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Now

Louis’s house was quiet tonight.  

Almost all of his neighbors were older, which left the street still and without noise after around 8 in the evening. Tonight his lights were the only ones on, one in the window of his office and then the porch lights, which he always kept on. Even in front, when really only the back door needed a light on. People wouldn’t ask questions if the front light was on, too.

He sat at his desk, with his dog Daisy asleep at his feet, her chubby body wrapped in her favorite Winnie the Pooh printed blanket, and tapped on his keyboard, trying to make his plot move anywhere. He was in the middle of an interrogation scene, and juggling the various thoughts of his protagonist, Aiden, was becoming a bit too much. He kept a sticky note up on his laptop screen, reminding him of everything Aiden had to address in this scene: the crumbling infrastructure of the police force he headed. His failing marriage at the hands of his own struggle with his sexuality. The fact that the current suspect he was integrating had almost no evidence against him except Aiden’s own gut feeling, which Louis knew would turn out to be true by the novel’s climax.

Louis sighed and deleted the last few pieces of dialogue he had written. The voice was all wrong, and he needed to make sure this draft was near-flawless and when he turned it into his editor on Monday.

He was about to try to type something else when he heard the door downstairs open, and Louis sighed, listening to the footsteps below the floor boards, slow and careful. He tried to write another few sentences but he was too distracted by the constant footsteps that were underneath him. He could track their movements from the mudroom into the kitchen and the bathroom. He closed his eyes, listened to the water run, the toilet flush, and then the footsteps again. They came upstairs carefully, far less heavy than they were downstairs, until they trailed all the way down the hall to his office.

Louis heard the door open and breathed out. A moment after the footsteps passed the threshold, a pair of arms wrapped around him from behind, and Louis winced slightly as Harry’s hands touched his chest, his fingers curled over Louis’s beating heart.

“Hi,” Harry said softly, pressing his nose into Louis’s neck.

“Did you wash your hands before you came in?” Louis murmured.

“Of course, baby,” Harry said, and Louis sighed, his hands falling away from the keyboard. He finally opened his eyes, blinking ahead of him. He could see the shape of Harry’s body reflected on his laptop screen, tall and with broad, curled shoulders.

“I missed you,” Harry said quietly, “I’m sorry I was late.”

Louis hummed carefully, and then shook his head. He knew what Harry being late meant, especially when it was coupled with him coming through the back door. Good nights didn’t end with Harry coming in through the back door.

“Where were you?” Louis asked softly.

Harry didn’t reply quickly, just stroked Louis’s shoulders.

“Do you want me to tell you?”

“Not really,” Louis said, and then, “I heard sirens earlier.”

Harry sighed, and rubbed Louis’s skin again.

“Sh,” Harry murmured.

“I’m not saying anything. It was just something I heard.”

Louis pulled the sleeves of his cardigan over his hands, then leaned back into Harry’s touch. The other man kissed his forehead, and Louis smiled and blinked up at his boyfriend. Harry had taken his glasses off and put his hair up, a few loose strands starting to escape the thick black headband he had pulled over his hairline. His lips were dry and chapped, and his cheeks and ears were bitten from the late autumn cold.

“You never wear your earmuffs,” Louis said. He reached a hand up, pulling on Harry’s earlobe, “I bought you those for a reason.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” Harry said, and stuck out his bottom lip.

“Stupid,” Louis sighed fondly, and then shifted so he was sitting straight again.

Under the desk, Daisy stirred at his feet and stood up, then plodded out from under the desk. She lowered her head and wagged her tail when she saw Harry. He chuckled, moving away from Louis so he could crouch down.

“Hi, Daisy girl,” Harry said softly, and stood as he picked up the dachshund, holding her to his chest. She whimpered happily as he stroked her ears, and Harry smiled and kissed her head before looking to Louis.

“Do you want to go to bed, baby?”

“I’m going to finish this scene, and then, yes.”

“Okay,” Harry smiled, “I’m going to take a shower and get something to eat, take your time.”

“I made some lasagna earlier,” Louis said, “There’s still a lot in the fridge, I wasn’t very hungry.”

“You’re the best,” Harry smiled and kissed Louis’s shoulder, “I’ll see you in a bit, okay? Whenever you’re finished.”

Louis smiled and accepted a kiss on the lips before Harry padded out of the room, still holding and murmuring to Daisy as he went. Once Harry was gone, Louis turned back to look at his screen, trying to return to Aiden and all his various problems.

As Louis typed, he heard sirens down the street, but they were far away, and he shook his head and told himself to calm down.

Harry was smart. He was fine. Louis had sat here so many nights over the last few years and heard Harry’s heavy footsteps come in late, and then heard sirens somewhere, and it was fine. There had been cops at their door, friendly and mostly concerned with telling the neighborhood it was all going to be alright more than asking any questions. Whenever they came Harry was friendly and funny and held Daisy on his lap and fiddled with his glasses and offered to pour them cups of tea.

The sirens weren’t for them. They were far away, and in the morning it would be on the news. But by the time Louis watched it he would have spent the early hours of the day in bed with Harry before he had to go to work, with the younger man stroking his face and pressing a gentle, smiling mouth to Louis’s lips. And Harry’s mouth and his warmth was enough to let the sirens and the news reports fade, even if it was just for a little while.

*******

Two years ago

Louis didn’t go out very much.

He never had. When he was a child, he’d hidden behind his mother’s legs and screamed and cried when she had to leave him at nursery. Then, once he was there, he’d sat in the corner and played with his blocks or drew his pictures alone. In uni he had stayed in his single room and written short stories between papers for his English classes, and had made about three friends and a few random boyfriends in four years. It was more than enough. Now he had his own house and his own life and a job that let him work from home, and he didn’t have to go talk to anyone, even if his therapist urged him to go take a cooking class or a yoga class or an improv class or anything. It was always a class. Louis always said no, thanks. Not for him. Maybe later.

He got out plenty. He just always went to the same place, and didn’t talk to anyone.

The library was the only place he really liked to go. The barista at the coffee stall on the first floor knew his order by heart already, so he just had to nod at her and within another moment he had a large vanilla latte poured into his thermos and a sugar cookie on a paper plate. He had the same worn armchair where always he sat on the third floor, amidst the science section of the Dewey Decimal system. No one ever came to this section, thank God, so he was free to roam through the shelves for whatever research he needed to do without anyone bumping into him or bothering him.

Louis brought his coffee with him as he browsed the shelf, sipping it in small bits so it wouldn’t burn his tongue. He walked past rows of medical journals, picking a few up and flipping through them before eventually putting them back. He wasn’t sure if he could find what he was looking for, and sure, he could google everything, but even after several published crime novels he still hated typing searches about death and murder and poison into his search bar.

He put another journal back after skimming the table of contents and sighed, just staring at the shelf ahead of him and letting his eyes scan over the titles in front of him.

“Do you need help with anything?”

Louis jumped, nearly spilling the contents of his thermos all over himself when he heard the voice right next to him. He glanced to his left, backing up a step as he did, and blinked, his eyes wide.

There was a man in front of him, and he could only assume he was an employee due to the name tag on his shirt and the question he had just asked Louis. But Louis knew every librarian who was normally assigned to this floor, and he had never seen anyone under thirty working here, let alone someone tall, with a thick head of brown curls and big eyes under round glasses and a friendly, sweet smile.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Uh,” Louis got out. He held his thermos closer to his chest, trying to readjust it in his arms.

“I just saw you wandering around for awhile, and, well, there’s not a lot to do on this floor. I thought you might need some help.”

Louis never asked for help when he came here. He wouldn’t ask now, even if he did need help. And even if the librarian in front of him was nice. So infuriatinglynice.  

“Uh,” Louis said, “Just – uh – I’m researching. Something.”

“Something?” the man asked. He smiled and leaned an elbow against the nearest shelf, lifting his eyebrows. It had Louis feel like he was burning inside.

The librarian was nice, and also kind of pretty.

Louis normally wasn’t the type to describe a man as pretty, but it was what came to mind.

Fuck, what was happening.

“Yes, something,” Louis snapped, and turned away, “You’re bothering me. I don’t need help.”

He heard the man sigh, and then he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Against his better judgment, he glanced over, and he saw the man was now squatting on the ground next to him, reordering some books on the bottom shelf.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” the man said, “I was just trying to be funny. I guess it didn’t work.”

“No,” Louis agreed, but his voice was weak, “It didn’t.”

The man gave him a lopsided smile and a weak laugh, and it made Louis feel hot again.

“Well then,” the man said, and he slowly started to straighten up, back to his full, lanky height, “Just let me know if you do need help, alright?”

“Okay,” Louis said feebly.

The librarian nodded and started to walk away, and Louis watched him go. His fingers twitched nervously, and he suddenly, he heard his own voice call out to him.

“You probably – you probably wouldn’t know how to help me find it.”

The man paused and then turned slowly.

“Oh?” the man said, lifting his brows, “Try me.”

The man’s words made Louis take a step back. His words, his sure smile, the little laugh that traced his voice.

Louis’s eyes flicked down the man’s name tag, five letters printed in neat font.

HARRY.

“Okay, um,” Louis said, “I’m writing a book.”

“A book,” Harry repeated.

“Yeah, a book, it’s a mystery,” Louis said. He swayed a little on his feet as he spoke, and tapped his fingers against his thermos, “And I’m trying to write about a murder, and um, the murderer likes to use poison, but I’m trying to find a really specific kind of poison? Like, one that would maybe look like a natural death. One that would cause a heart attack, something like that.”

“So you’re looking for types of poison,” Harry said, “That would cause cardiac arrest, sort of like the drugs they administer to animals when they put them down?”

“Yes, but effective on humans,” Louis got out. He set his eyes on the floor and tightened his hands around the thermos as he kept going. This is why he didn’t ask for help. He sounded fucking crazy when he had to explain what he was looking for, “And I need, um, I need like, a type of way to get it into the bloodstream that would be more subtle than a needle.”

“Something subtle,” Harry repeated, “Like, you shake their hand, they feel a little prick, they’re dead before they know it.”

Louis tapped at his thermos again.

“Yes.”

Harry was quiet for a moment, and then laughed.

“Not sure if I can give you that exactly. But I know something similar. And you can stretch it, right? It’s fiction.”

Louis lifted his head, and he narrowed his eyes.

“You know something similar?”

“Yeah. It’s called strychnine. It’s mostly used in street drugs, but it freezes the nervous system,” Harry said. He was smiling as he said it, like this was a perfectly natural thing to discuss at eleven in the morning, “Death isn’t instant but it’s pretty fast, most people just thrash so hard they break their spines. It does show up in forensics tests, though. Maybe make up a drug that’s similar to it, one that can be cut and hidden a bit more. It wouldn’t go in with a needle, but you can hide it in just about any drug. Aspirin, probably, if you’re willing to be smart and press and shape it.”

Louis’s mouth open, and he nodded dumbly, his fingers freezing in their nervous movements.

“Oh.”

“There aren’t many books on that. I just remember it from somewhere. But if you want, I can get you some medical journals specifically on the impacts of poison on the nervous system. Maybe you can find something else.”

“That’d – that’d be good, yeah,” Louis said, “I was looking for something like that earlier but I couldn’t find it.”

“Oh, the journals are the hardest to find. Just give me a second and I’ll get some for you,” Harry smiled, and then he was off down the stacks.

Louis shifted his feet in place and scanned the shelves, his eyes glossing over the titles so fast he couldn’t remember what they were a few seconds after he had read them. He considered just going back to his chair and praying that this weird librarian that made Louis feel too fidgety and too hot would just forget about him, and maybe this would be the last time Louis went back to the library at all. But Harry was back in about ten minutes with a stack of thick medical journals and a steady smile.

“Here you go,” he grinned, “Can I help you with anything else?”

“Are you a writer too?” Louis asked, and Harry lifted his brows again as he handed the books over.

“No, why?”

“Oh. Well, um, you just – like, I know a lot of weird stuff about drugs and crime and murder and stuff because I write about it. I thought…maybe you write too and that’s why you knew all that.”

“Ah, no, nothing like that,” Harry shrugged. Louis opened his mouth, about to ask something else, but Harry just tilted his head and smiled.

“I have to get back to work, but you let me know if you need anything else – “

“Louis,” Louis said, making Harry lift his brows.

“What?”

“Oh. That’s my name. Louis. I thought – that maybe you wanted my name.”

Harry nodded, and his brows smoothed over, a smile returning to his face.

“Well, that’s very good to know. You let me know if you need anything, Louis.”

Louis just nodded, and Harry slipped away then, back into the stacks, leaving Louis with a stack of books that made his arms ache and a pair of burning cheeks.

*******

Now

Harry had never liked knives.

Most nights, when Harry came home on time and didn’t have late shifts or late class or other things that drew him away, they made dinner together. It was the only way Harry could draw Louis away from his computer: an hour or so of cooking and watching TV on the little flat screen Louis kept nestled amongst his lopsided shelf of cookbooks. But whenever they cooked, Louis always had to cut everything. Harry was great at stirring, mixing, kneading dough, stacking layers in a casserole dish. He just refused to touch their knives.

They were making fish tacos tonight. Harry was mixing together a spicy sauce and had the fish strips lined up in neat rows beside the bowls of egg wash and breading, ready to be coated and tossed into the skillet. Louis was set up at his cutting board, tending to the cabbage and carrots. He stopped a few times to drop bits of carrot onto the ground for Daisy, who happily gobbled them as Louis laughed and prodded her side with his toe.

“You need to stop feeding her,” Harry said as he tossed a piece of fish into the skillet, making it hiss, “She has too many snacks.”

“It’s a carrot. It’s good for her.”

“It’s still food.”

“She’s my dog. Hush,” Louis sighed, dropping another piece on the floor and smiling as Daisy lunged for it once more.

Harry sighed and flipped over the fish, shaking his head fondly.

“I’ll forgive you because it’s really cute to watch her do that.”

“Exactly,” Louis said. He brushed against his pile of carrot piece with the flat end of his knife, and then picked up the red pepper by the side of the cutting board, handling it carefully before he settled it on the cutting board and began cutting out the center and scooping out the seeds.

Harry kept going through the pieces of fish, and once they were all finished he went over to the sink to wash his hands. Louis was getting to slicing up the pieces lengthwise when Harry pressed his front to Louis’s back, then stamped a kiss on his shoulder.

“I love your hands,” Harry murmured as he hooked his chin over Louis’s shoulder, “So good at that.”

“I’m just cutting a pepper, love.”

“Still. You do that so well.”

Louis snorted weakly and kept cutting, with Harry holding him from behind, his hands gentle and sure on Louis’s hips.

Across the counter, the advert on the TV played out, and the early evening news rolled on instead, the one with the low budget and the washed out colors and the dull announcers.

Louis’s shoulders flexed a bit when he heard the first story of the night. A university student had gone missing as of a few nights ago.

He swallowed and Harry squeezed his hips, rubbing his nose into his shoulder. Louis didn’t even know if Harry was listening to this. He didn’t know if he had a reason to.

He kept cutting as he heard bits of the report.

The student’s name was Lindsey Meyer. She was nineteen years old and was last seen at her ballet class on Thursday. Her dance bag had been found in the alley across from the studio, one of her pointe shoes snapped in half. Her car was still parked by the curb, the meter still running. Her shoe had been found five feet away. She had run, apparently. Her body was still not found.

Louis swallowed and pushed the peppers to the side of the board.

“Master Dance is a block away from the library, right?” he said.

“What?”

“Master Dance. Where that girl was seen,” Louis said, “It’s close to the library, right? I think I’ve been to the café close across the street from there a few times when I was waiting for your shift to finish up.”

Harry didn’t say anything, and Louis sighed, a knot twisting itself in his stomach. He knew it would go away eventually. But for now, it was there, tightened by the silence.

“I’m going to change the channel,” Harry said eventually, “What do you want to watch?”

“Anything,” Louis said softly, “Anything at all.”

Harry kissed his shoulder and squeezed his hips again. He went to grab the remote and pressed a few buttons until the screen filled with a scene from an African grassland, a meerkat’s head poking out of one of the holes in the dusty ground.

“Animal Planet it is,” Harry smiled. He set down the remote and then went to the fridge, rustling around some packages, “Do you want hard or soft shells? I think we have both.”

“Soft, please,” Louis said, “And do you mind grabbing me a seltzer from the fridge in my office?”

“Sure, love.”

He closed the fridge, holding the bag of soft taco shells in his hand. He set them down and squeezed past Louis, touching his hip again, before he went out of the room. His footsteps faded again as he went upstairs.

Louis set his knife down and folded his arms, backing up to lean against the countertop behind him. He closed his eyes, taking a breath as he did.

What did he expect? Was anything even supposed to surprise him after two years of this? What was wrong with him?

He opened his eyes and saw Daisy wriggling at his feet, wagging her tail and gazing up at him. He chuckled and picked up a piece of carrot from the cutting board, tossing it down to her and watching her scrabble to grab for it.

He turned back to look at the TV, trying to focus on the screen. Meerkats were still popping their heads in and out of their burrows, dark eyes flashing, ears twitching, constantly watching the horizon, wondering what would come next.

Above his head, Louis heard Harry’s footsteps start to descend the stairs.

*******

Two years ago

When Louis showed up to the library, his scone was already waiting for him by his chair.

He had stopped at the café as usual, smiling as he pulled out his card and his thermos, only to have the barista tell him that she’d get his tea, but Harry had come by that morning and paid for Louis’s order and already gotten his scone for him.

Louis had paused to tuck his card away and just nodded, then let her take his thermos and get his usual drink.

He had been coming to the library almost every day for a couple months now. His research was nearly done, and he had stacks of books at his office at home. It would honestly be easier if he just stayed in and wrote, but he had slowly gotten used to getting to see Harry every other day.

For the last two months, Louis would come in and Harry would immediately find him amongst the stacks or at the small desk in front of Louis’s favorite armchair.

“I found some books you might find useful,” he would say, “And some articles online. I have them in a stack at the front desk if you want them.”

Louis hadn’t known what to do the first few weeks. He would just nod or stutter out thank you and Harry would get his books and then leave him alone. And, then, slowly Louis had asked if he could put some books back or get him something new, or he had asked Harry’s personal opinion on a scene he was thinking of, even if it was strange and obscure. But Harry always seemed to know the answers.

“Bleach will burn your skin even if you dilute it with a lot of water. If you want your killer to clean his hands, just use soap and be really careful to clean on the creases and wrinkles out.”  

“If you keep your hands steady during an interview, a cop can’t tell if you’re lying. That’s what they look for. That and if you’re licking your lips.”

“Tossing the body in a body of water won’t work that well. Sticking in a barrel of sulfuric acid, maybe. But even then, it’ll make a while. Really, if you take care not to leave any DNA or prints it doesn’t matter where you leave the body.”

Louis wrote down Harry’s opinions next to his notes from the books, and then still asked him questions he didn’t have. He wanted to see how much Harry knew, about how to clean fingerprints away and how to stop a pulse.

“I used to study nursing,” he’d say when Louis asked how he knew all this, “And I just like crime shows. Do you want me to run down to the café and get you another tea?”

Almost no one came to this floor, so normally Louis had all Harry to himself. But today, he just had the scone on the table and a small note written on pink paper.

Louis, stay until noon, please, then I’ll be there! With a little smiley face at the end and a scribble he could only assume was Harry’s name written quickly.

So, Louis sat down and got out his laptop and the latest books he had checked out, and returned to his outline. He focused on his protagonist, Emilia, and how she had just discovered that her estranged daughter was working at the same brothel where a recent murder had occurred. Louis hadn’t written a female detective or a period piece in a while, and it had been a hard sell for his editors, but they’d loved the first scenes he had sent. They thought the characters were rich and the plot was more detailed than his others.

Thank you, he had written in the emails, I had a lot of help with my research.

Louis had finished off half his tea, his scone, and a few thousand words by the time noon rolled around, and then he heard footsteps coming from the stacks. He lifted his head as he saw Harry round the corner, and he smiled as the other man came around and leaned over Louis’s desk.

“Hi,” Harry said, “Did you get my note?”

“And the scone,” Louis said, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said, “You have an easy order to remember.”

Harry settled his bag down on the floor, and then pulled up another chair from nearby and brought it to sit across from Louis.

“Don’t you have to work?” Louis asked, and Harry shrugged.

“I read for the children’s hour this morning,” Harry said, “So I get the next few hours off.”

“Oh,” Louis said, “I don’t want to keep you from your time off, then.”

“No, no, that’s okay. I wouldn’t have anything else to do anyways,” he said, “I kind of just want to see you, if that’s alright.”

Louis blushed and glanced away, picking at his scone.

Another problem was he still found Harry very attractive.

Louis had dated a little in university, mostly guys he had met in class or online, and they had never lasted long once they figured out that staying in, watching a movie and occasionally fucking was really the only date Louis was interested in. He hadn’t tried going out with anyone since he went out on an OkCupid date and had spilled a blueberry smoothie all over his date’s white polo shirt twenty minutes in.

But Harry…he really liked Harry. Louis usually went for jocks, guys that played sports and were funny and other people would pay attention to so Louis didn’t have to be the focus all the time. But Harry was skinny and lanky and had long hair and big, round glasses and a wonky smile and slightly crooked teeth and acne on his forehead, and it all made Louis’s heart feel like it was compressing. Because he also was so funny and kind and smart, and had beautiful eyes and long, pretty fingers and smooth, round biceps under the short sleeves of his collared work shirts. 

And Louis really liked him.

“I’m – I’m just going to write,” Louis blurted out, “I’m not going to be very interesting.”

“That’s okay,” Harry said, “I was just going to eat my lunch. You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I’d just like to sit with you.”

Louis nodded and sighed, looking down at his keyboard.

“Alright,” he said.

Harry smiled and then picked up his bag, rooting around until he got out a black lunch pack. Louis tried to focus on his screen, but instead his eyes kept straying to the things Harry was taking out of his bag. A Ziploc bag full of carrot sticks. A green smoothie. A granola bar. A peanut butter sandwich.

“You hungry?” Harry asked, making Louis blink.

“What?”

“You’re looking at my food, are you hungry?”

“Oh,” Louis said, “Sorry, I didn’t – “

“Here,” Harry said, and offered one of the halves of his sandwich to Louis with a smile, “I never finish it anyways.”

“I – sure. Thank you,” Louis said, taking the sandwich.

He held it in his hands for a minute, his fingers dancing on the bread, as he watched Harry eat his part of the sandwich. The other man was looking down at this phone now, trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle on his screen, his brows creased in concentration. Louis’s heart lurched again, and he sighed and set his sandwich down, coughing loud enough to make Harry look up.

“Um, I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m actually allergic to peanut butter.”

“Oh,” Harry said, frowning, “Then why did you take it?”

“I don’t know,” Louis said, sticking out the sandwich to hand it back. His cheeks were blazing, “I’m sorry.”

Harry just shook his head and laughed a little as he took it back.

“Louis,” he said, “It’s okay. At least you didn’t eat the damned thing.”

Louis just nodded, and then looked at the covers of his books, trying to look away from Harry’s gaze.

“I like that color on you,” Harry said.

Louis’s head lifted and he looked over, and he saw Harry looking at him again, that same careful smile in place.

“Thanks,” Louis murmured, and tugged at the sleeves of his faded white jumper, “It’s just white.”

“It looks nice on you, though.”

Louis blushed again and looked away.

“I’m sorry, did that make you uncomfortable?”

“No,” Louis said, a little too quickly, “Not – no.”

“Okay, good,” Harry said. He bit off the last time bites of his sandwich, and just looked at Louis as he chewed. Louis fiddled with his sleeves, trying to find other things to look at other than Harry’s eyes, beautiful and bright and strong.

“You said you read for children’s hour?” Louis said, and Harry swallowed and smiled.

“Yeah, I love reading for the kids,” Harry said, “They’re cute. And they ask lots of questions.”

“What did you read?”

“Magic Treehouse,” Harry said, “I do an American accent for the characters, the kids love it.”

Louis laughed weakly, and shook his head. Of course this man read for children and did silly voices. Of course he did.

Oh, god.

“That’s really sweet,” he said softly.

Harry nodded and then opened one of his bag and pulled out a carrot stick, and Jesus Christ, why was Louis so endeared by a grown man eating a fucking carrot stick out of his packed lunch? Why was his stomach a mess? What on Earth was happening? 

Louis settled his fingers on his keyboard, and tried to write a sentence about Emilia, tried to find her voice deep inside himself. But he couldn’t write about Emilia or her daughter or the crimes at hand.

Romance had never been in Louis’s books. He was adamant that it never would be. But all he wanted to write about was the man sitting across from him.

“Louis?”

Louis started a bit at Harry’s voice, and pressed a hand to his chest as he looked up at him.

“Yes?”

“I, um, I wanted to ask you something,” Harry said. He had his hands on the table, and he was fiddling with his fingertips, his crooked top teeth tugging on his bottom lip.

“Would you maybe like to go out with me sometime?”

Louis’s mouth struggled to find the shape he wanted as he tried to reply.

“Out?”

“Yeah. Like…to get some lunch or a cup of coffee or something.”

Louis swallowed, and tightly folded his hands in his lap.

“Like a date?”

“Yeah, a date.”

“You’re asking me on a date,” Louis repeated, “Oh.”

Harry’s eyes went wide for a moment, and he cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Did I misread things?”

“No, no,” Louis said quickly, “I – Like you. I think you’re nice.”

Louis swallowed and looked at his own hands, turning them over.

“You can take me on a date,” he said, without looking up.

Harry laughed weakly, the noise all air, and it made Louis look up.

“That’s – okay, that’s great. That’s really great,” Harry said, “When are you free?”

“I work from home. So really, anytime.”

“My day off is Thursday. Maybe then?”

“Yeah. We can get lunch, like you said.”

“Great, great,” Harry said, and shook his head, “I’m sorry, I’m just – I’m really happy you said yes, Louis.”

“Of course,” Louis said, “I’m, um, really glad you asked.”

He pressed his cheeks, trying to keep them from burning too much, while Harry just smiled at him, this time wide enough for Louis to see all his teeth, his dimples.

“Is it alright if I sit with you until I have to work again?” Harry eventually asked.

“Of course.”

Harry nodded and got a book out of his bag. He started to read, occasionally glancing up from his book to wave to Louis or stick his tongue out or waggle his eyebrows at him, and of course it made Louis laugh, because it was dumb and they were alone on this floor and Harry had asked him on a date. His chest felt warm and his fingers felt too jittery to type.

It was wonderful. Everything was so, so wonderful.

*******

Now

Harry was a gentle lover.

He kept the lights off, and his hands were light and careful, and he kissed more often than he did anything else. He had never even given Louis a hickey.

Once, they had been in bed with only one candle on the bedside table lighting up the room, and Harry had been on top of Louis, kissing his forehead and shoulders while his hips rolled like ocean waves, prodding into Louis carefully.

“You know,” Louis had gotten out, “You can be more rough with me, it’s okay.”

It had made Harry stop, and Louis could see his eyes were wide even in the darkness.

“I don’t like doing that,” Harry had said quickly, and then kissed Louis again, “I can go faster, if you want. But I won’t bite you or slap you or hold you down, if that’s what you’re after.”

“Oh. Okay,” Louis had said. That was alright, really. He had had one short-term boyfriend in uni who liked to spank him sometimes or hold Louis’s wrists down, but it had never been something he’d chased after they broke up. He would be fine without it.

That had been before Louis knew, before he had pulled back the curtains to the ugliest parts that were twisted inside his lover.

Still, he hadn’t pushed the issue then, and he wouldn’t now, either.

Tonight, Harry had gotten home on time and they had watched a movie and eaten grilled cheese and gone to bed early. Of course they second they had gone upstairs they had turned off the lights, and Louis had let Harry carefully take off his jumper and jeans and kiss up his bare thighs until they were properly fucking.

Harry was moving and jerking and panting over him now, licking at Louis’s collarbones. Louis moaned and pulled at Harry’s hair, the locks coming undone from the elastic.

“My love,” Harry murmured over him as he fucked into Louis, “My angel.”

Louis groaned and scratched at anything he could --Harry’s back, his hair, his shoulders. Harry’s muscles were firm and his skin was soft, the most beautiful thing for Louis to touch and hold. And when Harry’s big, careful hand wrapped around Louis’s cock, he moaned and tossed his head back, grinding against where Harry’s length was buried inside him.

“Harry, harder,” he groaned, “Harder, please.”

“Yes, baby,” Harry managed, his voice heavy with breath. He kissed Louis again and then ducked his head down, moving to jerk Louis off as he fucked into him at the same moment.

“Feel good?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” Louis sighed, and closed his eyes, letting his body bounce against Harry’s movements, “Good, baby, so good.”

He cried out as Harry fucked hard into him and kissed him, and with Harry’s hand wrapped around his length, he came, covering him and spraying onto Harry’s stomach. Harry groaned and fucked into him more and then shivered and came into the condom, before sliding out of Louis carefully and giving him another kiss.

“I’m getting you a flannel,” he said, “Do you want water?”

“I have some on the bedside table,” Louis said, “But thank you.”

Harry nodded, and then plodded off into the bathroom. Louis listened to his steps, the rush of water, and closed his eyes, sighing softly.

It had been a long day. His stomach was bothering him. And he couldn’t make his brain relax, even when he had cum drying on him and his naked boyfriend in his en suite.

Harry returned in a moment and dragged a warm rag over Louis’s skin, making him sigh and squirm as Harry cleaned him. When he was finished, Harry got Louis his glass of water and then got into bed. He wrapped an arm around Louis and kissed his forehead, holding him so carefully in his arms.

Louis finished his water and then settled into Harry’s side, letting Harry pet his hair and kiss him again. He blinked, looking up into Harry’s eyes and smiling softly. Harry smiled back, but his eyebrows knitted, and his mouth went a bit tight.

“Something’s bothering you.”

“I’m fine,” Louis said, even as his stomach twisted again as Harry said it.

“No, you’re not, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just – “ Louis sighed, “I just heard a news report today, that’s all.”

Harry blinked at him, his expression clouding over, and then he sighed and rolled onto his back.

“You look at the news too much.”

“I didn’t go looking for it. One of the neighbors sent me an email with the article. They thought everyone should know.”

“I know. I got the email, too,” Harry sighed, “I thought you delete those.”

“Usually, yeah.”

Harry was quiet for a moment, and then shook his head.

“You read the coroner’s report?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course you did. Smart boy.”

“Did they get it right?”

“Just about.”

Louis sighed and sat up, bringing his knees to his chest and shaking his head.

“She was so young, Harry.”

Harry was quiet, and then huffed.

“You’re upset with me.”

“I’m not upset. I’m just thinking.”

“You shouldn’t think about her.”

“You killed her, Harry. I’m going to think of her.”

He could hear Harry swallow loudly, and then he spoke again, his voice was colder.

“She was driving too slow. I had to pick something up and she was making me late.”

“So you bashed her head against a wall and choked her and threw her into a dumpster.”

“I was angry.”

Louis squeezed his eyes closed, and held his hands up to his eyes.

He didn’t know what it meant about him that he stayed with Harry, shared a bed with him, loved him so much, when he knew what his lover could do. When he knew what happened when the anger twisted Harry up inside and made him rotten. Maybe the rotted parts were far enough away from Louis’s front door he didn’t mind anymore. It was all okay if Harry could come in through the back door and wash away the darkness in the mud room sink.

“What was so important that you had to pick up that you killed a girl?” Louis eventually asked, and Harry’s body stirred beside him.

“What?”

“You said you were late to pick something up,” Louis said, “What was it?”

Harry was quiet, and then, wordlessly, he stood and slipped over to his dresser. Louis turned his head, frowning as he watched Harry’s naked form stand over the dresser and pull open his top drawer.

“Harry,” he said, “What are you doing?”

Harry didn’t reply, instead just closed the drawer and then walked over to Louis’s side of the bed. He was gripping something in his hand. Louis’s gut shifted.

“Harry.”

Harry flipped on the lamp on his bedside table, and Louis blinked against the light, hissing, before he finally focused on what was happening.

Harry was kneeling beside the bed, looking at Louis, and he was holding a tiny black velvet box.

Louis looked at the box in his hand, and then Harry’s face.

“What the fuck.”

“Louis,” Harry said softly, flipping open the box’s lid, “Will you marry me?”

Louis blinked at Harry, at the little diamond band inside the box, and then huffed and rolled over, the sheets tangled around his legs.

“You’re a dick.”

“Baby – “

“No, Harry, you are. You’re a fucking dick. Don’t propose to me right now.”

Harry was quiet, and then he sighed and stood up.

“I’m sorry. This was supposed to be happy,” he said, “But you asked what I was picking up.”

“Then you can’t fucking tell me you killed a girl because she made you late to pick up my bloody engagement ring!”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut, and curled in tightly on himself. He heard Harry behind him, breathing softly, and then the soft sound of him setting the box down.

“Louis,” he said carefully, and reached out to touch his shoulder. Louis bristled at first, and then Harry rubbed his thumb over Louis’s shoulder and Louis sighed, shaking his head. 

Harry’s hands. Harry’s beautiful, gentle hands had wrapped around her neck and squeezed until all the vessels broke. And yet he melted into those hands now, sighing as the tension left his body.

“Just come to bed,” Louis said softly, “Don’t talk to me, just come to bed.”

“Okay,” Harry said.

Louis heard his footsteps coming back around to Harry’s side of the bed. The sheets lifted a moment later, and Harry fit himself against Louis’s body and kissed the top of his head. Louis whimpered softly and pushed himself into Harry, feeling his skin and his muscles and his strong, beating heart.

The thing is, he didn’t want Harry to go away. He never could. No matter how many times he heard Harry come in late and had to ignore the news report the next day, who would never want him to leave.

Louis swore he could feel the glare of the ring behind him burning into his skin as he fell asleep.

*******

Two years ago

Harry wasn’t answering his phone.

He was working late, but still, he usually answered Louis’s texts after twenty minutes at the longest. Louis had texted him a couple of hours ago saying he was going to order a curry and asked him what he wanted. And then again asking if Louis could pick him up from work, since the curry place was on the way to the library anyways. Still, Harry hadn’t replied. He had probably gotten sucked into a discussion group or organizing stacks in the basement where there was no cell reception, and would call Louis to apologize as soon as he was done.

After six unread texts, Louis decided he might as well drive over the library and pick Harry up. His shift was over at 9, right around closing time, and the curry place had already called Louis to remind him to pick up his order three times at this point.

Louis listened to an audiobook as he drove, humming to himself and listening to the winter rain hit his windshield.

Things were going really well. He had been seeing Harry for almost six months now, and Harry was wrapping up his apartment lease so he could move in with Louis in a couple months. Fast, maybe, but Louis couldn’t remember being this excited about a man in a long time. Harry was kind and funny, he loved Daisy, and he was eager to read Louis’s books. He was a good kisser, a wonderful lover, a fantastic cook. They had stopped going on dinner and coffee dates after about three weeks when Harry noticed Louis was getting worn out, and Harry was content to come over to Louis’s to watch Netflix and make dinner together. Louis still hadn’t been to Harry’s flat, mostly because Harry told him it was cramped and dirty and had too many broken lights. It didn’t matter, anyways, if he would be moving in soon.

Louis tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to change. When it did, he turned onto the next street. He was thinking about how good the curry in the backseat smelled, what he was going to buy Harry for Christmas in a few weeks, how he hoped the weather would clear up or at least turn to snow by the time the holidays came.

He almost didn’t hear the sirens until he had turned onto the next street.

He slammed his brakes when he turned the corner, craning his neck and turning up his wipers so he could squint out into the street. Outside there was a crush of unmoving, honking cars and a handful of screaming cruisers and ambulances. He could see people walking outside, trying to lean over the rows of yellow tape in the middle of the threat, and Louis tried to look that way as well, searching for the mangle of automobile or motorcycle parts he was sure littered the road. It was raining and dark, a motor accident would make sense. At least he hadn’t been around for it.

He saw a tall man in a dark uniform walking down the perimeter of the street, and Louis cracked his window and stuck his head out enough to call to the man.

“Excuse me, officer,” he called out “What happened here? Was there an accident?”

The cop shook his head, rubbing a hand over his forehead.

“They found a body, sir,” the officer said, “Please stay in your car. You’re probably better off turning around and getting out of here, we won’t be clearing out anytime soon.”

“Oh,” Louis choked out, “Oh, god.”

“If you turn around the corner, you should be able to get out alright,” the officer continued, and Louis nodded weakly, his hand already going to his cup holder so he could retrieve his phone and call Harry.

“Is it alright if I get out for a moment?” he asked, and the cop tilted his head.

“I’m supposed to say no, but we can’t stop anyone from looking.”

“Okay,” Louis managed, “Okay, thank you.”

The officer nodded and continued on his way, and Louis sighed hard, picking up his phone to call Harry as he pulled his car over to the side of the road, getting it into a makeshift park job as he pressed the phone to his ear.

“Harry,” he said as the phone when to voicemail, “Babe, it’s me. Shit, I – I’m on my way to get you, but there was a really bad thing that happened a couple blocks away from you. Moss Ave? They found someone, I – fuck, one second – “

Louis turned off the ignition and fumbled in the backseat for his umbrella before he found it, opened the door and plunged outside. The sirens were much sharper outside the car, and people all around him were moving, shuddering against the wind and the rain.

“Someone died, I think. I mean, I know, they found a body, but I don’t know what happened – “

Louis clutched his cardigan closer to himself, wandering down the fringes of the sidewalk. He was walking away from the actual scene, back where it was darker and quieter and had less people. He would look in a second, after he left the message.

Around him, he could hear people talking in panicked voices. Homicide? Surely not. This was a safe neighborhood. But remember the girl they found three years ago? Of course. Everyone remembered. But that was across town. Surely there was a misunderstanding.

“—Harry, can you just call me back when you get this, please? I’m going to try to find out what’s happened and then I’ll come get you, just call me, I – “

Louis managed to get out a few more words before he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he yelped, dropping his phone. He heard it crack against the sidewalk and he cursed, his eyes flooding in frustration as he turned around to look behind him to see who the hell thought they could grab him.

And then his mouth froze as soon as he looked behind him.

“Harry?” Louis said.

The man behind him was wearing a dark blue hoodie Louis had never seen before, had no glasses, and was wearing his hair down, but yes, it was Harry, of course it was. Louis could recognize him even in the shadows that had cast themselves along the corner of the street.

“Oh, god, are you okay?” Louis asked, “I thought you were at work, I called you – “

“Louis,” Harry said, “We need to go.”

Louis blinked. Harry’s voice sounded wrong. Too rough and stiff and forceful.

“What?”

“Louis, do you have the car? We need to go,” Harry said again. His voice sounded more firm now, maybe a little panicked.

“Yes, I have the car, I was going to go pick you up.”

“Take me to the car, Louis, I need to go.”

“Why are you here? This place is four blocks from the library,” Louis said, “Did you hear something?”

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go, okay?” Harry ducked down and grabbed Louis’s ruined phone from the wet sidewalk, and then held onto Louis’s back, pushing him back down the street. Louis glanced over at Harry, trying to read his face.

It made sense Harry was panicking. Someone had died. He could hear a few people around him crying as police tried to tie up the scene and round everyone up into one neat crowd.

But why was Harry here, now? Why hadn’t he called Louis? He called Louis when the bus was two minutes late, why didn’t he call him now?

They made it to Louis’s car, and Harry shut his door hard, leaning back against the seat.

“Make a U turn. Drive back out the way you came. Not near the cops,” he said softly, and Louis glanced over at him as he struggled with his keys.

“What are you – “

“Please just do it, Louis, fuck,” Harry gritted out.

Louis stared at him, his mouth opened, and his fingers shook a little on the keys as he turned them. Harry never raised his voice, except maybe at game shows on TV. And he certainly didn’t hiss out through his teeth, his face tight and red, like it was now.

Louis got the car started, and then reached out, touching Harry’s wrist.

“Sweetheart,” Louis said quietly, and Harry flinched, closing his eyes.

“I don’t really – I can’t really talk now, I’m sorry,” Harry said.

“It’s okay, it’s scary,” Louis said, “I think people think it’s a murder, but – “

He paused, and run his fingers carefully over the side of Harry’s hand. He leaned forward, squinting a bit, and smoothed out Harry’s hands with shaking fingers. He reached up and turned the overhead light on, trying to see more clearly, and bit the inside of his cheek hard. 

“Harry,” Louis said softly, “Why is there blood on your hands?”

Harry’s eyes opened quickly, and he looked at Louis.

“What did you say?”

“Your hands, Harry,” Louis said, and lifted Harry’s hands to the light, turning his hand over to see the darkness under his nail beds, “You have blood on your fingernails.”

Harry paused, and then pulled his hand away.

“I cut myself at work,” he said.

His voice made Louis’s insides shift; the flatness of it, the exhaustion in it. He looked at Harry, at the hoodie he had never seen, and then at the scene outside.

He felt something deep in his gut shift, like something was clicking into place and everything around it was falling apart.

“No, you didn’t.”

Harry blinked out the windshield, where Louis had left the wipers alone long enough that nearly the entire sheet of glass was polluted with rainfall, making the scene outside nothing but a blur of red lights and dark shapes.

“I’ll explain at yours,” Harry said softly, “Can you take me there?”

Louis’s fingers were frozen the steering wheel, and he swallowed.

There was darkness in his belly, writhing and making his entire body weak. He thought of the books, of Harry’s smile, facts easily rolling off his tongue on poisons and veins and blood vessels.

Louis had never asked where Harry went to nursing school.

He had never watched any of the crime shows Harry claimed to love.

He had never been in Harry’s house.

“Please, Louis?” Harry said again, and this time, Louis recognized his voice. Soft, gentle, careful, spoken like he was wearing his glasses and library nametag and had clean fingernails.

The writhing in Louis’s stomach ceased.

He drove home.

*******

Now

Harry was terrible at Scrabble.

They had played together hundreds of times in the last two years, and he had only won three games, even when Louis tried to let him win.

“It’s not fair I’m so bad at this,” Harry whined. It was his day off, and they were playing on the living room floor and drinking the last of the white wine they had bought over the weekend, “I work in a bloody library.”

Louis just snorted and picked up the last of his titles.

“You just look up words,” Louis said, “I write them. That’s the difference.”

He set down his titles and then leaned back to write his score on the Post-It he kept next to the board.

“I win with a double letter score on eczema,” Louis said, “You want to play again.”

“Sure, why not,” Harry shrugged.

He held out a hand to brush over the rest of the board, clearing the tiles, and Louis picked up his wine to finish what was left in the glass.

There was a sharp knock at the front door, and Louis sighed when Daisy started yapping sharply.

“Daisy, it’s fine,” he said, “I’ll get it, one second.”

He went to the door and picked up his loud, wriggling dog, holding her to his chest while he unlatched the door and opened it.

He blinked at the other side of the door, trying to hold back Daisy and speak at the same time.

“Oh. Hi, Officer Collins,” he said.

“Hello, Louis,” the man on the other side of the door said.

Officer Collins had come to their house a couple times before. One was for a neighborhood watch when reports of petty theft were going on nearby. The other was for one of Harry’s late nights. He was older, and friendly, and he was smiling now, but Louis still got a bit nervous every time he turned up.

“What can I help you with?” Louis asked. Daisy was growling now, and he was struggling to restrain her as she tried to twist free of his arms. Officer Collins just chuckled as he watched her.

“I was actually hoping to talk to Harry, if that’s alright,” the officer said, “I stopped by the library but they said it was his day off. I hope it wasn’t too upfront for me to come by.”

“No, of course not,” Louis said. He heard Harry’s voice in his head. Cooperate. Smile. Get them some tea.

“Come in,” Louis said, “Do you want something to drink?”

“Some water would be great, thank you, Louis,” Officer Collins said as he came through the door.

“Okay, okay,” Louis said, “Harry! Can you come here for a second?”

Louis moved out of the front entrance and went to the back room so he could set Daisy down in the back garden. He took a deep breath as he did, trying to listen to the conversation happening at the front of the house.

“…heard from one of the employees that you stopped by the café on that street after work. Just thought I’d ask you some questions in case you saw anything.”

“I don’t think I did, no,” Harry’s voice said. He sounded perfectly friendly, perfectly calm. He was speaking the way he spoke to the neighbors and guests at the library and waitresses.

Louis poured out two glasses of ice water and brought them back into the living room, where the two men had moved. Harry was smiling that same smile he always used, bright and lovely and hiding so many things. He turned to the doorway when Louis entered, his expression softening a little as Louis came over and handed him and then Officer Collins his water.

“Thanks, babe,” Harry said. His expression had straightened, and Louis could see something flash in his eyes.

I’m okay, he seemed to say, Don’t worry about me.

“I’ll be in the kitchen,” Louis said, “Just call if you need anything.”

He slipped into the kitchen and turned on the tap, so it would at least sound like he was doing dishes, and tried to listen over the water.

“I really didn’t see much,” Harry’s voice said, “I left the café at around 9 and had to go to the bus station.”

“What time did you get home?”

“Eleven, eleven thirty, probably,” Harry said, “Sorry I don’t remember. Exactly. Babe? Do you remember when I got home on the 4th?”

“Late, you got home fucking late because you missed your bus,” Louis called back. He knew what to say. It was always some version of the same thing.

“Right. Sorry,” he said. Louis could hear him laughing, and Officer Collins asked him about if he had seen anyone on the street, if he had seen anyone near Master Dance, if Harry had been with anyone else that night. Harry’s answers were all careful “no’s” in a light, friendly voice, and still, Louis held his breath the whole time.

Harry was smart. Harry was fine.

“Well, I think that’s all I need,” Officer Collins’ voice said, and Louis exhaled and let the tap run for a few more seconds before he turned it off and went to the front hallway. Harry had already started to walk the officer out, and Louis quietly slid behind him.

“Sorry about disturbing you two,” Officer Collins said, “This whole mess should be sorted out soon, hopefully. I actually have to head back right now, we’re running some footage by the lab.”

Harry’s brows lifted at that, just enough to seem curious.

“Footage?” Harry repeated, “I thought I heard on the news that there weren’t any cameras in the alley where they found her.”

“You’re right, but the daytime security camera from one of the delis on that street got left on by accident. We’re lucky, really, if we can just make sense of anything on there.”

“Well that’s good,” Harry said. Louis clutched his sweater tighter and stayed behind his boyfriend. He was much worse at hiding things than Harry was.

“Again, thank you for taking the time,” Officer Collins said, “I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. You take care,” Harry said.

The officer left, and Louis came over to shut the door behind him. He leaned against it and looked up to Harry, trying to read his newly impassive face.

“They had a camera,” Louis said, “Should we be worried?”

“I don’t – I don’t think so, no,” Harry said, “I had a hood up. And that camera is all the way across the street. It’ll probably be too dark and blurry to pick up much.”

“Okay,” Louis said, “I just – I’m worried, shit.”

“Hey, hey. It’s fine,” Harry said. He came over and opened his arms, wide enough that Louis could slip into his grasp easily, “It would be worse if they found DNA. And they won’t.”

“Because you wore gloves.”

“Right,” Harry said. He smoothed down Louis’s hair and kissed his forehead, giving him a soft smile, “Let’s go back to our game, okay?”

Louis didn’t reply at first, just stayed glued to Harry’s chest and listened to his heartbeat.

The anger of a few days ago had faded, and now, he was just worried. He always just became worried and stopped thinking about exactly what Harry had done. They had two years and a home and a dog together, and an engagement ring upstairs Louis still hadn’t accepted, and Harry wearing a hood and gloves and the camera staying blurry were all holding his life together today.

He reached his hands up and circled his arms around Harry.

“I love you,” he murmured into Harry’s shoulder.

“I love you too, baby,” Harry replied. He kissed Louis’s forehead, and Louis squeezed his eyes hard and clung to Harry again. It made Louis laugh.

“I’m right here, don’t have to squeeze so hard.”

“I know,” Louis said quietly. He was twisted in knots again but he knew Harry was right here, and was going to hold onto that.

He let go of Harry and kissed him again before they went back to the living room.

Harry lost two more games.

*******

Two years ago

When they arrived home, Daisy ran up to Harry immediately, bouncing against his legs.

She adored him, was so excited when he came over, and Harry loved her right back. He smiled and leaned down to pat her head and coo at her, even tonight, even after their long ride home in silence.

Louis just stared at the two of them as he hung his keys on the hook by the door, taking in the details. Harry had put his hair up and put his glasses back on half through the drive home, and he was smiling as he stroked Daisy. All of him was back to normal, exactly what Louis would expect for a weekday night.

But he had blood on his hands, and Louis had a cold feeling in his stomach.

Louis put the food on the counter and then came over to Daisy, picking her up and carrying her to the back door.

“Go wee,” he said to her, and then closed the door firmly and strode back into the living room. Harry was still crouched on the floor where he had been with the dog a moment before, and when he looked at Louis, the last trace of his smile fell. He stood up, leaning against the arm of the couch behind him.

“I said I’d explain,” Harry said, and Louis nodded.

“But I want to ask you the questions.”

“Okay,” Harry said, “That’s fair.”

“Don’t lie to me, okay?”

“I won’t,” Harry said softly, with his head bowed.

“Okay,” Louis said, “First, are you going to hurt me?

Harry frowned and lifted his head.

“I would never hurt you,” Harry said, “I would not lay a hand on you, or your family, or your friends, or Daisy, or – fuck, god, I would never do that, Louis. I don’t hurt people I love.”

Louis swallowed carefully.

“You won’t.”

“No, Louis, fuck.”

“I don’t believe you,” he managed, “You – you killed someone. You killed someone, didn’t you.”

The words tasted bitter in his mouth, and Harry’s shoulders folded hard in on themselves.

“I – yes.”

Louis sucked in a breath and shook his head.

“What the fuck Harry,” he got out, “You – how.”

His eyes were burning, and his mind was racing. He thought of Harry reading children’s books and his carrot sticks and his soft smile.

This couldn’t happen to him.

Harry swallowed weakly, and looked at his still-unwashed hands.

“I was an angry kid,” Harry said, “I always wanted to hurt people.”

Louis stared at him, and tightened his arms around himself as Harry continued.

“My dad left when I was young, and it was fucking hard. I got into fights with other kids, would yell at my teachers. But my mum took me to a therapist and I started sports and they thought it helped for a while. But I would still get angry, at my friends, at teachers, at strangers, and I just – I wanted to hurt them. Badly. It would flare up and I would force it to go away. And when I couldn’t make it go away I would kick trees, or punch walls, or sit in my car and scream until I couldn’t speak.”

Harry was breathing hard, and lifting a hand, tugging at the hair near his hairline that was pulled back tightly by his hair elastic.

“Then, I was about to graduate secondary school, and my friend Emma, she was dating this fucking guy – Brandon -- he was hitting her. We all knew it. And I hated him, I hated him more than I could ever remember hating someone. And then I saw him hitting her in the school hallway after one of the school formals.”

Harry paused, and then shrugged, his voice dropping any of its normal emotion.

“So I followed him to his car after the dance and beat his fucking head in and left him on the football pitch.”

Harry was quiet for awhile, and then looked back up at Louis.

“I didn’t get caught. I used a rock and just tossed it in a pond on my way home. They assumed it was a hit or something since he bought drugs and had a lot of trouble paying for them. And Emma was happier.”

“Okay,” Louis said quietly, “And um, was that the only time? Until tonight?”

Harry blinked, and then his mouth twisted and he sighed.

“No.”

“No?”

“No, I – “ Harry said, “Tonight has been four.”

Louis’s head felt like it was underwater.

“Four,” Louis repeated, his voice a little weak, “You’ve killed four people?”

“Yes,” Harry said, “I wish I could say all of them were beating my friends, but really, I don’t know any of the others.”

“Oh my god,” Louis murmured.

He settled his head in his hands and shook his head. He was trying to breath but his lungs didn’t work. Nothing was working.

“Louis – “

“Did you even go to nursing school?” Louis said eventually, lifting his head up, “Or was that something you made up so I wouldn’t ask you anymore questions?”

“Um,” Harry said, “No, I didn’t go. I studied Art History in school. I got straight D’s in science.”

“God, fuck,” Louis said, “And – and the first time I met you, and you told me about that street poison – have you fucking used that? Is that how you knew what it was?”

“I haven’t used it,” Harry said, and then lifted his hand to rub his neck, “I saw it in a book, though, when I was researching chloroform. Which I have used.”

“Shit,” Louis exhaled, “Shit, Harry, I haven’t even been to your apartment, do you – “

“Nothing’s wrong with my apartment,” Harry said, “It’s just a shithole, but it’s fine. I don’t keep fucking body parts in the freezer.”

He took a breath as he said it and ran a hand through his hair again, and then blinked up at Louis.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it like that.”

“Yeah, you also shouldn’t fucking murder people, fuck – “

Louis had to stop himself, and then settled himself against the counter behind him, his body deflating as he tried to speak again. God, he was tired. Hungry and tired and angry and fucking confused.

“Why do you do it?” Louis asked, “You said why you did it the first time, but, why now?”

Harry swallowed and looked down again. His feet shifted on the hardwood, his striped socks sliding easily over the boards. Louis kept staring at the pattern.

“After I killed Brandon, I stopped being angry for a while. It all went away, like a release. And then one day it built up again, and I just…needed to do it again. So I took it out on the first stranger I could find. And now sometimes the anger just happens, I need it to go away. So I do what I need to do.”

He was quiet then, still looking at his feet. Louis stared at him, breathing hard, his heart racing. 

He should be afraid. His boyfriend had just admitted to killing four people. He could hurt Louis. Kill him and get away with it.

But deep down, under all the confusion and the exhaustion, Louis wasn’t afraid.

“I’m a terrible person,” Harry said, “I know that. But I still wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Even if I made you angry?”

“Even then. Never,” Harry said, “You’re different.”

You’re different.

 

Louis was maybe one of the only people in the world Harry wouldn’t hurt. That could get so close to Harry, that could make him angry, that could reach inside and see the dark parts and stay alive.

That was a horrible thing. He should’ve have to hope he was different.

But he still felt something in him twist.

He hadn’t wanted this. He could’ve had imagined this was possible. But he was different. And when he tried to reach down and find the any trace of fear, he felt nothing. Nothing at all.

He walked over to Harry slowly, and then reached out and carefully took his hands, lifting them up to look at his nails. He smiled softly, shaking his head.

“We should clean your hands, baby.”

Harry frowned, opening his mouth a bit.

“You should leave me,” he said.  

“Maybe,” Louis said, “But not now.”

Harry still just stared at him, and Louis examined his hands carefully, sighing.

“You wash your hands in the mudroom sink,” he said, “No one ever uses it, so if it stains a little it’s fine.”

“Louis – “

“I’m not going to ask you about tonight,” Louis said, “I don’t think I want to know.”

He lifted Harry’s hands to his mouth and kissed his knuckles, and then dropped his hands.

“I’m going to heat up our food,” he said, “Go wash your hands.”

Harry just kept looking at him, gazing up at him carefully, and stood up and kissed him firmly. Louis exhaled against his mouth and let Harry’s mouth move against his, felt Harry’s breath enter his own lungs. When Harry drew again, Louis leaned forward, searching for his mouth again. But Harry just smiled at him, the way he always did that made Louis feel warm inside.

“I’ll be back,” Harry said, and Louis nodded and closed his eyes as Harry walked past him.  

Louis listened to him go into the next room. He didn’t exhale until he heard the tap turn on.

*******

Now

Harry was a morning person.

Louis was decidedly not, and usually had to suffer through twenty minutes every day when Harry’s 6 AM alarm would go off and Louis would pull his pillow over his ears and groan. It made Harry laugh and kiss him, at the very least, and Louis would fall asleep soon after that, only to wake up around noon and start his day.

But today, they were both awake at the same time. It was around 8, and twenty minutes ago they had been woken at the same moment but the sound of sirens and knocking right below them. Harry had sat up and pulled back the curtains that covered the window over their bed, and had been perfectly still for a moment before he turned back to Louis, his eyes wide.

“The cops, Louis,” he murmured, “They’re here.”

“What?”

“There are five fucking cop cars outside,” Harry said, “The fucking security tape, Louis. Fucking fuck.”

 Louis should’ve panicked. And he did, for a moment, before it started to feel far away, the contents of a terrible dream.

The cops were never there for them. Harry didn’t get caught. Surely this couldn’t be happening.

He had grabbed Harry’s hand, pulling him back into bed, and shaken his head when Harry tried to speak.

“Don’t go out right away,” Louis said, “Just sit. Stay with me. Okay?”

Harry had stared, his eyes still wide. He looked scared for the first time since Louis had known him. He came back down slowly, and Louis tried to smile, but it came out wrong and too tight.

“Stay,” he murmured, patting Harry’s hand.

So they stayed still, sitting side by side in bed. Louis held Harry’s hand, feeling his fingers tremble under his own. The sirens were still downstairs, and there was knocking, yelling. Daisy was barking in another room. Surely the neighbors had come out to look.

Louis looked over at Harry, trying to see through his wide eyes, his nervous hands, his lips that were parted and rounded.

He should be thinking about what he was going to say to the cop, who he should be calling right now, what the hell he was going to do now.

But instead, he just wanted to keep looking at Harry.

He wanted to look at him forever.

Louis squeezed Harry’s hand hard enough for the other man to look over at him, his expression settling a bit as he looked at Louis.

“Harry,” Louis asked, “Can you go get my ring for a second?”

Harry frowned, but still pulled his hand away from Louis’s stood up.

“Yes, love, of course.”

He went back to his dresser, and pulled open the same drawer he gone to a few weeks earlier, when Louis’s gut had been twisted in knots and the latest details on the news were weighing heavy on his shoulders. But as Harry got out the familiar box and came back to the bed, Louis perfectly calm, balanced in the midst of a hurricane.

Harry got back onto the bed and held the ring box against his thigh, then turned his eyes to Louis, lifting his brows in a silent question.

Louis sighed and flipped open the box, looking down at the ring inside. It was too bright in the room for it to really shine, but he took every faucet of the small stones, the little twists along the band.

“I’m not going to ask you to repeat what you said last week. I’m just going to answer you,” Louis said, “I’ll marry you, Harry.”

Harry didn’t reply at first, he just turned his eyes down to the ring and shifted it around.

“I’m going to go to prison, Louis,” he said. It made Louis shake his head.

“No, you’re not,” Louis said, “Because you’re smart, and I’m going to get you a nice lawyer, and you’re going to get out of this.”

“It’s not that simple,” Harry said, “My alibi is probably full of holes, because I wasn’t careful and don’t have any witnesses besides you, and – “

“You’re going to fine,” Louis said firmly, “In a few minutes, you’re going to do downstairs, and they’re going to put in the car, and you’re going to say you took so long because you were afraid and confused. And then I’m going to say you’re my sweet fiancé, and you would never hurt a fly, and clearly they have made a horrible mistake.”

“They have my face on a security camera, Louis.”

“That’s a problem for the lawyers to figure out.”

Harry was silent, and Louis reached out and nudged the edge of the box.

“Put it on me, please.”

Harry nodded and slowed took out the ring, holding it out. Louis offered his hand and spread out his fingers, and Harry carefully took it, sliding the ring onto left Louis’s ring finger.

When it was on, Louis lifted it to the light and smiled, his eyes slipping back down to Harry.

“We’re engaged,” he said softly.

“We are,” Harry agreed.

“I want a spring wedding,” Louis said, “Gives us a year and a bit to plan.”

“Louis – “

“Harry, it’s okay. Let me plan our wedding.”  

He sighed and reached out to touch Harry’s face, holding his chin in his hand. His hair was still down, a tangled, early-morning mess around his face, he hadn’t shaved, his glasses were tucked into the collar of his Queen t-shirt.

The sirens downstairs were for them. They had finally come, and yet Louis could only focus on Harry’s eyes, and the curve of his mouth, and how he was the most beautiful thing Louis had ever seen.

“Give me a kiss before you go, please,” Louis whispered.

Harry breathed in, and Louis saw his eyes fill up for a moment before he closed them, and then leaned in and kissed Louis gently. His lips were chapped, his breath was slow and jolted, but Louis still leaned into it and pressed his heads to Harry’s cheeks and memorized every contour of his mouth, every move of his chest as his front pressed to Louis.

Harry pulled away first, and Louis just shook his head and reached out, grabbing for the black elastic on Harry’s wrist.

“Your hair is a mess, come on,” he said. He grabbed Harry’s hair and pulled it back, twisting it until it was in the shape of a bun, and then he pulled the elastic over the base and secured it. Harry just looked at him with wavering, wet eyes, and when Louis was done with his hair, he grabbed Louis’s hand. He kissed his knuckles, and then the back, and then up his wrist and his arm, dozens of fervent, small pecks painted Louis’s skin.

“I love you,” Harry said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be better for you.”

“You were perfect for me.”

Louis lifted his hand up and held Harry’s chin again. He stroked Harry’s jaw and smiled, feeling the weight of the ring on his hand.

Harry was rotten. Harry was wicked and rotten and despicable and it had all come to catch up with the both of them. But Louis would never love another person like he loved Harry.

He lifted up the sheets and took Harry’s hand in his own, pressing his ring into Harry’s skin as he squeezed his finger and pulled him out of bed.

“Come on,” Louis said, “Time to go downstairs.”