogether), and the birds roosting where they will. He can also see his spread laid out in front of him, but he gets the feeling that Liam's not talking about that.
He then considers the day. It's a Monday, in early spring. March, if he's exact. It's the very start of the tourism season – his sixth since taking over from his great aunt. He's already hung both signs out, signs that he spent the whole cold and bitter Wisconsin winter re-painting. He's also a bit tired: the new moon is tonight, and he spent the night before getting ready for it. Thankfully, no one had scheduled an appointment today, which means that as soon as Liam leaves, Louis can make his way back upstairs and go back to bed to rest up for the night ahead of him.
All of it, though, doesn't add up to anything he gets tired of, so he can't figure out Liam's question. Which is about par for the course, although he'll never admit that out loud to the werewolf in front of him.
“Do I ever get tired of what?” Louis finally asks after a few more minutes pass without a response, tapping a card against the counter. The energy off it tells him that it's one of the Major Arcana, but not which one. It sits in the 'near future' position in his Celtic Cross spread, which makes him nervous. He traces the paw print pattern on the back of the card with his thumb, looking at Liam. Who still hasn't answered his question, even though Louis had taken a lifetime to answer himself.
He's about to repeat himself when Liam finally answers, picking up a piece of ash wood and using it to wave at the cottage at large once more. “You know. This. Aren't you tired of it?”
Louis' thumb traces the pattern on the back of the tarot card once more. He uses ash for a lot of spells he casts, and knows other witches use it as well, but even though it's a wood that's used for protection, he doesn't feel very protected with Liam waving it around like he's casting a magic spell. “For one, please put that down before you poke your eye out.” He sets the card down face up and has to hide the grimace when he sees that it's The Lovers card. That's not a card he wants in his near future. “Secondly, don't you have a car to go chase or something?”
Liam growls, the sound more animal than human, but he puts down the piece of ash wood. Closer to the full moon, Louis'd be worried about the fact Liam's wolf is closer to the surface than usual, but as it's the new moon tonight.....
“I don't have a car to chase, no. Also, you're avoiding.” Liam's fingers linger on a crystal – specifically a large chunk of amethyst - sitting on a shelf, but to Louis' intense relief, he doesn't pick it up. Good, Louis doesn't have the time to clear out any bad vibes the werewolf must be giving off. “I've got this friend from back home who's going to be in the area for the tourist season, and he needs a place to stay. And you've got all this space to yourself.”
And there it is: the “this” that he had been missing, or so Liam thought. He takes a minute to compose himself, uses the time to lay a card – Grace – in the suggested approach position. Takes another minute to study the Siamese cat crossing a brick wall while waves batter both the wall and the cat. He traces the rainbow rising from the waves with a finger, trying to figure out why he needs to seek inner tranquility. He considers delaying a third minute, but Feathers hoots quietly from the pocket of his hoodie, forcing his attention away from his contemplation of the card.
“I'm a hedge witch, Liam. Solitary comes with the territory.” He draws the next card, tapping it against the counter before lying it down in the next position. Five of Sea. He certainly feels like he's experienced a setback, with Liam thinking he's lonely enough to need a friend or companionship or some such nonsense. “I don't have a coven. I have my cats, my birds, my garden and my knowledge. I've also got you, my family, and the people who come into my cottage for my help or for the novelty of New Age magics. I know it sounds like a lonely life to pack, but it's my life. I don't want some pack member in my space, where the moon phases affect him as much as they do me.”
“That's where you're wrong,” Liam argues, but he doesn't get further than that when a bell chimes merrily through the cottage. Despite what people might think, it's not attached to the door at all. It's actually tied into the protection spell attached to the gargoyle, an addition of Louis' own invention. The way the spell is designed lets Louis know if the visitor is human or otherwise. A bell chime says that the visitor is human, but since he doesn't have any appointments, he's not sure why anyone came in.
He's also pretty tired of Liam, especially after his friend decided he had a room for a rent. So shooing the unwelcome customer out with an unwelcome friend is just killing two birds with one stone, right?
“Sorry, we're not open.” Louis says as he comes out from behind the counter. He's about to add more when he gets a good look at the customer. The young man is tall and handsome, with eyes that remind Louis of a forest glade and short brown hair that looks as soft as a few of the cats. Speaking of cats, Louis' pretty sure one of them got his tongue, because he's pretty sure he's swallowed it.
“Oh, I'm not a customer.” The young man holds out his phone to Louis like it explains all the answers, or possibly that it's the treat that will convince whatever cat has Louis' tongue to let it go. “My friend Liam gave me this address?”
“Liam?” Louis repeats, trying to remember who that is before Liam steps around him to hug the not-customer.
“Harry!” Louis watches, still feeling dumbfounded and dumbstruck, as Liam pats the young man on the back. “Your flight okay? How about the drive up from, what was it, Milwaukee?” Louis' sure Liam says more, but he finally puts two and two together.
This has to be the friend Liam had mentioned staying in the cottage. In Louis' cottage, defeating the purpose of Louis leading a solitary life. Suddenly, the Grace card makes a lot more sense: he's going to need a lot of grace if he goes along with this.
“Look, Curly,” Louis starts, feeling both of the men in front of him turn to look at him. Well, they actually stare at him, which is weird. Even for him. What comes out of his mouth is even odder. “If you're going to stay here, I've got a few ground rules.”
“I thought you didn't want the company.” Liam comments dryly, but Louis ignores him because whatever, Liam.
He nearly swallows his tongue again when Harry nods, pink lip caught between white, white teeth and turning pinker. He takes a deep breath, centers himself and focusing on the soft sleepy hooting coming from his pocket. “First off, you have to work off your stay. I could use an extra hand around here, and I'm not a hotel or a bed and breakfast. If you're here for a work-free summer, there's plenty of other options up here. But they're going to be harder to come by as the season goes along, and summer will be nigh impossible.”
“I don't mind working,” Harry smiles warmly, and Louis has flashes of The Lovers card coming back to him. No, no, no. “Besides, I'm mostly here to take pictures between semesters.” He jerks his thumb over his shoulder at the door. “Judging by your hours, even if I'm on the same schedule you are, I'll still have time for pictures and to do other touristy things around here.”
“I'll leave you two be to figure things out then.” Liam says to no one in particular, patting both of them on the back as he goes. Forget Liam chasing cars; Louis hopes one hits the man.
What in the world and the planes beyond has Louis gotten himself into?
April brings rain, rain, and more rain.
“It could be worse,” Louis mumbles to himself one day in early April, cradling a mug of chamomile tea as he looks out the large window of his kitchen at the pouring rain making mud of his garden. By nature and nurture both, he's not a morning person – he'd actually spent the night before setting out his bowls for moon water and had to go out in the pouring rain to retrieve this morning – but the hours set for the store means he has to be. Those same bowls of moon water are currently sitting on the table behind him, waiting to be decanted in bottles for selling and his own personal use. “It could be snow.”
“Does it normally snow in April?” Harry's voice is the same as it's always been since he's moved in for the tourist season: quiet, slow and timid, like he's not quite sure what to make of Louis. It's only for Louis, though; he's bright and cheerful around everyone that comes into The Little Siren, and around Liam when he comes to visit. He's human and not pack like Liam is, but Louis gets the feeling that a solitary lifestyle is not one Harry'd pick for himself and is trying to figure out why Louis' picked it for his own life.
There's a lot about Harry Louis doesn't get, to be honest. He knows that Harry's a photography student, working toward a major. Harry's got a passing interest in New Age thoughts and mindsets, but he only thinks Louis' little shop and what it sells aren't the real thing. He doesn't think Louis' a con artist, but it's a small victory, Louis supposes. The cottage seems to agree, because even though Harry hasn't noticed in the month he's been here, the cottage quickly adapts to the young man. It makes sure that Harry never stumbles in the dark when he gets in late, makes sure that Harry's room is large and comfortably decorated. Louis' pretty sure the cottage even gave Harry a desk to work on things.
If Louis didn't know better, he'd think his cottage has a crush on the human. But it's a hedge witch's house, and hedge witches are the accommodating sort for all their solitary lifestyle.
“It has in the past,” Louis finally acknowledges, turning toward Harry. His morning reading while he'd been waiting for his water to boil had involved both The Lovers and The Priestess, and he's pretty sure both involve the young man in front of him. He's been finding The Sun and The Lovers in his readings a lot since Harry came into his life, and he's just not a fan. His eyes land on the bowls of water sitting on the table. “You're welcome to take the day off, by the way.” He gestures toward the window with his mug. “This rain means very few people will be out and about, and I'm just going to be busy with things in here.”
“I don't mind.” Harry smiles quietly, but he turns and heads back out.
Louis pretends he doesn't see Harry cleaning and organizing shelves in the store later in the day. He also pretends that he doesn't like the fact that this human knows exactly where everything goes, or that the cottage likes that he does.
The end of April brings Beltane, and Louis' grateful that the holiday falls on his two days off. It's always been a holiday that exhausts him, with or without other witches around. But this is a new one: he's never had someone unaware of his real nature staying with him during Beltane.
The evening of April 30th, as the sun makes its way down to the horizon, Louis changes into one of his ceremonial robes and makes sure his bag is full of what he needs for tonight. He knows he should make excuses for himself and his animals when it comes to Harry, because he knows this looks odd to anyone not like him.
He doesn't get the opportunity to make excuses to Harry, though, as he makes his way down the stairs and convinces the right door on the back wall it should open straight to the back door. In fact, he gets the feeling that Harry's not even in the cottage, a feeling that follows him down the few wooden steps into his garden. He's pretty sure the only life in the cottage at the moment, besides the cottage itself, left the minute he did, because all the cats and birds are waiting patiently for him in the garden.
“It's kitten season soon,” he tells his audience as he leads the way through the garden to the far gate leading to the forest itself. He's heard that it's impossible to herd cats, but he's certain that whoever claimed that has never dealt with witches' cats. As he opens the latch on the gate, his bare toes digging into the soft ground, he knows the cats have all filed along behind him and are waiting for their signal to go through the gate. He feels Poe land on his shoulder for the short journey – the raven is a diurnal creature, after all – and knows that the owls are already winging their way to the glade where he celebrates his holidays alone.
He waits patiently as all the cats file through the gate before him, latching the gate behind himself when he goes through. And then it's off to his glade, his passing as silent as his owls as he makes his way through the forest, trailed by the cats like a feline Pied Piper.
The wood for the bonfire is already stacked up, waiting for the match to light it up. Louis feels his feline followers spread out, ranging around the glade until they've got it comfortably surrounded. He feels Poe leave his shoulder for a nearby branch, letting out a single caw into the night in greeting as his owls settle on perches of their own.
The animals in the glade with him, the animals beyond the clearing, even the forest at large feel like they're holding a collective breath as he pulls his messenger bag from his shoulder and sets it down at his feet. Habit more than sight – dim as it is in the rising, waxing moon – helps him find his matches, helps him find the special bundle wrapped in brightly colored ribbons he can just make out in the darkness. It takes a few matches before the bundle lights, but when it does, he sets it to the tinder and kindling that build up the base of the bonfire.
He stands up, watching as the small flames grow larger and overtake the bonfire in a blaze. He's not worried about it growing to the nearby trees, knows that the ground beneath the bonfire was already cleared of any grass or anything else that could catch fire. As the flames grow higher and higher, he finds himself looking past them to the eyes glittering back at him. The younger cats and kittens are never really interested in the major holidays the way the older cats are, choosing instead to roughhouse and play. But the older cats sit still as statues, mirrored by the birds in the trees.
He watches the glittering eyes for a few beats of his heart before casting his gaze back to the fire. There's always a moment for him at Beltane, especially since he's come to Wisconsin, where he misses the Beltanes of his childhood. Every witch back in Donny celebrated the holiday just a bit different than every other witch in the same area; Johannah Tomlinson had been a staunch supporter that her children wore robes during the ceremonies and had clucked her tongue at all the revelers who had decided that the robes were optional. He was fifteen the first time he was one of those revelers, opting to make later activities easier. It's been nearly a decade since, and he still remembers when Jay had clucked her tongue at him. He'd worn robes ever since for Beltane, at least until his move here.
Here, though, he embraces the anonymity and the distance being a solitary hedge witch grants him, embraces the freedom it grants him. Here, in this glade, surrounded by his cats and his birds, he carefully removes his ceremonial robe and lets it fall to the ground at his feet.
The late April air, still heavy with spring rain, is cool against his skin, but he ignores it as he bends down to his bag to retrieve the antlers he'd found the same year he'd moved to Wisconsin, fitted to a band he'd fashioned himself. He carefully places them on his hair, eyes closing as the feathers fitted to the band tickle the thin skin of his cheeks, the sensitive spots behind his ears.
Like the antlers were a signal, his great owl calls into the night, the sound ghosting along his skin as he takes the first step of courtship, the King of the Forest chasing his invisible May Queen. He has no drums to mark his steps, no chanting to keep time, but he's made due with himself and his mostly silent audience for nearly six years.
Louis' world dissolves to the sound his bare feet make against the ground as he spins and whirls around the bonfire, to the crackling of the fire, to the occasional call from one of the owls or his raven's deeper cry. If he had a coven, he'd follow traditional rules of the chase: three times as the sun goes, while he and his May Queen weave in and out of the other members of the coven. But he's a solitary hedge witch, so he chases his invisible lover until he's exhausted.
Or, at least, that's how things have gone in the past. As he finishes his second pass, he becomes slowly aware that he and the animals aren't alone anymore, and when he slows his rotations to a stop at the third pass, all he sees is Harry.
Harry, who doesn't seem to know where he should be looking as his eyes travel from the lines of Louis' skin to the antlers to the flickering flames and the animals beyond. Harry, who's eyes are darker than the dark forest around them as his eyes finally settle on Louis' face. There are other things Louis notices in sharp relief: unlike him, Harry's wearing a loose hoodie, jeans and hiking boots for walking in a forest. He also sees the flower crown resting delicately on Harry's dark hair, and Louis wonders if whoever made it told Harry that daffodils bring around love, luck, and fertility.
That he looks like the May Queen to Louis' King of the Forest.
“You look....” Harry begins but almost immediately trails off as he takes a step toward Louis. His eyes trace along the antlers again before back to Louis' face. His mouth opens again, but something in Louis – something about the festival of Beltane, something he doesn't want to properly examine right now – pushes him forward, crashing their mouths together.
It's a terrible first kiss, to be honest. Louis' lip snaps on Harry's teeth, causing the taste of iron to flood Louis' mouth. But whatever has him in its grip makes him chase it, and it would seem that whatever has him has Harry as well.
It pulls them down to Louis' forgotten robe, still kissing. Louis feels like some primal creature, more than he's ever felt at Beltane, as Harry's fingers stroke and caress his heated skin. He's sure he's the burning bonfire next to them, the cool air above them.
He finds himself not wanting to touch Harry, too lost in the feeling of someone touching him after six years of only himself. Too caught up in wondering if this is just a hallucination caused by the constant cards that scream Harry to him. But when his wandering hands make contact with Harry's shoulders, the young man is solid and real above him. The lips trailing down his breastbone, along his stomach, that's real too.
Louis nearly swallows his tongue when Harry wraps those lips around the head of his cock. The young man above him is definitely not a Beltane hallucination caused by his feverish, solitary mind. His fingers curl into Harry's hair, dislodging the flower crown, as the young man's mouth envelopes him in moist heat. It's been an eternity and a half since Louis' been with someone, but he's also sure that no one will compare to Harry after this moment.
He loses himself in the sounds that follow: the almost greedy little noises Harry makes as he works him over, the breathy little noises Louis' making, the mating calls of his owls over their heads and the caterwauling from a couple of the cats. A dim part of his mind tells him that they're reacting to the action they're watching, that they're experiencing his pleasure with him.
He blinks hazily up at the canopy above them, watching the sparks and smoke make their way toward the sky. He feels like four elements in this moment: he feels as solid as the earth below the forgotten robe beneath them, he feels as liquid as the rain he can feel in the air around them, feels as fiery and as filmy as the sparks and smoke. The moment expands and contracts until finally, it snaps and Louis comes harder than he's ever come in his life.
For a few moments, there's only the sounds of his panting and that of Harry crawling back up. Louis gently cups Harry's cheek, taking in the way the young man looks in the flickering flames. The flower crown is askew on his head, and he gently moves it back.
“Was that okay?” Harry finally asks, voice huskier than normal, after a lifetime of just watching the shadows dance across Louis' face.
And in that moment, whatever had possessed them to this point is clearly gone because Louis finds himself snapping back to reality. It was just the point of Beltane, after all, and he's been lonely. But Louis' a solitary hedge witch and...
“I can't do this.” Louis mumbles aloud as he worms out from under Harry. As he goes, he brushes against Harry's crotch and can feel the length of him still hard. He's being a dick, he knows he's being a dick, but all he wants right now is to get away from Harry.
“I have to go,” he adds, still mumbling as he manages to get out from under his house guest. He knows he should wait until tomorrow evening, knows he should retrieve his robe from where it's still under Harry.
But all he can do is run away.
May brings flowers, a lot more rain and quite a lot of guilt. After he'd run away from Harry at the bonfire, Louis spends a few days avoiding Harry altogether. While carving a protection sigil on a candle as he hides, he manages to convince himself that the only reasons he'd enjoyed himself on Beltane was that it had been a long time since he'd been intimate with someone else, and that it was the King of the Forest's right to ravish the May Queen.
That thought process causes him to retreat to the kitchen, where he whips up a bag to combat negative thoughts. As he does so, he reminds himself that he'd been the one in the antlers while Harry'd been the one in the flower crown. Besides, he's pretty sure a man can't really be the May Queen anyway.
“But I wouldn't mind another Beltane with him if he could be,” Louis whispers aloud to himself – and to a cat sunning itself in a window – as he ties the bag shut. He privately adds that he wouldn't mind another Beltane with Harry even if the other man can't be.
He doesn't want to properly examine that last thought, though.
Louis finally emerges from his self-imposed avoidance of Harry around the 6th, a few days shy of the full moon. It doesn't take him long to find the other man, taking up counter space behind the shop's counter and reading a book while a stack of others rests at Harry's elbow.
“Are those from the shelves?” He asks as he stops in front of him. He can't help the amused smile that crosses his face as Harry sheepishly looks up from his book, munching on a sandwich. There's a trickle of red jelly – Louis' money is on cherry since this is Door County - down the other man's lower lip that he quickly licks away before answering.
“They're not. I've been flipping through a few of them the past few days, and wound up just getting them shipped overnight from Amazon.” Harry closes the book he's been reading carefully, marking it with a thin bookmark Louis doesn't get a good look at. “I figured since you get a lot of shipments because of your shop, you wouldn't mind a few extra boxes.” The sheepish look returns as he reaches over to pet the small gray kitten who comes over to investigate the stack of books. “I hope that was okay. They've been the only things I've had delivered since staying here, but if it's a problem, I can just have them ship to Liam's place or something.”
Louis watches as Harry flusters his sheepish way through an apology – mostly at the kitten's fur than to Louis himself - and he's struck by how he felt so guilty about what had happened between him and this man. If anything, he should feel guilty that he ran away from this incredibly sweet creature in front of him. His eyes drop to the cover of the book itself, and finds that it's about kitchen witchcraft. Close, but not quite, although he wouldn't tell Harry that.
“I just wanted to understand you better,” Harry mumbles when he catches Louis looking at the book's cover. “I haven't figured out what path you've taken or anything, but....” He trails off when Louis' eyes snap up to his face once more, because what?
“What?” Louis repeats the thought aloud, taking a step back. He's used to one of four types of people. The first are fellow witches like himself. The second are people like Liam, who are no more human than Louis is himself, but think that witches should operate within specific guidelines. The third are people who aren't true witches, but have read up on the subject in an attempt to reach something they don't feel in other areas. And then there's the fourth group, the group of people Louis could've sworn Harry himself fell into: regular people who think that his life is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo to bilk tourists and the uneducated out of their money. They don't attack Louis' kind and maybe have picked up a book on the craft or read a blog post. He's not used to someone wanting to understand him.
“For a few days, with you avoiding me after the forest and the bonfire, I thought maybe I'd misread you? That you were straight, and my senses were off, or whatever.” Harry's beginning to look upset, and it pulls at Louis' wellbeing and guilt.
He reaches out for Harry's hands, holding them tightly. It's the first time he's touched Harry since that night, although those hands have featured in plenty of his fantasies since. “I'm not straight, no. You didn't read that wrong. I'm just....”
Louis doesn't get to say what he's just, because Harry smiles. He also doesn't pull away from Louis' grasp. “Liam told me. You're a solitary person. I've noticed you don't have a coven, but you interact with people that come in a lot. I've seen you take on more readings with me here, and I've watched you do readings for yourself.” He shrugs, the action just this side of noticeable. “Once I understood what solitary meant for you, I understood why you ran the way you did.” His green eyes glanced down toward the books. “That's when I decided to try reading up on the topic to understand you, figure out what path you'd taken as a witch.”
Louis can't help himself: he leans forward, resting his forehead against Harry's. It's the most intimate he's been with another person, barring Beltane, since he saw his family last, and it just. It feels incredibly right, and it makes the remaining guilt he'd felt fade away.
When he finally straightens up, he gives Harry a reassuring smile. “Tell you what, I don't have any appointments today, so let's go to Shipwrecked for lunch and then you can come with me for kitten season.”
“What in the world is kitten season?” Harry asks, looking skeptical, but Louis can see the smile trying not to emerge.
May turns into June while Louis' mostly looking the other way, and he's finding more and more of his free time being spent in the other tiny cities of Door County than just his little cottage. The locals who would drive up or down to The Little Siren are surprised to see him out and about, especially when he begins making a habit of making deliveries to shops and homes.
“Don't you ever get tired of this?” Harry asks halfway through the month. They're in Egg Harbor for the day so Harry can take pictures of the bay of Green Bay and Louis can gather materials from the bay itself.
The question pulls Louis' head up from where he was watching minnows nibble at his toes. It is, after all, the same question Liam had asked him when Harry had come into Louis' life. But unlike then, he's not annoyed by the question. It could be because it's from someone who isn't pack the way Liam is, but he's pretty sure it's because the question comes from Harry. Harry, who doesn't quite understand that Louis' a real witch with a magic cottage that can think for itself, but has decided that Louis' a New Age Wiccan practitioner. Harry's been of that persuasion ever since they went and adopted the two newest cats of Louis' colony, and Louis' not sure he wants to push that more toward the truth than it is.
He might not be annoyed by the question, but he takes his time in responding. In fact, he uses the procrastination to study the other man. Harry's not looking back at him, focused on the screen of his camera while sprawled on the plaid blanket they brought for their picnic lunch. Louis' messenger bag is holding down one of the corners of the blanket, with Harry's camera case resting against it. The picnic basket holds down another corner while Harry's boots and Louis' sneakers hold down a third. A mixed case of Shipwrecked beer sits seemingly forgotten by Harry's hip, and the sight of that is making Louis consider suggesting the microbrewery for dinner when they're through here.
He must stall for too long because he catches Harry looking at him over the camera. Louis rubs his neck before just going for it. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean,” Harry begins as he sets his camera down and catches up a bottle from the mixed case, sitting up. He digs out the bottle opener, opening the bottle as he continues. “Don't you get tired of having to find certain supplies in certain areas, and having to order others?” He takes a long sip before waving the bottle around. “Don't you ever think, 'you know what? I'm done peddling to Yankee tourists. I'll pack my things and move back to jolly old England to be closer to my mum and siblings.'” He sets the bottle on his knee and picked at the label, his eyes not meeting Louis'. “I accidentally overheard your last phone call home. I know you miss them.”
Louis' not going to pretend that Harry's wrong, that he doesn't miss his family like mad but. “This is home.” He finally answers, shrugging as he walks toward shore. The grass is scratchy after the smooth rocks and sand of the bay as he makes his way toward the blanket, sitting down cross legged in front of Harry. “And I enjoy peddling to Yankee tourists.”
As Harry's eyes raise to his, Louis finds himself adding, “I'm a hedge witch. What I do comes with the territory.” He doesn't know if hedge witchery came up in Harry's research in the past month, and finds himself actually considering not only convincing the cottage to show this man the library but also Louis' own grimoire. Not even Liam, the closest thing Louis' got to a best friend that isn't family, knows about the cottage's library and definitely would never see his grimoire.
The topic must've come up in his research because Harry leans forward eagerly, an eager student learning his favorite subject. “Really? So you communicate with spirits and that? I just see you making jars and bags and carving designs on candles.”
“I read cards for clients too!” Louis can't help the laugh that bubbles out of him at Harry's eagerness. “And less on the spirits, although I'm closer to that realm than other witches on other paths. But hedge witches used to be located at the edge of villages, oh, years and years ago. These men and women were the ones you went to if you couldn't get to a doctor, you know? That's what I mean by saying that what I do comes with the territory.”
As he watches Harry process that, the other man's eyebrows pulling together as he thinks it over, Louis grabs a beer of his own. It's the Door County Cherry Wheat one, which isn't Louis' favorite from Shipwrecked, but he still thinks it's good. “As for moving away, what would I do with the cottage? That place has been in my family for generations, H.” He works the cap off, using the bottle opener to point at his guest. “Women, and a few men, in my family have lived in that cottage ever since the first Belgians settled in Door County in the 1850s, and they've all helped their neighbors in much the same way I do now. They all led long, productive lives, and I've only been doing this for going on six years now.”
Louis' quiet a moment before quickly adding, “I wanna keep doing this until I can pass it on to my kids, you know?” He's never admitted that out loud, much like he's never told a human he's a witch before. He's never really admitted to himself, never mind out loud, that he'd like what his mum has: a loving husband and kids to brighten up the cottage. He'd just assumed that his solitary lifestyle would be just that: a lonely solitary lifestyle.
Harry doesn't say anything in response, but when Louis looks up at the other man, Harry's only quietly watching him like he's working something out again. Like he's trying to see straight through to Louis' inner workings. That look makes Louis' gaze drop to the label of his beer, and he starts picking at it.
“I miss my family at times, yeah.” Louis goes on, knowing that he's talking more for the sake of filling in the silence than a need to make Harry understand. Something tells him that Harry does understand where he's coming from. “But this is home now, like I said. Here is where I belong.”
“You just knew here was where you belonged then?” Harry's voice is quiet when he finally speaks, like he's come to a conclusion that he's not sure of and is worried that he might scare it away.
“Did coming here feel right, you mean?” Louis watched him, wondering what conclusion Harry's come to that's made him so shy. When the question receives a nod, he smiles faintly. “Yeah. It's a lonely sort of life, but I can't imagine doing anything else. I've found my place.”
There's something in Harry's expression at that that Louis can't properly read. He finds himself wondering if maybe the conclusion Harry's come to isn't whether or not he feels at home here in Door County, with Louis.
He finds himself certainly hoping, at any rate.
June turns into July, and from there to August. Tourist season thrives, and with it, The Little Siren flourishes as it always does during the season. As for the occupants of the cottage, well. With little prompting on Louis' part, the cottage begins to show its other rooms and treasures to a very unsuspecting Harry. Soon enough, Harry's figured out that all he has to do is ask a door nicely where he'd like to go, and the cottage will oblige him. In fact, there's a couple weeks between the end of July and the beginning of August where Harry only uses a single door to get from room to room in the cottage. Louis doesn't mind; he'd done the same thing when he'd inherited the little cottage, and he's pretty certain the cats do the same thing.
As August heats up, Louis finds Harry in either the library, the cellar or the kitchen when he's not working in the shop or taking pictures. There's not a book Louis owns that Harry's not devoured; in fact, there's plenty that Harry keeps coming back to, carrying them as he makes his way to the cellar or out into the garden after Louis and the animals.
It actually gives Louis an idea. It takes him a bit to get the supplies together, but come mid-August, he carries them to the counter where Harry's absorbed in another book – this one focused more on cooking than witchcraft – and sets everything down with a loud thud. The noise startles everyone in the shop, from the animals to Harry himself, who shakes himself and stares at Louis a moment before down at the stack of scrapbooking material before him.
“What's this then?”
“We're making you a grimoire like mine,” Louis tells him matter of factly, lifting his own off the top of the pile. He's inherited the grimoires of the previous hedge witches that had owned the cottage, but they're all stored in his bedroom like his own grimoire, which means Harry's never seen one. And this is a huge step for Louis because ever since his mum first handed him the book when he was a little witch, he's never shown another living soul that wasn't a bird or a cat.
“Why? I'm not a witch.” Louis' not looking at Harry, but he can feel the other man's gaze on the side of his face as he opens the grimoire up to the first page.
“I know that.” Louis responds, turning toward Harry and propping his hip against the counter. “But you've shown a considerable interest in my lifestyle, and in your research on the topic, that I thought you and I should make you a grimoire for when you go home. A scrapbook of your unusual summer with a hedge witch.” He reaches over to scratch Feathers when she sleepily hoots from where she's perched by the back doors. A small handful of feathers come loose when his hand pulls back; most of them, he absently sticks in his hair, but two get tucked in his grimoire and he rests the last one on top of the book meant to be Harry's future grimoire.
Harry traces the feather gently before his finger continues along the spine of the book. “So what's the purpose of a grimoire if I'm not a witch, even if I'm interested?”
Louis smiles, flipping through his grimoire to show Harry exactly what's between the covers. “All a grimoire really is a combination of a scrapbook, a journal, and the witch's thoughts. I stick anything that interests me in mine. Spells that I use regularly find a home here, sigils, herbology. All of it makes its way here.” He glances over at the other man to find that he's watching the pages, enthralled. “I've seen you walking around with books open to specific pages. You can copy those pages into your grimoire.”
“Anything I want?” Harry asks, green eyes moving from the pages of Louis' grimoire to his face. “So, if I want to fill it with recipes of baked goods, I can?”
Louis grins wide. “H, I thought you said you weren't a witch! Because that sounds exactly like what a kitchen witch would put in theirs.”
Harry chuckles, pulling a pen and a piece of paper out of the pile of supplies and begins writing delicately on it. “I could see me as a kitchen witch, maybe.”
August fades into September, bringing with it cooler weather and yellows and golds to the green trees around The Little Siren. As Louis stands barefoot in his garden, he can feel Samhain in the wind. It's still over a month away, he knows, but it'll be Harry's first Samhain as a newly made kitchen witch. And it'll be Louis' first Samhain in years that he's spent it with other witches. In fact, his mum has even been talking about coming to the States to celebrate both Samhain and Yule.
The thought of his family spending both festivals with him warms him up just as much as the mulled apple cider in his hands does, just as much as the sight of the new sigil tattooed on his inner wrist makes him. The apple cider itself might be from Seaquist Orchards, but the mulled spices are Harry's own concoction, made from spices he got from this very garden. He's only a baby kitchen witch, Harry is, but Louis' noticed from the beginning that Harry's always been a good cook. His magic will only improve the more he focuses on it, Louis knows.
The sigil is also Harry's work; it's a comfort sigil, originally meant to have kept Louis' spirits up whenever he felt too lonely once Harry had left at the end of the summer. But plans change, as do people, and Harry's already taken a break from uni. He's been talking about UW-GB for the past few days, working out how long the daily commute would be come spring. Even though Harry's staying, Louis wound up getting the sigil Harry had drawn inked into his skin, to comfort him when Harry's not around the cottage. A matching sigil, drawn in Louis' hand, is in the matching spot on the inside of Harry's wrist.
Lost in his thoughts as he is, Louis still hears the door behind him swing open and close. He doesn't need to turn around to know that Harry's coming up behind him, and smiles down at his mug as the kitchen witch refills it with hot cider.
“Getting chilly out here,” Harry says conversationally when he's done, wrapping his arms around Louis' waist, the thermos he used to refill Louis' mug bumping against Louis' thigh as he leans back into the taller witch. “And you out here barefoot.”
“Do you ever think you'll get tired of this?” Louis asks, feeling Harry's warm breath on the back of his neck as he watches squirrels scurry by as they hoard nuts for the winter. He's been asked that question twice this summer, and it actually feels good asking it of someone else for a change.
He's rewarded when Harry kisses the back of his neck. “I don't think I'll ever get tired of this, Lou.”
Somewhere along Highway 42, just after it branches off from 57 but before Carlsville, Wisconsin, nestled delicately amongst the trees that line the route rests a homey little cottage heavily draped in flowering ivy with towering lilac bushes at both corners of the cottage facing the highway. And inside that homey little cottage live a pair of witches very much in love, surrounded by their many cats and their birds.