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The train spewed steam, hot and compressed, behind him.

He hurt, and he couldn’t even identify where. His ears were ringing, and he was only now noticing it. He thought his neck and his head might hurt, but then again, his wrist and his ankle might, too. It was just everywhere. His eyes stung even though he was just asleep, his mouth tasted like warm beer and warmer water.

Alex still found the ability to push forward.

He blinked, and brought his hand up to his eyes, his other hand tightening on the strap of his pack. There was no sunlight in the station, but he still feels like he should lift his hand, get a better view.

He was standing there on the platform, three dimensions, full color. He was wearing nearly the exact same thing he wore to the station the first time all those months ago -- the grey trousers and the brown braces and the big, open pale blue jumper that had gotten paler, bordering on grey.

He was the most beautiful thing Alex had ever seen. He was the only beautiful thing he’d seen in a while.

Alex forced himself to take a few more steps, until he was right there in front of him and he had to tilt his head down a bit to get a good look at him.

“Hi,” Louis said, and his voice was the same, raspy and Northern and soft. Alex wanted to wrap him up in his arms and kiss him, dip him, spin him around like some of the other boys and their birds get to do.

But instead he just swallowed back the stiffness in his throat as Louis looked back at him carefully.

“Come on,” Louis said, “I’ll get you home,”

******

The flat was the same, which is to say small and dirty, partially because both of them hated cleaning but mostly because it was a place that was built dirty and would be destroyed dirty. Louis had changed the sheets on their bed, and the bathroom at least looked decent. Louis offered to run Alex a bath but he refused, and instead used up the warm water they could spare filling the tub. Then he stripped down, leaving his dirt and oil soaked uniform on the tile floor. There was still oil and sand in his hair, around his nails, enough that he wondered if it would ever wash out. He wonders how Louis could bear to kiss him once the door was closed.  

When he pulled himself out of the bath, he saw that Louis had set out some clothes on the bed already, a pair set of drawers and an undershirt with the paper ribbon still on it, a starched overshirt folded neatly over top of it. Alex pushed the overshirt aside and just went for the under things. He wouldn’t be going out for a while, there was no point.

He went back out to the kitchen, after he was half-dressed, fully prepared to sit down at the table or to at least fruitlessly offer to help Louis with something first.

But as soon as he out of the bedroom, he stopped in the doorway of the kitchen. He almost didn’t want to breath, just wanted to stay there and remember this, exactly, forever.

Louis was standing at the stove, the smell of gas of the machine thick and hot in the air. There was a small carton of eggs next to his elbow, behind that, a paper bag of bread. His hair was the same, soft and getting too long, and his lips poked out as he cut a razor thin slice of butter into the pan.

He was wearing his slip. The silk ladies’ night slip that someone at the corner store probably still thought Alex bought for some bird. It looked beautiful on him, it always had, even if the silk was worn and the lace over his chest looked stiff and wrinkled and a little yellow. The slip fell to Louis’s knees, the thin straps clinging to the knobby bones of his shoulders, the rest of the fabric skimming over his waist, his hips.

He was thin. He had always been little, but he was thin, now, some of his softness chipped away by long nights and civilian rations. His knuckles stuck out a bit, his fingers looked delicate while he cracked the eggs in the pan, lifted a fork to break them up.

“How long’s it been since you’ve had real eggs?” Louis asked. It took Alex a minute to answer. He could see every bone rotating in Louis’s wrist.

“A fair while,”

“You’ll get sick of them soon. Probably get sick of bread sooner,”

“I’m already tired of it,”

“Then we’re off to a good start,” Louis murmured. He pushed the eggs around, the bottoms starting to congeal in the pan and sticking to the bottom.

Alex breathed in deeply and went over to him, then, putting his hands on him the second he could. He pulled the cool, slippery fabric of the slip up, got his hands on the swell of Louis’s behind.

“Missed you, babydoll,” he murmured into his neck, and Louis huffed, pushing an elbow back.

“Not now,” he sighed, “You’ll make me burn it,”

“You’ll burn it anyways,”

Louis huffed and jabbed his elbow back again, making Alex have to jump out of the way.

“Go sit down,” Louis said, “You want tea?”

“Sure,”

“I’ll put the water on after this, then,” Louis murmured. He lifted his hand, wiping at his forehead, where there was sweat building up from the pure heat of the stove. The thin strap of his slip fell a bit and Louis grabbed it and slipped it back over his shoulder.

Alex used to think Louis had the kind of face that men won wars for. He probably told him as much at the station before he left.

Now he realized how much it takes to win wars. He would have to come up with a new metaphor.

When Louis served him a plate, the eggs were dry and black in places and the bread wasn’t much better, but the tea was good and nearly milk-less, which was how Alex had always liked it. Louis sat across the table from him, nursing a cup of tea of his own, and Alex kept glancing up at him as he ate.

“Come closer,” he muttered at one point around the egg and bread in his mouth, and Louis just shook his head.

“You eat,” Louis said easily, “You got skinny on me while you were gone,”

Alex’s throat immediately felt thick, since Louis looked worse off than he did, but he didn’t say anything. He just cast his eyes back down and pulled more food into his mouth until the plate was clear. He drank more tea, letting the food wash down, and then he brought his head right back up.

“Now come here,” he said, and this time Louis just nodded and stood, his slip shifting and falling easily back over his body as he went over and then cast himself easily on Alex’s lap, his legs sprawled on either side of the chair, his feet pressed to the floor.

“Hope this is what you wanted,” he said, and Alex could only nod, couldn’t even bring his hands up to grip him, not when his nails still had oil in them and Louis looked so clean.

Louis’s eyes were closed and he pushed forward, pressing a soft kiss to the swell of Alex’s Adam’s apple, then moved lowering, his lips brushing the hollow of his throat.

Alex’s hands finally found his waist as Louis kissed him. He wanted to wash away in the feeling, but he couldn’t, not when he had barely gotten a good look at Louis’s eyes earlier.

The boy he’d met on the Mole, the one he had never bothered to ask a name for, had told him on the train that the man with the blankets was blind, and that it would make no difference with whether he looked up at him or not. But people at the first station had still cast their eyes down, and their voices had flown like razors.

Them boys don’t deserve the Royal uniforms when all they did was wait for a pick up.

Alex swallowed roughly, blinking back the burning behind his eyes, and he squeezed Louis’s waist once, enough to get his attention.

“Can you look at me?” he asked, and Louis easily lifted his head. His eyes found Alex’s immediately, and they were soft and bright, a mirror of the smile on his lips.

“What do I look like to you?” Alex asked softly, and Louis snorted and draped his arms over Alex’s shoulders.

“What, you want a compliment?” he said, still smiling, “Just need someone to tell you you’re the prettiest thing since the Crown Jewels?”

Alex tried to swallow again, but he felt his face shift and harden, making Louis frown.

“Alex,” he said softly, “What is it?”

“I did some bad things,” he managed, and Louis shook his head.

“No, you didn’t,”

“I ran away,”

“You got evacuated,”

“I could’ve stayed,”

“Yeah, and then you would’ve been brave and dead in the fucking French sand and where would that leave me, huh?” Louis asked, and pushed forward, pressing their noses together, “Did you think that through?”

Alex licked his lips, “I’m sorry,”

Louis sighed and drew back, “Listen. I don’t know what it’s like out there. I got a heart that skips too many beats that keeps me here. But I know you weren’t gonna just run away for no good reason,”

Alex swallowed hard, shook his head, “I tried to kick someone off a ship. He was French. Didn’t even do anything wrong, I just didn’t want to die,”

“That’s a reasonable thing to want,”

“That’s fucking selfish,”

“Yeah. You’re selfish, I’m selfish. I would’ve forgiven the whole army dying if you wound up safe on my doorstep,” Louis said. His voice was hard, and Alex knew he wasn’t going to win this argument, if that’s what it even was. He never won any of their arguments. Louis had soft eyes and a hard head and those were tough to compete with.

Alex shook his head again and then tilted his chin down, looking at his own lap.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, and Louis sighed and caught his fingers under Alex’s chin, making his gaze lift right back up.

“You’re home now,” he said softly, and Alex nodded.

“I know. I want to be home. I don’t want to think about that right now,”

Louis just looked at him carefully and nodded, shifting in Alex’s lap. As he moved, the strap of his slip fell down again, drooping to reveal more of his chest, a peaked, dusty nipple popping out.  He lifted his shoulder, pressing it nearly to his ear as he gripped the wrinkled silk, tried to pull it back up to cover himself. Alex caught his wrist, made Louis loosen his fingers.

“Don’t you go acting coy on me,” Alex said, making his voice as light as he could manage. Louis blinked, then shook his head, smiling at the change in his tone.

“How were the birds in France?” Louis asked, “They pretty?”

“Not as pretty as you,”

“Not what I asked,”

Alex swallowed, and then shrugged, “Sure they were. Didn’t get much more of them,”

Louis lifted his brows, tilted his head.

“Yeah? What about those eight-pagers you boys pass around?” Louis asked, “Find something you like there?”

Alex swallowed, “No,”

He’d seen them. Of course he had. They were more valued than water and yet shared far more easily. He’d wanked to a picture in one of them once, a girl with dark hair and some blue shorts and not much else. He’d just covered the top part, kept the image of flared hips and a round bum and just pictured a firm chest and a stubble-sprinkled chin over top.

He liked girls just fine. But girls weren’t Louis. Neither were other boys, for that matter. For Alex, there was just him. Just Louis.

Louis smirked, shook his head.

“You just waiting around for me then, huh?” Louis said, and Alex nodded, which only made Louis laugh.

“I’d forgive you if you did, you know,” Louis said, “Find a dame you like, have some fun. I’d let it go,”

“No, you wouldn’t,”

“Sure I would,” Louis smirked, in a way that meant he certainly would not, except when he was following through with what game he was playing, “Because I’m still your favorite girl, right?”

Alex blinked up at Louis, at his sharp face and his parted, dry lips and his eyes, so big on his slimmer face.

“Huh?” Louis prompted again, and then lifted his hands and pushed on his chest, creating a small line between his pectorals that peeked over the edge of his neckline, “Don’t have a great rack like the other girls do but you don’t care, do you, love? You’ve always liked what’s on the bottom, anyways,” 

Alex licked his lips again, his throat suddenly feeling dry.

“You’d be right about that,”

“I know,” Louis smiled, then leaned forward, pushing his mouth firmly on Alex’s lax lips, “Come on then, handsome, you were all about that earlier, what’s the point of you having hands if you don’t put them to use?”

Alex lifted his hands, then, hesitating for a second. Louis gave him a sharp and expectant look, though, and then he pushed his hands forward and then back around. He gripped Louis’s bum in both hands, a thick swell under the slippery silk. Louis rolled his hips forward and Alex groaned shifting his own lap to meet him. His cock felt thick and hard in his drawers but he couldn’t get any friction on Louis, not when he was squirming around his lap.

“You got Vaseline?” he asked.

“Of course,” Louis scoffed, “You wanna be the one to go get it?”

Alex groaned, then shook his head.

“I got a better idea. Get up,”

Louis blinked at him but shifted himself, getting his feet flat on the floor and then lifting himself up until he was standing. Alex got up too, then set his hands on Louis’s waist and kicked at the chair behind him, giving them more room in front of the table. Louis’s gaze lifted, his eyes widening for just a moment before he looked back down and then turned, so his back was pressed to Alex’s front. Alex leaned forward, pressing his lips firmly to the side of Louis’s neck.

“Lean over,” he murmured, and Louis pushed himself closer to Alex’s touch but then leaned forward, setting his hands on the edge of the table. Alex pushed against the small of his back, his fingers barely getting traction against the slip.

“Yeah, come on, babydoll, show off for me,” he said, “You know you want to, wriggling around in your bed things like some call girl,”

Louis exhaled loudly and then pushed himself out, flattening his belly against the table and pushing his legs and hips out more. Alex got a hold of his hips and then roughly shoved up the back of the slip over the pale swell of Louis’s arse. His hands went right to his cheeks, then, and gave them a squeeze and then spread him out to see a tight hole and his pinkening cock and his swollen balls.

Alex lowered himself onto his knees, the tile of the kitchen biting his legs, and he nipped at the inside of Louis’s thigh. Louis yelped, high and strained, and Alex lapped over the pink mark on his leg before kissing it. He dragged his lips up the inside of his thigh, bit again at the soft swell of the underside of one cheek, which made Louis whimper a bit too loudly.

“We have neighbors,” Alex said a bit too firmly.

“I know,” Louis sighed, “Maybe they should put up with it. Nancy from upstairs got her husband back a month ago and I’ve had to listen to them try to make a baby every night since then,”

Alex laughed, pressing another kiss to Louis’s arse cheek.

“Could give you a baby if you wanted that,”

“Even if you could, I’d rather you give me whatever you’re planning back there,”

Alex laughed weakly again, and then lifted his chin and pressed his mouth right to Louis’s hole, giving it a soft kiss that made the other man inhale sharply. Then he pushed in hard with the point of his tongue, keeping his lips hard and tight over the ring of muscle while he licked.

Louis twitched, his hips moving and pushing, and Alex flattened his tongue, lapping roughly a few times over his rim, keeping his hands tight on Louis’s thighs while he did. He lowered his lips, kissing the soft skin of his taint, and then lapped over the whole area, from the base of his rim to the very tops of his balls.

“Alex,” Louis exhaled, soft and sharp, “Alex, baby,”

He didn’t speak, mostly because he didn’t want to pull away. He kind of wanted to spin Louis around by his hips, get his cock in his mouth just to feel the weight of it, the way it perfectly filled his mouth without making his jaw too sore, so he could hold him in a place and still easily look up and see Louis’s face.

But when he brought his lips back to his rim, Louis gasped again, and it was enough to keep his mouth right there.

He kept his tongue pointed at firm, and he prodded at him, licking around his rim and the inside of his cheeks, then pushed straight into his hole like he was trying to open him up even without his fingers. He’d flatten his tongue back out occasionally to lick broader strips over him, a few times he could put his tongue back entirely, kiss his hole and his taint and his balls. He lifted a hand, dragging it on the inside of Louis’s thigh, even reaching out to stroke at Louis’s length with his knuckles. He was hard, and leaking, and Alex’s own cock was thick and tight against his drawers, but he’d live if he could keep listening to the sweet, sweet sounds Louis kept making.

And then, suddenly, he had to pull away because Louis was crying.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked as he got back to his feet. Louis was collapsed fully on the table, his legs shaking and his head buried into his arms, and his shoulders were quaking. Alex touched his shoulder and tried to get him to turn over, and then went easily, his face pink and wet when he was finally on his back.

Alex opened his mouth to speak, to apologize or to at least ask if he was alright, but Louis beat him to the chase.

“I love you,” Louis gasped, “I love you, you understand me?”

Again, Alex tried to speak and he cut right in.

“Don’t you dare think it would’ve been better if you hadn’t come back,” Louis said, “I don’t care if they had to haul you out and you didn’t get to fight the grand fight they said they needed out of you, you’re here now,”

Softer, he spoke again, and this time Alex could hear his voice quake, “You’re here now,”

Alex nodded and leaned forward, hovering right over Louis.

“How am I supposed to leave you?” Alex murmured, “Pretty face like yours is what someone can dream of coming home to,”

Louis looked up at him easily, his face still so open, so forgiving, and when Alex spoke again, his voice was in danger of cracking and he didn’t even bother trying to swallow it down.

“I love you,” he said, “You’re the only person I’m ever going to love, baby doll,”

Louis gave him one more long, long look, and then grabbed his shirtfront and tugged him forward, narrowing his eyes as he did. 

“You listen to me,” Louis said, “You go into the bedroom and find the Vaseline, and then you’re going to fuck me. Alright?”

Alex nodded, and Louis pushed his chest, enough to make him stumble back and trip over his feet as he went to the bedroom, found the tin of jelly in the top shelf of their shared dresser before he rushed right back to the kitchen and took his place in front of Louis’s easily sprawled body.

He slicked Louis down and then held down his wrists and thrust his hips forward into him until the table quaked and the top of Louis’s slip slid all the way down, nearly to his waist. Louis cried out, loud and high, enough that if anyone heard they’d probably think he was a bird.

It didn’t take long for Louis to tremble and for his cock to spill all over the edge of his slip, a couple droplets slipping off his sharp hips and onto the table. It’d be a bitch to clean up, especially with the cold water and scrubbing Louis would have to put into getting the slip back into shape. But Alex couldn’t even care, because he was pushing forward, spilling into Louis, making the other man groan weakly and buck back against him. His face was slick and pink, his hair limp.

When Louis opened his eyes, they were dark and far off and shifting, like the waves of a sea Alex actually wanted to remember.

Louis reached out a hand, and Alex let Louis grab the back of his neck, draw him forward, kiss his lips softly and then drag a thumb over his cheek. Alex’s throat felt tight, and when Louis pulled back, he whispered carefully, his fingertips still lingering soft on his skin.

“Welcome home, Private,” he said, “I’ll make sure you want to stay,”

*******

Alex found it hard to want to get out of bed the next few days.

He didn’t feel tired. He somehow hadn’t felt tired at all in the last few days, even though he used to think about sleep every moment, felt like he was constantly chasing it to the ends of the earth. Maybe he’d gotten more used to short bursts of sleep in rare moments of peace. Maybe his body had learned to think of sleep as something unnecessary, like quiet, or peace.

But what was nicer than sleep was Louis staying on the other side of their worn-to-nearly-nothing mattress, usually not wearing much. Alex could reach over and stroke over his hair and the knobs of his spine after he woke up, cradle Louis’s waist in his palm and kiss the back of his neck before he dropped off into sleep again. But more often than not he would grip Louis by the hips, get his fingers between his cheeks and work around until Louis was squirming and whining for something else.

But after so many times of that, Alex would occasionally reach out for him and Louis would bristle and act like anything in the world would please him more than Alex’s touch.

“Get your damn paws off me,” Louis grumbled when Alex reached out for him one afternoon, rolling over to nearly the edge of the bed, “I gotta sleep at some point,”

“Can that be another time?” Alex asked, tugging at Louis’s bare waist, but Louis reached back and slapped his hand away.

“No,” he said firmly, and then lifted the quilt back over his shoulder, “Go entertain yourself somewhere else,”

Alex shook his head and leaned forward, pressing his lips the back of Louis’s neck.

“Alright, doll,” he murmured, and he heard Louis murmur happily before Alex pulled away and got out of bed.

He went to the kitchen and put on the kettle to make himself another cup of tea. Louis still had their radio, something they apparently hadn’t needed to sell yet, and he turned it on, turning the dial down as low as it could go so he wouldn’t disturb the man in the other room. Immediately, he heard news coverage from the front grounds, and his fingers twitched on the dial. That was what most stations covered now, of course, but he couldn’t help think of Louis in the last several months, sitting by the counter with the radio on, maybe wrapped in a blanket, just listening, waiting for something hopeful or something devastating.

He turned the dial until he found something that wasn’t static or news, just music, and he pulled the kettle off, made himself a cup as he listened. There was a paper on the table and he unfolded and skimmed over the headlines, went on to read some benign local and entertainment news and ignored the war coverage.

He could catch up on the later. With the trajectory the war was going, he was going to spend the rest of his life reading about the battle grounds.

Alex got to the bottom of his cup, and he went to put on some more water when he heard a knock at the door. He set the kettle on the stove but didn’t turn on the heat, and then he wandered over to the door, not bothering to put a more decent outfit first or to even turn off the radio.

When he opened the door, there was a man standing on the other side, the same age as Alex, wearing clothes Alex could barely dream of affording and sporting a wide grin.

“Well God damn,” the man on the other side said, “Heard your ugly fucking mug was back,”

“Ah,” Alex managed, and then dipped his head, “Yeah, hey, Michael,”

Michael wasn’t a friend. Well, he was, but simply because Alex didn’t have a lot of options of people to associate with in a town this small. But he knew Michael hadn’t been shipped out at all. His grandfather was a well-known pacifist whose pockets were padded with the profits of his multiple grocery stores, and Michael was his one male heir.

No one was safe from war, unless you had a grandfather with enough motivation and cash to keep you out of the line of fire.

Michael grinned, wide enough Alex could see all the way back to the gaps in his mouth where teeth had gotten knocked out during petty neighborhood scuffles. Then Michael puckered his lips and whistled.

“You look fucked to death, mate. I mean, Jesus, you got a bird in there?”

“Um,” Alex said, and then tugged at his hair, tousled from bed. His face was probably still flushed, his mouth still swollen, as well, “Yeah, she’s asleep, keep your damn voice down,”

“Alright,” Michael cackled, and then kept speaking in a voice only slightly lower, “Listen, you should come down to the pub, get a drink. All the lads miss you,”

“Ah,” Alex said, reaching up to scratch at the bottom of his chin, “I dunno,”

“Come on,” Michael coaxed, “When’s the last time you got smashed, huh?”

Alex sighed, letting his hand drop.

He could think of a dozen and a half things he would rather do than spend an evening drinking pints with Michael and the other men in the neighborhood, and if he was being honest dying at Dunkirk was somewhere on that list.

But if he didn’t say yes, he’d just ask again sooner rather than later

“Alright,” Alex conceded, “I’ll bring Louis,”

“Oh,” Michael said, his expression shifting a bit at that. Michael and Louis had never exactly gotten along, “You two still living together?”

“Yeah,” Alex said, and then quickly remember that he was supposed to have a girl in the next room, and Louis therefore wasn’t supposed to be there, “He’s out right now,”

“Alright,” Michael shrugged, “Whatever you want, mate, it’s your night,”

“Thanks,” Alex nodded, already going to close the door, “I’ll see you at the pub tonight, I suppose. Eight?”

“Yeah,” Michael said, and then grinned again, “Good to have you back, solider,”

“Right,” Alex said, “Well, goodbye,”

He firmly shut the door and then leaned against the weathered wood, breathing out hard. He listened as heavy footsteps walked back the hallway outside, and then he turned around and walked straight back into the bedroom, completely abandoning the idea of another cup of tea.

He thought he would just climb back into bed and have time to think, but when he walked into the room he saw Louis was awake and looking straight at him.

“I heard the animals got let out of the zoo,” Louis said flatly.

“Uh,”

“So you’re going out,” Louis continued, “And you invited me along,”

“Well, I’m not gonna just leave you here,”

“Right,” Louis sighed, then rolled his eyes and rolled over, one slender leg poking out of the covers before descending completely to the floor, “I’ll just go take a bath, then. Still got Vaseline and your spunk in my arse from this morning,”

“We’ve got a few hours,”

“I know,” Louis said as he brought his other leg to the ground and then climbed fully out of bed, the starched sheets falling off his body, “I feel dirty just from listening to that bastard’s voice,”

He wandered to the small doorway that led to their bathroom and glanced over his shoulder, blinking at Alex.

“Come with me, don’t make me beg,” he said, and Alex just shook his head and then followed after him, making Louis smile brightly enough to make the tightness in Alex’s chest loosen. 

Tonight would be just fine.

*******

They were late walking to the corner pub, one Alex hadn’t been to since he got shipped off. He hadn’t even been there the night before he got shipped out, even though just about everyone he knew had gone for a drink before leaving for the front grounds. He’d been home with Louis that night, just like he wanted to do every other night.

Louis had put on nearly the same outfit he had worn to the station to pick Alex up, a starched shirt and his decent trousers and his braces. He had another long cardigan on, the black one that had turned dark grey with too many washes.

The boys from the neighborhood probably expected Alex to show up in uniform, or at least in part of it. But those clothes were still on the bathroom floor, covered in irreversible oil stains. Then again, even if the stains could come out he wasn’t sure he would ever put them on again. 

“I hate them,” Louis said matter-of-factly, looking into the glass front of the pub when they finally arrived. His eyes stayed fixed on his own reflection, and he brushed his hands over his fringe as Alex stood next to him with his hands in his trouser pockets

“I know,” Alex said, then shrugged, “But they’re all the options I got,”

“I know, I know,” Louis sighed, “Little town, shit people, two fairies. Isn’t that right?”

Louis,”

“I’m kidding. I don’t laugh I’ll cry,” Louis sighed, finally letting his hand drop from his hair, “Alright, let’s get this over with. Do me a favor and get drunk quick so I’ll have an excuse to drag you home early,”

Alex smiled and shook his head, “I’ll do my best,”

He opened the door of the pub, letting Louis get inside first. Almost immediately, they were surrounded by people, Michael and his friends, only half of which Alex actually remembered.

Robert, who had served on the lines for maybe two months before being discharged for something he still didn’t talk about, got Alex and Louis a pint each. David, who had given Alex a bloody nose at least twice a day when they were kids, found them a booth. And James, who had married and rich and gotten a stay home on a bribe as big as the one Michael’s grandfather offered up, was already pissed and spent about ten minutes jabbing at the shaved sides of Alex’s head, even though his hair had looked nearly the same before he left.

“Everyone’s fucking creaming themselves over our boy getting the hell out of dodge,” Michael was cackling. He was pressed close to Alex in the booth, his arm around his shoulder, and Louis just stared at him like he wouldn’t cry if Michael dropped dead in that instant, “But I saw he took the smart way out. Points for showing up and a nice boat ride home, huh?”

Alex swallowed, picking up his pint in front of him. Half of it was gone and he didn’t feel any impact at all, and that was going to be an issue.

“Sure,” he hedged, and Michael cackled loudly, making everyone around them follow suit.

Then Michael turned his head, and he smirked, and a few of the other men around snickered. Alex opened his mouth, ready to ask them what was happening, but then they were sliding out of the booth and clearing, leaving only one person in front of them.

“Oh,” Alex said, “Hi, Barbara,”

The girl – well, he figured he should call her a woman now – smiled at him, tucking a piece of blonde hair behind her ear and then crossed both hands neatly over the front of her pale orange dress.

“Hello,” she smiled, “You got anyone else coming?”

“I guess not now,” Alex admitted, and she nodded and pointed to the empty spot in the booth next to him. He just nodded, giving her free reign to sit down.

Alex glanced over at Louis quickly, and the other man just looked at him blankly and evenly before lifting his glass to his mouth.

“Hello, Barbara,” Louis said flatly as he lifted his glass to his mouth, and she frowned and looked over at him like she hadn’t even noticed he was there.

“Louis,” she said, “Sorry, I didn’t see you sitting there,”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” he muttered, but she didn’t seem to notice, just turned right back to Alex and grinned.

“Glad to see you back in one piece,” she smiled, and Alex nodded, his throat suddenly feeling too thick.

He and Barbara had kissed once. They’d been eight, and he was pretty sure it was a dare on someone’s part. He didn’t remember much about it except that it had happened.

Maybe she remembered more. He had no way of knowing.

She smiled at him, her eyes bright and her lipstick neat and her face open and sweet, but Alex could feel eyes on him, from both Louis and the men who had gone to gather at the bar but were undoubtedly still watching. He willed himself to smile and act interested, because that was what a man was supposed to do when a woman sat next to him with a sweet smile.

“How have you been?” Alex forced himself to ask, and Barbara smiled and started talking about her new part-time job sewing buttons onto uniforms at the factory in the town next door, and how her mother was doing. The only thing Alex could focus on was Louis’s movements across the table. He was downing his drink pretty quickly. That couldn’t be good for him.

Then, the radio playing throughout the pub crackled and switched to playing something new, and Barbara’s face lit up.

“I love this song,” she grinned, and then held out a hand to Alex, “Will you dance with me?”

“Oh,” Alex blinked at her hand, so pale and delicate with short-cut nails. Louis’s hands had more veins poking through the thin top skin, had more thick, knobby knuckles. He would much rather hold that.

“Sure,” he answered. She smiled again and then was pulling him up, out of the booth. He tried to look behind him, back to Louis, but she was pulling him too hard.

They went to the small space next to the bar that had been free of tables and chairs, and she clasped one of his hands in her own. He forced himself to reach up and grip her waist. She moved easily; she’d done this before, and he just followed her, his feet shuffling and not wanting to move at all. She was a blur this way, and he could survive this.

But then she stopped, her feet coming cleanly to a halt while Alex tripped to stop, and then her hand was crawling across his back and she was smiling up at him with those wide eyes and those red, perfectly drawn lips.

“I’ve been thinking about you a fair lot lately,” she said.

“Have you?” Alex asked. He tried to keep his voice steady, but it pitched a bit. He was panicking a little. He wondered where Louis was.

“Sure. Been thinking about what would happen if I didn’t get to see you again,” Barbara said.

“What did you think would happen?” Alex asked, his voice once again trying to betray him. He didn’t eve know what she was on about, they’d barely spoken before he had gotten shipped out.

“Well I couldn’t have danced with you if you didn’t come back, that’s for one,” she smiled.

“Suppose that’s right,” Alex allowed. He tried to loosen his grip on her waist. He wasn’t sure how long this song was. It seemed to go on for entirety. He could scare up an excuse to leave once it was over, but not now. He knew that it was a bad idea to leave this dance. Improper for one. And also not a good idea with half the town looking on and his very male, very long term roommate present. People could put two and two together faster than he’d like to give them credit for.

“Did you find any girls where you were?” Barbara asked, and he felt his throat tighten.

Louis had asked him that when he had gotten home a few days ago. A joke, something to lead into what they did next.

He could say yes, he did, he had a girl somewhere else now. They wrote letters and he was besotted with her. She could save him, this mystery girl.

And then he realized he should’ve dreamed her up sooner. Before this dance. Because this dance meant something.

“A few,” he said instead. It was safe, somewhere in between.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes widening, and then she smiled, “Well I’m not surprised,” 

“Mm,” Alex allowed, and Barbara didn’t seem to notice if he sounded far off. In fact, she smiled even more, her eyes sparking a bit.

“Would it be too forward of me to ask for a kiss?” she asked, and Alex’s stomach felt sick.

Yes, yes it would.

 

He had a boy somewhere in this pub he loved more than oxygen. He was going to be the only one who was ever going to get any kisses Alex was willing to give out.

The song ended, then, and Alex should be able to break free, but they’d stopped moving entirely, and now he was stuck.

“Last girl was a tough one to say goodbye to,” he heard him say, “Don’t know how quick I wanna move after her,”

“Alright,” Barbara allowed, but her voice was still careful, her brow a bit furrowed.

So Alex leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Quickly, his lips barely on her skin before he was pulling back. But her face had smoothed over, and she was smiling.

She got what she expected.

Alex dropped his grip from her quickly and moved away faster, passing the men at the bar who were leering at him with barely a second glance.

“I’m leaving,” he announced, “Louis needs to take his medicine,”

That was a lie. Louis took his heart medicine in the mornings and before lunch. Never this late. But they didn’t know. They’d never even bothered to ask what he was sick with.

“So?” Michael said, “He’s got keys, don’t he?”

“It’s the middle of the night and it’s dark, Christ, let me walk him back,” Alex said, “Maybe I’ll come back,”

“Yeah, you do that,” Michael sighed and shook his head, “Come on, you’re home now, time to have a bit of fun,”

“Right,” he said weakly, and then lifted his head, finally spotting the top of Louis’s head somewhere close to the loo.

“What should we tell Barbie?” he heard James ask, and Alex shrugged.

“You tell her anything you damn well please,”

*******

Louis didn’t say a word on the way home. Not on the sidewalk, not up the stairs of their building, not even when they went through the door of the flat and Alex firmly shut and locked the door behind him while Louis wandered to the middle of the living room.

“Louis,” Alex breathed, and then reached out a hand, “Honey,”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut and crossed his arms, shuffling even further away.

“I know,” he whispered, “You don’t have to tell me that you don’t feel any sort of way about her. That you only care about me or whatever the fuck else you want to say. I know, okay? I watched,”

“You watched,” Alex echoed, and Louis just sighed.

“Christ, yes, I watched you two,” he said, “Always gotta fucking watch you with whatever girl thinks she can have you. They’re always going to come first, I’m not,”

“Not to me,” Alex said, “Never, ever to me, baby,”

Louis opened his eyes, and he reached up, his fingers curling over the base of his throat.

“I know,” he said softly, “It’s just…it’s the principal,”

Right. He could’ve come home dead in a box and Louis would’ve had less right to grieve in the open than a girl Alex had looked at twice in his life. To everyone else on the outside of their door, Louis was always going to be his friend, his roommate, the one Alex took care of because they’d known each other long enough and everyone thought he felt a little sorry for him. He wasn’t sure how long that would last; it was an arrangement that felt temporary at best.

Alex moved forward, and this time Louis didn’t try to move away. Alex caught him around the waist, pressed him flush to his own chest and dropped a kiss to the curve of his shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Louis said, and Alex just kissed his skin again. He sighed, relaxing into him, “I’m fine,”

“Don’t need an excuse to kiss you,” he murmured, and then dug his fingertips into the starched fabric of Louis’s shirt, “You’re my sweetheart,”

Louis snorted weakly, and then leaned further into Alex, leaning his weight fully against him.

“Would you dance me with me?” Louis asked, “If we could, would you dance with me like you danced with her?”

Alex couldn’t help but laugh as he squeezed Louis tighter.

“Baby, I’d dance with you until our feet fall off,” he said, “I’d do with the swing with you in front of God and Winston Churchill,”

Louis laughed, a real, loud laugh, and then he was pulling away, enough to turn around and look up at Alex fully.

“Will you dance with me now?”

Alex blinked at him, and then he nodded, his eyes burning.

“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah, I will,”

He crossed the room quickly, went to the radio and switched it on, turning the dial rapidly to skim past news and static. He found a song, finally, something slow, something about love, and he dropped his hand from the dial and then stumbled back. He lifted his head and saw Louis across the room, just gazing at him, the promise of a smile dashed across his mouth.

Alex’s feet moved more easily than they had all night as he went over to him.

He gripped Louis’s waist tightly in one arm, grabbed Louis’s fingers with his other hand. Louis’s arm rested across his back and Alex bent down, nestled his head into Louis’s sweet-smelling shoulder. They weren’t really dancing, there were no formal steps, no wild twisting like Barbara had done. Alex was tired down to his soul, his bones, and he felt like he always would be. Louis’s nerves and heart were on the fritz. They needed each other’s arms and a locked door, nothing more.

Eventually, though, Alex gripped Louis tightly and dipped him down, pressed a kiss to the swell at the middle of his throat. Louis sighed, his throat shifting, and then Alex was lifting him back up, reaching up to cradle the back of his head with one hand. Louis’s eyes flickered open, his eyes dark and swimming, and he smiled.

“You had two left feet with that girl,” Louis shook his head, “Can barely hear your feet move now,”

Alex swallowed, leaned in and pressed his mouth to Louis’s. The song had ended at some point, the station had moved on to something else, but Alex kept Louis gripped tightly in arms.

“One day,” Alex said, “One day this world is going to spin enough times to have some sense knocked into it, and then I’ll take you out proper, let everyone know you’re the only one I wanna dance with,”

Louis smiled, his eyes flashing and shifting as he spoke, “We’ll be old and withered if we ever see that day, darling,”

“Yeah. And I’ll still take you out. Dress you up in diamonds and pearls, do everything for you I can’t do now”

Alex felt like he was back in the icy water, waves over his head, wondering if he was ever going to get out of something he hadn’t asked for. But Louis kept smiling, and it was enough for Alex to find the strength to speak again.

“Lay down, doll,” he murmured, and Louis smiled, lowered himself onto his knees and then flattened himself to the bare rug on the floor, Alex lowering down too and following his movement.

“You ain’t gonna fuck me on the floor, are you?” Louis murmured, “That’s just poor taste,”

“Nah,” he shook his head, his fingers already on one of Louis’s braces, “Gonna suck your cock, though,”

Louis rolled his eyes and caught Alex’s fingers, “Don’t know what that girl sees you in. Got no idea how to treat a lady,”

“You aren’t a lady,” Alex said a bit too firmly. Louis could wear all the women’s knickers he wanted and he would still be Alex’s boy, “And one day I’m gonna treat you exactly the way you need,”

Louis smiled, and then reached up, caught Alex’s chin in his fingers, and it was enough to make Alex pull back, let go of Louis’s undone brace. His touch felt like sunshine, a blanket that wasn’t given out in bulk, a decent day’s meal.

It felt like breaking the surface of the water.

“Oh, love,” Louis said softly, “You’re already well on your way.” 

*******

3 Years Prior

The paper bag in Alex’s hand crinkled as he walked down the street, the thickness of the summer air pushing down hard on his shoulders and making his shirt stick to his back and underneath his arms.

It wasn’t even close to getting dark despite being closer to evening than afternoon, and Alex really should’ve gone straight home to the four-person shared room he rented during the summer while the university was out. His hands reeked of the smell of medicine, marred from another day working at the pharmacy, shoveling pills and tonics into bottles or ringing up orders for customers.

He rounded the corner and made his way to the small corner store, the place he used to go just for a few random groceries, Now he was there nearly every day, trying to stagger some of his visits to different times, sometimes just waiting outside, always having a different excuse prepared and ready for why he was there so often.  

But once a month, the paper bag in his hand gave him a decent excuse to be here, and he wasn’t about to waste it.

Alex pushed his way into the shop, letting the bell above the door ring loud and clear. Mrs. Lawrence still ran the store, but she was nearing ninety and did her managing from a chair at the back of the shop, so when he walked in, he was only greeted by one person, who was standing on a step stool restocking some front shelves and who turned at the sound of the bell.

“Hi,” Louis smiled, and then dropped his hands from the shelf as he climbed back down the step stool.

“Hi,” Alex returned, and then held up the bag, “I have your medicine,”

“I know,” Louis laughed, “I expected that much,”

Louis went over to him, taking the bag and folding down the top of the bag even tighter, and then wandered to the front counter of the shop, scribbling in the employee ledger that usually only he filled out.

“I’ll just go put this upstairs and I’ll be right back, alright?”

Alex nodded, and Louis smiled again and then wandered to the very back of the small shop and then to the back door that led to the stairs that would take him up to the small apartment above the store that Mrs. Lawrence had let him rent out of his pay.

Louis didn’t talk about it much anymore, but he had stayed in town when his family had moved away a few years ago and left him in the dust. This was what he had left, now.

That, and Alex’s insistence that they see each other as many afternoons as they could when they were both in town.

He had met Louis when they were kids, didn’t bother to speak to him until years later, and then kept him close right up until he went off to uni on his grandfather’s inheritance and wrote him letters all through the school year. He liked Louis, and not many other people seemed to give him the time of the day, so Alex always made sure that if Louis had a story to tell, or a frustration to talk about, or was just in need or company, Alex gave him his time.

There were other reasons Alex snuck to him so tight. He just couldn’t quite say those aloud yet.

Louis came down the stairs not too much later, wearing a fresh shirt and carrying a jacket he wouldn’t need in this heat. 

“Do you have to get home soon?” Louis asked.

“Not really,” Alex shrugged, “My shift’s over now and I’m not making dinner,”

He probably would’ve given him the same answer even if he did have to get home, but for tonight it was the truth.

“Good,” Louis smiled, “Let’s go for a walk,”

“A walk” always meant the same thing.

There was a park in town. It was a joke of a thing; the grass was dead and the trees were skinny and not even kids would come to play, but Louis liked it for whatever reason, and Alex would go where he would follow.

It only took them a few minutes to reach the park, and then another few to reach Louis’s favorite spot, the opposite side of a small slope of a hill. It was properly getting dark now, the sky changing its mood quickly. Louis settled into the grass, propping himself back on his elbows, and Alex sat next to him.

“How was your day?” Alex asked. Every day, it was the same question, and Louis snorted.

“Just fine,” he said. Again, it was always the same answer.

The bugs droned in the distance, and Alex closed his eyes and took a breath, feeling like he could swim in this heat. Louis was a healthy distance away form him, but he could feel him there, could sense his movement and the rise and fall of his chest even from far away.

He had spent too much time with him. Sometimes Alex would be in class hours away and still think he could feel Louis’s breath inside his own chest.

“When do you leave me again, huh?” Louis asked, and it was enough to make Alex open his eyes and look over.

“School starts first week of September,” he said, “I’ll probably head in a week before,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, “That’s what, a month for us?”

“Give or take?”

“I’d take a few more days if you’re offering,” Louis said, and then sighed, “This town is shit without you. I don’t wanna think about you not being here anymore,”

“Could take you with me,” Alex said easily. The words always came easy with Louis, “Pack you in my trunk, let you sleep in my room,”

“And what?” Louis grinned, “Hide when you brought a girl home? Tuck myself up in your chest of drawers?”

Alex’s breath hitched and he shook his head, his voice hardening.

“Haven’t brought a girl home in a long time,” he said, and Louis snorted and shrugged.

“Then I guess this plan is seamless,” he said, and Alex laughed, but it sounded hollow in his ears.

Louis turned forward, letting out into the sad, dead landscape of the park, and Alex should’ve moved his gaze away to look forward, too, but instead he found himself fixating on Louis’s profile. The sun was still out, enough to reflect off the slope of Louis’s nose and the height of his cheekbones and the slight pout of his mouth. His hair was freshly cut, close to his ears but still long over his eyes, and Alex wondered, not for the first time, if it was soft.

Louis was beautiful.

Alex had thought that for a while, and he still felt his belly surge when he thought it. It was a thought that was wrong to have; he’d sat through enough Catholic services and heard enough chatter from his classmates to know that much. But he couldn’t stop the thought. It was there. He could barely remember how it had started. Maybe it was when he was fourteen and they went swimming together in the public pool for the first time, or when he was eighteen and Louis had nearly given his bum heart an excuse to implode when he had sprinted to the train station to tell Harry good-bye. Maybe it was earlier than that, when Alex was six years old and saw Louis for the first time in a schoolyard. He couldn’t trace the start, the first raindrop. He just knew he was in the midst of a storm now.

Louis didn’t flinch, didn’t look back over at him, and part of Alex was glad, but part of him wished he would look over, give him a knowing smile.

Alex had less than a month of staying here before the semester started again. For now, Louis would be here, working in that shop and tucking away what cash he could. But one day, Alex could come home and Louis might be gone. He deserved as much, but one day, he might be standing outside that shop, waiting for his beautiful, forbidden face to appear, and he would never get it.

The thought made his chest tight. He could chase it away; that time wasn’t now, it wasn’t even soon, and Louis was here now and he was beautiful and they were sitting in the summer heat in an empty park and it was fine, it was all fine.

But the thought wouldn’t leave him, and soon Alex felt himself move, until his hand shifted and settled between them in the grass, close to Louis’s leg. A bit too close.

He could hear his own heartbeat in his ears, coupled with the hammering of his heart.

If he listened closely, he could hear Louis breathing, too.

He could pull his hand back right now and say it meant nothing, but the fact it was there, and there for so long, now, meant that it did mean something.

Louis could slap him and spit in his house and tell the whole town about him and Alex would deserve it, but the fact he didn’t do that had to mean something, too.

But Alex didn’t dare more any closer.

Not when his hand sitting where it was already meant something big, and moving closer…

That would mean something massive.

Then, he heard Louis breath in, and his voice came softly, so dangerously soft.

“You gonna put that hand anywhere useful?” he murmured.

Alex’s breath hitched, and when he looked over, Louis was looking straight at him, his mouth straight, his eyes wide, his bottom lip shifting. Shaking.

He knew. He knew what Alex had meant, and he wasn’t mad. He was welcoming it, and Alex barely had time to take in what that meant for him and his lingering thoughts. He was already thinking what this meant for Louis. He was taking a risk, too, in acknowledging it. In asking for something else.

Alex let out a breath, let the tension in his chest release for one brief moment.

He kept his eyes close on Louis’s, and then he let his hand drift closer, until his fingers were curling against the fabric of Louis’s trousers. Louis closed his eyes, his exhale so loud in Alex’s ears, and then he bobbed his head, nodding.

“No one ever comes here,” Louis said softly, still not looking up, and Alex knew what he meant.

No one ever bothered to come here. No one would see.

So he let his hand shift over Louis’s thigh and tighten on the inside of his leg. Louis’s breathing hitched and his eyes cast down, looking at Alex’s fingers on his thigh, and Alex didn’t dare move to do anything else. This already felt like too much.

Louis still wasn’t looking at him, and Alex felt like he hadn’t been able to see Louis’s eyes for years instead of seconds.

“You fancy me, huh,” Louis said softly. Still so softly. A fragile type of soft that was in danger of breaking.

Alex swallowed, and his fingers shifted on Louis’s leg.

“Yeah,” he said.

He didn’t try to add anything else. Didn’t try to say “I think so” or “Maybe” or “I’ve been trying to figure it out. Trying to think maybe it’s your eyelashes or your hips or your voice or the parts of you that are so like a girl, but it’s not that. Because I fancy your hard shoulders and the bulge in your throat and your laugh and your smile and you, it’s just you that I fancy.”

He didn’t say any of that. But Louis nodded, like he could understand everything Alex couldn’t dare say.

And then he lifted his head, and Alex finally got a flash of his eyes, like a slice of summer sky.

“You gonna kiss me or leave me waiting?” Louis asked, and his voice was maybe a bit stronger now, but if anyone would have been around, his words still would’ve been drowned out by the crickets and mosquitos and the one owl that always seemed to come out too early.

Alex didn’t think he could remember how to breath.

Louis shifted, and Alex’s hand molded over his thigh, tucking into the inside of his leg, his fingers feeling Louis’s warm skin through his trousers. Louis’s hand lifted up, tucked itself against Alex’s chest, right over his hammering heart and his useless lungs. Louis’s fingers pushed into his skin, enough to ground Alex and make him look up and into Louis’s eyes again, which were so, so close now, closer than he had ever been.

“I don’t – “ Alex said, and then swallowed, “What do I do if I wanna kiss you? Afterwards?”

Louis just blinked, once, shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

Alex swallowed, nodded. It was so hot. So hot and so quiet and so normal. Like every other evening where his life hadn’t changed in a moment, in the touch of a hand, in an offer too good to pass up.

He felt himself moving forward, and then Louis was moving forward, too, and Alex had the good sense to open his lips just a bit right before they connected, and then he was kissing Louis and Louis was kissing him.

Here was the thing.

It could have been nothing.

Because Louis’s lips…they just felt like lips. Alex knew what those felt like, knew the movement of chapped, wet skin on his own. But this was Louis, and somehow, that made all the difference. He felt like he could taste Louis’s laugh on his lips. With each movement of Louis’s mouth, he could remember seeing him the first time, the second time, and every time after that.

He finally pulled away because his lungs were burning, robbed of air not for the first time, and he panted and shook his head, looking up at Louis, meeting his eyes, perfectly round now. Louis’s gaze flickered to Alex lips and then he looked back up.

“What do we do now?” Alex asked, and Louis looked at him steadily.

“Kiss me one more time,” he said. Alex opened his mouth, about to tell him that that wasn’t a real plan, but Louis shook his head hard.

“If you get scared and run off and never see me again, I’ll forgive you,” Louis said firmly, “But I want one more thing to remember you by,”

Louis was shivering, now, and Alex was damn sure it wasn’t because of the weather.

He grabbed Louis’s jacket from where it was resting in the grass, draped it over his shoulders, and then drew him close to his chest.

“Louis,” he said firmly, “I would never do that,”

The other boy didn’t speak, and Alex squeezed him tighter.

“I’ve liked you for a fair long while,” he said, “Not gonna let go of you now that I’ve got you,”

Louis stilled in his arms, lifted his chin enough to meet his eyes.

“A while, huh,” he said, and Alex nodded.

“Then show me that,” Louis said. His voice was hard but still shaking, his eyes firm but still open, and Christ, Alex had Louis’s beautiful, fragile heart nearly cupped in his hands, but Louis had his, too, and he didn’t have a choice of what to do next, but even if he did he still would’ve moved forward to kiss Louis again.

His mouth still tasted like laughter and Alex’s daydreams, and Alex’s hand was still on the inside of his thigh, and he felt Louis exhale against his lips, his muscles relaxing against him.

This time, when he pulled away, Louis went to rest his chin on Alex’s shoulder, keeping his body pressed tight against him.

“You ever kiss another bloke?” he asked softly, and Alex shook his head.

“No,” he said, “You?”

“Once,” Louis admitted, and Alex started a bit, tightening his hold on Louis’s back.

“Once?” he parroted, and Louis nodded, his chin bobbing against his shoulder.

“Why do you think my parents packed up and left me here?” he asked.

His voice was soft and didn’t even sound bitter, but Alex gasped softly and gripped him harder.

“Oh, Louis,” he said.

“Don’t you go feeling sorry for me. That’s long past now,” Louis said, his voice muffled in Alex’s shirt, “You’re more handsome than the other bloke I kissed. I just thought you’d like to know,”

Alex couldn’t find it in him to laugh.

Louis had been left behind, and now he was in his arms, and Alex wasn’t about to let go of him.

“Maybe I won’t go to uni next year. I’ll stay here with you,”

“Maybe I’ll smack you in the mouth if you even think about giving up on that for me,” Louis said, and then pulled back, looking at him full on, “Really, though. If you get the hell out and don’t even come back, at the very least I finally got to figure out how your mouth feels,”

Alex’s mouth twitched, growing into a smile.

“You’ve been thinkin’ about me then?”

“No shit,” Louis sighed, “You’re the worst kind of pretty, you know that? Know you’re pretty,”

“Pretty enough to kiss me again?”

Louis snorted, his mouth straightening.

“We’re tested our luck too much tonight,” he said, “I can try to give you that some kiss some other time,”

Alex blinked at the boy in front of him, his features dark now in the lost sunlight, and he swallowed hard.

“There’s gonna be another time?”

“I’ll be really fucking pissed if there’s not,” Louis said.

Alex laughed and shook his head.

“We gotta figure out what to do now,” Alex said, “Gotta figure out what to do next now that I kissed you,”

“Right,” Louis nodded, and then quickly looked ahead of him, blinking out at the span of the park for so long Alex thought he was thinking over their whole future, counting out the days and years and planning every one of them.

And then he turned back and smiled.

“Walk me back home,” he said, and Alex nodded.

“I can do that.”

*******

After Alex had been home for a week, Louis went back to work, and Alex went to look for a job.

Louis had taken a full week off from working at the store after Alex got home, probably by feigning health issues. But he couldn’t stay away forever, especially not when Alex’s final army pension would be coming in soon and then they’d just be living off Louis’s income and whatever job Alex could scare up. Besides, Ms. Lawrence, God bless her soul, was six feet under and while her son had decided to keep Louis employed, he probably wasn’t nearly as forgiving as his mother if Louis took too much time off.

Alex had been looking for work for a few days now, but it still seemed like the town was dry out of jobs. Wilson from the pharmacy had told Alex he would hire him again if he could, but he could barely afford to pay the employees he had now. The same response came from the town bakery, the shoe repair shop, the bank. The best option for now seemed to be to sign up for one of the never-ending factory jobs a couple towns over, one he could easily travel to by train. But building the same guns he had once slung on his back seemed too much of a bitter irony to swallow for now. 

He tried to look again in one of the nearby towns, and this time, he wore his old uniform in the feeble attempt to make people pity him enough to give him work. A few told him to come back in a week this time. He considered it an improvement.

When Alex finally dragged himself back into town, it was late afternoon, almost five, and while it was still light out, but the sky was threatening to dim sooner rather than later. He could go home and change, still his uniform was hot and heavy, but it was also nearly the end of Louis’s shift, so he hurried his pace and headed straight for the grocery store.

He pushed the door open, and the bell sounded over his head. It was empty, the middle of the week when barely anyone needed anything. But of course there was still one person there, and he looked up when Alex walked in. As soon as he met his gaze, Alex went over to the front counter, crossed his arms over the top, and then leaned over the surface.

“Hi,” he said, and Louis grinned.

“Hello,” Louis said, “How was your day?”

“Boring,” Alex said, “Fruitless. Typical,”

Louis’s mouth twitched and he shook his head.

“I’m sorry,”

“Doesn’t matter,” Alex shrugged, “I’ll figure something out,”

He tapped his fingers on the counter, making Louis glance down at his fingers before looking back up.

“I know I usually get off at five but I have to work an extra hour tonight,” Louis said, “I’m sorry,”

“You sure you can’t get off sooner?” 

“Why, you gonna take me out?” Louis said.

He was joking, of course, but it still made Alex’s heart ache a bit, that going out wasn’t something he could even dream about doing for Louis. 

“No, just want you home for a bit,” he said, and Louis smiled again.

“You have me home every damn night,”

“Well maybe I want you a little more,” Alex sighed, “It’s been a long day, that’s all,”

“I’m sorry,” Louis murmured again. If they were home, he would’ve reached out to stroke Alex’s cheek, at the very least, but instead they just looked at each other. Louis still managed to get a smile out of Alex, but before he could say anything else, the bell rang at the front of the store and Louis pushed at Alex’s chest.

“Make yourself scarce, I have to work,”

Alex laughed, and then jogged towards the back of the shop, ducking away so he was hidden by a few shelves. He still left enough of a gap between the shelves that he could see towards the front of the shop if he wanted to, and he glanced to the front now, if only to catch another glimpse at Louis.

Then he paused, not recognizing the people that had walked in. He knew nearly everyone in town, but there were two men at the front of the store he hadn’t seen before. Nice clothes, neat hair, easy smiles.

He stared for a few moments and then turned away, going back to pretending like he was paying attention to the shelf in front of him, and he just listened to Louis’s voice.

“Can I help you with anything?” Louis asked.

“Actually,” said one unfamiliar male voice, “We were wondering if there’s anything interesting to do around here. We’re only stopping in for a short while,”

Right, definitely out of town. The man that was speaking had a higher accent, too. London, probably, somewhere further south.

“Don’t think you’re in the right place for that, mate,” Louis laughed, “We’re good for stopping by but not much else,”

“That’s a shame,” the same voice said, “Are you sure? How about somewhere I could take someone out for a good night?”

“We’ve got a couple pubs. Some of them have food, dancing,” Louis offered.

“Really,” the man voice was talking, and now his voice was pitched, intrigued, “You go a lot?”

“Uh,” Louis said, “Just when my flat mate wants to go,”

That’s me, Alex thought softly, a smile quirking over his lips, he’s talking about me.

“Hm. Well, anywhere you like to go then? When you’re not working here?” the man’s voice continued.

“Not really,” Louis said, “Maybe out for a walk,”

“Ah,” the man said, “Maybe we could take a walk together sometime,”

Alex paused, his fingers halting right over a newly emptied shelf of oatmeal.

That wasn’t something a stranger would offer.

“Uh,” Louis laughed weakly, “Not sure what you mean there, mate,”

“Just what I said,” the man continued on, “We could take a walk,”

“Well, I work. And I don’t exactly know you, either,” Louis said. His voice was careful, but also a bit cautious.

Honestly, Alex couldn’t quite figure out what this bloke was after, either.

“Right, I’m sorry. My name is James. Now we know each other,”

“No, we don’t,” Louis said flatly, and Alex almost laughed. Louis usually only used that voice for anyone in town that wasn’t Alex or a current customer. It was his annoyed voice.

Not that he blamed him. James – apparently – wasn’t exactly making Louis do his job, so he had no reason to be polite.

“Well, maybe we could. You get off soon, don’t you, love?” James said, “We could go to dinner,”

Alex’s hand shuffled over the shelf, his fingertips trying and failing to grasp onto something.

He recognized those words from the lips of men asking girls to do something.

But this man…he was talking to Louis. In the open. He couldn’t be…

“Or if there’s nowhere you like to eat around here, I could cook you something. Don’t have a stove at my room, but I’m sure you have something at yours,” James said.

“Uh,” Louis said, “I’m still…not sure what you’re angling for,”

“Oh,” James chuckled, “Oh, I see,”

Alex finally glanced through the gaps in the shelves, getting a better look at the front of the store. James – or at least, who he assumed was James -- was tall, with dark hair. Je had both hands set on the counter and was leaning forward a bit, grinning, like Alex had been a few moments ago. His friend was hanging back but smiling almost knowingly at them. Louis had backed up, had his arms crossed and his brow creased.

“You’re very lovely,” James smiled, and Alex could feel something lurching in his chest for multiple reasons.

“He saw you through the window,” James’ friend piped up, “He wouldn’t go on until we stopped in to say hello to you,”

Louis’s forehead creased forward and he glanced between the two, his frown deepening.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said quickly, and James laughed.

“You don’t have to pretend with me, love,” the man smiled, “I won’t hurt you. I’m like you,”

Louis’s eyes widened a bit at that, and he glanced between the two of them and then the door.

Alex could have sworn he almost looked at the back shelves that were hiding Alex, but he couldn’t be too sure.

“You’re trying to pull me, then,” Louis said flatly, and James smiled, making Louis rush on, “I already have somebody, anyways, even if – even if I’m whatever you think I am,”

Me, me, me, he’s talking about me, Alex thought, but his own voice was weaker in his head this time.

“Oh, I see,” James said, but now he was laughing, like it was a damn joke, “You have a girl, then?”

“Yeah,” Louis said, “Yeah, I have a girl,”

That wasn’t even close to true. The girls around here mostly pretended like Louis didn’t exist, even though Alex couldn’t find a damn reason anyone would want to write him off.

“Darling,” James said, and no, that was wrong, this man was not only talking to Louis like this in the open but he was calling him things only Alex could call him, “Darling, it’s alright. I know,”

“What the bloody hell do you think you know?” Louis snapped. His back was now fully pressed against the wall, and he was nearly shouting. Alex really hoped Mr. Lawrence wasn’t upstairs in the apartment that had once belonged to Louis.

“Don’t scare him, Christ,” James’s companion laughed. They were still laughing

“You’re right, I’m so sorry,” James said, “Listen, I’ve gotten used to reading people. Particularly other men. I’ve learned to understand their…preferences before they even speak,”

“I don’t – “ Louis started again, but this time James cut him off.

“I’m not with the police, Christ, darling, I won’t report you,” he said, “I just saw you and thought, what a pity, such a pretty thing in this little town, probably got no one to give you want you need,”

He has me, Alex thought. He was gripping the shelf so hard he might break it or get splinters, whatever would come first. He has me and I would give him the entire world if he asked for it. Some days I hold him in my arms and I think that if I could, I would take my own worthless heart out of my chest so he could have one that beats properly.

Louis was still closed off, looking rather put off, but then. Then. James reached out, over the counter, and put a hand on his elbow.

“Come on,” James said, “I’ll be gone soon anyways, just give me one night,”

No, no, he couldn’t, Alex thought desperately. Well. Louis could do what he wanted. He could always do what he pleased and he would anyways.

But he couldn’t say yes to this. Alex would volunteer to go back to the Mole before he had to stand here and hear Louis agree to that.

Alex came out from behind the shelves, then, a bit quickly, and immediately, three faces snapped to him. James dropped his hand off Louis’s elbow and smoothly stepped back, while Louis just stared at him, eyes wide.

“Private,” James said, folding his arms over his chest, “Passing through?”

“No, actually” Alex said, not looking away from Louis, “I’m home for good,”

James clearly noticed because he cleared his throat.

“Listen, if you saw – “

“He’s a friend,” Louis cut in, and then closed his eyes, “He’s a friend, it’s fine,”

“Ah,” James said, and then lifted his hand, gripping his chin as he glanced over Alex, “Why are you home so soon? Injury?”

“Discharge,” Alex said.

“What’d you do, then?”

“Nothing,” Alex sighed, “Evacuation during a mission and they apparently didn’t have a good place for me anymore,”

“Where was your last mission?”

For fuck’s sake.

“Dunkirk,” Alex finally said, and the man nodded, his lip smirking upwards.

“Heard about that. You’re one of them, aren’t you? The ones who had to go and almost made us lose the war?”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration there, don’t you think, mate?” Louis snapped, “Were you two ever out there?”

James didn’t even flinch, but glanced over at Louis and smiled.

“Yes, actually,” he said, and then waved at where his friend was still lingering in the corner, “Henry and I were trained for the RAF, but we were dropped after a few months on honorary discharge. We were still in fire, though,”

“That sounds like shit,” Louis snorted.

James’ head turned back towards Alex and he frowned.

“Pardon me?”

“The fact that being in fire is something you just want to bring up with a damn smile on your face tells me you didn’t do shit,” Louis sighed.

James frowned even more, then glanced between Louis and Alex and then settled his gaze back on Louis.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “How do you two know each other?”

“Small town,” Louis said, but Alex spoke at the same moment, and louder, probably too loud.

“We live together,” Alex said, “I – I take care of him,”

“You live together,” James repeated, and then pressed a hand to his lips, glancing between the two of them again.

“Oh,” he said, “Oh, I understand,”

He motioned between the two of them, lifting his brows, and then kept a finger on Alex.

“Is this your girl then, love?” he smiled, still so sweetly, “She’s a bit rough around the edges, isn’t she?”

“Watch your damn mouth,” Alex snapped, and he heard Louis breath sharply behind him.

“Alex,” Louis said softly, “Just go home, okay? I can handle this,”

But James apparently wasn’t finished, and he plowed straight ahead.

“You’ve got poor options here, don’t you darling?” he said, “You know, if you don’t like me, I have so many friends who would love a pretty face like yours. Can have anyone you’d like in London,”

“Actually, I like him just fine,” Louis said coolly, “Don’t need to meet your friends to know even speaking one word to them would be a waste of my time,”

James looked at him again, his eyes wide and his face unreadable, and Louis sighed.

“You know, it’s shop policy that if you have no intention of buying anything, you should get out,”

James’s mouth hung open for a moment, but then he firmly closed his lips.

“Alright,” he finally relented and took a step back, “Henry, I believe we’ve been dismissed,”

Both of them started walking away, back towards the door, neither of them looking interested in even saying goodbye.

“Wait,” Alex called out, and James stopped, looked back and gave him a look.

“Just – “ Alex gulped, “While you’re here, you can’t talk about us. You can’t, please, if anyone here knew – “

“Oh,” James sighed, his expression loosening a bit, “You may not like me, but I’m not heartless,”

He turned away again, and Alex watched them through the glass of the shop’s front window as they retreated outside. He tried to calm himself before he turned back to Louis, but then he realized that was nearly impossible. His breathing was thick, his shoulders were tense, and his mind was never going to settle, not when there was a man here fucking flirting with Louis in the open.

So eventually, he turned back to Louis, frayed nerves and racing mind and all.

“I’m sorry, I just – “ he started to say, but Louis cut him off.

“Alex,” Louis sighed, “Just go home, okay? I’ll get our groceries before I leave,”

“But – “

“Please, Alex, go home,” Louis said a bit too sharply, and then he stepped away from the counter, backing closer to the wall, “Please,”

Alex wanted to open his mouth. He wanted to apologize. He wanted to burst out of the store and chase down James and his fucking friend and ask them who they thought they were, coming here and making his life more complicated for no reason. Most of all, he wanted to drag Louis onto the floor by his shirt front and kiss him and tell him he loved him, adored him, wanted him to occupy every day Alex had left his in life.

Instead he caught the way Louis was looking at him evenly and he walked out of the store and found his way back home.

********

Louis arrived home by the time it was dark, set a bag of groceries on the kitchen counter, and then promptly went over to the couch and leaned over to kiss Alex full on the mouth, cupping his cheek in one hand as he did so.

“I love you,” he murmured when he pulled away, and Alex lifted his chin and chased his lips, trying to get him to come back, and finally, Louis leaned back in and pressed his lips more firmly back to Alex’s own.

Louis finally pull back completely and straightened up, and he sighed and shook his head.

“I just…I needed to tell you that,”

“Thank you,” Alex murmured, and then reached out and caught Louis by the hips, pulling him closer. He reached up and unclipped the edge of his brace, making it fall loose, “Got too many damn clothes on you, doll,”

Louis snorted and set his hand on the top of Alex’s head, stroking his hair.

“Come help me make supper,” he murmured as Alex unsnapped his other brace. Louis laughed and brought a hand around his thin waist, grabbing at where his trousers were already dangerously loose on his hips, “I’m serious, love. I bet you didn’t eat your lunch today,”

“I had a little,”

Louis sighed and brought himself forward, and he leaned down and kissed the crown on his head, dragging his fingers through his curls.

“Everyone thinks I would drop dead without you, you know,” he huffed, “It’s the other way around,”

“Right,” Alex sighed, “You’re right, you’re always right,”

He pulled on the small of Louis’s back, drawing him even closer to him, and he lifted his chin, pressing his nose to the fabric of his shirt and breathing in the scent of washing soap.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” Alex mumbled.

“Uh huh,” Louis agreed, and Alex squeezed his side.

“Looks better on you,”

“Feels like you’d like it off better,” Louis said, and Alex grinned and nipped at his belly, making Louis shriek and pull away.

“Stop that,” he mumbled, and then tilted his head down, examining Alex closely before reaching out a hand and fiddling with the collar of Alex’s uniform shirt that he was still wearing.

“Take this off, please,” Louis said, and Alex managed to smile a bit. 

“You asked me to fuck you in this uniform when I first got it, you know,”

Louis didn’t even smile, though, just shook his head.

“Yeah, not now,” Louis huffed, “I just – you look so sad with it on,”

Alex’s smile immediately dropped, and he opened his mouth, but Louis pressed a finger against his lips.

“Don’t you dare apologize to me for that, I know that look,” Louis said, and then let his finger drop, “Just – Christ, get up so we can both get undressed and then make dinner,”

Alex nodded and then stood, reaching out for Louis first. His already loose trousers were easy to slip off his hips and legs, and Louis toed off his shoes on his own while Alex undid his shirt buttons. He didn’t really need to, but Alex also reached for his hips and pulled his drawers down, exposing pale skin, coarse, dark hair, and Louis’s soft cock. Louis just gave him a look and sighed.

“You damn well know what’s coming to you, then,” he huffed. But then his face stilled, his mouth hardening, and slowly, he reached out for Alex’s shirt.

He undid the buttons carefully, then gently pushed the fabric away to reveal his chest and stomach. Then he untucked his shirt, pushed it away from Alex’s shoulders along with his overcoat. Alex knelt down to loosen his bootlaces and once he was straightened back up, Louis unbuckled his belt, again, carefully, and then slipped his trousers and drawers off. Alex pulled his feet out of the puddle of fabric and took a careful step towards Louis, leaving the uniform behind. Louis just glanced up a bit, blinked, and then grabbed Alex by the chin and brought him down a bit closer to his own level.

“There,” he breathed against his lips, “There’s my handsome boy,”

Louis lifted his mouth and pressed a kiss to Alex’s lips, and then pulled away, releasing him.

“Help me cook dinner,” he said, and then dragged a hand over Alex’s chest, “Alright?”

Alex couldn’t come up with a decent answer so he just nodded.

As it turned out, dinner was simple, sandwiches and a hot soup that Louis made all the time because it had only three ingredients and it kept well. It was probably for the best that dinner was so easy because Alex could barely focus, between Louis standing so close to him, so bare and lovely, and the thoughts of what had happened earlier were fresh in his mind and still not sorted through.

Louis had seemed angry earlier, and he was quiet now, and he had also given Alex a kiss in lieu of a real greeting and had undressed him carefully and Christ, Alex had just let him, hadn’t even brought up James and Henry and the store.

Louis stayed quiet even when they ate dinner at the table, bodies still completely bare, and they left the dishes dirty in the kitchen and went to the bedroom. Louis went to take a bath while Alex laid in bed, wondering what to do next, because he kind of never wanted to think about the way Louis’s way had looked that afternoon, so unsure and angry and scared, but he also had more questions than he could probably try to sort through in one night.

Eventually, Louis came out of their bathroom with a thread-bare towel wrapped around his shoulders, and he smiled and padded carefully over to the bed, giving Alex a quick peck on the mouth before dropping the towel and climbing over to his usual side of the bed. Alex reached out and smoothed a hand over his hip and Louis’s mouth twitched, and he moved forward to kiss him again, but Alex spoke before he could.

“Baby,” Alex murmured, “Can we talk about this afternoon?”

He felt Louis’s entire body go coiled and tense under his touch, and he cursed himself for a moment before Louis relaxed a bit and looked up at him with wide, wide eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said immediately, and Alex shook his head.

“I – it’s okay, I know you were mad at early, but that was my fault, I probably could’ve handled that a little better, but – “

“No, no,” Louis said, and he drew back far enough that Alex’s fingertips uselessly fell away from the dip of his waist.

“It’s not you, I mean,” Louis continued, his fingers curling tightly into their over starched sheets, “He flirted with me,”

“Yeah, I saw,” Alex said drily, and then immediately swallowed when he saw something flash over Louis’s face, “Baby, I didn’t – “ 

“Are you angry with me?” Louis asked all the same, his voice shaking dangerously, and Harry tried again to touch him, only gaining a bit of purchase on his skin before his fingers fell away again.

“Baby, no. No, no, no,” he whispered, and Louis ducked his head at that, forcing Alex only to look at the crown of his head.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Louis said, “No one – a man fucking flirted with me in public, what was I supposed to do? I thought he was undercover, that he was trying to hunt us down and turn us in, and then you came in and I thought we’d be fucked for sure – “

“Shit,” Alex immediately mumbled, and this time gained a bit more purchase on Louis’s hip, drawing him closer, “I didn’t even – Christ, you’re right, I’m so sorry,”

“I don’t think they will,” Louis said, “ I mean, if they were really there to put us away they could’ve done it right then and there. But – “

Louis swallowed, and then his eyes went wet and he ducked his face into his hands, a weak gasp escaping his throat.

Alex’s heart lurched and he immediately gripped Louis by the waist and pulled him close to his chest, cradling the back of his hair, pressing weakly aimed kisses to his forehead.

“Baby,” Alex mumbled, “Baby, baby, baby,”

“Stop it,” Louis huffed weakly, curling a hand over Alex’s chest, “I think I get the bloody point,”

“Do you, though?” Alex asked, and Louis shook his head, his fringe rubbing over the base of Alex’s throat.

He was quiet, nearly too quiet, and then when he spoke his voice was raspy, thick with swallowed-down tears.

“He didn’t even hesitate. Just fucking talked to me like a bird would try to talk to you,” Louis said. He inhaled again, and then his voice was softer, “It just made me think that maybe there’s somewhere…that we could go and meet other people like us. Be more honest than we can be here here,”

“Maybe,” Alex said softly.

Maybe Louis could at the very least. Maybe one of them could get away from here.

Alex’s face must have gone tense, because Louis frowned and reached up, pulling his fingers over Alex’s temple.

“I hope,” he said, then paused, swallowed, kept going, “I hope you don’t think I would ever give him a glance. Or anyone like him,”

Alex blinked, and Louis smiled, pushing forward.

“Fancy posh boys with their RAF discharges,” he scoffed, rubbing a hand along Alex’s chest, “Probably got small pricks,”

Alex snorted but then laid still, and Louis sighed and lifted himself up to press a kiss to the side of Alex’s mouth.

“What’re you thinking?”

“How they probably wouldn’t have to hide you away like I do,” he finally said.

There were a thousand reasons what had happened in the shop was lingering over him. But the he realized now that what he had been lingering on most was the fact that there were men in the world, like him, like Louis, that seemed about as carefree as they could be in their situation. Meanwhile they were in a shitty flat they could hardly afford, and it was the only place in the world that was safe for them.

Louis just blinked at him, and he grabbed Alex’s face in both hands, gripping so tight his blunt nails dug into his cheeks.

“Ow,” Alex protested weakly, but Louis was looking at him with eyes made of blue fire, and then he was speaking again.

“Darling,” Louis said softly, but firmly, urgently, “My darling, darling, boy, you are the only person I ever loved who loved me back. You know that? Not my family, not anyone in this shit town. Just you,”

As he said it, his grip out tighter on Alex’s cheeks and jaws, and he probably could tell Louis to stop but goddamn it he wasn’t going to.

“Love,” Louis continued “You’re a pretty boy with a uni degree, and you stay here in this shit hole just so you can feed me medicine and keep me company. I would think you’d have to love me an awful damn lot for all that. That and you tell me every damn day of my life,”

Louis sighed, finally letting go of Alex’s face enough to run his palms over the sides of his face.

“And you know that I love you,” Louis said, “Right?”

Alex didn’t say anything, and Louis’s eyes flared a bit, his lip trembling as he kept speaking.

“I wake up every single day and my worthless heart feels too weak, like it can’t last another day, but I get up and I try to get it to understand that I need it to work, I need to keep fucking living because there’s this boy, this stupid, ridiculous boy that I thought I was going to lose but that came back to me, and goddamn it if I’m not going to do everything I can to see that boy’s hair go grey,” Louis’s voice was rushed and his words nearly tripped over each other and his cheeks had gone pink, but he kept going, “I am so in love with you, and I will love you here or anywhere else you want us to go but I don’t need anything else,”

He took a breath, nearly panting, and Alex could just stare at him and listen to the rhythm of his breath.

When Louis finally stopping panting, he looked at Alex with firm eyes.

“You better have gotten the damn point after that, I don’t have anything else in me,” he said weakly, and Alex laughed.

“I get it,” he said, “I – fuck, I’m never going to understand why you want someone like me, but I’m going to believe you for now,”

“Good,” Louis nodded, “Good, good,”

He leaned in and kissed Alex firmly, and even though he had done it so many times before that night, Alex still breathed softly in his mouth, felt his body relax as Louis wrapped an arm around his waist, felt himself warm from the inside out.

“You know,” Louis said when he pulled away, and then lifted a hand up to brush Alex’s fringe out of his eyes, “I haven’t had you in a while. You want that?”

“Fuck,” Alex breathed out, and then nodded, “Yeah, fuck, please,”

“Alright,” Louis smiled and then reached behind him to his bed stand, where they had left the Vaseline the other night. When he turned back he reached out and pulled on Alex’s hip, getting him to roll over onto his belly. Louis leaned over, kissing his temple, and then he dipped a finger into the pot of jelly and reached back, slicking over Alex’s hole before prodding at it more firmly, trying to open him up. Alex closed his eyes and tried not to push back into the touch too much, because fuck, it hurt a little bit and it was going to hurt more if he did that, but he couldn’t remember the last time Louis’s fingers had been back there.

Too damn long, apparently, because he could’ve sworn it took a good ten minutes before Louis slipped another fingertip in.

“You’re alright,” Louis said softly, and then kissed Alex’s temple again, “Not gonna hurt you, love,”

Alex nodded and blinked, becoming aware of the extra wetness that had built up at the corners of his eyes.

“I know,” he murmured, “God, I know,”

Louis smiled and then pressed more firmly, making Alex whine. Louis leaned in again and this time kept his lips pressed firmly to his temple as he pushed his fingers in and out until they were sliding easily, and Alex finally reached back and grabbed at Louis’s wrist.

“Enough,” he mumbled, “Baby, enough, please,”

“Serves you right,” Louis laughed as he finally pulled his fingers out, “You take an hour to make sure I’m ready, it drives me up the damn wall,”

“I’m sorry,” Alex said as he rolled over, and Louis rolled his eyes and grabbed for the Vaseline again, this time to take his cock in his hand and put sure he was properly slick.

“You’re forgiven,” Louis said and he put onto his knees and kept his cock anchored in his hand as he moved closer, “Do I have to tell you to breath deep?”

Alex barely had time to answer before he felt Louis pressing into him, and he quickly took a deep, shuddering breath and reached up and grabbed for Louis’s waist.

“Gentle,” he mumbled, and Louis smiled and nodded as he shifted his hips forward again.

“It hurt?”

“I just don’t want to work yourself up too bad,”

“How noble,” Louis sighed, and then shifted his hips forward, making Alex gasp, “Shouldn’t even have to work too hard, you’ve been half hard since you took off my drawers,”

Heat flushed through Alex’s face, and Louis laughed and bent down to kiss him as he snapped his hips.

“Now see, why would I want anyone else when I have a boy who fusses over me even when he’s getting fucked?” Louis murmured, and Alex closed his eyes and whined again. Louis wasn’t even going faster, just moving his hips steadily, but it was enough, Christ, it was enough.

And then Louis grabbed him cock and started rubbing it base to tip, and his eyes snapped up and he looked up at where Louis was watching him, his face a bit slick with heat and slick, and he smiled softly as he kept moving his hips and his wrist in equal time.

“Yeah,” Louis said, “Love you here, love you in London, love you wherever,”

“Baby,” Alex gasped out, and Louis smiled.

“I know. I’m your baby, you tell me that a lot. And you know what? You’re my baby, too,”

Louis reached up and brushed Alex’s fringe away from his eyes, and he snapped his hips again, making Alex whine high in his throat.

He tried to open his mouth, tried to say something else, but Louis pressed his finger to his lips.

“Sh, baby, it’s alright,” he said, “Whatever you want to tell me you’ve told me a thousand times before and I’ll hear a thousand more times tomorrow. Just breath,”

Alex blinked, and he couldn’t even think of fucking James and the corner store right now if he tried. He only ever wanted to think about Louis and his smile and his eyes and the ring Alex wanted to buy for him one day, whether it would mean anything on paper or not, whether they could ever go outside together, really together, or not.

When he came he shouted, and Louis had to press a hand over his mouth so no one would hear, no one would know.

But then Louis kissed him carefully and picked his bath towel off the floor to clean Alex up, and as Alex watched him, he figured it was enough to keep this just for the two of them.

*******

Alex got to stay away from the beach for two weeks.

He had been doing alright. He had a few jobs he possible pick up, and they have just enough money to get by until he starting working fully again, Louis was with him there, and people he didn’t want to see hadn’t come by to lure him away for a long while.

And then one night, he was laying in bed, his hip pressed to Louis’s belly, the other man warm and sleep-soft and his body tangled in his slip, and Alex closed his eyes and wondered if he could get any luckier as he fell sleep.

That was when the world decided it was time to fall on his head.

All at once was on the beach again. It was cold, and his body felt cold and wet and there was sand grating at his skin. He could hear the waves in the distance, but he couldn’t open his eyes. He was sleeping. He had forgotten how good it felt to sleep.

Then the first bomb came down, shattered his eardrums apart. He felt a boot dig into his gut, and then crush into his hand, his shin, kick him in the cheekbone. He was being trampled, trampled by boots trying to get away, and he still couldn’t open his eyes, still couldn’t breath. But he was still there, feeling everything, his treacherous heart still pounding in his ears, keeping him there.

There was sand piling on his face as the boots rained down on him, he could feel it in his nose and his mouth, but he couldn’t cough, couldn’t exhale. It was freezing cold now, drilling straight through his coat and his uniform shirt, chilling every inch of his skin.

And still, his heart beat on.

Alex,”

Alex felt his lungs jump, the air coming back to him all at once. Louis’s voice was crystal clear in his ear, his breath ragged and urgent. He felt short fingers gripping at the skin of his belly, pulling him close.

“Alex, please, stop screaming,”

Louis’s skin was hot, damp with sweat, the silk cool on his back. And suddenly, that was all that was touching him, not the trampling feet or the sand or the cold.

“Come back to me,” Louis said again. His voice trembled, and Alex could feel his fingers shaking, “Come back to me, baby, please,”

Alex’s eyes opened, and he blinked against the dark, spots of color bursting over his vision. He rolled over and blinked even harder as he looked over at Louis, his eyes wide and shining even in the dark.

“Louis,” he said, and he heard his voice go weak. Louis reached out, held his face in between his trembling hands.

“Louis, it’s so loud,” Alex said.

“Alex – “

“There was a bomb,” he said, “Louis, there was a bomb,”

“There’s nothing,” Louis said carefully, “Darling, there’s nothing here. It’s all over there, and you’re home. Baby, listen to me. You’re home,”

“They – Alex swallowed the lump is his throat, “They were dropping bombs, Louis, and it was so loud, and everyone was running, and -- I couldn’t wake up, Louis, I couldn’t wake up,”

“But you’re awake,” Louis insisted, “Baby, you’re awake,”

He was stroking Harry’s face, and then he dropped one hand to grip at Alex’s shaking fingers, smoothing them down.

“You’re not there anymore,” Louis repeated, “You don’t ever have to go back,”

He just blinked at him, and bit hard on his lip. Louis immediately lifted a hand up and pulled on his lip until Alex released it from his teeth.

“I hate when you do that,” Louis sighed, and his words were so benign, something he’d said a thousand times before, but his voice was still so fragile.

Alex swallowed, finally finding the strength to speak again.

“I don’t want to go back to sleep,” he said, “If I go to sleep, I’ll go back,”

“Then don’t,”

“But I’m so tired,”

Louis swallowed and gripped Alex’s fingers again, “Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to dream about me, okay? You’re going to dream about the first time we ever took the train to Manchester, remember? And you bought me ice cream? And you promised me one day we’d go back and you’d kiss me in the square?”

“I remember,” he managed.

“Or, or, you can dream about the time we were in the park, and it rained on us, and instead of running inside, I kept kissing you, and you got sick for a week, and I came by every day to give you some soup, right?”

“You said you thought it’d be nice to kiss in the rain,” he said, “It wasn’t,”

“Right. Right. Dream about that, baby, okay? Dream about that,”

Louis kept stroking his face, and his smile was tight, pained.

“I want to make sure you get some sleep love, please try,”

Alex nodded, and then gripped blindly in front of him for the front of Louis’s slip, and the other man just let him hold him, and nodded carefully.

“I’m here, you’re okay,” he murmured carefully.

Alex couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t look at Louis. His voice was strained and reedy as it was, he didn’t want to look in Louis’s eyes and see pain. Worse, you didn’t want to see any regret. Regret for choosing to live with Alex and everything he had to carry now.

Instead, he settled himself against Louis’s silk-covered chest, let the other man cradle his head and stroke down his scalp, through his hair.

He found sleep eventually. The inside of his mind was endless and blank and roared with a background noise as loud as the ocean, but at least he didn’t have to see the water.

*******

After a few more weeks and several train rides, Alex eventually found factory work. They were full up of people to work at the drills and assembling lines, so he got to stay up in the higher offices, in a room that remained freezing cold even in the summer as he sorted out mail for the factory bosses. He didn’t mind; occasionally a girl with a tea cart would come by and offer him a poorly made cup, but it was warm and that was all that mattered.

He made slightly more than his army stipends somehow, but now he had to pay for his own rent and food and clothing, so it whittled away quickly. He had long hours, and he had to catch the train home around dark. Louis didn’t complain, just kept a dish warm in the oven for him, although he complained that he hated cooking and Alex needed to stop forcing him to do it.

The nightmares didn’t go away. They just shifted. Some nights Alex was being trampled alive again, unable to move.

Other nights, he was sitting on the beaches in France, looking out at the water, then suddenly, there were bodies washing back up to shore. Only this time they were moving, their eyes blank and dead and their limbs twisted and staggering. They were alive, and limping, slowly but surely, up the slopes of sand. And then they were stroking Alex’s face, trying to shove their twisted, decaying fingers into his mouth, his nose, his eyes.

And then sometimes, he was back in that stranded boat, being shot at from all sides, and then he was being pressed on all sides by water, swimming hard towards the ladder at the back of the boat. A familiar face, the French solider, would emerge in front of him, and he would reach out a hand. But the French solider would slap it away, and then Alex’s body was being pulled back into the water, his lungs giving out.

Every night, he woke up, sometimes with hands pressed over his ears, sometimes with shaking limbs, sometimes with a scream. Louis’s hands would grasp for his chest and shoulders, pull him back down, kiss his eyelids and his forehead and his cheeks.

“Petal,” Louis murmured every time, “You’re safe, petal, you’re safe. Come back to me,”

Some nights it was enough and he could get back down. Other times he would just lay there with his eyes fixed to the ceiling, the echoes of his own screams enough to keep him from closing his eyes again.

The heat was bleeding through everything now, July hot on their tails, and sweat made Alex’s back stick to the sheets as he laid there and thought. Louis’s arm always found its way to his waist, like a rope lashing an anchor to the shore, and he would just hold his hand, his thumb pushing at Louis’s ring finger, and try to remember when he had had peace in his own bed.

*******

3 years prior

Autumn going to be the end of Alex.

He normally liked the colder weather. They were far enough away from any factory centers that the leaves still turned red, and normally, the grocery store sold cider and hot chocolate throughout the day, which gave him an extra excuse to see Louis.

But it had gotten cold fast this year, and he no longer even needed a hot drink as an excuse to see Louis.

Now, Louis was always at arm’s reach, like he was now. Louis was tucked into the far end of the couch, and Alex had settled his head on the other man’s chest. There was a thick blanket draped over both of them, but the fabric kept steadily slipping off Alex’s shoulders. Louis kept lifting his hand to pull the blanket back up, and sometimes when he would, he would also drag his hand through Alex’s hair and hold his fingers there.

“Alright, petal?” Louis asked now, reaching up to draw a hand through Alex’s fringe. Alex nodded, his eyelids fluttering but not opening, and he pressed his cheek down the fabric of Louis’s shirt, hoping Louis couldn’t see how his mouth twitched.

“M’alright,” he murmured, and Louis just hummed and brought his hand down to press a thumb to the corner of Alex’s mouth, rub over the dimple at the corner of his cheek. Alex sighed and puckered his mouth, pressing a kiss to wherever it would land on Louis’s clothed skin.

It had only been maybe two months since they had started to live together in their new flat, where they now had a safe place to exist together rather than just random stolen moments.

They had been courting before that. Or at least that’s what Alex liked to call it. Alex had stopped spending his weekends and free afternoons at uni, and instead spent all his pocket money taking trains back home to see Louis. They went for walks in the park, they took the train to see a movie in the next town over. They held hands when no one was looking and when they were absolutely sure they were alone, Alex would give Louis a kiss good night, still usually on the cheek just to be safe. Once, Louis had gotten an extra order of flowers at the shop that were going to wilt if he didn’t get rid of them, so he had gone to Alex’s flat, thrust them into his arms with blazing cheeks, and then had nearly sprinted away because one of Alex’s flatmates was in the next room. Alex had kept the flowers around long after they’d gone brown.

But slowly, random dates and stolen kisses weren’t enough. So they had bought the flat once they had just enough money between them to justify it, even though Alex got money to live on campus. He would commute it, it was worth it. The flat was smaller than Alex’s old place, with just a kitchen, a small sitting room, a bedroom and a cramped bathroom, but it was meant for less people. There was a double bed frame still in the bedroom the last renters had left behind, and Alex assured the landlord they would sell it for two separate beds. Of course, they hadn’t. On the rare occasions anyone would stop by and would ask about the bed, Alex would make something up about Louis’s health being worrisome enough that Alex liked to stay by his side even when he was sleeping.

It was flimsy, and Louis rolled his eyes at Alex always having to tell people that he was apparently on the edge of death constantly, but it had done the trick so far.

Alex was happy now. He liked helping Louis make dinner even though they both burned things without trying. He liked having petty arguments over who was going to pick things up because neither of them exactly took to cleaning.

But then Louis would be like this, pretty and warm and gently stroking his cheek, and Alex’s lips would be skimming his chest, and suddenly he would just want something else.

“The fair’s in town this weekend,” Louis murmured, dragging his thumb over Alex’s cupid’s bow.

“It’s October,”

“I know. It’s the autumn fair. You can carve Jack O Lanterns and make homemade scarecrows and things,”

“So we can put them on a porch we don’t have?” Alex said, and Louis laughed, making his chest shake under Alex’s head.

“I just thought it would be fun,” Louis said, and Alex lifted his head and smiled.

“I’ll make you a Jack O Lantern if you want, honey,”

“No, you won’t. You’ll sit next to me and look pretty while I make it. You’ll just ruin it with your big hands on that little knife,”

Louis dragged his fingers over Alex’s hand as he did, tracing his fingers and knuckles, and Alex should have laughed, but instead he just closed his eyes and let his head fall back forward, pressing to Louis’s warm chest again. He kept his fingers clinging tightly to Louis’s own, though.

Alex loved the moments he got to touch Louis. They had been few and far between but it had been enough to get him to memorize every part of him, the bitten red lips, the jut of his knuckles.

But there were other parts of him, the smooth curve of his waist and his thighs and his belly.

When Alex had had his own flat, his own room, in a place far enough away from Louis, he had thought about those places, always covered by Louis’s loose shirts and jumpers and mysterious and hidden from him, and he had pictured what they would be like bare. The thoughts always made his hand tuck between his legs, made his sheets sticky and wet and his skin hot.

It was dirty, but Alex could clean himself off afterward, rub cool water on his face, and then sleep it away and go see Louis the next morning. Not let those filthy things he thought in the darkness of his own room interfere with something innocent like taking Louis a movie.

But they lived together now. Those places Alex had once only dreamed about weren’t easy to avoid now. Louis got dressed and washed up in the same places Alex did, and at the end of every day, they would by lying in bed together. Alex would always kiss Louis on the cheek and feel the heat of his body, but never touch him anywhere too risky.

They were together. They lived under one roof. But he was still being careful with Louis.

But he wanted more. He wanted to be able to drag a hand over Louis’s waist when he was at the stove cooking dinner, to settle a hand on the inside of his thigh when they were sitting and kissing, to fully press him up against his front and let them fall asleep like that.

He wanted Louis’s red bitten lips open and wet and his voice howling, he wanted to lap the sweat off the crook his neck, he wanted to run a hand all the way up his thigh and touch, feel it in his hands and on his mouth.

This boy was going to drag him straight into Hell.

“Alex,” Louis said, and Alex stirred, frowning a bit as he blinked open his eyes and looked up at where Louis was just staring at him with careful, firm eyes, “Where are you today?”

“Right here,” Alex said, “With you,”

“No, no,” Louis shook his head and tapped his finger against Alex’s temple, “Up here. Where do you go?”

“I’m still with you,” Alex said, “M’always thinking about you, baby doll,”

Louis’s cheeks colored a bit at that, and he smiled. Alex had called him that by accident a month ago and Louis’s entire face had gone red. He was used to it now but Alex still managed to get a bit of a rise out of him whenever the name would slip out.

“You are, huh,” Louis smiled, his complexion settling a bit.

“Yeah,” Alex nodded. His fingers itched a bit, but he couldn’t reach out and touch, not with Louis looking at him so steadily.

Instead, Alex lifted himself up a bit, the blanket falling down to the middle of his back as he did. He pressed his mouth to Louis’s, feeling the smile under his own mouth. As he kissed him, he lifted his hands, but instead of setting them on Louis’s cheeks, he kept his hands gripped in Louis’s shirt instead.

And then when he pulled away, he kept his hands on Louis’s chest, spreading them out a bit. Louis stirred a bit, making a high, content sound in his throat. His head was tilted, and there was a soft smile on his face.

And then Alex rubbed upwards, his palms rubbing over the hard little nubs under Louis’s shirt, and Louis gasped and surged upwards.

Louis grabbed at Alex’s wrists, and Alex fully expected him to push him away. But he didn’t, he just held him. Louis’s chest rose and fell quickly under his hands, and eventually Louis lifted his gaze up from Alex’s fingers to his eyes.

“Alex?” he asked softly, so, so, carefully, and Alex inhaled and tried to pull his hands away but Louis squeezed his wrists and kept them anchored in place and shook his head fast enough to make his fringe flop in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said quickly, and again tried to pull away but Louis’s grip was steadfast, his lips pursed and hanging open a bit.

“You,” Louis started, and then swallowed, his tongue flickering over his lips, “What’re you doing?”

“I,” Alex stuttered, “Nothing. Don’t worry about it,”

Christ, like he could tell Louis to just ignore it when he had his hands plastered over Louis’s chest, had his body pressed close enough that he could smell the remnants of soap on Louis’s skin.

“No, no, you – “ Louis started again and shook his head, his voice getting firmer, “You want me?”

Alex’s mouth suddenly felt dry, even though that’s exactly what he wanted. Louis’s eyes flared a bit, and he spoke again before Alex could say anything.

“Don’t you lie to me, I know that look,” Louis said, “And don’t say you don’t know what I’m talking about either,”

Alex blinked, flexed his fingers into Louis’s shirt a bit, his fingertips grasping at the soft, warm skin he knew was just underneath.

He didn’t even speak, but Louis breathed out, like he understood.

“Oh,” he said, his eyes flaring a bit wide, and again, Alex tried to move away, to fix this somehow, to pick up the pieces of his broken pride now that Louis was questioning him about this.

But then.

“I thought,” Louis swallowed, his voice trembling a bit too much for Alex’s comfort, “I thought you didn’t want to,”

Alex’s head felt too light.

“What?” he managed, and Louis just looked up at him and scoffed, but the sound was too soft and had no bite.

“We sleep in the same bed,” he said, “All summer, I didn’t even sleep with anything on. You barely even looked at me then. You don’t even touch me if I’m not dressed, what was I supposed to think?”

And oh no. Oh no, no, no, that’s not what Alex wanted.

Sleeping on the same mattress with a very naked Louis, soft with sleep and with pouted lips, was a kind of pure torture when Alex didn’t know if he could touch. There had been no boys before Louis, nothing to tell him when and where and how he could make him feel good. And even if there had been someone before this, Louis was special. Louis was going to get his best efforts with everything. Alex couldn’t touch him or look at him in any wrong way, he just couldn’t. Every movement had to be perfect.

But he’d done something worse in waiting. Louis had thought he didn’t want him, as if Alex wasn’t consumed with him, as if he wasn’t all he thought about now and as far as he was concerned, always would think about.

Alex breathed out so long his breath probably tickled Louis’s face, and he finally pulled enough that Louis’s hand dropped from one of his wrists and Alex instead lifted it up to cup his cheek. He stroked his thumb over the sharp, hollow curve of his cheek, enough to make Louis look up, his eyes big and nearly translucent blue in the buzzing light of the only lamp they’d put in the living room.

“Baby doll,” Alex murmured, “I want everything with you.”

Louis looked at him carefully, and then his lips parted, pointed air rushing out.

“Oh,” he managed, and then shifted a bit, “Well,”

The tip of his tongue poked out, wetting the center of his bottom lip, where there was the deepest, most damaged split.

“Did you – “ Louis stuttered, “Now?”

“We can wait,” Alex said immediately, “If you want to,”

Louis just shook his head, “Don’t you try to lie to me when I feel your prick poking into my damn leg,”

“Ah,” Alex stuttered, and tried to shift his hips and move away, “Fuck,”

But Louis reached up to grip the back of Alex’s neck and shook his head again.

“Christ, you think I’m gonna be angry for that?” he asked, “Why don’t you put a hand between my legs and see how I’m feeling right about now?”

Alex couldn’t even laugh. He didn’t even know if he could breath, with an open invitation to touch Louis in the most intimate place and also knowing he was hard and willing. 

Louis smirked up at him, but then his mouth softened, his face becoming more open and cautious.

“I’ve never – “ Louis started, and Alex blurted in before he could even finish.

“Me neither,” he said, and Louis scoffed.

“You’ve never done anything with a bloke, I know. I mean I’ve never done with anyone,”

“Yeah, and neither have I,” Alex said.

Louis just blinked up at him.

“No,” he shook his head, “That’s not right,”

“Yes it is,”

“No, no. That Patricia girl you were hanging around with a couple years ago, didn’t you – “

“Never,” Alex managed, “She, uh, she said she wanted to wait until we were married,”

“And what did you say to that?”

“That I never intended to marry her,”

“Christ,” Louis sighed, “You really can’t let a girl down. Should I be worried?”

Alex’s eyes widened and he shook his head.

“I’ll never do that to you,” he said, and Louis weakly laughed.

“For God’s sake,” Louis breathed out, “Just c’mere,”

So Alex did. He let himself fall forward, let himself press his mouth to Louis’s once more. Eventually, Louis gripped onto Alex’s wrist and squeezed.

“You want to get something off me now?” he murmured.

Alex just pulled back and stared at him, and Louis looked back carefully until Alex finally lifted his hands and start to carefully unbutton his shirt. He pushed the fabric to the side, trying to get it away from Louis’s body as much as possible, but Louis rolled his eyes and sat up, pulling it off his shoulders and down his arms, threw it to the floor, and then laid back again. Then, Louis grabbed Alex’s hands again and brought him closer until he was touching Louis’s bare chest fully.

“There,” Louis said carefully, a laugh exhaling along with the word, and Alex just pressed his fingers into Louis’s smooth skin and didn’t speak, making Louis laugh, “This is what I get for sleeping with a virgin,”

“You’re a virgin, too,”

“Yeah, but that’s my problem, not yours,” Louis said.

Alex sighed and shook his head. He managed to pull his hands off Louis’s chest and instead reached for the buckle of Louis’s trousers next, but small, strong hands reached up to push him away.

“No, no,” Louis laughed, “Come on, I get something to take something off you now,”

“Oh. Alright,” Alex allowed.

He sat back, letting the blanket fall away from him and tumble to the floor, and then Louis sat up as well and went to lean over to him. He ran a hand up Alex’s chest and fiddled with the top button of his shirt, toying it out of its slot. He undid the rest of the buttons far quicker, but then groaned at the thin undershirt beneath it, which he quickly pulled up over Alex’s belly. Alex lifted his arms, letting Louis roll the rest of the thin fabric up and off. Once it was gone and tossed to the floor, Louis smiled at him and tilted his head.

“There,” he said as he pressed a hand over his chest, and then ran his hand up Alex’s neck until he cupped his jaw, the edge of his cheek, “Such a pretty boy, aren’t I lucky,”

Alex’s cheeks heated, and Louis chuckled and lifted his head to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“Can we go to our room now?” Louis asked, and Alex nodded and swung his legs over the side of the couch and stood. Once his feet were on solid ground, he grabbed Louis’s hand and squeezed his fingers. Louis squeezed back and then stood up with him, and once Alex started walking, he trailed just behind him, his hand gripped tightly in Alex’s own the whole time.

It wasn’t much warmer in the bedroom, but Alex had just bought them new sheets, sturdy and warm and not thinned out and washed to death yet. It would be better once they were wrapped up in them. But before Alex could even reach for the bed, Louis dropped Alex’s hand and then promptly reached for his belt, pulling on the buckle and then yanking on the leather bit to get it undone. Alex’s breath stuttered but he dropped his head, pressing a kiss to the curve of Louis’s shoulder. He felt Louis’s hand stroke down his belly, but his hand didn’t move down past his undone belt.

“Honey,” Alex breathed out, and Louis exhaled a moment later and finally undid the button of Alex’s trousers and pushed at the loosened fabric, getting it away from Alex’s hips. Alex lifted a hand, touching Louis’s waist while the other man pushing his trousers down to his thighs, and then Alex had to pull back and take the trousers off entirely by himself.

Alex immediately reached for Louis once they were gone, and he kept his hands firmly on his waist and then leaned forward to press a kiss to the crook of his shoulder. Louis sighed and looped his arms loosely around Alex’s neck, pulling him in and nearly keeping him trapped. Alex didn’t exactly mind. Louis really did smell nice, so gentle and clean, and his shoulder was soft even when the skin on his hands and feet had started drying and cracking from the cold.

He brought this hands downward, stroking at the top of Louis’s belly, and when the other man inhaled sharply, making his muscles shift and tighten under Alex’s touch, and it made Alex pause.

“Okay?” he murmured, and Louis huffed, and shoved at his chest a little.

“Damn, what’s a boy got to do to get fucked around here?” he said, but his voice was a bit weak, and Alex smoothed his hands over his waist, squeezed at his hips.

“We’ll stop, it’s okay,” he said, but Louis breathed out “No,” in the next breath and brought his hands up to claw weakly at his Alex’s chest, his blunt nails probably leaving shallow marks on his skin. 

“I’ve spent too many nights alone, please,” Louis said, and it was enough to make Alex tug away, making Louis’s arms fall away from his neck. Alex’s hands went to Louis’s belt, and he pulled on it quickly, the buckle rattling as he undid it.

“You’ve been alone, huh,” Alex managed as he undid the belt. He leaned forward, kissed Louis’s lips firmly as he pushed his trousers down, “You think of me?”

“What bloody else would I think of?” Louis said, then groaned when Alex knelt down to peel his trousers off his legs completely. Louis lifted his feet to kick the fabric away, and Alex grabbed his leg, lowering his lips down to kiss his ankle while he was there.

“You thought of me,” Alex breathed out, “I’ve been thinking of you. Ever since I first got to kiss you,”

“Oh, yeah?” Louis smiled.

“Christ, baby, I – “ Alex paused for a moment and then stood, facing Louis fully again, “God, I wanted to do so many things with you,”

Louis snorted weakly, and grabbed Alex’s hands yet again and brought them to his waist.

“Then show me,” he said firmly, and Alex blinked at him before fisting the fabric of Louis’s drawers in his hands and pulling.

Louis kicked the last of his underthings away in a moment, and then brought himself forward, taking off Alex’s pants away and then stepping back. Alex shook his drawers off his ankles and then looked up, swallowing back the dryness in his throat.

Louis was in front of him, naked, not for the first time, but this time Alex could really look, let his eyes roam. He had narrow shoulders that were still strong from lifting storage boxes, his chest a bit bony and dusted in hair that was darker than the stuff on his head, his nipples small and dusky. His legs were strong and his thighs were wide, but his ankles were as delicate as his wrists, like they were made of hollow glass and porcelain. There was the little swell of his belly, pretty tan skin over soft flesh, and his legs were turned inwards a bit, his thighs crossed and his knees touching, but Alex could still see dark, wiry hair and a firm cock.

Louis blinked at him and then went over to the bed and sat down before drawing himself onto the mattress fully, tucking his legs up and laying his body down.

“Come here,” Louis murmured, and Alex went towards him and into their bed that always felt far too small.

He laid down next to Louis and immediately set his hands on his slim waist, gripping tightly as he leaned into kiss him. Louis exhaled, his breath sounding like a laugh, as he kissed Alex in turn, and then pressed hand to his chest, curling his fingers against his skin. He pushed a bit, making Alex pull back and look at him with wide eyes, and Louis smiled weakly at him.

“One second,” he murmured. He rolled over, out of Alex’s arms, and then dug around in his beside drawer. Eventually, he stopped and rolled back over, gripping the tin of Vaseline he usually rubbed on his lips or his dry feet and hands.

“I, um,” Louis said, “I’m not sure where you want to be?”

Alex just blinked at him, his forehead creasing, “What?”

“Like,” Louis licked his lips, “Who wants to put their prick in and who wants to take it?”

“Oh,” Alex said, his eyes flaring a bit, “Oh,”

His eyes flickered down to the tin in Louis’s hands, and he reached out, touching its lid.

“And that’s – “

“To make things a little more comfortable,” Louis provided, a bit of smirk still ghosting his mouth.

Alex blinked at him one last time, considering it, and then quickly took the tin from his hands.

“I can, um, go in,” Alex said, “I just – I don’t want you to strain yourself too bad,”

“Oh, Lord,” Louis rolled his eyes and then shifted around a bit, “You really do spend too much time worrying. But alright, you can do it this time around,”

“Right,” Alex murmured, but still tapped his fingers on top of the tin.

“What’s wrong?” Louis asked.

“What if – “ Alex started, “What if I hurt you? I mean, that can’t be comfortable, right?”

“Oh, honey,” Louis sighed and reached up, rubbing Alex’s wrist, “It’ll be okay,”

“But – “

“Listen, I imagine it’ll hurt a bit but I’ll let you know if it’s too bad,” he said, still watching him carefully, “I know you call me it a lot, but I’m not a doll, honey, I’m not gonna break if you push me a little,”

Alex just looked at him a little longer, and then nodded.

“Okay,” he managed, “Okay,”

He reached out again, smoothing a hand over Louis’s waist, and the other man smiled and nodded. So Alex let his hand going further down, to the generous swell of his bum. He exhaled, closing his eyes, and then pushed further back, to the crease between his cheeks. But he pulled back his hand before he could touch anything else, and just blinked at Louis with wide eyes.

“I, um,” he said, and then promptly unscrewed the Vaseline tin and dipped his fingers inside, “I forgot,”

“Good God,” Louis laughed weakly, and then lifted himself onto his elbows, “Here, let me help you a bit,”

He turned over onto his belly, giving Alex a nice view of his pale, ample bum, and he reached out again, this time with jelly-covered fingers, and once again prodded at him. This time, his fingers found the tight ring of muscle between Louis’s cheeks, and he rubbed over it with his fingers and prodded at it a bit, trying to loosen it, prepare Louis for what was going to happen. All the while, Louis just murmured and nodded, his eyes closed, his mouth curved up a bit.

After a few minutes of this, Alex pulled back, and Louis blinked his eyes open and smiled.

“All good?”

“I think,” Alex said, “I, um, here,”

He placed his fingers back into the tin, and then gripped himself with his covered hand, slicking jelly all over his cock. Louis watched him, his eyes flicking between Alex’s face and his moving hand. Then, he reached out to pet the inside of Alex’s elbow.

“So nervous,” he murmured, so quiet that Alex almost didn’t hear it. He shifted his hand back over his cock again and shook his head, unable to reach out and touch Louis in answer.

“Love you,” he said softly. He dropped his hand, wiping it against their already dirty, thin quilt, “Love you so much,”

He shifted himself onto his knees, taking his slick cock back in his hand, and then carefully lined himself up to Louis’s wet entrance.

“Love you more than anything else on this Earth,” he said. He just looked at Louis as he said it, and the other man didn’t say anything, just swallowed, closed his eyes, and nodded.

Alex held himself there, right on the brink, and then carefully pushed his cockhead right up against him, the head nearly slipping in.

“Oh,” Louis gasped sharply, and Alex immediately froze.

“No, no, I’m okay,” Louis mumbled, blinking his eyes open, “Feels real nice, baby,”

Alex just looked at him, not believing it, because Louis felt so tight and God, he’d slicked him up as much as he could but it still had to hurt, didn’t it? How could it feel good?

“You’re alright,” Louis said, bringing Alex back down to Earth. He sighed and moved his hips a bit, and Louis hummed and smiled.

“Come give me a kiss, petal,” he murmured, and Alex immediately leaned forward and pressed his mouth to Louis’s, feeling his warm breath sigh over his lips. Louis’s hand crept up the back of his neck, smoothing over his skin.

“Okay, okay,” Louis said softly, “We’re gonna finish this, alright?”

“Yeah,” Alex said quickly, “Yeah, of course,”

He shifted himself again, trying to make his knees more comfortable, and then he took himself in his hand again and pushed in a little deeper. Louis still gasped weakly and squeezed his eyes closed, and his hips shifted as Alex just stayed put, nearly half his cock inside Louis.

“Keep going,” Louis breathed out weakly, “I’m alright, just a little more,”

“Okay,” Alex agreed, “Just a little more,”

“Yeah,” Louis agreed. His voice was so weak now, so soft, and Alex almost didn’t want to keep pushing, but he did, burying himself just a bit more. Louis gasped sharply again and grabbed his wrist, squeezing.

“That – that’s good,” Louis said, “No more, baby, no more,”

“No,” Alex agreed quickly, “No more,”

He stayed still for a while, just buried in Louis’s tight heat, and watching the man beneath him breath, his thin chest moving up and down, his neck slick with chest, his closed eyelids fluttering a bit. Finally, he opened his eyes a bit, slivers of blue under heavy lashes, and he swallowed before he spoke.

“You can still move a little,” he said, “And you can…talk to me,”

Alex swallowed and shifted himself again, every movement feeling like too much, especially when Louis groaned a bit.

“You know I’m never going to hurt you, right?”

“Yes, darling,” Louis groaned, his voice sounding a bit strained, “I know. You’ve got a big prick and that’s not your fault and I know,”

“Fuck,” Alex exhaled, “I’m – “

“Don’t apologize to me,” Louis nearly snapped, “Just – tell me something nice. Talk about my arse or something,”

“Alright,” Alex laughed, and then licked his lips, “You’ve got a nice arse,”

“Thanks,” Louis sighed.

“No, really,” Alex said. He started to rock his hips a bit, but he kept talking, the words spilling out of his lips as he kept moving, trying to hit something that would make Louis feel good, “I – um, I used to look at your bum when we were out. Like when you’d get on the train before me? I’d look at it then,”

“Oh, yeah?” Louis laughed.

“Yeah,” Alex said, “Your trousers always looked so tight on them. Hard not to look,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, and then coughed, “Ah, shit, what else, keep going. What else?”

“I thought about you sucking my cock,” Alex burst out, and Louis blinked at him.

“You did?” he said.

“Yes, I – “ Alex swallowed, “Got such pretty lips, babydoll,”

“Uh huh,” Louis said, “And you wanted them around your prick?”

“Yes,”

“Anywhere? In your background? In our park? In the loo at the pubs?”

“Yes, yes, God,” Alex groaned. He thrust his hips up and Louis squeaked and reached up, gripping his shoulder tightly.

“Thought about you, too,” Louis breathed out, “Pulled myself off for a week thinking about you calling me ‘doll’,”

“Christ,” Alex closed his eyes and leaned down, letting his chest brush against Louis’s, and he pressed his face into the other man’s neck. He felt Louis blunt nails on the back of his neck, digging in tightly, and Alex bucked his hips shallowly. It was enough to make Louis gasp a bit, and he finally was finding a decent pattern, so he kept going.

“You wanted all that, huh,” Alex babbled, “Here I was scared to touch you and you were wanking off to me the whole time,”

“Uh huh,” Louis nodded, “I’m already going to Hell for kissing you, love, might as well go the rest of the way,”

Alex just blinked, his lashes fluttering over Louis’s skin, and then he pushed his hips forward, making Louis whine again.

“Alex,” Louis got out, “Baby, touch me. Touch my prick,”

Immediately, Alex brought his hand down, grasped against Louis’s belly until he finally found his hard length. He wrapped his finger around it carefully, moving his hand up and down, and Louis pushed on his shoulder.

“Harder,” he breathed out, “Do it harder, Alex, please,”

So he did, he moved his hand more roughly, and kept his hips bucking, his own prick moving against the friction of Louis’s tight heat. He groaned, pressing his lips to Louis’s shoulder, and he heard Louis laugh weakly.

“Can’t – shit, can’t believe some girl was going to marry you just for a taste of this,” Louis laughed. He brought a hand up to scratch at the back of Alex’s neck, “You’re gonna give it to me for free, huh, baby?”

“Give you everything in the world,” Alex said, “Everything. Burn up for loving you and not regret a second of it,”

It made Louis laugh again, and then his voice died off as he relaxed, his shoulder going pliant under Alex’s lips. Alex jerked his cock a bit roughly, and Louis cried out, his voice high and pretty.

“Alex,” he gasped, “Ah, Jesus Christ,”

He twisted up, into Alex’s touch again, and he kept working his hand over his cock, Louis’s grinding hips making his cock drag more against his walls. He felt pressure pool in his belly, and he kissed Louis’s neck firmly, hard enough that he could fool himself into thinking that the outline of his lips would make a bruise.

“Wanna make sure you feel nice. Wanna make sure you come,” Alex breathed against Louis’s skin. He thumbed at Louis’s head, making the other man twist again, and he felt Louis press more closely to him, felt him exhale over his ear.

“Yes,” he choked out, his voice wearing thin, “Yes, baby, please,”

Also squeezed his cock gently, but Louis shrieked sharply and then buried his mouth into Alex’s shoulder, forcing himself to go quiet.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, and Alex shook his head and kissed his skin again.

“It’s okay,” he said, “No one will hear,”

It was a lie, the walls were thin and it was a Tuesday evening, people were going to be home and listening. But it made Louis relax and shift his hips again in the way that made Alex’s belly feel tight, so it was okay.

Alex kept moving his hips, kept working over Louis’s cock, drinking in the sweet sounds of Louis gasping and whining beneath him, and then Louis was letting out a loud, reedy whine that sounded never-ending. His body shook, and Alex felt sticky wetness wash over his hand, dribble down onto Louis’s belly below. Even when he had finished, he kept gasping as Alex kept moving his hips. Louis’s palm patted against Alex’s shoulder, and his destroyed voice whispered against his ear.

“Baby, come on, just pull out, I’ll pull you off,”

“No, no, I – “

Alex kept moving, feeling his body coil, and then he arched his back, one hand gripping onto Louis’s hip and the other twisting in the sheets, and he pushed himself forward a few more times, feeling Louis around him, feeling Louis underneath him, taking in his smell and the sound of his breath, remembering all the days and nights, early mornings and late afternoons, that he had thought about this boy, dreamed about the privilege to touch him.

It was all he needed.

Alex felt the coiled parts of his body unfurl, and he cried out, quickly burying his lips into Louis’s chest, and he felt himself spilling right into Louis’s body, making the other man squeak weakly in protest.

He gave himself a few moments until he was sure his release was over, and then he sat up a bit, taking his hand down and pulling himself out of Louis. It was wet with jelly and spunk down there, and he brushed his fingers against the sheets before he settled himself down next to Louis, placed an arm around his middle.

“You’re going to make me a bath, right?” Louis mumbled, and Alex smiled, pet his skin.

“Sure, honey,” he allowed, “Wash your hair and everything,”

“My hair isn’t what needs washed,” Louis laughed weakly, and then winced, “Christ, I’m gonna be sore all of tomorrow. Mrs. Lawrence is gonna ask me why I’m waddling around the damn store,”

“I’m sorry,” Alex said immediately, and Louis groaned, rolled over and kissed his throat.

“It’s alright,” he said, “You gave me everything I needed, you know that? Can’t be mad at you for that,”

Alex just blinked into the darkness, curling his hand against Louis’s belly. He felt like this could be his whole time, working a job that barely paid for a dirty, old flat, hiding behind a door with rusted hinges, as long as he got to go home and kiss his boy, circle his arm around him. He could pretend and drag his feet around girls and put up with this town and never get anywhere as long as he had Louis.

Louis would smack him upside the head for thinking like that, for making himself settle. But maybe that was why he was willing to give everything he had and ever would have to him.

“I’m in love with you,” he breathed out, not for the first time that hour, and even though it was dark and he had his face pressed into the sheets, he could swear he knew exactly when Louis started to smile.

“Convenient,” Louis said, “Since I think you’re alright,”

Alex couldn’t even laugh, because Louis’s voice was so gentle, so bright, that he understood. Louis loved him back. Even when he didn’t string the words together, he did.

“You want your bath?” Alex asked, and Louis shrugged.

“Later,” he murmured as he brought himself closer to Alex’s chest, “Later,”

The way he said it, Alex felt like it could mean anything.

They’d take a bath later. They’d fuck again later. They’d figure it out later.

Later. Later would be fine, as long as he could hold Louis now.

*******

The first weekend of July, the rations in their cabinets were getting low, and Louis had the day off for once from the store. So of course when Alex got up out of bed, Louis grabbed his wrist and mumbled, “Go get us food” before rolling back over and going back to sleep. Alex just sighed and nodded, even though Louis couldn’t see it, and then stood and wandered across the room to his chest of drawers to get his shirt and trousers out for the day.

It was Saturday afternoon, and he mercifully didn’t have work, so they would have a whole day at home. They wouldn’t have much to do, but that was fine. Louis probably wanted to sleep, and honestly, if he needed the rest, Alex was content to give it to him.

He had plans later, anyways. He’d picked up a gift for Louis the day before, the result of squirreling away parts of his paychecks for the last few weeks. They’d have a nice night, something special.

Mr. Lawrence himself was working the register when he got to the store, and he offered a brief nod as Alex went inside. He immediately went to the aisles, trying to cycle through his memories of what they had at home and what they needed, and more importantly, what they could afford. He skated through every aisle at least four times before everything came together in one neat mental list. A package of noodles and canned tomatoes, a box of tea and some strawberry jam.

He was cradled all his packages in his arms, and then started a careful shuffle towards the front of the store when a pair of bodies stepped in front of him, and he jolted and promptly spilled everything on the floor.  

“Fuck,” he stuttered, and then pressed his lips together, “God, sorry. Um, hi, Barbara,”

“Hi, Alex,” the girl in front of him smiled, her lips curling as her voice feathered into a light giggle. Alex just stared at her, and then he turned, catching the eyes of the girl standing next to her, but he couldn’t quite grasp her name. He blinked, trying to dig up where he recognized her dark eyes and her hair that was the same color, when Barbara spoke up again.

“You remember Polly?” she asked, and he sighed.

“Oh, yeah. Um, hi, Polly, nice to see you again,” he said, “Let me, um,”

He ducked down and went to grab his groceries, but only managed to scoop but the pasta and the tea and the jam fast enough. When he went to grab the tomatoes, Barbara reached out at the same moment. Her neat little red nails pressed over his hand, and her fingers scuttled a bit over his skin before he gripped more tightly onto the can and gathered it back against his chest, breaking away from her touch.

“Sorry about that,” he managed as he stood up. He glanced over their shoulders, catching sight of the register to remind him why he was here in the first place, “I’ll let you, um, get back to your shopping,”

He went to duck around them, but then Barbara was reaching out a hand, curling it against his bicep.

“Alex, wait,” she said, and Alex froze, was frozen the same way he was when Barbara had asked him for a kiss in the pub like it was her god given right, which honestly, maybe it was.

He just turned to her and blinked blankly as he looked back with a soft smile.

“The carnival’s in town a few towns over, haven’t you heard?” she said.

“Oh,” he said, “No, not really,”

“Well, Polly and I were going to go tonight, actually. Maybe you’d like to go with us?”

“Oh,” Alex said. His mind flashed to Louis, exhausted and sleeping in their bed, probably looking forward to waking up to a cup of a tea and a day of nothing to do, “I don’t know. I wasn’t going to go anywhere tonight,”

“Oh, it’ll be fun,” Barbara said, and then her eyes shifted, her smile dropping a bit, “Louis can come too, if he’d like. Polly needs some extra company, anyways,”

Alex didn’t like a word of that last sentence. Mostly because it meant that Polly needed company because Barbara planned to be elsewhere all night, probably close to Alex.

“I’ll have to ask him,” Alex said, his mood brightening a bit as he did it. Louis would say no. Alex would make up that he didn’t have enough money to spare for a train. Something, anything.

“Well, okay,” Barbara smiled, “If you can, just meet us at the train station tonight at 6, okay? Don’t be late, we’ll just go on without you,”

Feel free to, Alex thought, but instead he just nodded.

“Ah, alright. Bye, Barbara. Bye, Polly,”

He skated away from them, pressing his back close to the shelves as he went for the front register.

He wouldn’t go tonight. He shouldn’t even worry about it.

*******

“We’re going,”

“What?”

Alex watched as Louis bustled around the kitchen, putting the groceries into the cabinets. He was just in a pair of drawers, and his shoulders and hair were wet with barely dried bathwater. Alex would very much just have liked to settle down with him on the sofa for the afternoon and evening, but when Louis looked up, his eyes were hard set.

“We’ll have to go,” Louis sighed again, “It’s not your fault, you couldn’t help running into her, but we’ll just have to go,”

“I – “ Alex started, “We can just not meet them at the station. I told her I would ask you first,”

“Jesus Christ,” Louis sighed and rubbed his forehead, “You haven’t, for a moment, considered that you have to go to that carnival just as much as you had to dance with her a few weeks back? Because you do, Alex, you just do, it’s the way things work,”

He dropped his hand from his head and just gripped the kitchen counter with both hands as he shook his head again.

“And she has a friend. What am I supposed to do, leave her friend alone? That looks bad on me,” he huffed. He turned away, but Alex came forward and wrapped his arms tightly around Louis’s middle, pressed his nose into his damp hair. Louis just sighed, his muscles loosening under Alex’s touch. He lifted a hand, touching the back of his hand carefully.

“I didn’t have much planned for us anyways tonight,” Louis murmured, “It could do us good to get outside,”

“Maybe I just want to go outside with you, no one else,”

“I know,” Louis said, “Isn’t that how it always is,”

They just stood there a little longer, until finally Louis pulled away enough to let Alex’s arms drop.

“So we’re leaving at 6,” Louis said, and Alex nodded. It made the other man sigh as he grabbed at the last item on the counter, the jam, and then turned to put it away.

“This better me the best damn carnival in a hundred meters of here,”

*******

The carnival was everything Alex remembered from what a carnival should look like: loud and crowded, smelling like dirt and animals covered in sickly sweet sugar, everything filled with old, yellow-tinged light and artificial colors. Barbara was pressed close to her shoulder, not touching him fully but coming damn close. Louis and Polly were barely looking at each other, just standing close by, and Alex kept stealing small glances of Louis, who was closely examining his shoes.

“Should we split up?” Barbara asked, her voice angled forwards Alex even though he wasn’t looking at her, “Meet up in maybe a few hours to go home?”

“Let’s just stay together,” Alex said immediately, “Don’t want to get lost,”

The carnival was small, only maybe five old rides and a dozen stands. It wasn’t going to be easy to get lost, but he couldn’t bear to put himself through the paces of what he would be expected to do if he and Barbara were having a proper night to themselves.

“Oh,” Barbara said, “Alright,”

She voice tipped a bit, and Polly glanced over to her and then cleared her throat, smiling carefully.

“I think I saw someone selling cotton candy,” she said, and then looked to Louis, “Maybe we can get some to eat while we walk around?”

“Sure,” Louis smiled, “It’s been awhile since I’ve had it anyways,”

He tucked a hand into his front pocket, then frowned. He put a hand into the pocket on the other side, and then pulled both his hands out and patted down his back pockets before sighing.

“Damn it,” he said, “I must’ve left my wallet at all,”

“Oh,” Polly said, “That’s alright, I think I have enough,”

She reached for her purse, but before she could even pull it open, Alex reached for his own pocket.

“I can get it,” he said, and Louis’s eyes snapped at his, blinking once.

“You don’t have to,” Louis said immediately, his voice cutting a little. Don’t you dare, Alex could particularly hear in Louis’s voice, Don’t you dare buy me something like you and I are on a real date.

“No, it’s fine,” Alex insisted, “I – I’ll get it for everyone, yeah? Just a little treat for everyone,”

Louis kept his eyes on him awhile longer, then sighed and looked away.

“Fine,”

Alex kept his gaze on him for just a little longer, and then went five feet over to the cotton candy stand. His stomach was turning, and he wasn’t sure if he would even be able to keep food down, but he still got four spools, one for each of them.

He handed Louis his candy last, and the other man gave him a fleeting smile before looking back down again and digging his hand right into the treat. Alex just watched him tear away the feathery sweets with his short fingers, tuck it to his mouth so the sugar could dissolve against his warm tongue.

If this were a better world, he would have been able to stand next to Louis, their hips touching, and lean over to taste the sugar on his mouth, to kiss the stickiness off his fingertips. The music around the whole fairground would probably sound nice, the summer air would feel good on his skin. But instead he was choking on all of it, and his own cotton candy was going to melt in the heat, uneaten, as he stole glimpses of Louis across the way.

When he swam back to the surface, he felt Barbara’s fingers jab at his wrist, and he looked over at her, catching her wide, rather sheepish eyes.

“Sorry,” he managed, “Did – did you want to go somewhere else?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, “I think they have horses? We could go look,”

“Okay,” Alex said quickly, and then looked over at Louis and Polly, “Do you two want to go with us?”

“Might as well,” Louis said. His eyes had a firm fix on Alex’s face, in a way that made it feel like he wasn’t going to let him out of his sight. This was supposed to be a day for them and only them, and if they had company then at the very least they were going to be near each other.

Alex nodded, and then turned to look forward, ready to look for wherever those damn horses were.

As he started forward, he felt Barbara’s slender hand work its way into the crook of his elbow, and when he looked over at her, she was just smiling up at him, waiting for him to show her how much fun this all was.

He just nodded and looked forward again, letting her keep her arm in his.

He didn’t dare shake her away, and he didn’t dare to look over at Louis.

*******

They were there for what felt like days. 

Barbara spent almost half an hour with the horses, petting their noses and asking Alex for pounds he couldn’t afford to feed them carrots. He spent another thirty minutes after that throwing balls at a set of pins, trying fruitlessly to knock them down while Barbara bounced on her toes nearby, waiting for a prize to drop into her arms. He came up empty, since everyone damn well knew the pins were weighted anyways, and barely had the energy to apologize to her. Louis stood nearby, with a plate of fried dough that Alex had gladly spent another two pounds to buy for him, and just shook his head.

“You tried,” he said, a smile barely dusting his face. The sentence sounded too short. It felt like it should have ended with “baby” or “love” or at the very least, Alex’s name.

“It’s alright,” Barbara butted in, and pet her hand against Alex’s arm, “Should we go on the Ferris wheel next?”

Alex resisted the urge to close his eyes. It was dark, now, the light of the stars choked out by the carnival’s artificial displays. He wanted to go home, that’s what he wanted.

“I’m feeling a little worn out,” Alex said, “Didn’t sleep well last night,”

“Oh,” Barbara said, “The line’s not very long, we can just ride it once and then go, maybe?”

It was a simple request that was going to take all the strength in Alex’s body to fulfill.

He felt himself nodding, and Barbara smiled and grabbed his arm, pulling him determinedly in the direction of the Ferris wheel.

Alex tried to look over on the off chance that he could catch Louis’s eyes, maybe exchange one glance between them before he was trapped in a tiny metal seat with Barbara for god knows how long.

And then were was a noise above.

He saw the burst of light over him, and a rational part of his brain could recognize it was a firework, lit up in gold and pink. It was a summer carnival, and it was dark, of course there would be fireworks.

But it sounded like a German plane dropping a bomb on the shore, and he could taste the sand spewing into his mouth, could hear the screaming and the evitable silence that followed a scream when a bomb dropped on someone’s head.

Alex pried his arm away from Barbara, not even meaning to. He just needed to clamp his hands over his ears, needed to make it stop. His whole body felt tight and wound up, and his knees buckled, but he refused to fall to the ground. Another firework went off and his whole body jolted, his lips parting as he let out a pathetic whimper.

“Alex,” Louis’s voice was next to him, and then there was a pair of hands on his shirt, “Mate, we’re leaving, let’s go,”

Alex just shook again, and Louis tugged again, pressing his mouth right to where Alex was covering his right ear. He spoke low enough that only Alex could hear, especially over the fireworks.

“Darling, come on. Let’s go,”

A third firework went off, and his body shook again as Louis pulled on him. Alex’s feet finally began to move, and he managed to look up and over at Barbara, who was just staring at him with wide eyes.

“Is he alright?” she asked, and Louis didn’t even bother to hold back from scoffing.

“No, because the fireworks sound like bullets, Barbara, for fuck’s sake,” Louis snapped. Alex caught a glimpse of her mouth forming into a little cherry red ‘O’, and then Louis was tugging hard on Alex’s arm, steering him away from the fair.

Another firework went up, a set this time, three loud cracks after the next. Alex yelped and pressed his hands over his ears harder as Louis gripped his shoulders and pushed him towards the entrance.

“It’s okay,” Louis said, “Mate, you’re alright,”

Alex hated Louis calling him mate. He called him that all the time in public, but it still felt so stiff and unnatural in Louis’s mouth. And besides, it wasn’t what Alex needed. He needed to get away from this place, first and foremost, but he also needed Louis’s lips on his forehead and his hands on his waist, he wanted to here “petal” and “love” and “darling” on his tongue, the most beautiful words Louis could offer.

Instead, he just let Louis grip him a little too hard, and in all the wrong places, as Alex limped along back to the train station, his body jerking every time the sky lit up.

*******

When they finally got home, Alex unlocked the door. He forced himself to turn the flat little piece of metal over and to stick it into the lock, to turn it and hear the locks click in and out of place. Something that made sense.

As soon as they were inside, Louis grabbed his elbow and pulled him close, pressing his nose into his neck.

“Are you okay?” Louis asked.

“I’m fine,” Alex said, but Louis only squeezed his elbow harder.

“I’ll get you some water. Some hot milk?”

“I’m fine,” Alex sighed, “I’m better, I promise,”

“I’m still getting you water,” Louis said. He pressed a feather light kiss to Alex’s neck and then pulled away entirely and went to the kitchen. Alex stayed in the doorway, his eyes closed, breathing in and out, and then wandered back into the kitchen. He sat at the table, watched Louis pour out a glass for him.

“I’m never going to see her again,” Alex said, “I’m serious, Louis. If I see her in town, I’m just going to pass right by. We’ll never have another night like tonight,”

“You don’t have to be rude, darling, Christ,” Louis sighed. He brought Alex his glass of water and sat next to him, watching him drink it. As Alex downed the water he reached out and pushed a loose piece of hair back, then smoothed his fingers over his temple.

“Don’t cut your hair yet,” he murmured, “You look so handsome when your curls grow out,”

Alex swallowed hard, and then set his glass down and just looked over at Louis, his throat aching a bit from how hard he forced the water to go down.

“Did you have fun with Polly?” he asked, and Louis just blinked at him and sighed.

“Sure, she’s a nice girl. But I don’t think she had fun,”

“You weren’t nice to her?”

“I was, I promise. I think she rather would have been with you and Barbara,”

“What?” Alex said, “Does she – do you think she fancies me or something?”  

“Goodness, you like to give yourself a lot of credit, don’t you? No, no,” Louis shook his head, “She’s fond of Barbie. Or at least I have the feeling she likes her,”

“Of course she does, they’re friends,”

“No, I mean I think she’s fond of Barbie the way I’m fond of you,”

“Oh,” Alex said. He tried to think about Polly, how quiet she had been, as her eyes kept wandering, “You think so?”

“Pretty damn sure,” Louis shrugged, “Either way, we had a miserable time. I’m glad we left,”

Heat raged over Alex’s face, and he ducked his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t – “

“Stop,” Louis said immediately, “It’s not your fault,”

He just looked at him, and Alex looked back until he had to duck his head.

“I hate this,” he murmured. He didn’t know if he meant his own brain or the night or the life they had to have, but he just hated it. Not even a red hot hatred anymore, but a tired, trudging sort of hatred that wore at his very bones.

“Then we won’t talk about it,” Louis said, “Unless you think it would help,”

Alex shook his head.

“You’re there when I wake up screaming. You have to hide me as much as I hide you. You don’t have to talk me through anything,”

Louis just swallowed and nodded, and Alex sighed and leaned his head forward. Louis leaned forward in tandem, and kissed Alex’s forehead.

“Sometimes I think I can hear your thoughts in my head,” Alex mumbled, and Louis just laughed and kissed his forehead one more time before puling away.

“My sweet boy,” he smiled as he stroked his cheek. He just looked at Alex and then tilted his head, “Let’s go take a bath, yeah?”

Alex was about to nod; the thought of soaking in a warm tub and scrubbing away the day--  and hopefully all his memories of it -- sounded like the best thing that could happen to him now.

But then he remembered his original plans for their day, the few days’ worth of wages sitting under his undershirts in their chest of drawers.

“Not yet,” he said, and then stood up before Louis could even react, “I – c’mere,”

Louis looked at him with a wrinkled brow, but still stood and wandered after Alex to the bedroom. Once he was inside, he went to the chest and opened the right drawer, rifling past white cotton in paper ribbons. Finally, his fingers hit something cardboard, and he pulled it out, closing the drawer behind him. He turned, the box clutched tightly in one hand, and faced Louis fully. Louis’s eyes looked at the package, and then he just looked up at Alex, his eyes wide and curious.

“I got you a present,” Alex said.

“Why?”

“It was just your half birthday. It’s nearly the summer solstice. I don’t know, really,” he shrugged, and then stuck his arm out, offering the box to Louis, “Do you want to open it?”

Louis eyed him carefully, and then reached out and took the package. He went over and set it on the bed, then slowly drew the ties away from the package. But when he finally opened the thin cardboard top, he immediately slammed it closed and squeezed his eyes shut, his breath careful as he exhaled.

“Alex,” he sighed.

“Do you not like it?”

“How much did you spend on this, huh?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Alex said, “Do you like it?”

“Of course I do, Christ, “

“Then can you please take the rest of it out?”

Louis opened his eyes again and then gazed at Alex before returning back to the package. He reached down and pulled out the fabric inside, holding it up, and then took out another piece and laid it down. He kept doing it until every piece Alex had picked up as laid out. A silky pair of white high waisted panties and a matching garter belt with black lace and bows. Next to that was a new slip, dark blue with black lace, but Louis seemed far more intent on the underwear. He stared at the panties, reached out and touched the edge of them, then carefully picked up the belt, fingering the bows.

“Why?” he murmured softly.

“Because your old slip was getting worn out,” Alex said, “And I thought you’d look pretty in all this,”

He touched Louis touch the belt more, and then ducked his head and groaned.

“Shit. You – you don’t want to, do you? You don’t like this stuff,”

“No, that’s not it,” Louis said quickly, “I just – shit, baby, c’mere,”

Alex came to stand by Louis’s side, and immediately, the other man drew Alex close to him, and kissed him. He let his fingers wander, dragging down Alex’s front as he kissed him, curl into his shirt. When he finally pulled away, he looked up at him through his eyelashes, blinking once, enough to throw shadows over his cheeks.

“Give me a minute, alright?”

He stepped away and then promptly gathered all the underthings back into the box, and then went straight to their washroom. Alex watched him go, and once the door was closed and latched, he sat down on their bed and just looked ahead. His leg bounced a bit, and he set his palms on his knees and squeezed, rubbing his hands down hard on his legs.

Then, he heard the click of the bathroom bulb being turned on, and a moment later, the washroom doorknob wiggled and then turned. Alex lifted his head, looking dead ahead.

Louis emerged slowly, first a leg and then a hip, the curve of his waist, until he was out entirely. He just stood in the doorway, his arms behind his back, his ankles crossed.

His skin was gold and deep with summer, and the white silky pants on his hips shone beautifully against it. The fabric tucked against his taunt little belly, curving over his thighs. His cock was a lovely bulge in the front, tempting and straining the silk. The garter belt cut over his hips, his waist, stretched over his thighs. And over his soft chest, there was the bra, the cups standing a bit awkwardly away from my flat chest, a generous dusting of hair between them. He had his chin tilted down, his big blue eyes blinking gently, carefully, at Alex from under his fringe.

“Jesus Christ,” Alex murmured, and leaned forward, “C’mere,”

Louis smiled, and he kept his hands behind his back as he walked towards him.

He stood in front of him, his body far enough away he couldn’t touch yet, and he tilted his head, his fringe spilling with it.

“Hey, solider,” he smiled, and Alex felt his throat go dry.

He reached out, gripped his hips tightly and pulled him, and Louis laughed and let his body go, until he was firmly between Alex’s legs, his hands spread over his silk-covered cheeks.

“What?” Louis laughed.

“I don’t know how I got this lucky but I’m damn glad I did,” Alex breathed out. Louis kept smiling at him, and then ducked down, capturing his lips against Alex’s mouth. Alex kissed him back firmly, and then pulled back and immediately went to Louis’s chest, running his fingers over the molded cups that housed nothing.

“Doll, I think this was made for girls with a little more to fill out,”

Louis shoved his shoulder but laughed before collapsing against him, tackling Alex’s body onto the mattress entirely. Louis leaned in for another kiss, and Alex accepted and smoothed his hands along his back, letting them skate down towards his bum before finally returning to rest between his shoulder blades.

“You like your present, huh,” Alex murmured, and Louis sighed, his breath hot against his mouth.

“A little bit, yeah,” Louis said, “Enough that I’m not going to be mad at you now for wasting your money on it,”

“Not a waste,” Alex insisted, “Not when I get to see you like this,”

Louis smiled with just the corner of his mouth, and shook his head enough for his fringe to drop into his eyes.

“Stupid boy,” he sighed, “I love you,”

“Likewise,” Alex smiled, and Louis just rolled his eyes again and gripped the sides of Alex’s face. He rolled his hips forward, catching on the front of Alex’s trousers, and Alex groaned against Louis’s lips.

“Take something off me if you’re going to keep doing that,” Alex huffed. Louis immediately leaned back and didn’t even look into Alex’s eyes, he just went straight for his shirt buttons. His fingers worked hurriedly but still managed to pull away every fastening cleanly, the results of years of practice. He leaned down and kissed Alex’s chest when the fabric of his shirt was pulled away, and Alex lifted a hand to tangled it through the hair at the back of Louis’s head. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, burying himself in the feeling of Louis’s careful lips on his chest, kissing the dip at the base of his throat, licking at the edges of his collarbones. He groaned softly and pushed his hips up, and Louis pushed right back onto him and chuckled, the air from it drifting over Alex’s chest.

“Alright,” Louis said. He sat up, and pushed himself back so he could get at Alex’s trousers. His fingers got around his belt and buttons the same way he had freed his shirt, and then Alex’s trousers were stuck around his thighs and Louis was laying on top of him again.

“Never going to get anything done if you don’t get off me,” Alex said. Louis just looked back him, and then his mouth lifted again, his eyes sparking. He pulled himself up onto his knees and reached his hands behind his back, his fingers fiddling awhile before the brassiere on his chest finally came lose. He sighed and tossed it aside, then set his hands on his chest.

“I hated that thing,” he said as he ran his fingers along his pectorals, “So uncomfortable. You have such bad taste,”

“I do, huh,” Alex sighed, he reached back, grabbing Louis by the bum, and squeezed hard once, feeling the soft skin and firm muscle and silky fabric. Louis’s cheeks were spilling out of the bottom seams of the pants, the edges cutting into his flesh. Alex cupped his checks in both hands and leaned forward until Louis came down and kissed him, once, and then pushed himself back up. He reached behind himself and grabbed one of Alex’s hands, pulling it away from his arse, and instead set his hand on the front of his crotch, right along where his cock was straining against the silk. Alex breathed in sharply and looked up at Louis, who was somehow smiling so sweetly down at him.

“S’like you’ve never touched it before,” he murmured. Alex swallowed hard, his throat feeling dry as dirt. Instead of trying to speak, he slipped his hand up and pulled at the top of the pants, pulling the silk down enough that the firm pink head of Louis’s cock emerged, his hip smeared with pearly white. He trailed his fingers down the head to the length that was still covered. Louis twitched and grabbed his wrist, his breath heavy and his voice weak.

“Petal, stop,” he managed.

“I missed you so much tonight,” Alex said, “You were right in front of me and I still missed you, you know that?”

He kept pulling his hand over Louis’s cock, thumbing the head with extra care. It made Louis’s belly jump and his breath hitch, so he kept doing it.

“And now I got you right in front of me, looking like some kind of dream,” he sighed, “You know how many times I had to just sit in a bunk or a boat or something and wank off to a memory of you that wasn’t even complete?”

“Don’t talk about that,” Louis said, his voice strained. He pressed a hand to Alex’s wrist, pushing a little as he kept thumbing at Louis’s cock, “Alex, please – don’t – don’t wanna think about you not being here. Never again,”

“Why would I ever leave again?” Alex said, “Could never leave someone as pretty as you,”

Louis’s mouth twitched like he wanted to smirk, but then Alex squeezed his length gently and Louis tipped his head back and whined. He knocked Alex’s hand away, and then leaned down, capturing Alex’s wrists in his hands.

“Why’d you buy all this, huh?” Louis breathed out, “For me or you?”

“Know you like to feel pretty sometimes,”

“That’s not an answer and you know it,” Louis said, “You like it too, huh? You’re hard as a rock right now, you like to see me like this,”

“Maybe a little,” Alex allowed, and Louis shook his head.

“Well, nothing is going to happen between us if I keep all this on, so you’ll have to decide what you like better, seeing me like this or getting to fuck me,”

“Damn,” Alex sighed, “You know how to put in a man in a tough spot, huh?”

Louis just blinked down at him, pretty and gentle even with his flickering, mischievous eyes. Finally, Alex pushed his shoulders, and Louis moved, perfectly following the movement of Alex’s hands. He pushed on his shoulders, then his belly and waist, and then Louis was lying on his back on the bed. Alex went to fiddling with the belt, undoing the straps and buckles. He knew they were meant to hold up a pair of stockings, but they really weren’t doing much but prettily circling Louis’s thighs and waists. When all the buckles were undone, they left pink tracks on his skin, and Alex gently stroked the places they had marked before he tossed the belt aside.

He went to their bedside drawer and pulled out their tin of Vaseline, but when he had turned away, Louis had already gotten to his knees. He touched Alex’s shoulder, pushing away the shirt he had honestly forget he still had on.

“Lay down,” Louis murmured, “Got an idea,”

Alex just stuttered and then nodded, letting Louis take the jelly. He pulled off his shirt as he laid down, and once he was on the bed Louis pulled at the elastic of his drawers and slipped them off until they were gone entirely. Louis settled his legs around Alex’s hip’s, and then slicked his own hand with jelly and tucked it behind him. Alex could see him slipping a hand into the back of his pants, and Louis’s mouth opened as the muscles in his arm twitched.

“Louis – “ Alex started, but Louis just set a hand on his chest, pushing him back.

“I’m fine,” he managed, and then groaned softly, his eyes closing. He was working himself open back there. He must be.

“Gonna ruin your pretty things with that jelly,” Alex mumbled, and Louis’s flew open and he just looked at him, shaking his head.

“Don’t worry about that,” he murmured, and then tensed, his body lifting as his hand kept working.

“I can help,” Alex said dumbly, but Louis didn’t even react, but worked his arm faster. His cheeks were stained a gorgeous pink, and the head of his cock was nearly read over the edge of his pants. The silk wasn’t going to survive this, but Alex had already made peace with that if he kept watching the man over him.

Finally, Louis pulled his hand away, and when he opened his eyes, they were wide, dark, and nearly wild. He shoved his hands under the fabric on his hips and pushed it down and away. He lifted his legs just enough for him to get them off, and then he was right back to straddling to Alex. But this time he grabbed hold of the other man’s length, pulled up his hips, and promptly lowered himself down on Alex’s cock.

Louis whined high in his throat the same moment Alex gasped weakly and managed “Fuck.” Louis leaned forward, his hands trembling a bit against Alex’s chest. Immediately, Alex lifted his hands and encircled Louis’s waist, holding him tight.

“Please don’t hurt yourself,” he managed. Louis whined again and shook his head. He rolled his hips back at the same time his blunt nails scratched at Alex’s chest.

“I need to remind myself you’re here. Gotta remind myself who you’re coming home to,” he said, “That’s all, baby, that’s all,”

“I – okay,” Alex exhaled. He understood, he did. Christ, all he needed after this night was having Louis above him, a beautiful mix of gold skin and pink cheeks and blue eyes, “Just don’t hurt yourself. Okay? Please,”

“Okay,” Louis nodded. He smiled and then leaned down, brushing his mouth over Alex’s own until he was fully kissing him. His hips pushed down all the while, and then his body was bouncing smoothly. He let out little gasps against Alex’s mouth, but he kept moving. Alex just gripped hard onto his waist with both hands, and he didn’t try to tell him how pretty he was, how good he made him feel. Louis had heard that for three years, even if Alex thought all the words in the world would never be enough for this boy. Just for tonight, Louis apparently just wanted to fuck himself against Alex’s cock and lose himself in it. Alex wasn’t about to deny him that.

The only movement he made was to slide his hand between their bellies and find Louis’s cock, stroking what he could. Louis whimpered the whole time, his whole body still coiling and fucking down on Alex with practiced ease. His body moved in time with Alex’s hand, and slowly, Alex closed his eyes. He felt Louis’s mouth on the corner of his lips, and then he was brushing his lips entirely over Alex’s mouth, not even trying to kiss him, just touching.

Eventually, Louis gasped loudly, and he spilled between them. He squirmed as he came, and fucked up weakly against Alex’s cock, but Alex just patted his back.

“Pull off,” he sighed, “Pull off, doll, it’s alright,”

So Louis lifted his hips and let Alex slide out of him, but he still dropped his head onto him, easily nestling his cheek into the groove of Alex’s sharp hipbone. He slid his mouth easily over the head of Alex’s cock, and Alex groaned and slipped his hand into his hair, petting at him as Louis sucked him off. It didn’t take long, and Louis licked at Alex’s release at first before just closing his mouth, letting some of it run weakly over his lips. He lifted his head eventually, blinking up at Alex with wide, glassy eyes, and Alex just tightened his hand in his hair.

Sin, he thought weakly as Louis wiped his mouth on the sheets.

Pure fucking sin he thought again as Louis lifted himself up and kissed him.

My favorite fucking sin he thought as Louis closed his eyes and breathed deeply, his exhales washing over his Alex’s shoulder.

Alex grabbed the edge of the quilt and pulled it up and over Louis’s shoulder, brushing it over the fabric.

“M’not asleep yet,” Louis murmured, and Alex just shook his head.

“You will be,” he said, and Louis just made a small noise in agreement and then settled back down, his eyes easily closing again.

He was so sweet, so gentle right there, and the sight suddenly had Alex wide awake.

It had been three years now that they had been doing this, having only each other in the whole world. They had survived this town and a literal war and Louis’s own war inside his chest. And still, there were days, like today, where everything felt so fragile.

Sometimes Alex was worried that he would break that all apart. That one day, all the things he had done in that boat, on that beach, would catch up with him more than nightmares and crying at fireworks. His selfishness, the part in him that had shattered apart and run wild, would come back to him. That Louis would see that, and he would finally decide that was all he needed was to be free of Alex and all that came with him.

Alex blinked down at the man nestled into his shoulder, dirty and sticky and now firmly asleep. He managed to press a kiss to Louis’s forehead, and he thought he saw the man’s mouth twitch in a smile as he did.

Something so beautiful could nothing else but break Alex’s heart apart the same moment it was being mended.

*******

The next morning, Alex woke up to the smell of hot oil and greasy things coming from the kitchen. It was enough to pull him out of bed almost as soon as his eyes were open, and when he wandered into the kitchen, and saw Louis in his new slip, standing over the stove. He smiled and rubbed his eyes again, and wandered over, squeezing Louis’s arse as he passed on his way to get a mug from the cupboard.

“Morning,” he yawned, and Louis scoffed.

“Is that how you say hello to me in the morning now?”

Alex turned and frowned.

“Yes?” he said, which made Louis roll his eyes.

“Give me a kiss,” Louis said, and Alex just leaned down and gave him one. Louis smiled and nodded, “Good,”

He went back to the pan of nearly blackened bacon in front of him and gestured for Alex to come closer. He did, slotting himself against Louis’s side. Louis slid an arm around Alex’s waist, and Alex busied himself with kissing Louis’s temple and nuzzling his nose into his hair.

“You forgot everything from last night, huh?” Louis said, “Forgot how to treat me like a princess?”

“Is that what you are now?”

“Fuck you,” Louis scoffed, and then smiled, “I was thinking, maybe one day, we can go back to the carnival, you and I,”

“Maybe,” Alex allowed.

Louis hummed, and then pushed the pan away from the heat. He didn’t bother to pick up the pan entirely and plate the bacon, though. He just stood still, Alex plastered to his side, his breath even and gentle.

Alex pulled back a bit and blinked, enough to get a look at Louis. The other man easily turned to meet his gaze, like he had been expecting it. He looked like everything good in the world, soft skin and thick hair and big, gentle eyes, a smile that could halt the war in its tracks.

All his rebel thoughts from the night before rushed back to him, and he held Louis a little tighter.

“I don’t deserve you,” Alex said, and Louis just blinked, his forehead crinkling in confusion.

“I’m not a good person, Louis,” Alex kept rambling, “I’m so goddamn selfish, you know that?”

“Petal,” Louis started, but Alex stopped again.

“I don’t even know if I care who wins this war anymore, you know?” he said, “I keep thinking that I would let this whole world burn if you would get out of it unharmed,”

Louis blinked at him again, and then turned his body more fully, so he was facing Alex entirely. He gripped his hips hard, squeezed enough to make Alex wince, and then lifted himself onto his toes so he could look Alex right in the eyes.

“I know that,” Louis whispered firmly, “You’re a goddamn fool if you think I would’ve put up with you this long if I didn’t see all the bad in you, and still think the good is worth it all,”

He cupped the back of Alex’s head then, pulled him close and pressed his lips to the juncture of his neck. Alex breathed out, pushing himself into Louis’s mouth, and Louis bit at him, making Alex moan softly.

“You’re all I got,” Alex managed into his neck, “I don’t know how long I’ll have my job, I don’t have my mind anymore half the time. But I have you. Christ, baby, I have you,”

“Yeah,” Louis said, “Honey, you’re gonna have me for the rest of your life. You know that?”

Alex froze, right there will Louis’s lips on his throat and his hips on his waist.

“I – “ he stuttered, but Louis was right there, interrupting.

“No. No, you shut up and listen to me. I’m going to be with you until my worthless fucking heart gives out. You’re a shitty, selfish person and I don’t care because I love you, and I’m never going to love anyone else,”

He pulled away and looked at Alex firmly. His eyes were twin blue flames, but they weren’t angry. They were close, but they weren’t angry. They were something Alex couldn’t even explain.

“And you know what else?” Louis said. His breath hitched a bit before he spoke again, his eyes shifted just a bit to something that almost looked afraid before settling right back to being fire, “I’m going to marry you,”

“Louis,”

“No, no, let me finish,” he rushed on, “I’m going to marry you, because you’re supposed to marry someone you love, who makes you happier than anyone else. So god damn it, I’m going to marry you. I don’t care if neither of us to breathing and I have to say my vows in whatever afterlife we have after this. Wherever we end up, I’m going to be by your side,”

Alex just stared back at him, blinking at his boy. His beautiful boy with a broken heart and an iron soul, who burned water and had a razorblade tongue. Alex had quite literally gone through hell, and Louis was still there, still standing and still looking at him with the same soft, sparking eyes and perfectly curved smile.

“Would you marry me, Alex?” Louis asked softly, “Someday?”

Alex breathed in, inhaling the smell of burnt bacon and Louis’s soap-fresh skin.

He heard himself breath out ‘yes’ before he leaned in to capture Louis’s mouth.

*******

Alex went out to get a drink Saturday after he got off his weekend shift.

Louis would be home, sound asleep already, so Alex wouldn’t miss out on saying good night to him if he went out. And he really needed a drink. It had been a long week for next to no reward. He hadn’t been sleeping too well, his dreams plagued with cold, rotting hands and roaring waves and a dead boy with a French tongue. The mail room was freezing and the tea was weak and so scalding hot it was more heat than flavor anyways. Louis was tired, too, the summer heat getting to him and making him a little weak. Alex had been scraping some extra food onto his boy’s plate, too. Louis’s face looked too thin lately. Of course, that also meant that Alex always felt a little hungry.

He just needed a drink. Just one drink.

He wandered into the pub and went straight to the bar, pulling out just enough for one pint, and only settling down on a stool when the warm pint was in front of him. It was Saturday night, and the place was fairly full, but somehow relatively quiet. The summer heat must have sucked the energy out of everyone. The radio was on low, and a few people were on the main floors, swaying in pairs. Men in factory line uniforms like the one Alex had on, women in patched-over dresses, their feet bare on the hardwood with their shoes cast aside. Everyone else sat in booths, some of them alone with thin books spread in front of them, others in pairs. The whole place felt tired, and still. It wasn’t the happiest place to be, but it was at least what Alex needed.

He took a sip of his beer, warm and weak, and closed his eyes. They felt swollen all of a sudden, and they ached, but he didn’t even rub them, just let them be.

“Hey,”

He heard a voice but kept his eyes closed. The voice was close by, but there were enough people here that whoever it was could be talking to anyone.

“Alex, mate,”

Alex forced his aching eyes to open, and he turned his head to look over. Michael’s face was looming in front of him. It was enough to make him want to shut his eyes again.

“Oh,” Alex managed, “Hi,”

“Didn’t see you come in,” Michael grinned, setting his half-empty pint on the bar with a definitive click just as he settled himself onto the stool next to Alex. His breath and shirt smelled like the bar itself; he must’ve had a few already, “What’ve you been doing?”

“Work,” Alex offered as he looked away and reached for his beer again. Michael just laughed and then tugged on Alex’s starched work shirt collar.

“Ah, could’ve guessed,” he laughed, “You found work, then. That’s good,”

“Yeah,” Alex shrugged, “Need the money, obviously,”

“You ever think about trying to re-enroll?”

“Re-enroll in what?” Alex asked, turning his head a bit, “The army?”

“Well, yeah,”

Alex swallowed hard and shook his head.

“No,” he said firmly, “I had my fill,”

“Come on,” Michael said, “It has to pay better than anything in the factories. And you get a bed for free, that’s not bad, huh?”

Yeah, and everything else is hell.

Alex swallowed the words in his throat and just shrugged.

“I’m perfectly fine,” he said firmly, “Besides, the flat’s not too expensive. Not with Louis paying, too,”

Michael just nodded at that, and Alex took his silence as a chance to take a far-too-long swig of his beer.

“I gotta say, mate,” Michael said while Alex drank, “Why do you still live with him, huh?”

“What?” Alex managed as soon as he had swallowed, “With Louis?”

“Well, yeah,”

“We’re friends,” he said, “And he pays his bills, and he’s clean, and I want to make sure his heart is alright. It works out,”

“I mean, sure, I understand that. But you’re not fresh out of school anymore, that’s all,”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Like, what’s gonna happen when you and Barbara settle down?” Michael said, “Louis’s just gonna stay in the spare room? Sleep in a cot next to yours or something? He’s gotta be on his own eventually,”

Alex’s shoulder locked, and he just looked at Michael in confusion.

“What are you talking about?” Alex said, “Me and Barbara aren’t gonna settle down,”

“Sure you are,”

“We danced once. Had a date that didn’t even go well,”

“Yeah, I heard about that. But come on, that’s enough,” Michael shrugged, “People in this town have married for less. And she’s pretty, she can cook, and her parents have money, what’s the issue?”

“Maybe I want to explore more,” Alex said dumbly, and Michael laughed. 

“You were in the bloody army, how much more exploring do you need?” Michael scoffed, and Alex set his shoulders and lifted his glass to his mouth again.

“I dunno, it’s just a thought,” Alex said as he pulled away, and Michael scoffed and shook his head.

“Look, I’m just saying, you could do more than living with that goddman queer,”

Alex froze.

Every muscle in his body tensed, a spring freshly coiled. He lifted his head, blinking over at Michael blankly, but the other man had already started drinking, like he was perfectly unaware of what he had just said.

“What did you just call him?” Alex choked out, and Michael glanced over at him, his eyes bored.

“Oh, come on, that can’t be news to you,” he said, “Didn’t you hear that Louis’s family left town because he used to be a faggot?”

Alex swallowed hard, just staring back at him, and Michael laughed again, the noise grating on his ears.

“Oh, don’t lose your head. Clearly he’s not anymore if he’s living with you, he must have wised up enough to know better,”

Alex didn’t have anything to say, so he just choked out, “Huh” and went in for anything drink.

This would pass over. This would be fine. He would talk about something else.

“Can’t believe you didn’t know,” Michael chuckled again, and this time, Alex turned around to look at him, “You know him better than anyone else in town, he really didn’t tell you?”

He told me, Alex thought, He told me after I kissed him for the first time, when his skin was warm and his mouth tasted like everything I’ve ever wanted.

“Guess not,” Alex said.

“He wised up, then,” Michael nodded firmly, “Fucking good,”

“Maybe he just never was,” Alex said, “Rumor mill around here and all, things can spread around with nothing behind them,”

“Christ, don’t act so defensive,” Michael said, “Didn’t know better think that little queer’s been sucking your cock, too,”

Alex went rigid again. He blinked ahead, trying to find anything in front of him that he could hold onto. But there was nothing, just empty, smudged glasses and half-rotten wood.

He’d had his drink. He was just going to go home.

“I – shit, it’s late, I should go,” he managed.

He stood up quickly, his feet scuffing the floor. He didn’t even look at Michael, just moved forward, trying to get to the door.

Just as he got to the door, he heard the legs of a stool scrape against the floor, a pair of feet hitting the floor.

“Jesus Christ,” he heard Michael breath behind him. Alex squeezed his hand hard on the door handle as he pushed on it.

He knew that tone. He could nearly hear the damn gears turned in Michael’s thick head, clicking into place.

He needed to go. He shouldn’t have come here.

Alex pushed the door open and stepped out into the oppressive July heat, but he heard feet behind him, and before he could move, he was being grabbed by the shoulder.

He turned around and just stared ahead. Michael’s eyes were glassy and liquor-wet, his mouth hanging open a bit.

“You,” Michael said, and he didn’t have to say anything else, he just knew, and Alex knew that he knew.

It was a matter of time. He had always known that, and maybe that’s why it wasn’t registering that someone in this town had finally put two and two together.

It didn’t register until the punch landed hard on his jaw.

Alex stumbled back, cradling his cheek. His ear rang and his vision blurred as he looked up, but he didn’t run away. He blinked, Michael’s form coming back into focus, lumbering closer.

“Can’t fucking believe it,” he spat, “Everyone in the army know you’re a fucking cocksucker?”

Alex wheezed, still holding his jaw. Michael came closer and Alex managed to stumble forward and jam his fist into his gut, making the other man stutter back.

“Bet you let someone fuck you, was the only way you got home, huh,” Michael got out, his voice strained, “Never even in the fucking line of fire, I bet,”

Alex shuffled back, holding his sore jaw in place. His eye would be swollen in the morning. It didn’t matter. As long as he could get home.

But then what would happen after that? Everyone knew everyone here, and Michael sure as hell wouldn’t keep quiet. Their landlord would find out. They would lose their flat. Mr. Lawrence would find out, Louis would be out of a job and they would probably never have food again because who the hell was going to sell to a couple of fairies? And worse, the pharmacy would find out and never bother giving Louis his medicine, and his heart would finally give out.

Alex’s feet froze on the pavement at the very thought. Michael was regrouping, moving in on him again. He was raising his fist, but Alex ducked out of the way, tripping past him. He could run. His legs still worked, he was going to have to run.

“Fucking faggot,” Michael spit out again, “You’re going to fucking dead by morning, you know that? Said it your damn self, rumor mill runs quick around here,”

He wasn’t moving any closer, wasn’t going to raise another fist on Alex.

He could do worse, and he would.

Alex turned, his hand still pressed tight to his aching jaw, and ran.

*******

2 years prior

Louis didn’t go out very often.

Really, there was no one for him to go out with, aside from Alex. His family was long gone, and he didn’t have many close friendships in town, mostly out of his own choice. But there were still a few people from their old school that had stuck around town, and they had always liked Louis, or at least never teased him, and occasionally they would come by and make sure Louis had seen the sun recently. And occasionally they would go to the pub together, and Alex would be too tired to go with them.

Every time, Alex was reminded how he really couldn’t entertain himself when Louis went out.

Well, he could be alone, of course, he had done that for years before Louis. But everything about his evenings now always seemed wrapped up in his boy, from helping him with dinner to bickering over what radio program to turn on, to setting his head in Louis’s lap while the other man read a book. They would bathe in turns, or sometimes together, and then settle down in the same bed afterwards. Everything in his life now was in tune in another person, and he wasn’t going to ask for anything else.

But he still pulled himself together, read his own book, bathed as long as he wanted without Louis knocking on the door, and then got into bed alone.

And after awhile, he was close enough to falling asleep. Then he heard the door click.

Alex’s eyelids twitched but he didn’t open his eyes, just rolled over and let the sheets tangle around his legs a bit more tightly. The front door opened with a low, loud creak, and then shut just as noisily, locked with an ancient-sounding click. There was rustling from the living room, shoes hitting the floor with soft thuds, a belt unclicking, the soft sound of clothes being left on the floor to be taken care of in the morning.

Alex kept his eyes closed the whole time, his fingers scratched at the sheets next to him as he heard soft but slightly uneven, stumbling footsteps coming into their room. And then, all at once, he felt Louis fall into him, rolling around and gripping his hands onto Alex’s shoulders. Alex opened his eyes, squinting up at Louis in the darkness. With one inhale, he smelled staleness and alcohol, and he sighed and shook his head.

“Hey,” he murmured, and Louis surged forward and grinned.

“Hello,”

“You drunk, babydoll?”

“Maybe a little,” he admitted, and then pushed his lips firmly into Alex’s own. His mouth tasted like stale, warm beer, and it should have been unpleasant, but his body was pliant and warm against Alex’s body, and it just made Alex sigh and reach up to wrap his arms around him.

“You shouldn’t do that,” he murmured, “S’no good for your health,”

“Oh, hush,” Louis pressed his fingers to his lips and Alex sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Did you have fun?”

“No,” Louis said, “There’s nothing fun to do here unless I’m with you. And then you tell me to go out and do something alone and I just miss you the whole time,”

“But you still got drunk,”

“Uh huh,” Louis nodded and leaned in to kiss him more firmly. He pressed his hands tightly to Alex’s chest, his palms sweaty and warm, and Alex just let him, lifted his head a little to let his Louis’s stale, beer-coated tongue explore his mouth. He shifted up, pressing a hand to the base of his spine. He felt Louis’s cock against his hip, half-hard, and he he just shook his head.

“Don’t you get any ideas on me,” he murmured, “You’ve been drinking, you’re not getting anything out of me except a blanket and some water,”

“Christ,” Louis huffed, “You know how to ruin a man’s good mood, huh,” 

“In the morning, love, I’ll do anything you want. Doubt you’ll be in the mood, though,”

The last time Louis had been hungover, he had snapped at Alex and then nearly started crying when the sunlight coming through the window got in his eyes, and then had spent the rest of the day poking Alex in the side to ask for tea or unbuttered bread or a bin to vomit into.

He doubted it would be any different this time, and he honestly wouldn’t want to spend his Sunday any other way.

“I still love you,” Louis slurred against Alex’s mouth, and squeezed his cheeks particularly hard, “Won’t fuck me but I still love you,”

“Love you too, baby,” Alex sighed, and squeezed Louis’s waist, pulling a bit, “Come on, come lay down. You want a bath? I’ll draw you one,”

“No, no,” Louis huffed, but still let Alex pull him to lay on his side. His hair, which had gone sticky and wild with humidity and sweat, pressed and splayed out against his pillow, and he reached out, pulling his short fingers over his face, “I’ll take a bath in the morning,”

“You won’t wanna move in the morning,”

“Shut up,” Louis groaned, and then reached out for Alex again, “You remember Peter from school? You asked about you. I told him you were fine. I think he was surprised you hadn’t settled down yet,”

“Uh huh,” Alex laughed, and reached out to push back Louis’s hair so he could kiss his forehead, “Maybe I should fix that. Think I found someone I’d like to be steady with,”

Louis snorted, closing his eyes.

“You’re talking about me, right,”

“Course I am, love,”

“Good, I’m too tired to break it off with you right now if you weren’t,”

Alex just shook his head, reached out to push away Louis’s matted hair even more.

“Always gonna be you, honey, always,”

Louis smiled, then his lips curled even more as he yawned, and then his mouth went slack as his eyelids crinkled, like he was trying to fight sleep.

“Go to sleep,” Alex murmured, “Go to sleep, angel. I’ll be here in the morning,”

Louis lifted his head weakly, like he was trying to nod, and then his body relaxed entirely, slipping quickly into sleep. He’d forgotten how quickly Louis got tired when he got a few pints in him.

He got out of bed and wandered to the kitchen, filled up a glass of water, and then grabbed the kitchen bin. He brought them back to the room, set the glass on Louis’s bedside table and then the bin on the floor, just in case. Then he got back into bed, and pushed on Louis’s limp body until he was back on his side, facing towards his own side of the room. Alex settled his arms around his middle, pressing his nose into Louis’s damp back. He pressed a light kiss to his skin that he knew Louis couldn’t feel, but that was alright.

Any weariness Alex felt before was gone now, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to go to sleep for a fair while, but he had a body that was soft and heavy and pliant next to him, so he knew it would come. Once he had counted all the ways he was so lucky to be here, now, in a bed smelling like beer and sleep, and he would find sleep.

He would, when nothing was going wrong, nothing was going to hurt them anytime soon.

*******

Alex stumbled through the door and immediately slid his hand over the wall, searching for something to turn the light on. When he found it, the light burned harsh and hot against his eyes, and he groaned and tried to cover his face with a hand.

“Louis?” he called, “Louis!”

He heard rustling from the other room, and he stumbled forward, his leg knocking into a chair. His body easily folded over the top of the chair, and he just folded one arm over the back of it, his other hand going back to hold his swelling cheek.

“Alex,” Louis voice came, “What the fuck are you doing?”

His footsteps shuffled forward, and then halted abruptly, his bare feet skidding hard on the hardwood.

“Alex,” he said again, but now his voice was weaker. Then his feet were running, and in moments he was right in front of Alex, his hands on his face. He was prying away Alex’s own fingers, and Alex just let him, even though his stomach turned when he heard Louis breath in sharply at the sight of his face.

“What happened?” Louis asked, “Baby, what happened to you?”

“Louis,” Alex gasped, “Louis, baby, we need to leave. We need to leave right now,”

“What? Why? What did you do?”

“I fucked up. I fucked up, Lord, please forgive me but I fucked up,”

“I – okay, tell me about that in a minute, but I need to get you some ice first. Your face is black and blue,” Louis tried to pull away, but Alex squeezed his wrist hard, keeping him in place. He finally forced his eyes open, stinging from the light and the pain on one side of his face. It took a couple blinks for his gaze to focus in on Louis, and when he did, he just saw his boy staring back at him with wide, confused eyes.

“We need to go,” he repeated, “Now, Louis,”

Louis tugged his wrist, and frowned when Alex gripped him harder.

“Then tell me why,” he said firmly, “Tell me why we have to go,”

“Michael,” Alex choked out. Every word was hard to get out of his throat, especially with Louis’s face twitching and shifting with every word, “I – I went to the pub, I just needed a drink, it was so stupid. And – and he was there, and we started talking, and he asked why I still lived with you. He – he called you a fucking faggot Louis and I froze, I just needed to leave. And I guess that was enough for him to put it together,”

He broke off and ducked his head, breathing in shallowly.

“I’m so fucking stupid,” he said, “I’m so sorry,”

Louis just blinked at him, and then nodded once before pulling away.

“Okay,” he said firmly, and then walked to the kitchen. Alex watched him go, his eyebrows drawing together as he did.

“What are you doing?” he asked, but Louis didn’t answer. Instead, he worked quickly, going to their top drawer filled with flannels, and then to the icebox. He cradled the flannel in one hand, and then piled the ice instead before wrapping it up in a tight little package. He went back to the table and handed it to Alex before turning right back around and going to the bedroom.

“You hold that on your face,” he said, “I’m going to pack us both a bag, and then we’re going to go. The station doesn’t close for another hour, we’ll get the night’s last ticket,”

Alex blinked in disbelief, and slowly pressed the flannel to his face, wincing a bit at the cold bite. He followed after Louis, and just stood in the doorway and watched him. Louis grabbed the battered luggage bags they kept in their spare closet and dragged them to the middle of the room. He threw open their chest of drawers and grabbed all the clothing inside, shoving them in the bags without folding them. He turned to look at Alex and sighed, shaking his head.

“You tell me if there’s anything you can’t live without, okay?” Louis said, “And think of where you want to go,”

“Louis,” Alex managed, “You’re – you’re okay with just leaving?”

“Baby,” Louis huffed. He pulled a shirt out of the top of one pile of clothes, one of Alex’s, and pulled it over his own shoulders, buttoning it quickly, “If we were leaving for any other reason, I’d be bloody thrilled. Now press that flannel in hard,”

Alex closed his mouth firmly and went back to watching. Louis moved deftly, finishing getting dressed and piling the rest of their clothes together. He packed the other bag with a few books, their Vaseline, their toothbrushes, a spare bar of soap still in its paper wrapping, his medicine. He went to his dresser drawer and puled out a battered looking envelope, peeked inside, and then tucked it into his pocket.

“That’ll be enough for a few one way tickets,” he said, “We’ll figure out the rest later,”

He bustled past Alex, into the kitchen, and gathered up a few packages of crackers and bread and things that wouldn’t go bad. And then, just like that, he was closing up the bags and hoisting them off the floor. Out of instinct, Alex dropped the flannel, letting it fall to the floor where the ice would melt, and took one of the bags from Louis. The other man just nodded in his in thanks then moved towards the door.

“Let’s go now,” Louis said, “There’s nothing else we need here,”

It took Alex a moment before his feet worked, but eventually he was stumbling forward, following after Louis.

He was leaving. He was leaving the place where he had been born and gone to school, where he had fallen in love. He had planned to be buried here, not because he wanted to but because it was all he could do.

But he was leaving. They were leaving. They had bought this place together and made it a home and now they were going. And when Alex looked at Louis, he knew they were both willing to keep leaving places and settling down again and repeating the cycle as many times as they needed to.

Louis tucked the key into his pocket as they went to the hall, even though he wasn’t locking up and they weren’t coming back.

“We’ll just decide where we’re going at the station,” Louis said, “We can go to London. Or to the sea. We’ll just go South. Okay?”

“I don’t want to go back to the sea,” Alex managed, and Louis’s eyes widened for a moment before he just nodded.

“We could go to Manchester,” Alex offered, but Louis shook his head.

“Farther than that, darling, but farther than that,” he said. He surged forward, and grabbed Alex by his factory shirt. He realized distinctly he wouldn’t be wearing that anymore, either, “We’ll find somewhere we can live again, okay? You and me. You and me, we’ll find somewhere,”

Alex licked his lips, and then nodded and leaned down out of instinct.

The kiss was brief, and in a moment Louis was pushing on his chest, telling him they needed to go, they needed to go, go, go.

It was enough, though. It was enough for Alex to know that Louis meant it. They were going to go anywhere together.

They were going into a different war now, but at least they were going to fight it together.

*******

65 years later

London was so beautiful in the spring.

At least the parks were. The rest of the city stayed busy and loud – probably louder if Alex could hear as well as he used to – but the parks were quiet, the loudest noises coming from the sharp shrieks of children on the lawns. There were new play sets up everywhere, shiny primary colored plastic, and little girls in overalls and boys in pastel shirts chased each other and pulled on the chains of the swings.

It was finally warm, the air gentle and the sun soft. Alex closed his eyes against it all, let the warmth take over him. It was only two, but it had been a long day. He liked visiting the veteran’s office now -- it had taken him long enough to appreciate it – but it sapped the strength out of him like nothing else.

Eventually, he heard something soft, clear even over the yelling children in the distance, and carefully, he pried his eyes open and looked up. There was a form standing over him, lithe and nearly swallowed in a long blue jumper, white hair lit up by the sun.

“Hello, my petal,” Louis smiled, and set a weathered hand on the back of the bench. Over sixty years of instinct made Alex lift a hand, settle it on the crook of Louis’s waist as he settled down onto the bench next to him. The sun flashed on his thin wire glasses, the glare easing to show the sharp blue underneath. He smiled, every wrinkle in his face deepening as he did, and he settled a hand on Alex’s knee.

“Hi, doll,” Alex said, and Louis just kept smiling, kept patting his knee.

“It took me a little while to find you,” he hummed, “You found a new bench,”

“I’m sorry,”

“That’s alright. Poor Macie had to take me around a little longer, that’s all,” he said, “She’s waiting in the car now, I told her to trust me,”

Alex nodded. Poor Macie. Somehow the two of them had enough mental strength between them to live on their own, if only with the help of a uni graduate who was willing to drive them around for pay.

“How was the Veteran’s office today, hm?” Louis hummed, “Did everyone ask about me again?”

“Yes,” Alex said, and this time he felt his own mouth smile.

“Good,” Louis nodded, “That means I’m still more interesting than you,”

Louis’s eyes shifted down, and he titled his head, one hand reaching out and tapping against Alex’s chest.

“What’s this, then?”

“Oh,” Alex glanced down, looking at the bright stripe of colors on his plain colored shirt, “One of the volunteers gave it to me. One of the uni girls,”

“And? What is it?”

“She said – “ Alex coughed weakly, and Louis just squeezed his knee until it had passed, “She said it was a pride pin. I – you remember last week, when I told you that I spent a whole afternoon talking to her about you?”

“Yes,” Louis sighed, “You probably bored that girl to death, I hope you know that,”

“Well, anyhow,” Alex shook his head, “She…she made me this. Said that if anyone should be proud and wearing one, it should be me,”

Louis hummed and nodded, a loose lock of white hair falling into his eyes.

“Well that’s very sweet of her,” he said.

“I – “ Alex started and pushed a hand into his pocket, “I forgot, she made you one, too,”

“Always forgetting things,” Louis murmured, shaking his head as Alex dug into his pocket, His hand met ribbon, and he pulled it out, showing it to Louis who looked down with a careful smile.

“Well,” he said after a moment, “You can put it on me, go on,”

Alex moved quickly, and reached up, fastening the little metal safety pin to Louis’s shirt. The man just smiled, looking down at Alex’s fingers. Even when the pin was on, he kept looking down, until Alex reached over and put a finger under his chin. Louis lifted his head and smiled, his eyes watering over a little bit.

“Don’t be sad,” Alex said, and Louis shook his head.

“Darling,” he sighed, “What reason do I have to be sad anymore?”  

He settled his left hand over Alex’s own, and, as he always did whenever Louis did it, Alex glanced down at their hands, the plain gold band Louis had on, the silver one Alex wore it turn. Not marriage bands, at least not to the government. A civil union. Something they could have as they waited for a real marriage license.

It was bullshit, really. But as far as Alex was concerned, they were wedding rings.

He thanked God everything day for letting Louis’s heart beat the full ninety years it took to marry him properly.

Louis leaned over, and his weathered, dry lips kissed Alex’s mouth. He kissed back, his energy a bit weak than it once was when he did this. But still, it was a kiss. A kiss in public with rings on their hands and rainbows on their chests.

Tonight they would go back to their twelfth home in their lives, the longest one they’d stayed in yet. Louis would make tea and Alex would pretend to help. One of the neighbor’s children would come by and ask to pet one of the cats Louis had insisted they keep.  

The war had been over for nearly sixty years. And when Louis pulled away from the kiss, Alex went in for a second one.

Just because.