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Manifest Destiny

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Fort Kearney, Nebraska. March 1861.

Louis Tomlinson breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the home station appear on the horizon in the fading twilight.

His legs and back ache. The ride has been brutal today, and it’s only his first day back on the trail after a much needed week of rest. He encountered a vicious storm about an hour after he left St. Joseph, Missouri, but a little rain, lightning, and wind aren’t enough to stop a Pony Express rider. The storm lasted hours, even though they were moving in opposite directions. Louis has ridden in the storm all day, only stopping every ten miles or so to change horses. The rain only let up when he was at the last swing station, but the chill from the rain has settled deep into his bones. His clothes are still damp, clinging to his skin.

Thoughts of a hot meal and a dry bed have him pushing the horse even faster. The vicious winter wind stings his face, chapping his lips and burning his eyes. Regardless, he doesn’t let up his pace. He’s so close.

Louis doesn’t ease the pace off the horse until they’re at the front of the home station. The two story, wooden building is familiar to Louis, as is the sign that hangs above it, announcing it to be Fort Kearney.

Despite the fact that Louis is standing in wet clothes as a sharp wind blows through him, he smiles. Fort Kearney. He always enjoys his stays here.

A young lad comes racing out the front door at the sound of Louis and his horse. He can’t be any more than fourteen, with sandy blonde hair and round cheeks.

“Hullo,” Louis greets, climbing down from the horse, limbs stiff. He looks back at the boy, a flash of recognition. He knows this boy from his stops before. “Tom, isn’t it?”

The boy looks up from where he’s gathering the horse’s reins. He grins as recognition fills his eyes. “Alright then, Louis? Trail not too bad today?”

“If you’d consider a storm all day not too bad, then, yeah,” Louis agrees, making Tom chuckle.

“It hit here this morning,” Tom replies, patting the horse’s flank. “Scared the horses half to death. Had difficulty getting a lot of them out.”

“I can imagine so,” Louis chuckles, taking the mochila off the horses’ back and slinging it over his shoulder. The weight of the mail carrier makes Louis’ sore body ache even more, but the safe delivery of the mochila is the very reason that Louis embarks on these exhausting journeys. It would not do to leave the mochila with the horse overnight.

“Go on, then,” Tom says, gesturing towards the station. “They just served dinner. Beef and potatoes tonight. Smelled awful good when I was in there.”

“Thanks, Tom,” Louis replies, clapping his shoulder. “See you around.”

Tom nods and leads the horse towards the stables.

A sharp gust of wind cuts through the air, and Louis shivers. He spins on his heels and heads into the home station, body already relaxing at the promise of warmth and rest.

The home station isn’t that large, but considering that Louis grew up in a three bedroom house with six other occupants, the home stations always feel like a mansion. Fort Kearney is one of the biggest, and busiest, on the trail. As he steps through the front door, Louis can hear the loud chatter of other riders coming from the dining hall as they tuck into their hot, well-deserved dinners. The staircase leading up to the bedrooms is on Louis’ left as he enters. There are about ten bedrooms, and each rider gets their own. It’s a privilege most riders only have on the trail.

But before Louis can join his fellow riders for a meal or head upstairs and sleep until sunrise, he needs to deliver his mochila.

He steps into the hall, closing the door behind him and moving towards the front desk.

“Hullo?” he calls, placing the mochila on the front desk. The door behind the desk is cracked open, but Louis can’t see inside. “Anyone here?”

“Hullo!” a voice calls frantically, and Louis can hear boots clomping against the hard wood floors. The door flings open, and out steps the station keeper. Louis grins. He knows this boy.

“Hiya, Louis!” Harry greets, green eyes bright and smile wide, dimple carved into his cheek. He nearly stumbles as he walks to the front desk, eyes never leaving Louis’. “How are you? How was the trail today?”

“Not too bad,” Louis replies, even as his still wet clothes stick uncomfortably to his skin. “A bit of rain.”

Harry’s brow furrows, eyes darting down to where Louis’ clothes stick to his skin. Louis tries and fails not to blush as Harry’s eyes move over his chest. “Was that the storm that blew through here this morning? Christ, I’d say that was more than a bit of rain. Blew a tree down in my backyard. Nearly landed on the shed.”

Louis chuckles. “Okay, maybe it was more than a little rain.”

If anything, the crease in Harry’s brow only deepens. “Christ, Lou, you must be freezing. It’s awful out there and your clothes are still damp. Here,” he opens a drawer in the desk, pulling out a key. “Go up to your room and get changed into some dry clothes. I’ll tell the cook to fix you up a plate and we’ll put you right by the fire so that you can warm up.”

“That’s not necessary –” Louis begins, but Harry cuts him off.

“You’re not catching hypothermia on my watch, Louis Tomlinson.” Harry holds the key out to him, and Louis takes it after only a slight hesitation. “Good. It’s for the room at the end of the hall. Is that alright?”

Louis nods, feeling his cheeks warm.

“Good. Now, go change.” Harry pats the mochila. “I’ll make a record that this arrived and put it in the backroom until morning. Don’t you worry.”

Louis smiles, impossibly grateful. Harry smiles back, expression so warm that Louis momentarily forgets he’s still wearing soggy clothes.

Harry picks up the mochila, turning.

“Hey, Harry?”

Harry stops and looks back at Louis.

Louis glances down at the key in his hand, and then back at Harry’s knowing eyes. “Are you working all night tonight?”

Harry shakes his head. “I finish in a couple of hours. John is taking over for the rest of the night.”

Louis nods, glancing down to avert Harry’s intense gaze. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Harry echoes, and Louis glances up to see Harry smiling.

Then without another word, Harry disappears into the backroom.

Louis lets out a shaky breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He stands frozen for a moment in the hall, but then he shudders, wet clothes feeling more and more unpleasant. With one last glance towards the front desk, Louis retreats upstairs.

 

Dinner at the home stations is always a loud affair.

Pony Express riders spend all day alone on the trail, nothing but their horse and the open sky to keep them company. It’s an isolating job, one that keeps Louis away from his family for months at a time. Growing up with so many siblings, Louis always had someone to entertain, someone to talk to. He’s never liked being on his own, but many siblings to play with also meant many mouths to feed.

Jobs are hard to come by in rural Missouri, so Louis jumped at the opportunity for work with the Pony Express as soon as it was available. And as much as it pained him to leave his family when he went on his first ride six months ago, he knew that it would mean one less person in the house. One less mouth to constantly be wondering how to feed.

Louis hopes that with the money he earns from the Pony Express he’ll be able to move into his own apartment. Maybe above a shop in town somewhere, not too far from home. He’s only twenty years old – he had to lie about his age to even apply to be a Pony Express rider since the cutoff age is eighteen – but he loves his family and hates being away from them.

But he has a family of sorts with the other Pony Express riders, and it’s over meals like this that Louis most strongly feels that sense of belonging.

Once he’s changed into warm, dry clothes, Louis joins the other riders for dinner. Just as Harry promised, there is a plate of steaming food waiting for him at a bench by the fire. Louis greets the other riders, recognizing a few faces, and digs into his meal.

The riders share stories from the trail – the difficulties of the day and the outlandish adventures from past rides. They share what they miss about home – their families or their sweethearts or their own bed. One rider named Jeremiah expresses how he misses a beloved goat named Sandy who would always follow him around the farm like some kind of faithful dog.

They talk about the war brewing in the States, each rider thankful that they live in the territories and won’t be required to fight when war inevitably comes. Louis firmly nods his agreement.

But then conversation turns less serious as two riders share a story about having to help a family in a covered wagon cross a river earlier that day. The family was so grateful that they offered the riders a goose, which they had to politely decline.

Louis laughs warmly at each story, stomach filling with food as he eats and chats. He feels himself relax, the strain of the day almost forgotten.

Except Louis keeps becoming distracted during the meals. His eyes continuously glance across the dining room, out into the hall and to the front desk. He watches as Harry works, fiddling with some paperwork and speaking with Tom when he comes in from the barn. He watches as Harry directs some retiring riders upstairs to their rooms, offering them extra blankets and a friendly smile.

And sometimes, Harry will catch Louis looking, their eyes meeting across the dining room. Louis always flushes whenever their gazes lock, but he doesn’t look away and neither does Harry. They share a stolen glance across a crowded dining room, but Louis can’t help feel as if they’re the only two in the room.

Slowly, the riders begin to dissipate. Everyone has an early morning and a hard day of riding ahead. As Louis finishes his meal, warm from the fire and full from a hearty dinner, he can also feel his eyes growing heavy. Sleep sounds heavenly.

Louis stretches as he stands, arms clasped above his head. His body still feels stiff from the long ride, muscles tight.

He joins the remaining riders as they leave the dining hall. As they pass by the front desk, Louis glances over to wish Harry a good night, only to find that he is no longer there. Louis fights down the twinge of disappointment as he heads upstairs.

Louis calls good night to the other riders as they disappear into their rooms. Louis walks to the room at the end of the hall, the quietest and warmest room, his favorite.

There’s not much to the room. A bed with a worn quilt, a dresser filled with clean clothes, a washbasin, and a roaring stone fireplace. Louis washes quickly, scrubbing dirt from his face, hands, and arms. The water is cool, but the light from the fire warms him. He changes into pajamas quickly, his naked skin covering in goosebumps at only a momentary exposure to the cool air. He slips into bed, and sighs as his body relaxes into the soft mattress.

The only light in the room is from the flickering fireplace, casting the room in hazy shadows. Louis feels his eyelids drooping, exhaustion from the day overtaking him, when he hears a quiet knock on the door.

At the soft sound, Louis feels much more awake. He sits up in bed, quilt pooling in his lap and a smile spreading across his face as he calls, “Come in.”

The door opens quietly, and Harry steps inside.

“Hi,” Harry whispers, shutting the door gently behind him.

“Hi,” Louis replies. They smile dopily at one another for a moment, Louis’ heart pounding in his chest. He toys idly with the hem of the blanket, unable to look away from Harry’s searing gaze. “Did you come up here for a reason?” he asks coyly. “Or are you just going to look at me?”

“Can you blame me?” Harry replies, smirking. He takes a step towards the bed, and the blood pounds in Louis’ ears. “It’s been a while since you’ve been here. Want a proper look at you.”

Louis feels his cheeks heat. Surely it’s just from the warmth of the fire. “And how do I look?”

Harry doesn’t reply, continuing to walk to the bed until he’s climbing onto it. Louis sinks down against the pillows automatically as Harry climbs on top of him, hands braced on either side of Louis’ head as he boxes him in.

“You look like you’ve been missing my mouth on you.” Harry’s voice is deep, husky. The heat in Louis’ cheeks spreads through his body, thumping in his heart, tingling in his belly, and flooding to his cock.

Harry’s curls fall into his face, but Louis can still see how dark his green eyes have grown. How the heat thrumming through his body is mirrored in Harry’s gaze.

With his hands shaking only slightly, Louis reaches up and wraps his arms around Harry’s back. His fingers play with the soft curls at the nape of Harry’s neck.

“Well, then,” Louis’ voice is breathless, raspy. “Why don’t you do something about that?”

Harry grins before dipping down and attaching his mouth to Louis’ neck.

Louis’ body instantly catches flame, the cold he’s been feeling all day immediately leaving him. He can feel nothing but pure heat where Harry is touching him, mouth hot and wet against his neck, body pressing him firmly into the mattress.

Louis’ hands move from the nape of Harry’s neck to tangle in his curls. Harry’s tongue laves over his collarbones, sucking wet kisses into the skin. A breathless moan escapes Louis’ lips, eyes fluttering shut at the heavenly feeling.

“Ah, Harry,” Louis sighs. “Feels so good.” He shifts his hips, growing hardness rubbing against Harry through their layers of clothes and blankets. His breath stutters at the pressure.

Harry pulls at Louis’ shirt, fingers nimbly undoing the buttons. “Why did you even bother putting on clothes?” he asks, lips dragging against Louis’ skin.

“It’s cold in the room,” Louis protests, lifting himself up so that Harry can push his pajama shirt off his shoulders. “You weren’t here to keep me warm yet.”

Harry throws Louis’ shirt onto the ground before dipping his head down to take Louis’ left nipple in his mouth.

Louis gasps harshly, hips twitching. Harry tongues at the nipple, raising it into a peak under his careful, thorough attention. He pulls off only to lick over it, tongue dragging across Louis’ skin. Harry purses his lips and blows a stream of cool air over Louis’ nipple, skin raising into goosebumps and nipple hardening even more.

“Harry,” Louis gasps, hands clenching at his shirt. “S’cold.”

“It’s okay, baby,” Harry murmurs, breathing warm air over his nipple. “Going to keep you warm.”

Louis nods, leaning up to take Harry’s earlobe between his teeth, tugging gently. “You better.”

They discard the rest of their clothes hastily, and Louis takes a moment to take in Harry’s naked form. Harry was right when he said it’d been a while since they’d seen each other. Harry’s body has always been soft yet firm, warm to Louis’ touch. In the weeks or months since they’ve seen each other – Louis can’t remember how long it’s been – Harry has only become more attractive. His chocolate curls have grown out enough so that they fall into his eyes when he leans over Louis. His arms have clearly gained muscle as he holds himself over Louis easily, body not shaking at all with the strain. His chest is firm and defined, sharp lines making him look shapely and strong. Louis runs his hands down Harry’s chest, feeling his contours, feeling his heat.

When Louis looks up at Harry, all the air in his body rushes out of him. Harry’s eyes are dark, wanting, and Louis licks his lips instinctively.

“Put your mouth on me,” Louis whispers into the quiet of the room.

Mirroring Louis’ movement, Harry licks his plush, red bottom lip, slowly, teasingly. Louis shivers, cock heavy between his legs as he watches Harry’s lip become shiny and slick.

Then Harry crawls down Louis’ body, wraps a fist around the base of his cock, and closes his lips around the head.

“Shit,” Louis swears, slamming his head back against the pillow. He still has enough presence of mind to be thankful that Harry gave him the key to the room at the end of the hallway. It’s the room farthest from everyone else, the quietest room. The room where no one can hear how Harry makes Louis cry out every time he whispers filthily in his ear, “Let me hear you, baby.”

Harry’s mouth is a hot, tight vice around Louis’ cock. He suckles at the head, tongue teasing at the slit before he takes him all the way down, lips meeting his fist. Harry’s tongue traces along the vein as he moves his head, painting patterns into the underside.

Louis’ hands clench in the sheets, forcing his eyes open so that he can watch. There’s nothing as filthy, as hot as watching Harry suck his cock. His cherry red lips become even darker, even lusher, even more sinful. They become damp with spit, shiny, as they grow puffier and puffier. Harry keeps his eyes shut in bliss, almost as if he’s enjoying taking Louis’ cock so much that he’s afraid it will go away if he opens his eyes.

Harry’s other hand rests against Louis’ hip, holding him to the mattress but also grounding himself. The touch grounds Louis as well, Harry’s thumb rubbing idle circles into the soft flesh.

Louis feels sweat trickle down his chest, impossibly warm. He fights the urge to thrust into Harry’s mouth as he hollows his cheeks, sucking with agonizingly perfect pressure.

“Harry,” Louis groans, hands unclenching from the sheets. He tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair, knotting them so tightly that he thinks the only way to free them will be to cut them loose. He tugs on Harry’s hair, loving the way Harry’s eyelids flutter in pleasure. Harry moans brokenly around Louis’ cock, sound muffled as he presses himself closer to Louis.

Louis tugs again, harder this time. His belly tingles with heat as Harry’s head jerks and a subsequent moan falls from his lips. The pain only seems to spur him on, mouth somehow tighter and wetter around Louis’ cock as he bobs his head faster.

The pattern continues for several heated minutes. Louis tugs Harry’s hair, Harry sucks Louis’ cock harder. It’s a game of give and take, push and pull, as both of them hurtle closer and closer to the edge.

“Harry,” Louis pants, chest heaving. “I’m gonna – ah, I’m gonna come –”

Harry moans, loud and delicious. His hand flies off Louis’ hip to tangle in his own hair, pulling harshly.

Louis can’t handle the sight of Harry so debauched and desperate matched with the perfect pressure around his cock. One more intense suck has Louis crying out, orgasm exploding out of him. Pleasure ignites his body, burning him up from the inside out. White hot flames lap behind his eyes, shut tightly as Harry continues sucking, swallowing every drop Louis gives him.

Louis’ body trembles as he finishes, hands slowly untangling from Harry’s hair as they fall like lead onto the bed. His chest still rises and falls rapidly, a thin sheen of sweat coating his body.

With one last suck to Louis’ spent cock, Harry pulls off of him. He climbs clumsily up the bed, plopping gently down onto Louis’ thighs and wrapping a hand around his own cock.

“Taste so good, Lou,” Harry grunts as his hand flies over his dripping, pink cock. His voice is deep and scratchy, rough. “Been wanting to taste you for weeks. Always thinking about it – trying to remember exactly how you taste. How it feels when you fill my mouth.” He groans, head thrown back in pleasure. “Always taste so much better than I imagine. So much better than I remember. Would suck you dry every time.”

“Harry,” Louis moans brokenly, hands stroking the soft skin of Harry’s thighs. He can feel them trembling as his orgasm builds in his body.

“So good, baby,” Harry repeats, voice going breathless, distant, as his eyes flicker closed. “So fucking good.”

One more tug has Harry coming, shooting across Louis’ stomach and chest, painting him in ribbons of white. Louis moans at the feeling, his cock twitching weakly as Harry covers him. Harry keeps his head thrown back, mouth parted, eyes shut in ecstasy. A smile plays on his lips as he finishes coming, and when he looks down at Louis, his eyes are glassy, elated.

His eyes roam over Louis’ body, a quiet noise falling from his lips as he takes in the sight of Louis covered in his come. Without another word, he dips his head down, tongue lolling out as he laps up the come. He sucks gently at the skin, tongue tracing patterns as he cleans Louis. Louis can do nothing but surrender to the feeling, body heavy as Harry’s mouth moves over him.

Once Louis is clean, Harry presses a kiss to Louis’ neck. This kiss is softer, gentler, than before. Louis’ eyes flutter, thinking idly that he likes the feeling of this kiss the best.

Harry rolls off of him, and Louis immediately throws the blankets over him, body cold without Harry’s heat surrounding him.

The room is quiet while they catch their breath, knees touching beneath the quilt. Louis looks up at Harry shyly, only to find that he’s already looking back.

Louis’ breath catches, and he smiles. “So, how do I look now?”

Harry smiles back, dimple popping in his cheek. Louis wants to reach out and touch it, press his thumb into it, but his arms feel too heavy.

“Fucking perfect,” is Harry’s quiet reply.

Louis giggles, eyes closing to small slits. They share a private smile, the fire crackling quietly in the corner. They say nothing more, both of them soon drifting to a peaceful sleep.

 

Louis is shaking when he wakes up.

The fire is nothing but embers in the fireplace, sizzling weakly. The blankets are pooled at his waist, and since Louis had fallen asleep without putting any clothes on, his bare skin is exposed to the unforgiving chill in the room.

The other side of the bed is empty. The sheets are cool to the touch, suggesting Harry left hours ago. It’s unsurprising, as never in the time Harry and Louis have been sleeping together has Harry spent the night. He’s always gone by morning.

But Louis can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment as he dresses, eyes flickering repeatedly towards the empty bed. He wonders what it would be like to wake up to a warm, sleepy boy, still tangled in the sheets while Louis dresses for the day. Maybe Louis would leave without a word, just as Harry usually does. Or maybe Louis would kiss Harry’s cheek before murmuring to him that he was off for the day, and that he’d see him when he saw him. If Harry would grumble sleepily in response or if he would ask Louis to stay. If Louis would be able to resist such a request.

He remembers the first morning after he and Harry slept together. They’d been the only two at the station that night – an unforgiving storm with lightning, thunder, and hail had forced all the other riders to retire at stations before reaching Fort Kearney. When he rode off from the swing station, Louis had foolishly thought he could beat the storm. When he arrived at Fort Kearney only an hour later, Louis was soaked through with the cold. He had genuinely feared for his life as he rode across the plains, the hail sharp and painful as it beat down against him.

Harry had been the only one at Fort Kearney that night, and he attended to Louis with care that went beyond duty. He was kind and thoughtful, empathetic. Louis had changed into some dry clothes and then they’d shared a meal in front of the fire together, the conversation warming Louis in ways he’d never imagined. He found himself incredibly attracted to Harry as they shared stories. Nothing too deep – mostly Louis’ stories from the trail and Harry’s stories from working at the station – but Louis had found himself drawn to Harry.

Maybe it was the loneliness. It was only his third trip on the trail and he was missing his family terribly. Maybe it was the way Harry had smiled at him in the muted candlelight while they shared stories over dinner.

Maybe it was none of those things. But when Louis had gone upstairs, and Harry accidentally walked in on Louis while he was changing, arms filled with blankets he was delivering while he thought Louis was in the bathroom, Louis hadn’t asked Harry to leave. No, he’d asked him to stay.

And Harry had.

They spent the night wrapped up together, touching each other everywhere they could reach, mouths hot on the other’s skin but never touching each other.

Louis had come with Harry’s mouth tight around him, sucking him like he never wanted to do anything else. Louis had returned the favor, Harry filling his mouth before coming down his throat, Louis’ nose pressed into his groin.

They’d fallen asleep together, but Louis had woken up alone.

It was another five weeks before he returned to Fort Kearney.

He hadn’t even realized where he was until he saw the sign on the wooden building. Louis’ heart had beat double time as he remembered the night he spent with the young station keeper. He wondered if Harry would be working that night. He wondered if Harry would even remember him, or if falling into bed with riders was the norm for him. He was young and attractive; it wouldn’t have been surprising.

Still, Louis couldn’t help the flash of jealousy at the thought.

But when he saw Harry again, standing behind the front desk, looking authoritative and confident despite his young age, Harry’s eyes had gone wide, his mouth falling open in surprise. A moment later, Harry recovered, and a bright, pleased smile spread across his face.

Harry and Louis had fallen into bed together again that night, mouths greedy and hands needy. And now every time Louis stops at Fort Kearney, even if it’s weeks in between, he and Harry spend the night together. The nights are always filled with heat and passion, and it gives Louis something to think on fondly as he rides across the western territories carrying sacks of mail.  

They’ve never talked about it, and they’ve never kissed. Louis doesn’t know if he wants either of those things to change, but he knows that his presence in Harry’s life is sporadic at best. Probably best to leave things be.

As Louis stands in the empty room, he shrugs on his heavy coat, but the chill in his body only deepens. He exits the room quickly, heading down to the front desk.

Another man is behind it, someone who is decidedly not Harry. Of course not – his shifts don’t start until the afternoon, Louis knows. He probably went to his home and to his actual bed to catch up on sleep.

Louis receives his mochila from the man behind the desk. Louis’ never bothered to learn his name, even though he seems perfectly friendly. Louis just gives a weak smile as the man gives him his mochila and sends a stable boy to fetch a horse for him.

Fifteen minutes later, a chestnut thoroughbred is waiting for him outside the station. Louis thanks the young stable boy, settles into the horse’s saddle, and rides off.

He doesn’t spare For Kearney a backward glance.

 

Fort Kearney, Nebraska. April 1861.

Louis can’t sleep, body thrumming with excited energy.

He’s headed eastwards, headed towards home. Tomorrow is the final leg of his journey and then he’ll be back in St. Joseph. Home is only an hour’s ride from there. Tomorrow night he’ll fall asleep to the sounds of the twins playing downstairs and his mother singing while she works on the washing.

He can’t wait.

The smell of smoke invades his nose, strong and pungent.

“Didn’t know you smoked,” Louis comments lazily, eyes flickering open to look at Harry. They’re side by side in the bed, sweat on their naked skin still cooling. Louis’ laying on his stomach, head pillowed on his arms, the picture of ease. Harry leans against the pillows, cigarette dangling from his lips, brow furrowed.

Harry shrugs. “Only when I’m stressed.”

Louis chuckles dryly. “Didn’t think I blew you that badly.”

Harry snorts, pulling the cigarette from his lips and blowing the smoke into the air. Louis watches as Harry’s lips purse to blow the smoke, still pink and swollen from the hard kisses he’d pressed to Louis’ thighs. “If anything, you eased my stress, baby. Don’t worry about that.”

Louis reaches out, dragging a lazy finger from Harry’s soft hip down his leg. The soft, fuzzy hair of his thigh tickles Louis’ fingertip. “What’s going on? If you want to talk about it, I mean.”

Harry is silent, bringing his cigarette back to his lips and sucking on it. Louis watches the movement – Harry’s cheeks hollowing, eyes slipping shut momentarily as the smoke fills his lungs.

He exhales heavily, smoke rushing from his lips. “My ma wants me to marry the boy from the neighboring farm.”

“Oh.” Louis wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it wasn’t that. He kind of forgets that Harry has a life outside of the home station. That his life is more than working and then making Louis come whenever he stops over at Fort Kearney.

“Yeah,” Harry replies, voice bleak. “They want to merge the two farms. Think it’ll make them stronger.” He takes a drag. “But that’s horseshit. The farm isn’t doing well, and merging the two won’t change that.”

“What about the boy?” Louis asks quietly, trying his best to conceal the curiosity in his voice. He thinks Harry sees right through him.

“He’s horrible,” Harry answers. “We grew up together, and he would always bully the other kids. Don’t think I’ve ever seen him show an ounce of kindness to anyone. I don’t know why my ma would think we’d make a good match, but I don’t think she necessarily cares.” He sighs. “She just wants to save the farm. Wants me to quit my job here and take over running it.”

“But,” Louis protests, brows pinching together. “You want to open your own inn.”

For the first time since their conversation began, Harry looks down at him. His eyes are sharp and searching, clearly surprised that Louis remembers that piece of information about him. But of course Louis remembers. Harry told him the first night they met, as they talked over a warm meal. He’d told Louis all about his work at the home station, and how he was hoping to take the skills he learned there and someday open his own inn. How he wanted to meet people traveling from all over and hear their stories.

Louis had found that undeniably charming – how Harry wanted to help people by providing them a place of rest while on the long, often dangerous, journey to the west.

Harry takes another drag of his cigarette, nearly finished between his fingers. He puffs out the smoke, still holding Louis’ gaze, a question in his eyes.

Louis is unsure of the answer.

“I do, yeah,” Harry eventually replies. “I do want my own inn. I’m not meant for farm work; I know that. But I don’t think that matters.”

Louis is about to open his mouth to respond, but Harry cuts him off, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray on the bedside table. “You don’t want to hear any of this,” Harry says. “Don’t know why I’m telling you. You didn’t ask to hear my tragic stories.”

“Hey,” Louis says, reaching out and grabbing Harry’s wrist. He tugs him back down until Harry meets his gaze. “I asked, didn’t I? Wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know.”

Harry smiles. “Thanks.” He scoots down in the bed, so that he’s lying on his side, facing Louis. Harry’s expression softens, deep lines in his forehead smoothing. “How about you then? I remember you saying you became a rider to help your family out. What did you mean by that?”

Louis thinks back to their first ever conversation, and also feels a flicker of surprise that Harry remembers what he shared that night.

“I’ve got a big family,” Louis replies, “and my ma and pa work really hard, but it’s difficult with five kids. But there’s just not a lot of work where we live. So when this opportunity came along, I took it.” He rolls onto his side, shrugging his shoulders. “I dunno. I took the job to help my family out, so that they’d have one less person to worry about, but I miss them a lot when I’m on the trail.”

Harry nods. “You’ll be back there tomorrow?”

Louis grins, excitement thrumming through his veins. “Yeah. I can’t wait. I get a week off before my next trip too, so I’m just going to spend time with them. They always like hearing my stories from the trail.”

“You do tell some good ones,” Harry replies. He’s quiet for a moment, his expression curious. “What does your ma think of you? I mean, does she like that you’re a rider? I’d think it would be terrifying.”

Louis shrugs, trying not to think about how his ma always holds back tears whenever he rides off. “I mean, she does worry, but she’s actually really grateful at the moment. She’s so worried about the war in the States. I heard some riders talking the other day, and they were headed west delivering the news that war’s officially been declared. Christ, if I was back in Missouri, I could be called up. But as long as I keep working for the Pony Express, I’m okay.”

Louis pauses. “She’s really worried about my pa being called up. She doesn’t want anything to happen to him.”

Harry nods in understanding. “My ma and pa are really thankful Nebraska is still a territory. We don’t have to worry about the war.” He pauses. “But it’ll still probably affect us. Wars always do, don’t they? They affect everyone.”

Louis nods. “I’ve never lived through one, but I imagine so.”

The room is quiet, nothing but the soft crackling of the fire and Harry’s and Louis’ steady breaths.

“What do you think you’ll do?” Louis asks quietly. “About the boy?”

Harry doesn’t reply for a moment, eyes searching Louis’ face. “I don’t know,” he replies.

Louis opens his mouth to respond, unsure of what to say, but some sort of reassurance, but Harry cuts him off. “It’s getting late. You usually fall right asleep, so you should get some rest.” He gives Louis a smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, dimple not appearing in his cheek.

“Harry –” Louis begins, but Harry’s already out of the bed, tugging on his clothes.

“It was fun, as always,” Harry says, pulling on his jacket. He leans down to kiss Louis’ cheek. “I’ll see you when I see you, yeah? Enjoy your time with your family.”

Without another word, and ignoring Louis’ stuttered protests, Harry slips out the door and closes it with a firm click.

Louis sinks against the pillows, heart dropping to his stomach. He can’t help but feel disappointment wash over him, lips tugging down at the corners. Barring the night they met, that was the first time he’d really had a chance to learn about Harry. Even despite Harry’s stress, Louis was fascinated to learn more about his life.

But right as Louis thought they were actually connecting, Harry shut him down and left, abrupt and unexplained.

Sighing, Louis realizes it’s because he asked too personal of a question. A question that would have required deep thought and a vulnerable answer.

That’s not what this is, Louis reminds himself. We’re not here to talk about our feelings. We’re here to make each other feel good for the night and then go our separate ways in the morning. You were asking questions that were none of your business. You made him uncomfortable – you didn’t make him feel good.

Louis fights down the feeling that he wouldn’t mind if Harry brought his troubles to him. That maybe, he wouldn’t mind being more to Harry than someone to get off every couple of weeks.

But clearly that isn’t what Harry wants, as his abrupt exit confirmed.

Louis sleeps fitfully for the rest of the night.

 

Fort Kearney, Nebraska. May 1861.

Louis’ hands clench in the sheets, a sharp gasp escaping his lips as his hips pump down into the mattress.

Harry groans, hands spreading his cheeks impossibly farther, tongue digging into his hole impossibly deeper.

“Fuck,” Louis sighs, eyes shut in bliss. “Feels so good.”

Harry tongues at him with slow, flat licks, taking his time opening Louis up. Louis can feel his hole clenching, desperately wanting something inside – anything, Harry’s tongue (still only teasing at his entrance), or a finger.

“Please, Harry,” Louis gasps, sweat dripping down his forehead.

Harry hums in response, too busy sucking at Louis’ rim to respond properly. Louis whines, his wet, hard cock dragging against the sheets as he squirms.

“What do you want, baby?” Harry asks, words vibrating through Louis.

Louis can barely reply, breathing heavily with his cheek pressed firmly into the pillow.

Harry presses a kiss to his rim before crawling up his body. He kisses Louis’ shoulder, warm and wet and open mouthed, before moving to his neck. Louis sighs, tilting his head to the side to give Harry better access.

“What do you want, baby?” Harry repeats, lips dragging over skin. “Want my tongue? My fingers?” He pauses, and Louis can hear him swallow noisily. “My cock?”

Louis gasps, hips humping down into the mattress at the mere thought. They’ve never done that – not in the months and months they’ve been doing this, whatever this is.

Louis feels himself growing short of breath just at the thought. Harry is massive, and Louis loves the way he fills his mouth whenever Louis goes down on him. He’s thick and big and perfect, and Louis’ brain always goes a bit fuzzy whenever he feels Harry’s cock nudge the back of his throat, his nose pressed into Harry’s coarse pubic hair.

If that’s how Harry’s cock feels when it’s in his mouth, God, Louis can barely think what it would feel like inside of him. It would fill him up so perfectly, bring him undeniable pleasure. He would hold Harry close, letting their breaths mingle as Harry thrust into him. He wonders if their lips would brush whenever Harry would snap his hips particularly hard. He wonders if he’d be able to resist letting them brush.

“Wanna fuck you,” Harry murmurs into Louis’ skin, nipping at his shoulder.

Louis moans, and he knows he wants that too. His head is dizzy with how much he wants it, hole clenching at the mere thought. But just because he wants it, doesn’t mean he’s going to get it.

With a bit of effort, he rolls onto his back, looking up at Harry. His eyes are black, small rings of emerald green around them. Louis reaches up, lightly stroking Harry’s cheek.

“Sorry, love,” Louis whispers. “I can’t ride you tonight and my horse in the morning.”

“Lou,” Harry groans, pressing his hips against Louis’ and grinding down.

A choked moan falls from Louis’ lips, but he knows he can’t. He’s riding westward, and has a minimum of ten straight days of riding before any rest. If Harry were to put his cock in him now, the remainder of the journey wouldn’t just be uncomfortable, it would be painful.

“Put your mouth on me,” Louis moans into Harry’s ear, nipping at the lobe. “Fuck me with your tongue.”

Harry groans, deep and raw, pressing his face into the curve of Louis’ neck and shoulder. He bites at the skin, tugging gently.

“Okay, baby, I will,” Harry replies. He presses another kiss to Louis’ shoulder before moving back down his body. Louis stays on his back, planting his feet into the bed and lifting his hips. “Going to make you come from my tongue.”

Louis sighs, eyes fluttering shut in anticipation. “Please.” His voice is breathless, needy.

Harry takes his time, running his hands down Louis’ legs, pressing kisses to his thighs and tummy. He skillfully avoids Louis’ cock, leaking onto his belly. He bites at the inside of Louis’ thigh, sucking at the soft skin. His lips trail downwards, never leaving Louis’ skin, before coming to his hole.

Then it’s suddenly like time is sped up. Instead of going slow, Harry licks into him like he only has seconds to live. Harry’s tongue is frantic, sloppy, but Louis gasps, overwhelmed by the pleasurable sensation.

He’s already slightly open from where Harry was teasing him before. It doesn’t take much more until Harry’s tongue can slip inside.

Louis whines, high and raspy in his throat. He wants to press closer, to push his ass against Harry’s open mouth. He can’t remember the last time he had something inside of him, even his own finger, and Louis thinks he can see stars. The feeling is amazing, made only better as Harry moans against Louis’ rim, tonguing him deeper.

Harry spreads him farther apart, leaning back enough to rasp, “Taste so fucking good, baby,” before diving back in. He eats Louis’ ass like it’s the only thing he ever wants to do, like making Louis come from his tongue is the only thing that matters in the world.

As Louis writhes on Harry’s tongue, he thinks it might be true.

“Harry,” he gasps. “Touch me.”

Harry presses deeper, tongue wiggling around wet and hot inside of Louis. Harry’s right hand releases Louis’ cheek, so Harry uses his nose to spread Louis farther apart. His nose digs into Louis’ cheek and his left hand stretches to press both cheeks apart.

Harry’s right hand closes around Louis’ cock, and Louis cries out at the heavenly pressure. He pumps his hips up into Harry’s hand, but then presses them back down against Harry’s mouth, tongue still working inside of him.

Harry begins stroking his cock, and even at the awkward angle, Louis can feel his orgasm tingling in his belly, building, building, building.

“Ah,” Louis groans as Harry twists his fist, thumbing at the head. “Gonna come, Harry. Gonna –”

Harry doesn’t respond, only pressing his tongue impossibly deeper into Louis. Under the undivided attention of Harry’s mouth and hands, Louis can fight off his orgasm no longer. With a choked off moan, he comes onto his stomach, Harry stroking him through it. Harry keeps his mouth on Louis, slowing his pace to gentle, kitten licks. Louis’ body shudders in pleasure, post-orgasm bliss spreading through his body.

With one final kiss to Louis’ hole, Harry pulls off. He climbs up Louis’ body, straddling Louis’ thighs and wrapping a hand around himself. Harry looks close, precome leaking from the tip, and Louis’ mouth waters.

“Wait,” Louis catches Harry’s hand by the wrist, wrapping his fingers loosely around it. Harry looks down at Louis with hooded eyes, clearly wanting to know why Louis stopped him. Louis parts his lips, tongue darting out to wet them. “I wanna.”

Harry gazes at him for only a moment before nodding.

Louis rolls Harry onto his back, crawling between his legs. He licks his lips again as he looks down at Harry’s cock, wet and throbbing. Then without another thought, he dips his head down and takes it between his lips.

He suckles lightly at the head, precome flooding his mouth. Louis wants to take him all the way down, but he doesn’t think Harry will last, his thighs already trembling against the mattress.

So Louis works his tongue over the head, pushing into the slit while stroking Harry’s cock with his fist.

Louis glances up at Harry through his eyelashes, and nearly splutters at the sight.

Harry’s mouth hangs open, eyes pinched shut, as every moan, grunt, and exclamation of pleasure falls freely and unashamedly from his lips. Louis has never been to a concert hall before, but he imagines the noises that Harry is making are lovelier than any symphony that’s been written.

He is beautiful.

Harry doesn’t give any warning when he starts to come, only crying out loudly before flooding Louis’ mouth. Louis’ eyes squeeze shut, his fist working over Harry’s cock to help him through his orgasm.

After Harry has finished coming and Louis has swallowed everything he gave him, Louis pulls off, crawling up next to Harry and curling into his side.

His body is sticky with come, but he wraps his arms around Harry, kissing his shoulder.

“Hi,” he says.

Harry laughs, only slightly shaky. “Hi, yourself.”

They lay quietly for a moment, both catching their breaths. The come is beginning to dry on Louis’ skin, making him slightly itchy, and he should probably get up and clean himself off, but he doesn’t want to let go of Harry.

Harry’s hand lightly rubs over Louis’ body, and eventually settles at the curve of his ass.

“Do you think you’ll still be able to feel me when you ride tomorrow?” Harry asks, curiosity saturating his tone.

Louis hides his smile against Harry’s shoulder, heart thumping noisily in his chest.

“I always do.”

 

Fort Kearney, Nebraska. June 1861.

Louis can’t keep the smile off his face as he climbs down from his horse, handing the reins to Tom.

It’s been a month and a half since he’s been at Fort Kearney, his unpredictable schedule always making him stop before or after the now familiar station in Nebraska. Louis grins – he’s so happy to be back.

He has a hearty meal and a comfortable bed waiting for him inside, but also, and most importantly, he has a handsome, curly headed boy waiting for him. Louis’ heart thumps in excitement. He can’t deny that he’s mostly looking forward to seeing Harry. He wouldn’t mind eating a bland meal and sleeping on a lumpy bed as long as he still got to feel Harry’s mouth against his skin, to hear the deep, soothing rumble of his voice.

Louis practically bounds up the steps to the home station, mochila slung over his shoulder. He flings open the front door, steps inside, and a cheerful greeting is on his lips when he stops short.

It’s not Harry behind the front desk. In fact, he’s never seen this person before.

The man has a thick, black beard and a thin and wiry stature. He looks disinterested by the work spread out on the desk as he scratches idly at his arm. When he looks up and sees Louis, his smile is one of professional politeness. Not the genuine friendliness he is normally greeted by.

“Hullo, you can give that here,” the man says, reaching out for Louis’ mochila.

Louis hands it over, confusion etched into his brow.

The man drops the mochila onto the desk with a heavy thunk, and pulls out a key for Louis. “Second door on the right. They’re serving dinner in about half an hour.”

Louis nods, accepting the key. The man begins copying down the number of the mochila into his notebook, not giving Louis another glance.

Louis stands frozen for a moment, unsure of what to do. This type of interaction isn’t that unusual for most home stations, but it is for Fort Kearney. Not when Harry is always there to greet him with a smile and a friendly chat. Louis almost feels as if he has whiplash – he was so prepared for Harry, so excited to see him, that his absence is a startling disappointment.

Louis shakes his head, wondering if he’s getting ahead of himself. Harry could be doing other work around the station – helping prepare dinner or setting up some of the rooms. He could be coming in for a later shift. He doesn’t always work the front desk.

“Is Harry in tonight?” Louis asks, hoping the question comes across as casual, and that the curiosity in his voice isn’t too apparent.

The man looks up, too bored to notice one way or another. “Hm?”

“Harry Styles? He works as station keeper. Curly hair, dimples –” Louis cuts himself off, blushing at his description.

“No, he’s not in tonight,” the man replies.

“Oh.” Disappointment flows through him, and Louis can’t help it when his lips quirk downwards.

“Yeah, I don’t think he’s been in for a while,” the man continues, shrugging. But then his eyebrows draw together. “Do you need someone to fetch him or something?”

“No, no,” Louis immediately backtracks, waving his hands in refusal. “No, I was just wondering. He’s an alright lad, and I haven’t seen him in a while, but it’s fine –”

Louis retreats backwards, his cheeks flaming with embarrassment. The man doesn’t seem too bothered, saying, “Alright,” and returning to his work.

Louis flees upstairs, entering the second door on the right. The room is unfamiliar to him. Ever since his first night here, he’s stayed in the room at the end of the hall. Harry always made sure of that.

He feels disconnected all through dinner, not really engaging in any conversation with the other riders. They eventually stop trying about halfway through the meal, leaving Louis to eat his chicken and carrots in contemplative silence.

That night, Louis falls asleep wondering if Harry married the boy from the neighboring farm. Louis tells himself it’s not disappointment he feels when he wonders if he’ll ever see Harry again.

 

Fort Kearney, Nebraska. July 1861.

Louis is burning up.

He shifts restlessly, kicking off the blankets and groggily wiping sweat off his face. The cool air on his skin is a relief, but in his sleep muddled mind, Louis can’t understand why he woke up so sweaty. Even in the hot summer months, he rarely gets warm at night.

His answer comes when he feels the bed shift next to him, a soft grunt filling the quiet of the room.

Louis’ eyes flutter open, and in the weak light of morning, he can see Harry.

His back is turned towards Louis, shoulders relaxed in sleep, hair haloed on the pillow above him. His body rises and falls with gentle, even breaths. Louis feels his own heartrate pick up, beating quickly in his chest.

Louis knows he should probably get up. The sky is already beginning to lighten, the sun’s rays shining weakly through the window. He has a hard day of riding ahead, and the sooner he starts, the sooner he finishes.

But Harry is in his bed. Harry, who only stays until Louis falls asleep. Harry, who Louis has been sleeping with for months but has never woken up to.

Louis should get up, but he doesn’t.

Instead, he snuggles closer to Harry, carefully sliding an arm around his waist as to not wake him. Harry snuffles a little in his sleep as Louis presses close. Louis tenses for a moment, afraid Harry has awoken. He holds his breath, too scared to move, but then, Harry relaxes. His body practically melts against Louis’, curves fitting perfectly together.

Louis’ heart stutters, and he presses a kiss to Harry’s shoulder blade. The skin is warm and slightly damp under his lips, but Louis doesn’t think he minds being a little hot if it means Harry’s in his bed.

With a contented sigh, Louis shuts his eyes and sleeps.

 

Platte Station, Nebraska. August 1861.

The day has been unforgiving.

Louis was unsure of where he was when he woke up – maybe Wyoming, maybe Nebraska – it didn’t matter. He just got on a horse and rode, hardly sure which direction to point the horse in. But then he remembered that he was heading east – heading home – and would be there in a few days’ time.

Louis had barely set off before a terrible storm had hit. The morning sky turned black, torrents of rain crashing down, blinding him as he rode perilously along the trail. The darkness was only broken by lightning breaking through the sky, large and brilliant and terrifying and spooking his horses.

He stopped at every station he passed, switching horses and enjoying the precious few seconds of rest before he was back on a horse, charging across the plains.

The horses have fought him all day, frightened by the storm. They haven’t been following his lead or taking his direction. The lightning sends them cowering away, throwing Louis off the trail and exhausting him as he tries to direct them to the right path.

The storm rages all day. The sky is an inky black, hiding the sun and making Louis lose all sense of time and distance.

He’s changing horses at a small cabin station, an older man with white hair bringing him a new horse.

“Don’t you want to stop hear for the night, son?” the man yells over the pounding rain. “The sun’s setting and you won’t have any light for much longer.”

“Have barely had any light all day,” Louis mumbles to himself as he takes the mochila from the first horse. Then to the old man, “Where am I?”

“Platte Station, Nebraska,” the man replies, hand shielding his face from the wind and rain.

Louis nods. The man is right – it’s been a long, merciless day, and he should stay here tonight. He should change into dry clothes and eat a good meal and sleep until the sun rises.

“How far to Fort Kearney?”

The man wrinkles his brow. “It’s the next station heading east.”

Louis nods, slinging the mochila over the back of the second horse. “Thank you, but I’ll keep riding while I still have a bit of light.”

The man seems inclined to protest, but he must see something in Louis’ expression that has him shrugging. “Stay safe, son.”

Without another word, Louis climbs onto the back of the horse and heads east.

 

It could be minutes or hours before Louis reaches Fort Kearney, he’s not sure. All he knows is that he’s never been so grateful to see anything in his whole life as he is the two story wooden building.

His entire body shakes with cold, despite it being early August. His clothes are soaked through – every inch of him feels wet. His head feels foggy, and he can feel a cold coming on. His nose is running and his throat is sore. His body is heavy with exhaustion, feet dragging up the steps to Fort Kearney station. All he wants is to sleep.

Louis doesn’t even remember his reason for riding the extra miles until he hears a familiar voice exclaim, “Christ, Louis!”

Louis didn’t even realize he was stumbling until he feels a firm hand on his back, one wrapping around his arm. Louis sags into the touch, and Harry grips him tighter, supporting his weight.

“Lou, what the hell happened? Have you been riding in this storm all day?” Harry’s voice is filled with concern. He helps Louis sit on one of the benches in the hall, and Louis’ legs ache at the strain of riding all day.

“Yeah,” he confirms, head pillowed on Harry’s shoulder. His eyes slip closed, exhaustion overwhelming him.

“But it’s so late,” Harry protests. “You should’ve stopped so much earlier. Gotten some rest. Gotten out of this chaos of a storm.”

“Didn’t want to stop,” Louis explains, barely aware of what he’s saying. He’s just so, so tired. “Wanted to fall asleep here tonight.”

Harry is quiet for a moment, but his grip on Louis’ arm tightens. Louis sighs at the feeling, comforted by Harry, warm and familiar against him.

“Come on,” Harry says abruptly. “Let’s get you upstairs, and I’ll bring you some dinner.”

“Dinner in bed?” Louis asks, confused.

“Dinner in bed,” Harry confirms.

Harry fetches a key from the front desk and then helps Louis upstairs. His muscles are seizing, making it difficult for him to walk, but Harry is patient with him, taking most of Louis’ weight as they walk upstairs.

Once Louis is in the room, Harry hands him some clean pajamas. “Change,” Harry instructs. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with food.” He presses a kiss to the side of Louis’ head, but doesn’t linger. He’s gone before Louis can reply.

When Harry returns ten minutes later, Louis has changed into the pajamas and is lying in bed, quilt pulled up to his chin. The chill that has settled in his bones all day is finally lessening, his body no longer shaking.

Harry hands him a bowl of steaming hot beef stew and a slice of cornbread, and Louis greedily digs in. He ignores it when he burns his tongue, too famished to stop.

Harry doesn’t go back downstairs; instead, he sits on the edge of Louis’ bed, watching him as he finishes his meal. His hand rests on top of Louis’ ankle through the blanket, his thumb stroking over it absentmindedly.

When he finishes, Louis hands Harry the empty bowl, offering him a small smile. “Thank you,” Louis says quietly.

Harry smiles back, standing up to go.

Louis reaches out before he realizes it, grabbing Harry’s wrist. Harry stops, turning around to look at Louis, a question in his eyes.

“Stay,” Louis whispers.

Harry doesn’t respond, eyes intense and searching on Louis’. Louis holds as tightly as he can to Harry’s wrist, as if that could stop him from leaving.

Eventually, Harry swallows, expression softening. “Okay,” he responds just as quietly.

He places the bowl on the bedside table, and quickly strips down to his underwear. Louis pulls back the blankets just enough for Harry to slide in, their bodies immediately tangling together.

Harry wraps himself around Louis’ back, Louis curling against Harry’s body. The strain of the day is instantly forgotten – he feels warm and safe, sleepy and happy.

It’s suddenly very important to Louis that Harry knows this – know how much he appreciates being taken care of. But his tongue is heavy and his brain struggles to find the words.

So instead, Louis shifts around in Harry’s arms, briefly rolling over so they’re facing one another.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” Louis murmurs into the stillness of the room. Then he leans forward and presses a gentle kiss to the corner of Harry’s mouth.

When he pulls back, Harry smiles softly at him, expression relaxed.

Louis smiles back, rolling over so that his back is pressed against Harry’s front, and immediately falls asleep, tangled up in Harry’s arms.

 

Hooks, Nebraska. September 1861.

Louis doesn’t want to leave his family.

When he’d arrived home just over a week ago, Louis wasn’t greeted with the normal cheers of joy while his siblings swarmed him with hugs and kisses. Instead, he was met with the sight of his ma dressed in all black, his siblings solemn.

His pa had been called up in the summer and sent to some camp to prepare for the war. Fortunately, Louis had been home the day his pa left. He’d been able to kiss his pa’s cheek and give him a hug, tell him he was proud of him and that he’d see him soon.

But that wasn’t the case anymore.

Louis has spent the last week mourning his father, spending time with his siblings and comforting them. He could tell how much his ma appreciated him being there, helping her take care of the kids while she struggled to find out how they were going to make ends meet.

Louis knows that his family is dependent on every penny both his ma and pa earn. He doesn’t know what they’re going to do.

But he knows he has to report for his next ride. His family needs the money from his work now more than ever, so as much as he doesn’t want to leave his family, he knows he has to.

He was strong the whole time he was at home. He didn’t let his siblings or his ma see him cry, didn’t let them see how much he was hurting. He shouldered everyone else’s grief, letting them lean on him.

As he rides across an open prairie in the middle of Nebraska, there’s no one who needs him to be strong. No one who will know if he lets himself be overcome by the crushing grief he feels.

Maybe that’s why it happens. Maybe it’s because Louis is sobbing deep and gasping, vision blurry with tears. But he doesn’t see the ditch in the road until it’s too late.

The horse screams, and Louis, who was looking at the horizon, is suddenly having his world flipped. He’s falling in an instant, body hurtling towards the ground as the horse goes down.

As Louis’ body slams into the unforgiving gravel, the horse heavy on top of his legs, he hears the sickening crack before he feels it. Then it’s all he can feel – white, blinding, earth-shattering pain.

Louis screams, writhing in agony as the horse’s weight presses into his broken bone. He slams his hands down on the horse’s back, trying desperately to push the animal off of him. His head is swimming, body shutting down in pain. He screams again as he futilely tries to push the horse off of him.

Mercifully, the horse seems uninjured, quickly regaining its footing and taking its weight of Louis. The relief is only momentary as the terrible pain continues to flood his body, immobilizing him.

He tries to sit up, arms wobbling, but as he looks down at his leg, Louis immediately leans over and vomits. His leg is twisted unnaturally to the side, lying limp in front of him.

Louis doesn’t know what to do, can’t think, can barely breathe because the pain is so excruciating. He needs a doctor; he needs one now.

But he’s in the middle of the plains. It has to be at least five miles to the next home station, which he remembers with a jolt is Fort Kearney. He was riding towards Harry – Harry would help him. Harry wouldn’t leave him stranded –

His vision is going spotty, but he blinks rapidly, trying to clear away the black fuzziness.

Suddenly, he hears the sound of the horse’s hooves, and his head whips towards the noise. Unfortunately, the quick movement only makes his vision go spottier.

“Hey!” Louis cries, reaching out weakly as his horse gallops away. “Wait!”

But the horse doesn’t stop, soon disappearing on the horizon, and Louis is left alone. Alone in the middle of the deserted plains with a broken leg.

Panic rises in Louis’ chest, making his already foggy brain even foggier.

Surely someone will come along. Pony Express riders are always passing by, usually spaced out no more than ten miles apart. And then there are the other pioneers and frontiersmen and women who are traveling along the dirt roads. Surely someone will be along soon.

Louis tries to hold onto that thought as his vision goes black and he sinks against the dirt road, unconscious.

 

A sharp flash of pain brings Louis back to consciousness, hands on his shoulders and a voice calling out to him.

“Louis? Lou, can you hear me? Christ, Louis. Wake up!”

He feels another jolt of pain against his cheek, and his eyes blink heavily, vision swimming. His eyes can’t focus on anything around him except the hands on his face, anchoring him to the earth.

“Is he awake?” comes another voice. “We need to move him. We need to get him to a doctor immediately.”

Louis blinks again, eyes slowly focusing. Harry is leaning over him, hands holding Louis’ face. Harry’s eyes are wide with fear and panic, hair messy and cheeks red.

He’s the most beautiful thing Louis has ever seen.

When Louis’ eyes lock with his, he hears Harry breathe a sigh of relief, chuckling wetly. “Yeah, he’s awake,” he says to the other man. Then he turns back to Louis, eyes intense as he leans close. “Louis, love, they’re going to move you now, and it’s going to hurt but we’re taking you to a doctor, okay? Just hold onto me and squeeze my hand. You’re okay, love. You’re okay.”

Louis manages a nod the best he can. Harry smiles breathtakingly at him at Louis’ response, eyes shiny. Louis wishes he could reach up and wipe away Harry’s tears, wishes he had the energy to ask why Harry was crying.

Harry presses a kiss to Louis’ forehead, murmuring something Louis doesn’t hear, before he calls to the other man, “Okay, he’s ready.”

Then Louis is drowning. He can’t breathe, thrashing against the arms that hold him as he’s lifted off the ground. He feels Harry’s hand in his, and squeezes with all the strength he has. It doesn’t alleviate the pain, but it anchors him. Keeps him from sinking.

“You’re doing so well, Lou,” he hears in his ear. “We’re just going to put you in the carriage and then it’s three miles to the station. There’s a doctor waiting for you there. You’re okay; you’re going to be okay.”

Louis doesn’t hear anything else, darkness overtaking him once again.

 

When Louis wakes up again, he’s no longer moving.

His body is heavy, head swimming, as he sluggishly blinks his eyes open.

Slowly, the room comes into focus. He’s at Fort Kearney, he recognizes immediately. He knows this room – its soft quilts and bright windows and stone fireplace. He sees his leg, set in a brace, propped up on some pillows. His leg feels heavy, but the intense pain he felt earlier has dulled. It’s wrapped in a thick looking cast, and Louis doesn’t dare move it.

Then his eyes fall on the boy sitting at the foot of the bed, face blotchy and eyes red. When Louis looks at him, Harry gives him a watery smile.

“You’re awake,” Harry says, voice shaking. “Thank God.”

“Harry –” Louis rasps, but his throat hurts, words difficult to form.

“Here.” Harry is immediately by his side, offering him some water. He holds the canteen to Louis’ lips, tilting it as Louis drinks greedily.

Louis nods at Harry as he finishes, sinking against the pillows. Harry returns to his seat at Louis’ side, never taking his eyes off of him, as if he’s afraid Louis will get up and run away if he does. Louis twinges at the thought. He won’t be running anywhere anytime soon.

“Harry, what happened?” Louis asks. He’d been alone on the road, and suddenly Harry was there taking care of him – how? How did that happen?

“I could ask you the same,” Harry says, attempt at humor falling flat. “I was just working at the desk and one of the lads ran in and said a horse arrived with no rider. The last time that happened,” Harry’s voice catches, breaking. “The last time that happened the rider they found had died. So I called for two other men to come with me and for someone to get a doctor, because we knew whoever we’d find would be in bad shape. I didn’t know it would be you. But the second I saw you –”

Harry’s voice breaks again, eyes squeezing shut as tears stream down his face. “When I saw you, Louis, that was the scariest moment of my entire life. I thought you were dead.” He buries his face into his hands, shoulders shaking. His voice is only a broken whisper when he says, “I thought I’d lost you.”

Louis sniffs, eyes blinking tears. He hadn’t even noticed he’d started crying. His arms ache to reach out and touch Harry, to hold him and assure him that no, he hasn’t lost him. He’ll never lose him.

“Harry,” Louis gasps, voice thick, hand falling open at Harry’s side.

When Harry looks back up, he takes a deep, shaky breath. “When I realized you were alive, Lou, I think that was the happiest moment of my life. I just was so fucking thankful that you were still here.”

Louis nods, wishing Harry would take his hand, but he doesn’t know how to ask. “I’m still here.”

Harry nods, curls flopping in his face. He then seems to notice Louis’ outstretched hand. Immediately, Harry takes it in his, lifting Louis’ hand to his lips and placing a wet kiss to the knuckles.

“You’re still here.” When Harry looks back at him, his eyes are infinitely tender, infinitely relieved.

Louis swallows, head still too foggy to understand the way Harry is looking at him. Instead, he asks, “What did the doctor say?”

“Broken leg,” Harry replies. “He’s stabilized it and we were able to give you something for the pain. The doctor left some medication with me, so if it gets worse, please let me know.”

“My family…?” Louis can hardly bear to think of them. They’re already so distraught over his pa’s death, and now Louis is stranded in a station in Nebraska with a broken leg. He can’t imagine how worried they’ll be.

“I wanted to wait until you were awake before sending word to them.”

“Yes, please do. Tell them what happened, but tell them I’m okay.”

Harry nods. “I will.” He pauses for a moment, eyes intent on Louis’ face. Then he drops Louis’ hand, standing up. “You need some rest. You must be so tired – I don’t want to exhaust you even further.”

“Harry,” Louis cries weakly, reaching out for him again. “Don’t go.”

Harry immediately takes his hand, pressing a kiss to his palm. “I won’t go, I promise. How could I? I just want you to rest. We’ll talk more in the morning. Please, sleep. But I’ll stay right here.”

Louis nods, aware of the exhaustion rocking through his body. He leans back against the pillows and Harry stays in the chair next to the bed.

Louis falls asleep with Harry’s fingers still tangled in his.

 

Louis wakes up to the sound of snoring.

He blinks his eyes open, body stiff from sleeping awkwardly on his back, leg still propped up and unable to move.

His eyes focus in on Harry, slouched over a chair next to Louis’ bed. His body is twisted even more awkwardly than Louis’. His head is thrown back, mouth agape as he snores loudly. Harry’s legs are splayed, but his left arm is lying against the bed, fingers still intertwined with Louis’. Their hands are a bit sweaty, but Louis doesn’t want to take his away.

But as he comes more awake, he gradually becomes more aware of the pain in his leg. Sharp and overwhelming, Louis whimpers helplessly in pain.

“Harry,” Louis mumbles, squeezing his fingers. “Harry, wake up.”

Harry comes awake with a snort, body jolting upright with an audible crack. Louis winces, memory still fresh in his mind of his own bone cracking in a more damaging way earlier in the day. Immediately, Harry’s eyes fly to Louis, wide with worry. “Louis, are you okay?”

“My leg,” Louis groans, shifting uncomfortably. “Please – you said you had more pain medication.”

“I do,” Harry confirms hurriedly, dropping Louis’ hand so that he can pick up a bag off the ground. He digs through it quickly, pulling out a vial and handing it to Louis. Louis downs it greedily, not even spluttering over the foul taste.

The pain is still sharp, and Louis imagines it will take a while before the throbbing dulls. He closes his eyes tightly and tries not to let any tears spill over.

A warm weight settles on top of Louis’ hand, and he opens his eyes to see Harry taking his hand back into his. Harry tangles their fingers together, palms pressed against one another.

“How are you feeling?” Harry asks, concern evident in his voice. “Other than the pain, I mean.”

Louis nods. “I feel okay – much better now that I’m here.” A shudder runs through his body as he remembers the panic he felt, stranded on the side of the road with no one to help. “I was really scared, Harry. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if anyone was going to find me. But you did. Thank God, you did.”

“I did,” Harry repeats, squeezing Louis’ hand lightly. His eyes are red, dark circles under his eyes. Louis rubs his thumb over Harry’s knuckles, hoping to comfort him in some capacity. Harry exhales shakily. “Can you tell me what happened?”

Louis can’t speak for a moment, memories fresh in his mind. He struggles to find the words, opening and closing his mouth several times. Harry is patient, waiting until Louis is ready.

With a deep breath, Louis begins, “I was distracted on the trail. My –” he pauses, voice already catching. “My pa was called up to fight in the war, and when I was home I found out he’d died.” He stops, tears slipping down his cheeks.

“Oh, Lou,” Harry whispers brokenly, holding his hand even tighter.

“And I had to be so strong for my ma and siblings when I was home,” Louis continues, voice thick with tears. “They were so upset, and the young ones, they don’t really understand, so I had to be strong for them. So when I got back on the trail, it was just me, you know? No one needed me to be anything for them. So I,” he takes a deep, shuddering breath, “I let myself mourn him when there was no one to see me but my horse and the sky. And I wasn’t paying attention and there was a small ditch in the road, and the horse got caught in it and threw me on the ground.”

It can’t be any different from what Harry was expecting anyways, but Harry still gasps.

“The horse landed on me, and broke my leg, and I couldn’t move,” Louis continues frantically, just trying to get the words out. “Then the horse ran off, and Christ, Harry, I thought I was fucked. But then the horse showed up at the station, so I guess it was a good thing because you knew to come and look for me. I’m so thankful you did, Harry. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t found me –”

“Don’t talk about that,” Harry interjects, voice firm, almost angry. Louis’ eyes flash to Harry, meeting his worried eyes. Harry’s expression is set, jaw ticking. “I can’t bear it, Louis. I can’t bear to think –”

“It’s okay,” Louis cuts in, squeezing Harry’s hand. “It’s okay, love. I’m here.”

Harry wipes at his eyes with the back of his other hand, sniffing noisily. When he looks back at Louis, there is a newfound determination in his eyes. “I was so afraid, Louis. When I found you, all I could think about was everything I’ve never told you. Everything I’ve always wanted to tell you, but haven’t.”

“You can tell me now,” Louis says, hoping his voice is comforting.

Harry nods, before lifting Louis’ hand to his mouth and pressing a kiss to the knuckles, tender and soft. His voice is quiet, gentle, as he says, “I couldn’t bear to think that I’d never be able to kiss you. To kiss your mouth. I’ve dreamed of kissing you since the moment I met you, and I couldn’t bear to think I’d never be able to.”

Harry looks up at Louis, his eyes shining with tears and undeniable hope. “I couldn’t bear to think I’d never tell you how even though I never know when you are stopping at Fort Kearney, those are the nights I live for. How I never feel as happy as when I hold you in my arms and hear you whisper my name.” He closes his eyes only briefly, taking a deep breath. His eyes are green and bright when he opens them, locking firmly with Louis’. “I couldn’t bear to think I’d never be able to tell you how much I love you. How much I’ve loved you this whole time.”

Louis feels tears dripping down his cheeks, heart swelling at Harry’s words. “Oh, Harry,” he whispers wetly. “I love you, too. Of course I do. I love you so much.”

Harry lets out a gasping sob, pressing his lips to Louis’ knuckles again. “I always hoped to hear those words from you. I can’t believe it.”

“I love you, Harry,” Louis repeats, the words a relieved exhale. A blissful smile spreads across his face as he gazes at the boy he fell more and more in love with every time he stopped at Fort Kearney station until he had no choice but to give his heart over to Harry completely.

“May I kiss you?” Harry asks hopefully.

Louis’ heart leaps in his chest. Words fail him, so he nods.

Harry is careful as he leans forward, never taking his eyes off Louis’ or letting go of his hand. Gently, he reaches up to cup Louis’ cheek, thumbing over his cheekbone. “You are so beautiful,” Harry whispers, face inches from his.

In response, Louis tilts his head forward, eyes slipping shut as he closes the gap between them.

Harry’s lips are soft and full underneath Louis’, molding together perfectly. Harry sighs, sweet and content, in the back of his throat, pressing closer to Louis. Louis reaches up his free hand to tangle in Harry’s curls, lips moving gently against one another. It’s comforting and consuming and heavenly and everything Louis has ever wanted.

“Love you,” they whisper simultaneously as they pull away. They giggle, pressing their foreheads together. Harry and Louis sit quietly for a moment, breathing each other in, savoring the closeness. In a distant corner of his mind, Louis realizes his leg doesn’t hurt anymore.

“The whole time?” Louis asks quietly, unwilling to break the stillness around him.

Harry nods, foreheads still pressed together. “I saw you, and I just knew. I just did. And I was just happy to have you in whatever way I could, since I never knew when or if I’d see you again.”

“But you always left,” Louis points out softly, fingers massaging Harry’s scalp. “You always left before you woke up in the morning.” He admits quietly, “I thought it meant you didn’t care.”

“No,” Harry immediately denies. “I left because I cared too much. It would hurt too much to wake up to you in the mornings and imagine what a life would be like where I could wake up to you every day.”

“You can have that,” Louis murmurs, savoring Harry’s sharp intake of breath. “If you want.”

“Of course I want that,” Harry replies fervently. “How could I not?”

Louis hums, leaning forward to give Harry another soft kiss. “I imagine the doctor wouldn’t want me traveling back to Missouri in the state I’m in.” He tugs playfully on Harry’s curls. “Do you think you could ask the station keeper if I could stay for a bit?”

“You can stay for as long as you want,” Harry practically growls against Louis’ mouth, catching it for another slick kiss.

“And after that?” Louis asks breathlessly. “After my leg is healed enough for me to go back to Missouri?”

Harry smiles, thumb stroking gently against his cheekbone.

“I will go wherever you go.”

 

San Francisco, California. June 1862.

The first thing Louis hears when he wakes up is the sound of the sea.

He’s still not used to it – the constant sound of the waves rolling in and the squawk of seagulls looking for food. But it’s becoming more and more familiar to him.

As is the second sound he hears – gentle humming coming from the kitchen.

Louis smiles to himself, eyes slipping shut as he savors a few more moments of rest.

After all, today is a very special day.

The month after Louis broke his leg, the Pony Express folded. It was too expensive to maintain without enough profit. The arrival of the telegraph meant that the former mail service would not be missed.

Louis hadn’t been sure what to do when he heard the news. He was already out of a job since he was no longer able to ride. But he worried about Harry who loved working at the home station and viewed every moment as preparation for the day he would open his own inn.

Thankfully, Harry had a plan.

“I’ve been saving,” Harry had said, sitting at the edge of Louis’ bed. They had been in Missouri at the time, Harry having accompanied Louis home after Fort Kearney closed down. “It’s not a lot, but it’s enough.”

“Enough for what?” Louis had asked.

Harry had gripped his hand, looking at him with hopeful eyes. “I’m going to open my own inn. Ma and pa are selling the farm and going west, and I want to join them. I hear there’s a lot of opportunity in California. You could come with me – when you’re feeling well enough. You and I, we could open an inn there together, build our lives there together. What do you think?”

Louis hadn’t been sure what to think. He knew he couldn’t leave his family, but he also knew he didn’t want to live without Harry.

When he asked his ma what she thought, she burst into tears. But not for the reason he expected.

“We’ll come with you,” Jay had told him tearfully, clutching his hand. “Let’s get out of this godforsaken country before you’re called up as well. I can’t lose you, too –” A fresh round of tears poured down her face, her shoulders hunched as she sobbed.

“Are you sure, Ma?” Louis had asked tentatively. The idea of his family coming with him – it was more than he could hope for.

“Of course,” Jay agreed, wiping her eyes. “There’s no work for us here anyways; we’d have a much better chance in California.” She reached out for Louis, cradling his face in her hands. “As long as you don’t mind, love. Do you mind if we come with you?”

“Ma,” Louis had replied, voice thick with emotion. “I want you to come more than anything else.”

So it had been decided.

Louis was still in no state to travel so far, but Harry’s family sold the farm and wanted to reach California before Christmas. Harry needed to go with them so that he could find work and save up even more, so that by the time Louis arrived, they’d be able to open the inn.

Louis cried freely the morning Harry left, wrapped up in his lover’s arms and unwilling to let him go.

“This time, it’s you who’s riding away,” Louis had whispered brokenly into Harry’s neck, hugging him close. “Now I know how you must have felt every time I left you.”

Harry had kissed his wet cheeks, soothing him. “Yes, but this time, we know we’ll see each other again. You will come to me, and I will be waiting for you.”

Louis could only press his mouth to Harry’s in a desperate kiss, hoping Harry understood how much he loved him, how much he didn’t want him to go.

“I love you,” Louis murmured wetly when they broke the kiss, still breathing heavily against one another.

“I love you, too,” Harry replied, warm air washing over Louis’ face. “We will be together again soon.”

And they were.

Even though the months dragged slowly as Louis waited for his leg to heal, finally arriving in California with his family, ready to start a new life, and seeing Harry again, made it all worth it.

Harry had been working relentlessly since moving to California, and when Louis arrived, he’d already bought a building on the seaside with a little cottage beside it for Harry and Louis to live in.

They’ve spent the past two months working on the inn, preparing it for its grand opening.

Tonight is finally the night.

And Louis is excited. He never imagined himself working in an inn, but he loves working alongside Harry. The passion and excitement Harry puts into his work is contagious, and Louis loves seeing the man he loves doing something that makes him so happy.

His ma has found work, and his siblings are in school, and Louis knows they’re going to be okay.

Louis has been in California for two months, and it’s finally starting to feel like home.

That’s mainly due to the man that comes through the door moments later, carrying two steaming cups of tea.

“Good morning,” Harry coos softly, setting them on the bedside table to give Louis a kiss.

Harry starts to lean away, but Louis makes a noise of protest, locking his arms around Harry’s neck to keep him close.

Harry hums in surprise but doesn’t pull away, letting Louis deepen the kiss.

“How are you feeling this morning?” Louis murmurs against Harry’s mouth, not waiting for an answer before kissing him again, eyes shut and tongue deft against Harry’s.

Louis allows Harry to pull away for a moment to respond. “Nervous.” He exhales shakily, but Louis can hear the excitement in his voice. “Really nervous, but it’s going to be good, yeah?”

“Really good,” Louis confirms, bringing their mouths together for another slick kiss.

Harry groans into the kiss, pushing Louis down into the mattress and crawling on top of him. Louis twists his fingers into Harry’s curls, content to let himself be kissed until he’s breathless.

Harry begins rocking down against him, eliciting tiny whimpers from Louis. He cants his hips upwards, seeking friction for his hardening cock.

“Make love to me,” he murmurs against Harry’s mouth.

They don’t have time – not really. They need to do a last minute check of all the rooms before guests arrive, and Harry had said he wanted to go over the books once more.

But with Harry hot and heavy above him, kissing him like it’s all he ever wants to do, Louis knows the inn can wait.

Harry opens him up quickly, fingers thick and glorious inside of him. Louis clings tightly to Harry, gasping rhythmically as he rocks down onto Harry’s hand.

“You feel so fucking good, baby,” Harry murmurs into Louis’ hair, catching his ear lobe between his teeth. “Always so hot and tight. And it’s just for me, isn’t it? Never let anyone else touch you like this. You’re mine.”

“Yours,” Louis pants, moaning brokenly as Harry’s fingers rub against his prostate, pleasure flooding through his body. “Always fuck me so well, Harry. Could never want anyone else.”

Harry mashes their mouths together, teeth sharp against Louis’ sore lips.

It was something Harry had told him not long after he’d arrived to California. Just as Louis had wondered if Harry had been sleeping with other Pony Express riders, Harry had worried that Louis had a boy at each home station from Missouri to California. They had both been relieved when they’d fervently promised that that wasn’t the case. It was only ever each other. Harry was it for Louis, and Louis was it for Harry.

And Louis loves reminding Harry of this little fact every chance he gets. Harry always fucks him a little harder, holds him a little closer, when Louis whispers, “I’m yours,” in his ear.

Harry breaks the kiss and pulls out his fingers, quickly slicking up his cock with oil before pressing in. Harry reaches for Louis’ hands, tangling their fingers together. They breathe heavily against one another, staying close, always close.

With a grunt, Harry begins pumping his hips, slowly and gently. Louis whines, body thrumming with pleasure.

“So beautiful, baby,” Harry murmurs, voice nothing but a deep rumble. “Always so beautiful. Remember the first time I saw you. You were dripping wet and miserable from that damn storm, you remember, baby? But God, my first thought was ‘he is so beautiful.’ Knew then and there that you were it for me. Could never fall in love as quickly as I have with you. Could never love anyone as deeply as I love you.”

“Harry,” Louis gasps, squeezing his hands tightly.

“How’s it feel, baby?” Harry asks, shifting slightly. The change in angle has Harry’s cock nailing against Louis’ prostate, a stream of precome pooling from the head of Louis’ cock.

“So good, Harry,” Louis pants, voice raspy and broken. “Always make me feel so good.”

“Love making you feel good,” Harry murmurs, leaning down to nip at Louis’ lips. They can hardly kiss, both of them breathing too heavily, but Louis savors the closeness.

They come together soon after, holding one another close and whispering words of love into each other’s mouths.

They kiss lazily for ages, neither one willing to get up quite yet.

Eventually, they do have to pull away, dressing quickly to start the day.

It’s a frantic morning of last minute preparations. Louis’ family and Harry’s parents are all there to help the best they can, and Louis honestly doesn’t know what they would do without them. They’ve supported Harry and Louis every step of the way, and Louis knows it means the world to Harry to have so much help in making his dream come true.

“Is everyone ready?” Harry calls, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

He looks dashing in the suit he bought just for the occasion. His hair is styled perfectly, curls tight and bouncing. Harry’s eyes gleam with excitement, hands clasped tightly together.

“Ready!” Louis calls back, along with their families and the small staff they have assembled.

Harry beams, and Louis couldn’t be prouder. They’re all here for Harry. They’re all here because they love him so much.

With a flourish, Harry flings open the front doors of the inn. “The Rope and Anchor Inn is officially open!” Harry declares. Everyone cheers, Louis loudest of all.

He bounds over to Harry, wrapping his arms around his waist and planting a kiss on his cheek.

Harry smiles back at him, giving him a tight hug.

Then Harry and Louis turn to face outside, tangled up together as they wait for their first guest to arrive.