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Boiling Blood Will Circulate

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Something’s been in the garden again. Harry surveils it with a sigh, rubbing at an eyebrow. The beets have been completely destroyed, the broccoli mangled, and the carrots trampled. The cauliflower looks as though it’s been completely picked clean, which is the strangest part.

The season is almost over, autumn turning into winter quicker than Harry would like. There’s no time left to plant anything else, and with the last of the harvest destroyed he’ll have to make the trip into town to pick up vegetables to last him the winter. It’s far from ideal, but it’s not the end of the world.

The bigger issue is that this is the third time it’s happened this year. Harry’s nearest neighbours are ten kilometers out, but it almost looks as though a human being has been doing the damage. The destruction is almost deliberate, nearly methodical in the way it’s been done, and Harry doesn’t know of any animal that would eat like that.

It must have been an animal, though. Harry’s little cabin is deep enough into the woods that he’s never had anyone wandering onto his property by mistake in the three years he’s been living here. It’s just been too long since he’s had any company, that’s all it is. His mind is playing tricks on him again.

“Okay,” he says to himself, raking a hand through his hair and breathing in deeply. “It’s fine.”

It is fine. He’ll go to the grocery store in town tomorrow and stock up. There’s nothing to be done about it now.

 

 

The chill is already in the air when Harry wakes up the next morning. He can see his breath puffing out around his face when he opens his eyes, and his toes are cold beneath the duvet.

It’s time to check on the generator, then, and make sure the firewood supply is going to last for a while. Going into town is going to have to wait another day - food generally takes precedence over warmth, but if he freezes it’s going to slow him down significantly, put everything else at risk. He’s got enough food in the pantry to last him another couple of weeks anyway. He’ll be lacking in fresh vegetables for a while, but he’ll deal.

The first order of business is clothes. Harry pulls on a pair of thick woolen socks, some heavy joggers, and a big jumper. He grabs his hat and heads downstairs, shrugging on his jacket before he heads out the door. Once he’s got the generator up and running he’ll grab some breakfast before getting started on the firewood. That’s the plan.

The thing about Harry’s plans is that they have a tendency to go pear-shaped rather quickly. He heads around the back of the house, ready to make sure the generator is up and running, except it’s gone. The entire generator is gone.

Now, Harry’s not saying that the generator is a huge beast of a thing, but it’s pretty substantial. It’s 10,000 watts to get him through a real emergency, so it’s big enough to immediately notice that it’s gone. And it is. It’s completely gone.

“What the fuck,” Harry says out loud, completely baffled. With no neighbours near and the nearest town even farther, he has no idea how an entire generator could have just disappeared.

Finding it is probably not going to be an option. There’s hundreds of kilometers of forest surrounding his little cabin and the generator could be anywhere. Even if Harry doesn’t understand how it could have gotten there.

He has no choice but to go into town, then. Getting another generator is going to set him back a handful of cash that he wasn’t expecting to spend, and with the vegetables destroyed it’s shaping up to be a long winter. He’ll have to start making a bigger stockpile of firewood and try to hold out on turning the heat on until he really needs to.

It’s definitely going to be a long winter.

 

 

Elmsbrook is a small town among small towns. With a population of six hundred and a single main street, most people know each other by sight, if not by name, and they know most of the recluses who live on the outskirts of their town. They know Harry, even though he doesn’t really live on the outskirts of their town, and he waves to a few familiar faces as he passes them.

There’s only one hardware store in Elmsbrook, and chances are that it’s not going to have the size generator Harry needs in stock. He would have ordered one online and gotten it shipped to the shop for him to pick up later, but with a shoddy internet connection it’s a lot less frustrating to just go into town to get things like that done.

Mary’s sitting behind the counter when Harry walks in. She stands up, greeting him, and it doesn’t take long to determine that they don’t have what he needs. Mary puts his order in, telling him that it should be there within a week, and Harry heads out to the grocery store next. He’s still not happy about having to pick up the extra food he’s going to need, but he’s hoping that there’s enough time left in the season be able to hunt for a lot of his meat instead of buying it.

At this point, though, he’s not counting on anything. This bad luck streak is lasting a lot longer than any other in his entire life, and he can’t wait for it to end.

Until then, he’ll have to make do with what he’s got. Even if what he’s got isn’t a whole lot.

It’s not until he’s checking out at the grocery store that the generator subject comes up again. He’s chatting with Maisie, one of the high school kids who works part time at the store, and she asks how he’s been, so Harry tells her about the missing generator and the trampled bushes, expecting a sympathetic nod or a few words of condolement.

What he gets instead is Maisie’s eyes widening and her leaning in to say, “There’s been weird things happening all over town, too.”

Right. Harry had forgotten that Maisie is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Nothing too over the top, but she likes to keep herself up to date on all the weird theories on the internet about a ton of various topics. Celebrities being replaced by robots, the ongoing alien invasion, the secret agenda of the illuminati, that kind of thing. He keeps his smile plastered to his face and says, “Oh?”

“Yeah,” Maisie agrees, nodding her head as she continues scanning. “Things going missing out of people’s yards, destruction of buildings, graffiti everywhere, that kind of thing. No one can figure out what’s been going on.”

She’s basically parroting Harry’s own words back at him. Harry nods again, fishing his wallet out of his back pocket. He keeps making vague, interested noises as Maisie finishes checking him out, but he’s not really listening anymore. In his defense, he’s got a lot of things to worry about that aren’t - what is she talking about now, fairies? - the town and the things that are happening in it.

Harry gathers up his bags and bids Maisie goodbye, pushing the conversation out of his mind as soon as he walks out the door. It’s not the strangest conversation he’s ever had with her. Not even by a long shot.

 

 

The air has gone even crisper by the time Harry makes it back home. The truck is loaded up with supplies, and it takes him half an hour to get everything sorted and put into its proper place.

When he’s done, the sun has started setting. He can see a few glimmers of it through the trees, soft oranges and pinks lighting up the sky. It’ll be dark soon, and with no back-up generator he won’t be prepared if the power goes out. His stomach grumbles, reminding him that he hasn’t eaten in a few hours and that he’s overdue for it. He’s thinking a sandwich will suffice, but first he’s got to make sure he’s got enough firewood to get him through a couple of days if the power does bite it. Pulling the extra blankets out of storage wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either, and re-arranging the pantry so the foods he doesn’t necessarily have to cook are readily available. And the most vital thing - checking that the laterns and flashlights are in good working condition.

The sun has long since gone down by the time Harry’s finished his tasks. He sits down at his small, rickety kitchen table and eats his ham sandwich, radio tuned to whatever station is coming in the clearest. It’s a quiet, peaceful night, and it’s already been a long day, so once he’s finished eating he washes his dishes and heads up to bed.

He goes to pull on the sleep pants he was wearing this morning, already stripped down to his boxers, except he can’t find them on the bed. Or on the floor, on the chair, in the dresser, in the closet. He can’t find them anywhere.

“Huh,” he says to himself, pulling a fresh pair out of the dresser. He must have tossed them in the wash and not realized it. Chances are he’ll find them in the morning. He pulls on a jumper before he gets into bed, and it doesn’t take long before he’s out.

It’s been a long day, after all.

 

 

Morning dawns bright and early. Harry doesn’t waste any time rolling out of bed, doesn’t have any time to waste when there’s hunting to be done. He bundles up in his jacket and scarf, hat and gloves, and grabs his rifle and a bottle of water. The crunch of his boots against the semi-frozen ground is audible even to Harry’s ears, and he makes more of an effort to keep quiet as he walks.

Things move in the forest all around him, too quick for his eyes to catch. Wind rustles leaves and branches, squirrels dart through trees, rabbits hop through the brush. Nothing is big enough for Harry to pause for, at least not this early in the day. Maybe later, if the sun is starting to settle in the west and he doesn’t have anything to show for his attempts. For now, though, Harry keeps walking, rifle slung over his shoulder and eyes alert. There are dangerous animals in these woods, and Harry’s in no mood to tussle with them today.

He slows to a stop when he comes to a clearing. It’s one with a small creek, one that attracts wildlife for the water supply. Harry’s had good luck hunting at this particular spot in the past, so he settles in to wait, setting himself up so there’ll be plenty of time to get a shot off when something moves.

The wait isn’t long before something starts rustling in the bushes. Harry takes aims, squeezes the trigger, body moving unconsciously. They’re motions he’s done a thousand times before, and his body knows how to do it without the input of his brain now. It’s what makes him such a good shot.

He misses. The shot misses.

Or, well, maybe not exactly misses. Something howls in the woods, a pretty clear indication that Harry hit it, but there’s no telltale sounds of a big body dropping, no animal charging out at him to take him out before he can finish the job.

Something does turn and run, though. “Fuck,” Harry spits out, scrambling to his feet and slinging the rifle back over his shoulder, giving chase. He’s not going to lose out on a big amount of meat if he can help it. Not with all the shit he’s got going on right now. He can’t afford to lose this hunt.

His breath comes out quick and visible in front of him as he runs. There’s a trail of blood on the ground, dull red against the frost-bitten leaves, and he follows it, swerving around trees and plants, muscles working in sync and gun bouncing off his thigh. The safety’s on, he knows, even if he doesn’t remember putting it on - his body knows what to do. This isn’t the first time he’s had to run after something he’s shot.

The trail of blood goes on longer than Harry thought it would. He doesn’t know how long he runs for, but his muscles are burning, chest heaving with exertion, until the trail just - goes dead. No more blood, just like that.

“Fuck,” Harry says, more of a curse now than it was before. He checks his watch, sighing heavily to himself. He’s already been out here for three hours, and while it’s not late in the day yet his toes are already starting to go numb in his boots. Last winter he told himself that he was going to splurge on new boots for this year, and he’s regretting not having gotten them already. Winter hasn’t even hit yet and he can already feel the cold in his bones.

So he’ll go home, have something to eat, then head out again, hunt for a few more hours before he calls it a day. Just because this one got away from him doesn’t mean the next one will too.

 

 

The walk back to the cabin doesn’t take nearly as long as Harry thought it would. He’s always had a pretty good sense of direction, which is particularly helpful on days like these, when he’s running around the woods chasing some animal, and it doesn’t fail him now, leading him back home easily.

He doesn’t notice anything’s wrong until he heads up the stairs to grab a fresh pair of socks. The ones he’s wearing are damp, and while they’re not uncomfortable right now they will be soon.

There’s a trail of blood on the floor of his bedroom. Harry stops dead in his tracks, fingers automatically reaching for the gun he left downstairs, not expecting anything like - whatever this is.

It’s a pool of blood, too, not just a few drops. More than if a rat had gotten stuck in something and clawed its way free. This is - something bigger. Something human sized.

Instead of a gun, Harry grabs the nearest blunt object, which happens to be a lamp. “I know you’re here,” he calls out to the seemingly empty room, inching in and towards the bedside table, where he keeps his handgun. “Come out now and I’ll let you go on your way, no harm done.”

He reaches down to the table and pops the drawer open, grabbing the gun and thumbing the safety off in one quick move. The ensuite bathroom door is ajar, light shining weakly through the crack, and he definitely hadn’t left it on when he went downstairs earlier. There’s someone else in here with him.

Like something out of an action movie, he kicks the door all the way open, half-aware that he’s probably going to die. The trail of blood is smeared along the tile of the bathroom floor, like it’s been stepped in, the worst kind of slip-and-slide, leading all the way over to the bathtub.

And there, tucked away inside the porcelain, already beginning to stain red, is a person. An unconscious person with sharp, pointed ears, glimmery, pale skin, hair that’s more than just wind tousled, bare feet, almost naked with how little clothing he’s wearing. There’s a thousand little things about him that are just a little bit off, and each one individually wouldn’t be anything at all. Add them all up, though, and this -

This is not a human being.

The person - thing - in Harry’s bathtub is curled up small, unconscious. There’s a wound in his shoulder with what looks like an entire roll of paper towel wadded up and pressed against it, still bleeding sluggishly, seeping down the glittery skin of his arm. He’s got Harry’s good blazer balled up under his head as a makeshift pillow, and for some reason that’s what Harry focuses on.

“What the fuck,” he says again, more blankly this time, lowering the gun to his side and thumbing the safety back on.

The thing in Harry’s bathtub doesn’t even stir. Upon closer inspection, he looks way more pale than he probably should, skin gone that kind of waxen, ashy hue it does when someone’s dying, and human being or not, whatever this thing is looks enough like a person that Harry’s heart clenches.

“Fuck,” he mutters under his breath, about the only thing he’s capable of saying right now. After another moment of hesitation, he goes back into the bedroom and puts the gun away, locking it up before returning to the bathroom.

Harry’s a hunter, but he doesn’t hurt people, and there’s really only one thing to do when faced with a person-like thing bleeding out in his bathtub.

He’s got to get him to the hospital.

Swearing under his breath yet again, Harry bends down to scoop the creature up. He’s little enough that Harry’s sure he’ll have no problem carrying him out to the truck. It’s definitely going to be more of a problem keeping him from bleeding out on the way to the hospital. The nearest one is thirty kilometers out, and normally that’s not too far of a drive but with someone bleeding to death in the backseat it’ll seem like a hundred kilometers.

Harry doesn’t even manage to get a single hand on the boy - man? thing? - before he’s being hurtled all the way back back into the bedroom. The bathroom door slams shut in the same move, and the thing is - the thing is, Harry hadn’t even seen the thing open his eyes, much less move.

He hits the wall hard. The impact knocks his breath out of him, definitely puts a few bruises onto him, but beyond that it doesn’t feel like there’s any major damage. It still takes him a few minutes to struggle to his feet again and make his way back to the bathroom.

The door is locked. Again, Harry hadn’t heard any movement. He presses his ear to the door, and the only thing he can hear is a low, agonized groan and some rustling, like the thing is shifting in the tub and can’t quite manage to push himself up. It’s unclear whether the thing can speak or not, or whether the thing speaks English if he does, but Harry tries anyway, jiggling the doorknob again, in case it magically decides to unlock itself.

“Look, you need help,” he says through the door. “You’re bleeding like crazy and you need medical attention or else I think you’re going to die. Just let me in, alright?”

There’s no answer. Harry tries again, rotating his shoulder to try to shrug some of the ache out. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he says. Hesitates for a second before adding, “More,” because there’s no doubt in his mind now that this is the creature Harry shot in the woods. Doesn’t know how he knows, just knows that it is.

Slowly, the door swings open. The thing is still curled up in the bathtub, and it doesn’t look like it’s moved at all, much less gotten up to open the door.

For now, Harry ignores that thought. He can’t think about it right now. He approaches slowly, hands spread out in front of him so the thing knows they’re empty. “You need medical attention,” he repeats. “I’m going to help you up, okay, and then we’re going to get in my truck and I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

“No,” the thing rasps, voice light and a little high but unmistakably male. There’s blood everywhere, smudged against the curve of his jaw, and Harry feels slightly sick looking at it. “No hospital.”

Harry has to look away from the blood, try to focus on a clean spot. It’s a lot harder than he’d like it to be. “You’re going to die,” he stresses. That much is clear to him - the creature has lost way too much blood for anything else. This situation needs serious medical attention and it needs it now.

The creature shakes his head, slow, limp. Gestures Harry closer with two bloody fingers, and Harry’s feet take him there before his brain catches up. He kneels down beside the tub, and the creature reaches out with his bloody hand, touching Harry’s chest.

Instantly, ice overtakes him. Harry gasps, struggles to draw in air, trying to claw the thing’s hand off him, crumpling down further, vision going hazy around the edges.

It’s only a few seconds before Harry passes out.

 

 

Waking up is like swimming through a fog-fueled nightmare. There’s something deeply unsettling about it, like a spider crawling up his back. His head is pounding at the same rate as his heart, and it takes a few minutes before he’s able to open his eyes.

The first thing he sees is bright, flourescent light. It’s almost blinding, but he recognizes it. His own bathroom light.

The next thing he registers is that somehow, he’s in the bathtub. He’s lying on his back, which explains how he can see the light, and there’s blood all over him.

So is the creature.

Harry’s chest still feels like ice, but he can move his fingers, and that’s a start. He doesn’t know how he got here, and he has to ignore the blood he’s covered in or else he’ll throw up. He needs to get up.

The shower curtain has been pulled down and is lying over them. Maybe for warmth, Harry doesn’t even fucking know at this point. It’s a stuggle to get untangled from it, jostling the creature in the process pretty hard, and Harry doesn’t care. He doesn’t know how he got here, only that this thing has done something to him that makes it hard to move his arms, and right now the only thing Harry does know is that the more space there is between him and the creature the less cold he’ll feel.

“St-stay,” the creatures whispers, voice cracking, digging his fingers back into the same spot on Harry’s chest. The cold comes back, but not as intense as before, spreading through his chest and across his shoulders, down his arms. Almost immobilizing, but not quite.

Harry groans, brain swimming through that fog. He stretches a leg out, jostling the creature some more. Now that he’s more awake the cold is seeping back into his bones, making it hard to move. “S’too cold here,” he manages, groping for the creature’s wrist and trying to tug it away, ineffectually.

Nothing makes sense right now, but Harry thinks getting warm might help. They’re both shivering, goosebumps prickling skin. The creature’s skin has gotten a little more colour in it, now, somehow, less waxy and ashen. It’s another thing that doesn’t make sense.

“Needs t’be cold,” the creature hushes, using his other hand to try to push Harry’s eyelids closed. “Won’t - won’t work if it’s warm.”

What won’t work? Harry means to ask, he does, but he can’t keep his eyes open against the pressure of the creature’s fingers, and it only takes a few more seconds to slip back into that deep, dreamless sleep.

 

 

Waking up the second time around is a lot faster. It’s also a lot warmer, which only makes sense when Harry opens his eyes and finds himself in his bed. The creature is still there with him, lying half on top of him, and Harry’s brain still feels muddled, heavy, but from what he can see there’s substantially less blood than there was before.

Well. That’s good, Harry supposes. Trying to get bloodstains out of sheets is the last thing he wants to do right now.

The creature is awake. Harry can feel it staring at him, even without his own eyes open. It’s a suspicious sort of stare, one that isn’t going away any time soon. In all honesty, Harry would love to ignore it, pretend to sleep some more, but he isn’t going to make this go away by ignoring it.

He doesn’t know what to say, so the first thing that comes out of his mouth is a rather stupid, “How are you feeling?”

How are you feeling. Because that’s exactly what he should be asking the not-quite-human thing currently lying on top of him like, sapping his strength or something, Harry doesn’t know. All he knows is that he feels weak, exhausted, like he’s just run a marathon or something.

The creature sits up. He looks even better now, skin well on its way to a healthy glow, and for a second Harry gets kind of distracted by that.

Then he sees the blood again, dark and matted in spots but still oozing out in others. “Not dying,” the creature says shortly, still watching Harry warily as though he thinks Harry has the energy to try something.

“Still bleeding,” Harry points out, dragging his eyes away from the wound, up to the creature’s face. Not that pain isn’t clouding it, Harry can see that the creature’s eyes are blue.

“Still been shot,” the creature retorts, a hint of a snarl in his voice. Upon closer inspection, he’s cradling his right arm close to his chest, clearly unwilling or unable to move it too much.

Harry swallows hard and sits up, slowly enough that the creature doesn’t flinch away. “The bullet didn’t come out the other side, did it,” he says. “It’s still inside you.”

That does make the creature flinch. He inches backwards, eyes wary and still so tired, arm unmoving from its position. He doesn’t say anything.

“You need medical attention,” Harry says, trying to keep his voice firm. He has no idea what he’s doing here, and he feels like he’s about five seconds away from panicking.

“No hospitals,” the creature says firmly, more firm than Harry had been.

What the fuck. “You need medical attention,” Harry insists, aware that the pitch of his voice has risen a few octaves by the end of the sentence. “The bullet is still in you, for all we know you’re dying right now!”

“Not dying,” the creature repeats. “No hospitals.”

Okay. Harry swallows back the urge to scream, eyes drifting back to the wound. The blood surrounding the edges of it has started turning black, and Harry doesn’t know what that means but he knows it can’t be anything good. “Look at yourself!” he says, nearly a shout. “You need to get that bullet out of your arm before it turns septic or something. Or before you end up having to cut your entire fucking arm off.”

The creature looks down at the wound, poking at it with his free hand. He doesn’t wince, so Harry does it for him. “Hmm,” he says, face thoughtful as he looks back up at Harry. “You can get it out.”

Harry blinks once. Then again. Then he stares. “What?” he manages eventually.

“You shot me, you can get the bullet out,” the creature says. Harry feels sick.

“I can’t do that,” he says desperately, waving his hands in front of him. “I’m not a doctor, I don’t go around pulling bullets out of people!”

The creature’s eyes narrow. He looks at Harry for a long, painful minute, still standing there with blood dripping down his arm and a bullet wound in his flesh. “So I’ll die, then,” he says softly. “You’ll have killed me.”

The words hit Harry like a punch to the gut. He may be a hunter but he only hunts animals, and only what he needs to eat. He would never intentionally hurt another human being. The thought makes him feel a little sick.

“Look, I don’t even know your name,” Harry tries, holding his hands up because it seems like the right thing to do. “You can’t expect me to remove the bullet if I don’t even know your name, right?”

It’s a weak attempt at a distraction and Harry knows it. He’s still not expecting the response he gets.

“No,” the creature hisses, curling back in on himself and hugging his arm against his chest, something a lot like hatred in his glare. “I won’t give you my name.”

There’s something off about the way he says it. The wording or the tone or maybe both. Harry doesn’t have time to dwell on it. “And I won’t dig a bullet out of you and risk hurting you even more,” he says, confident that he’s finally got the upper hand again, that they’ll be able to sort this out now. Maybe even get this guy the medical attention he needs.

That doesn’t happen. What does happen is the creature moves, darting forward so fast Harry barely has time to blink, much less try to dodge out of the way, and then that icy feeling is back in Harry’s chest, burning, spreading the same way it did earlier. And just like before, Harry tries to claw the hand off his chest, tries to escape, even opens his mouth to scream, knowing full well that it won’t help even if he manages to get it out.

He doesn’t. The ice overtakes him, numbing every cell in his body, and it happens so fast Harry doesn’t even register passing out.

 

 

This time when he wakes up, he’s still in his bed, but the creature is asleep. Cold is still drifting through Harry’s body, but it’s nothing like it was before. It’s not pleasant, but it’s definitely manageable. Harry can even feel his toes.

On a second look, it becomes apparent that the creature isn’t just asleep. He’s unconscious. Very, very unconscious. His skin has gotten even paler than it was the first time Harry saw him, and it’s lost a lot of its shimmer. He looks a lot more human now, small and vulnerable, splayed out on his back, the blood coating his arm definitely black now.

He doesn’t look like he’s breathing. Harry panics, struggling to sit up, shoving two fingers under the guy’s nose to try to feel his breath.

It takes a second, but it comes blowing out weakly against Harry’s fingertips, shallow and unhealthy, and Harry breathes out with it.

This isn’t good. “Okay, it’s time to wake up,” Harry says, gripping both of the creatures shoulders and shaking him firmly. He doesn’t move, doesn’t so much as stir.

This is what death looks like. Harry’s pretty sure of it.

“Fuck,” he says, exhaling again. The hospital is too far away. Maybe if he gets the bullet out it’ll kickstart some kind of healing process. There’s really no other choice. Harry has to at least try, or else this human-shaped being is going to die right here, in Harry’s bed, and he’ll never be able to sleep again.

Or forgive himself.

He pushes himself out of bed, noting how much easier it is to move now than it was before, and if anything the observation cements it for him. Whatever the creature had done to him earlier with the cold inside Harry’s chest, it’s not working anymore. Maybe it was, at least for long enough for the creature to survive this long, but it’s not anymore. He’s too weak for it to work anymore.

Mind set, Harry raids the bathroom for the supplies he thinks he’ll need. Living in the middle of a forest by himself, he’s got a pretty extensive first aid kit. He’s never had to stitch himself up before, and he hopes to never have to in the future, so he has to go to his sewing kit for a strong looking needle and some tough black thread. He grabs a bottle of vodka from the kitchen before heading back upstairs and laying all of his supplies out on a clean towel on the bed beside the creature.

Thread, check. Needle, check. Gauze, check. Bandages, check. Vodka to sterilize the wound, check. Extra clean towels to stop any excess bleeding, check. And finally, a pair of clean tweezers to pull the bullet out.

Check.

Swallowing back a bit of bile, Harry picks up the tweezers. Then immediately puts them back down again and goes to wash his hands for three minutes in water as hot as he can stand it. Just because the thing in his bed isn’t human doesn’t mean he can’t get an infection the way people do, and if this works Harry isn’t going to risk the creature dying from an infection instead of a bullet wound.

He doesn’t have any gloves that are flexible enough for him to be able to dig a bullet out of someone, so his bare hands are going to have to do. Harry swallows again, gives his reflection a firm nod in the mirror, and then returns to the bed.

The creature hasn’t moved at all in the time it took Harry to gather the supplies and make sure his hands are clean. It’s still hard to tell whether he’s breathing, and Harry takes a minute to double check. He’s not going to go fishing if the creature’s already dead.

Luckily, he’s not. Harry pours a third of the bottle of vodka into the empty water bottle sitting on his bedside table and takes a hefty swing of it before pouring some onto his hands, rubbing them together, then onto the tweezers, and finally onto the creature’s wound.

The creature still doesn’t stir. Harry’s not sure of a lot of things right now, but he is sure that if the creature was just asleep and not unconscious that would have woken him.

Okay. So. Onto the hard part, then. Harry picks up the tweezers with one hand and grips the creature’s arm with the other, holding it still.

“You can do this,” he tells himself, and then he goes looking for a bullet he put into someone.

It’s hard to tell how long it takes to find it. It feels like forever, but this is probably an area Harry’s really biased in. The creature never flinches, never moves. A low, hurt noise escapes his throat every now and then, but he doesn’t wake. Some blood oozes out, thick and slow, but nowhere near the amount Harry was expecting. It’s black, the blood seeping out, like it’s been poisoned.

Then Harry finds it. The tweezers click against something that clearly isn’t flesh, and his hand moves on its own, steady as it extracts the bullet in one smooth pull.

More blood follows it out. There’s still not a rush of it, and Harry doesn’t know whether that’s a good sign or not. He drops the flattened bullet onto the floor beside the bed, cursing himself for not thinking to bring something to put it in, and then drops the tweezers beside it, figuring what the hell. He takes another swig of the vodka in his bottle, hands still steady, before picking up the needle and thread.

He was smart enough to thread the needle before taking the bullet out, which is a good thing because his hands are stained with blood now, a little sticky. He douses the entire thing with more of the vodka, pouring some over the wound carefully, and then pinches the edges of the wound closed.

Again, his hands do the work for him, piercing skin with the needle and pulling ragged edges of flesh together, forming stitch after stitch until the wound is held closed securely. The stitches themselves are neat but clearly unpracticed, and Harry can only hope that they’ll hold up. He pours more vodka over the creature’s entire arm for good measure, waits for it to dry, and then wraps it up with the gauze, pinning it in place with the bandages.

There. It’s done.

“God, please never let me have to do that again,” he mutters to himself, picking up his water bottle and finishing off the rest of the vodka with three deep swallows. The creature is still unconscious, but Harry can see his chest moving as he breathes now, and that has to be a good sign.

The colour still isn’t returning to the creature’s face. That would probably be normal on a human being. This isn’t a human being, though, and there’s something telling Harry that it’s not enough to have simply dealt with the wound.

There must be a reason the creature did that – whatever it was he did to Harry. It seemed to help a bit, kept him alive for a while. There must be something about it that helps him heal.

“This is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever done,” Harry says, even as he’s climbing back into his bed and lying down on his back. “Please don’t kill me this time.”

He draws the creature’s hand back onto his chest, trying to get it to lie the same way it had before. It takes longer this time, but the cold starts seeping back into his bones slowly, more of a crawl than a crash, and he’s aware that he’s starting to lose consciousness.

Just before he passes out, he could swear that he sees a flash of ice blue staring back at him.

 

 

When he wakes up again, the creature is gone. The bed is cold and empty on the side he was lying on, and if it wasn’t for the blood crusting the sheets and itching on Harry’s skin he would think it was all a dream.

He cleans everything up, tossing all the bloodied sheets and towels in the trash, scrubbing at all the spots in the bedroom and bathroom where blood had dripped, scrubbing at his own skin in the shower. He makes sure to double check the entire property, but by the time he’s finished the only signs that anything had ever happened are the garbage bags of Harry’s bloodstained linens in the trash out back and the flattened bullet sitting in a cup in his bathroom.

And the goddamn generator is still missing.

 

 

A week goes by. Harry’s mostly pushed the encounter to the back of his head, trying not to dwell on it. He’s kind of even convinced himself that it was some kind of strange hallucination, which is easier with all the evidence but the bullet burned in a bonfire a few days ago. The deep freezer in the shed is fully stocked with meat bought at the grocery store, and the new generator came in a couple days ago. It’s hooked up and ready to go in the event of a power outage.

Harry hasn’t touched his rifle in the past seven days. He’ll give it a bit more time, he keeps telling himself, and he still hasn’t figured out whether that’s an excuse or not.

Things have pretty much gone back to normal. Harry pulls the truck up in front of his cabin and puts it in park, back from a trip to visit his mother, but he doesn’t get out.

The creature is back. He’s sitting on Harry’s veranda, in Harry’s chair, with his head tipped back and his eyes closed. As far as attempts to look at ease go, it’s a pretty awful one. Harry can see the tension in the creature’s muscles even from here, like he’s fighting an urge to flee.

Harry gets out of the truck, fighting a completely irrational urge to just start it up again and drive away. It looks like the creature’s been here for a while, content to wait for Harry to get home. He doesn’t say anything until he’s standing at the bottom of the porch steps, and neither does the creature, although his eyes have opened.

“Hi,” Harry says. What else can he say? Sorry I shot you thinking you were a wild animal, although I’m still not entirely convinced that you’re not?

The creature’s lips quirk up into a smile, amused at Harry’s bemusement. “Hi,” he echoes, stretching languidly. He still looks tense, but he doesn’t look afraid. He doesn’t say anything else.

“What are you doing here?” Harry ventures after a moment, when it becomes clear that the creature isn’t going to start talking.

“I brought your generator back,” the creature says, gesturing around the side of the house with his entire arm.

Harry blinks. He’s beginning to get a headache. “You’re the person who stole it?”

Person probably isn’t the right word. Definitely isn’t the right word. From here, Harry can see that the shimmer is back on the creature’s skin, more glittery than it was before, drawing attention to the sheen of it. It’s really pretty, if Harry is being honest with himself.

He looks healthy now, the creature. He’s wearing a hoodie that covers his arms and shoulders, obscuring the site of the wound from view, so it’s impossible to tell how it’s healing, but he looks good. Healthy. Much healthier than before.

“Borrowed it,” the creature corrects. “I was going to bring it back.”

Somehow, Harry doesn’t believe that. “How did you even – you know what, I don’t even want to know,” he says, interrupting himself. It doesn’t matter how the creature managed to steal an entire generator, if he had help, how he moved it. Of all the things Harry wants to know, those are the ones that are on the bottom of the list. “Thanks, I guess.”

Immediately, the creature’s eyes narrow. “You guess?” he repeats, low, dangerous, and Harry’s hit with the sinking feeling that he’s done something to piss him off. Again.

After shooting him, Harry’s not even surprised that his luck is turning out like this with some kind of supernatural creature. It figures.

“Look, I appreciate that you brought it back,” Harry says, stuffing his hands in his jacket pocket, trying to make himself look like less of a threat. Although with that ice trick he’s pretty sure this guy has no reason to be scared of a lowly human like Harry. “I bought a new one, though.”

The statement does nothing to lessen the creature’s glare. “So now you’ll have two, then.”

Harry doesn’t need two generators. That one was already his back-up one, he doesn’t need a back-up for his back-up. He’s pretty sure the world isn’t ending any time soon, so if he ever does need a third generator he would just go out and buy it. It’s not like he’s running a theme park with them, after all. He only needs so much power.

“Why don’t you have it?” Harry suggests. “I mean, you took it for a reason, right? Clearly you needed it.”

The creature stalks down the stairs and slams a finger against Harry’s chest. Harry flinches, expecting the cold to overwhelm him.

It doesn’t. All that happens is there’s a dull pain where the creature’s poking him. “Are you turning down a gift?” the creature demands. His voice has gotten sharp, threat of harm in it, and Harry backpedals so fast he would have tripped over his own feet if he was actually moving.

“No, of course not,” Harry says, wrapping all five fingers of his left hand around the one the creature’s poking him with, “I just – I feel terrible about shooting you, and I want to try to make up for it.”

It’s not exactly a lie. Of course, it’s not exactly the truth either. The creature looks down at Harry’s fingers holding his, the beginnings of an amused smirk back on his face.

“Humans,” he mutters. “Don’t understand anything.” He looks back up at Harry’s face, and Harry abruptly realizes exactly how small the creature is. Harry’s not exactly towering over him or anything, but he’s got a good few inches on him, and the creature is built compact. Like Harry could haul him around easy as anything.

“The death debt is forgiven,” the creature says simply. “No need to make amends.”

The death debt? What the fuck does that mean?

The creature must see the confusion on Harry’s face. “There was a death debt when you shot me,” he clarifies, “but that was negated when you saved me. You didn’t have to allow me to use the extraction spell again the last time, but you did and that was the difference between life and death. A life debt always outweighs a death debt.”

Okay. Harry has absolutely no idea how to respond to that.

“There’s a balance between us now,” the creature says, extracting his hand from Harry’s and stepping back. “Neither of us owe the other anything.”

“So why did you come back, then?” Harry asks, planting his feet into the ground to resist the urge to close the distance between them again. “If neither of us owe the other anything?”

The creature smiles, mischievous and sly, and says, “Some debts are easier to repay than others.”

He turns and begins walking away, leaving the generator sitting on the ground. “Wait,” Harry calls after him. “You never told me your name.”

The creature pauses. There’s a few still, silent seconds before he looks back over his shoulder. “There’s power in a name, Harry Styles,” he says, “and you haven’t earned mine.”

Harry blinks, and the creature is gone.

Again.

 

 

It’s not until Harry goes to make himself something for dinner that he realizes what’s happened.

The creature has taken the entire contents of Harry’s fridge. Every single thing. Even the condiments. Even the expired condiments.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Harry says.

 

 

Life goes on. Weird things stop happening on Harry’s property, but he’s heard about some happenings going on around town. Mostly from Maisie, but Harry’s a lot more inclined to believe anything she has to say now. He can’t be sure what exactly the creature is, given his lack of experience with supernatural or mythological beings, whichever one the guy is, but the term fae keeps springing to mind. As if Harry’s life couldn’t get any more weird.

The extra generator stays where it was, unattached to anything, a heap of metal sitting in Harry’s yard. Harry still has no idea what to do with it, so he leaves it exactly where the creature had left it. He thinks idly about selling it, but something stops him from actually putting a listing up.

He spends his days the way he always has, working on a few articles here and there, maintaining the cabin and what’s left of his garden, heading into town just enough that no one thinks he’s died, and things go back to normal.

The creature is always on the back of his mind, no matter how hard he tries not to think about him.

 

 

On occasion, Harry does odd jobs for the Millers. They’re his closest neighbours, an elderly couple reluctant to leave their home of sixty years, and Harry doesn’t need the money but he does the work anyway, just to check in every so often and make sure they’re getting by.

There’s some shingles on their roof that need replacing before winter hits properly, and Harry had been meaning to do it earlier but with all the weirdness going on lately it kind of slipped his mind. He heads out there early one morning, truck loaded up with all the necessary supplies, expecting to put in a full day of work and head home with a belly full of Mrs. Miller’s cooking, ready to crash.

Instead, he nearly runs over something curled up in the middle of the road on the way there. It’s bleeding. Harry slams the breaks on the truck and yanks the wheel, narrowly avoiding hitting it. Heart pounding, he gets out of the truck, and he’s not even remotely surprised to see the creature lying there, still and quiet.

Briefly, he looks up to the sky and prays for strength. He’s never been much of a praying man, but the way things are going lately he’d be less surprised that there’s something up there listening to him than if there wasn’t.

“Are you dead?” Harry asks, boots crunching against gravel as he approaches the creature. It’s a legitimate question.

The creature rolls over, clutching his stomach, and looks up at Harry with those piercing blue eyes, and says, “I’m pregnant.”

Harry says – nothing. “It’s yours,” the creature adds, sighing, petting his belly. “Should’ve known that this would happen when I pulled your lifeforce into me, but I thought the risk was worth it when the alternative was death.”

Look, there’s a lot of things Harry doesn’t know or understand, including how the reproductive organs of non-human beings work, but one thing he does know is when someone is fucking with him. Even when those people aren’t actually people.

“So d’you wanna just get hitched now or are we doing a 50/50 custody thing?” Harry asks, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocking back on his heels. He’s stopped at the creature’s feet, and he wants to kick at them. He doesn’t, for obvious reasons, but the urge is there nonetheless. “Also, can I be the one who names it?”

The creature stares up at him, contemplative, still rubbing his own belly. “Her name is Elsa,” he says eventually. “And she’s going to live with me one hundred percent of the time, but you can hang around if you want. You’ll have to sleep in the doghouse, of course, being a lowly human and all, but it’ll be good for her to have a guinea pig to practice her spells on.”

Cautiously, Harry sits down on the ground beside the creature and pulls his leg into his lap, pushing his jeans up so he can see where the blood is coming from. “That’s alright,” he says easily, brushing away dirt and grime so he can get a better idea of what’s actually going on. “Gotta dote on my baby, right?”

There are several deep puncture wounds on the creature’s leg. The skin around them is torn and messy, marred with blood, and it doesn’t look good.

Looks better than the bullet wound had, though.

“Humans,” the creature mutters. He doesn’t pull his leg out of Harry’s grasp. “Never know when they should be scared of something.”

Harry shrugs a shoulder. He’s just holding the guy’s leg now, unnecessarily. “Pretty sure I could out-run you right now if I needed to,” he says. “How’d you get this, anyway?”

“Bear trap,” the creature admits. “How’d you get these?” he asks, reaching out and jabbing Harry in the cheek.

A bear trap. Jesus Christ.

“Those are dimples,” Harry says, batting the guy’s hand away. “Can we talk about the more pressing issue, please?” He shakes the creature’s leg for emphasis.

“’s just a flesh wound,” the creature says dismissively. “Are they genetic? Is our baby going to have weird cheek craters?”

There’s so much wrong with this situation Harry barely even knows where to start. Anything that’s bleeding is a pretty good place, though. “What do you mean, it’s just a flesh wound? This looks like it needs to be cleaned and then have about a thousand stitches.”

A thousand may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Harry doesn’t care. His arse is getting numb from sitting on the cold ground, and when he stands up his jeans are going to be wet. And this guy is still lying there with his bleeding leg in Harry’s lap, looking like he’s at peace with the world.

“Well, Harry Styles, a flesh wound is a wound that breaks the skin but doesn’t damage bones or vital organs,” the creature starts.

Harry cuts him off. “Yeah, I know what a flesh wound is, thanks. I mean that this looks like it needs treatment, the sooner the better.”

The creature looks at him, steady, appraising. “It’s fine,” he says shortly.

Harry snorts. “Bullshit it’s fine,” he says. “I didn’t save your life just for you to turn around and die two weeks later from an entirely preventable infection. Do you need to do the cold thing again?”

The stare doesn’t change. “Would you let me?” he asks. He’s lying in the middle of a frost covered gravel backroad, blood splattered all over his jeans, and he still looks like he has the upper hand. Harry wonders if that’s a supernatural creature thing or just a this particular guy thing.

“If you needed to, yeah,” Harry says. He’s never particularly thought of himself as a bleeding heart, but he’s beginning to feel like one with the way the guy is looking at him.

“I don’t,” the creature says, jiggling his leg a little. It doesn’t seem like he’s trying to pull it away, so Harry doesn’t let go. “It’s healing.”

Harry’s met children who are less stubborn than this guy, and that’s saying something. “Right. If it’s healing why were you lying in the middle of a road curled in on yourself like you were dying?”

“Why was I resting on ground that my people have had claim on for the past two thousand years, you mean?” the creature demands. “In the middle of a road that’s only used about once a month? You humans and your never ending need to lay claim to things that don’t belong to you.”

That headache Harry was beginning to get earlier is throbbing at his temples now. It turns out that magical or supernatural creatures who believe they’re better than humans can really grate on his nerves. It’s something he never thought he would learn about himself.

“Okay, focus,” he says, turning the guy’s leg over a bit, examining it again. “Can you just tell me if you’re really going to be able to heal this? Please?”

He has a feeling there’s no point in arguing with supernatural creatures.

The guy scowls, allowing Harry to re-examine his leg with all the grace of a screaming toddler. “It’s healing,” he repeats, sitting up and brushing a hand over the wound carelessly, before Harry can do anything to stop him. When his hand comes away, blood has been smeared onto skin it wasn’t on before, but underneath it, the edges of the wound look like they’re closer together than they had been.

Huh. He really is healing himself.

There’s a thousand questions Harry wants to ask. How the guy’s doing it, why he was lying curled up like he was dying if he could heal himself like this, why he couldn’t heal himself when Harry accidentally shot him, what he is.

Harry doesn’t ask any of them. Instead, he asks, “So just to be clear, you’re not actually pregnant with my immaculate conception baby, right?”

The creature pulls his leg out of Harry’s hand and pushes himself up to his feet easily, rolling his jeans back down. “Ask me again in nine months,” he says, turning and walking away.

“Wait, do I get to know your name yet?” Harry calls after him. He only gets flipped off in return.

Rude.

 

 

Harry doesn’t end up going to fix the Millers’ roof until the next day. In the time he’s gone, weird shit has resumed happening in his house. He comes home to a giant dick-shaped sculpture in the middle of his living room, made out of every single linen he had in the house, including the sheets he had on his bed, held up with sticks.

He honestly can’t tell whether the guy is pissed off at him or not. Either way, it’s kind of funny.

It’s a lot less funny when Harry realizes he’s got to re-wash everything because dirt from the forest has gotten all over everything, but it’s better than being cursed, he supposes.

 

 

Something crashes from downstairs. Harry startles awake, flicking on the lamp, heart pounding in his chest. For a minute he just sits there, in his bed, not sure that he hadn’t dreamed it.

Something crashes again. Actually, it sounds more like something breaking. Harry curses, swinging his legs out of the bed and standing up, tripping over himself as he makes his way to the door.

It must be the creature. Harry has no idea why the creature has picked him to fuck with, and at three in the morning he cares less about why than he does putting a stop to it.

“Is there something I can do to get you to stop whatever it is you’re doing?” Harry asks, rounding the corner and entering the kitchen, expecting to see the guy and some sort of mess.

What he actually sees is some sort of mess and a person he’s never seen before in his life. Not a person, though. Another creature. This one looks similar to the first one with the shimmery skin and ethereal glow, but he’s taller, broader, wearing much less clothing.

The creature regards him for a minute, head held high, pieces of broken dishes scattered on the floor all around him. Then he speaks. “Where is he?”

Fuck, Harry wishes he had have thought to grab his gun. Nothing could have prepared him for this, though – meeting two supernatural creatures in the space of a month isn’t something he could have ever expected to happen.

“I have no idea,” Harry says honestly. Pretending not to know what’s going on is probably not going to get him anywhere. Better not to lie to someone who could probably kill him without sparing a second thought.

The creature regards him some more, staring hard at Harry’s face like he’s trying to determine if he’s telling the truth or not. “Tell Louis that we’re coming for him.”

With that he slams another glass to the floor, shattering it into a million pieces. Harry sags back against the wall and does his best not to even breathe as the creature shoves past him on his way out the door. His heart doesn’t stop racing for twenty minutes.

We’re coming for him. That doesn’t sound like anything good. It was clearly a threat, and Harry’s taken back to that one thought he had before.

He didn’t go to such drastic lengths to save the creature’s life just for him to die. And he’s got a name to go with the face now.

Louis.

 

 

First thing in the morning, Harry drives out to see the only person he can think of. It’s a two hour drive to get there, but he’s got someone to find and he’s pretty sure that time isn’t on his side.

He knocks at the door, hoping to get a quick answer, and he’s immensely grateful when he does.

Niall pulls the door open, face a little perplexed but happy nonetheless. “Harry!” he greets, pulling Harry into a hug. “What’re you doing here, mate?”

It’s a fair question. Harry doesn’t normally drop in on his friends like this, not when he lives so far out of the way and there’s no guarantee that people will be home. It’s a waste of gas if they’re not.

He makes a face he’s sure must be awkward and gestures to the door. “Can I come in?”

Niall lets him in, and Harry waits while he makes some tea, trying to figure out how to word his question. He doesn’t have much time, it’s true, but this is awkward as fuck.

Sitting at Niall’s rickety kitchen table, Harry folds his hands together on his lap and just bites the bullet. “You believe in fairies, right?”

Niall doesn’t even blink, hands steady as he pours the tea into two mismatched mugs, shrugging. “Depends on what you mean by believe, but sure. I’m Irish.”

He says it like it’s an explanation, and Harry knows that it is. They were roommates in college, and it didn’t take long for Harry to get used to Niall’s particular quirks. He always laughed it off, saying that it was just in case, but there was this one road he absolutely refused to walk down after seven at night, saying that he wasn’t going to risk being cursed to get some chips. He’s the only person Harry knows who might be able to point him in the right direction.

“Right,” Harry says. “Well, I met one.”

Niall laughs uncomfortably. “Sure, Harry. Did you really come all this way just to poke fun at me ancestors?”

It would be a hell of a lot simpler if that was the case. It’s really, really not, though. Unless Harry is having some kind of psychotic break from reality and seeing mythological creatures that aren’t really there.

Fuck, he hopes he’s not having some sort of psychotic break.

“I’m not joking,” Harry says, reaching out for his mug but not doing anything more than wrapping his hands around it. “Trust me, I know that this doesn’t seem like me, but I don’t have time to convince you right now. This – fairy I met, he’s in trouble, and I need a way to find him before he gets himself killed.”

Niall does blink at that. “I honestly have no idea what to say to that,” he says.

Harry inhales slowly, forcing himself to remain calm. The more he thinks about what could happen to the creature, to Louis, the more upset he becomes. He couldn’t live with himself knowing that he could have done something to stop whatever is about to happen and he just – didn’t.

“Just point me in the right direction,” he says. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter if you believe me right now or not, just give me something. Whatever you know, any kind of tale you got told when you were a kid, anything at all. Please, Niall.”

Maybe Niall hears the desperation in his voice, or maybe Niall just knows him well enough that he knows this isn’t the kind of prank Harry would pull, because his brow furrows in thought, fingers tapping against the wood of the table.

“There’s this shop,” he says slowly. “In London. Came across it when I had just moved here for uni. Reminded me of home, so I went in a few times. Sold all sorts of little knick-knacks there, but there was this one room focused on occult type stuff. The people there seemed to genuinely believe in it. It’s probably your best bet if you’re serious.”

Harry’s grip loosens on his cup. “What’s it called?”

 

 

The Local Leprechaun is a pretty non-descript shop, all things considered. It does have a very Irish feel, even from the outside, and Harry can see why Niall was drawn to it. He waits outside for it to open, breathing chilly air in and out of his lungs, leaning up against the side of the truck.

The second he sees one of the shop girls flip the sign to open, Harry crosses the street, shoulders braced against the cold, and goes in.

Inside, the store isn’t overt enough about the occult to be off-putting. The front looks like a regular tourist shop, just Irish enough to be why Niall would have come back at all but mostly filled with items related to London. Towards the back, though, that’s where things start to get interesting. There’s a narrow doorway, and a small wooden sign above it that reads paranormal.

Harry makes a beeline directly for it, ducking his head as he passes through the doorway to avoid the beads dangling above it. There’s a full wall of books, tables arranged with various items, and a counter at the back with a register and two women standing behind it, clearly doing inventory. He heads towards them, putting his hands flat on the counter and summoning up his most winning smile.

“Hi,” he starts. “This might sound like a bit of a weird question, and I promise I’m not asking it to try to make fun of you or anything, but do you believe that paranormal creatures actually exist?”

The younger girl just looks at him. The older one sighs and crosses her arms over her chest. “Do you?” she asks, tone a mix of bored and spiteful.

“Two months ago I would have said no,” Harry says. “Then I was out hunting in the woods behind my house, and I shot something that I’m pretty sure is a fairy. He used my life force or something to heal himself after I stitched him up, and a few weeks later a different one broke into my house and shattered all my dishes before threatening the life of the first one. Now I have to find him and warn him, but I have no idea where he is or how to go about looking for him, and I can’t live with his death on my conscious.”

The two women stare at him for a minute longer. Then the younger one’s eyes cut to something behind Harry and she calls, “Elaine! Get over here!”

A third woman bustles over, joining the first two behind the counter. She’s older than both of them, has at least ten years on the older one, putting here somewhere around sixty-five, if Harry had to guess. The youngest one nods towards Harry and says, “He’s got a fae problem.”

Fae. There’s that word again.

Elaine examines him for a few seconds, eyes dragging over every detail of his face. “What kind of fae?” she asks eventually.

Harry shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know,” he says, spreading his hands out. “He’s got glittery skin, pointy ears, that kind of thing? Kind of insanely pretty?”

Elaine rolls her eyes, ducking under the counter for a minute before popping back up with a book, setting it on the counter in front of Harry and opening it to a page that’s been bookmarked with an actual bookmark, one with cartoon dogs all over it. “Does he look like this?”

On the page, there’s a drawing. It’s black and white, but detailed enough that there’s no doubt in Harry’s mind. “Yes,” he says, leaning over the book. “What is he?”

Elaine sighs again, slamming the book closed, nearly getting Harry’s fingers in the process. “Honey, you’ve got yourself an Unseelie problem.”

 

 

The three women close down their section of the store before hustling Harry into a different room, one with chairs and a table in it. It’s brightly lit, has a kettle, and before he knows it he’s got a cup of tea clutched between his hands. It’s warm, soothing. He takes a few sips of it, and before he knows it half of it is gone.

No one has said anything since they sat down.

“So,” Harry ventures. “Unseelie?”

Elaine sighs and nods. The other two women, Maggie and Marlene respectively, don’t say anything. Harry caught their names when the three of them were hissing in low tones to each other while making the tea and arranging a plate of biscuits. None of them have officially introduced themselves to Harry.

Then again, Harry hasn’t officially introduced himself, either. He supposes he’s just as much at fault as they are.

“The Unseelie are a type of fae,” Elaine says. She sips at her own cup of tea before continuing. “Magical beings who tend to live in remote places, places humans don’t usually wander. Their power is dark, vengeful, and they usually only bother with humans when they want to harm them.”

It sounds like something straight out of a movie. A horror movie, maybe. If Harry hadn’t seen one of them, an Unseelie fae, with his own two eyes, he wouldn’t believe it. Even now, he finds it hard to believe.

“He didn’t hurt me,” Harry says. Then he pauses, reconsidering. “At least not intentionally, I don’t think. That thing he did, when he used me to heal himself, he called it an extraction spell, that felt like I was dying. But when he came back, he didn’t do anything to try to hurt me. He was kind of nice, even.”

All things considered, Louis had been nice. Harry doesn’t have any bumps or bruises that would say otherwise, and he has a feeling that Louis could have given him a few of those without even really trying.

Elaine is staring at him. “There was a second time?” she demands. Her teacup wobbles in her hand, and the glare she fixes on him is nothing short of incredulous. It’s a lot like the one his mum used to give him when he was a kid and had gotten himself into trouble. Harry is a little embarrassed that it sends a flicker of embarrassment down his spine.

Mums, man. Their power never weakens.

“Um,” Harry says, a little helplessly. “There was three?”

“Three,” Elaine says sharply, bringing her hand up to pinch at the bridge of her nose. She breathes evenly for a minute before she says anything else. “The other two times, did he approach you?”

“Yeah, kind of?” Harry says. “The second time he came back to thank me for saving his life, and the third time I happened across him lying in the middle of a road I was driving on.”

Elaine keeps breathing deeply. She finishes her tea, drinking it slowly and methodically. Maggie and Marlene trade long, suspicious glances. None of it is serving to make Harry feel any better about anything.

“You stumbled across a powerful, magical being the way most people stumble across a loose sock in the middle of the night,” Elaine mutters to herself. “Boy, I don’t know whether you’re the unluckiest person I’ve ever met or the luckiest.”

Harry blinks. He has no idea what to say to that. Before he can make up his mind, Elaine levels him with another stare and continues, “If you want to find this fae boy, if you really want to find him, you’re going to need to bleed.”

Harry blinks again. He’s pretty sure his mouth is hanging open. Words escape him for several long minutes. Elaine just sits there, staring at him. Maggie and Marlene still don’t say anything. Finally, he manages, “What?”

“This is dark magic, Harry,” Elaine says. “To get something you have to give something, and you’ve already had his blood spilled on you. The quickest way to find him is to spill some of your own in return.”

This is fucking crazy. This is absolutely nuts. Harry has to bleed in order to find Louis and tell him that he’s probably about to be murdered? What the shit.

“What the fuck,” is what Harry manages to say.

“Language,” Marlene says, and Harry takes a second to boggle at her. She’s the one who greeted him when he entered the back room, and while she looks like she’s a bit older than Maggie, she’s still only Harry’s age. Someone Harry’s age telling him to watch his language?

What the fuck. How did Harry’s life get to this point.

“It can’t be, like, animal blood or something?” Harry asks, a little wildly. “You guys must have some of that stuff around here, right? Being a magic shop and all?”

“Way to stereotype,” Maggie chimes in, folding her arms across her chest and staring him down.

Immediately, Harry backpedals. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry. That was rude, wasn’t it? I didn’t mean to imply that you’re a weird cult or anything.”

One day, Harry is going to stop putting his foot in his mouth. It looks like today is not going to be that day.

Elaine sighs and fixes Maggie with the stare instead. “Stop traumatising the poor boy, he’s been through enough already,” she chides. “You remember what it was like for you when you first learned about the occult, don’t you?”

Maggie goes silent again, but there’s no mistaking the slightly apologetic look on her face. Elaine returns her gaze to Harry. “We do have animal blood,” she confirms. “We could use it in this case, but it would take days to find anything. Using your own blood is the fastest way to accomplish this. You and the fae, you two have already formed a bond of sorts. The fae are notorious for using humans to get what they want, the Unseelie even more so, but for them to seek the same human out two times, much less three, that’s something different. That’s something - ”

She hesitates here, trading a quick glance with Maggie and Marlene. “Well. It’s unusual. Blood magic is always stronger than any other kind, and because you already have a connection with the one you’re looking for, using some of your own blood in return will foster that connection, make what you’re seeking that much easier to find.”

It sounds completely implausible. At this point, though, Harry’s willing to try just about anything. “So what exactly do I have to do?”

 

 

The ritual is like something that’s been taken straight out of a movie. That’s what Harry’s life is beginning to feel like, a D-list movie that cost more to make than it earned, one that ruined the careers of its actors and everyone involved in its making.

Or maybe Harry is just being over-dramatic. It’s getting hard to tell lately.

Anyway. The ritual is fairly simple - a cut with a sharp blade to the palm of his hand, squeeze some blood out over a map, and it should guide him to Louis. How, exactly, Harry is still a bit unclear on, but Elaine assured him that this would work. Probably.

The probably bit hadn’t exactly cleared up any of Harry’s misgivings. He is, however, getting the impression that a lot of what these three women know about the Unseelie is purely theoretical. No one’s actually come out and said that as of yet, but it’s a pretty distinct feeling.

It’s still Harry’s best shot, so he accepts the knife Elaine is handing him, biting back a comment about this being incredibly stupid - there’s so many other places to draw blood from the human body that don’t have nearly as many nerve endings - and hovering over the table the map is laid out over. Maggie dims the lights, leaving candlelight flickering in the corners of the room, and suddenly, just like that, Harry realizes that these women are witches. Like real, honest to god witches.

When did Harry’s life get so weird. Seriously.

Hand mostly steady, Harry draws the knife over his left palm, deep enough to split the skin and have blood welling out. He clenches his fist closed, holding it over the map, and begins murmuring the incantation Elaine taught him. It’s a mixture of words Harry doesn’t understand, sounding mostly Latin in origin, and Elaine assured him that it’s a scrying spell.

As he’s saying the words, Harry has a minute of doubt. He could be doing anything right now, saying anything, and he wouldn’t know the difference. He just blindly accepted everything these three women have told him because he has no other options, and that’s something that could really backfire on him.

He doesn’t stop. The other fae hadn’t come right out and said it, but Harry knows that it’s Louis’ life on the line. If he doesn’t warn him Louis will end up dead, and Harry can’t live with that.

The blood drips from his clenched fist down onto the map. Harry keeps his arm nice and loose like Elaine told him to, not worrying about getting the blood into one spot, and for a minute nothing happens. Blood splatters the paper, smudging ink, and the cut hurts a little. It’s nothing that Harry can’t handle, but for a few seconds it’s about all he can concentrate on.

Then Harry blinks, and when his eyes come back into focus, the blood has been arranged in a circle around a small spot on the map. Harry’s best guess is that it’s a five kilometer radius in the forest, maybe fifteen kilometers away from Harry’s house. His knees feel weak, and he’s pretty sure that if he wasn’t already sitting he would have landed on his arse.

“Holy shit,” Harry says out loud, looking down at the clear spot on the map. His head feels woozy, like he’s lost much more blood than he actually has, and he can’t believe this actually worked.

Holy fuck, it actually worked.

“It’s not always accurate,” Elaine cautions him, “if the heart is not true, the results may lead you astray, or if the incantation wasn’t pure the magic can be harmful.”

It’s the same warning she gave him earlier. Harry nods, but he’s not really listening.

It worked. Now all that’s left to do is find Louis and warn him.

 

 

There’s a light dusting of snow on the ground. It crunches under Harry’s boots as he walks, dead leaves giving it that extra crispness. It’s the kind of snow that will be gone in two hours, when the sun reaches its peak in the sky. For now, though, it lends a feeling of winter to the air, cold and brisk all around him.

He walks. He’s got his hunting rifle slung over his right shoulder, just in case. You can never be too careful all alone in the forest with unknown predators a mere few feet away, and that’s something Harry is keenly aware of. Especially now that he knows it’s not just animals that live in these woods.

Around him, nature has started to die off for the cold season. The leaves on the trees are all but gone, lying bereft on the ground, waiting for snow to start covering them. The forest feels quiet and clear, like sleep is about to overtake it.

Harry keeps walking. He’s got a compass tucked into his jacket pocket, but he doesn’t need it. He knows these woods, knows the trails, the twists and turns, and he has no idea how he’s gone so long without knowing that there are things in it that are neither human nor animal.

The soft glow of the floating light a few feet in front of him doesn’t hurt, either. It’s been leading him, sometimes twisting and turning, but always sure of its direction. It’s part of the spell, Elaine had explained, a light to guide his way. Either it will take him where he wants to go, or it’ll lead him in circles until he gives up. Apparently, there is no in between.

It’s something he still hasn’t wrapped his head around, even a full twelve hours after learning what the creatures are. Fairies are real. Magic is real. Witches are actually a thing. He can’t concentrate on that right now, so he concentrates on walking, eyes alert, scanning for any sign that something’s been living here. Because that’s the truth of it, isn’t it - Louis has been living here, all alone, and there’s no telling how long that’s been the case.

Between one step and the next, something changes. Harry hesitates, foot a few centimeters off the ground, searching the surrounding trees for a clue, a sign, anything. If he doesn’t find Louis, Louis is going to die. Harry can feel it in his gut, and it makes as much sense as any of the rest of this.

In the corner of Harry’s eye, something glitters. It’s just for a second, just out of the way, between two trees, and Harry’s running towards it before he can even think about it.

Something bursts as Harry goes through it. Cold vibrates through his entire body, almost enough to stop his heart, but it’s just for a second before it’s over and he’s lying on the ground, staring up at the canopy of tree leaves overhead. It takes him a second to remember how to breathe, and when he does he gasps for air, fingers twitching weakly at his sides.

That was - fuck, that hurt so much. What the hell.

A scowling, unimpressed face comes into Harry’s direct line of vision. Louis’ scowling, unimpressed face. “Thought I told you that you can’t have joint custody,” he says.

Harry blinks, trying to find the will to get his feet back under him. “What?” he wheezes.

Louis puts the toe of his shoe against Harry’s ribs and pushes. “What are you doing here.” His voice is flat, much less of a question than it should be, and Harry finds the words pouring out of his mouth without his consent.

“Had to find you and warn you,” he says, grabbing at his chest and squeezing it. There’s an ache there, deep and unyielding, one that came out of nowhere. Harry thinks it probably had something to do with whatever forcefield he burst through. “Fuck, what is this?”

“Truth spell,” Louis says, completely unsympathetic. “Combined with a protective bubble spell. It would have kept you out if your intentions weren’t pure. Must be kicking your arse right now.”

There’s still no sympathy in his voice, and, not for the first time, Harry wonders what he’s gotten himself into. Magical supernatural beings apparently don’t have no interest in how fragile humans are.

“You must be a riot at parties,” Harry murmurs, more to himself than anything. The ache in his chest is lessening with every breath, and he supposes that’s something.

“A goddamn laugh riot,” Louis drawls, and it’s unexpected enough that Harry laughs, muscles in his stomach pulling. “What did you come here for, Harry.”

Okay. This is it, then. Harry can do this and then he’ll have fulfilled his duty. He takes a deep breath and pushes himself up into a sitting position, palms getting dirt and twigs stuck to them. “This guy came to my house,” he says. “He threatened you. I’m pretty sure he’s going to try to kill you.”

Louis doesn’t look even a little bit fazed. “Yes,” he says.

That’s all. Just yes. As though it’s something he already knows.

What the fuck.

“What do you mean, yes?” Harry demands, pushing himself to his feet and taking a few steps in Louis’ direction. “Louis, this guy is trying to - ”

His words freeze in his throat. Harry’s hands go up to claw at it, trying to force them out, but he can’t speak, can’t get any noises out at all.

“How do you know my name?” Louis demands. His hand is up, hovering mid-air, and something about it says it’s how he’s preventing Harry from speaking.

Harry’s throat clicks. He still can’t speak. The silence lasts another two seconds before Louis’ hand drops, and then the words come pouring out again. “The guy said it,” Harry wheezes.

Louis sighs, rubbing the back of his hand over his jaw. Abruptly, Harry notices that he’s got more stubble now than he did a few days ago, reddish and glinting in the fading sunlight. “Fucking Jeremy,” he mutters. “Okay. Thanks for letting me know. You can go now.”

That - what - no.

“That’s all I get?” Harry demands, taking a few steps closer, so they’re only a couple of feet apart. “Someone breaks into my house, breaks all my shit, threatens your life, and all I get from you is a you can go now?”

“I also said thank you,” Louis says, crossing his arms over his chest and planting his feet in the ground. “There’s really no call for anything else.”

“Really?” Harry presses, taking another step closer. “You think there’s no call for anything else when you’re having my baby?”

Louis doesn’t laugh, but he cracks a smile. “Thank you, Harry Styles,” he repeats. “I’ll take care of it.”

Harry leaves. He doesn’t feel as relieved as he thought he would.

 

 

It takes two days before Louis shows up again. Harry had been sleeping, albeit much less soundly than he did before his home was broken into, and he wakes to the sound of rustling coming from downstairs.

Harry slips out of bed as quietly as he can manage, making sure to grab his gun before creeping down the stairs, safety off and ready to fire.

If the creepy guy is back, Harry will do what he has to in order to survive. He won’t enjoy it, but he will do it.

The rustling gets louder as Harry rounds the corner to the living room. The lights are still off, only moonlight illuminating the room, and it takes a second for Harry’s eyes to make out the figure lying on the couch. It’s an undeniably familiar figure.

Harry lets out an explosive breath and flicks on the lights. “What are you doing here?” he demands. “I could’ve - ”

Shot you again, is how that sentence was going to end. The last few words die in his throat when he sees the blood.

Louis’ head lolls against the arm of the couch as he turns to look at Harry standing in the doorway. “Yeah,” he says, low, pain turning his voice gritty. “That might’ve already happened.”

Jesus fucking christ.

Harry thumbs the safety back on, putting the gun into the nearest end table and shutting the drawer, then goes to examine Louis’ injury.

The bullet wound is on his arm this time, just above his elbow. And Harry does mean on - it’s about half an inch deep, but for all intents and purposes it’s just a graze. The bullet isn’t embedded in his flesh like it was last time, just a chunk of his arm missing. It’s still bleeding, and it’s a slow, sluggish bleeding, but the blood itself is really dark, much darker than it had been before, and that’s saying something, considering that it had looked black last time.

How does blood look darker than black? This magic thing is really screwing with Harry’s head.

“What happened?” Harry breathes, hand hovering above the wound. This looks different than the first time. Louis’ face is even paler than it was then, almost lifeless, wan and waxen, and Harry doesn’t know what this is. A wound like this shouldn’t be affecting him that much, right? The bullet isn’t even embedded in his flesh or anything.

Louis shifts, winces. Blood drips onto Harry’s hardwood floor. “It was poisoned,” he breathes. “Please, you have to help me.”

Poisoned?” Harry repeats, voice sharp and high. This is not what he signed up for.

“Just a little,” Louis says, uninjured hand groping around to find Harry’s. He finds it and laces their fingers together, pulling at Harry’s arm.

Harry resists. “I don’t know how to help you,” he points out, voice still uncomfortably shrill. “I don’t know anything about poison!”

“Just a little poisoned,” Louis repeats, voice gone a little dreamy, still tugging at Harry’s hand. Harry relents, letting him pull. “Just - you just have to let me take.”

Let him take. What the fuck does that even mean?

Louis guides Harry’s hand over the wound, pushing it down firmly, and Harry doesn’t have to wonder anymore.

He also doesn’t have to do anything else, because he passes out.

 

 

As it turns out, healing a poisoned wound is very similar to healing a non-poisoned wound. Harry figures that much out when he comes to, lying on his back on the floor beside the couch. Louis’ feet are propped up on his chest, bare and vulnerable, and for a second all Harry can think about is how normal it seems.

Then his arm slips in a pool of sticky blood, and he wakes all the way up.

“I really wish you would stop doing that,” Harry grouses. He feels weak, like his blood sugar is low or something. Like he needs a sugary snack.

Louis’ toes press down against Harry’s collarbone. “You’re the one who warned me about it in the first place,” he grumbles back. He still sounds tired, as though he’s not entirely finished healing. Which, actually, might explain why Harry still feels so shitty. He thought Louis had to use his hand to do the magical life-drawing thing, but the things he doesn’t know about all of this could fill a few thousand books.

That’s enough of an excuse to keep lying on the floor. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Harry says, wrapping his fingers around Louis’ ankle.

“Yes, well, it took a lot of effort on your part to find me and warn me,” Louis says. It sounds an awful lot like a thank you. Harry squeezes Louis’ ankle in response, thumb idly stroking a patch of bare skin.

“How much longer ‘til you’re fully healed?” Harry asks.

“Few more hours,” Louis says, “and you can stop groping me anytime now.”

Harry pulls his hand away so fast he might have given himself whiplash if he were standing up. “I’m - ”

“Sorry, I know,” Louis says, and it’s remarkable, really, how he can inject an eye-roll into his voice. “It’s fine.”

There’s silence. Harry’s still wearing the shirt he went to sleep in, but he swears he can feel the cold of Louis’ toes seeping through the thin material. They feel colder than they should, having been inside for so long, and that’s a bit worrying.

“You’re going to be okay, though?” Harry can’t stop himself from pressing. He doesn’t mean just from the wound. This entire situation is so fucked up, so unbelievable, and Harry doesn’t understand half of what’s going on, but he knows, deep in his gut, that Louis doesn’t deserve any of this. He might be a powerful supernatural creature who doesn’t seem to have much regard for the well-being of humans, but he doesn’t deserve to die. That’s something Harry is pretty sure of.

“Peachy,” Louis agrees.

Harry’s fingers itch to wrap themselves around Louis’ ankle again. He resists the urge. “This seemed much less severe than the first time,” he points out. “You were barely even bleeding when I found you.”

The pool of blood drying under Harry’s left shoulder would beg to differ. Still, it’s much less blood than there was when Harry actually shot Louis. Hopefully it’ll be easier to clean up, too.

“Poison will do that,” Louis says. “Doesn’t take much to really fuck you up.”

Poison. Harry still can’t wrap his head around it.

“Luckily it was slow acting?” Harry guesses.

Louis snorts. It’s a very bitter sound. “It was a warning,” he says. “If he wanted me dead, I would be dead.”

Okay, that’s enough to have Harry sitting straight up, knocking Louis’ feet off his chest and into his lap. “What?” he demands. He knew it was a life or death situation, but hearing it out loud is an entirely different story.

“They want me gone,” Louis says. The exhaustion in his voice is spreading to his face, making him seem even more tired than he had when Harry had come downstairs. “Or dead, they don’t care that much.”

It much be the exhaustion making him so open. A couple weeks ago, he wouldn’t even tell Harry his name, much less about the people - Unseelie - trying to kill him.

“Why?” Harry asks, taking care to keep his tone curious but not probing, wedging his arse into the silver of space Louis has left on the couch.

He’s beginning to think that Louis might be a bit of an arsehole, leaving Harry to sleep in the most uncomfortable positions so often it’s starting to become a pattern. He’s pretty sure that’s just a facet of Louis’ personality and has nothing to do with him being a magical fairy creature.

“Because life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, honey,” Louis says, slapping his hand down on Harry’s knee and using it to push himself up. “Sometimes shit goes wrong. Thanks for your help and all that. I’ll see you later.”

He walks towards the door, not slow but not fast either, and pauses before he gets all the way there. “I’m taking this,” he adds, and swipes a vase off the table before Harry can react.

Harry’s left blinking after him, wondering why the hell Louis took a vase. A vase, of all things. A fucking vase.

 

 

In the middle of the night, Harry wakes up knowing that he’s not alone. He doesn’t have that same feeling he did when the other Unseelie broke into his house, so he thinks it must be Louis. He cracks an eye open, curling his fingers into his fist, not really sure whether he’s expecting to see Louis staring at him or not.

He is. More specifically, he’s lying in Harry’s bed beside him, under the duvet. There’s a smear of blood lying high on his cheekbone, and he looks tired, but other than that he seems okay.

“You’re lucky I didn’t freak out and punch you,” Harry murmurs, voice still gravelly with sleep.

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Louis says. He sounds just as tired as he looks, and the smear of blood is really distracting. Harry can’t stop looking at it, and he reaches out without thinking about it, rubbing his thumb over it. The blood is dried, flaky, and it comes off as he rubs at it.

The room is quiet, dark. Harry doesn’t know what time it is, only that it’s too early to be awake. Nothing about this feels like an emergency. His heartrate hadn’t spiked that much when he woke up, but it starts to slow down now, content that nothing is wrong.

Well, anymore than usual, that is.

“I could have,” Harry insists. His hand seems content to stay where it is, resting against Louis’ cheek. “Are you okay?”

Louis blinks slowly. “I’m fine.”

He says it like it’s a given, like he’s never been anything other than fine. The amount of blood Harry’s had to scrub from this house would say otherwise, though. He’s bled all over Harry, all over this bed, so forgive Harry for thinking there might be something wrong. Especially when Louis shows up with dried blood still on his face.

Actually, come to think of it, that dried blood had looked more like a spot Louis missed. Like he washed himself off before coming here and just happened to miss a spot because he didn’t have a mirror handy or something. Like he put effort into not appearing as hurt as he actually is.

Harry narrows his eyes, reaching out under the blanket and jabbing two fingers into Louis’ ribs. Just like he expected, Louis flinches away, hurt flashing across his face. And yeah, Harry fucking called it.

“Yeah, you’re real fine,” Harry mutters, sitting up, covers falling down to his lap in the process. He drags them down a little further, pushing Louis’ shirt up so he can see the extent of the damage. It’s still middle-of-the-night dark, but he can make out the edges of a baseball sized bruise forming low on Louis’ side.

“You keep sweet talking me like that and we’re gonna end up with that baby before you know it,” Louis says, dry.

Harry’s listening, even as he examines the bruise, trying to tell how bad it is, so he responds, “Maybe you wouldn’t be as reckless if I had knocked you up,” without thinking about it.

The bruise doesn’t look so bad, at least in this light. Harry lays his hand over it gingerly, unsure whether Louis is going to let him, unsure whether it’s going to make Louis flinch again.

Louis doesn’t. He makes a little noise in the back of his throat, one that doesn’t sound all that pained, and covers Harry’s hand with his own. “You want a baby with me?” he asks breathlessly, wiggling his fingers through Harry’s and griping them tight. “Oh, Harry, I thought this day would never come!”

Harry rolls his eyes so hard he can feel it in his skull. “Do you need to do the ice thing or not, you bastard?”

Louis sits up, hem of his shirt falling back down around his waist. The material covers both of their hands, still pressed against Louis’ side. He gets up onto his knees, mattress shaking underneath him, and for a second Harry thinks he’s going climb into his lap. Oddly enough, Harry doesn’t feel opposed. On his knees like this, Louis is taller than him, and there’s still not a lot of light, but his glimmer is ever-present, distracting. It must be the lack of sleep, but Harry can’t stop looking at him.

It’s been at least ten minutes, and still, none of this feels like an emergency. Harry’s hand is still pressed against Louis’ side, warm. He feels like he could stay here like this for another eight hours without needing to move.

“Would you let me?” Louis asks, raising an eyebrow. It’s not the first time he’s asked that, but it feels just as important as it had then. He shuffles a little on the bed, left knee pressing into Harry’s thigh. Harry spreads his fingers out, touching as much of Louis’ belly as he can, thumb just under the curve of Louis’ navel.

“It’s not something I would relish, but if you need to do it I would,” Harry says. He leans back against the headboard, breaking some of the tension.

He still hasn’t taken his hand off of Louis’ stomach.

Louis watches him move back, eyes glittering in the dark, hand still on top of Harry’s under his shirt, and for some reason it feels like they’re teetering on the edge of some kind of precipice. “I might have some slight internal bleeding,” he allows.

Some slight internal bleeding, he says, like it’s nothing. Harry has to laugh, only slightly incredulous. “You might have some slight internal bleeding,” he echoes.

“I can control it,” Louis says, wiggling his hand on top of Harry’s. “When I’m not in so much pain I can barely think straight, I can control it a lot better. It won’t hurt so much this time.”

That’s interesting information. Harry’s not entirely sure he believes it, but it doesn’t really matter. He was willing to let Louis do it when he thought it was going to hurt, learning that it might not doesn’t change anything.

“Okay,” Harry says. Louis hesitates for a second, still on his knees at Harry’s side. It would be awkward to try to do it like this, uncomfortable. Probably just make Louis’ pain worse. Harry tugs at Louis’ uninjured hip, coaxes, “Come here.”

A look Harry can’t decipher crosses Louis’ face. It’s gone just as quickly as it came, and Louis accepts Harry’s help to climb between his legs, settle with his back to Harry’s chest. Harry rucks Louis’ shirt up again, tucking it under his armpits to hold it again, and puts his hand back on the bruised spot on Louis’ ribs.

Later, he won’t be able to explain why he did any of that. All he knows is that it feels like the right thing to do at the time. The completely unnecessary right thing to do.

“Is this okay?” he asks belatedly, meaning will this position work. He’s all too aware that it’s the perfect opportunity for Louis to make a joke, but he doesn’t. Louis just nods, bringing his own hand up to rest on top of Harry’s again. The cold starts, but it’s nothing like it was before. It’s not overwhelming, more seeping. It crawls up through his hand, into his arm, spreads across his chest. Slowly but surely, it numbs his entire body a few degrees. He can still feel, still move all of his limbs. It just feels colder than usual. Like standing outside for ten minutes in the middle of winter.

Louis sighs, head tipping back against Harry’s shoulder. He’s fit snug in between Harry’s legs, and it’s almost comfortable. Would be comfortable if it wasn’t for the chill. With that in mind, Harry reaches down with his free hand and tugs the duvet back up, arranging it around their shoulders the best he can. Louis exhales even slower, going lax against Harry’s chest muscle by muscle.

“Yes,” Louis murmurs eventually, an answer to Harry’s question, and Harry falls back asleep to the cadence of Louis’ breathing.

 

 

The second Harry pulls into the driveway, gravel crunching under the truck’s tires, he knows that Louis is in his house again. He sits in the truck for a minute before getting out, eyes closed and breathing through his nose.

“Please don’t be bleeding all over my furniture again,” he says out loud, resting his forehead against the wheel for another few seconds before he gets out of the truck. The door is still locked when he reaches it. He’s not sure how to feel about that. This whole magic thing still makes his head hurt sometimes.

Twisting his key in the lock, Harry goes into his house. Louis isn’t on the first floor, but that was something Harry already knew. The window in his bedroom is open, and two minutes ago Louis had crossed the room, shirtless and staggering, on his way to the bathroom.

That image really doesn’t bode well for the whole ‘no bleeding’ thing. Harry takes the stairs two at a time, not quite running down the hall to the bedroom, but that’s only because the hall isn’t long enough to justify that.

Louis isn’t in the bedroom. He’s in the bathroom. More specifically, Louis is in the bathtub, immersed in bubbly water with a bottle of wine at his elbow.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Harry says. There’s no blood in the water, and his knees sag a little, sending him slouching against the doorframe. He hadn’t realized how much adrenaline had been running through him until this very second.

Seriously. He really needs to stop hanging out with the magically-inclined. It’s not doing his cardiac health any favours.

Louis just looks at him. The ends of his hair are curling slightly from the moisture in the room, despite not actually touching the water, and Harry can’t escape the knowledge that he’s naked in there. In Harry’s bathtub. Underneath all those bubbles.

“I thought you were dying, you know,” Harry says, folding his arms across his chest. His knees are regaining a little bit of strength, no thanks to this whole bathing debacle. Seriously, who just breaks into someone’s house and decides, hey, seems like a great idea to get naked and take a bath?

Louis waves a dismissive hand. “Just a few bruises here and there. Nothing to write home about.” There’s something in his voice when he says home, something Harry can’t quite identify. Something longing and bitter and a million other things too nuanced for Harry’s brain to work through right now.

“So you decided to break into my house and have a bath?” Harry asks. It’s a pretty fair question, in his opinion.

Louis’ answering shrug is slow and sensual, somehow. How can a shrug even be sensual? That makes no fucking sense whatsoever. “It’s what humans do when they feel sore, right? This is no different than that.”

It is. It is fucking different, even if Harry can’t quite put his finger on why. He’s still too distracted by the way Louis is completely naked five feet away from him.

“How bad is it?” Harry asks, drifting closer. This is becoming an all too familiar scene - the amount of times Louis has broken into his house to have Harry patch him up over the past three weeks is getting astronomically high.

“It’s fine,” Louis says, slipping lower in the water, until it’s lapping at his chin. His hand is still resting on the edge of the tub, skin wet, dampening that glimmer only a little, and before Harry knows it he’s on his knees beside the tub. “Nothing a good bottle of wine won’t fix. And if you’re going to kiss me, now would be a good time to do it.”

Harry rears back so fast he actually ends up sprawled out on his arse, blinking frantically at Louis. Wet, naked Louis.

“What?” he says, stupid. He wasn’t going to - oh, fuck, he totally was.

Louis rolls his eyes, grabbing the wine bottle and taking a healthy swig of it. Harry watches his throat work as he swallows, helpless not to. “Humans,” Louis mutters to himself.

And that - okay. Harry’s had enough of that shit. It’s been three weeks of Louis coming running to him with all sorts of disgusting injuries, three weeks of tight-lipped silence, three weeks of Louis not saying anything that means anything, three weeks of him coming back without giving Harry anything in return, and Harry’s fucking tired of it.

“Really?” Harry demands, pushing himself back onto his knees and looming over the bathtub, one hand braced against the slick tile wall on the far side. “For the past three weeks I’ve patched you up, fed you, clothed you, let you sleep in my fucking bed, and you’re still pulling this humans shit on me?”

Louis sits up a bit, water sluicing down his bare chest, unfairly distracting. “You are human,” he hisses, “You have no - ”

Harry’s had enough of his shit. “Oh, yeah, I know I’m human,” he interrupts. “Fragile, paper skin, weak heart, all of that. And you’re Unseelie, dark, powerful fairy, doesn’t care much for humans. You know what I think, though?”

Louis stays quiet. For once, he stays quiet. “I think,” Harry continues, braced against the wall, keeping Louis trapped in the water, “I think that you’re too fucking scared to admit that you keep coming back here because you don’t want to be alone.”

That’s the crux of it, isn’t it. Louis is alone, and Harry is alone, and sometimes they’re alone together. Maybe that’s all it is. Honestly, Harry has no way of telling.

“You’re going to want to move back,” Louis says, voice icy, “before I make you.”

Harry remembers exactly how much it had hurt when Louis had made him before, slamming into a wall so hard he almost passed out. “I think I do want to kiss you,” he says, and that seems to stop Louis right in his tracks.

Or it would, if Louis was moving. Whatever.

“And you said I could, earlier,” Harry continues, leaning up, trying to get a better vantage point, “so if you’ve changed your mind you should tell me now.”

He leans down, slow, slow enough that Louis has more than enough time to say something if he wants to, slow enough that Louis could use his magic to stop him, and neither of those things happen. The only thing that happens is the bottom of Harry’s t-shirt gets wet as it dips into the water, and then their mouths line up and make contact.

At first, it’s less of a kiss than it is just flesh pressed against flesh. Harry’s half expecting Louis to hurl him across the room, slam him against a wall. He doesn’t. All he does is lie there, passive under Harry’s touch, for long enough that Harry goes to pull away. Then Louis kisses back, one wet, slippery hand sliding up to thread its way into Harry’s hair.

Harry nearly climbs into the tub with Louis, that’s how good the kiss is. It’s the best kiss of Harry’s life, and that’s saying something. Scorching and deep, it turns wet about five seconds after it starts. Harry licks at Louis’ bottom lip, tugging it down with his teeth, and is rewarded with the tiniest, hottest little whimper in the back of Louis’ throat. He’s still naked in there, Louis is, and Harry can’t stop his own hands from roaming a bit, one curling around the back of Louis’ neck, the other petting over his shoulderblades.

Louis’ mouth falls open with the pressue of Harry’s teeth, and Harry doesn’t waste any time chasing after Louis’ tongue. He makes contact, and that is - that is incredible.

Harry’s jeans are wet. He opens his eyes and finds himself in the tub, knees on the outside of Louis’ thighs, pressing Louis so far down into the water it’s lapping around the lobes of his ears. Pulling back an inch or so, he swallows hard. He doesn’t even remember climbing into the bathtub.

He doesn’t know what to say. What he wants is to go back in for another kiss, but this has clearly already gotten out of his control. Maybe it has something to do with Louis being fae.

Slowly, Louis opens his eyes. He looks shockingly vulnerable, body lax under Harry’s, and Harry is actually at a loss for words. He initiated the kiss, and now he’s frozen solid, doesn’t know what to do.

“Humans,” Louis says eventually, breaking the silence, “always starting something they can’t finish.”

Something prickles up and down Harry’s spine. “Do you want me to finish it?” he asks, aware that his voice is still a little rough.

“Do you think I want you to finish it?” Louis asks, arching an eyebrow, and that’s not an answer.

The head of his cock peeking up through the water, blood flushed and pretty, is, though.

“I think a lot of things,” Harry says, trailing his fingers over the curve of Louis’ jaw. “I think about a lot of things. I think about how you never tell me anything and I still want to have sex with you.”

It’s something he doesn’t like to admit too often, even to himself. There’s no point in denying it anymore, though, not when it’s so obvious to both of them. It’s probably something a little dangerous to admit.

“Even though you might put a weird mythological baby into me?” Louis asks, putting two fingers into the crook of Harry’s elbow and pushing a little, like he’s trying to push Harry’s arm out from under him, get him crashing back down against Louis’ body.

“It freaks me out when you joke about that,” Harry says. Louis’ mouth is calling to him like a lure, begging to be kissed again, and the only thing stopping him from giving in is the water cooling around them.

The corner of Louis’ mouth quirks up into a little half-smile. “Why do you think I keep doing it?”

The tugging in Harry’s gut gets stronger. It took a couple of meetings before he realized that he thought Louis was attractive, a couple of interactions to get over the blood and terror of the first time, and now it’s all he can think about. How attractive Louis is, and how he’s lying naked under Harry right at this very second. Naked and a little bruised and very wet.

Fuck, so wet.

“Your magic,” Harry says, dragging his thumb down the center of Louis’ chest, pausing just above his navel, “could it get us to the bed?”

“My magic can do a lot of things,” Louis says, tipping his head back a bit, looking at Harry from underneath his eyelashes, so obviously a ploy that Harry’s cock can’t help but throb. “It’s not going to do the work for you, though.”

It’s not going to, as opposed to it can’t. Harry files that away in the back of his head for later.

“Fine,” Harry says, struggling a little to push himself out of the tub. His jeans cling to him, uncomfortable and heavy, and he holds out a hand for Louis to take. “C’mon, then.”

Louis just looks at him, lounging in water that’s long since gone cold, naked. So very naked. “You’re still under the impression that I’m going to be doing any of the work, then?” he asks, amused.

Harry doesn’t have the patience to come up with a witty reply. His boots squeak against the tile floor as he bends down again, scoops Louis up into his arms and holds on tight as he turns around to head for the bed.

It’s been a few long months of having the shit scared out of him in new and terrifying ways, and this is going to be his reward. Harry is damn sure that this is going to be his reward.

Neither of them say anything as Harry makes his way to the bed. The air between them is thick with tension, and Harry’s cock is trapped behind wet denim, long since gone hard enough to fuck. He carries Louis to the bed in silence, both of them still dripping wet, and thinks you beautiful bastard.

He’s not particularly gentle as he dumps Louis onto the bed, following him a split second later. The sheets don’t get wet underneath them because they’ve dried off in the five second walk from the bathroom to the bed. Harry laughs, has to, burying the sound in the hollow of Louis’ throat. Won’t use his magic to get them to the bed faster but will use it to make sure they’re dry when they get there.

“You are absolutely infuriating,” Harry says, pressing his thumb back against Louis’ belly, in the same spot as before. He had been trying so hard to stop himself from looking earlier, when he thought Louis had been hurt again, and he gives up any pretense of that now, eyes raking over every inch of Louis’ naked body.

“You’re wearing too many clothes,” Louis says, plucking at the hem of Harry’s shirt. Harry’s jeans are still a little damp, not entirely dry, and he’d love to know whether that was intentional or not, but he tucks that thought away into the back of his head as well, in favour of leaning down and kissing Louis again.

It’s just as good as it was last time. Harry’s head is a little clearer, and now he can taste coffee on Louis’ tongue. It’s almost enough to jar him out of it - drinking coffee is so normal, such a human thing to do, and Louis is nothing if not abnormal. The taste of it is addictive, almost sweet, and Harry sucks at Louis’ tongue, palms at his bare side, and tries to resist the urge to get between his thighs.

He’s not scared of hurting Louis, not really. Louis has more than proven he doesn’t need to be physically stronger than Harry in order to get the better of him. A flick of his finger and he can send Harry hurtling across the room, probably even break a few bones in the process. What exactly he’s capable of doing with his magic is still beyond Harry’s comphrension, but the glimpses he’s got have left him assured that there’s nothing he could do to Louis that he didn’t want.

Still, sex with an Unseelie fairy, that’s kind of intimidating. Even if Harry had no idea what an Unseelie even was a few months ago.

“You’re making me feel a little underdressed,” Louis gasps after a few minutes, tearing his mouth away. His cheeks are flushed pink, making the glimmer in his skin stand out even more than usual.

“You’re making me feel like a virgin,” Harry says. The admission falls out of his mouth easily, without his brain’s input.

Doesn’t make it any less true.

Louis quirks an eyebrow at him and runs his hand down Harry’s chest, fiddling with a button near the bottom. “Are you?” he asks, no hint of a joke in his voice.

Harry strips his shirt over his head. He figures it’s a question that doesn’t need an answer - it’ll be pretty clear soon enough that he’s not a virgin, he thinks. In the meantime, let Louis think whatever he wants. Serves him right for never actually telling Harry his name, much less that he’s an insanely powerful mythological being.

“See, now that’s what I’m talking about,” Louis says, groping at Harry’s bare chest. Harry knocks his hand out of the way, but only because he’s struggling to get his still damp jeans off, almost forgetting to kick his boots and socks off in the process.

When he’s done, his skin feels clammy, a little cold, and he draws the sheet up to cover them before going back in for another kiss, nipping at Louis’ bottom lip until he opens up with a hurt little noise. It’s a good kind of hurt, but Harry still chases it away with his tongue, soothing the ache before he delves into Louis’ mouth properly.

“I’m really not,” Harry murmurs eventually, more into Louis’ mouth than not. It’s warm under the sheet, cozy. They’re lying side by side, and Louis’ hair tickles at Harry’s cheek, soft and sweet smelling like he’s used Harry’s shampoo.

He probably has. Breaks into Harry’s house and uses all of his stuff, drinks all of his wine, eats all of his food. It’s more like having someone living with him than anything, and he can’t think about that for too long without sending his head into a tailspin.

“What?” Louis gasps, mouth bitten pink and plush. Harry presses his thumb against it, can’t not. This here is a powerful fairy and he’s going to let Harry defile him. If Harry’s cock wasn’t already hard it would be from that thought.

“I’m not,” Harry repeats. “A virgin.”

He leans in for another kiss before Louis can respond. It’s just as good as the last two, deep and intense, and before he knows it he’s leaning over Louis, pressing him down into the mattress. Get in between Louis’ thighs, left hand wrapped around one, clutching the inside of it and holding him open.

It feels right, being between Louis’ legs like this. Harry’s still wearing boxers, but he grinds down anyway, half experimental, trying to get a feel for the angle. It’s good, but it could be better, so he goes to adjust, pushing Louis’ thigh a bit higher before he moves again.

That’s the intention, anyway. It kind of gets spoiled by Louis’ hand darting down and wiggling its way into Harry’s boxers, wrapping around his cock.

“Fuck,” Harry breathes, hand surging up and knocking a million things over as he gropes desperately for the lube he knows is in the bedside table drawer.

“That’s the intention,” Louis shoots back, stroking Harry’s cock slow and easy, like he’s got all the time in the world. And maybe he does, but Harry definitely doesn’t. Not if he wants to get inside Louis anytime this century. And he definitely, definitely does.

“Would you,” Harry grits out, trying to keep his hold on Louis’ thigh and the lube and knock his hand away at the same time. Needless to say, it doesn’t really work that well.

“Take these off,” Louis demands, snapping the waist of the boxers against Harry’s hip. He doesn’t stop stroking Harry’s cock as he does it, and it’s maddening. It’s dry and rougher than Harry normally likes but it feels so fucking good it’s incredible.

Harry shoves his boxers down his hips, past his thighs and gives up when they tangle around his knees in order to go in for another kiss. Louis’ skin is hot against his, smooth, and it doesn’t feel any different than normal human skin. Maybe a little warmer. Harry honestly doesn’t know whether he was expecting it to.

He dropped the lube in the process of getting his boxers off, and finding it again is quite a struggle without opening his eyes long enough to see anything other than the sweep of Louis’ eyelashes, the curve of his cheekbone. Kissing Louis is an eyes-closed thing, Harry’s learning, because he thinks he might spontaneously combust if he watches Louis’ reactions to Harry kissing him.

“C’mon,” Louis hisses, using the hand not stroking Harry’s cock to make a grab for the lube. “We going to do this anytime today or?”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. Harry hangs onto the bottle, doesn’t let Louis pull it from his grip. Since the very first time they met, Louis has been interrupting Harry’s life. That’s the best word for it. Interrupting. He’s interrupted Harry’s life with his blood, with his kleptomania, with his chaos and destruction, and the entire time Harry’s been off balance, hasn’t known quite what to do about any of it.

It’s time that changed.

“Yeah, we are,” Harry agrees, biting at the curve of Louis’ jaw, just hard enough to leave a mark. “We’re just going to do it exactly as fast as I feel like, is all.”

He pulls the lube well out of Louis’ grasp. Louis doesn’t make any move to stop him. It’s so tempting to pop it open, drizzle some out onto his fingers, but he can’t make a statement like we’re going to do it the way I want and then immediately give in. So he sets the bottle down and goes back to kissing Louis. He can feel the furrow in his own brow as he tries to concentrate, distracted by the pace of Louis’ hand on his cock.

His own hands can’t seem to stop roaming over Louis’ body, trying to touch every inch of him. He’s so soft under Harry’s hands, body supple, rocking up into every touch. Pretty clearly he’s trying to get some kind of rhythm going on, trying to grind his cock up against Harry’s through the boxers. It’s only of the only part of him Harry hasn’t touched yet.

Thinking about it is almost as distracting as the way Louis is touching him. He only got the quickest glimpse of Louis’ cock through the water, and then again in the bed when he had to force himself to stop looking, but he thinks it’s probably the prettiest cock he’s ever seen in his life. He wouldn’t mind getting his mouth on it.

Harry opens his eyes, cataloguing the flush of Louis’ cheeks, the shadow of his eyelashes, the pink of his mouth. They’re both breathing hard, unsteady, and Harry can barely think straight, so focused on how everything feels.

That’s his excuse for why he doesn’t see the move coming. One minute he’s on top, fit so perfectly between Louis’ thighs, the next he’s on his back, blinking up at Louis’ so far from sweet face, hands gripping his hips.

It’s impossible to tell whether Louis used his magic to do it or not. Harry can’t tell. Either way, it sends a hard, aching throb straight to his cock.

“You’re slow,” Louis says, pushing at Harry’s shoulders, but not like he’s trying to get him to go anywhere. “Fuck, you talk so slow, kiss like you have all the goddamn time in the world, wouldn’t even have made a move if I didn’t - ”

He’s still talking. Harry tunes it out, hands still gripping Louis’ hips, sitting up and inching them backwards, until his bare skin hits the cool wood of the headboard. Louis doesn’t stop talking through it, hand long since left Harry’s cock, and Harry would mourn it, but the weight of Louis in his lap, pressing them together inch for inch, is almost as nice.

Harry’s boxers are still between them, preventing them from being completely skin to skin. That little fact is getting increasingly harder to ignore. For now, though, Harry keeps ignoring it, grabbing the lube and flicking it open. Either Louis doesn’t notice or he just doesn’t care, because he’s still talking, showing no sign of letting up. Harry slicks up three fingers, nodding along absently to Louis’ beratement, and pushes his knees up just a little. Louis moves with it easily, and Harry strokes those three lube slick fingers down the cleft of Louis’ arse.

Louis’ breath hitches, but that’s the only response Harry gets. It’s not particularly encouraging, but this is clearly some kind of weird game Louis is playing. He’s confident in his ability to get Louis to forget about it altogether.

Louis’ hole is hot to the touch. Harry pushes past the first bit of initial resistance, index finger sliding inside, flesh parting around him. Louis is tight inside, feels so amazing. He hiccups out a soft noise, words dying in his throat, and that is exactly what Harry was waiting for.

Finally.

“I may be slow,” Harry says, curling the fingers of his free around the back of Louis’ neck and pulling his head down until their lips brush, “but if you really minded waiting for it you wouldn’t be here right now.”

He pulls Louis into another kiss before he can respond. Louis took the first finger so easily, and this has been coming for so long, Harry can’t wait any longer before giving him a second one. So he does, the second one sinking in just easily as the first one did. Louis’ noise is louder this time. Harry chases it with his tongue, scissoring his fingers, and bites at Louis’ mouth when proper kissing becomes too difficult.

Louis chooses that exact moment to grind down on Harry’s fingers. He’s probably trying to angle them to make it feel even better, but in the process he grinds down on Harry’s cock as well.

Harry’s the one who can’t stop his noise from escaping this time. It’s ragged, raw, and louder than he needs it to be. Louis laughs into his mouth, the sound so pleased and happy, and does it again.

“What are you,” Harry breathes, letting go of Louis’ neck to find the lube again, spill some down over his hand, enough that it drips down his wrist and onto the sheets. Then he adds a third finger, pushing it inside Louis even easier than the first two, biting back a moan when Louis immediately clenches down around them. He feels so good inside, all Harry can think about is how he’ll feel when it’s Harry’s cock in him instead of just his fingers.

“Your worst nightmare,” Louis says, and as cheesy as it is Harry can’t help but think he’s at least half right. Harry didn’t ask for any of this - the attraction, the sudden reveal of an entire world of supernatural beings, the feelings. He didn’t ask for it, but here it is, three of Harry’s own fingers buried inside of it, and whether he wanted it or not, here it is. Right in front of him.

“Shh,” Harry says, distracted. He tries to concentrate on getting Louis open, tries to make sure he’s properly open, enough that it won’t hurt when Harry is inside of him, but it’s really hard to do that when Louis is moving on top of him like this.

Louis makes another noise, even more ragged than Harry’s had been, hands buried in Harry’s hair and arching on top of him. He feels ready, as open as Harry is going to be able to get him in his current state, and Harry can’t wait anymore.

“Ready?” Harry asks, curling his fingers one more time. Louis hisses out a breath against Harry’s mouth, nodding emphathically. That’s enough of an answer for Harry, so he withdraws his fingers, groping blindly for the bottle of lube he knows is still tangled in the sheets somewhere, and then stops.

Fuck.

“What?” Louis demands, fingers catching on a strand of Harry’s hair and tugging a little. It pinches at his scalp, probably pulling out a piece or two.

Harry shifts, rearranging Louis’ weight on top of him a bit. “The condoms are downstairs.”

Louis pulls back so fast Harry’s chest actually feels cold. “The condoms are downstairs,” he repeats flatly. He sounds so unimpressed. Harry’s cock gets a tiny bit harder, and he didn’t even think that was possible.

“I don’t have a lot of sex,” Harry admits. His fingers are still tacky with lube, but he curls them around Louis’ hips regardless, desperate to hold more of him in his hands. They’re both going to be sweaty and sticky after they’re finished, Harry figures, and if that’s something that bothers Louis he can probably use his magic to fix it. So really, there’s no harm in it. Especially when it gets more of Louis’ body against Harry’s.

Louis looks at him. Harry looks back. Can’t stop looking, really. The sheen of sweat on his cheekbones brings out the shimmer of his skin, catching a weak stream of light, making him glow even more than usual. Harry’s chest hurts, feelings threatening to spill over like a tidal wave, inescapable and powerful.

“I’ll go get them,” Harry says, squeezing Louis’ hips. “If you just - ”

Get up, obviously. Because Harry can’t go anywhere with Louis sitting in his lap like this. Not that Harry wants to go anywhere. But for sex to happen he has to get the condoms, and those are all the way downstairs.

“You’ll go get them, will you?” Louis asks, rolling his hips, arse pressing down firmly against Harry’s cock, stealing every ounce of breath in his lungs. “Go all the way downstairs, leave me all alone in your bed, naked and hard?”

Harry doesn’t have any breath left to moan, so he just pants against Louis’ throat, open-mouthed and hot. Abruptly, he wishes that he still had his fingers inside Louis so he could press them against Louis’ prostate, cut his words off right in his throat. Just so he can be as overwhelmed as Harry is right now.

“If it means I can fuck you,” Harry grits out eventually, unable to stop himself from helping Louis find a rhythm, slip of their skin together smooth and easy.

“You know what else it’ll mean?” Louis asks, voice gone low and breathy, almost trance-like. It’s another thing that sends a shot of arousal through his veins. “It’ll mean you can’t put that baby into me.”

Harry snorts, pushing Louis off him, sending him sprawling onto the mattress. “I’m going to go get the condoms.”

Louis lands in a compromising position, sprawled out naked and flexible, looking like every wet dream Harry didn’t even know he had. “No need,” he says cheerfully, holding up a foil packet between two fingers.

Magicked up a condom. Harry is so hard.

“You’re impossible,” Harry says anyway, because it’s true and Louis needs to know it. Just in case he doesn’t already. He climbs back onto the bed, grabbing the condom from Louis’ hand and ripping it open, rolling it down over his cock. The lube is sitting exactly where he left it, and Harry adds a good fistful of that before rearranging himself onto his knees between Louis’ spread thighs.

“You make sex look a lot harder than it actually is,” Louis says, propping himself up on his elbows and arching an eyebrow at Harry.

Sex usually doesn’t involve so much mockery. Especially not at Harry’s expense. At least, not any sex Harry has had before. Turns out sex with an Unseelie fairy is a bit different than anything else.

“Why don’t you see if you still feel that way in ten minutes,” Harry says, putting both hands under Louis’ knees and pushing his legs up a bit. Louis doesn’t do anything to help, lounging there while he waits for Harry to put it in him, and Harry has no idea why he finds that so attractive.

“You really think you’re going to last ten minutes?” Louis asks, eyebrow still raised, and part of Harry wants to defend his honour but most of him wants to get inside Louis already. So that’s the option he goes with.

Pushing Louis’ thighs a little higher, Harry lines them up, cockhead pressing against the rim of Louis’ hole, and then pressing in. He doesn’t bother answering, sinking inside inch by inch, and for a moment it’s almost like his soul has left his body and is hovering over him, watching as he fucks into Louis for the first time.

It’s incredible. Intense. Indescribable. A bunch of others words that start with I. Harry’s pretty sure he doesn’t breathe until every inch of his cock is inside Louis.

It’s a slow push. Harry feels every inch of it, sure Louis must too, and can’t do much more than hold Louis’ thighs in place and pant against his throat.

Once he’s all the way inside, Harry pauses, dragging his face off of Louis’ throat and watching his face instead. Louis’ eyes are all the way closed, cheeks tinted pink, face flushed. He’s biting down on his bottom lip, gently, just a little, and Harry wants to be biting down on it instead.

So he does, trailing his mouth up Louis’ jaw, to his mouth, and licks it open until he can suck Louis’ bottom lip into his own mouth. Louis lets him, arching up against Harry as he bites down, and that’s when Harry feels it.

Louis’ thighs are trembling.

“You okay?” Harry asks, letting go of Louis’ lip and pulling back a little.

Exhaling heavily, Louis nods. His hands, which had been lying flat against the mattress, come up, brushing over Harry’s arms on the way to his shoulders. He grips them tight, palms warm against Harry’s skin. “Don’t go getting a big ego or anything, but you’re not exactly small.”

Harry doesn’t think he has a big ego, but he has to admit that the statement sends a small flare of electricity down his spine. He doesn’t think it has as much to do with being told his cock is big as it does with Louis being the one to say that it’s big enough for him to need a bit of a breather.

“Too big?” Harry asks. He’s not expecting the slap he gets to the back of his head, and nearly knocks his face right into Louis’.

He can kind of admit he deserves it, though.

“What did I just say about getting a big ego?” Louis demands. He’s so vicious, even when he’s got Harry’s cock in him. Honestly, Harry kind of likes that.

“Um, that it could never be big enough?” Harry says, and gives Louis his first thrust while he’s still drawing the breath to retort.

Whatever Louis had been going to say gets knocked out of his throat with the move. Harry doesn’t bother biting back his smirk, reveling in the bite of Louis’ nails digging into his back as he thrusts again, harder this time. Then he just - doesn’t stop, never letting Louis catch enough air to form words, only sounds.

The pleasure is incredible. It’s hot, all encompassing, so vivid Harry can barely concentrate on keeping the rhythm he’s developed. He stares at Louis’ face, unblinking, aware that it’s probably at least a little creepy, but he feels like if he does he’ll miss something, something he doesn’t want to miss. Something incredibly important.

Louis’ nails are digging welts into Harry’s back. Harry can hardly feel them, focused on the way Louis feels inside, on the sheen of his mouth, wet from the way his tongue keeps darting out to lick at his lips. Louis is moaning, sounds forced out of him with every thrust of Harry’s cock, high and breathy. His cock is hard, pressing up against Harry’s belly, and it all feels so good Harry doesn’t know whether he’s going to be able to make it ten minutes after all.

“You’re right,” Harry grits out. Louis opens his eyes, dazed blue looking up at him, and Harry continues, “I don’t think it’s going to be ten minutes.”

He doesn’t say it to draw a reaction out of Louis. Honestly, he kind of says it because he can’t stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth. Normally, he’s a lot smoother than this.

Louis gives him a reaction anyway, clenching around Harry’s cock, “I might forgive you this time if you can make me come first.”

Fuck, Harry’s pretty sure Louis is the biggest pain in the arse he’s ever met.

He’s still going to make sure Louis comes first.

“I can do that,” Harry says, slowing his pace and hitching Louis’ hips a bit higher, driving deeper at the same time. Louis’ moan is louder this time, almost surprised, and his fingers tighten against Harry’s shoulders. He says something, soft and slurred, that Harry can’t understand. He’s getting knocked up the mattress with every thrust, only a few inches away from banging his head against the headboard, but Harry can’t bring himself to gentle any, only curls his fingers around the back of Louis’ neck, laces them together, and holds him in place the best he can.

On the next thrust, he drives even deeper, even harder, and then he sees it on Louis’ face, the exact thing he’s been waiting for. Louis comes. His fingers go lax on Harry’s back, lips parted, eyebrows furrowed almost like it hurts, pulsing wet and long into the space between their hips.

Yes, Harry thinks, and then he stops thinking altogether. All he can do is feel, body working on autopilot as he chases his own orgasm, Louis soft and hot and tight around him. When he comes, it feels like everything has just magically clicked into place.

Louis is watching him, hands linked around the back of Harry’s neck. He looks soft, satisfied, sleepy. Harry’s chest clenches the tiniest bit with the desire to see him fall asleep in Harry’s bed, peaceful and unworried, content to just sleep. It wouldn’t be the first time Harry’s seen him sleep, but it’s one of the few things he wants right now.

“You liked that even more than I thought you would,” Louis says, petting the fine hair at the base of Harry’s scalp. “Imagine how hard you’d come if I let you do me bare.”

Harry’s cock gives an interested, determined throb that they both feel. Louis quirks an eyebrow at him, sly, knowing, about to say something even worse. Harry kisses him again, just to shut him up.

Really, that’s the only reason.

 

 

Louis’ breathing has gone slow and soft, but not quite as deep as it is when he’s properly asleep. The sun has long since set, casting the room in dark shadows, the only light filtering in weakly through the open door leading to the hallway. Even in the dim lighting, Louis’ skin glows, almost impossible to look away from.

Harry drags two fingers down the line of Louis’ arm, propping himself up on an elbow to watch Louis’ face. Smooth, unmarred by any lines, for the first time Harry wonders how old Louis is. There’s no indication, nothing to give any clues.

“Is there a way for you to get out of this?” Harry asks quietly.

Louis doesn’t move. He doesn’t answer for so long that Harry thinks he’s not going to say anything at all.

Eventually, Louis says, “Yes.” He doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t open his eyes, doesn’t even move.

Cautiously, Harry presses, “So that’s good, right? You’re working on it?”

Louis stays silent. Harry’s gut sinks.

“C’mon,” Harry pleads, sitting up properly, pressing his thumb against Louis’ jaw, “Talk to me. Please.”

There has to be a way to get Louis out of this. Louis said there is, but he’s not doing it. Harry doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on, the dynamics between Louis and his people, and Louis won’t tell him, leaving him to struggle through it. And the thing about that, the really shitty thing about that, is that Harry really wants to understand it. Every time Louis shows up bruised and bloody, with a new, previously unimaginable wound, Harry’s heart races and he doesn’t feel calm until the bleeding has stopped.

It’s not adrenaline. Well, part of it is adrenaline, but mostly it’s concern. Real, deep-seated concern about Louis’ safety and well-being. Harry’s been growing feelings over the past couple of months, and wanting Louis to keep being alive is one of the biggest ones.

“They want me to leave,” Louis says. He doesn’t open his eyes as he says it, and his face looks pained, no longer smooth.

Harry doesn’t get it. Not entirely, at least. He’s not claiming to be an expert, not by any means, and he knows that Louis has a strong attachment to his community, but if they want him to leave badly enough to keep hurting him like this, Harry doesn’t understand why Louis keeps going back.

Harry curves his hand across Louis’ ribs, settling it there. “Please don’t make me slap myself in the face with my own hand, but why don’t you?”

It’s a pretty valid question, he thinks. Louis’ face creases so slightly Harry has to strain to see it. He still doesn’t open his eyes.

The silence stretches on again. It’s pain, the look on Louis’ face, and Harry can barely stand to witness it. He feels terrible about asking the question, especially just after sex, but he has to know. He has to find out the answers, try to help Louis however he can.

“It’s my home,” Louis says, voice cracking in the middle.

It’s Harry’s heart that clenches this time. There’s nothing he can say in the face of that, no matter how badly he wants to know things.

He’s also beginning to suspect that there’s nothing he can say to change Louis’ mind. It’s an uncomfortable realization, one Harry has to distract himself from.

So far, this afterglow hasn’t really been that glow-y.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers, holding onto Louis’ side tighter.

A peek of blue flashes, Louis looking at him from under his eyelashes. He doesn’t respond, properly doesn’t respond this time, lying quiet, still naked in Harry’s bed. The only thing Harry can do is kiss him once more, slow and gentle. Helpless to do anything else.

 

 

In the morning, Louis is gone. Harry can’t even pretend that his chest doesn’t hurt.

He’s not expecting Louis to come back anytime soon. That’s fine. Harry has a life of his own to lead, and the sudden arrival of magical creatures doesn’t change that. He rolls out of bed, changes the sheets, starts a load of laundry and then heads to the kitchen to make himself some breakfast.

 

 

It’s barely even noon when Louis shows up again. Harry’s in the middle of cleaning his hunting rifle, hadn’t really wanted to leave the house yet, and he’s not expecting company, much less for Louis to come back only a few hours after he left.

There’s a knock on the door. Harry pauses, hands in the middle of his task, looking in the direction of the door. People don’t just drop by and visit him - it’s part of the reason he lives so far out. The two fae he’s met so far haven’t had the manners to do something as polite as knocking at the door, so it’s with a substantial amount of wariness that Harry gets up and approaches the sound. He doesn’t pause to grab his handgun, figuring that opening the door probably isn’t going to result in his untimely death, but he still twists the doorknob with caution.

Louis is standing on the other side, hands stuffed deep into his jacket pockets. He doesn’t say anything as Harry opens the door, expression shockingly vulnerable even though Harry can’t quite get a read on it.

Well, fine. Harry’s not the one who ran away in the middle of the night after having sex. He doesn’t have to say anything either. He folds his arms across his chest and waits.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says. “I should have stayed.”

It looks like the admission cost him something. Harry doesn’t want to feel bad about it, but he kind of does.

Kind of.

“You should have,” Harry agrees. He doesn’t uncross his arms, not just yet. “I would’ve made you waffles and let you eat ‘em in bed and then we would have had sex again.”

Not that he’s given it much thought or anything.

“Yeah,” Louis says, taking his hands out of his pockets and shuffling closer, pressing them against Harry’s sides instead. They’re cold, even through Harry’s t-shirt, and this is a conversation they could be having inside just as easily as they’re having it standing on Harry’s porch. “I know.”

It’s a shitty apology. Fuck, it’s the worst apology Harry has ever been on the receiving end of. Truth be told, it’s not even really an apology.

Louis came back, though. Louis came back, and that says more than his shitty apology does.

Harry reaches out and threads his hands through the hair at the nape of Louis’ neck, framing his face. “You’re terrible at apologizing,” he says, because he has to put it out there. There’s something real between them, something tangible, and at this very moment it doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other’s secrets.

With a wicked smile on his face, Louis inches closer, until they’re pressed together from hip to thigh, and says, “Would it make you feel better if I let you do me bare this time?”

Harry all but chokes on his own saliva. His fingers tighten against the back of Louis’ neck, probably hurting him at least a little, but no sign of it shows on Louis’ face. He’s looking up at Harry from underneath his eyelashes, coy, as if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.

“Seems like that might be moving a little fast, don’t you think?” Harry asks, right hand drifting closer to Louis’ mouth, stroking his cheek along the way. It’s calling to him, begging to be touched. Louis turns his head a bit, nuzzles at Harry’s hand, and Harry’s pulse skyrockets.

“Why?” Louis asks, slipping his arms around Harry’s back in an imitation of a hug, arching up onto his toes at the same time, and Harry might be uninformed about most things Unseelie, but he can see right through this particular move. All it does is grind them together, and Harry’s fingers spasm against the back of Louis’ neck again.

He wants to drag Louis up properly, settle him on Harry’s hips and fuck him like that, against a wall so he has nowhere to go, fuck him until he’s too tired to move, much less walk anywhere. Fuck him and not let him down until he’s come at least twice. Maybe even three times.

“You’re clean,” Louis continues, squeezing Harry’s back and grinding up again, cock against cock through way too many layers. “Humans and fae can’t transfer diseases between them anyway. And I’m clean too, so.” Louis adds a shrug to the end of the sentence.

Absently, Harry notices that they’re still standing on the front porch. Cold is starting to seep into his bones, and it’s not like he hadn’t known that he would end up letting Louis in the second he saw him standing there. He pulls Louis inside by the back of his neck, kicking the door closed behind them, and doesn’t waste anymore time getting Louis up and pinned against that wall.

“And I should just take your word for that?” Harry asks, desire warring with frustration as they crawl through his veins at the pace of molasses. “When you keep everything else from me? When you disappear as quick as you arrive? Why should I trust you, Louis?” He rolls his hips against Louis’, bumping him against the wall.

Louis grabs at Harry’s shoulders, fingernails digging in as he settles in for the ride, moving in time with Harry. “You trust me,” he says with certainty. “Wouldn’t keep letting me come back here if you didn’t.”

He’s not wrong. Harry’s not going to let him off the hook that easily, though. “You think?” he asks, rolling his hips again. “You think I trust you?”

He thrusts up particularly hard, and the look that crosses Louis’ face is one of pained pleasure. Like it almost hurts, it feels so good. “They sent me away,” Louis says abruptly, meeting Harry’s gaze. It’s all he says, but he doesn’t need to elaborate for Harry to get it.

They sent him away. It’s possible Harry’s heart breaks a little in that moment.

“Don’t,” Louis says, low. Clearly he doesn’t want to talk about it, only said it because Harry was going on about trust. It’s an admission, one made to prove a point, and Louis must know it’s going to be something Harry wants to talk about at some point.

Right now, it makes him want to fuck Louis even more. Harry doesn’t want to examine the reasons behind that too deeply at the moment.

So instead of responding, Harry presses Louis firmly against the wall and kisses him, slow and deep and wet. They can talk about it later. For now, they can do this. Fuck up against a wall like there’s not a perfectly good bed upstairs. Kiss like every breath they draw might be their last.

The kissing part lasts several long, sweltering minutes. It’s so hot in here, Harry can’t stop his hips from moving, grinding up and fucking against Louis’ arse like he’s already inside of it. Louis is making ragged noises and grinding down the best he can, and a hot thrill runs down Harry’s spine as he thinks about the fact that he’s going to have to do most of the work once the actual fucking starts. Louis will just have to take it, won’t have any other options, will have to take whatever Harry wants to give him. That thought is so pleasing Harry can’t stop himself from thrusting up extra hard, nearly knocking Louis’ head into the doorframe.

“Okay,” Harry breathes into the kiss. It might make him stupid, might make him a complete fucking idiot, but he trusts Louis with this. He doesn’t wait for Louis to respond, holding him up with one arm and reaching down with the other to fumble with Louis’ fly. It’s a challenge, getting it open, and takes a few seconds. Louis laughs at him, breathless, and doesn’t do anything to help. Even though he’s got two perfectly good hands and so much magic it practically dribbles out of him.

He has to put Louis back down to get his jeans off. There’s no other way it’s happening, not unless Louis uses his magic, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to do that. “Strip,” Harry says belatedly, halfway through tugging Louis’ jeans down his thighs.

“Bossy,” Louis says, but he nearly knocks Harry in the head with his elbows as he yanks his shirt over his head. While he’s down on his feet, Harry divests himself of his own clothing, uncaring of how much of a tangled heap it lands in. He has to do another load of laundry anyway.

It only takes a few seconds, getting rid of their clothes. It feels like it takes forever. Harry’s skin burns with want, and he doesn’t waste anymore time crowding Louis back up against the wall, bending his head to capture another kiss. Louis winds a leg around Harry’s, balancing on one foot and between Harry’s arms, naked skin against naked skin. Harry moans into the kiss, squeezing at Louis’ arse with both hands, and he honestly doesn’t even know when he put them there.

Air crackles around them. Harry doesn’t pay it any mind, squeezing Louis’ arsecheeks again, helpless not to. “Lube,” he says, sliding his hands a little lower and helping Louis hop back up, so close to being on Harry’s cock properly Harry can’t stop thinking about it. Imagining it. “We have to – ”

Holding Louis up, Harry stumbles away from the wall, taking two steps towards the hallway. Lube. The lube is all the way upstairs, and that’s the direction he’s going in. Fucking against a wall is a dream for another time.

Louis slaps a packet of lube against Harry’s bare chest. Harry doesn’t have the hands to catch it, so it flutters down between their bodies, coming to a stop against Louis’ belly, just above his cock. “’m still wet from earlier,” Louis tells him.

“You’re infuriating,” Harry says, taking the two steps back towards the wall and pressing Louis against it. He means it.

Back up against the wall, Harry can use it to support some of Louis’ weight while he rips the lube package open with his teeth. He uses half of it to coat three fingers and slides them behind Louis’ back, down to his arse, and doesn’t give him any warning before sinking the first two in.

Louis must have been expecting it. He twists in Harry’s arms, sinking into it, and bites at Harry’s jaw.

Absently, Harry turns into Louis’ mouth, making it a kiss. Louis wasn’t lying about still being wet from earlier. He’s not sopping or anything, but his muscles give around Harry’s fingers easily, making space with only a little coaxing. It only takes about a minute to get him open enough for the third one.

Louis is touching himself. It takes Harry a while to realize it, caught up in the tight heat around his fingers, and when he does he can’t stop himself from sucking at Louis’ bottom lip, a lot harder than strictly necessary. Louis makes a tiny little pained noise into Harry’s mouth, hips shifting restlessly, grinding down on his fingers, and that’s about all Harry can take.

Looks like it’s not going to last any longer this time than it did the first time.

Harry slips his fingers out of Louis’ hole, fumbling with the lube packet until he’s got the rest squeezed out, and then fists his cock with his wet hand. Sufficiently slippery, he adjusts Louis on his hips, lining them up, and presses in.

Gravity does most of the work for them. Louis sinks down slowly, breathing unsteadily into Harry’s mouth, fingers tight on Harry’s back, and doesn’t make any sound. Once he’s all the way down, Harry stops. Doesn’t do anything.

One of Louis’ eyes cracks open. He’s glaring at Harry with it, flushed, throat an appealing shade of pink, and Harry wants to suck a mark into his skin.

He’s trying very hard not to think about the way Louis’ arse feels around his cock, clenched tight and nothing between them, no barrier separating them, no matter how thin it may be. It’s just them, flesh to flesh.

“You’re looking at me,” Louis murmurs. It’s just about the last thing Harry was expecting him to say, and he huffs out a breathless laugh, the motion rocking them together. They hiss at the same time, sharp exhales, and Harry can’t stop his hips from echoing the motion. Just rocking for now, barely moving. The glide is smooth and even, and he’s pretty sure he could come just from this.

“You’re beautiful,” Harry says, thumbing a stray strand of hair behind Louis’ ear. “I can’t help it.”

It’s the truth, and he’s not ashamed to admit it. Besides, he somehow doubts that it’s the first time Louis has heard it.

Louis sighs, circling his hips and rubbing his palm down his cock. It’s not a dissatisfied sigh. If anything, it’s a satisfied sigh. “Mm,” he whispers, flicking Harry’s ear. “Can you look at me and fuck me at the same time, or is that too much to ask?”

Answering would take too much time. Harry obliges Louis’ request instead, watching his face and dropping them into a rhythm that feels like the most natural thing in the world. Louis moans, biting viciously at Harry’s mouth, hand moving on his own cock, clenching up impossibly tight around Harry’s.

Four strokes in, Louis comes. He buries his entire face against Harry’s shoulder, shaking with it, warm and wet between their bellies.

Fuck,” Harry grits out, slamming in a little harder, a little faster. Louis came, just like that, and Harry’s not going to be able to hold back much longer. He fucks Louis hard and deep, clutching his back, and comes a few minutes later with a noise not unlike a howl.

Not before Louis comes again, though.

It takes a few minutes to wind down from the spectacular-ness of that orgasm. Harry braces a hand against the wall and slides down onto the ground carefully, his other arm wrapped around Louis’ back carefully so there’s no risk of anything happening to him in the process.

Louis is almost comatose against him, pliant and soft, head still tucked against Harry’s shoulder. He makes a soft, sleepy noise as Harry’s arse hits the floor, mouth pressed against Harry’s skin, and doesn’t make any move to climb off Harry’s cock.

Harry can’t say he minds, but he figures he should at least make a token effort to help him. “You wanna get up?” he asks, wedging his hands under Louis’ thighs. He probably has just enough energy left to lift Louis up and off.

Slowly, Louis shakes his head. He sounds sleep slurred as he replies, “S’better chances if you stay in for a while after.”

It takes a second for the meaning of that to sink in, but once it does, Harry’s cock gives a weak, betraying throb. Louis laughs.

Neither of them move for a while.

 

 

“Jesus fuck,” Harry says, rounding the corner on his way to the kitchen. The dish towel in his hands drops to the ground, and he doesn’t even bother trying to catch it.

There’s blood everywhere. Louis is lying in the middle of it, sprawled out on his back in the middle of Harry’s kitchen. Harry had been in there not even five minutes ago, and it hadn’t looked anything like this. Louis hadn’t even been here.

Louis is lying so still Harry thinks he’s dead for a second. His heart all but stops in his chest, the worst kind of déjà vu overtaking him. Moving is impossible. He can’t get his feet to work.

After a split second, Louis’ shoulders move. He’s breathing. Harry’s feet unfreeze themselves from the floor, skirting carefully through the blood as he makes his way to Louis’ side. When he’s just about there, Louis’ eyes open, looking up at Harry.

“I’m not dead,” he says unnecessarily.

Harry still gets down onto his knees at Louis’ side. He doesn’t drop down, wary of sliding in the blood and falling. There’s so much of it. It looks like it’s come out of multiple people instead of just one. “What happened?”

Louis doesn’t move. Normally, he talks with his hands at least a little, and the absence of it now is jarring. He looks up at Harry, expression unflinching, and says, “You know what happened.”

One of the fae attacked him again. He’s right, Harry did know that. It’s not like it’s subtle. What Harry meant was for Louis to be a little bit more specific than that. He’s conscious and talking, though, and that has to be a good sign. Harry examines Louis’ body, with both his hands and his eyes, feeling around, trying to get an idea of where the blood is coming from.

“What happened to working on a way to get them to leave you alone?” Harry asks instead. There’s a spot on the inside of Louis’ thigh that seems wetter than the rest of him, sticky.

Instantly, Louis’ face closes off. “I’m fine,” he says shortly. “My femoral artery was nicked. It’s mostly closed up now, I just needed somewhere to lie down to heal.”

That might actually be the most information he’s ever willingly given. It’s also clearly a distraction from Harry’s actual question. His hands are tacky with Louis’ blood as he takes them off Louis’ body, wiping his palms against his own jeans.

He laughs under his breath, completely unamused. “Wow,” he says, pushing himself up to his feet again. “For someone who goes on about trust, you don’t have much of it yourself.”

He stalks his way out of the kitchen, leaving Louis and his blood lying in the middle of the floor. This is Harry’s house, and he’s been walking around barefoot all day, so his feet are sticky with blood as well. As are his pajama bottoms. He needs a fucking shower.

Mind set, he climbs the stairs without touching the railing, trying to prevent spreading more blood than absolutely necessary. He goes into the bathroom without bothering to close the door, reaching into the shower and twisting the taps on. While the water is warming up, he strips out of his clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Maybe later he’ll try to scrub the blood out of them. Right now, he’s too fed up to do anything about it.

He’s already lathering up his hair by the time there’s footsteps echoing on the tile of the bathroom floor. A few seconds later, a hand presses against the shower curtain like it’s reaching for Harry. Harry rolls his eyes, ignoring it. It would be freaky if he had any doubt it was Louis, and because it so clearly is he doesn’t feel the need to respond to it.

“I do trust you,” Louis says quietly. His hand stays on the curtain. “It’s just not that simple, Harry.”

What a self-sacrificing little bastard. Says he trusts Harry but won’t share anything with him that Harry doesn’t have to pry out. That’s not trust.

“So tell me then,” Harry says, ripping the curtain open. Water gets everywhere, just another thing he’ll have to clean up later. “Why are your own people so hell-bent on hurting you? Why haven’t you done anything to stop them? Why do you keep letting it happen?”

Slowly, Louis looks him up and down. “Is this really a conversation you want to be having naked?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

The statement only proves Harry’s point. Disgusted, he yanks the shower curtain back into place, turning around to finish rinsing the shampoo out of his hair.

A minute later, the shower curtain is opened again. Naked, Louis climbs in with him, nudging Harry out of the way so he can get underneath the spray. He’s facing Harry, getting wet, and he’s still bleeding from his left thigh. It’s a slow, sluggish slide of blood, and it’s all Harry can focus on. Under their feet, the water turns pink.

“There’s no stopping it,” Louis says. “This is my punishment, and the only way it ends is for me to bear it. It’ll be over when the elders have decided that I’ve paid my dues.”

Harry’s mind flashes back to Louis saying or dead. It doesn’t matter much to them. Reaching out, he lays his hand over the wound in Louis’ thigh, covering it. Whether it’ll help stop the bleeding or not is anyone’s guess, but it’s worth a shot. Especially since Louis doesn’t seem all that concerned about it.

“And what are the chances that you’ll even survive until then, huh?” Harry asks, crowding Louis against the slick wall. “There has to be another way to get you out of this.”

Louis lets Harry move him, angle him so he’s not directly under the water anymore. “There’s not,” he says in answer to Harry’s statement. The way he avoids answering the first question is palpable, hanging in the air. “This is something I have to do, Harry, okay? You can’t save me from this.”

Harry doesn’t want to save him. He wants Louis to never have been put in this situation in the first place.

“Maybe you should try saving yourself instead,” Harry says. It would be a much more dramatic statement if he took a step back. He doesn’t, because he’s much weaker than he likes to admit and if he can help Louis’ bleeding stop he’s going to do it.

The smile Louis gives him is slight. Harry doesn’t think it has anything to do with the blood loss. “After we finish showering, can you make me tea?” Louis asks.

He barely gave Harry any new information and he’s already trying to change the subject. Part of Harry wants to push, wants to force Louis to tell him more, to tell him everything, but most of him just feels tired. Like there’s nothing he can do.

“Yeah,” he answers.

 

 

“So what is it this time?” Harry asks, head bent as he focuses on cleaning up the blood on Louis’ chest. It’s mostly superficial this time, and he supposes that has to mean something.

Still, he’s having a hard time caring about whatever it’s supposed to mean. He’s tired of this. Tired of the way his heart wrenches when he sees Louis hurt, tired of the way Louis comes crawling to him to get patched up, tired of the way they only see each other when Louis needs something from him, tired of the way he can never stop himself from giving in. Tired. Of everything.

“Don’t,” Louis says, and Harry glances up just long enough to catch Louis close his eyes for a split second.

Undeterred, Harry continues, “You piss them off just by breathing? Or maybe it was the way you walked. Something about the way you blink, maybe?”

Louis inhales unsteadily. Harry can feel the tremble of it under his hand, still sitting on Louis’ chest even though there’s no longer any reason for it. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Yeah, no fucking kidding Harry doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He pulls his hand away abruptly and stands up, leaving the room without another word and going to the bathroom to clean the blood off.

Again.

Harry turns the tap on, waits a few seconds until it’s a good temperature, then sticks his hands under the stream of water, scrubbing them together before he goes for the soap. Let it go, he tells himself. Just shake it off. There’s nothing he can do about it, nothing Louis is going to let him do about it.

Footsteps pad down the hallway towards him. They’re soft but audible, and Harry’s shoulders tense up.

There’s a speck of blood on his shirtsleeve. Harry can’t stop staring at it.

“I don’t want to have this fight again,” Louis says quietly, touching Harry’s back.

Harry lets his head drop, pumping soap out onto his hands and rubbing them together briskly. “If you didn’t want to have this fight again you shouldn’t have come here,” he says, because it’s true and it’s how he feels and it needs to be said.

For a minute, Louis is quiet. He doesn’t take his hand away. “I don’t know what you want me to do,” he says finally, a little helplessly.

That’s an easy one. Harry finishes rinsing off his hands, not bothering to dry them, turning around and cupping Louis’ face with them. “I want you to stop going back there,” he says. “I want you to stop letting them hurt you. I want you to be happy.”

Louis closes his eyes again, clutching the front of Harry’s shirt now. “Said I don’t want to have this fight, didn’t I?”

It’s a weak response. Harry could push it, and they could have the same fight that they’ve already had two times this week. There wouldn’t be a different outcome, they wouldn’t say any different things, and nothing would change. Nothing has changed.

“How long do you think you can keep this up for?” Harry asks softly. He doesn’t want an answer, doesn’t expect one, so he kisses Louis instead, just as softly as he had been speaking.

Louis kisses back like he’s grateful for the reprieve. It’s a lot, and Harry’s chest still hurts from the weight of his feelings, but he can’t deny that it feels a little better. There used to be a time when all Harry could do is worry about when he would see Louis next and how badly he would be bleeding. It feels like it’s been a year instead of a few months, and none of this is getting any easier.

The kiss doesn’t last long before Harry’s pulling away. Louis is still shirtless, but he’s not bleeding anymore, and sometimes that’s all Harry can ask for. He brushes his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip and says, “You should go now.”

Louis blinks up at him, hurt flashing across his face for a second before it disappears. All these months and Harry’s never once asked him to leave. This is definitely a first for them.

“You should go,” Harry repeats, firmer this time. Louis looks at him for a few more seconds before he nods slightly and turns around, walks away. Harry watches him go, both hands gripping the rim of the sink behind him to prevent himself from reaching out.

Louis goes, and Harry doesn’t even try to pretend that he doesn’t have a million feelings about it.

 

 

Things have gotten complicated. Much too complicated for Harry to try to understand on his own, and it’s gotten to the point where he can no longer deny that he needs to. He needs to be able to do something in order to keep his own sanity intact, something to help Louis, and he has no idea where to even start. So he does the only thing he can think of.

He goes back to The Local Leprechaun.

The shop isn’t any busier than it was the first time Harry went in. He walks past all the tourist-y things to the back room, making a beeline for it and avoiding everything else altogether.

Maggie is the first person he sees when he walks into the occult room. He heads directly to the counter, blinders on and ignoring anything that could even possibly distract him.

Maggie looks up, greeting him. Harry barely remembers his manners, barely remembers to respond to the greeting. Maggie sighs, gesturing loosely to Elaine to shut the door.

“So what is it this time?” she asks. “Couldn’t find the fae?”

It feels like a lifetime ago that Harry was here last, trying to find a way to find Louis. So much has happened since then, and Harry’s not going to tell these ladies all of it, but he’ll have to spill some if he wants their help, he knows that much.

“No, I found him,” Harry says. “And I warned him. But he keeps going back anyway, keeps letting them hurt him.”

Elaine comes around from closing the door and puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder. It’s a heavy, comforting touch. “And that bothers you?” she asks.

Harry puts his elbows up on the counter and lets his head fall into his hands. “Yes.” He figures he doesn’t have to say much more than that. It does bother him, has bothered him since the very beginning, and it’s been hard coming to terms with that.

He clears his throat and looks back up. “I don’t understand why he keeps going back,” he says. “They’re going to end up killing him, and he knows that, but he keeps going back and letting them stab him, claw him, tear him apart. He’s not going to survive this much longer.”

There’s a furrow developing between Elaine’s eyebrows. “Well, he doesn’t really have much choice, by the sound of it,” she says.

Harry stands up straight. “Wait, what?”

Elaine is the one who sighs this time. She pats his back once more, brisk, and calls over her shoulder, “Marlene, put the kettle on!”

 

 

Harry barely has enough patience to wait for the tea to be steeped before he’s asking, “So what did you mean, he doesn’t have a choice?”

“He’s Unseelie, Harry,” Elaine says, one hand pressing the lid of the teapot down as she pours, “He’s bound by blood to the land of his people. It would have been a ritual he’s had to complete over and over again throughout the course of his entire life, solidifying it a bit more each time. Leaving isn’t actually an option for him, and they all know it.”

Harry’s chest feels like it’s on fire. He rubs at it absently, digging his fingernails into his own skin to try to appease some of the ache. “How does that work?”

It doesn’t make sense. Harry will be the first to admit that he’s not aware of the full history of his land, but he’s pretty sure that it’s not Unseelie land. The first time they met, Louis had been running, Harry’s pretty sure, and he wouldn’t be stupid enough to stay on the land of the people he was running from. And all the times he’s showed up at Harry’s house, stayed there, he never showed any signs of distress or pain or anything like that. At least, not from being away from his land.

“There’s not much written about it,” Elaine begins, finishing pouring the tea and setting the pot down in the middle of the table. Marlene sets a book down next to it. It’s old, more of a heavy tome than anything, a little dusty. “The ritual the Unseelie perform, it’s dark, powerful magic. They lay a claim to their land and to each other, make it so humans have a hard time finding it, much less be successful in any attempt to take it from them.

“You have to understand, the Unseelie hold onto what’s theirs and don’t give it up without a fight. They’re possessive, territorial bastards, and they hold a grudge like no tomorrow. For them to ostracize one of their own, it must have taken a lot. Your fae, he keeps going back because he keeps getting drawn back by thousands of years of history. He can’t survive on his own, away from his people, away from his land.”

Harry’s breath rattles in his chest. He can’t believe that. He won’t believe that. There must be a way. There has to be a way.

“Why would they ostracize him instead of just killing him, then?” Harry asks. His tea is sitting in front of him, untouched.

Elaine spreads her hands out in front of her. “It sounds like a punishment,” she says. “I don’t know the why of it, but they’re not letting him off easy. Could be that they’ll change their minds eventually and let him come back for good, or - ”

She trails off, but Harry doesn’t need her to finish the sentence to get the gist of it. Either they’ll change their minds eventually, or they won’t and Louis will die.

That’s not acceptable. Harry shakes his head, pushing his tea aside. “There has to be something,” he says firmly. “I want to read everything you’ve got about the Unseelie.”

 

 

The next time he sees Louis, Harry is far more educated about the Unseelie. There’s still a lot of gaps in his knowledge, things the books couldn’t tell him, things humans haven’t been able to figure out yet, but he knows a lot more.

Louis isn’t bleeding. He’s standing in front of Harry’s house, hasn’t broken in for once, doing nothing. Just waiting.

Harry gets out of the truck and tucks his hands into his pockets. The temperature has been dropping over the past couple of days, turning the air frigid enough for Harry to see his breath puffing out around his face, cold enough to consider bringing his winter jacket out of storage.

It’s another thing he’s forgotten to do. It’s turning out there’s quite a few of them. Harry’s been a little distracted lately.

“Hi,” Louis says. His own hands are tucked into his pockets as well, hiding from the cold, in a jacket that looks about two sizes too big for him. He looks impossibly small, standing there on Harry’s porch, and more repetant than Harry’s ever seen him.

“Hi,” Harry says. Standing idly at the car would be weird, so he walks towards the house, towards Louis. “What are you doing here?”

Louis being here without bleeding, without needing something from Harry, that’s not just unusual. That’s unprecedented.

“I couldn’t - ” Louis starts, pausing just as quickly and closing his eyes for a second. “I wanted to see you.”

He’s telling the truth, Harry’s pretty sure. He just has no idea how much that is worth right now. Louis is teetering on the verge of death, actual real life death, and instead of trying to find a way to save himself he’s just accepted it. Lying down to die without even putting up the bare minimum of a fight.

And Harry doesn’t know what to do with that.

Harry sighs, rubbing at his eyebrow. “Why?”

Louis closes the gap between them, reaching out for one of Harry’s hands. “Do we really have to do this right now?” he asks quiet, tangling their fingers together.

They’re running out of time to do anything. Harry feels that the way some people feel the ticking of their biological clock, rushing towards them with an ever-increasing sense of impending doom. It feels like there’s no time left at all.

“You’re really good at avoiding things,” Harry says, reaching up with his free hand and stroking his thumb over Louis’ jawline, unable to stop himself. They’re standing toe to toe, outside Harry’s house, and they could be going inside, could be doing anything other than standing here, but they’re not. Harry’s still angry, still so fucking angry, and scared, and everything in his life has been turned upside down over the past few months, but he thinks he might be in love with this fairy standing in front of him. In spite of everything.

Or maybe because of everything.

Neither of them say anything for a long, silent minute. It starts to stretch on, lasting, until Harry has to put an end to it. The kiss is slow and gentle this time. Easy. Louis’ mouth is a little damp, must’ve been licking at his lips, and he opens up right away, kissing back exactly as gently as Harry is.

Harry can feel his breath rattling in his chest, pushing against his ribs. It hurts, how much kissing Louis feels right.

“You don’t have to be scared,” Harry murmurs, breaking the kiss but not pulling away. He can’t stand to see the look on Louis’ face right now. “I’m going to find a way to save you.”

Louis pulls him back into the kiss. Neither of them say anything else for a long time.

 

 

Harry spends the next four days at the magic shop, obsessively reading everything they’ve got that’s even remotely associated with fairies. He spends most of his time there, only going home at night to sleep and make sure Louis isn’t bleeding out in his bedroom.

He finds out more stuff, but none of it is useful for this particular conundrum. None of it is going to help him find a way to save Louis.

It’s nearing ten o’clock by the time he leaves the shop on the fourth night. His eyes ache from reading, and he’s not exactly relishing the drive back home, but he’s determined to make it as quickly as is safely possible. The sense of urgency hasn’t faded any in the past four days, and he knows that he has to find an answer soon or he’s going to run out of time. They’re going to run out of time.

Harry can’t let that happen.

He climbs into his truck and lets his forehead rest against the steering wheel for a moment, eyes closed, just breathing. He’s going to find a way, he tells himself. He has to find a way, so he’s going to do that, and that’s all there is to it.

As far as pep talks go, it’s not his best one. Still, he lifts his head and puts the key into the ignition. He’ll get home, have something quick to eat, and fall into bed for a few hours. That’s the plan.

It’s another one of Harry’s plans that doesn’t go the way he intended it to.

“Are you going to start driving anytime soon or are we just going to sit here all night?” Louis asks.

Harry jumps about a foot, hitting his head on the roof. “Jesus fuck,” he says, reaching up to put pressure on his scalp, check if he’s bleeding.

He’s not, but he puts his head back down on the steering wheel anyway. Fuck.

There’s silence for all of a minute. Then Louis prompts, “Well?”

“How did you get here?” Harry asks, lifting his head again and twisting around in the seat so he can look at Louis.

It’s dark out, masking some of Louis’ natural glow, but there’s no hiding it, not even now. So the question is pretty relevant, Harry thinks. It should definitely merit more than Louis scoffing and answering, “I have my ways.”

Wow. It’s a good thing Harry is already well acquainted with how obstinate Louis can be, or this would be really frustrating.

“Is it even safe for you to be here?” he asks, peering out the window. The street is silent and empty, the sound of the odd passing car in the distance. The isolation doesn’t really make him feel any better. If someone were to see Louis, who knows what would happen.

“You need to stop worrying so much,” Louis says, kicking the back of the seat. Harry inhales sharply, getting a fast hold on his temper before he explodes. He’s been working his arse off, trying to find a way to save Louis’ life, and Louis has been out there somewhere doing who the fuck knows what, and Harry is tired. He’s tired and he’s got a long drive ahead of him and he just wants to go to sleep.

He hasn’t buckled his seatbelt yet, so it makes it easy to twist around even more, get a knee up on the seat and shove a hand against Louis’ shoulder, pin him against the seat. “You’re taking this so easy, huh?” Harry demands, vicious. “Don’t care that you’re going to die or who you leave behind in the process.”

Louis looks at him from underneath his eyelashes, letting Harry pin him against the seat, hold him in place. Doesn’t protest even though it must be hurting, the amount of force Harry is using. “You know what else I take really easy?” Louis asks, soft, fringe falling into his eyes. “Your cock.”

Harry deflates. He takes his hand back, slumping back into his seat, closing his eyes for a second. Behind him, Louis fidgets, clothes rustling against the seat. He leans forward, bracing his arms against the back of Harry’s headrest, close enough for Harry to feel his warmth.

“I do,” Louis says, sliding his arm around the seat, across Harry’s chest, gripping his shoulder. “I take it so easy, Harry, don’t I? You give it to me, and I just take it and take it and take it, everything you wanna give me, because no one has ever fit me like you do.”

All the air in Harry’s lungs comes shuddering out. He fumbles his hand up to cover Louis’, gripping it tight, eyes still closed. He doesn’t react as Louis squeezes his way between the front seats, trying to climb into Harry’s lap. Louis curls his hand around the side of Harry’s neck, still trying to fit himself into the space between the wheel and Harry’s body, and says, desperation in his voice, “I think you should fit me like that right now.”

Harry opens his eyes, curling his own hand around Louis’ neck and pressing their foreheads together. “So that’s what you came here for, then? To get fucked?”

There’s not quite enough space for Louis to squeeze himself in where he’s trying to, so he ends up with both feet on the seat, knees drawn up, pressed against Harry’s side, as much of his body touching Harry’s as possible. He nuzzles against the side of Harry’s neck he’s not holding, mouthing at it. Harry’s cock is starting to take a keen interest, perking up in his jeans.

“I missed you,” Louis tells him, moving up and reaching for Harry’s mouth. Harry turns his head to meet him halfway, even as he thinks you’re going to leave me.

The kiss is slow, syrupy sweet. Lazy, tongues flicking out against each other, it’s not a kiss that’s going anywhere anytime soon. They kiss, and Harry can’t stop thinking about all the terrifying ways Louis is going to die.

“We’re not having sex,” Harry says finally, pulling away.

Louis yanks back with a huff, climbing into the passenger seat like that was his intention all along and crossing his arms over his chest. “Fine,” he says, propping both feet up on the dashboard. “So let’s just go home, then, if you’re going to be such a loser about it.”

If Harry had more energy, it would probably be a remark that gets to him. As it is, all he does is slap Louis’ feet down and start the engine, putting the truck into motion.

They drive for about twenty minutes in relative silence, long enough to get out of London, before it starts. It’s not even like Louis is being particularly obscene, either - he’s just being. He turns on the radio, wrist slim and toned, ink of his tattoo barely visible in the low light, and that’s how Harry notices he’s wearing a t-shirt. Harry’s t-shirt.

It’s distracting. This is the most naked Louis has ever been except for when he’s actually naked. He wears long-sleeved shirts and jackets and layers, probably has something to do with living in the forest. The point is, he doesn’t normally walk around with his skin showing, even when he is in the middle of the forest where there’s no one around to see him except Harry.

And him in Harry’s t-shirt - it’s not like Harry didn’t know that Louis is a klepto, with the way he’s always stealing Harry’s shit, but seeing him in clothes that belong to Harry, that’s something else entirely. That’s something that’s so distracting Harry is having a hard time concentrating on driving.

“Did you buy any snacks?” Louis asks suddenly, popping open the glove compartment and digging through it.

Harry keeps his eyes on the road. He won’t give in to the temptation that Louis is clearly trying to provide. “If I did, why would they be in there?”

The glove compartment slams closed, and Louis twists in his seat to look in the back, like he thinks there’s something hiding there he didn’t find earlier. He’s wearing a seatbelt, so he doesn’t have that much flexibility, but the way he’s twisted still puts his body on display. A body Harry has had his hands and mouth all over and can’t deny that he wants to put his hands and mouth all over again.

They’re out of the city, on a stretch of road that doesn’t see much traffic. Louis is busy rummaging through whatever is in the back of the truck. Harry pulls off on the next side road he sees and kills the engine.

Slowly, Louis turns back around, fixing Harry with a look. “If you’re going to try to murder me you should know that I’m pretty sure I can take you.”

Of course he can. Harry may be strong and good with his hands from the work he does, but he doesn’t have magic powers. He has no doubt that Louis could take him if he wanted to.

Instead of responding, Harry reaches out, touching the sliver of skin showing where Louis’ - Harry’s - shirt has risen up, exposing his belly. He’s soft, smooth, so warm Harry can’t resist flattening his hand out to cover as much skin as he possibly can.

“Oh,” Louis says, sharp, knowing, settling back into his seat properly. “Changed your mind, did you?”

“Shut up,” Harry says, yanking Louis forward by his collar and kissing him. It’s much more intense this time, a kiss with an end goal in mind. It turns open and wet almost instantly, and there’s a few seconds of fumbling before Louis manages to unclick his seatbelt and get back up onto his knees.

There’s still not enough space. Harry pulls back from the kiss and gasps, “Backseat,” squeezing a handful of Louis’ arse as he says it. Louis goes, scrambling between the seats, all flaily limbs. Harry chooses the easier way, getting out of the truck altogether and opening the back door, sliding into the sliver of space Louis has left him.

In the ten seconds it takes for Harry to switch seats, Louis has stripped his shirt off. It’s probably been flung somewhere, and that might end up being a problem later, but right now it’s just incredibly hot.

“I have so many questions for you,” Harry says, hitting the lock button behind him so they won’t go tumbling out at the most inopportune moment, “and every time you distract me from being able to ask them.”

“It’s not my fault you’re so attracted to me,” Louis says, going for the button on his jeans and popping it open, getting naked whether Harry is on the same page or not.

Harry is. He so is. He pulls his own shirt off over his head, letting it fall from his fingers, onto the floor, and goes for his own jeans next, but he gets a little transfixed before he can accomplish anything.

Louis has gotten his jeans undone and is working them down his hips. He’s clearly aware of Harry’s gaze on him, though, because he’s taking his underwear with them in a way that can’t be anything other than intentional, sliding the material down over his hips, exposing inch after inch of skin, and Harry can’t stop staring.

“I am,” Harry says, barely aware of the words coming out of his mouth.

“Yeah, I know,” Louis says, lifting his hips a little as he eases his jeans down his thighs, and just like that his cock is free, already hard and wet at the tip. It gets a bit more cramped as he lifts his legs to wiggle free of the material altogether, but he gets it off, and then he’s completely naked in the back of Harry’s truck.

Harry has no idea whether Louis had even been wearing shoes or not.

“You’re so easy,” Louis says, crawling into Harry’s lap, every naked inch of him. They kiss again, slow and easy, but it’s still a kiss that is clearly going somewhere. Harry slides his hands around Louis’ back, settling there to hold him in place, just in case he gets any crazy ideas about trying to go somewhere.

For all that it’s languid, the kiss is heated. It’s a lot slower than it should be, considering where they are and the fact that someone could come across them at any second, even with the road as deserted as it is, but Harry doesn’t have it in him to try to speed it up. Every time he gets to touch Louis it feels like it might be the last, and he can’t bring himself to tear his hands away long enough to get out of his own jeans.

Around them, the windows start to go foggy. It’s warm in here, even with winter fast approaching and the engine off, and Harry has to wonder how much of that has to do with Louis. It’s a passing thought, one that flies from his mind when Louis’ tongue flicks at Harry’s bottom lip. The kiss gets a lot wetter, a lot more open, still languid. Like they have all the time in the world.

They’re moving together, Harry grinding up while Louis grinds down, and every time they get it just right a spark of electricity runs down Harry’s spine. It feels like he could do this forever, in the backseat of his truck with Louis in his lap. It feels like he will be doing this forever.

The thought is like a bucket of cold water being dumped over his head. Harry stills, so abruptly that Louis does too. His hands are warm as they touch Harry’s face, his jaw, his cheek. “What is it?” he asks, breathless, twisting to look over his shoulder. There’s no way he can see anything, not with the fog on the windows, and Harry didn’t get distracted by anything out there anyway.

He does get distracted by the arch of Louis’ back, the smooth planes of his skin. Louis is here right now, and for the moment that will have to be enough.

“Nothing,” Harry says, smoothing his hands up Louis’ back and guiding him back into the kiss, back into moving. Louis goes, bending to press their mouths together, just as electric as it was before.

Harry gets lost in the kiss. He plants one foot against the floor of the truck, giving himself better leverage to grind up, holding the back of Louis’ neck. He almost doesn’t feel it when Louis’ hand slides between them to go for Harry’s zip. The second he does, things start to speed up. They work together to get Harry’s jeans open, and that’s as far as the getting undressed bit gets because Harry can’t wait anymore, slips his hand around Louis’ back to press against his hole, just to feel for now, can’t wait any longer.

He’s already wet, open. Harry opens his eyes in surprise, hadn’t even been aware he’d closed them. “You’re ready?”

His cock throbs, pressed up against the inside of Louis’ thigh. Fuck. Talk about the unexpected.

Louis smirks at him, cocksure. “Know how easy you are to tempt into sex,” he says. “Doesn’t take much, does it?”

Harry would be upset at that, maybe, if Louis wasn’t in his lap, naked and open, already prepped. Instead of being upset, he sinks two fingers into Louis’ hole without warning, angling his wrist just right, so they press against Louis’ prostate quickly. Louis inhales, sharp, and can’t stop himself from grinding down on them.

If Harry is easy to tempt into sex, Louis is just the same.

“Did you bring any – ” Harry starts. He’s cut off by the cold slap of lube against his cock, slicking him up. It’s a trick Louis has pulled a few times before, the handless lubing, and it still feels unnerving. It’s efficient, though, so Harry will never complain about it.

He slides his fingers out, Louis shuffles around a bit, and then their bodies are meeting, Louis sliding down onto Harry’s cock, stuffing himself with it. All Harry can do is grip Louis’ hips, so tight he must be leaving marks, and hold on as Louis starts moving, fucking himself in earnest.

Everything about it feels incredible. Louis is riding him with wild, reckless abandon, uncaring of who might see, one hand braced against the roof of the truck as he moves, the other planted against Harry’s shoulder, fast and hard. He looks almost feral, back thrown back, mouth dropped open, eyes closed. He looks every bit as ethereal as he is, and all Harry can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

It’s so good. Louis is making noise, ragged, every time he drops down fully into Harry’s lap, and Harry can’t help but echo them back at him, wanting to kiss him so bad it hurts. He can’t reach Louis’ mouth, not at this angle, so he settles for every other inch of him he can reach, collarbones, chest, neck, the curve of his jaw. They’re a little bite-y, the kisses, another thing that’s going to leave marks, and the thought of it makes Harry that much closer to coming.

Louis lifts up, almost all the way off Harry’s cock, holding himself there even though his thighs tremble with the exertion, the effort it takes to stop himself from sinking back down. He’s beautiful, glowing and flushed, magic crackling from his fingertips almost audibly, and Harry feels everything.

“Baby,” he breathes, hushed, unable to keep it in anymore. It’s everything in his head, every thought and feeling compressed into one word, one very human word. Louis’ eyes close again, almost pained, but before Harry can start panicking about it he leans down, kissing Harry, sinking back down slowly.

He doesn’t lift up again, all caught up on Harry’s cock, caught up in the kiss, soft needy thing in Harry’s lap wanting to be taken care of. Harry does, holding Louis close and ignoring the excruciatingly good pressure surrounding his cock, kissing Louis and wrapping his hand around Louis’ cock. That’s how Louis comes, a few minutes later, plugged full of Harry’s cock and tangled in his arms.

Harry’s own orgasm feels like an afterthought. Louis seems content to sit in his lap, as still as he’s capable of being, and let Harry do all the remaining work, rock their bodies together, no more willing to let them break further apart than Louis was. Everything about this feels a little different, like it’s been tinged blue around the edges. Like there’s something coming that neither of them can escape.

“Don’t go,” Harry murmurs when Louis makes to move, holding him close. “Just stay with me a little longer, baby.”

Louis sinks back onto him like he’s just as desperate for the contact as Harry is. “Just a little longer,” he agrees softly.

 

 

“This isn’t a choice for me, Harry, don’t you get that?” Louis demands, spreading his arms and gesturing to the entire forest around them. “No matter what I do, it all leads back to the same place.”

Harry doesn’t believe that. He hasn’t believed that from the very beginning, and now he finally has something to back him up. Something concrete. Something just as real as the two of them standing here right now.

“You know what I think?” Harry asks, taking a few steps closer, because he’s not afraid of Louis, even when he should be. “I think you’re a lot more human than you pretend to be.”

Louis rolls his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest. He doesn’t move back, clearly unwilling to cede any ground no matter how hard Harry pushes him for it. “Well then you’re dumber than you look, because I’m not human.”

Harry stops about a foot in front of Louis, leaving a bit of space between them. He’s not afraid of Louis, but that doesn’t mean he’s unaware of how volatile Louis can be. The last thing he needs is a branch to the back of the head.

“Do you know what the difference between Unseelie and Seelie is?” Harry asks.

Louis rolls his eyes again, harder. “Are you really trying to give me a history lesson on my own people?” he asks bitterly. “If so, I’m not in the mood.”

Dead leaves rustle around their feet, crackling and dry. There’s next to no wind to speak of, so it must be Louis doing it. Harry ignores it. “Most books only say that the Seelie are more benevolent to humans and that they’re associated with light whereas the Unseelie are malicious and dark, but I found this one article online.”

Louis is just looking at him, arms still crossed over his chest. He doesn’t say anything, and the leaves don’t get any angrier, so Harry continues, “It said that the Seelie are different than the Unseelie because they have some human blood. That somewhere along their lineage there was a human mother or a human father, and that explains their benevolence towards humans. It said that if an Unseelie was to produce a child with a human, that child would be born Seelie.”

Louis’ expression flickers, just a little. Harry closes the distance between them, pulling one of Louis’ hands away from his chest and clasping it with both of his. “I think you might be one of those children.”

For a moment, neither of them say anything. Louis meets Harry’s gaze, steady, unflinching, as though he’s searching Harry’s soul. Eventually, he sighs, lacing his fingers through Harry’s and shuffling a little closer.

“That would be easier, wouldn’t it,” he says. He sounds almost wistful, and it’s a tone Harry can’t stand.

“Think about it,” Harry says. His voice almost cracks in the middle of the sentence. “Please, baby. It makes sense. You’re drawn to me, you keep coming back here because there’s a part of you that feels it.”

Louis cracks a small, shaky smile. “That’s not what I feel when I come here.”

The truth of what he feels is written all over his face. Harry stops breathing in the middle of an inhale and feels the world start to spin a little faster around him.

“You,” he starts, and he’s going to say it, those next two little words that will change everything and nothing at the same time, but all of a sudden there’s a cacophony of noise all around them, leaves swirling mid-air, and they’re surrounded by fae. Harry draws in a breath, mouth still open, and doesn’t manage to get any words out before two of the fae are at Louis’ back, yanking him away.

Harry lunges forward, shouting, struggling, but they’re already pulling Louis away, dragging him through the dirt towards the trees, and he knows, knows, that if they get there he won’t be able to follow.

“Stop!” he screams, elbowing someone in the face and darting forward, eyes fixed on Louis’ face, on the slump of his body and the terror in his eyes, and he’s only a few feet away, he’s going to make it –

Something hits him across the back of the head, breaking in the process. Harry feels the hit but then nothing after that, body going limp and falling to the ground in what feels like slow motion, unable to do anything other than watch as Louis gets dragged away. Can barely keep his eyes open as Louis says something Harry can’t hear over the ringing in his ears, consciousness slipping through his fingers like sand.

It looks a lot like I love you.

Harry hits the ground and doesn’t feel it, vision going blurrier by the second, and Louis is all he can see, shoes leaving tracks in the dirt as he’s dragged away, blood dripping from his lip even though Harry didn’t see him get hit.

“Please,” Harry manages, reaching one arm out towards Louis’ shrinking image, please don’t take him. He’s mine, he’s mine, can’t you see –

Harry passes out.

 

 

It’s gone dark by the time he regains consciousness. Dried blood flakes away onto his fingertips when he presses them gingerly to the back of his head, and his entire body hurts. Whatever hit him must have been magically infused, but Harry can’t worry about that right now. Louis is gone, and the only sign he’d ever been here at all is Harry’s jacket lying crumpled in a heap on the ground a few feet away, staked in place with a thick, sharpened stick.

Louis had still been wearing it when they’d taken him. It must be some kind of message the fae came back to leave for Harry.

Harry doesn’t give a shit what the message is supposed to mean. It takes a few minutes, but he manages to push himself to his feet, groaning, and stagger inside, going directly for the phone. He leaves the jacket where it is, unable to bear looking at it any longer.

No one answers on the first ring. Harry braces himself against the kitchen counter and stares unseeingly out the window. He waits, and on the fifth ring the voicemail picks up. “Hello, you’ve reached The Local Leprechaun, our hours are as follows – ”

Harry hangs up and tries again. There’s the faint taste of blood in his mouth, and his tongue feels a little swollen. He probably bit it on the way down. The voicemail picks up again, “Hello, you’ve reached – ”

He hangs up and calls again. Then again when he gets the voicemail. And again. And again.

On the seventh try, someone picks up. “You know we have caller ID, you arsehole, right?” Marlene demands. “If you’re trying to prank call us you should at least block your number first.”

“They took him,” Harry says, closing his eyes and sagging against the counter.

Marlene sighs. “Harry, I’m so sorry,” she says, so much gentler than Harry has ever heard her speak.

Harry ignores it. “I need you to bring me the supplies for the scrying spell,” he says.

“Harry,” Marlene says warily.

“I’m going to get him back,” Harry says. “And I’m going to do it whether you help me or not, so if you’re not going to tell me now and I’ll find someone who will.”

There’s a bit of silence. “Fine,” Marlene says eventually. “Text me your address and directions.”

 

 

It’s another three hours before Marlene shows up. Dawn is beginning to break, the sun rising in the east like it always does, and that’s normally a fact that’s comforting to Harry. He doesn’t go inside while he waits, sitting on the stairs of his porch and staring out into the forest, straining his eyes to see something, anything, that could help bring Louis back to him.

Nothing moves. Nothing moves for so long that it’s obvious the fae have used a spell of some sort to keep it that way. Things in the forest move. Trees sway, leaves blow, animals dart. It’s the way of life in the forest. Things move. Nothing moving right now, that’s unnatural.

It feels like an eternity before there’s the sound of a car coming down the road. Harry stands up before it’s even in sight, standing on the bottom step, hands shoved deep into his pockets. It’s not too late, he tells himself. It can’t be too late. He’s going to find Louis, and he’s going to put an end to this, no matter what it takes.

A light grey sedan pulls up behind Harry’s truck, engine shutting off. Marlene steps out from the driver’s seat. Maggie and Elaine climb out of the car as well.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Elaine asks him, voice carrying across the grass between them.

Harry doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes.”

Elaine sighs, motioning for the other two women to follow her as she approaches. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, then,” she says grimly. “I hope you’re decent at making coffee.”

Harry is. He goes inside for the first time all night and brews a pot.

 

 

“So what exactly is it you’re doing?” Harry ventures eventually. Half an hour ago, he had helped Maggie unload a trunk-full of supplies and bring them into the house, only half of which he recognizes. Coffee has been brewed, cupboards ransacked, and there’s a pretty decent pile of snacks sitting in the middle of his kitchen table. It seems like they’re as ready as they’re going to get.

“As much as possible to make sure that your foolish arse doesn’t die before you’ve even crossed the fae threshold,” Marlene says tartly, mixing ingredients in a bowl.

Elaine sighs, picking up her mug and taking a healthy swig of her coffee. “Your chances aren’t good,” she says bluntly. “There’s no recorded history of a human crossing into fae territory and coming back out again alive. We’re going to slap as many spells onto you as we possibly can to even your odds a little. Whether any of them will help I can’t say for sure, but we’re not going to let you walk in there completely defenseless.”

Harry was under no illusions as to exactly how difficult this would be. Hearing it out loud actually makes him feel a little better, somehow. “So they’re like protection spells, then?” he checks.

“Some are,” Elaine says, putting her empty mug onto the table and reaching into the pile of snacks for a candy bar, tearing the wrapper open with her teeth. “There’s a few retaliation spells that we hope will take some of the effects of a spell used against you and return them to the caster. A navigation spell, to help you find your way. A spell to hide some of your more human attributes, which probably won’t work on the fae, but it’s something we’re going to try.”

She sounds grim as she describes them. Abruptly, Harry realizes how much he’s asking of her, and Maggie and Marlene. They know that his chances of surviving this aren’t good, which means that they know they’re essentially sending him to his death. If he doesn’t make it back, that’s something they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their lives.

“Thank you,” Harry says, and it feels like it’s not enough. He doesn’t know what else to say, though.

 

 

It takes another three hours for the women to finish the spells. Some of them tingle a bit when they cast them upon Harry, but once they’re done he doesn’t feel any different. He stands at the edge of his property, armed with nothing more than his hunting rifle in case he runs into any vicious wildlife along the way and a bottle of water, and takes a long look at his house.

He may never see it again. There’s no time to process all the feelings he has about that, so he buries them as deep as he can and turns his attention to Elaine, standing a few feet away in silence.

“Thank you,” he says again. “Helping me can’t have been easy, and I really appreciate it.”

Solemnly, Elaine nods. Maggie and Marlene incline their heads slightly, a few steps behind her. “We wish you well, Harry Styles,” Elaine says, and it feels almost ritualistic. In unison, the three of them turn and head back towards Harry’s house, where they’ll wait for three days and three nights to see if Harry returns.

If he doesn’t, they’ll inform his next of kin. Harry takes a deep breath, turns around before they make it all the way there, and heads out into the forest.

It’s time to go save the man he loves.

 

 

For the first time in Harry’s life, walking through the forest doesn’t feel familiar or comforting. All he can think about is Louis, and that he might not make it in time. That by the time he gets there the worst will have already happened.

The light that guides him towards Louis is weaker than it had been last time. It glows faintly in front of him, just far enough ahead that he has to work to keep up with it. He’s not being quiet as he treks his way through the trees, focused on following the light and getting to Louis, and he doesn’t notice the whispers on the wind until it’s too late.

A vine comes out of nowhere, wrapping its way around his ankle and bringing him down to the ground before he even realizes it’s there. He falls, landing on his hands and knees, and rolls just in time to avoid a kick aimed at his ribs.

Three fae men are swarming him, movements quick as they try to grab him. Harry skitters backwards out of instinct, going for his rifle, and then stops, forcing himself to remain still and calm as they take hold of him. Resisting isn’t going to accomplish anything, and the quickest way to Louis will be through these men. Harry lets them take him, disarming him in the process, and follows as they jab at him, pointing in a direction.

Harry goes. No one says anything.

 

 

It’s almost insulting, the way they drag him in front of the Unseelie Court. His jeans are crusted with dirt from the fight he put up at first, but other than that there’s nothing. His hands are free at his sides, legs unshackled, and it’s definitely not what he was expecting. They don’t see him as a threat, and are treating him as such.

One of the guards puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder and pulls him to a stop, a respectable distance away from the throne.

An actual throne. It’s another thing Harry wasn’t expecting. The hall he’s standing in is ornate, decorated lavishly, deep greens and golds making up the colour palette of the room. Along the walls, there’s rows of cushy looking chairs, some of which are occupied by fae dressed just as ornately as the room itself. It looks like an odd version of a courtroom, set up a little differently but with the same atmosphere.

“Human,” the Unseelie King says, sitting in his throne, eyeing Harry with such distaste it’s practically audible. “I hear you have demanded an audience with the King. Well, here we are.”

He makes a grand, sweeping gesture. Harry doesn’t follow it with his gaze, despite the fact that it was clearly intended for him to. He’s not impressed by this overt display of wealth and power. All he cares about, the only thing he cares about, is getting Louis back.

Fuck everything else.

“I want you to release Louis,” Harry says.

The King doesn’t so much as blink. “Humans,” he says scornfully. “Always thinking so highly of themselves. Tell me, human, what made you think you could come here and make such rich demands?”

“You don’t care about him,” Harry says, squaring his shoulders. “None of you care about him. One of you found him as a baby and ever since you’ve treated him like shit, never really accepted him as one of your own. So if you feel that way about him, I don’t know why you wouldn’t just let him go.”

“How we treat our own is no business of yours,” the King dismisses, waving a hand. “He will be punished for his crimes as we see fit.”

He will be punished. It hasn’t already happened. Harry lets out a slow breath, trying to hide the way his shoulders want to shake with relief. The past few hours have been filled with the terrifying thought that Louis might already be dead, and hearing that he’s not brings tears to Harry’s eyes. He blinks them away as quickly as he can. Louis is still alive, and that means that Harry’s not finished fighting.

“And what crime is that?” he demands. The only thing preventing him from striding right up to the King and poking him in the chest is the armed guards surrounding him. He doesn’t have as tight a rein on his temper as he should right now. “A few acts of kindness here and there? The inability to be are cruel as you are?”

The King bristles, sitting up straighter in his throne. For a tense, fearful second, Harry is sure his head is about to be removed from his shoulders.

“We have given the boy a lifetime of chances to fit in here,” the King booms, slapping at the armrest once. “Instead, he chose to squander his time away close to humans, putting our survival at risk. He will be punished for his actions. You have no claim to him, human.”

With that, the King stands, descending the steps to the ground, already veering to the right, towards the door he entered in. It’s clearly a dismissal. He’s finished with Harry.

“I do,” Harry says, loud enough that it echoes throughout the room. “I have more of a claim to him than anyone here.”

The King pauses, back towards Harry as though he’s thinking about ignoring him altogether. Over the past few months, Harry has read every scrap of information he could find on the Unseelie and their customs, and he still doesn’t know whether half of it is factual or not, but there’s a few things that have kept coming up in various articles.

“A blood claim,” Harry adds.

The King turns around.

Harry holds his ground, even as the King draws closer, looming over him. He’s read things, but he’s also paid attention to Louis over the past few months, and there’s pieces of Louis’ behaviour and mannerisms Harry has always attributed to his Unseelie heritage. Harry draws upon all of that now, holding still, resisting the urge to give up some of his ground in the face of a being much more powerful and vindictive than him.

“You have a blood claim?” the King repeats. Up close, the wrinkles on his face are pronounced, deep. It’s impossible to tell how old he is. “A human is asserting a blood claim with an Unseelie?”

Harry holds his head up and says, “Yes.”

That’s exactly what he’s doing. It’s his only plan, and he has no idea what he’s going to do if it fails. But it’s his only plan because it’s the truth. He has a claim to Louis, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to give it up because Louis’ family are a bunch of dicks.

The King holds his gaze for a moment longer before he turns around and returns to his throne. He takes his time arranging himself in his seat before he waves a hand towards Harry. “Go on.”

“I saved his life,” Harry says. “He used a life extraction spell on me to heal himself multiple times. I’ve had his blood all over my skin so many times I’m pretty sure there’s still some on me somewhere.”

“Bring Louis here,” the King says. “We’ll need to verify whether your claim is true.”

Harry’s knees threaten to give out from under him. He only manages to stay standing through sheer force of will. Two of the guards exit, and they wait in silence. There’s a look on the King’s face that’s almost like satisfaction.

It takes a few minutes for the guards to re-emerge with Louis. To Harry, it feels like an eternity. Finally, the door opens again. A guard comes through first, and then, after him, Louis.

Harry’s breath catches in his throat. It’s Louis. He’s bruised and bloody, tears in his clothing, but he’s in one piece and he’s alive.

Louis is alive.

Their eyes meet across the room, only a few yards between them. One of the guards drags Louis in front of the King, and at the King’s command, pushes him down onto his knees, still facing Harry.

“Louis Tomlinson,” the King says, “You have been charged with treason. As a desperate last attempt to save you from being executed, your human lover has claimed to have a blood tie to you. What say you?”

There’s a chain looped around Louis’ neck, rust stained and old. The guard yanks on it, rocking Louis backwards. His hands twitch in his lap, resisting the urge to fly up and try to stop it. There’s pain on his face, clear as day, and Harry wants to smash in the teeth of every person who’s touched him.

Somehow, he’s still glowing. Bruised and beaten, and he’s still the most beautiful thing Harry has ever seen.

“No,” Louis rasps miserably, throat croaking with disuse. “He doesn’t have a blood claim.”

He doesn’t sound upset about it. If anything, he sounds relieved.

“And why is that?” the King asks. “I’m sure your human pet is eager to know.”

“A blood claim goes two ways,” Louis recites, looking up and meeting Harry’s eyes again. “At least, in the sense that he means it. Blood has to be spilled by both parties for a claim like this to be valid.”

The bottom of Harry’s stomach drops out. He can’t find his voice, racking his brain for a way to beat this, a way to get Louis out of this. There has to be a way. There’s always a way.

“Blood has to be spilled by both parties,” the King repeats, sounding satisfied. “And Louis has never spilled any of your blood, has he, human? Unlike you, whose first act was to shoot him. The only blood between you two has been his. What a shame.”

Light catches on Louis’ face, bright and beaming. It’s the spark Harry followed here, the one that lead him back to Louis, hovering over him. No one else is looking at it, but Harry is, and the way it’s illuminating him –

The fourth time they had sex, it was in Harry’s garden in broad daylight. The sun had shone down on them, bright if not warm, and for a few minutes, before the clouds had shifted, it had lit up Louis’ face exactly like this. Exactly like this.

“He has,” Harry says.

All movement in the court stops. All eyes are on him, waiting for his next words.

Harry doesn’t add anything. He can do a dramatic pause just as well as the Unseelie King can.

“Explain yourself,” the King demands.

“He’s had my blood under his nails, on his fingertips,” Harry says. “He broke the skin on my shoulders and drew blood.”

Every single word is the truth. Harry looks the King in the eye, and holds his ground. He’s not going anywhere until he has Louis by his side.

“That doesn’t count,” the King scoffs, but his uncertainty is showing on his face, and for the first time since he got here Harry finally feels like he’s got the upper hand. He’s going to win this fight.

“Of course it does,” Harry says. “Your only argument was that he hasn’t had my blood on his hands, but he has. I’ve given him everything - my blood, my sweat, my tears. Everything that matters, he’s had inside him.”

“A pinprick of blood is nothing,” the King says, dismissive, but Harry didn’t come here to give up without a fight.

Louis is staring at him. Harry doesn’t tear his gaze away. They’re in this together, for better or for worse, and if that means they have to get the fae equivalent of magically married, Harry’s going to make damn sure that happens.

A blood claim that lasts a lifetime. It sounds comforting. It sounds right.

“He’s mine,” Harry says with certainty. With finality. “You threw him away like he was nothing, and you don’t get to have him back now. He belongs to me in every way that matters. In blood and sweat and heart, we belong to each other.”

As far as speeches go, Harry thinks it’s a pretty good one. It doesn’t feel quite complete, though. “And if he were a woman, you’d be able to see undisputable proof of that.”

It takes a second, but recognization crosses Louis’ face. “Bastard,” he breathes, weak and watery.

“Your claim is outrageous,” the King splutters, spittle flying from his mouth, pushing himself up from his throne, anger pouring off of him, and for a heart-stopping moment Harry thinks he’s going to grab a sword from a guard and cut Louis’ throat himself.

A woman places her hand on the King’s shoulder from behind. It seems like she’s come out of nowhere. “Gerald,” she says quietly.

The King deflates. He’s still angry, visibly so, but he no longer looks like he’s about to go on a murderous rampage in the middle of his own royal hall. “There’s trials,” he says. “You probably won’t survive.”

“We will,” Harry says, returning his gaze to Louis’ face. “We have to.”

 

 

As it turns out, there’s only one trial. Like everything else about Harry’s life lately, it involves a lot of blood. It’s not meant for a human to be able to endure, so the only thing Harry has going for him is the spells Elaine and Maggie and Marlene cast on him earlier. That was hours ago now, and he just has to hope that they’re still working. He has no idea how long they’re meant to last.

So a handful of spells cast hours ago by three witches, that’s what Harry has. That and the undying love of a malicious fae creature.

Someone hands him a shot glass of amber liquid. Harry doesn’t bother trying to ask what it is before tipping it back, swallowing it all in one giant, painful gulp.

Time to get this show on the road.

 

 

Whatever was in the glass knocks him out within two minutes. When Harry wakes up, he’s in the forest again, alone and unarmed.

All they were told about the trial is that they would have to find their way back to each other. An Unseelie guard took a pint of blood from both Harry and Louis before they’d been given the drink, presumably to weaken them, and Harry’s feelings the effects of it now. He clambers to his feet slowly, awkwardly, rolling his shoulders and trying to ignore the fuzziness in his head.

Something about this feels off. Harry can feel the frown on his face as he surveils his surroundings. It’s familiar, the type of trees he’s used to, the scent of the earth beneath his feet, the angle of the sun shining down through the foliage. He’s close enough to home to recognize this forest.

The sun is warm. That’s what feels so strange about this. It’s practically winter, but the sun is beating strong and bright overhead. There’s no frost on the ground, and the trees are still full of bright green leaves.

It’s summer. It’s winter, but somehow it’s summer.

It’s a trick of some sort. Harry doesn’t understand what the purpose of it is, whether it’s just meant to freak him out or whether it’s going to serve some bigger purpose. For now, he has no other choice but to ignore it, so that’s what he does.

Louis could be anywhere. There’s no sign of him, no indication, no tracks for Harry to follow. He cups his hands around his mouth and screams as loud as he can, “Louis!”

A few birds scatter from a tree nearby, but other than that there’s no movement. Harry breathes out evenly and goes about emptying his pockets onto the ground in front of him. The guards had searched him for weapons when they had first found him, and the only one he’d had was his pocketknife. They had taken that, but left him with the rest of his stuff, and it’s all still there.

Most of it is useless. He’s got his wallet with a bunch of cards and a few loose bills in it, some change, a couple of sticks of gum, his keys, a tube of chapstick, and a lighter.

The lighter is what he needs right now. He takes a mental inventory of the rest of his stuff before putting it back into his pockets, keeping only the lighter and a couple of the bills out. He needs to make a torch. There’s still a few hours of daylight left, but light is not what Harry needs it for.

Harry might only be a measly human, but one thing the Unseelie seem to have forgotten is that he’s a measly human who grew up in the woods. He’s not lost just because he doesn’t have a map or a compass, and tracking is harder without being able to see footsteps on the ground, but that doesn’t make it impossible.

And he’s not going to be the only one looking. A smoke signal is what he needs, and a torch is going to give that to him. Walking will be slower with all the stopping to re-fuel that he’ll need to do, but the torch will send his location up into the air, and that should help Louis find him.

Harry’s bad at losing, and with stakes this high he’s determined not to let that happen.

It only takes a few minutes to fashion a torch out of a branch and some dead, dry leaves. He twines a few vines around them to hold the leaves in place, then tucks a five pound note into the center of it and uses that to light the entire thing on fire.

The torch smokes beautifully, the dead leaves giving way and burning slowly. Harry stuffs as many dry leaves into his pockets as he can fit, and then he sets off, picking a random direction and walking into it. He keeps his eyes peeled for any human-shaped tracks as he goes, stopping to add leaves to the torch as necessary.

He walks for a long time. Overhead, the sun starts sliding westward across the sky, bright blue giving way to soft pinks and oranges. It’s been a few hours, and he hasn’t come across anything yet. Frustration is starting to get the best of him. His voice has long since gone hoarse, shouting out Louis’ name with every six steps he takes. He’s good at this, Harry knows he’s good at this, but so far he’s got nothing.

All of that changes in a single split second. There’s a sound off to his right, a twig breaking under a foot, and then something leaps out at him from behind a tree.

Harry barely dodges it, throwing his entire body to the side and barely managing to stay on his feet. A sudden burst of pain explodes out of his side, and the only reason he doesn’t look down at it is because there’s a deer grunting at him loudly from five feet away.

Deer can be dangerous creatures. They’re quick to protect their young, and they’re both big enough and heavy enough to do some serious damage if they’re so inclined. There’s a reason for all the DEER CROSSING road signs around the area - Harry’s seen firsthand what a panicked deer can do when up against a car. Going full speed, no one survives that.

Here, though, in the middle of the forest with no roads around, this isn’t normal deer behaviour. This deer is grunting at him and pawing at the dirt like it’s a bull, and alone and unarmed like this, Harry doesn’t stand a chance against it.

He runs. He’s well aware that he’s no match for a pissed off deer, both in terms of fighting it off and out-running it, but at the moment he doesn’t see any other options. He crashes through trees, branches slapping him in the face, taking as many quick turns as he can. The hot breath of the deer follows him much closer than Harry would like, practically against the back of his neck, gaining ground with every step, and if he doesn’t do something about it soon he’s going to be gored to death with those massive antlers.

About thirty feet in front of him, there’s a tree. There’s tress all around him, but this specific tree has branches close enough to the ground to be able to climb it fairly easily. Harry just has to get to it.

He puts on a burst of speed, twisting to avoid the brush of antlers he can all but feel against his back, and jumps for the lowest hanging branch. He manages to catch it, hauling himself up, but he doesn’t manage to avoid the spear of antlers against his calf. Harry screams, rolling himself up onto the branch and clinging onto it to avoid falling, pinpricks of blackness blurring his vision.

Blood slides down his leg, enough of it that it feels like a hot rush, soaking his jeans and sock in a matter of seconds. The pain is excruciating, and for a few long minutes he has to fight against passing out.

Below him, the deer is still there, waiting impatiently. It’s so far from normal deer behaviour Harry wants to cry, although that might have more to do with the pain. Eventually, he manages to force himself into a sitting position, back against the trunk of the tree, pulling his injured leg up onto the branch carefully.

“Okay,” he tells himself, staring down at the blood-darkened material, both hands still clutching at tree bark and trying not to vomit, “you can do this. You’ve done worse.”

Extracting the bullet from Louis’ shoulder. That had been worse. This is – this is nothing compared to that.

Peeling his jeans away from the wound is almost as painful as the actual getting gored part had been. Harry grits his teeth and doesn’t bother trying not to scream again as he does it, figuring that it’s not like the homicidal deer doesn’t know where he is anyway and if Louis is anywhere nearby he might be able to hear it.

The wound isn’t as bad as Harry expected it to be. The cut is deep and will probably need stitches, but it doesn’t go all the way down to the bone. It’s still bleeding profusely, although less than it was a few minutes ago, and he’s not going anywhere until he gets that under control.

Stopping the bleeding is going to be a problem. His jeans are too thick to tear, and he doesn’t have anything to cut them off with. Anything he uses to staunch the bleeding is going to have to go under them, especially with the sun sinking lower in the sky with every passing moment and the temperature dropping with it. It’s not as cold as it should be, considering how late in the season it is, and Harry dressed for the actual weather rather than whatever kind of mindfuck this trial is, so he pulls off his outer layer to get to the thinner flannel shirt he’s wearing underneath.

His hands are slippery with his own blood. Tearing the flannel doesn’t work, so he folds up the shirt the best he can and wraps it tight around his leg, tying a firm knot to hold it in place. His jeans don’t fit back down over the bundle, so he has to leave them rolled up, matted with blood. Then he puts his jacket back on, conscious of the fact that he’s still losing blood, albeit at a slower pace now.

Done with his leg, he looks down at his side, running a careful hand over his ribs. There’s a spot of blood starting to seep through his shirt, spotting the fabric. Nothing feels broken, though, and compared to his leg he can barely even feel it.

He can’t stay up here forever. At some point, the blood loss is going to make him pass out, and then he’ll go tumbling down, and the deer will get what it wants. That brings him back to the problem of the deer, standing under the tree and showing no signs of going away. This must be part of the trial, and Harry has no idea what to do.

“Fucking fairies,” he mutters to himself, shifting gingerly on the branch. He gives it another attempt, calling out, “Louis!” as loud as his hoarse throat will allow.

Again, there’s no response. Harry sighs, looking down at the deer, and tries to think. He can’t go down without being gored again, and he can’t go up with his leg in the state it’s in. Walking will be hard enough, climbing is definitely out of the question. The only way to go is down, which means he’ll have to get rid of the deer first.

What he wouldn’t give for his hunting rifle right now.

Okay. So. Deer are normally pretty skittish creatures, at least in the wild. They tend to avoid humans, and on the occasions they don’t there’s something else going on. Hunger, fear of something other than a human, disease, confusion. The question is, what’s going on with this particular deer? The fae have magic, sure, but none of the research Harry has done has led him to believe their powers are unlimited. There are laws of nature that can’t be broken, even by the supernatural.

Disease, then. It’s the most logical explanation. Under any other circumstances, a disease ridden deer would need to be put down to prevent spreading the infection among the population, but that’s not really an option right now.

“This fucking sucks,” Harry says. About a foot above his head, there’s a semi-sturdy looking branch that’s already part-way broken off. It looks like it’s his best option at the moment, so he reaches up with one hand and yanks on it, keeping the other firmly attached to the branch he’s sitting on. The last thing he wants to do is reach for a weapon only to completely fail and fall to his untimely demise.

It takes a bit of persistence, but he manages to get the branch down without falling or dropping it in the process. That’s one problem solved. Now that he’s armed, he has to figure out how to get down. The drop isn’t that far, all told, probably about seven feet. It’s a drop he could make pretty easily if he wasn’t bleeding from two different places. He might even be able to fend the deer off with the branch and enough noise if it wasn’t for his wounds.

Well, probably not, but at this point in the day it’s a thought Harry has to hang onto. He’ll take confidence wherever he can get it.

Left with a lack of other options, Harry bangs the branch against the trunk of the tree and shouts, “Go away! Shoo! Get away from me!”

The deer looks up at him, condescension on its face, and walks away.

“What the fuck,” Harry says. He waits a few minutes, but the deer doesn’t re-appear.

Okay. That makes as much sense as any of the rest of this, he supposes. Climbing down is a longer process than it should be, exacerbated by his unwillingness to let go of the branch he’s armed himself with, and by the time his feet finally touch the ground he’s pretty sure he’s lost another pint of blood.

He has to find Louis soon, or else he really will pass out from the blood loss. The human body can only lose so much blood, and Harry think he might be getting close to hitting that threshold.

Sometime in the scuffle with the deer, Harry lost his torch. He leans up against the tree for a second to catch his breath, and has to admit to himself that he’s probably not going to be able to make another one. Once he sits down again he’s not going to be able to get up for a long time. He has to cover more ground, try to find some of Louis’ tracks, any indication of which way he might have gone, and he has to do it before the sun finishes setting. Once the light is gone and darkness falls, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

There’s a terrible feeling in his gut that tells him he doesn’t want to find out what’s going to come out of these woods when nightfall hits.

He starts walking, using his weapon-branch as a crutch instead. Within a few minutes he’s sweating profusely, hair sticking to his temples and grip gone clammy. His throat feels like it’s been scraped raw, mouth barely producing enough saliva to be able to wet it. Swallowing is unpleasant, to say the least. Putting one foot in front of the other is becoming harder and harder with every step. It’s like he can feel his body starting to shut down, one muscle at a time, and as determined as he is, as much as he knows that it’s literally his and Louis’ lives at stake, he beginning to wonder how much longer he can go on for.

Between two trees, there’s the glimmer of water. Harry stumbles towards it, knee threatening to give out under him, and just when he thinks he’s not going to make it, that this is the end of his story, dying alone in the middle of a forest he calls his home with the heavy knowledge that the love of his life is going to follow shortly after, he all but falls into a clearing.

A small stream bubbles away, flowing easily through the trees. Harry limps over to it, using his branch to lower himself to the ground. He needs water right now, pretty urgently, so he’ll have to take his chances on being able to get back up again.

The water is crisp and clean, drinkable. Harry cups his hands in the stream and pulls them up, sipping from them slowly. He’s dehydrated, he can recognize that now, and it’s important not to re-hydrate himself too fast so he won’t throw up. The sun has all but finished setting, bathing the forest in shadows. The blood loss is getting to him, and all he wants to do is sleep.

“Louis,” he says, shaping the name on his tongue, “Louis, you beautiful bastard, if we make it through this I might just end up killing you myself.”

The threat makes him feel better. He can get up, he tells himself. Just roll over a bit and use his good leg to push himself off the ground, use the branch for stability. He can do it. He has to do it.

The rolling over bit isn’t too hard. Mostly, Harry’s leg hurts. He can’t really feel the wound in his side anymore, which he hopes is a good thing. So he’ll get up and keep going because he has no other options. That’s about the extent of his plan.

Something glimmers on the other side of the stream, through the trees. He catches a glimpse of it as he’s trying to gather the strength to push himself to his feet, and instantly he’s straining his eyes trying to see it better.

It glitters like Louis’ skin does, bright and incandescent. A surge of hope sparks through Harry’s chest. He calls out Louis’ name, as loud as his lungs will let him, but he gets no response. The glimmering thing doesn’t move, and Harry doesn’t know for sure that it even is Louis – it could be a trap, could be a different fae, could be anything at all. It still gives him the motivation to struggle his way to his feet.

The stream is small enough that Harry can wade his way right through it without worrying about currents. He makes his way through it carefully, one step at a time, leaning heavily on his branch as he goes. Water soaks his shoes, his socks, a couple of inches above his ankles. It washes away some of the blood in the process, and it’s cold enough to numb some of the pain. He could stop and wash the wound in his leg, try to stave off whatever infection he’s likely to get, but he doesn’t. Louis’ magic works both ways. All Harry has to do is find him and Louis can heal him, and together they’ll have beaten the Unseelie King. Easy.

Each step is harder than the last. Harry finishes crossing the stream and all but crawls his way up a small incline, barely able to keep himself on his feet. He’s kept one eye on the glitter, unwilling to let it out of his sight for any longer than necessary, and whatever it is hasn’t moved in the time it’s taken Harry to near it. Trees still block him from having a full view of it, but with every step he takes the more sure he becomes that it’s a person.

Fuck, he hopes it’s Louis. It better be Louis. If it’s not, Harry honestly has no idea what he’ll do. Probably scream, maybe cry, definitely pass out.

Finally, he passes the trees blocking his view, stumbling into a clearing. In the clearing, the scene looks like it’s been lifted directly out of Sleeping Beauty. It is Louis, and he’s lying on an elevated bed of leaves, a few feet off the ground, hands linked together on his stomach, unconscious.

“Louis,” Harry breathes, staggering towards Louis’ prone form, dropping his branch in the process. He makes it all the way to the bed of leaves before his knee gives out from under him, and he drops gracelessly down to the ground. The impact is jarring, but he can’t take his eyes off Louis’ lax face. Up close, his glimmer is shallow, barely skin deep. It doesn’t look anything like it normally does, and Harry has no idea how it was even strong enough to give him an idea where Louis was. It’s even less visible now than it was the day Harry shot him.

Louis is motionless, not even a flutter on his face. Harry shakes him by the shoulder softly, then harder when he doesn’t respond. “C’mon, baby, wake up,” he pleads, pinching at the tender skin on the inside of Louis’ elbow. Still nothing.

“You have to wake up,” Harry tries again, patting Louis’ cheek firmly. “You have to wake up and figure out how to get us out of here.”

Time is ticking by. The sun has finished setting and darkness has enveloped the forest, only the moon lighting the clearing enough to see Louis’ face. It seems like it happened all at once, the darkness overtaking them, and Harry thinks, not completely out of nowhere, it comes alive at night.

They have to go. They have to go now. Harry tries standing again, only to find that his leg is completely unable to support his weight any longer. He slaps Louis’ face again, not as hard as he can but hard enough to leave a pink impression that takes a few seconds to fade.

Louis doesn’t wake up. The only sign that he’s even still alive is the shallow movement of his chest as he breathes. He won’t wake up, and Harry can’t stand, much less carry him to safety.

“All you said was that we had to find each other!” Harry shouts towards the sky. He’s not expecting a response, and he doesn’t get one.

Sleeping Beauty. This is a scene directly out of Sleeping Beauty. It makes sense that the solution would be pulled from the same place, right?

“Okay,” Harry says out loud. He puts his hand on Louis’ face, the same one that he’d slapped, and prays that this will work. This has to be the solution.

Deep in the woods, something howls. Fear prickles its way down Harry’s spine, chilling. He pushes it aside, leaning down slowly. He’s half expecting Louis’ eyes to open, for him to use his magic to send Harry hurtling away because he’s not expecting Harry to be hovering above him. That doesn’t happen. Harry keeps leaning down, until his lips are pressed against Louis’.

True love’s kiss. It might not be true love’s first kiss, but it’s true love’s kiss. Harry believes that the way he believes that the sun will come up in the morning and that fairies are real.

Nothing happens. Harry holds the kiss for at least thirty seconds, but still nothing happens. Behind him, the howling gets louder, and he’s forced to pull away, turn around.

It’s the deer. Standing at the edge of the clearing, it’s making a low, deep noise that Harry’s never heard before, one he’s pretty sure isn’t supposed to come out of this particular animal, and its eyes are blood red. It almost looks like rabies, but it’s not. It’s magically-induced blood lust.

Harry screams. It doesn’t wake Louis, and it doesn’t scare the deer away. It was a last ditch effort, one he wasn’t expecting would work. The noise gets the deer’s eyes flashing, and then it’s charging, galloping towards the bed of leaves in the middle of the clearing, and Harry feels his death coming towards him in slow motion.

There might be enough time for him to run, grab another low-hanging branch and swing himself up onto it, avoid the brunt of the deer’s antlers. Doing that would leave Louis open to attack, vulnerable and still unconscious, and there’s no doubt in Harry’s mind that the deer would kill him instead.

Harry hauls himself up onto the leaf bed, covering Louis’ body with his own as fully as he can, both hands cradling Louis’ head. “I’m sorry,” he whispers to Louis’ jaw. The first ram of antlers against his body nearly knocks him flying, sending pain blooming throughout his entire body. His side splits, ribs exposed to the air, and he loses all ability to breathe. All he can do is hang on, protect Louis the best he can, eyes slipping closed as the deer attacks again.

Dying hurts. Harry feels every second of it, every time the deer attacks, every injury it causes. Blood bubbles in his throat, seeping out from between his lips, and he thinks he’s going to drown in it before the deer actually manages to finish the job. He couldn’t save Louis, couldn’t keep his promise, and this is how they’re both going to die, mauled horribly by a wild creature.

“You’re not alone,” he manages to say to Louis, blood between his teeth, dripping onto Louis’ face, consciousness fading. Never alone.

Louis’ face is the last thing he sees before he dies.

 

 

Waking up is violent. For a long time, there’s nothing. No dreams, no edging towards consciousness, none of that. One second, there’s nothing, and the next there’s bright light and noise and that same feeling of terror.

Harry jerks upright, hands flying up in front of him to defend himself, heart up in his throat, pulse pounding. He’s sweating, but it’s a cold sweat, one that feels clammy against his skin.

It takes him a few seconds to calm down enough to take anything in. He’s in the royal hall, with its abundance of lights hanging overhead and fae milling about all around. The throne is about thirty feet in front of him, sitting empty. No one stops to acknowledge him.

His leg doesn’t hurt. Neither does his side.

“What the fuck,” Harry wheezes. His throat still feels hoarse, but it seems to be the only sign that something had happened when he looks down at himself. There’s an IV sticking out of his arm, leading to some kind of medical bag with clear fluid in it, but there’s no blood. Not on his jeans, not on his body. Nothing.

What the fuck.

Before Harry can get any kind of grip on what’s happening, the door behind the throne opens, and the King strides in. He’s flaked by a long line of people following him through, guards and fae dressed in the same kind of fancy attire, probably members of the royal court themselves. Silently, they all take seats in the hall, and the bustle comes to an abrupt stop.

The door doesn’t close behind the last person. The King sits in his throne, clearly taking his time about it, and Harry’s so preoccupied trying to figure out what the fuck is going on that he almost misses Louis being dragged through the still open door.

Almost.

Louis is dragged to the middle of the hall, in front of the King, and pushed down onto his knees the same way he was before. He’s even more bloody now, hair matted to the side of his head with it, and he looks dazed, confused. Like he’s got a concussion or something.

Harry’s just as confused, because it looks like Louis is alive. It looks like Louis is alive, and Harry feels like he’s still alive, too.

“Do you know how many humans we’ve had through this court over the years?” the King asks conversationally. It’s unclear who he’s speaking to, but it doesn’t matter because he answers his own question, continuing, “There’s been a couple dozen. Most stupid enough, self-righteous enough to believe that they could do something good, something better than we can. None have ever succeeded.”

Maybe this is supposed to be making sense. If it is, Harry doesn’t get it.

“Faced with their own traumatic end, all of them turned tail and ran. Cowards, the lot of them. The usual punishment is to strip them of their memories but leave a seed, something they can’t access no matter how hard they try, something they can’t see, that will niggle at the backs of their minds, over and over as they age, until it drives them crazy. They go mad, searching for answers they’ll never be able to find, and it never fails to make me chuckle. Weak little lambs, leading themselves to the slaughter as though they can’t help it.”

A slight pause before the King laughs, malice dripping from the sound. “Then one day the weakest of them all stumbles into our court, our world, and demands vindication for a creature he believes himself to be in love with. Says the fae belongs to him and him alone, that he has a blood claim on him, and that he intends to take him back.

“And we think, well,” the King stops to spit on the floor beside him, contemptuous, “This human is going to join the others, too stupid to know any better, and it’ll be another story to tell the young. Except, as it turns out, the human is right.”

Now, he sounds grudgingly impressed, if not happy. Turning his attention to Louis, the King says, “He died for you, feeling real pain, thinking that he wouldn’t draw any more air into his lungs, trying to save you so you could live another second longer. He didn’t have a true blood claim before, but he does now, and should you accept it you will be free to leave here together.”

Harry feels like he’s frozen solid. He can’t move, can’t make his mouth work.

“But,” the King adds, glee on his face, drawing breath to throw in another twist Harry didn’t see coming, “in doing so, you will give up what little Unseelie rights you have left. We can’t strip you of your fae magic or attributes, else we would, but you will never be one of us again. You will live the rest of your mortal lifespan without ever encountering another one of your kind, never be able to find home again. You will be alone, for as long as it takes before death comes for you. We will strip you from our records, and when you die, no one will remember you.”

There’s a pause only a breath long. “What say you, Louis Tomlinson?”

Louis looks at Harry for a few long seconds, then looks over his shoulder at the King for just as long. Finally, he turns back around, pushing himself up onto his feet unsteadily. None of the guards move to stop him.

“I’m not alone,” he says, taking a few steps in Harry’s direction. Harry rushes to meet him in the middle, catching him around the waist and fitting their mouths together desperately, barely aware that he’s crying. At some point, he must close his eyes, and he misses the Unseelie court and fae fading away around them.

When he opens them again, they’re standing in the middle of the forest, just the two of them. It’s cold out again, the type of cold that settles deep into bones. Louis opens his eyes, looking up at Harry, and smiles.

“I love you,” he says, and Harry has to kiss him again.

Together, they make their way home.