Julius stared down into his whisky and, not for the first time, cursed Philip Vane.
Julius wasn’t generally one for the bar on a Tuesday evening, but the office gossip that day had made clear to him that if he wanted to show up his competition and secure his promotion once and for all, he’d better bring a plus one to the company holiday party on Friday.
“You know he’s a family man,” Richard, Julius’ direct supervisor and friend, had said when Julius cornered him in his office. “I’m doing my best to convince him you’re the man for the job, Julius, but Philip worries single men will run off to another company at the first sight of a higher paycheque. What else could they be aspiring to, after all? It would be good if you at least looked as though you’re settling down here.”
“That’s outdated and preposterous,” Julius had told him. “I can be settled without a boyfriend!”
Richard had given him a wry smile and a shrug. “That’s Philip,” he had said, and he would know his older brother better than anyone else. If Richard agreed that this was what Julius needed to do to please the owner of the company, then Julius had better do it.
Unfortunately, Julius hadn’t had a proper date in longer than he cared to recall, and he liked it that way. That was why he did such good work.
The situation was, in a word, unfair.
Julius knocked back the rest of his whisky and signalled to the bartender for another one. As he did so, he caught the eye of a man a couple seats down the bar. He was younger than Julius, an observation exacerbated by the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans rather than the business attire worn by most people who frequented this bar. He didn’t look like a slob by any means, but he looked distinctly out of place all the same.
As Julius studied him, the man raised his glass in greeting. Julius nodded in return, and the man seemed to take that as an invitation to join him, which—well, Julius wasn’t going to turn him away.
“Hey,” the man said, extending a hand. “Harry Gordon.”
“Julius Norreys,” he said, shaking Harry’s hand. “What brings you to this fine establishment tonight?”
Internally, Julius cringed a little at his own tone—he hadn’t meant to be so pointed, but the alcohol was definitely getting to him. Harry didn’t appear to react. “I was hoping to run into Philip Vane, actually,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to know…?”
Julius gave an undignified snort. “I work for him,” he said. “But I doubt you’d see him here at this hour. He’s a family man.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say ‘family’ with that much salt,” he said. “What’s the story?”
The bartender chose that moment to bring Julius his new drink. “More water for you?” she asked Harry.
“You’re drinking water?” Julius burst out, immediately appalled. He was far too tipsy to find the idea that anyone else should be sober near him acceptable. “Bring us shots, please,” he said to the bartender. “This same whisky will do.”
The bartender looked askance at Harry, who shrugged. “May as well, if you’re paying,” he said. When Julius nodded, he settled himself on the bar stool next to Julius. “I really am curious about that story.”
Julius scowled. “Shots first,” he said, and Harry agreed. Julius ordered Harry another drink before launching into the short version—which is to say that he complained for no less than ten minutes about the absurdity of his personal life having anything to do with his deserving a promotion, Harry making sympathetic noises all the while.
“I guess I can’t be surprised,” Harry said. “I’ve never heard good things about the Vanes.”
That was interesting. “Really?” Julius asked. “What have you heard? And, while we’re at it, why were you looking for Philip?”
“He’s my cousin,” Harry said. “I’ve never met him—my father got himself disowned over some political business or other, and I lived in France up until my parents passed a few years ago. Silas—he’s my godfather—says it’s just as well I’ve never met any of the Vanes, since apparently my grandfather is a complete arse, but we thought we might be able to get Philip to donate to the non-profit Silas runs.”
Julius blinked. “So you thought you’d hang around a bar looking for him? The company does have a, you know, donation department or whatsit.”
“I want a bit more investment than just a cursory donation,” Harry said defensively. “And what’s the point of the personal connection if I don’t use it?”
“Philip has a secretary,” Julius said, mostly to tease Harry. He was attractive with his hackles up. “He schedules meetings, I hear.”
Harry’s cheeks flushed a gratifying pink. “Forgive me for trying to keep it casual.”
Julius waved a hand dismissively, taking pity. “I get the idea,” he said. “Anyway, not all the Vanes are bad. Richard is a good man, and as archaic as Philip may be, he’s all right as well. I’m sure he’d be willing to donate to your cause.”
“Good to hear,” Harry said, taking a sip of his drink. “I just need to get in the same room as him.” He sighed. “I suppose calling his secretary will do.”
Julius nodded and tried to take a sip of his drink only to find the glass empty. He put it down and considered the merits of getting another one. He’d probably had enough, but…
“Oh!” Harry said, sitting up straight and looking at Julius. He had a calculating gleam in his eyes that Julius liked the look of a little too much. “Or we could kill two birds with one stone.”
“What does that mean?” Julius asked.
“You need a family man, right?” Harry said. “I can family with the best of them.”
“Family… with the best of them,” Julius repeated.
Harry looked at him expectantly, as if any of that was supposed to mean something to Julius. Julius stared back, uncomprehending.
“At your work holiday party, I mean,” Harry said. “If I come as your date, I can talk to Philip and you can prove you’re a settled man. It’s perfect!”
“It is not. We could never pull it off,” Julius said confidently. There were myriad reasons why it was an awful idea, but the one that slipped out his mouth was, “Who would even believe I’d date you?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Okay then, Mr Hoity-Toity. Good luck finding a boyfriend in the next three days,” he said without venom. “Much less one as cute as I am. People love me, you know.”
Julius wanted to protest just on principle, but Harry ran a hand through his dark curls and then leaned against the bar, giving Julius a challenging look, and the words got caught in Julius’ throat. He had resolved to just say to hell with it to Philip and attend the party solo, but he couldn’t help but picture what Harry would look like properly dressed and on Julius’ arm, thoroughly charming all of the party guests without saying a word…
Julius had done worse things for personal gain in his life.
“Do you even own a suit?” Julius asked.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I have one I wear to functions.”
Julius was already estimating Harry’s measurements in his head, positive that whatever Harry owned would be, if not completely atrocious, nowhere near acceptable. “I’ll need to inspect it,” he said aloud. “Bring it to mine tomorrow, and we can work out the details of this arrangement.”
Harry beamed at him, and Julius had to look away for a moment.
He left the bar with Harry’s number in his phone and a tight sense of anticipation in the pit of his stomach, positive that this was the either the smartest or the stupidest decision he’d made in a long time.
“I am not putting that on,” Harry said.
“Why not?” Julius asked, pursing his lips. He put down the suit he’d been trying to hand to Harry and picked up the next one in his pile. “Grey is most definitely your colour, but we could go with the more traditional black if you insist.”
“I have a perfectly good suit right here.” Harry gestured to the garment bag Julius had unceremoniously hung on his bedroom door before bringing out the options he’d had his assistant pick up. “I can’t afford any of that shit.”
Julius rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to afford anything,” he said, trying for a patient tone and not quite accomplishing it. “If you’re going to play at being my boyfriend, you need to be presentable. These clothes are here, and you’re wearing them.”
Julius would have thought Harry would like to dress up. What kind of person suggested a wild scheme like pretending to date a rich man and then didn’t want to go whole hog? There was really no need for the stubborn set to Harry’s jaw at all.
“I can’t take those clothes from you. They’re probably more expensive than my car.”
Julius was privately impressed that Harry even owned a car and was positive that the clothes were, in fact, more expensive than it. Instead of saying that, though, he put down the suit and shrugged. “You could just leave, then,” he said. “I am capable of finding someone else.”
Harry gave him a look that very clearly communicated just how much he thought Julius was spewing bullshit. Julius couldn’t even blame him, because he absolutely was. He’d made the mistake of mentioning he was bringing a date to the party to Richard while hungover and mainlining coffee in the breakroom that morning, and now there was no way he was going to back out of it.
Surprisingly, Harry relented instead of calling Julius’ bluff. “Fine. I’ll wear one of the suits to the party, but I’m not taking the clothes with me.”
Julius sighed. It came out rather more relieved than he would have liked. “That’ll have to do. Come on, try on the grey one.”
Julius had been correct about the grey suit: Harry was devastating in it. It was a darker grey, and it paired well with the blue waistcoat that brought out the deep blue of Harry’s eyes. He was cute in his everyday clothes, but it wasn’t even a comparison to how he looked all buttoned up in a suit that actually fit.
Worse, though, was when Julius sent him to try on the black one, just to see, and he came back with his waistcoat open and the top few buttons of his white shirt undone.
“I think the grey is better,” Harry said. “Don’t you?”
Julius tore his eyes away from Harry’s collarbone. “Hm?”
“The grey is better,” Harry repeated, his expression far too knowing.
“Well, we can’t tell unless you’re wearing it properly,” Julius said quickly. “Button up, already.”
Harry smirked, not looking away from Julius as he buttoned his shirt and then the waistcoat. Julius swallowed hard but held his gaze until Harry turned to the full-length mirror next to Julius’ closet and put on the suit jacket.
“Not what I would have chosen myself, but not awful,” Harry said. “I didn’t think people wore three-piece suits anymore, to be honest, but there is a certain… appeal.”
His gaze shifted from his reflection to meet Julius’ eyes in the mirror.
“Perhaps your sort don’t wear them,” Julius said, sniffing. “This is everyday wear for me.”
Harry laughed. Julius immediately wanted to make him do it again. “If I looked like you, maybe I’d do the same. I didn’t know anyone could pull off so much apricot.”
“It takes a certain type,” Julius agreed.
Harry turned around and looked Julius up and down appreciatively. Julius felt far too warm. “Indeed it does,” Harry said. “Anymore options for me?”
It took Julius a moment to process the question. “No, I think that’s enough,” he said. “The grey, then.”
Harry nodded and went back into the ensuite to change. Julius took the opportunity to sit down on the edge of his bed for a moment. He wondered if it would ruin the arrangement if he just swept all the suits off his bed and had his way with Harry right then. It would certainly take the edge off, and Julius was fairly sure Harry would be up for it.
But Julius hadn’t slept with anyone in a long while, and it had been still longer since he’d last had to see the person again afterward. It didn’t seem prudent to endure that awkwardness with someone who was using him as a means to an end. Harry would no doubt disappear once he’d gotten what he wanted, and Julius intended to let him.
“All right,” Harry said as he emerged from the ensuite, “that’s clothes sorted. What’s next?”
“Next?” Julius asked. He stood up quickly and did not think about taking the clothes Harry had put back on right off him again.
“Yes, next,” Harry said. “I was thinking we should get to know each other. So that we can sell our fake relationship, right?”
“Oh,” Julius said, “of course. I can have my assistant draw up a dossier for you.”
Harry laughed, which didn’t help Julius’ situation and was annoying, because Julius hadn’t been trying to be funny. When Julius didn’t laugh as well, Harry sobered and stared at him. “Was that for real?”
“It would be expedient,” Julius said uncomfortably. It would also remove the temptation that was Harry from his house posthaste, which was seeming wiser with every passing moment.
“I’m not making you a dossier,” Harry said, “so we might as well just talk like normal humans. Or are you unspeakably busy for the rest of the evening?”
Julius was planning to order takeaway, do some work, and eventually pass out watching one of his favourite soaps. It was not what one could call busy, and Harry obviously saw that written on Julius’ face, because he looked inordinately pleased with himself before Julius even opened his mouth.
“I suppose not.”
“Great,” Harry said. Blessedly, he headed out of Julius’ bedroom and toward the living room. “You got takeaway menus around here?”
There was something relentlessly appealing about Harry sprawled across Julius’ couch, a glass of port in one hand and the other resting on his stomach, and Julius couldn’t figure it out. He wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to, either.
They had been talking for more than two hours, and the containers of Chinese food they’d ordered were spread across the coffee table, mostly empty. Julius had learned that Harry would eat anything doused in a remotely sweet sauce but shied away from the soup Julius favoured. He’d also learned a lot of inconsequential facts about him: his favourite colour, the kind of books he liked to read, how he took his tea, his least favourite TV show that he was still watching for some godforsaken reason. Julius didn’t need to know any of it—no one at this party would know Harry, after all—but Harry kept asking him questions and then offering his own answers once Julius responded, and Julius couldn’t bring himself to stop him.
When the conversation shifted to more serious topics, Julius started to deflect more and ask follow-ups, and so he also knew more important things about Harry—what it had been like to grow up in France, how he had felt when his parents passed, how deeply grateful he was to his godfather for taking him in even though Harry was an adult and could have carried on with his life alone.
“I just felt so… empty, I guess,” Harry said thoughtfully. “It didn’t seem worth it to stay where I was. I had to get away from the memories, you know? And then Silas gave me something to care about, which turned out to be exactly what I needed.”
Julius nodded and took a sip of his own port. He knew all too well what Harry meant, and he felt the topic he’d been deliberately dancing around like a gaping wound.
“He sounds like a good man,” Julius said.
“He is,” Harry agreed. He shifted slightly and prodded Julius in the thigh with his toe. “But enough about me. You’ve barely mentioned your family, and I just keep going on and on.”
Julius steeled himself. “There is something I should probably tell you,” he said. “You would know, as my partner, anyway.”
Harry seemed to sense the gravity of the situation, and he sat up. “Lay it on me,” he said.
“I used to be an army man,” Julius said. “And my twin Marcus… was as well.”
Julius could see the exact moment Harry got it. “Oh,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”
Julius nodded. “So I don’t see my parents often,” he said, looking away from Harry. “We were identical, you see, and my parents still live where we grew up, and… it’s just easier.”
There was more to it, but Julius had already said more than he meant to, and he regretted it a bit. It wasn’t pleasant to prod at the wound, and he doubted this was something Harry really needed to know to attend one stupid party, but he also felt kind of… relieved. Like the load he was carrying was that slightest bit lighter.
Harry had moved down the couch when Julius was looking away, and he put his arm over Julius’ shoulders. Julius didn’t move, but he didn’t shake Harry off, either.
“I can’t imagine,” Harry said. “To lose someone like that…”
“You can, a bit,” Julius pointed out. Being maudlin made him uncharacteristically magnanimous. “Your parents.”
“I’m sure it’s not the same,” Harry said, but he fell silent anyway.
After a minute of sitting there, Julius relaxed into Harry’s arm a bit more, and Harry squeezed his shoulder lightly. It was nice in a way that scared Julius, and he only let it happen for another minute before he sat up straight.
“Okay,” he said, “enough of that. Tell me a happy story about yourself. Preferably something I can use to make fun of you in small talk.”
Harry laughed and dropped his arm from Julius, sitting back on the couch. “I see how it is,” he said, shaking his head. “Let me think…”
Friday night arrived both slowly and far too quickly. Harry had been texting Julius every so often over the past couple days about nothing in particular, and Julius wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it.
Harry cleaned up well, as Julius had known he would, and Julius’ heart jumped at the sight of Harry offering Julius his arm after they dropped their outerwear at the coat check. Julius was appalled at himself; it said rather too much about how he felt for his comfort.
“Shall we?” Harry asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“Don’t do that with your face,” Julius said, but he looped his arm through Harry’s all the same. “Let’s do this.”
They made their way into the hotel ballroom where the party was being hosted and began to greet people. Julius made a point to refer to Harry as his partner every time he introduced him, which sparked more curious questions about their relationship than Julius had expected. It figured that the company was full of relentless gossips; Julius should have realised, what with being one himself.
“Good thing we planned, hm?” Harry murmured in Julius’ ear between conversations. Julius didn’t respond; Harry already had too much self-satisfaction on his face.
Julius carefully angled their progress around the room to end up near Philip sooner rather than later, and as soon as they were in the vicinity and Philip was unengaged, Julius neatly slipped them into the space in front of him.
“Good evening, Mr Vane,” Julius said.
“Same to you, Mr Norreys, and happy holidays,” Philip said. He looked at Harry and back to Julius, a curious and expectant look on his face.
“I’d like to introduce you to my partner,” Julius said in answer to the unspoken question. “Harry Gordon, this is Philip Vane.”
Harry offered his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“And you,” Philip said as he shook Harry’s hand. “Mr Norreys never mentioned a partner before.”
“Oh, he’s a cautious and thoughtful person, as I’m sure you know,” Harry said. “Wouldn’t dream of jumping the gun. But we seem to become more serious every day, don’t we?” He looked at Julius with such an expression of adoration that Julius’ stomach flipped. It’s not real, he reminded himself.
“He’s rather thoroughly charmed me, it’s true,” Julius said, smiling at Harry. He tore his gaze away from the glint in Harry’s eyes to look at Philip. “I thought it was time he met some of my work circles, and what better time than the holidays?”
“Yes, wonderful.” Philip inclined his champagne glass. “Tis the season.”
“Harry has been hard at work on a holiday fundraiser of late, in fact,” Julius said. “Why don’t you tell him about it while I grab us some drinks, darling?”
“I would love to—that is, if Mr Vane is interested…” Harry deferred like an expert, and Philip snapped up the bait.
“Certainly. What’s your cause?”
The conversation well underway, Julius slipped off in the direction of the bar. He had no doubt that Harry would have Philip eating out of his hand in no time at all. Perhaps they’d even be able to make an early night of it—that was what family men did, after all.
It was possible Julius was still bitter about this situation.
Julius ordered two glasses of champagne and checked his watch, deciding to let Harry do the charming alone for a few more minutes yet before he ran the risk of derailing the conversation with his return. Of course, Dominic chose that moment to greet Julius, and Julius got caught up in chatting with him for longer than he meant to.
He noticed Harry heading toward them when he was a few feet away and only had time to say to Dom, “Excuse me, my—” before Harry was next to him.
“Julius!” he said, beaming with triumph. “He agreed!”
Julius felt all the bitterness promptly leave his body. “I had no doubt,” he said faintly, putting his arm around Harry’s waist and pulling him the slightest bit closer. Harry came easily, resting his own arm on Julius’ lower back and settling against Julius’ side as though he belonged there.
“All thanks to you, of course,” Harry said softly, still smiling, and it was that stupid beautiful smile that Julius blamed for what he did next, which was leaning in and kissing Harry.
It wasn’t a very long kiss, just the sort of quick congratulatory thing someone might give their partner in this situation, but Julius was intently aware of the fact that he needn’t have done it at all and, yet, had. Harry smiled at him after, but there was a hint of a question in his eyes that Julius had no answer to.
Julius cleared his throat. “No, the congratulations is all yours,” he said.
Dom was staring at them, as well he might. He was one of Julius’ closer coworkers, and Julius hadn’t mentioned Harry to him at all in their brief conversation. “Sorry, Dom,” Julius said smoothly. “This is Harry, my partner. Harry, Dominic Frey. He has the office next door to mine.”
Julius was distantly aware of Dom and Harry shaking hands and making small talk, but his brain had defaulted to a wall of white noise. He took a large drink of his champagne and desperately wished his heart would stop racing.
They stayed for a while after that, until they’d talked to most everyone at the party and Julius had allowed Harry to convince him to dance—just once, just for the show of it, Harry insisted. Julius had known he’d enjoy the excuse to stand that close to Harry too much, but he’d said yes anyway. It had been equal parts excruciating and wonderful.
They left shortly after that. Harry made noises about calling a cab, but Julius waved him off and called his driver. “We may as well be sure we were seen leaving together,” he said. “I’m not sending my boyfriend off into the night alone.”
Harry looked at him sidelong and then shrugged. He put his hands into the pockets of his jacket and shivered, and Julius sighed. “Come here.”
They stood outside the hotel, Julius tucked under Harry’s arm because of their slight height difference, until Julius’ car arrived. As soon as they were settled in the car, the driver asked, “Where to, Mr Norreys?”
There was a loaded silence as Julius considered telling his driver to take them back to Julius’ house, where he could invite Harry in and do more than just kiss him. A glance over at Harry had him positive that Harry wouldn’t protest.
But Harry had gotten what he wanted at the party. Julius wasn’t likely to see him again, sex or no, and it still wasn’t worth it to let Harry in like that only for him to leave.
“Tell him your address, please, Harry,” Julius said.
Harry did so. He slid the privacy screen closed afterward and turned to give Julius a long look.
“I think that was a success,” Harry said after a few silent minutes of driving.
Julius nodded. “It was a good idea,” he said. “Thank you.”
Harry shook his head. “I’m the one who should be saying thank you.”
“We’ll call it even,” Julius said.
“How should I get the suit back to you?”
Julius winced. “Will you really not just keep it?”
Julius could just see the corner of Harry’s lips quirk up in the light of the street lamps. “We already had this argument.”
“I’m still determined to win it,” Julius said.
“Fine,” Harry said, surprising Julius. “You win for now.”
Julius didn’t know what to say to that and so said nothing, and they sat in silence the rest of the way to Harry’s block of flats.
He looked over at Julius when the car came to a stop. “I guess that’s it, then,” he said.
Julius nodded. “That’s it.”
Harry nodded as well, reaching for the door handle. Then he abruptly stopped, and before Julius could say anything, leaned over and kissed Julius.
The kiss wasn’t short and sweet, and there was absolutely no reason for it, not a single excuse in sight, and yet Julius threaded his fingers into Harry’s hair and kissed him back anyway.
Harry pulled back just slightly, and Julius immediately dropped his hand and moved away. Harry didn’t move for a moment, but then he sat back. He looked at the car door and then back at Julius, his expression… uncertain, perhaps. Julius wasn’t sure, because he was avoiding eye contact.
“Good night, Harry.”
“Good night, Julius,” Harry said softly, and then he was gone.
Julius let his head fall back against the headrest and regretted his life.
Julius had made a lot of stupid choices in his life, but allowing himself to get involved with Harry might have taken the cake.
In his own defence, he had assumed Harry would move on immediately after, saving Julius from having to deal with any pesky feelings that cropped up and allowing him to continue on with things the way he liked them. Instead, there was a week’s worth of unanswered texts and missed calls on Julius’ mobile, and, worst of all, Julius felt rotten about leaving them.
It wasn’t that Julius was in love with Harry after four days of knowing him; it was that Julius might fall in love with him. Perhaps if they had just slept together and left it at that, Julius would be able to make the clean break he wanted—sex wouldn’t have come anywhere near filling the emptiness in Julius’ chest the way Harry curled up on his couch and smiling at him and kissing him threatened to. He didn’t know how to exist without that hole, and he didn’t appreciate Harry crashing into his life and knocking a curly-haired-brat-shaped section out of the walls around his heart.
If Marcus were here, he’d be incredibly disappointed in Julius’ behaviour—but he wasn’t, and that was the goddamn problem.
Julius jumped, startled out of moodily staring at his computer screen, and attempted to cover it by shuffling papers on his desk. “Mr Vane,” he said. “To…” He trailed off, realising that it wasn’t just Philip standing in his doorway—it was also Harry. Balls. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Philip clapped Harry on the shoulder. “Mr Gordon and I were just finalising some details, and I thought we’d swing by to thank you for the introduction.”
“Of course,” Julius said, studiously avoiding meeting Harry’s eyes.
“Thank you again for your help,” Harry said to Philip.
“My pleasure,” Philip said, shaking Harry’s hand. “We’ll have to arrange dinner some time. Seems a shame to know nothing of each other over old bygones.”
“It certainly does,” Harry agreed.
Philip nodded. “Feel free to take a coffee break, Mr Norreys,” Philip added, and then he winked before sweeping out of the room. Lord help Julius.
There was a weighty silence for a moment before Harry cleared his throat. “I’ll go if you want, but… can we please talk, Julius?”
Julius wanted to tell him to go, but he couldn’t make himself say the words. He glanced up at Harry, catching the plaintive expression on his face, and found himself standing up before he registered deciding to. “Not here,” he said.
Harry followed him out of the office. They passed Richard’s office on the way, and Julius ignored the raised eyebrow Richard gave him.
Awkward silence surrounded them in the elevator. Julius couldn’t believe this nonsense; he might as well have slept with Harry when he’d had him in his bedroom if things were going to end up like this regardless.
“Listen,” Harry said somewhere between the fourth and fifth floors, “I get if you don’t—”
“Can’t you wait until we’re sitting down?” Julius interrupted.
“No, not really,” Harry said. “The thing is, I thought we were becoming good friends, so… even if you don’t want to start a real relationship, you didn’t have to drop me cold.”
The elevator doors opened with a ding at the ground floor. Julius stalked across the lobby to the coffee shop on the other side and sat down at the first empty table he saw. Harry followed and stood for a moment, the fingers of one hand lightly resting on the table top, and then he sat as well.
Julius breathed out heavily. “I did, though.”
“I know you did,” Harry said. “Your voicemail message is annoying as hell, did you know that?”
“No, I mean I did have to,” Julius said, ignoring the insult to his voicemail.
Harry looked so sad that Julius sort of wanted to be sick. “Okay, if you don’t think I’m good enough to even be friends with—” He cut himself off, shaking his head, and made to stand up again.
Julius reached out and grabbed his hand to stop him. “No, that’s not what I meant,” he said. He took a deep breath. He hadn’t been entirely sure whether he was going to let Harry down easy or not until right then, but his dreams of a clean break seemed more feverish and absurd with every passing moment. “I had to because… I’m very set in my ways. I have been ever since the army, you understand.”
Harry nodded, still hovering awkwardly.
“But you… you shake everything up, Harry, and I… well, I think I don’t want to just be friends at all, and that is terrifying for me.”
Harry sat back down and stared at Julius’ hand on his. Julius considered letting go and then decided he didn’t want to. He looked up at Julius, his mouth twitching up on one side. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve been ignoring me because you like me?”
Julius huffed. “It sounds very primary school when you put it like that.”
“It is very primary school,” Harry said, but he was grinning. “I understand, though. We all have good reason to be wary when we’re sharing our heart, and you more than most. We can take it slow like school children.” He turned his hand so that he was properly holding Julius’. “Just like this.”
Julius’ heart felt entirely too soft. “I might very well be a disaster at this,” he warned Harry.
Harry shrugged. “You’ve been doing okay so far.”
“I have not,” Julius protested.
“Okay, so live and learn,” Harry said, unaffected. “We’ll make a family man out of you yet.”
Julius laughed, startling himself and several of the people around them. “Right,” he said, squeezing Harry’s hand. He chuckled again, unable to help himself. “A family man.”