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Pretty Please (With Sugar On Top)

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&&&

 

“You all right?” the alpha laughed, already out of bed and getting dressed, retrieving his trousers from where they were discarded somewhere near the entryway.

He apparently wasn’t one for cuddling after knotting which was—fine. Harry would just have to remember to take his meds as soon as he got home, and maybe call Niall over for some platonic affection. The second part was always embarrassing, but would be better than dropping.

For now he just smashed his face into the pillow which smelled like five-star-hotel detergent and murmured a conglomeration of sounds that ended up vaguely affirmative. He hadn’t yet regained the ability to string words together. It was due to a combination of teetering on the edge of omega space but not letting himself fall, and also having just been fucked so thoroughly he could hardly remember his own name.

A big hand caressed the side of his face and Harry nuzzled his cheek into the touch. It was probably all he was going to get so he better enjoy it now.

Some alphas were more affectionate than others and this one was on the lesser end of the spectrum. It explained why he was unmated despite the fact that he was wealthy and attractive. Harry didn’t want to even imagine being bonded to an alpha who hated affectionate contact unless it was sexual.

The hand fell away and Harry kept his nose pressed to the pillow. His omega instincts were telling him to relax a little bit more and dip beneath the realm of consciousness. Like sinking into a warm bath, it would be so easy. The real chore was ignoring the internal pull. However, nothing was more motivating to him to stay lucid than the threat of being vulnerable.

“Gonna stay the night, babe?”

“Can’t,” Harry mumbled, “Sorry.”

Rules are rules, he considered adding, but thought better of it. Reminding the alpha who had just knotted him multiple times that this was a transactional interaction didn’t always end well, in his experience. It was safer to play up the facade. If Harry was lucky he might even get another call, or better yet more money Venmo’d to him tomorrow. One time an alpha he’d never met in person but only chatted with online sent an entire collection of designer lingerie to his P.O. box, which was perhaps the most ideal and astounding situation of them all. Harry didn’t even have to do anything.

So he moaned in a way he knew was irresistible and sat up to find the alpha watching him as he got dressed. His name was Michael and he was a forty-five year old defense attorney in New York City who specialized in theft and robbery, which was ironic, considering Harry felt like he was stealing from him right now. Not that he was, but it did require a bit of deception to get the new Gucci leather ankle boots and a pleasing stack of cash for his troubles, now safely stowed in his wallet.

“This was fun,” Harry said, rolling out of bed. He meant it, too. Living a life of luxury without having a real job was fun. Fucking alphas for money was less fun, but still all right, especially given the outcome. The money was what got him slick, anyway. Besides, he enjoyed a good fuck, emotionless as it may have been. He was easy for pleasure, in whatever way he could get it.

Tilting his head back and reaching his arms up to stretch, he assessed the current situation of his body in the mirror. There were a few bite marks on chest and presumably his neck as well, which were technically against the rules but Harry had been too blissed out in the moment to notice. It was annoying, but fine. He would just have to be careful to cover them with concealer, and learn from his mistakes. No more letting go enough to not notice the alpha was mauling his neck.

Aside from the bruises, the rest of him was fine. No red marks on his backside despite the rough sex and periodic spanking throughout the night, which was a relief. His soreness wasn’t horrible, and he could probably make it home without limping. Probably.

The alpha was still watching him, looking quite self-satisfied at the way he had thoroughly debauched an omega. Harry almost rolled his eyes, but caught himself. Alphas could be so smug, when there was no reason at all. As if Harry belonged to him.

“Agreed. I’ll see you around, sometime soon?”

Harry shrugged, slipping into his own trousers and fancy blouse. The fabric smelled like alcohol to his sensitive nose but he ignored it, as he ignored the way come was smearing onto the insides of his clothes. A shower was in order but that would have to wait until he got home. Despite the fact that the pristine, luxurious hotel-room shower called his name, promising pleasant water pressure and fancy soaps. Staying too long was not a risk he was willing to take.

“You have my number,” he said with a coquettish smirk, the right amount of flippant and flirtatious all in one short statement. Alphas were simple creatures who enjoyed chasing omegas just a little bit. They lost interest if the omega was too easy, too willing. Harry had discovered, after four years of sugaring, how to tease them in just the way that gave him an all access pass to their hearts—and their bank accounts.

The alpha was still watching him, openly lusting after him. His expression was open and completely readable, as was his scent. Sharp and heady, filled with a kind of desire that almost made Harry blush. Even after all these years, the undivided attention sometimes still got to him.

It was clear the omega had him wrapped around his little finger. Just where he wanted him. All he had to do was seal the deal, so he fluttered over to the bed, pressing a lingering, open-mouthed kiss to the alpha’s cheek, exhaling a humid breath. Making sure his own scent conveyed that same sensual yearning.

With that, Harry grabbed his new Gucci boots and left.

 

&&&

 

“Can I come over, pretty please?”

On the other end of the line, through a crackle and a bit of rustling, Niall huffed out a groan. To be fair, it was 2:00 AM and Harry was asking him to get out of bed to unlock the door and let Harry use his shower. And then maybe cuddle him until he fell asleep.

“All right, fine. But I have a favor to ask of you.”

The February temperatures in New York City were unforgiving. Winter wind blew straight through his Saint Laurent shearling coat, the one he received as a thank-you for spending a weekend in Hong Kong with an alpha on a business trip last year. He was shivering so violently his entire body was shaking. A stupid side effect of being omega was that his body was bad at regulating temperature and maintaining homeostasis, giving him a particular sensitivity to the cold.

It was a stupid idea to live in New York. Not for the first time, he asked himself why he chose this city in the first place. Realistically, he could live anywhere. Any big city had rich alphas who would be more than happy to “date” him and pay him for his troubles. When leaving home, why hadn’t he chosen somewhere warmer than New York?

“What is it?” Harry asked, after a long pause of forgetting he was still on the phone with Niall. It wasn’t snowing so much as icing, tiny shards of icy snowflakes pelting him in the face. Not only was it frigid outside but he was also worried about being mugged or shot or kidnapped because it was the middle of the night and he was an omega in a big city. Shit happened. He walked faster despite his soreness and the wind pushing against him.

“I’ll tell you in person,” Niall said. “You’ll like it, though.”

“All right,” Harry agreed, because he was tired and wishing Michael had been a nicer, more caring alpha because in that case he probably would’ve paid for a taxi for him, or at least made sure he got home safely. Honestly.

Niall was quiet and Harry was concerned he fell asleep.

“Niall?”

“Yeah, pet?”

A tiny pressure of worry released in his chest. On nights like this, it was easy to feel alone.

“Stay on the phone with me?”

“Of course.”

 

&&&

 

By the time he showed up at Niall’s door, he was shaking uncontrollably to the point where he almost dropped his phone, and his fingers were completely white. Niall opened the door, set one glance on the state he was in, and tugged him inside, swearing.

“Jesus fuck, how far did you walk?”

“Not far,” his teeth chattered. “Just, a few blocks.” But it had been enough to render him unable to think clearly. It was the cold, coupled with the events of the night and how he could feel himself dropping already, a consequence of being knotted but not taken care of afterward.

The good friend he was, Niall helped him out of his coat and onto the couch, piling blankets on top of him until he was wrapped in a butterfly’s cocoon of warmth and comfort, all of which held Niall’s soothing alpha scent. Meanwhile a kettle was set on the stove and the TV was turned to a Law and Order marathon.

“I need to shower.”

“Drink this first,” he insisted, handing Harry his favorite mug which was dark, muted blue and handleless, so he could wrap both hands around it to warm them without anything getting in the way. The mug had gold detailing on the side, outlining delicate flowers. Harry liked it so much not just because it didn’t have a handle but also because it was a souvenir from his first time in Tokyo, where he met Niall at a golf tournament.

They sat in silence for a bit until Harry’s teeth stopped chattering for the most part. Then Niall started questioning him about his night, because as much as he didn’t want to know the details, he was alpha and had to make sure the omega was safe and everything was okay.

“Was he nice to you?”

“Eh, he was fine.” He wasn’t going to lie, but he didn’t want Niall to worry. “He got me the shoes I wanted,” he added, pulling his free hand out of the mountain of blankets just to point to the box he had left on the coffee table. “And two grand.”

Niall squinted at him, assessing. Then he laughed. “Two grand? For one night—not even a full night? Wow.”

“I’m good at what I do,” Harry said, smug. It was a special occasion and certainly not something that was sustainable; he didn’t receive two thousand dollars every time he slept with an alpha. If only. “Everybody wants a sugar baby like me.”

“I’m sure. Drink your tea, you’re still shaking. You look like you got mauled by a bear, by the way.”

“Don’t look at me,” he whined, hand shooting up to cover his neck. No marks had always been a rule because no alpha would want to go near him with a ten foot pole if it looked like he was already claimed . Tonight had been a momentary lapse in judgement, a moment of really good sex that made him let his guard down for one second too long, which of course ended badly. He would have to be more careful next time, more steadfast with his rules.

“Do I need to fight him?”

Thinking of Niall in an alpha fight made him laugh, and then get whacked in the shoulder. “You’re silly,” he smiled, setting down his mug and resituating the blankets so the edge covered his neck and wrapped around his shoulders. “What did you want to ask me?”

“Oh, yeah. I have a favor to ask of you and it involves your omega wiles.”

He had to muffle another round of giggles with the blankets, but it had the added benefit of giving him another whiff of alpha which soothed his oversensitive nerves. Niall was funny about Harry being omega sometimes, and it could be awkward but really it only made them laugh. “My omega wiles?”

“Yes. Your apparently irresistible smell and charming sex appeal.”

Clearly he was joking but there was still a tiny part of Harry hidden deep inside that preened at the praise. Having no idea where this was going or why Niall needed his help, he fluttered his eyelashes and flirted, ridiculously, “Go on.”

“So I have a friend.”

“A friend?”

“An alpha friend.”

“Ooh. Does he have, you know…” He shimmied his shoulders, pretending it was something more illicit and raunchy. They both knew he was talking about money, because wasn’t he always?

Niall rolled his eyes, but there was a familiar fondness beneath the exasperation. “Yes. He’s a big name in the music industry so you might’ve heard of him at all those fancy dinners you go to. Louis Tomlinson?”

It was true, he did attend a lot of formal dinner events, galas, and balls because arrogant, old, rich alphas liked to bring young, sexy omegas with them to show off to their friends like trophies of their success. Luckily, some young sexy omegas like Harry liked to attend fancy business events in exchange for exorbitant amounts of money, even if it meant being a bit of a slut to get what he wanted. What could he say? He was a bit of a hedonist, and had been doing this for long enough to be okay with owning up to it.

“Oh? No, haven’t heard of him. What kind of music industry person?” Even just the mention of a wealthy alpha was making him feel warmer and more alert. He straightened his spine, tilting his head toward Niall.

“He’s a booking agent, but he also writes songs on the side, which is how we met, you know.”

Niall’s main priority in life was competing as a professional golfer, which had been a dream since childhood, and one he achieved years ago, before Harry even met him. But he was also a great musician and had managed to break into the industry, releasing a few singles and an entire album last year. At any given moment, he was either golfing, strumming chords on his guitar, or hooking Harry up with his affluent alpha friends.

A grin was already threatening to overtake Harry’s face but he held it back, biting at his lip, saying, “Oh, that’s cool.” He liked where this was going.

“Yeah. So. He has a beach house in Florida, you know, one of those new mansions?”

“Where in Florida? Is it on the water?”

“Fort Myers I think, and yeah, it’s on the water. Calm down.”

Harry pouted. “I’m excited.” He could already visualize himself relaxing on the beach, fancy drink in hand, surrounded by wealth. It made his heart flutter a bit. So what if it would require sleeping with a random alpha?

“I know you are. Wait for me to finish, you don’t even know what I’m going to ask yet.”

“No, but I’m already saying yes.”

“You’re insane.”

“Is he in the sugar bowl?” Maybe that was why Harry hadn’t heard of him before, because surely they would’ve met one time at an event, or at least his name might’ve come up in conversation. “Is he gonna pay me? How old is he? How long does he want me there? Does he like tall omegas-”

Niall threw a pillow at his face before he could finish. “Hush, you’re so impatient, I’m trying to explain. He’s not like the alphas you usually ‘date.’” Complete with air quotes, which made Harry chuck the pillow right back at him. Niall didn’t like to talk about the fact that Harry traded his company for riches, and he frequently tried to disguise it as normal dating.

“How so?”

“Well, for one, he’s not old enough to be your dad. Also, he’s never done this before, and he’s kind of, well. Difficult? Not difficult, I guess, but like. Shy.”

“Shy?” Harry squeaked,  suddenly off-kilter, because he was pretty sure he had never been with a shy alpha before. The alphas who were interested enough in Harry to pay for his company were the bold ones, the men who were arrogant and conceited, the ones who enjoyed attention more than anything.

Also, Harry’s mind was still a hazy mess from the amount of times he was knotted tonight and he had yet to receive any real cuddles. Even if he were completely coherent he was pretty sure Niall wasn’t making sense.

“I mean, he’s not- He doesn’t do this usually.”

“But he wants to do it now. Is his rut coming up?”

“No, actually, I think he’s on suppressants.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. Rut suppressants? Those were rare, really rare. The only people who used suppressants on the regular were omegas, because heats came four times a year without them and were terribly inconvenient and just—torturous, without a mate. Harry would know, he’d been through far too many in his lifetime and nowadays he took a pill every morning to avoid them.

Speaking of medicine, he needed to take his soothers. He told Niall this and Niall got up to go rifle around in the medicine cabinet for him, coming back with the little purple pills and a glass of water. Harry popped them back and then demanded more details.

“Why does he suppress his rut?”

“Same reasons as you with your heats. It’s not that uncommon,” Niall defended, although Harry was pretty sure Niall had never once in his life suppressed his rut.

“It totally is. Consider me intrigued. Why wouldn’t he want to go feral for a few days and live out all his sexual fantasies with literally zero repercussions?”

Alphas loved ruts, and for good reason. They got out of work with no consequences, and got to have mind-blowing sex nonstop for five days. The bad things only affected omegas: the possibility of being overpowered and forced to do something you didn’t want to do, the vulnerability of giving up your willpower, and the clingingness that came after being knotted.

“He’s a busy guy and his work is important to him. He doesn’t like to take days off.”

“Oh, he’s one of those.” Harry knew exactly the type, and had a bit of experience in seducing them. “And you want me to help him loosen up.”

Niall shrugged, like it wasn’t a very strange situation they were in right now. Like they weren’t sitting on the couch discussing who should knot Harry next. “I mean yeah, kinda. If you’re up for it.”

So, Harry’s life was a bit weird because he was a full time sugar baby and somewhere along the line it just became a part of his identity, inextricable and enduring. Three years ago, he finished college with a degree in studio art, which was just as useless as everyone warned him it would be, for him at least. At the same time, he had just broken up with his five-year boyfriend and the alpha he thought he was going to bond one day, and everything had fallen to pieces. He had no idea what the next step of his life was. But the stars lined up.

Harry cried in a restaurant after the fight that ended their relationship, and a middle-aged alpha stranger wearing expensive clothes footed the bill and comforted him. Meanwhile Harry’s own boyfriend sat there and refused to look in his direction. The alpha slipped his business card into Harry’s pocket and told him to call me when you’re ready, sweetheart. Three weeks later, Harry picked up the phone.

A few months after that, he was at a dinner party, looking around and counting the alphas who had already had him in their beds. Feeling embarrassed but strangely proud. He wasn’t going to lie, the thought of being passed around from alpha to alpha was one that indulged many of his sexual fantasies. It was fun, it was something he liked, and it was profitable .

For someone who had lived in poverty his entire childhood and all throughout college as well, working three jobs and taking night classes when he could afford it, sugar dating seemed like an obvious solution. And it was. It solved everything.

Leaning forward, Harry let a few stray curls fall in front of his face, just so he could tuck them behind his ear. His hair was still a mess from being tugged on all night, and he was still in the clothes he wore to the gala which were wrinkled and sticky with sweat and come. The chill from outside still clung to his bones.

He didn't even have to think about it, really. Like all those years ago, it was an obvious choice. Say yes to the alpha who was offering money in exchange for orgasms. Sex had always been easy. He had no reason to say no. He didn’t want to.

“Show me what he looks like.”

Niall pulled out his phone, did a quick Instagram search, and then thrust it into Harry’s face.

He smiled. The alpha was young and gorgeous, much better looking than any alpha Harry had ever dated before. He looked strong enough to hold Harry up against the wall, and his skin was sunshiney and warm. His eyes stood out the most to Harry, pale silver blue, like rare gems, or fragments of the sky.

He looked like someone Harry would’ve liked to date, genuinely, in another life.

“Thoughts?”

Scanning over the photos and looking for displays of wealth, he was pleased to see the job description in his bio and the little snapshots of expensive things in various photos, like private restaurants and a pretty Rolex watch. None of it was blatant or flaunted which was even better. In Harry’s experience, the people with the most money were the ones who were casual about it, as if it wasn’t a big deal. As if they didn’t even think about it.

“Louis Tomlinson,” Harry read from the page, handing the phone back to Niall but remembering the name. Young, attractive, genuinely wealthy, alpha. “Certifiably hot as fuck.”

Niall laughed. “Glad you think so. A week in Florida, how does that sound?”

Being flippant was pointless because Niall knew exactly how interested he was. Still, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, sure. Why not?”

If nothing else, the beach would be nice.

 

&&&

 

Four years had passed since his first flight but the novelty of airplane travel still hadn’t worn off. Growing up poor and subsequently tethered to a small, rural town in Iowa meant never having been on an airplane before he met the first alpha willing to take care of him. Despite the countless flights over the past few years, he still enjoyed the window seat more than anything, enjoyed looking out at the crawling city as it turned smaller and smaller.

It was a three-hour flight, nonstop, no connections, which was a relief. Harry was excited, as were a fair amount of other passengers, mostly families with younger kids. It was around the time for spring break, when escaping the cold clutches of a northern winter was most desirable, for the sake of enjoying a week or two in Florida’s sun.

He fiddled with a phone a bit and tried to take a nap to pass the time, but mostly he stared out the window at the receding earth and then the cumulonimbus clouds, the kind that were always in the distance of a bright blue sky on a  perfect day, which looked like cotton balls.

Somewhere at Southwest Florida International Airport, an alpha would be waiting for him to bring him to his extravagant beachside mansion. Harry had never even heard his voice before, on the phone or otherwise, though they had shared a few texts over the past week, mostly figuring out the flight arrangement and payment options. The alpha had transferred enough money into Harry’s bank account to fly first class and then some, but he diligently decided to save it since flying commercial never really bothered him anyways.

So he didn’t know much about this Louis Tomlinson guy, and Harry would never be doing this unless the alpha knew someone Harry trusted more than anything, like Niall. So here he was, already on a plane to Florida, about to spend his week in bed with an alpha, hopefully with a bit of time to explore the beach and go shopping too, because, god, he deserved it.

Realistically, he had no idea what to expect, because everyone was different, but he had done this sort of thing before with other alphas so he could make some guesses on what his week would entail. Sunblock massages, private beach sex, sunset cruises, and being shown off and paraded around at dinner parties. He would have to be adamant about the alpha taking him shopping, or else it would never happen.

By the time the plane landed he was vibrating with a kind of excitement that probably annoyed the business-like beta who had been sitting next to him the entire flight. He was a cute alpha, with an attractive face and body, but Harry wasn’t going to waste his time because they were flying commercial which was an indicator of wealth, or lack thereof. It was a shame.

Even stepping into the air-conditioned airport, the climate felt different, warmer. The sun was out, because it was Florida, the sunshine state, and the people waiting in line at security were pleasantly sunburnt and sated.

He felt proud walking through the airport with the strap of his carry-on hanging loosely over his shoulder, a YSL duffle that he had lusted over for weeks until one of his alphas finally bought it for him. Even waiting a long time for his luggage wasn’t as annoying as it usually was. Everything felt new and bright and exciting.

As soon as he retrieved his bags, he checked his phone to find the alpha had just texted him to say he just pulled into the pick-up area. Perfect timing. Harry couldn’t help but smirk to himself as he walked through the airport in confident strides, stepping out into the warm Florida air.

He spotted the car almost immediately, because Louis had sent a picture of it a few hours ago so he would know what to look for. It was sleek and white and not too showy, but definitely a luxury vehicle. Harry was no stranger to expensive things, not anymore at least, so he didn’t let it intimidate him. He kept a casual air of haughtiness, so people would take him seriously. As an omega, it was definitely difficult to get people to take him seriously.

The car door opened and Louis stepped out, which Harry wasn’t expecting. Just then, the breeze blew at exactly the right time, in the right direction. Harry caught a breath of his scent, yummy alpha smell tickling his nose. He was shocked by how good it smelled, because yeah, alphas smelled good to his omega nose but none of them smelled like that . Jesus Christ.

“Hello,” Harry said with a smile, drawing out the syllables in a singsongy way. His bag was digging into his shoulder but he ignored it, leaning in for a hug when Louis opened his arms.

“Good flight? Everything went smoothly?”

His voice was higher than Harry expected, soft and wispy and he fell in love with it immediately.

“Yes, yeah, I’m excited to be on the ground again,” he said, just to say something, even though he had no idea why he said those words exactly, because he loved airplanes and flying and all of that. He suddenly felt very frazzled and none of the current situation was helping. Louis was even more gorgeous than in his Instagram photos and he smelled so good, Harry was going to die.

Calm down , he reprimanded himself, handing over his bags to let Louis set them in the trunk of the car. He was getting way ahead of himself. They were about to spend the entire week together. Harry would be getting exactly what he wanted, very soon. He just had to act like a normal omega for the drive to the house and maybe for a glass of wine, and then he could melt into Louis’ touch and be as desperate for him as he wanted to be. That was what he was here for, anyway.

He took the passenger’s seat as Louis got behind the wheel again, and once the doors were closed the scent of alpha became so overpowering without the breeze to dilute it and Harry had to try very hard not to get slick.

They ended up making small talk for the entirety of the ride to the beach house, and Harry quickly found that Louis was funny and easy to talk to. He pointed out landmarks and locations, telling Harry a little bit about the place after asking him if he’d ever been in the area before, which he hadn’t. It was a forty-five minute drive but it passed by quickly in a blur of palm trees and traffic, the windows rolled down slightly and the warm Florida breeze brushing up against their skin.

Harry knew they were just dancing around the reason why they were both here, and he couldn’t wait for them to arrive at the house because then they would really be able to get to know each other. For the first time ever, Harry was actually excited to touch and be touched by this alpha. He couldn’t believe how lucky he’d gotten, knowing many of his omega friends who were also in the sugar bowl would be incredibly jealous of him right now.

“Have you had dinner yet?”

Harry shook his head, smiling apologetically.

“No worries, it’s a bit late now but I’m sure we can find something. Any preferences?”

“Your choice,” Harry said. “Where do you like to eat?” It would be a good test to see if Louis was sugar daddy material. If he chose a cheap place, Harry would run for the hills.

“It’ll be a surprise, then. Not really wearing the proper attire but they shouldn’t mind.”

Harry smiled secretly to himself, facing away from Louis so he wouldn’t see. He was so excited, butterflies were fluttering in his belly. If he allowed himself to admit it, he liked Louis a lot already. Never having felt this before for a potential sugar daddy, Harry wasn’t sure how to deal with it.

He decided it was best to just enjoy this now and figure the rest out later. This was a vacation first and foremost, after all. The days ahead promised beach days and lots of sex with an alpha who made him feel warm inside. Not much in the world was better than that.

 

&&&

 

The restaurant was a cozy place on the water, all dark wood and sleek designs. It was romantic in an understated, masculine sort of way, and Harry was a fan of the three vanilla candles in the middle of the table. The scent complimented the aroma of the salty air rolling in off the waves, and distracted from the room of people.

Their table was in a location that was secluded enough that Harry wasn’t bothered by the overpowering scents of posturing alphas in the restaurant. He was able to enjoy Louis’ fragrance without any distractions, and it made his mouth water.

“All right?”

“Oh! Yeah, sorry,” Harry apologized, a blush heating his cheeks. He hadn’t realized he was staring until Louis called him out. Usually he was better at this. Instead of saying the common What were you saying, again? he opted to own up to his distraction in a way that would hopefully be received as complimentary. He let his voice fall a little deeper, turn a little more sultry. “You’re just very distracting.”

The alpha’s brows raised before he laughed out loud.

The sound was pleasant and Harry partly wanted to say something else to make him laugh more, but the majority of him was a little baffled that his flirting didn’t have the desired effect. Apparently, he would have to try harder.

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis said, waving his hands. “I’m not laughing at you. It’s just, don’t worry about that. You don’t have to do that. I’m hoping we can both be ourselves here?”

Harry’s brows furrowed as he stared down at the smooth, rustic wood of the table. “Don’t have to do what?”

The alpha gestured vaguely, and Harry followed his hands with his eyes. “I mean, you don’t have to use that voice on me or even look at me like that. I’d rather we be genuine with each other.”

Harry sat back in his seat, a bit astounded. He was being genuine, maybe for the first time in his life. Louis thought he was playing him or something? Pretending to be into him? It wasn’t the first time an alpha had insisted they be real with each other, but usually that just meant they wanted Harry to try even harder to pretend to be into them, so it didn’t seem as forced.

This was different. Harry liked Louis already. So far, he seemed like exactly the sweet, kind alpha Harry would’ve pined after in any other situation. He wasn’t acting; his attraction wasn’t a lie. So the fact that Louis thought he was being disingenuous was kind of horrifying.

“Um, okay,” he said slowly, not sure how else to go about it. “I like genuine.”

“Good,” Louis smiled, eyes crinkling. It was very cute. He took a sip of his beer, something expensive and foreign, something Harry had never heard of before. “Me too.”

Now feeling completely derailed, Harry had trouble picking a new thread of conversation that would get everything back on track. Usually all he had to do was mention cars, golf, or something work-related, and the alpha would take over, ranting all about how great they were and how stupid everyone else was. That was what made Harry’s job easy—for the most part, all he had to do was prop his head on his hand, listen, and insert appropriate reactions every so often like a comforting I know exactly what you mean and I agree or a breathless wow, you’re so talented.

None of this worked with Louis, though, because he didn’t seem to want to talk about himself. He wanted to talk about Harry, to find out more about his life and who he was, why he was here, and Harry was unprepared. He’d never run into this problem before and he didn’t know how to deal with it. Every time he tried to return the conversation back to Louis, Louis would flip it right back to him.

“You must love having a house here. The weather is perfect,” Harry commented dreamily, expecting the typical complaints about the traffic and tourists.

Instead, “It is beautiful. Did you grow up somewhere warm?”

“Um, sort of,” Harry said awkwardly. He didn’t want to talk about his past. He wanted to find out more about Louis; he wanted Louis to fall in love with him. “So Niall told me you’re in the music industry? That seems fascinating.”

“I am,” Louis agreed. “It’s great. I love my job. I get to search for talent and mentor new artists which is incredibly rewarding. And I got to meet Niall, which obviously makes everything worth it.” He laughed again, and Harry smiled with him. “And how did you meet Niall?”

“A dinner party,” he said, and it wasn’t a lie. He tucked a curl behind his ear, trying to look coy. It was hard to tell if it was working. “We both drank too much wine and went out for some fresh air, and there was an omega walking her dog. A big fluffy mastiff, gosh, so cute. You know, the dog that kind of looks like a bear. Anyway, we both realized we abandoned our dates to cuddle with a big dog, and we started talking, and that was that.”

“A fellow dog lover?”

Harry perked up. He nodded enthusiastically. “Do you have dogs?”

“One, not here though. Back home. His name is Clifford, he’s a labradoodle. Wanna see pictures?”

“Yes, please!”

Harry gladly accepted the alpha’s phone, scrolling through the photo album. His smile grew as he flipped from picture to picture, a black labradoodle with curly fur featured in each one. Running in a park under cloudy skies, chewing on a bone beside the window, cuddling with Louis on the couch.

“Where is home for you?”

“I’m sort of all over the place, but I go between LA, Chicago, and New York the most. Come here for vacation, or to do business. My family’s in England, though. Doncaster. That’s home.”

Finally, an informative answer, without a question that turned it back on the omega. Harry felt better, like the balance of the universe was restored. He smiled over the pictures, but secretly wondered what Louis’ life was like, when he wasn’t having dinner by the seaside with pretty omegas like Harry.

“You’re very handsome in these, especially this one,” Harry said, returning Louis’ phone to him with the picture of him and Clifford cuddling on the screen.

“You sound like my mum,” he laughed, and that definitely wasn’t what Harry was going for.

Harry pouted and picked up his menu, searching for something good to eat. He couldn’t decide what he was in the mood for. Everything listed looked very decadent, and it reminded Harry of a date he went on with a sugar daddy in Paris. It was the most expensive restaurant in France, the kind of place people went to not because the food was good but because they wanted to show off their wealth. It was the kind of place where, if you leaned forward in your chair to stand up, one of the staff would run over to move your chair for you.

After that dinner in Paris, the alpha gave him the super cliche line about you have to come see the art in my apartment and brought him back to the top floor of a luxurious place overlooking the city. The alpha knotted him against the window, obviously.

“Need any suggestions? This is my favorite place to bring friends, so I know the menu pretty well.”

Harry realized he had been staring off into space for too long, thinking about sex. He snapped himself out of it, reminding himself that he only needed to wait a few hours longer and then he would be satisfied again. He accepted Louis’ offer for help and they ended up in an entertaining and enlightening conversation about foods they liked and didn’t like. Ultimately, they decided to order three different dishes to share.

Louis also ordered a bottle of ‘89 Dom Perignon to celebrate the beginning of their vacation together. Apparently 1989 was a good year for wine. Harry didn’t know much about wine, because the topic bored him, just like cars did too, but he knew enough from sugar dating to know that the alpha just spent at least a thousand dollars on 750 milliliters of alcohol that would be gone within the next few hours. Rich people, honestly. Harry could just roll his eyes.

Dinner was good, though, and the wine was great. They got desert afterwards, a lavish chocolate concoction that made his mouth water. Harry even had the pleasure of jokingly feeding Louis a bit of desert by the forkfull, making them both giggle.

The world melted away when Louis laughed and there were moments where Harry forgot he was here for money. It felt much more like a real date than Harry had ever experienced before.

 

&&&

 

“Oh, wow,” Harry said quietly, upon stepping out of the car. He had waited patiently as Louis opened the door for him like a gentleman, helping him out with a guiding hand and a teasing smile.

The house was beautiful, and usually Harry kept a cool demeanor about luxurious things, because the kind of confidence and comfort around money was what he needed to be a sugar baby, but he figured Louis wouldn’t mind. Louis was different from Harry’s other sugar daddies—so different, in fact, that Harry kept forgetting this wasn’t real, that he was playing a role, that he was here to help a friend.

“Like I said, I’m not here too often, but I agree, it is nice.” Louis held onto Harry’s hand, but their fingers weren’t interlaced, so it felt more like a friendly gesture than anything.

Like all of the other houses on the water, this one was built up with the first floor a story above ground level, to protect from storm damage. Louis led Harry up the stairs, and the omega silently admired the sleek exterior of the house.

The interior was just as elegant, everything spotless and lovely. The designs featured lots of beach tones, with pretty white and sand-colored furniture that made everything look bright. There were pops of color that drew the eye but Harry found himself gazing at a family photo hung on the wall beside the entryway, as the door closed softly behind him in the wind.

“Your family?” he asked, nodding to the picture.

Louis stood beside him and reappraised it. “My mum and sisters, one brother. They visit sometimes. It’s the only reason why I keep the house, really, they all love the beach. I’m not much of a spender, honestly, I don’t like to waste money on frivolous things when it could be used for so much more. Of course, tonight was a bit of an anomaly.”

He wondered what Louis used his money for, if not for frivolous things.

“Yummy wine,” Harry agreed eventually, letting his shoulder brush against the alpha’s. Harry was taller than him but maybe if he slumped down a little, Louis would wrap him in his arms?

“Care for another glass?”

“Absolutely.”

While Louis poured them each a glass from the remainder of the bottle they brought home from the restaurant, Harry explored the kitchen. It was his dream kitchen, honestly, with the newest appliances and gorgeous countertops that made his heart flutter. It would be a dream to cook here. Maybe he would get the chance.

Harry accepted the glass and took a sip, noting the way Louis’ gaze seemed to fixate on his lips for a fleeting moment.

It was the part of the night where things could get awkward, if they let it turn that way. Harry was an expert at this, though. Not to mention, there was a palpable energy between them, almost tangible. It felt like an electric current through the air, and under his skin, too. The butterflies in his stomach refused to go away.

“Let’s go for a tour.”

Harry smiled to himself. A tour that ended in the bedroom was exactly what he was looking for. So he played along, trailing after Louis and commenting on the decorating as was appropriate, which wasn’t difficult because everything really was beautiful.

The side of the house that faced the beach had a balcony overlooking the ocean attached to every room, and even one at the end of the hallway, too. Louis guided him out to the one attached to the third-floor sunroom, and Harry gasped as soon as he stepped outside.

“Beautiful,” he whispered, the word he was using most often all of a sudden. He set his free hand on the cool metal railing and delighted in the way the sea breeze blew past him, caressing his skin. The sound of the waves was a melodic lullaby, the air refreshing and a complement to Louis’ dizzying alpha scent. Harry wanted to be wrapped up in all of it, in the sand, the ocean breeze, in Louis…

“Glad you think so,” Louis said, softly. He was leaning against the railing, looking at Harry.

Harry looked back at him, taking in the sight of a gorgeous alpha beneath the gentle glow of the moon, the ocean spread out behind him. He wanted to kiss him, but knew Louis should be the one to make the first move. It was his fantasy afterall, his money he was spending on Harry. Harry was just along for the ride.

He couldn’t help the shock of arousal that ricocheted through his body, though, at the sight of everything he’d always wanted in front of him. He couldn’t believe how lucky he’d gotten, how much he’d have to thank Niall later for this.

“Shall we finish the tour?”

Louis offered him a distracting smile and led the way, taking them down the hall again. Harry assumed the room at the end was the master bedroom, with the intricate French doors, and he kind of hoped they would skip the rest of the house to speed things along.

That didn’t happen, though, because Louis took them next to a spacious terrace tucked into the corner of the house.

“This has a lot of privacy,” he said. “It isn’t visible from the beach, the street, or any of the other houses, so it’s good if you’re into sunbathing or anything like that.”

Harry bit his lip, holding back a smirk and a suggestive comment. He could think of many other activities for the terrace and the privacy it offered, but he settled on saying, “Oh, that’s great. I’m not a fan of tan lines on myself, so…” He trailed off, absolutely positive Louis was now imagining him naked and lying out in the sun. Which was the goal.

Louis inhaled a little uneasily, drawing out the word, “Right.”

It was an unexpected reaction, and Harry wasn’t sure what to do with the mixed signals. Maybe the alpha was nervous?

To be fair, Niall did say he was shy. Not that Louis seemed shy at all. He was friendly and talkative, filling in most of the conversation as Harry listened and encouraged him. He did seem a little guarded about personal information, but so was Harry, and they were strangers, anyways, so it was warranted.

“Um, okay, let me show you the guest room,” Louis said eventually, shaking his head. “I really think you’ll love this one, the bed set is great and the sheets are so soft.”

Harry followed along, certain Louis was right that he would like this one too. He had liked everything so far, and even if he hadn’t, he would never say anything about it.

There were two other guest rooms but they had only peeked their heads in for a moment to check them out, not stepping inside. Harry was confused as to why Louis wasn’t just taking him to the master bedroom, but maybe he was buying himself more time.

They opened the door and stepped inside, and Louis immediately began running through all of the room’s amenities. “En suite with a shower and tub, double sinks—not that you’ll need both of them, balcony, wardrobe, king-sized tempurpedic bed with a remote for heating and cooling in the nightstand drawer, 1,500 thread count sheets.”

“Cool,” Harry said, not understanding why he was going into such detail. The room was nice, and he was impressed, but… 

“So I’ll go grab your bags from the car-”

“Wait, we’re sleeping in the guest room?”

Louis stopped. “Uh… What?”

“What about the master bedroom? Is there something-”

“Oh,” Louis said, mouth dropping open a little. “Oh! Uh. You’re sleeping here. I’m in the master. Unless you want to switch?”

Harry’s brows furrowed. “Why are we sleeping in different rooms?”

Louis stared at him for a second. He leant back against the pale paint of the wall. He seemed to come to an understanding of the confusion before Harry did, because he asked, “What did Niall tell you before you came here? Not like- I’m not asking to test you, just, it’s a genuine question. Because I think there’s been a bit of a miscommunication.”

“Um,” Harry said, eloquently, swallowing. His palms became sweaty as he realized what was happening. “Do you know who I am?”

“I mean, I hope I do, we just spent all dinner and the car ride introducing ourselves…”

“No, I mean. Do you know- what I am?”

Louis seemed to be at a loss for what he was searching for.

“I’m a sugar baby,” Harry said, slowly. He rarely said the words out loud, so they left an interesting feeling in their wake. He’d never had to explain himself to an alpha before, he realized. They always just knew. “Affluent alphas repay me for my company with gifts and fancy dinners. Niall told you that, right?”

“I mean, yeah… He mentioned- He mentioned you do that, sometimes, but…”

“But you’re not looking for a sugar baby to spend time with and spoil for a week?” Harry’s heart was beating fast in his chest, and he felt like he had been set up. By his very own friend.

See, this is why Harry had trust issues.

“I… Wait. What did he tell you?”

Harry closed his eyes and exhaled through his mouth, letting the feeling of his lungs deflating calm him. His hands were shaking, but he tried to tell himself this wasn’t a big deal, that everything would be okay even if it wasn’t going according to plan. “He told me a friend of his needed someone to spend time with this week. Loosen him up a bit, give him some joy in his busy life.”

The corners of Louis’ lips turned down. Harry much preferred his smile.

“Well, he told me his omega friend was in need of a vacation, and I offered the house and said any friends of his are welcome to stay here. He… he mentioned a bit about what you do for a living, but I’m happy to give you a break from that. A week in Florida, enjoying the beach. I mean, I’ll pay you for your time, of course,” he rushed to say, “Please don’t think I’m trying to cheat you or anything. Niall sent me your rates and stuff and I’m happy to pay, while also giving you a bit of break, so. Yeah. Think of it as, like, a gift from a friend, I guess. I thought he told you that?”

Harry kept his eyes closed. “So we’re not, like, going to be doing anything together?”

“Uh- Not sleeping together, if that’s what you mean. I have a few meetings in the next two days, but after that I’m free for the rest of the time you’re here. So if you wanted to hang out, that would be totally fine. But also this is your vacation and you get to do stuff on your own time, so. You kind of have free rein.”

“Okay,” he said shakily, the words sinking in. It was a big shock, really, given what he thought was going to happen versus what was actually going to happen. He shaved his entire body last night, which was apparently all for nothing!

Not that Harry didn’t want a break from sugaring. It was well-needed, actually, now that he thought about it. The past few weeks had been hectic with dates and trying to find a new long-term daddy because one of his older, more reliable ones was ending their agreement for personal reasons. He hadn’t had a real night off in a while. It would be nice, he supposed.

Okay, to be honest, Harry was fucking ecstatic. The only loss was not getting knotted by Louis, which was a goddamn shame, but it would be okay.

“I’m sorry,” Louis said, “I’m sorry for the miscommunication, and kind of pissed at Niall—though it’s my fault for not making things clear beforehand. He insinuated you were aware this was what I had in mind. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Harry said, waving his hand. “Not your fault. I could have clarified too. It’s all right.” He tried on a lazy smile. “Not the vacation I expected, but a vacation nonetheless.”

It was rare that he found an alpha so genuine. Harry was skeptical, but Louis hadn’t given him a reason not to believe him, yet. An alpha who wanted to pay for what would essentially be Harry’s vacation and not get anything in return? It wasn’t the strangest request he had ever received, by far, but it was up there. The fact that Louis was seemingly doing it out of charity, helping out a friend of a friend, rather than self-interest, was more baffling than anything else.

“I can call Niall right now and sort this out,” Louis offered. “We can get you on the next flight home, or find a nice resort for you to stay at here-”

“I’m fine, Louis, really,” Harry said seriously, for the first time addressing him by his name.

He liked how it sounded coming from his own mouth, and mourned the fact that he wouldn’t get to hear it echo off the bedroom walls as he moaned in pleasure. Whatever

 “As long as you’re okay with me staying, I’d love to be here with you for the next week,” the omega assured. “If that’s all right.”

“Okay, yes, of course that’s all right.”

“Okay, good. And just for clarification,” Harry said, sucking in a deep breath, “We’re not going to do any of the stuff I usually do?”

“Right. We’ll just be friends, on vacation together. No need for any, like, flirting, or anything like that.”

Harry pinched his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger. Louis seemed genuine, but it was kind of hard to believe he wanted to do this without getting anything out of it. “You’re sure you don’t want to, like, show me off at any dinner parties, or maybe ride out your rut with me? I know Niall said you take suppressants, but if you don’t take the pill tomorrow then we would have time to-”

“Love, seriously,” Louis cut in, waving his arms around like he was desperate for Harry to stop talking before he finished his proposal. “I’m just doing this because Niall was trying to set us up and I wanted to do something nice, while also getting him off my back. You seem like you could use a break and I’m offering that to you. I’m not- I’m not the kind of alpha who pays omegas to knot them. Not that there’s anything wrong with what you do! Just, it’s not something I would do. That’s all.”

“Okay,” Harry said, very slowly. He heard what Louis was saying but he was still confused as to why he would be doing this if there was nothing in it for him. Self-proclaimed ‘nice’ alphas always had ulterior motives. Harry just wasn’t sure if Louis was one of those alphas, or if he was genuine. In Harry’s experience, and the crowd he ran in, a genuinely nice alpha was a rarity.

“Do you want me to get your bags from the car?”

“Yes, please,” Harry said, knowing this was his way of showing he wanted to stay. He offered a wavering smile at Louis as he disappeared down the hall, and then sat down on the bed. The mattress was a perfect combination of firm and soft, and it was calling his name.

So the current situation wasn’t what he had expected. All throughout dinner, he was imagining he would’ve already taken the alpha’s knot by now, or at least kissed him. Instead, he was facing a week absent of flirting and sex, and everything else that came with being a sugar baby.

It was a relief, mostly, but also a bit of a shame. Of course the most attractive alpha, the only one Harry was actually excited about, would be the one who didn’t want to knot him.

 

&&&

 

As much as he tried, Harry couldn’t fall asleep.

He sat upright in bed, the 1,500 thread-count sheets falling down around his waist, and stared at his reflection in the mirror on the wall. The room was dark, the moonlight reflecting off the sea illuminating everything in soft silver hues and charcoal shadows. He could barely see his face, but his eyes were bright and piercing, clearly alert.

He checked his phone for the time: 2:56 AM. Almost four hours after he and Louis said goodnight and went to their separate rooms. After Louis brought his bags to the room, they finished the bottle of Dom Perignon in the kitchen and laughed about the misunderstanding. The more Harry thought about it, the happier he was that Louis was kind enough to give him some time off. It wasn’t at all what he planned, but once he fully adjusted to the idea of having a real vacation, he would be excited.

Now, he was faced with the fact that he didn’t know how to sleep in an unfamiliar place without an alpha beside him.

He tried rolling to different sides of the bed, experimenting with different sleeping positions: curled up on his side, sprawled out on his stomach, resting peacefully on his back, bringing his knees up to his stomach, stretching his legs out, folding his hands beneath his cheek. None of it worked.

He tried different breathing techniques he learned from yoga, and though they calmed him down and made him feel marginally better, he didn’t fall asleep. So he turned the bedside lamp on, scrolled through his phone, unpacked some of his clothes into the wardrobe, rearranged his belongings, drank some water, and then had to pee.

Going to the bathroom made him realize he should probably shower, so he did. Just as Louis said, there was also a beautiful tub overlooking the sea, but that would be a last resort—three o’clock in the morning was too late for the hassle of a bath.

In the shower, he exfoliated his entire body, shaved his legs, double-conditioned his hair, and stood under the warm spray until his fingers pruned. The towel waiting outside for him was cloudlike and fluffy and it felt like heaven. He followed his extended skincare routine in front of the mirror, using each of the expensive products he had gathered over the years with care. Most of the bottles were in different languages but he was familiar enough with each product to remember the use of each one. By the end, he smelled like jasmine and rose, and everything was smooth and perfect—but he still couldn’t fall asleep.

After sitting out on the balcony and seeing if the fresh air would make him feel any more tired, he gave up and tried one last time to fall asleep in bed. It wasn’t working, though, and Harry was faced with the fact that he had a problem with sleeping in unfamiliar places.

It had never been an issue before, because whenever he was sleeping somewhere that wasn’t his own bed, he was with an alpha and certainly already exhausted from at least one orgasm, but probably multiple. The alphas who were willing to spoil sugar babies with gifts and money tended to be the alphas who enjoyed rough, vigorous sex with little to no breaks between rounds. Even though Harry did this all the time, he couldn’t stop his stupid omega self from getting tired and cuddly after being knotted once or twice. Usually, by the time the alpha was finally done, Harry would already be on the verge of passing out. Falling asleep in those situations had never been an issue.

Right now, he didn’t have that particular sleep aid though. At least, he didn’t have a knot to satisfy him. But… Harry made eye contact with his reflection in the mirror and considered jacking off. Maybe an orgasm was what he needed?

It wasn’t, apparently, because he didn’t fall asleep afterwards. He also had to clean up the mess of slick dripping between his thighs, which was annoying. He wondered if Louis was awake… If he could smell Harry’s slick even down the hallway… 

Stupid. It didn’t matter if Louis could smell him or not, because they weren’t going to have sex. Harry pulled up his soft sleep shorts and stared at his reflection. Half of his face was kissed by moonlight and the other half was cast in shadow. It was all very dramatic. He decided to suck it up and just do what had been on his mind all night.

Louis’ door was cracked open when he got there, and he rapped his knuckles softly on the door before stepping inside. The room was grand and dark, and Harry could just barely make out the shape of Louis swathed in the lush bedsheets and fluffy duvet.

“Louis?” he whispered, unsure of what to do if he didn’t wake just from the soft sound of Harry’s voice.

Luckily, he didn’t have to worry about that, because the bed sheets rustled, and then Louis propped himself up on an elbow, rubbing his eyes. Light sleeper, apparently. “What’s wrong?”

Harry cringed, already regretting his decision and feeling sorry for waking him for something so stupid. He couldn’t back out now, though. “Sorry, um. I can’t sleep.”

Louis sat up a little more before reaching for the lamp and turning it on. He rested against the headboard and squinted, appraising Harry.

“S-sorry, this was stupid, I should go-”

“No, no,” Louis said, comfortingly so. He seemed to think about it for a moment. “Sit down, get comfortable. Let me make you a cup of tea.”

Harry agreed tentatively. “All right,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the mattress and folding his hands in his lap.

It was now more than ever that he could tell Louis was the eldest sibling, because he came back minutes later with two mugs of hot tea, and he rubbed Harry’s back briefly before returning to his own spot in bed. He offered Harry a soft smile that said don’t worry about it and even just his aura was comforting.

“Wanna talk about it?”

Harry figured he owed him an explanation, so he gave him an abbreviated story about rarely, if ever, having to sleep alone in an unfamiliar place. Louis shared his sympathy with him and then hesitantly offered Harry to spend the night in his room, if he wanted.

The omega was immediately relieved. He had been too shy to ask for it, but what Louis offered was exactly what he was hoping for. He gave him a friendly hug in thanks, finished his tea, and then got settled on the open side of the bed.

“All right if I turn this off?” Louis asked, gesturing toward the lamp.

“Oh, yes, go ahead,” Harry responded, pulling the sheets to his chin. Everything smelled heavily like alpha, and Harry let the scent comfort him. He half expected them to cuddle or at least get closer to each other, but then remembered their agreement and resigned himself to laying beside Louis, within an arm’s reach but unable to touch.

Louis turned on his side, facing the wall. There was a very polite, respectable distance between them, almost as if they were in their own separate beds. “Wake me if you need anything.”

“Thank you,” Harry whispered. He snuggled closer to the sheets and let the cadence of Louis’ slow breathing lull him to sleep.

 

&&&

 

“Harry… Harry…”

There was something prodding his shoulder. It was a gentle nudge that roused him from sleep, and he blinked languorously, opening his eyes.

“Ah, there you are. Good morning. Sorry to wake you, I just have to leave for work soon, and I wanted to tell you I’m leaving a key on the countertop for the car in the garage. You’re free to take it wherever you like.”

Harry blinked up at Louis standing over him and gave him a sleepy smile. He was so comfortable, swathed in the softest sheets he had ever felt before, surrounded on all sides. Sinking into the bed. He was sprawled out in the middle of it, too, taking up a lot of space. Hopefully he hadn’t annoyed the alpha too much last night. He had been in a deep sleep, the kind that left him incredibly satisfied.

It was then that Harry smelled the hint of his arousal in the air.

Oh. The alpha’s scent grew thicker, and even more pleasing. Louis shook his head as if to shake himself out of the way he was staring at Harry lounging in his bed.

It was then that everything they’d discussed last night flew out the window.

Harry’s heart beat a little faster as he propped himself up on his elbows and spread his legs invitingly. Louis looked away as soon as he did that and finished getting dressed, buttoning his shirt the rest of the way, tucking it in, and buckling his belt.

Harry was conditioned to react to the sound of a belt buckle clanging, seeing as it was a sound he often heard before getting an alpha’s knot, but this time the situation was different.

He bit his lip as he watched the alpha straighten out his collar, using the mirror for guidance. “You don’t have to leave so soon, do you?”

“I do, actually, sorry.”

“Even with a willing omega in your bed?” he asked hopefully, propping himself up more and trying to look as appealing as possible. He even slipped a long leg out from under the sheets and put it on display.

Louis’ eyes didn’t even linger on him, but he did rush over to give him the quickest embrace on earth. It was hardly a hug, and more of him cupping the back of Harry’s head briefly. That was a protective gesture—something alphas only did with their mates, or pups. Harry’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

Louis backed away again, making for the door. “Sorry, you’re lovely, but I’ve really got to go.”

“At least let me make you breakfast?” Harry tried, one last attempt at keeping him here longer. He wasn’t sure what had gotten into him, but Louis’ intoxicating scent of arousal in the air certainly had something to do with it. He wanted to beg one last time, to promise that they had enough time for one quick round before Louis had to leave for his meeting.

God, when did Harry get so clingy? He had no idea, but he was horrified by himself.

“I’ll get something on the way, I really have to go,” Louis explained apologetically. “Tomorrow, though?”

“Okay,” Harry agreed, voice tinged with reluctance and disappointment. He knew better not to argue with an alpha.

“Go back to sleep,” the alpha coaxed, “It’s still early. I won’t be home until dinnertime, but call me if you need anything. Help yourself to anything in the house, and feel free to take the car if you want. And if you want to eat in for dinner, text me and I can pick up something from the store. Otherwise we’ll go out?”

“Okay.”

“Sick. I’ll see you later.”

“See you.”

Harry waited until he heard the car start before he flopped back down into bed, letting the fluffy blankets swallow him.


&&&


Louis was not doing okay.

When he offered to give Niall’s friend a place to stay for a week, he did not imagine this.

Shooting out of the house like a bat out of hell, Louis tripped over the doorway and nearly brained himself on the hood of his car. He was breathing through his mouth to escape the snare of Harry’s omega scent, beautiful and needy. One inhale through his nose was enough to make his mouth water. Any more than that and he would surely lose his mind, not to mention his previously impervious self-control.

He clenched the steering wheel tighter, already five minutes into his drive to work and having little to no recollection of actually starting the car and pulling out onto the road. His thoughts were infiltrated with the image of the warm, sleepy omega in his bed. His inner alpha wolf was begging him to turn the car around and drive right back.

Calm down, he told his wolf. Calm the fuck down. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d ended up in this situation, waking up to Harry sprawled out over the center of the mattress, taking up nearly the entire bed and sleeping soundly. Curls fanned out around his head like a pretty halo, having dried slightly fluffy from the humidity. Nose pink from the chilly morning air as he sniffled and rubbed his face against the sheets. He’d been drooling the tiniest bit, and snoring quietly on every few breaths. Louis could only stare at him as he got dressed in his work clothes, helpless to his own feelings and how adorable the sigh was.

Of course then he had to wake Harry up about the car. Not wanting the omega to feel like Louis was keeping him captive at the house, he made sure to leave the keys on the counter and even put Harry’s name on the list of guests at the country club so he had somewhere to go, if he wanted. But waking Harry up meant witnessing his first moments of consciousness of the day, smiling softly and looking a lot less like the intimidating omega Louis had met the evening prior.

He was less hard edges this morning, less don’t mess with me and more please hold my hand and pet my hair, which was what Louis imagined him saying, even though those words obviously didn’t leave his pretty pink mouth in any way, shape, or form. This softer version of himself was just as attractive as yesterday’s put-together omega, or maybe moreso, though it made Louis uncomfortable to pit them against each other because Harry somehow managed to embody both of these personalities in one body, meshing effortlessly with one another, wrapped up in a neat bow.

Louis had never met anyone like him before. He was impossible to describe, beyond words, so fascinating. He was the kind of person your eyes were drawn to. He was the kind of person who could travel anywhere, speak to anyone, do anything. He was the kind of person who made phone calls without devising a script to follow beforehand. (Louis sometimes had to actually write down what he was going to say, and if the person on the other end of the line threw him off, he would fumble with his words and wince at himself and consider hanging up.)

He was intimidating. And intelligent. And really, really pretty.

Then there was him sitting up and opening his body invitingly, like he was perfectly okay with Louis crawling back into bed with him and smoothing out the crease in his brow with more than just a kiss.

Louis didn’t even know him. They had spent one dinner together, and one night of sharing a bed, which included Louis closing himself off and facing the wall because he felt awkward about it. They had talked a lot all throughout the evening but it still wasn’t enough—it was still only one day—and this was just more proof that one night stands were not for Louis.

Now he was on his way to work, forced to face the fact that he had cupped the back of Harry’s head with his hand like he was his bondmate. It had been a momentary lapse in judgement, trying to say goodbye in the least offensive way without panicking and shrieking I can’t have sex with you right now or I might lose my mind. The omega had looked at him, confused and bewildered, like he couldn’t believe Louis just did that. Louis could relate.

Even with a willing omega in your bed? At least let me make you breakfast… Harry’s words were swirling through his head, seared into his mind like he’d stared at a bright neon sign for too long.

It was too much to think about so early in the morning, on his way to work no less. He was about to sit through a bunch of slow, mind-numbing meetings where real tasks were rarely accomplished. He loved his job, but the legal aspects were what bored him to death, and meetings like this required he deviate from his usual comfy attire and actually wear a suit. He liked to dress up on occasion, but the soft, oversized clothes he had the pleasure of wearing to work most of the time were definitely better. Especially in the heavy Florida heat.

A lot of people Louis worked with were wealthy just like he was, seeing as he dealt with the elites of the music industry on a daily basis. The topic of Harry made him think that more of his coworkers engaged in sugar relationships than he knew, probably. Most of his business partners were alphas who cared too much about work and didn’t have time to cultivate real relationships with people they cared about. It would make sense for them to take the easy way out and literally pay omegas for their services. Obviously they had the money.

Louis had never thought about it before, but now it was making him uncomfortable. The more he thought about it, the more he realized some of the cute, young omegas his associates brought to dinner parties and industry events were probably paid to be there. It was something Louis would never do—and the thought that he had a literal sugar baby waiting for him at home made his palms sweat.

So he suffered on his drive to work because he couldn’t stop thinking about the awkward moment with Harry this morning and how obvious his own arousal had been. Gripping the wheel tighter was no help. He still wondered what had gone through the omega’s mind in that moment, how he could be so easily relaxed in a stranger’s bed, and why he had offered himself so readily...


&&&


At 9:00 AM, three hours after Louis left for work, Harry finally rolled out of bed. The sun was streaming in through the open windows, carrying the calming sea breeze with it. It was a beautiful day.

The first thing Harry did was explore the house, this time on his own. He inspected the pictures on the walls more closely, enjoying the resemblance between the alpha and his family members. There was a picture of him and Niall both holding guitars, and it made Harry smile.

He picked up the keys on the countertop and checked out the car in the garage. It was something he couldn’t name, but bright cherry red and flashy. That made him smirk to himself more than anything—he would have to have fun with that later.

After making himself a breakfast of scrambled eggs and a fruit smoothie, Harry put on his most publicly acceptable bathing suit and wandered out to the beach. He was a little stressed about the clothes he packed, because almost all of the things in his suitcase were obsolete now that he knew he wouldn’t have any sugar baby duties for the next week. The lingerie and bold, sexy outfits were impractical now, but he didn’t have much else to wear.

The day turned out to be everything he ever wanted: sleeping in, eating a good breakfast, and relaxing on the beach. He rested on his towel in the sand, close to the water and delighting in the melody of the waves crashing against the shore. He snacked on cold grapes out of a chilled tupperware container and started on the stack of books he had been promising himself he would read for months. He was already thirty pages into the first one when he decided to take a break and go for a beach walk.

Louis’ waterfront house was in a gated community, on a private beach. It was mostly empty, aside from the occasional person lying in the sun, or standing in the water with a fishing pole, and for that Harry was grateful. Crowded beaches could be fun, but they were definitely overwhelming. He walked at least two miles down the shore, mindful that he would have to turn around eventually and walk back, and finally got to a heavily populated beach.

It was hard to tell if he was imagining the eyes on him as he walked, but it certainly felt like he was on display. That was something Harry didn’t mind—he had worked hard to be comfortable with his body, physically and mentally, and now that he was here he didn’t mind others looking at him.

That was the thing, too. The few people in Harry’s life who knew he sugared were always interested to hear if it bothered him when it was obvious—when he was out to dinner at a pricey restaurant, a young omega dressed to the nines, sitting across from some old alpha. For most people, it was obvious what was going on, and Harry received a lot of stares and glares throughout the night.

It didn’t bother him, though. If he was being honest with himself, the idea of people knowing kind of turned him on. Besides, he worked hard to create an image that almost guaranteed that strangers were thinking I could never afford him rather than something crueler. One time, when he was feeling brave and a little annoyed, he full out winked at an alpha-omega couple who wouldn’t stop staring at him. It was a stupidly empowering fuck you moment, and it still made him laugh.

Walking along the shoreline was peaceful, too. As he walked, barefoot in the sand, with the water rushing up every so often, he could gaze ahead at the beautiful view and zone out for a while. The wind whipped around him, blowing his hair in his face, and he took deep breaths, trying to eternalize this moment in his memory.

When he got back to his towel and books waiting for him on the beach, he laid out for a while longer before deciding it was time for lunch. There was enough food in the fridge to make another meal, this time a refreshing salad and a bowl of yogurt topped with bananas and strawberries.

He sat out on the deck as he ate, dipping his feet into the infinity pool. Maybe he could get Louis to go for a swim with him later. It was relaxing alone, but significantly less fun.

The reminder of tan lines was what stopped him from going back down to the water’s edge. Instead, he climbed up to the third floor and changed out of his bathing suit and into a cherry red thong, the same color as the car. After a moment of self love and admiring himself in the mirror, he grabbed his towel and wandered out to the secluded veranda, lying out on the chaise.

With the sight of the ocean in front of him, and the warm sun on his skin, it was like heaven.

 

&&&

 

“Everything all right there?”

“Very all right,” Harry said into the phone, licking his lip as he concentrated on stirring the pitcher of alcohol and fruit juice. He poured in the mashed up raspberries and mixed them in with a spoon, pleased. The drink was turning out nicely, tasting even better every time he had a sip.

“Are you mad at me?” Niall asked.

“No,” Harry said, honestly. “Well, maybe. But not for the reason that you think.”

“What is it, then?”

It wasn’t that Niall was a little deceptive what he told Harry about Louis. It wasn’t that he was sort of trying to set them up, or at least curious to see what would happen if they met. Harry didn’t mind much at all. He would do the same for any friend. Harry loved matchmaking; it was one of his favorite pastimes.

“I just… Niall,” he whined, stirring the drink harder. Ice clanked against the glass of the pitcher. “Help me.”

“Help you what?” There was a bit of rustling on the other end of the line, and then Niall’s voice became clearer. “Oh. Oh! Oh my god, Harry, really, is it that bad that you like him? Little omega Harry with his cold little heart, finally has a crush?”

“Shut up, shut up, I do not, I just- I want him to knot me up against the wall, or in bed, or something, I don’t care, whatever, but he doesn’t want to.

Niall was laughing. “And you’ve talked to him about this?”

“Yes! I offered this morning and he turned me down. Do you know how humiliating that is? How demoralizing? I want to die, Niall. I want to die .”

“Calm down, pet, you’re fine. I’m surprised, though. He really said no to you?”

“Yes,” Harry cried, pressing his palms flat against the chilly countertop and watching condensation slide down the side of the pitcher. “He made it clear I’m only here because he feels bad for me—he wanted to give me a break from having to sell my body to gross old alphas like a prostitute. He thinks I’m a prostitute!”

Not that there was anything wrong with hustling by choice, but Harry was now almost certain Louis was only doing this because he pitied him.

“Sheesh, calm down, I know he doesn’t think that. He’s just a nice guy, he knows you and I are really good friends. He just wants to share his wealth. Is that a crime?”

Harry pouted. “How do you know if you like someone, Ni? Like really like someone?”

“You’ve known him, what, twelve hours? That’s a bit too soon to decide how you feel about someone, H, especially for you. You never like anyone.”

“Twenty hours, actually, I counted. And I know, but-”

“Stop freaking out. Enjoy your week in paradise with Louis and when it’s over you can ask yourself the big questions. Stop overthinking, everything is fine.”

There was a heavy silence. Harry pressed the heel of his palms to his eyes to preempt any tears that might’ve tried to escape. “He pities me.”

“He doesn’t. He’s just trying to be a nice person, and he’s giving into his alpha urges to care for pretty little omegas like you. Trust me on this one, H. I’m an alpha, I should know.”

Harry sniffled a little too loudly. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried, really cried. Not just because of stupid omega hormones, but because of something real.

“Are you… crying right now?”

“No.” His emotions were really fucked up. He felt so clingy, desperate for Louis to come home. What was wrong with him?

“Jesus. Do you need me to come down there? Because I will, you know. I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”

“No, no- It’s fine. I’m fine. Sorry. Uh, thanks for checking in on me. Everything’s good here. I’m having fun.” He pressed his palm, cold from holding onto the pitcher, against his cheek, and let it cool his heated skin. “Please don’t tell him about this, if you talk to Louis, please-”

“I won’t, pet, you know that. You’re my best friend. I wouldn’t do that to you. Personal stuff stays between us, always.”

“Okay. Okay. Sorry…” Harry sighed, so grateful for Niall and how well he knew Harry. Niall was the best friend in the world, and he was so keen on knowing exactly what he needed to say to reassure Harry and make him feel safe and loved again. “I think I’m going to take a shower and then maybe nap for a little bit.”

“Sounds good,” Niall agreed. “Relax, Harry, you deserve it. And if you need me to send you any more soothers or anything, just say the word. I’ll see you soon.”

“Thanks.”

“Bye, pet.”

“Bye, Niall. Love you.”

He ended the call and set his phone down on the counter, moving the pitcher to the fridge. It would be ready for consumption later. He wondered what would happen if Louis came home right now and saw him like this, wearing a thong in the kitchen and crying over something stupid. It was definitely a weird sight.

Harry groaned out loud, letting his frustrations seep out of him with the sound, and dragged himself up to the shower.

 

&&&

 

“Ah, there you are. Nice hiding spot.”

“Not hiding,” Harry mumbled into the pillow clutched to his chest. He opened his eyes and smiled at Louis who took a seat beside him on what Harry thought of as a floating outdoor bed. He didn’t know the technical term for the piece of furniture, but he did know that it was glorious.

Harry found it on one of the second floor balconies, and when his eyes landed on the firm mattress and fluffy pillows he nearly melted into a puddle. It was exactly what he needed, a comfortable, shady place to take a nap outside. The bed itself hung from the balcony above, so it swayed in the wind in a gentle rocking motion.

“Good day so far?”

“Mhmm, very good. Did some reading, took a walk on the beach.” His voice was soft and deep from his drowsiness and he tried to clear it, sitting upright a little more but still lounging on the pillow. “How was work?”

“It was all right. A lot of contractual stuff, stupid posturing knotheads trying to get their way. Not my favorite.”

“Mmm. Wanna talk about it?”

“Not really. Thanks, though. Can I get you anything? A drink?”

“I made a vodka cranberry mix, it’s in the fridge,” Harry said, casting his eyes down as he traced lazy shapes on one of the pillows. He was conscious of the way he was laying on the cushions, wearing only soft pink shorts and a loose tank top.

The tropical breeze was pleasant against his skin, the shade the perfect reprieve from the bright afternoon sun. His hair was still wet from his earlier shower, resting cool against his face. He hoped he looked pretty, hoped he looked appealing to the alpha beside him politely ignoring the way he was showing more skin than necessary.

“Sounds great,” Louis said, disappearing to the kitchen.

When he returned, he had two glasses in his hands, and he gave one to Harry as soon as he sat up. He took a sip and complimented the omega, which made his heart swell stupidly.

They discussed their plans for dinner, deciding on the country club because apparently the food was good, it had a nice view of the ocean, and Louis would be able to show Harry around so he could go to the pool or the spa tomorrow if he wanted.

Their conversation wandered through topics and Harry was amazed by how easy it was to talk to Louis. Now that he knew he didn’t have to act or play up his attraction to the alpha, it was much easier to relax and just have fun.

Louis was silly and easygoing, and he always had something to say. He was clear on the things he liked and didn’t like, which was refreshing. Harry didn’t have to guess his opinions on anything because he would just say them with conviction. They argued over social media and avocados and so many other topics, ending always in laughter.

It was the kind of genuine companionship Harry rarely found with alphas. His entire being was conditioned to be on high alert in the presence of an alpha, always aware of how he was being perceived. Sure, he had Niall, who was the only alpha Harry was actually close to, but it was different because they had been friends for years, and the fact that there was no attraction between them had been proven before.

They had tried getting together, actually, because it had seemed like the obvious choice when he and Niall got on so well. They went on one horribly awkward date and ended the night with laughter and the mutual decision to go back to being just friends.

Anyway, Niall was pining after another omega named Shawn. Shawn was a tall omega just like Harry, gangly and often overlooked by people who thought all omegas should be petite and demure. He was oblivious to how much Niall cared about him, and Harry wanted to tear his hair out with how frustrating the two were. They could be such a great couple, if only they got their shit together and realized the feelings of love and desire were one hundred percent mutual.

Okay, so Harry had to admit he lived vicariously through Niall and Shawn. They were so cute together, and Harry’s heart always melted when one of them showed their obvious care for the other.

Despite being a sugar baby and going on dates almost every night, Harry didn’t have much genuine romance in his life. All he had were rich, arrogant alphas using him for arm candy and sex.

“Ready to go?” Louis asked, knocking on the door of the guest room.

Harry startled from where he was zoned out, staring at his reflection in the mirror. His gaze focused again and he finished up fixing his hair, rearranging the ringlets so they looked neat and orderly. He smiled at Louis who poked his head in, grabbed his bag and joined him at the door.

“You look hot,” he told the alpha, eyeing his slate-gray suit with a gorgeous cut and subtly patterned fabric.

Harry felt like a million dollars beside him too, dressed up in a flowy white blouse that was perfect for a beachside dinner. He had considered wearing heeled boots but decided against it, not wanting to tower over Louis anymore than he already was. Also, sometimes the heels sent the wrong message and alphas would treat him like a hooker rather than the high-end luxury he was. The cream Gucci loafers he wore instead were one of his favorite pairs of shoes, though, so it wasn’t much of a loss.

Louis laughed at Harry’s comment like he thought it was a joke, something to butter him up and get on his good side. Harry was being honest, though, so the laughter kind of hurt. He took it in stride, accepting the generic compliment Louis gave back to him.

They rode in the red car, which had a retractable roof so it turned into a convertible. Harry was intensely pleased by the wind in his hair, and he giggled almost the entire drive. Luckily, Louis seemed to find his entertainment endearing, because everytime Harry looked over at him, he was smiling.

The country club was as nice as Harry expected, with valet parking and multiple people there to greet them upon arrival.

Harry smiled to himself when Louis’ hand hovered on his lower back to guide him inside. It seemed to be an unconscious movement and Harry was glad that at least Louis’ inner alpha saw Harry as a prized omega.

Dinner was everything he could’ve asked for. Despite the sophisticated setting, Louis was relaxed and at ease the entire time, which gave Harry permission to be laid-back and comfortable as well. They ate a four course meal by the seaside, sipping on expensive wine and enjoying the ocean breeze.

Harry laughed at all of Louis’ jokes, because they shared that same dry, deadpan sense of humor which sent them both over the edge with fits of giggles. Louis indulged Harry’s long, rambling stories, and even encouraged him to tell more. Harry jokingly tried to feed him bites of chocolate cake for dessert, and afterwards they wandered to the balcony to overlook the ocean in its sunset glory.

“We should take a walk along the pier,” Harry suggested. He wasn’t ready for their evening to be over so soon.

Louis smiled over at him, calm and serene as always. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing.”

After footing the bill and thanking their servers, they wandered down the avenue and to the pier, listening to the easy cadence of the waves.

If Harry concentrated hard enough, he could imagine a parallel universe where they were on a real date. Maybe they met by chance, in some unconventional but perfectly ordinary way, in the ice cream aisle of the grocery store or in an airport waiting for a redeye. Maybe they would catch each other’s scents in the air and be unable to leave without taking a chance.

Maybe Louis would be brave enough to ask him out and Harry would tease him just a bit before saying yes and kissing his cheek. Maybe they would go out for dinner at a mediocre restaurant and walk outside to the ocean, right where they were now, and maybe they would fall a little bit in love.

“Everything all right?” Louis asked, because Harry must’ve looked pensive, if not sad.

“Yeah,” he assured, not meeting the alpha’s eyes. Reality always crept back in the end, deconstructing the fantasy with ease. He tried not to feel worthless, or at least cheap, because the reason he was here in the first place was his greed for money.

Something else had been weighing on him all day and he was feeling shy about saying it. He played with his fingers before courageously catching Louis’ gaze. His eyes conveyed warmth and familiarity, like he was silently trying to comfort Harry. Harry had no idea if he knew he was doing it, or if it was some innate alpha thing.

“I wanted to apologize for this morning,” the omega said, tucking his hair behind his ear where it drifted in front of his face from the sea breeze. “My behavior was uncalled for, especially when you made it clear you don’t want me in that way and I’m sorry for taking advantage of your kindness letting me sleep in your bed. I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable, if I did, by making things, like… sexual, I guess.”

Louis shook his head. “Nothing to worry about, love. It’s just biology. I’d never hold that against you.”

Harry bit his lip, his heart swimming at the casual term of endearment Louis used as a gesture of comfort. Not to mention the fact that he was so understanding. “You’re sure?”

“I promise. It’s no big deal, really, at all. I get it. You’re not used to sleeping in bed alone?”

“I mean, I am- Sort of. I sleep in my own bed alone half the time. I guess it’s just being alone in an unfamiliar place.” He cringed, feeling like a weak, needy omega especially after admitting it out loud. This wasn’t who he was on a daily basis so he had no idea why he was acting like this right now.

Needing to be beside an alpha to fall asleep at night was bullshit, but it wasn’t that Harry needed an alpha. He didn’t need anyone, actually. He just… wanted someone. It was a matter of preference.

“Well, you’re welcome to share with me again if you want. It was kind of nice having company.”

Harry frowned at him. “How long has it been since you last slept with someone?” He slapped his hand over his mouth after the words were out, already regretting them. He couldn’t believe he just asked Louis that. How rude! “Shit, I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that. Please don’t answer that.”

Louis laughed a little, easing Harry’s nerves. “It’s all right.” He stayed quiet though, and Harry was both relieved and disappointed that the alpha didn’t give him an answer.

He didn’t offer up anything else, and Harry was left wracking his brain for another thread of conversation. He couldn’t think of anything, though, because his mind was a mess of Louis has probably/definitely fucked other omegas before and why does that make me so upset.

So far, the trip had been a miserable failure in terms of seducing Louis. When Harry reflected on the past twenty-four hours, he realized none of it went as he had expected. Was he losing his touch? Was he no longer good at this?

Last night, they agreed that this would be an opportunity for Harry to take a break from the stresses of sugaring. Harry was excited to have a few days off—in Florida, no less. However, this morning confused him. Louis was clearly attracted to him, or at least to the sight of him sprawled out in his bed. Which was something. It wasn’t like Harry was shy about his attraction, either. So if it was mutual, why weren’t they doing anything about it?

He never thought it would take more than a few hours to get the alpha’s knot, let alone an entire day—and still no progress. All he had managed to do so far was take a nap on the beach and drink some very expensive wine. Also, getting awkwardly rejected this morning.

Oh god. Harry really was losing it. Alphas never rejected him, especially when he was straight up asking for no-strings-attached knotting. That was like a dream come true for them.

Getting rich, powerful alphas to fall at his feet was Harry’s specialty. Like, he was goddamn good at it.

Or maybe not so much anymore.

The formula for sugar dating wasn’t much: wearing sexy yet refined clothes, showing a little skin when appropriate, upping the flirting game to the max, and being confident in bed. It required good taste and good acting skills. More than anything, it was about faking interest and attraction.

Harry didn’t have to fake it with Louis. He was so attracted to him, and trying to come to terms with that distressing fact. So if that wasn’t it, what was the missing ingredient?

He tried not to pout, because he had the feeling Louis wasn’t a fan of whiny omegas.

If this had been any other situation, Harry was certain he would’ve been handcuffed to the king-sized bed by now. He even brought his own pair with soft pink velvet lining, in case Louis didn’t have any.

“Hey, let’s go put your name at the front desk so you can come here while I’m at work, if you want.”

Harry smiled and nodded gratefully. At least Louis was thinking of him.

 

&&&

 

“You have quite the routine.”

“Get comfy. I’m not even halfway through yet,” informed Harry, in between applying gentle swipes of La Prairie’s pre-serum treatment on his face. He had convinced one of his daddies to buy it for him a few months ago, and ever since then he was afraid to stop using the $665 lotion, even though he had to admit it was a bit excessive for one tenth of his skincare routine. It made his skin glow.

“Do you really have to do all of that?”

“Why, does it bother you?” Harry asked, not antagonistic, just curious.

“Of course not. Just think it’s too much of a hassle. Wouldn’t you rather just go to bed?”

Harry pointed at his own face with both fingers, staring Louis down. “This level of beauty requires discipline. If I just skipped it because I was feeling lazy, my skin would look like everyone else’s.”

“All right, fair. For the record, though, I think you’d look fine without all that.”

It wasn’t much of a compliment, but Louis hadn’t given him much of anything lately, so he would take it.

“I’m serious, though, this will take at least another half hour,” Harry warned. “I don’t want to keep you up.”

“I don’t mind,” the alpha shrugged, reaching over to the nightstand to grab his bottle of water. “I like watching you.”

Harry hid his smile by fanning his hands over his face to help the serum dry faster.

Louis cringed. “Sorry, that was a weird thing to say.”

“Not weird. It’s okay.” He went back to applying various products to his skin, now with the added knowledge that the alpha was watching him. It made his nerves tingle in the best way, the excitement of being admired.

Once he was finished, he joined Louis in bed, sinking into the fluffy mattress which was the perfect combination of firm and soft. His hips were a bit sore from his long walk today, and his skin was slightly tender from the exposure to the sun, so the comfort of the high thread-count sheets was unmatched.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

Harry turned on his side to face him, snuggling into the excess of pillows on the bed. “Ask away.”

Louis was also on his side, propped up on an elbow and looking more relaxed than he had all day, the tension from work and a strange omega in his home finally melting away due to exhaustion.

“So, I don’t really know much about your lifestyle…”

“That is true,” Harry agreed.

“And I don’t want to be rude-”

Usually, Harry got annoyed with people asking him a bunch of stupid questions when they found out he was in the sugar bowl, but for some reason he found himself saying, “It’s okay. You can ask anything.”

“I mean, I don’t really know what to ask. Just, what’s it like, how did you get into it, that sort of thing?”

“It’s been a couple of years, I dunno,” Harry answered. “A handsome alpha stranger paid for my dinner once and gave me his number, and I called him up a few weeks later. We met for drinks and discussed rates and everything, I guess. It was pretty easy to get into it. It just required a lot of research, so I knew how not to get scammed.”

He conveniently left out the part where he had broken up with his boyfriend and supposed soulmate at the time, but Louis didn’t need to know the dirty details. It was less glamorous to acknowledge that Harry wasn’t in the best state of mind when he met up with the potential sugar daddy, his behavior more reckless than it should’ve been.

Louis hummed, thoughtful. It struck Harry how physically close they were, only a foot apart in bed, close enough to touch.

“How do you do it?”

Harry quirked a brow. “You mean, how do I let ugly, old alphas knot me?”

The alpha blushed, his face heating up in a delicate shade of pink that Harry immediately found intriguing. It was less common for alphas to get flustered than omegas, but Harry was so brazen he supposed it flipped the roles.

“I mean, sort of, I guess.”

“Well, first of all, they’re not all ugly, and they’re not all old. You, for example, although I guess you don’t count. Not that it matters, anyway.” Harry grinned. “When I’m stuck on an alpha’s knot, all I see are dollar signs.”

“That’s… Fair.”

He felt okay telling Louis this, because Louis wasn’t actually a sugar daddy and they weren’t dating or anything. Admitting his lust was for money rather than a knot wouldn’t actually ruin the fantasy. There was no fantasy to begin with.

“It’s certainly not for everyone. I know a lot of omegas who joke about sugaring, but most of them would never be able to do it. It isn’t easy.”

“No, yeah, I totally get that,” Louis assured. “I can’t even imagine. I would never be able to do that. But it’s worth it to you?”

“Oh, definitely.” His answer was confident, leaving no room for doubt. “A few years ago, I was living in a shitty place, working three jobs, and taking night classes at a community college. Now I eat at extravagant restaurants every other day, wear Gucci and Saint Laurent, and attend the most exclusive events. I have a beautiful apartment in NYC, connections in ‘affluent society,’” he laughed, “and all I have to do is look pretty and have sex.”

Okay, maybe it wasn’t all he had to do, but still. He didn’t have a job. His time away from his sugar daddies was spent working out, eating healthy, shopping, thinking of new ways to con alphas, taking care of his appearance, and enjoying his luxury lifestyle. It wasn’t exactly a hardship—it was nothing like his life before he joined the sugar bowl.

Sugar dating was hard work, and Harry would fight anyone who insisted otherwise. However, it was also the only work Harry was interested in doing at the moment. He didn’t want a boring nine-to-five job that left him unfulfilled and with a measly paycheck. He had one life, damn it, and he would stop at nothing to make it one worth living.

“Hm, I guess that makes sense. What did you go to school for?”

This was usually where Harry lied and gave a sob story about having an interest in medicine or law, and how he would’ve continued with school if only he had the financial stability for it. But Louis wasn’t a sugar daddy Harry needed to seduce. He wasn’t someone Harry needed to deceive, to pretend to be the perfect omega for, and that was such a relief he couldn’t even believe it.

“Graphic design,” he laughed, the truth feeling blissfully strange on his lips. “Not my best idea. Should’ve taken business classes or something. Comp sci, math, I don’t know. I loved math in school, but. Here we are now.”

“Why graphic design?” Louis wondered, folding his arm over the top of the fluffy white duvet.

Harry was struck again by how intimate this felt, lying in bed together, just talking. Breathing in each other’s scents, learning one another through conversation and physical proximity. The room was cast in warm, dim lamplight and swathed in the sea breeze from the open sliding-glass doors. It was so innocent, nothing like the nights he spent with literally any other alpha, and yet, this was what was melting his heart into a puddle of goo. Just laying here, late at night, talking in quiet voices. God, there was something wrong with him.

“I’ve always liked art,” he admitted, a piece of himself breaking inside at the brutal honesty. His mind was screaming at him to shut up, because he never opened up like this to alphas, aside from Niall, but alas. Louis’ gorgeous blue eyes were very persuasive. “I dunno why I thought it was a good idea to get a degree in that when I was just trying to get by, but I was young and stupid, so. And it led me to this lifestyle, which is a big improvement, so I can’t really fault myself for that one.”

He grinned his award-winning smile at the end of it, hoping to dazzle the alpha and lighten the mood.

Louis showed no sign of being affected, not even a slight change in scent—and yes, Harry was paying attention to his scent. He was already fine-tuned to all of its fluctuations, breathing it in because he couldn’t get enough of it. Louis smelled so good. It was overwhelming being in his bed, drowning in his scent,

“I see. What would you do, though, if you weren’t, um, what do you call it? In the sugar bowl?”

Harry huffed, rolling his eyes for effect. Then he realized the conversation up until now had been completely one-sided, with Louis coaxing information out of him like he was the one who knew how to talk to people. That just wouldn’t stand.

Familiarity was the death of seduction. If Harry let Louis knew all his secrets just like that, they would never stand a chance.

Not that they stood a chance in the first place, but.

“Why so much about me? You’re the one with the interesting, glamorous life, here. I want to hear all about what you do,” he teased, hoping to deflect from himself. Louis made him feel like he was losing his game, like he was suddenly bad at flirting and teasing and even just having normal conversations. The alpha’s presence shifted Harry’s center of gravity, causing the world to feel off-kilter. His palms were sweaty with nervousness and excitement. It was horrible!

“There’s not much to tell.”

“Oh, please.”

“I’d rather not talk about work, actually,” Louis said, cringing. “It gives me a headache just thinking about it.”

Even though Harry was curious, he let it slide. Obviously. What was he going to do, force Louis to talk about it? “Niall said you write songs sometimes? That’s not for work, is it?”

“No, I guess not. It’s just something I do on the side.”

“Tell me more about it,” Harry gently pleaded, running his fingers along the smooth sheets. “What kinds of songs do you write?”

Louis laughed a little at the omega’s obvious enthusiasm, politely giving him a rundown of his songwriting process and why he did it in the first place. He mentioned piano lessons as a kid, ascribable to his mother, and teaching himself guitar a few years ago but still being clumsy with it. He talked about listening to countless musicians for his job, and being inspired by the variety of talent and creativity he dealt with at work each day.

When Harry asked if he could ever hear a song he was working on, Louis shrugged him off with a teasing “maybe later” which satisfied them both.

“One more question before we go to sleep, because it’s getting late,” the alpha insisted after checking his phone for the time.

“One for each of us?” Harry asked, a bit confused as to why Louis was setting a stringent limit on their conversation. It was late, though, and the alpha had to be up before 6AM again for an early meeting.

“I was just going to ask you one, but I guess that’s fair,” he laughed.

“Wow, how considerate of you,” Harry shot back, making sure his tone was light enough to come off as teasing rather than annoyed. Stupidly, he wasn’t bothered by Louis’ questions at all.

“Okay. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve encountered when sugar dating?”

“Weirdest thing? Um...”

Harry had encountered a lot of weird situations over the years, ranging from cheap scammers who tried to leave him with the bill, to unassuming alphas with the most outlandish kinks. It was always the quiet ones, too, that had the most bizarre requests. As long as they were harmless, Harry was happy to oblige. He didn’t judge.

Still, though. Weirdest thing? It was hard to choose. There were so many options.

“Okay, fine, one of the weirdest.”

Harry tilted his head back and forth, thinking. “Recently, there was an alpha who kept telling me I smelled nice. Which, I get a lot, you know, given what I do for a living and everything, so I didn’t think much of it. I accidentally fell asleep at his place—and I woke up to him cutting off a piece of my hair. Let me tell you, when I say I got out of there…”

Louis laughed a little, looking more surprised than anything. “Wow, that’s creepy as fuck.”

“Yeah, I know. It was horrible.” He shuddered just thinking about it.

“What do you mean fell asleep by accident, though?”

Normally Harry wouldn’t explain this, but again, Louis. How could he say no to those big, kind eyes?

“I never sleep over, unless I’m on a trip with them and staying for a few days. It’s just safer that way, I’m more in control, and crazy people don’t go cutting off my hair to do god knows what with it.”

“Makes sense, makes sense,” Louis agreed. He was looking sleepier by the second. “What’s your question for me, then?”

Harry had so many. So many. Yet, none of them seemed right to ask just before bed. So he settled on the one that had been rattling around in his brain ever since they realized Niall had sort of set them up.

“Why are you doing this for me?” he asked softly. “I mean, here I am, literally offering up my body, and you turn me down yet still want to give me a week of real vacation, and pay me like my usual daddies do. Why?”

“Well, first of all,” Louis began, closing his eyes. Not because he was tired, but because he didn’t want to meet Harry’s gaze. “I’m not interested in being intimate with an omega I hardly know. Second, I already told you, I’m doing this because Niall asked me and I knew saying yes would get him off my case about being forever alone, and besides, I think it’s a nice thing to do. But I’ll be honest, it’s not completely selfless. Niall was just annoying me about courting omegas, and I knew this would appease him. If I was doing this because I wanted to be charitable, I would focus my attention on someone who actually needed help. No offense, but you’re, like, greatly privileged. You don’t need charity.”

“No, I know,” Harry whispered, sucking in a deep breath. He wasn’t sure why Louis’ answer hurt. He was just speaking the truth. “Okay. Thank you for explaining for me.”

“Of course,” Louis said, opening his eyes and meeting Harry’s for a brief second. “I’m glad you’re here, though.”

“Oh yeah?”

“As you can imagine, it gets lonely. Haven’t hung out with anyone in a while, unless it was work-related, so.”

Now that was sad. Harry frowned, wanting to reach across the small chasm between them just to hold the alpha’s hand in reassurance. There was no reason for him to be lonely, either. He was rich, hot as fuck, and kinder than any alpha Harry had ever met. Harry was sure omegas were lining up at the door to get with Louis. So it was a self-enforced isolation, if anything.

“Well, I’m glad to be here,” he responded, voice soft. Keeping his hands to himself.

Louis just nodded and turned out the light, settling back on his side to face Harry again.

Harry knew intimacy. It wasn’t foreign to him. Through moments of passion, undressing in front of a lover and sharing touches that scorched the skin, through orgasms that left him shaking and undone, the sexual openness was always there between Harry and his sugar daddies. It was impossible not to share small, private pieces of himself in the moments that relied so heavily on a desire held so close to his body.

Yet, somehow, this felt more intimate. Fully clothed, with a decent amount of space between them, sharing the mattress and sleepy glances and not much else. In the dark, Harry could hardly decipher the planes of Louis’ face, but he watched his lashes flutter on his cheekbones with each slow blink. He was still peering at Harry, curiously, and somehow the darkness made them brave enough to maintain eye contact.

“I’ve never done this before,” Harry admitted in a whisper, holding Louis’ gaze. Being open like this was almost physically painful for him, but he was working on it, trying not to remain so closed off, trying to keep the walls from going up.

“Never done what?”

Louis’ scent was sweet and musky and it infiltrated Harry’s senses in the best way, coaxing him into a calm state of mind. He let himself inhale deeply, unabashedly, and buried his nose in the pillows.

“Slept next to an alpha like this,” he responded, his voice muffled by the soft sheets. The without being knotted went unsaid. Louis’ scent made his mouth water, but it also made him sleepy.

Louis hummed, and pressed his palm flat to the space between their bodies. “It’s a first for each of us, then. I’ve never had a sugar baby before, so...”

His tone was teasing and his words made Harry grin sleepily, half-shielded by the pillow. “Not actually your sugar baby, but I could be, if you wanted.”

The alpha huffed a quiet laugh, tugging the blankets up higher and making sure they were situated neatly on both of them before he settled back into bed. “Good night, Harry.”

“Dream of me.”

They fell asleep like that.

 

&&&

 

“Shit. Sorry, sorry. Go back to sleep, love. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“No, it’s okay,” Harry mumbled, sitting up and rubbing his eyes sleepily, the white sheets falling down around his t-shirt clad torso. The alarm turned off when the alpha tapped his phone screen, effectively silencing it.

It was half past six and the sun was just beginning to rise, slipping in through the partially closed curtains in a glowing golden hue. When his vision focused, he took in the sight of Louis buckling his belt and then straightening out his tie. He was already dressed for work but if his morning routine would be anything like yesterday’s, he would lounge at the dining table for half an hour, drinking a cup of tea. Which meant there would be enough time for what Harry wanted to do.

“Let me make you breakfast.”

Louis’ mouth dropped open in surprise. As if no one, omega or otherwise, had offered to make him breakfast before. “No, love, it’s okay, go back to sleep. You’re on vacation, you’re supposed to sleep in.”

“I don’t mind,” he insisted, and he was already stumbling out of bed, bare feet hitting the smooth wood floor. “I’m hungry now too.” That was a lie but he really wanted to do this for Louis, he wanted to make him a breakfast so good it left him thinking about it for weeks afterwards. If the alpha wouldn’t accept anything else from him, he would accept this. Didn’t they always say food was the way to the heart?

“You seriously don’t have to,” Louis was saying, in the process of rolling up his sleeves for a more casual look. Harry stared, speechless at how good his biceps looked. He was so hot, it was unbearable. Harry had to cook him breakfast.

“What do you like in an omelette? Cheese? Sausage? Green peppers?”

“You’re gonna be the death of me.”

Harry giggled, fleeing down the hallway before Louis could convince him to go back to sleep. The king-sized bed was so soft and fluffy and it smelled like alpha, but Harry would rather go downstairs and spend time with the alpha the scent belonged to.

Finding everything he needed to cook omelettes was easy, because he had already explored the kitchen yesterday, so for the most part he knew the hiding spots of everything he needed. Louis joined him in a few minutes and helped him by cutting up some vegetables to add to the frying pan, despite Harry insisting he relax at the table with his tea.

“I’m not helpless, you know. I know how to cook.”

“I know you do,” Harry agreed, trying not to smile at the way Louis hovered over him like he was reluctant to let him do all the work. “I like to make omelettes, is all. Will you make me some coffee, if you’re so determined to help out?”

“Yes. I can do that.”

They sat across from each other when the food was ready, after Louis had opened the windows. They got to listen to the ocean sounds as they ate their breakfast together. It was early in the morning and Harry wasn’t used to waking up so soon, but it was worth it for the sake of spending more time with Louis.

They were mostly quiet, not the most talkative people in the morning, and the easy silence settled over them, feeling pleasant and calm. Louis worked on a difficult sudoku puzzle, twirling a pencil in his hand in between sips of tea. Harry occasionally pointed out a number to place in the correct box.

Eventually they shifted their chairs closer until they could work on the puzzle together without having to crane their necks or read numbers upside down. This meant they were sitting so close to each other, their shoulders brushed together at times, and so did their legs, causing a pink blush to heat on Harry’s cheeks. It was just a meaningless, innocent touch, but he couldn’t help the warmth that spread through him at the alpha’s proximity.

“Are you going to go back to sleep after this?”

“Maybe,” Harry laughed, shrugging his shoulders and grinning at the look Louis gave him. He felt a bubble of pride inside at the thought of making Louis breakfast, and him enjoying it, and then wanting to make sure Harry got enough sleep when it was all said and done.

They finished up their meal, and even though Harry insisted on washing the dishes, Louis met him at the sink.

“I’ll be back by noon, and then we’ll have the rest of the day. We can do something fun together, if you want.”

Harry nodded, tucking his hair behind his ear and gazing at Louis sincerely. “I’d love that.”

“Perfect. Now get some sleep, okay?”

Before he could respond, Louis cupped the back of his head with one hand and coaxed him down to his height. Harry went easily, not the most obedient omega but pliant, apparently, for Louis. The alpha pressed a kiss to his forehead, just like yesterday, soft and sweet and over just as soon as it began.

Harry’s knees went wobbly, the traitors, and he stared at Louis with starry eyes.

“Should I walk you upstairs to make sure you’re going back to bed?”

“No, it’s- I… Louis-”

He rubbed his shoulder, warmth seeping from his fingers, before turning away and walking toward the door. “See you later.”

“See you,” Harry echoed, confused yet aglow, every emotion rising to the surface. His scent thickened and he wondered if Louis allowed himself the indulgence of inhaling it on the way out.

The door closed and he would never know.


&&&


This time, Louis’ commute to work was much more peaceful. Yesterday’s drive was wrought with panic over his own awkwardness, but today was calm and almost a return to normal.

He still felt weird about leaving the omega alone in the house with nothing to do. It felt like leaving his family at home while he was supposed to be entertaining them. But work was important, of course, and he was sure Harry would survive the few hours until Louis’ meetings were finished.

The morning had been nice. Despite Louis’ protests, Harry woke up early with him and made breakfast. It was the best omelette Louis had ever eaten, probably because someone else cooked it for him. Food always tasted better when someone else made it. Not that Harry wasn’t a good cook, because he totally had the talent and he was a million times more skilled in the kitchen than Louis was.

Harry was still the intimidatingly attractive omega Louis picked up from the airport two days ago, but now he had a certain depth to him that Louis just couldn’t ignore. Their dinner conversations had proved Harry to be the most interesting person he’d ever met. It wasn’t just his occupation—though Louis had never hosted a sugar baby before—but the mysteriousness and intrigue in how he chose to answer some questions about his life and glossed over others as if he expected Louis not to notice, that made him so captivating. He was skilled at the conversational diversions, too, and Louis only picked up on it because he was paying so much attention to him.

Obviously, it helped that Harry laughed at his jokes and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know Louis, for better or for worse. The alpha had to keep reminding himself that it was all for show. This was Harry’s job, and he was damn good at making people feel like he cared about what they had to say. He’d set his elbow on the table, rest his chin on his palm, and give Louis that irresistible look with his big green eyes that said I’m listening. I care. Please, tell me more.

He would bite his plush bottom lip and play with his carefully arranged curls and stare at Louis from across the dinner table like he was the only alpha in the world. Louis felt it, he really did, and he applauded Harry for his skills. He was clearly good at his job. No doubt about it.

Whoever Harry’s future mate was, was a lucky bastard. It wasn’t even about physical qualities, although he was certainly easy on the eyes. It was that Harry was the most interesting person in the world, and he had all of these little thoughts he let slip out whenever Louis wasn’t paying attention. He didn’t look at reality the way other people did. He was so kind and thoughtful and had a new perspective to share on everything. He was intelligent and worldly without the accompanying pretentiousness so often found with educated and well-traveled people. He knew when to be serious, but more than that, he was silly and fun.

Somehow, despite all of the sexiness and seduction, he wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself. Which was the sexiest part about him. And that was saying something, considering Harry’s long legs and also the fact that he could make even a conversation about the stock market sound interesting.

Louis wasn’t used to living with someone who kept him so on edge all of the time. In fact, he wasn’t used to living with anyone at all. His evenings off work usually consisted of a sad meal in front of the TV and an early bedtime because he had nothing better to do. The past two days were full of conversation and laughter. Louis obviously didn’t know Harry very well yet, but he was learning.

Not to mention Louis’ own inner alpha wolf was suddenly awake after lying dormant for so long. It’d been months since he’d experienced more than a passing biological reaction to an omega stranger, and never had he felt these strange primal urges so strongly. Since Harry had arrived, his inner wolf was eager to jump in and take over, desperate to do something weird like scent mark Harry, or gather him up in his arms to make sure he was safe and sound. It was the desire to protect, to care for the sweet omega his inner wolf was sure “depended” on him. It was stupid, a heedless drive that was out of place in modern society.

Harry obviously didn’t depend on him. Sure, Louis was offering him a place to stay, but that didn’t mean he was without other options. It was just that the innate, wolflike part of Louis saw the prettiest omega and immediately thought I need to take care of you. I need to keep you warm and safe. I need to, like, kiss you and make you happy and play with your hair.

Louis’ fingers itched with the urge to play with Harry’s hair. It was so pretty and soft-looking, his curls resting just above his shoulders. Even this morning, when it was sleep-messy and tangled, and he tucked it behind his ear while he helped Louis with his sudoku puzzle. They were sitting close enough that Louis could smell his shampoo, and it smelled like apples. Louis usually hated scented products because they bothered his hypersensitive nose, and yet this didn’t bother him at all.

And god, Harry’s scent. His natural scent, mixed in with the fancy products he used and the sea salt in the air. It was everywhere. Louis could only pretend not to notice it for so long. Wrapped up in his bed, clinging to his clothes, wafting down the hall… It caressed Louis’ skin, tickled his nose, and invited him to come closer at any waking moment. To take a deeper breath, to really inhale. His inner wolf was begging him to press his face into the crook of the omega’s neck and breathe him in until they weren’t strangers anymore.

Smelling someone without their permission was rude, though, and Louis was a polite alpha if anything. He settled for catching a whiff every so often and trying not to actually salivate like a dog.

It made him smile to think that Harry was at home, falling back asleep in Louis’ bed. It made him feel warm and satisfied inside to know the omega was enjoying himself and relaxed enough to take advantage of a morning off. They’d made plans for the afternoon and Louis was still trying to decide what he wanted to show Harry.

During the downtime in his meetings, he researched a few places on his laptop and created a mental list of possible activities he thought the omega might enjoy. There were a lot of options, but he was worried they would choose something that wasn’t up to the standards of luxury Harry was used to. If anything, he was determined to give him a really good week in Florida.


&&&


“You look relaxed. Good morning?”

“You look stressed,” Harry countered, propping himself up from where he was sprawled out on the floating bed on the second floor balcony. He was laying on his stomach, ankles crossed lazily in the air, and he didn’t miss the way Louis’ eyes glossed over his body. Quick, but noticeable, the feeling of his gaze burned in the best way. “Bad morning?”

Louis huffed a laugh and sat down in the chair beside him, sinking into it and throwing his arm over his eyes. The action made him look younger, almost boyish—much less the straight-and-narrow alpha with his life put together.

“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. Just trying to close a deal with someone and they’re being difficult. I’m glad to be back.”

“Me too.”

“So you slept in?”

“Until 9:30, and then I went to the spa. Then I came back here and took a nap.”

“Wonderful.”

“I should’ve waited for you to come back, though. We could’ve gone together. You look like you could use an hour in the steam room.”

“Is that an insult?”

Harry laughed, squeezing a pillow to his chest. “No. Don’t you want a massage?”

He wondered what was really making Louis so tired, if it was just stress from work like he said or something else, like not having an omega to cuddle up with at night.

“I don’t like strangers touching me.”

That was interesting. “Not even licensed massage therapists? How about one from me?”

Louis kept his arm pressed firmly over his eyes. “No, thank you. I’m good.”

“If you say so,” the omega shrugged, nonchalant about the rejection. At least outwardly. It was a joke, he told himself, he hadn’t expected Louis to actually say yes. “So what do you wanna do today?”

“It’s up to you. I have a whole list of things we can do. How about we both go change and then we can talk about it?”

“What am I changing into?”

“Swim trunks and a t-shirt. You do have a bathing suit you can wear in public… right?”

“Of course,” Harry scoffed, as if the idea was preposterous. He didn’t mention how he only brought one that was family-friendly, and would probably need to go shopping if they did anymore outings like this.

Half an hour later, they were cruising down Highway 867, enjoying the ocean vistas glimpsed in between the waterfront mansions lining the road. Harry had his phone plugged into the aux cord, and they were exploring each other’s music tastes.

The top was down, and he enjoyed the wind in his hair, even though it would be an annoyance to fix as soon as they got to their destination. They had already eaten sandwiches back at the house, and they were heading straight to a state park to rent kayaks on the river. Apparently, they might see some alligators, and, if they were lucky, a manatee too.

At the park, they rented two kayaks and lugged them out to the river, sliding them into the water. Harry fastened his orange life vest and tried not to shudder at the large signs everywhere that said CAUTION: ALLIGATORS - ABSOLUTELY NO SWIMMING.

“Um, what if I tip in?”

“You won’t, don’t worry.” Louis said it with a sort of confidence that implied, if it happens, I’ll jump in after you.

“If you say so.”

A little part of Harry wanted Louis to reach over and squeeze his wrist to comfort him, maybe even cover him in his scent to really ease his nerves, but he pushed that desire away. Stupid. Not gonna happen. Louis didn’t think of him like that.

The river was marked with yellow buoys every half mile to create a 2.5-mile pathway for kayakers and paddle boarders. Harry and Louis moved slowly, pointing out wildlife as they saw it: snowy egrets, great blue herons, and Florida muskrats. The sun was high in the sky above them, and so hot, but the water felt cool and refreshing whenever Harry slipped his fingers in. It was a bold move, considering the alligators, but nothing bad had happened yet.

Louis was the one to first spot an alligator, unmoving on the shoreline, only its head poking out of the water. Harry gripped his oar tighter, but he was in awe. He could see its sharp teeth lined neatly along its long jaw, its beady black eyes watching a bird along the shoreline.

“Let’s keep moving before it decides to have a meal in front of us,” Louis suggested, only half-joking. He made sure Harry was safely away before he started paddling as well.

Kayaking with Louis down the scenic river was like nothing Harry had ever experienced before. They had to be quiet in order to not scare away the wildlife, but they talked endlessly in soft voices, about anything and everything. Just like that first night at dinner, they each had a lot to say, one thought bringing up remembrance of another, and each topic flowed into the other seamlessly.

Even with Harry being evasive about his childhood, and Louis not caring for work conversation, they had more than enough to say during the few hours they spent on the river.

Harry was the one to spot the manatee. At the farthest point before they had to turn around and paddle back, he spotted the roots of a mangrove tree shifting in the water.

All propriety flew out the window. “Holy shit. Is that- Ohmygod, it’s so cute!”

Louis laughed, but he was awed too. They watched the manatee chew on roots and leaves near the shore, just its round nose poking out of the water, its large body obscured by ripples in the river’s glasslike surface.

It was huge. Harry never expected manatees to be so huge.

“Oh, wow.”

It swam closer, curious, floating lazily under their kayaks. Harry giggled, thrilled, watching its big flat tail swish through the water like a mermaid.

“Back in the day, a lot of fishermen thought manatees were mermaids,” Louis mused, balancing his oar on the brim of the kayak. “But they look kind of like giant potatoes, don’t you think?”

“Sea potatoes. They’re beautiful blubbery babies. Wow. What are the marks on her back?”

“Looks like she had a boating accident. The propellers got her.”

Harry gasped. “That’s horrible.”

“I know. A few years ago, when I got the house here, I started working with a wildlife commission, as a charity thing. They do a lot of manatee conservation work. They’re a vulnerable population because of the boats and everything, people speeding in shallow waters and rivers even though they’re not supposed to. It’s very sad. The aquarium near us takes in a lot of injured manatees, rehabilitates them and then releases them in the wild. Some of my sisters work there over the summer.”

It was a lot of information all at once and it left Harry’s heart swelling in his chest. Louis was at least moderately environmentally conscious, and if that wasn’t the most attractive thing ever.

He cared about the manatees. Maybe the bar was too low, but still. Harry was going to melt into a puddle of goo.

“That’s amazing. You’re amazing.”

Louis shrugged off his words. “The aquarium is really nice, though. They only take in wildlife that wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild, and they try to rehabilitate and release them if they can. You would really like it, I think.”

“Is it open to the public? Can we go sometime this week?”

“I’ll have to check their hours, but yeah, absolutely. Might even be able to get you behind the scenes to feed some manatees.”

“Oh god, yes, please. I’d love that. So much.”

“Great.” Louis smiled at him and then looked away before the moment became too heavy, Harry brimming over the top with a conglomeration of emotions, all positive.

The most ambiguous emotion he felt was the simultaneous excitement and dread of longing. It was this big wistful thing hanging over him, this pining for Louis that hadn’t gone away from the moment he first laid eyes on him and smelled his comforting alpha scent.

Another manatee came up to join them, friendly and curious. Louis and Harry watched them for a while, amazed by how adorable the two were. They eventually swam away, disappearing down the river, causing peaceful ripples in the water with their languid movements.

After returning their kayaks, Harry and Louis were left with the decision of how to fill the rest of their day. Louis suggested jet skiing, because apparently he owned one. Harry had been on boats before, yachts and cruise ships too, but never a jet ski, so he shrugged and said he was willing to try anything once.

That was the attitude that had gotten him so far in his line of work, anyway.

The marina was in the key, so they had to ride out a bit before getting to the big water. Louis made sure Harry’s life jacket was zipped and adjusted properly, tight enough around his torso that it wouldn’t slip off in the water.

“Are you expecting me to fall off?”

“Depends on the kind of ride you want. I could do a peaceful tour along the shoreline. I could also do rough.”

Harry tried not to think about the possible double meanings. Mind in the gutter, and all that. He wasn’t sure what rough entailed but he was interested in finding out. Maybe he wasn’t thinking about jet skiing, anymore.

“Let’s start off slow and see how it goes?”

“Perfect.”

Louis got situated and then helped Harry on as well, guiding him to sit down behind him.

“Hold on tight.” He paused. “Seriously. That’s not just a line.”

Harry laughed, feeling giddy at being allowed to be so close to the alpha. He scooted even closer, pressing his front to Louis’ back, wrapping his arms around his waist. Unsure of where to hold on, he hooked his fingers into the buckles of Louis’ life vest.

“Comfy? Ready?”

The omega nodded, squeezing tighter. Louis maneuvered the jet ski out of the marina and out onto the key, the water opening up around them. It was a beautiful day, and there were many others out on the water, passing by in boats and jet skis alike.

Just like back at the state park where they rented their kayaks, Harry felt proud to be seen with Louis. He was the kindest alpha Harry had ever met, he was attractive, he was young, he was rich… The list went on. The omega felt like a million dollars next to him, or in this case, cuddling up to him on the back of his jet ski, pressing his cheek against his shoulder just because he could get away with it.

He sighed contentedly, feeling the wind in his hair, the sun on his skin, the ocean spray wetting his toes.

This was a whole new world, something Harry had only fantasized about. Sugaring meant relinquishing some desires for the sake of others, and so he traded a normal chance at finding a mate for a life of luxury. He spent almost all his time around old alphas who hadn’t found a mate because they were bad company or just plain mean.

In turn, when the time came for him to settle down, it was unlikely he would find an alpha who would want to be with him for life, because he had been with so many others before.

Harry had fun, sometimes, but it was always tainted by the implied price of dining at fancy restaurants, receiving expensive gifts, and traveling around the world. He would have to share his body, almost without a doubt.

He liked sex. He liked being knotted. He liked cuddling up with an alpha afterward, if they were into that, pressing flirty, teasing kisses to their neck and imagining what it would be like if the emotional intimacy was there, too.

Harry was a hopeless romantic at heart and he often dreamt of finding his mate this way, through dinner parties and trips to Bali or Amalfi or whatever beautiful, expensive place he found himself on his knees for an alpha who didn’t give a shit about him, really, when it came down to it. An alpha who only ever wanted him for his body, whether that meant as arm candy to make their business partners jealous or as a hole to knot late at night, wrapped up in the expensive sheets of another unremarkable, interchangeable luxurious hotel.

This lifestyle was all about receiving. Money to pay his bills, diamond bracelets to adorn his wrists, designer clothes piled high in his closet in an endless sort of way. Receiving gifts, receiving sex, following the lead of the alpha and doing whatever they wanted under the guise of Harry wanting it too, because he was the recipient in so many surface-level ways—but when it came down to it, when it really came down to it, he was the one providing the service.

And he had given up so much for this lifestyle. Even though he originally chose to do it because he thought it would give him something. Money, stability, a way of life. A way to get out of the sad, impoverished small town in which he grew up.

He didn’t want to be like his mother. He didn’t want to be like his sister, either, or his father, who was never around anyway. He wasn’t like them. He was different, he was wealthy, he was affluent, he was satisfied with his life. Not just sitting around and wishing things could be different. Unlike the rest of his depressing family, he had actually done something with his life.

“All right back there?”

“Yeah, sorry, just thinking.” He held on tighter, pressing closer, until he could smell Louis’ scent. “Can we go faster?”

“Absolutely.”

Louis kicked up the gear, and the new speed sent a thrill through Harry’s body. His stomach swooped with the motion, and it felt like he was on a roller coaster, just before the big drop.

He clung tighter. Closed his eyes.

With Louis, he felt happy. He felt free.

 

&&&

 

Years ago, when Harry first joined the sugar bowl, he was completely alone. He had already given up all of his childhood friends to devote all his attention to his alpha boyfriend, so when that relationship ended, he had no one.

His relationship with his family was already strained by that point, marked by tense phone calls with his mother and vague texts shared with his sister once every few months. It got worse once Harry started sugaring, and they found out what he was doing. A family full of omegas, aside from their alpha father who had fucked off long ago. None of them supported what Harry was doing as soon as they realized it for what it was.

He was a glorified escort, working for himself rather than a service company. He could pretend to be whatever he wanted, but it always came back to him, whenever one of his daddies got mad, feeling cheated or conned, and called him horrible names just to degrade him. Knotslut didn’t bother him, not anymore, because he figured it was true. Whore was worse and slithered under his skin, lurking. It crept into his mind at night, and kept him from falling asleep.

So it was lonely, and he devoted all of his time to being the best sugar baby he could be, because there was nothing else to do. Committing so much time and energy to his newfound calling took his mind off the fact that the long term relationship he’d always thought would lead to soulbonding for life had just crumbled to nothing over a span of a few depressing months.

He revamped his wardrobe, created an elaborate skincare routine, spent his last paycheck on fancy hair masks and serums, learned how to wax his body without going to a specialist, and studied all he could about boring topics like business and the economy, so he could hold a decent conversation with an affluent alpha twice his age.

He picked up hobbies to make himself more interesting. All of them were signs of status. Playing the piano, learning Italian, pretending to study law. He listened to podcasts about the stock market and read articles on modern medical advancements. He created a persona who was intelligent and worldly, able to speak to anyone about anything. He became a delight at dinner parties, charming and desired.

The actual evenings out weren’t always as glamorous as anticipated. Most of his time was spent making conversation with the most boring alphas. He often had to sneak off to the bathroom to respond to the messages on his phone from his other daddies, all of them demanding attention. They all thought they were the only one, but Harry was able to juggle at least five different alphas at any given time.

Which reminded him: he hadn’t checked his phone at all since arriving here, except to call Niall and moan about the situation he was in. The messages were piling up and he would have to do something about them soon.

Ignoring an alpha for a day or two was one thing; it made him seem busy and mysterious. But for an entire week? He might as well have told them it was all a ruse, that he didn’t actually love being knotted by them, that he probably had to think about the new line of Gucci handbags to even get off in the first place.

“Hey, you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry. Daydreaming.” Harry laughed to offset the damage of his quietness, squeezing Louis a little tighter for his own comfort. He was embarrassed by the amount of times Louis had to call him out of his reverie today alone.

They had been on the water for over an hour, shrieking and hollering as they crested large waves that threatened to throw them off the jet ski. Harry had only fallen off once, when they hit a big wave at a precarious angle and before he could even think to cling tighter, he was flying off the back and smashing into the sea. It wasn’t as painful as it sounded, and it was actually kind of exhilarating.

The buoyancy of his life jacket brought him to the surface, and he couldn’t stop himself from grinning as he wiped water drops away from his eyes.

Louis had to circle back to get him, while Harry considered the danger of sharks and other sea creatures.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to get back on the jet ski, but then Louis held out his hands and pulled him up, just like that.

“Wow, okay. Look at those biceps.”

“Shut up,” Louis had laughed, before turning around and doing a full body scan of Harry to make sure he was okay after being flung, unceremoniously, into the water. He quickly brushed his hands up his thighs and the sides of his arms as if checking for broken bones. It was such an alpha thing to do, it made Harry glow.

Now, they were putzing down the river, headed toward the marina but still taking their time on the way back. The omega had been enjoying resting his cheek on Louis’ shoulder and letting his gaze go soft and unfocused on the shoreline, soaking in the scenery holistically rather than focusing on the details. Then his mind wandered back to the reality of his life, realizing that after this week was over it was back to the crude tasks of sugaring, and his mood turned gloomy.

Mistaking Harry’s downtrodden frame of mind for boredom or perhaps even displeasure at their current activities, Louis assured, “We’re almost back, don’t worry. Just a few more minutes.”

Wish I could stay out here with you forever, Harry should’ve said.

“Is there something else you want to do after this? Or do you just want to go home?”

“Anything you want. I’m not ready for this day to be over yet.”

So they ate ice cream and walked along the pier, arguing for their favorite flavors. It felt weird being out in public with an alpha without wearing a fancy outfit and having his hair arranged to perfection. Now his curls were drying in fuzzy, salty waves and Louis didn’t seem to mind. Or notice any difference.

“Tired?”

“A little,” Harry admitted, chancing his luck and resting his head on Louis shoulder as they strolled back to the car. He had to hunch over to do it comfortably, but once his cheek was brushing against the alpha’s shoulder he knew it was worth it.

Louis only flinched at first, indicating his surprise, but he soon wrapped his arm around Harry’s middle, high enough for it to be a friendly gesture. His fingers rested on his ribcage, squeezing every so often like he wanted to hold him tighter but wasn’t sure if he was allowed.

Meanwhile Harry inhaled his scent slowly, taking in the ocean breeze as well and trying not to overwhelm himself. Louis smelled like a dream.

The alpha suggested they go back to the house and spend the night in, since going out was a hassle and they both preferred a home cooked meal, anyway. During the car ride home, Harry fought against sleep and though he dutifully tried to keep his eyes open, his lids kept slipping closed. Louis listened to some obscure music talk show on the radio and the hour-long drive flew by as Harry dozed off.

The next time he opened his eyes, the alpha was poking his arm awkwardly and telling him they had arrived.

“How about you go take a nap and I’ll wake you when dinner’s ready?”

As nice as that sounded, cooking with Louis sounded even nicer. So he yawned and shook his head with a lazy smile.

They cooked spaghetti and mixed a homemade tomato sauce while singing along to one of Louis’ intricate Spotify playlists. He knew more about music than anyone Harry had ever met before, and each offhand fact he offered up about the song’s mechanics or its writers was more interesting than the last.

“Did you have fun today?”

“Very much,” Harry nodded, sucking tomato juice off his thumb. The look Louis gave him settled something heavy in his core. “Did you? On your day off, with a strange omega?”

“Not strange,” Louis disagreed, keeping busy with his task of stirring the spaghetti in the pot of boiling water. “It’s fun to get to know you more.”

“Is it?” Harry teased to cover up his curiosity.

“Yeah. I like seeing you when you’re not trying to impress alphas or anyone.”

It wasn’t the response he was expecting. Louis hardly knew him, but he was perceptive, so it wasn’t too far out of the water. Clearly he could see that a lot of what Harry did was all acting. It had taken months of introspection to get a handle of his self-image, to realize what others saw and thought when they looked at him. It had taken even longer to figure out how to use that to his advantage.

“When was I trying to impress an alpha?” He leant against the countertop and folded his fingers over the edge as casually as he could. Knowing the alpha was watching him closely out of the corner of his eye made him feel that newly familiar feeling of excitement and nervousness, butterflies doing backflips in his stomach.

Louis shook his head as if not to answer. “I don’t mean anything bad by it. Just that you get this colder look on your face when you’re more aware of the way you appear to others. Like when we went out to dinner the other night. You’re just- I like it when you’re more relaxed, and not caring what anyone thinks.”

Harry’s immediate reaction was to turn defensive, to tell Louis he was wrong and that he never cared what anyone thought, he was always 100% himself. He knew what Louis meant, though, and it was too personal a topic to make conversation of it.

Focusing on the positives seemed like a better idea.

“I like it better when you’re relaxed, too. When we’re alone,” Harry announced, being bold about it but still soft spoken, trying to find the perfect mix between being a confident omega and also knowing when to shut up. “Niall was right about you being tense, but that’s nothing a few days on the beach can’t fix. Don’t you think?”

To emphasize his point, he pulled away from the stove and rubbed one hand across Louis’ upper back in a lazy massage. Really, he wanted to wrap his arms around him and cling to him like a sultry omega from one of those old movies, but he had self-control. The alpha tensed for a moment before sighing, sounding both exasperated and amused.

“You’re doing it again.”

“What?”

“Trying to be something you’re not.”

Harry pouted, dropping his hand. “How do you know?”

“I don’t know. You’re just- Please, can we be real with each other? No more batting your eyelashes and touching me like you’re trying to seduce me. You already have my money,” he joked. “Let’s just eat.”

“Ugh, whatever,” Harry smiled as he dished out some pasta on each other their plates, spooning out sauce over it. The whole meal smelled heavenly, especially the ciabatta bread warmed in the oven. He wasn’t sure how to explain to Louis that he wasn’t trying to seduce him, or maybe he was but it wasn’t for his money. So he let the conversation drop.

They brought their meals outside to the cabana near the water’s edge, trying not to spill any food in the sand. Once everything was set up, he sighed contentedly and enjoyed the moment. The white sheets of the cabana billowed around them in the ocean breeze, catching the pinkish orange light of the setting sun.

“We should play the question game again,” Harry suggested, thinking of last night.

Louis held up a bottle of wine. “This time with alcohol.”

“What’re the rules? How much do we have to drink if we don’t want to answer?”

“A few healthy gulps, yeah? I’ll go first. What’s your favorite color?”

Harry made a show of pouring himself a glass and gulping down half of it.

Louis just stared at him.

“Just kidding. It’s pink.” They burst out laughing, loud and unbridled and carried away in the wind.

“Okay, your turn.”

Harry didn’t even have to think about it, but he pretended to for Louis’ sake. “Describe the first time you knotted an omega. In detail.”

“Wow, rude.” He took a few big sips, staining his lips red. “That wasn’t even a question. You’re just trying to get me drunk, aren’t you?”

The omega shrugged, trying to keep his grin coy. He twirled some pasta on his fork, tapping his free hand on the smooth stone surface of the table. “Maybe.”

“Fine, if you want to play like that. When was the last time you had sex and why?”

The answer was right on the tip of his tongue. Obviously Louis was expecting him to drink to this one too, but what he apparently didn’t know was that Harry was very open about discussing intimacy.

He wondered if he should lie, if the truth might offend or insult the alpha sitting across from him. It didn’t matter, though. Louis had said before that he preferred genuinity.

“The night before I first texted you, I was with an alpha named Michael. And, why… Well, he offered to buy me a pair of these cute leather ankle boots for my troubles.”

Louis’ eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything other than, “Interesting.” Harry suspected he was saving his questions for when it was his turn.

“Why are you friends with Niall?”

“He’s the chillest alpha I ever met. Doesn’t worry about a thing in the world. Always happy, a great guy, I love him to bits.”

“That’s valid,” Harry agreed, smiling at his plate while Louis gazed at him from across the table. “That’s why I was drawn to him too. That, and he’s really protective, in, like, a subtle way.”

“How so?”

“Is that your question?”

“Is that yours?”

“Touché,” Harry laughed. “I just mean that Niall is one of those alphas who makes omegas feel safe, ‘cause he never asks anything of you. And he uses his alpha privileges for good. He’s like a bonfire or something, we’re all drawn to him like moths to a flame.”

“Always has an omega on his arm, doesn’t he,” Louis mused.

“Yeah, and never in a bad way. He sleeps around so much but he’s never had a jilted lover, I swear.” Just thinking of Niall made Harry’s heart feel warm and content. Niall was the closest friend he had.

“Huh, you’re right. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad word about him from anyone. That’s funny, actually, I’ve never thought of it like that. Great lad.”

“Indeed.”

“Is it still my question?”

“It is.”

“So this alpha… Michael, or whatever. How does that happen? I mean, how do you work it out so he gets you in his bed and you get a new pair of boots? I can’t imagine any conversation where those terms and conditions would come up naturally.”

“Why, you want some tips on how to be a sugar baby? I don’t know too many omegas in the market for an alpha to spoil, but I know they’re out there,” Harry teased. “Actually, I don’t see why you can’t find an alpha to be your daddy, although I won’t give you any names because they might like you better than me.”

“Fuck off,” Louis laughed, waving his hand. Harry was relieved to know he wasn’t disgusted by what he just suggested, like some alphas would be. Louis took the teasing in stride, pushing past it before Harry could take it further. “I just mean, it seems weird. I can’t imagine ever interacting with an omega like that, about bedroom activities, of all things. Like it’s a business transaction, or something.”

Harry perked up. “Oh, it totally is. I have hourly rates and everything, but I usually don’t share them unless someone asks, because it makes me seem more like an escort or a prostitute, which I’m not. I get paid in cash, sometimes, but mostly gifts and experiences. But really, it’s a lot less awkward than you think. Most alphas who come to me have done this before, so we talk money real quick, get everything sorted out, and then plan a second date for whatever the alpha wants to get out of the relationship. I don’t show up to the first date unless he confirms he has a gift for me—my time is too valuable to be running all over the city for alphas who don’t mean business.”

“So you don’t- You never put out on the first date?”

Harry smirked. “I believe it’s my turn to ask. Why are you so curious about my sugar dating activities?”

Louis pursed his lips, swirling his glass around before declaring, “I’ll drink for that one. So, back to mine. How do you decide if an alpha is worthy of your time?”

“Well, he has to be sugar daddy material, obviously. That means he has to have a stable, lucrative job that he isn’t hesitant to tell me about. I’m not about to get mixed up in a shady under-the-table trade, or something. He also has to show me he means business, which usually entails sending me a gift before we even meet, or bringing something extravagant for our first meeting. I’ve gotten all sorts of things before, but as long as it’s expensive, that’s all that matters. Jewelry, handbags, plane tickets, et cetera. It’s all about the dollar signs.”

“I see. But no background checks or safety precautions?”

“Good question,” Harry began, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t Louis’ turn to ask. “It’s always a risk for sugar babies, meeting up with an alpha stranger. I do all I can to stay safe, but there isn’t too much I can do, aside from the basics. Nowadays I work almost exclusively through referrals and friends of friends, like you, but back when I was just getting started I had to make do with an extensive google search and letting my friend know where I was going and who I would be with, so if I went missing he could go to the police.” He grimaced, looking at his nails. He was due for a manicure. “It’s not always glamorous. That’s why most people aren’t cut out to be sugar babies. It’s more than just good looks and being good at taking a knot, you know.”

“No, I know, I could never do what you do. Mad respect, seriously. But, I mean, there has to be a better way to do it? To make sure you stay safe? Like, what if the alpha seems normal at first but then he goes all serial killer on you and locks you in his basement when you’re knot drunk, or if you’re in omega space or something? That’s really… I don’t know. So many things could go wrong.”

The furrow of his brow and the way his shoulders were so tense, his spine pulled taught, clued Harry in to how strongly Louis felt about the safety of an omega he hardly knew. Always one for a protective alpha, Harry tried to keep his small smile to himself as he reached across the table and touched Louis’ hand gently to calm him.

“Hey, it’s okay. I have Niall looking out for me now. He makes sure I always get home safe.”

The reassurance only partially settled Louis, but he still looked perturbed, fingers clutching the edge of the table. “I’m glad you have him. But I don’t know, Harry. There are so many bad people out there.”

“I know,” he said, softly. “It’s okay. I’m really careful. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m a smart omega, and I never let myself drop or sleep over, even if it’s really late. I usually walk over to Niall’s, if he doesn’t have company, and he cuddles me and makes sure I take my pills.”

“Pills?”

“Pheromone soothers, I mean. So I don’t drop, you know, not having an alpha after I’ve been knotted.”

“Oh. So none of them take care of you afterwards, or at least make sure you’re okay to leave? And. And you said you walk to Niall’s? In the city? New York City? At night ?”

This dinner was turning into Louis fretting over Harry’s safety during his sugar baby escapades. Harry’s omega brain wanted to crawl right into Louis’ lap and show him his omega was perfectly safe, perfectly okay, right here, wrapped up in his arms. But like, no. Clearly he couldn’t do that. There were so many reasons why he couldn’t do that.

So he smiled, a little panicked, and willed his heart to calm down even though Louis was worrying over him like he genuinely cared about Harry’s safety.

“I’m okay, really, Louis. Nothing bad has happened yet,” that was a lie, “and whenever I walk back I always call Niall and he stays on the phone with me until I’m home or at his. And about my daddies, I don’t know, most of them aren’t really fond of cuddling, so I don’t bug them about it. It’s easier for me to just leave while we’re both satisfied, rather than trying to guilt them into spending some platonic quality time with me.”

“That’s… Harry, I don’t even know what to say to that. You deserve better.”

Cue Harry melting into a puddle of goo. He held it together, outwardly at least, secretly holding Louis’ words close to his heart even after he decided to change the subject. “I believe it’s my turn now. Question: Do you like to cuddle?”

The alpha huffed, an amused smile breaking through his concerned expression. The crinkles by his eyes were so endearing, Harry could cry.

“Of course. Huge fan of cuddling. One of the best activities. It’s up there with sleeping in late on a day off, and also kissing. And eating spaghetti on the beach.”

Harry’s heart felt warm. “I get to ask you more questions, since you interrogated me about my late night activities.”

“Sorry,” Louis cringed.

“I don’t mind, you can ask more later. For now though, it’s my turn. So. Why have you been so evasive whenever I’ve asked about your dating history? Or, like, your history with omegas in general. Is it because… Holy shit. Is it because you have an omega already? Are you bonded? God, I swear-”

Louis’ mouth dropped open in shock. “What? No, no. Why would you think that? You would be able to smell them on me if I had a mate. I would never do that, I would never- cheat-” and he ground the words out, like it disgusted him to even say it.

“There are some really effective scent blockers out there. You have the money for them, too. You could do it, try to deceive me about that,” Harry informed suspiciously. “It would make sense. You are the perfect alpha, you must be hiding something. Some scandal, like cheating on your omega.”

“Don’t even say that- I would never do that!”

Harry stared Louis down, scanning his face for any giveaways that he might be lying. He found nothing but Louis looking horrified.

“Okay, fine. I believe you.”

“Thank god. Christ. That’s awful. Have you… Has that happened to you before? An alpha lying about that?”

The omega tucked a strand of hair behind his ear just to stall, looking out at the ocean. The sun was fully setting now, a bright orange semicircle on the horizon.

“Yeah, a couple of times. Twice. Before I really knew what to look for, I guess. I’m much better at knowing when people are lying to me now, after doing this for years. But yeah, it’s rough. It hurts a lot. I just, I don’t know. It makes me feel a lot of bad things, knowing I’m potentially messing up a soulbond. Knowing someone’s mate wanted to cheat on them in the first place.”

“I can’t even imagine how that must feel to you,” Louis said softly.

“It sucks.”

“It does. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. Yeah. You still haven’t answered my question.”

“I honestly forgot it.”

Harry laughed a little, effectively bringing the mood of the evening back to its carefree feeling. “I was asking why you’re so reluctant to talk about your past experiences with omegas. Is it because you haven’t had any, or you’re just shy?”

“No, it’s- I’ve definitely been with omegas before, trust me. I just think it’s something more private, I don’t know. I don’t want to go advertising all of my past relationships to every person I meet.”

“Okay, that’s fair. I respect that.” He was itching to ask more, though, to find out anything he could.

What was Louis like with his partners? Had he dated all omegas, or were there some betas mixed in too? Was he as sweet and lovely with them as he was with Harry? Had he ever been with a male omega before? Was he into courting, or did he think it was too old-fashioned, an obsolete way of starting a relationship? Had he ever knotted an omega before, or was he waiting for the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with? Did he-

“I can see you running all these questions through your mind,” Louis laughed. “It’s okay, you can ask some. God knows I grilled you about safety precautions and all that.”

Harry sunk his teeth into his bottom lip. “I don’t know what to ask, though. I have so many questions.”

“Here, I’ll tell you this, then. I haven’t been with anyone for months and that’s why Niall was so happy to get you down here. I went through a bad breakup and I wasn’t really in the mood to go searching for someone else to get all tangled up with. I mean, there wasn’t any drama really, it was a mutual decision to split. It was just rough because that’s how things are when you’re with someone for a few years and it’s not working out so you both decide you’d be better off as friends. Of course, we’re not friends anymore, ‘cause it’s too painful to even be near each other, let alone pretend we don’t have two and a half years of history weighing us down.”

“Oh, wow. Yeah, I totally get that. So you haven’t been with anyone since then? No hookups, or anything?”

“Nope,” Louis confirmed, and Harry admired the way he wasn’t embarrassed about it.

“Hm, okay. So, this is kind of related, I guess- It’s been on my mind. Before we even talked, I assumed I was flying down here to help you through your rut? But then Niall told me you suppress your ruts. So I guess I was just wondering why you do that?”

The alpha huffed a laugh, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table. Harry wondered if he was imagining the omega helping him through his rut, and if so, if they were good images in his mind, something he might like to try.

And what would he be imagining then? Harry wondered. What kind of alpha was he? What was he like when his inhibitions were lowered and his instincts took over? Would he want Harry in bed, or up against the wall? Or maybe even on the floor, propped up for easy access. Or on his lap, all tied up on his knot. Was he rough? Was he confident and demanding? Would he still be sweet, and check in with Harry periodically?

“I suppress my rut because I’m not comfortable finding a stranger to spend it with me, and I’d rather not suffer through it alone. You don’t suppress your heats, do you?”

“I do. I haven’t had one in three years, ever since I joined the sugar bowl.” Ever since he and his alpha broke up, more like.

“Huh. I suppose that makes sense, although I would’ve thought you would have people lining up to help you through it.”

“Maybe, but it’s about safety. Like we were talking about before.”

“Right. Makes sense.”

Harry sighed. “Look at us. An alpha and omega in our twenties, suppressing our mating cycles when we’re supposed to be having the time of our lives.”

“Life is weird,” Louis agreed. “Your twenties are weird. But I’d rather wait until I found a bondmate for that. It’s worth it to me, I guess. Not even for some meta soulmate bullshit, but just that I’d feel more comfortable waiting. Until then, I’ll take my suppressants every day.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

They both stared at each other for a moment before laughing.

“We barely even drank any wine and here we are spending all of dinner talking about sex,” Louis mused.

“Well, it is always on my mind,” Harry joked, leaning back and stretching his spine. “And to be fair, it is also sort of my job.”

“Then I have no excuse.”

“I’ll let you off the hook.”

“Thanks for that.”

With the impromptu interrogation over, they returned to normal conversation and discussed their plans for the evening and the following day. For tonight, there was a book Louis wanted to read, and Harry had fashion magazines to page through. But first, they wanted to enjoy the rest of the sunset.

After taking care of the dishes, they returned to the beach and walked down the shoreline, feeling the warm summer breeze on their skin and the sun-warmed water up to their ankles. The sand was pure white and ultra-fine, feeling soft beneath their feet. They passed a few others walking along the beach, but for the most part it was empty, just wide open space in front of the sea.

Harry always joked about saying he liked long walks on the beach, because it was such a cliche. However, he was finding that he really did enjoy them, even more so with Louis walking quietly by his side. The lulls in their conversation were comfortable rather than awkward, and the omega was glad they were officially past the stage of being tense and alert around each other.

Back at the house, they each went their separate ways to spend the night however they pleased. While Louis went to his bedroom, Harry went to the guest room where his luggage was to grab some clothes to wear after his shower.

He saw his phone sitting there amongst the expensive silks and linens, half hidden by a piece of lace lingerie he had hastily discarded after realizing there was no use for it on this vacation. Harry had used his phone to call Niall the other day, but he had ignored the pileup of text messages and missed calls from his sugar daddies.

The longer he waited to respond, though, the more likely they were to get angry or frustrated with him and threaten to stop buying him the Gucci blouses he loved so much, or worse, threaten to stop paying his rent. Over the years, he’d saved up a bunch of money in his bank account just in case everything went to shit, but it definitely wasn’t enough to sustain his current lifestyle. If he wanted to keep his NYC  loft and also not work an official job, he would need to respond to his messages. And soon.

With a quiet sigh, he picked up his phone and scrolled through the previews of the messages. Four of his six current daddies had messaged him, along with two other alphas he had never met before, who said they got his number from a friend.

Some of the texts were horny and pathetic and made Harry roll his eyes, but most of them were sweet. Michael, the alpha from just before he met Louis, had sent him a picture of the sunset in Bali with the caption thinking of you xx. Other harmless ones said things along the lines of what’re you up to? and can’t wait to see you again.

One of his daddies even sent him a picture of various Burberry handbags with the caption, which color do you want? before sending another text that said, nevermind, I’m buying them all for you.

Harry grinned, taking his phone with him to the bathroom as he waited for the water to warm up for his shower. He appraised his appearance in the mirror, considering taking some pictures to send just like this.

That required a lot of effort, though, and really he just wanted to get in the shower. Instead of taking new photos of himself, he scrolled through a private album on his phone and selected artistic selfie to send in order to show his gratitude. It wasn’t the most revealing photo, but it was definitely suggestive. He was sure the alpha would find it sexy.

He added a kissy emoji for good measure and sent it before replying to some of the others. Most of his responses were similar, but tailored to each alpha so it felt personal and unique. He was good at remembering inside jokes and little details about each alpha, so he used that to his advantage in order to charm them into sending him more money and gifts. Apparently he had four Burberry bags waiting for him at home, which made his heart flutter with excitement.

The Burberry bags reminded him he had yet to be gifted a Hermes bag, which, to be honest, made him feel like a failure. Hermes bags were like the hallmark of sugaring. If you were really fucking good at what you did, and you also had luck on your side, chances are someone would’ve bought one for you by now. The bags ranged anywhere from $2,000 to $400,000, although some of the specialty ones cost in the millions, and Harry had learned to spot one from a mile away. Maybe he could persuade Louis to buy one for him, he pondered. Much to think about.

As he stepped into the shower, he considered the fact that he hadn’t asked Louis to buy anything for him yet. He hadn’t even thought about it, until he was reminded by the messages from his obligations back home.

It was kind of worrisome, that the soul purpose of his life—acquiring more material goods—slipped his mind whenever he was in Louis’ presence. So he tried not to think about it.

 

&&&

 

The shower was like hitting a reset button. He spent at least an hour beneath the warm water, steam billowing around him as he washed every crevice of his body. He shaved everywhere out of habit, used a coconut hair mask, and contemplated his status as a bad bitch sugar baby now that he was uselessly pining after an alpha who had no interest in him.

Then he turned off the water, wrapped up in a fluffy towel, and forced himself to stop worrying about it. Vacation. He was on vacation.

Vacation called for at least one night of self care, didn’t it?

Maybe Louis would want to join him, and they could make a night of it. Harry used to do that all the time with his omega friend Zayn, before everything went to shit.

Zayn would come over and they would order takeout, apply facemasks, paint their nails, and watch rom coms or horror movies depending on whose night it was to pick the film. They would laugh about how needy their sugar daddies were and trade stories about ridiculous things that happened while on a date or in bed with an alpha. They would stay up all night, until the morning sky began to glow with the promise of the sun and Zayn had to get home.

Harry sighed, letting his forehead rest on the bathroom door. Thinking about Zayn made him feel so upset, he was sick to his stomach. They had been friends ever since Harry moved to NYC and they met in an unlikely situation, at a double-date dinner party in some stuffy penthouse that ended with them getting knotted in the same room by different alphas, which was peak hoe activity but as far as Harry was concerned, the gifts he was showered in afterwards made it worth it.

Then just a few months ago, Zayn met some alpha who was different. He was the one. He made Zayn want to give up sugaring and settle down in a brownstone in Manhattan for a life of domestic bliss. And suddenly Zayn and Harry weren’t on the same page anymore. They fought, said some nasty things to each other, made bitchy comments, and Harry stormed out of Zayn’s apartment that day feeling like his entire livelihood had been insulted by the one person he thought actually understood.

It made him feel angry and upset all over again just thinking about it. Zayn could fuck right off, for all he cared. Harry didn’t need him. A few months after he left, Harry met Niall, and everything was okay again. It wasn’t the same as having an omega to confide in, someone else in the sugar bowl who understood, but Niall was great in his own way and he was able to offer Harry comfort in the form of his alpha scent which soothed him whenever he was feeling lonely and starved of affection.

He stepped out of the bathroom with his towel wrapped around his shoulders to keep him warm. The air conditioning was on, pumping cold air through the vents, and it had felt refreshing before his shower, but now it just made his teeth chatter.

Warm pair of sweats, maybe a hoodie or a jumper too… That was the plan.

Right when he threw the towel on the bed to hurry into his clothes, a shriek rang through the air.

“Fuck, sorry!”

Harry’s jaw dropped open. Louis was standing by the bureau with a shiny bracelet draped over his fingers. The omega had half a mind to cover himself with his hands, but not before Louis got a total eyeful.

“What’re you doing in here?” His voice was squeakier than usual, nothing like the usual deep timbre he’d practiced over the years. Nakedness didn’t bother him, but being caught off-guard like this was frazzling. His heart was racing.

With his hands clasped firmly over his eyes, Louis inhaled a ragged breath. “I… My sister just texted me saying she left a bracelet on the dressing table the last time she was over. S-sorry.”

He held it out as if for proof, eyes still squeezed shut.

Harry laughed a little, flustered and nearly shaking. He felt flush under the attention, the surface of his skin a few degrees warmer than usual. When he breathed in again he could smell Louis’ scent thickening slightly. It made Harry’s mouth water, as he stared helplessly at the attractive alpha in front of him.

A moment of awkwardness passed. Then Louis chuckled too. It felt like a shared sense of understanding, both of them feeling embarrassed but acknowledging the humor in it.

“Sorry, sorry. I don’t know why I came in here when I could’ve just asked you if you saw the bracelet. I’m gonna go now before this gets any worse.”

“It’s okay.” He wanted to say that he didn’t mind, that Louis could see him naked all he wanted if only he just asked. Or if he just stayed, and promised to kiss Harry hard against the soft pillows on the bed.

The words wouldn’t come out, though, which was probably a good thing in the end. He reached across the bed to grab his towel and cover up in it again. He moved out of the way because he was between Louis and the door and Louis still had his eyes closed dutifully.

For some reason, the sight of his retreating figure reminded him of Zayn. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Wait.”

Louis stopped, hand reaching out for the door. He didn’t turn around, probably too afraid to catch a full glimpse of the omega’s naked body again.

“Um,” Harry swallowed. Tact, where was his tact? He was sweet and sexy, the best seductor in a one-hundred mile radius, and yet here he was stumbling over his words. Stupid. It was so stupid how Harry could turn into a puddle of goo just at Louis’ presence. He swallowed again, cleared his throat, and squared his shoulders, still clutching the towel to cover himself. “I was gonna do a face mask and paint my nails, if you wanna join?”

“Oh. Okay, sure.”

A surprised smile overtook Harry’s features. “Awesome. Let me just get dressed, and I’ll meet you in your bathroom?”

“Sounds good.”

As soon as the door closed behind Louis, Harry pulled on his sweats and rummaged around for a hoodie. His heart was pounding from the tiny risk of something as stupid as asking Louis to wear a face mask with him. Butterflies were fluttering in his stomach because the alpha had actually agreed to it.

When Harry got to the en suite of the master bedroom, Louis was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet while resting his hands in his lap. He gave Harry a sheepish smile.

“Sorry again for invading your space, seeing you naked, and, like, making it weird.”

Harry laughed. “I don’t mind that, you just scared me though. And you didn’t make anything weird. It’s just biology,” he teased, “reacting to seeing a pretty omega without any clothes on.”

Louis made a weird face that looked vaguely strained, grimacing toward the floor. “Sorry.”

“Seriously, Louis, I don’t mind. Besides, it affected me too. I’m sure you could smell my slick.”

He only said it so Louis wouldn’t feel like it was completely his fault, but then Louis blushed and Harry was in awe.

“Oh god, you can’t just say these things, Harry.” He groaned, covering his face in his hands and digging the heels of his palms into his eyes before dragging them down. “Let’s just move past it now.”

Harry giggled, delighted that he could fluster Louis in this way. He set the bottles clutched in his hands on the countertop and watched the alpha for a moment more. Still distressed, apparently, but getting over it. Harry found it so endearing that he was embarrassed by Harry mentioning his slick. Or maybe it was because Louis was the one who got him wet in the first place.

“Okay, so, I have this sugar scrub which is mint and grapefruit and trust me the scent is better than it sounds. It also tastes good, I’m pretty sure it’s edible and it’s 100% vegan. Do you want me to rub it on you or do you want to do it yourself?”

“Uh…”

“I’ll just do it.” Harry smiled down at Louis who was still sitting, hands folded awkwardly in his lap. “Have you ever used a sugar scrub before?”

“I have no idea what that is. So, no.”

“It’s an exfoliator, to clear your pores,” Harry explained, wetting a washcloth and using it to dampen Louis’ skin. He held his chin with one hand and wiped him down with the other, trying not to think about how he might hold Louis the same way if he was allowed to kiss him. “You have to be careful because sugar grains are cubic, which means the edges are sharp and could cause microtears in your skin. But if you rub it in gently,” he demonstrated, adding some of the scrub onto Louis’ cheek, “then it’s really good for your skin. Do you like the scent?”

Louis sniffed hesitantly, keeping his eyes closed. “It’s strange, but I like it.”

“I’m glad. It’s one of my favorites. So yummy.”

“Want me to do you now?”

“Let me wash yours off first.” He re-wet the cloth and gently dragged it down Louis’ face to wash away the sugar, soaking in the beauty of Louis’ bone structure. Up close, the sharp cut of his cheekbones was even more apparent than usual, and his jaw felt strong and solid.

His scruff was rough and pleasing beneath Harry’s fingers. His eyelashes were pretty where they rested and his nose was probably the cutest nose Harry had ever seen. He wanted to press kisses to it for the rest of eternity. He wondered if Louis would allow that.

“What’re you doing?”

“I like your freckles,” Harry complimented, brushing his thumb across the height of his cheekbone. “Do you have them year-round or do they only come out in the sun?”

“Just the sun,” Louis laughed, eyes fluttering open. “Switch?”

Harry took Louis’ seat and spread his legs so the alpha could stand between them, wetting his face and then carefully applying the scrub with fingers that were unsure at first but became steady when Harry relaxed into his touch. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips together to keep his crazy smile at bay.

“So this is what you do when you hang out with your omega friends?”

“Yeah. Used to.” It just slipped out before Harry could stop it.

“What do you mean? You don’t do this anymore?”

“I don’t really- There aren’t any omegas I’m close with anymore.”

“Oh. So you just hang out with betas and alphas?”

“Yeah.” He hadn’t thought about it like that before, but Niall really was his only friend nowadays.

His sugar daddies hardly counted—they were fickle and only valued him for his pretty appearance and the fact that he was willing to get caught on their knot on a regular basis. Even the daddies he’d been with for a long time still treated him like a glorified sex doll. They tried to be subtle about it but Harry wasn’t stupid, he could tell how vapid and useless they thought he was, even through the laughter and the good memories he shared with them.

He could talk politics and give them business advice all he wanted, could hold his own in pedantic conversations and debate the most nuanced philosophies, but nothing would ever change their view of him as a vain, insipid little omega with a cute ass and a wet mouth, ripe for the taking and so, so willing.

Most of the time, he didn’t let it bother him. It felt good to con arrogant alphas for their money, to make them pay for his presence, to charge them for his time. It felt good to put a high price tag to his body, to say he would never let anyone touch him for free. He was worth more than that, and he knew it. So many omegas out there didn’t realize their worth. Harry was one of the lucky ones.

Even so, their true opinions of him were always there, lurking under the surface for Harry to ignore, if he was feeling so blithe. Don’t worry your pretty little head was something he heard on a daily basis, almost always followed by a wet and dirty kiss or an aggressive grope to the ass. The comments always got to him eventually, made him stare at the ceiling late at night when he was alone with his thoughts. Wondering what the hell he was doing, what the hell he had gotten himself into. How the hell he would ever get himself out of it.

“So what do you mean ‘anymore?’”

“Hm?”

“You said there aren’t any omegas you’re close with ‘anymore.’ You don’t have to tell me, it’s just a curiosity. My family is full of omegas, so, I dunno.”

“Mine too,” Harry admitted. “My mother and sister. I had a lot of omega friends back home, but I haven’t stayed in touch since I moved away. And then I made a really good friend in New York, but things went to shit and we had a stupid fight. I haven’t seen him since, but now I have Niall, so. All is well when Niall is around.”

Louis chuckled at the last comment, rubbing the scrub onto Harry’s nose. He pressed closer, his legs bumping into Harry’s thighs. “Yeah, Niall is like that. Makes everything feel all right when you’re with him. I’m sorry about your friend, though. That really sucks.”

Harry was more pissed at Zayn than anything—they had made some pretty mean comments to each other before Zayn walked out for good and Harry never returned any of his calls, too upset and annoyed to even listen to whatever he had to say, whether it was an apology or just another fuck you, I hate you, see you in hell.

“It’s all right,” Harry said, but the hole in his chest was still aching. Even if it was a dull ache. “It’s been a while since it happened, I learned how not to depend on him, et cetera. It was nice to have someone to confide in, though, about all the sugar baby bullshit. And you’re right- We used to do this together. Face masks and gossip,” he laughed. “So cliche.”

“Haven’t gossiped with you yet,” Louis joked, quirking a brow. “C’mon, Harry, spill the tea. Tell me all about this annoying, dull alpha you have to spend time with in Fort Myers as a favor for your friend Niall.”

Harry scoffed through his laughter, eyes flashing open. “Excuse me, he isn’t annoying or dull.” And he grinned, pulling Louis a little closer by tugging on his t-shirt. “I like him a lot, thank you very much. He’s fun to be around and he laughs at my stupid jokes. But I don’t like when he calls himself annoying or dull, because he very much isn’t.”

“Oh, tell me more,” Louis commented dryly, but Harry noticed the way he was biting his lip, as if he was holding back a reaction to Harry’s words. His fingers gently brushed the omega’s hair away from his face as he applied more sugar scrub to his skin.

“He knows a lot about music,” Harry said, playing along, tilting his chin up and meeting Louis’ gaze bravely. “I love to listen to him speak about it, ‘cause he always has an interesting take. He lets me sleep in his bed, too, which is so sweet of him—I know it isn’t a selfish act because he keeps a respectable distance between us at all times. But, between you and me…” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “I wouldn’t mind if he shuffled a little closer.”

“Harry,” Louis laughed, pulling back. “Don’t be silly.”

The omega shrugged and then remained still as Louis washed the mint and grapefruit off his face. He didn’t like how Louis thought he was making a joke. He wanted to say more, wanted to shower the alpha in compliments, but he bit his tongue instead.

“So what now?”

“Green clay mask. Right here. I’ll do you first.”

They switched spots again and applied the masks to their faces, laughing at their reflection in the mirror once they were done.

“You look like an alien.”

Harry pressed his lips together and smiled.

“No, wait, a frog!”

They burst into laughter and then took a mirror selfie to send to Niall. Harry was glad Louis was so easygoing—he couldn’t think of another alpha, aside from Niall, who would be okay with this, even taking it in stride. Then again, maybe the alphas Harry hung out with were kind of low-quality people in terms of personality and willingness to make a fool of themselves.

“Nail polish time?”

“Definitely. Will you paint mine? I’m only good at painting other people’s.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “You really want to?” It wasn’t too unusual for male omegas to wear nail polish, but for alphas, it was a different story altogether.

“Yeah, why not. Can I see your colors?”

They ended up on the floor, Louis’ hands on Harry’s knees. Harry painted Louis’ nails a brilliant shade of blue, bold enough that people would notice even from far away. Louis, in turn, painted Harry’s deftly, in a sparkling cherry red chosen by the omega. When they were finished, the smell of the polish prickling their noses, they waved their fingers around before wandering downstairs to hang out in the living room. The whole time, they chatted away about one thing or another.

“I like hearing your stories,” Louis said, chuckling a little. He looked so handsome, even with his face covered in green clay. “You live a crazy life.”

“I’m glad you’re not grossed out,” Harry said with sincerity.

“I’ll admit, the age difference takes some getting used to, but… Whatever makes you happy, definitely.”

“I don’t even think about it anymore,” he admitted, looking down at his drying nails before looking up to meet Louis’ eyes. “It was weird at first, but now I hardly even notice. I’ve always liked older alphas. Not like, old old, but my first real alpha before all of this was a few years older than me—he was twenty-two when I was eighteen. Probably why I was so obsessed with him, honestly.” His tone was self-deprecating and he realized he made the mistake of talking about a past relationship, one with so much baggage, with Louis, but it was too late to take back his words.

Louis hummed, lazily fanning his hands through the air to dry the polish. “And this was a real relationship, not a transaction?”

“Yeah. I didn’t start sugaring until I was twenty-two, after we broke up. Then I started dating older alphas, and let me tell you, I was not prepared for the amount of stares I got the first time. Sometimes it feels like everyone is looking at you, judging you, but I’ve learned to tell myself they’re just staring because I look hot. And expensive.”

“Definitely,” Louis smiled. “I’m sure you notice how people stare at you even when you’re not sitting across from an alpha twice your age. Even when you’re not all dressed up. I swear, everywhere we went today, you were turning heads. These dimples,” he teased, using his hands to frame Harry’s face. “Your scent.”

Harry blushed, unable to help it. He tipped his head forward and buried his face in Louis’ shoulder, because he could. It had the added benefit of letting him take small inhales of Louis’ scent.

The alpha didn’t push him away, didn’t shrug him off, and didn’t show any signs of discomfort. He didn’t tense up, he didn’t shy away, he just let Harry rest like this, so close to him. It was playful and easy, nothing to overanalyze, just a simple touch that made Harry’s heart race.

“But I get what you’re saying. It must be difficult to have people look at you like that.”

It took the omega a moment to remember what they had been talking about. Louis’ scent was making it hard to focus on anything else. “Yeah, it can be… It can be difficult, but I’m mostly over it now. Much more confident than I was at the start. Except- Oh my god, last month I went out to eat at this bougie sushi place in SoHo, and the server carded me when I ordered a drink. Like, I get that they have to do that sometimes, but she was super rude the whole night and I just know she was trying to call attention to the age difference and humiliate me. It didn’t work, obviously, but it was so annoying.”

“That sucks. I bet usually when you’re with an alpha who looks loaded, they don’t do that.”

“I know! It was so rude. Ugh. But my daddy was sweet and quickly changed the subject as soon as she left. And I got a trip to Bora Bora out of the night, so.”

“How so?”

“He asked me if there was anything I was looking forward to, and I said I was excited for warmer weather, but this was last November so obviously it’s freaking cold in New York. So he suggested a trip to Tahiti and he paid for it and everything.”

“And he went with you?”

“No, I went alone.” Harry grinned. “I wanted to take Niall, but he was busy with golf. Travelling alone can be fun, and really transformative to be honest, but I prefer to travel with a friend, so. It’s much more fun that way.”

“Agreed. You had a good time, though?”

“Definitely.”

“That’s good.”

Harry tried to read Louis’ expression again, but he was so carefully guarded it was impossible to come to any conclusions. Was he put off by Harry’s livelihood? Was he jealous that Harry was talking about other alphas? Or was none of that going through his head, and he only thought of Harry as a friend? If that?

“So this is how you smell so sweet?” Louis asked, changing the subject. He didn’t even look silly with the face mask still on.

“Huh?”

“The face masks and lotions and everything, I mean. I was wondering how you smelled like this, like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. Sorry if that’s-”

“No, no,” Harry was grinning so wide, it hurt his cheeks. “What do I smell like to you?”

Louis stared at him.

He brushed his hair away from his neck and leant forward. “I don’t mind.”

“Harry…”

“It’s okay. We can take turns.”

The alpha sighed before placing a hand on Harry’s arm to guide him closer. His other hand came up to rest against Harry’s jaw, holding him gently. He tipped his head down, nose hesitantly chasing the omega’s scent, and inhaled.

Meanwhile, Harry sat perfectly still, trying not to shiver at the feeling of Louis’ breath on his skin. Also, trying not to get wet from the way Louis was holding him, strong and sure. Easily dominant in a subtle way.. He felt his posture relaxing as the alpha rubbed his thumb over his arm in a comforting gesture.

He enjoyed the electrifying moment as much as he could before Louis pulled away, his lids fluttering open.

Beneath all the beauty products, you smell like wildflowers.”

A grin overtook Harry’s face, soft and forceful, full of the momentous feeling of delight.

He was pretty sure he was glowing.

He wanted to pull Louis closer, to allow him to smell his scent anytime he wanted. He wanted to close the small distance between them and press his lips to Louis’. He wanted to cuddle close to him, be held by him, melt in his arms.

“No one has told me that before,” he said instead, reaching for the alpha’s hand and squeezing it meaningfully. “I’ve heard florals, but never… Never wildflowers. I like that. Thank you.”

None of his daddies were very descriptive, and they were all too focused on popping a knot to care. Your scent is making me hard, he heard a lot, rarely anything different. It was always a sexual thing, nothing more. Even Harry’s alpha before he started sugaring only ever called it good . No poetic descriptors, no attempt at a real compliment.

The thought that he smelled like wildflowers to Louis… The insinuation that this wasn’t the first time he noticed… That he had already thought about how Harry smelled sweet … 

“You look like you have stars in your eyes,” Louis chuckled. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Nothing- I just… I...”

He had lost his train of thought. His omega brain was soaring to the moon, pleased as punch that Louis had said something so kind to him. That Louis had complimented his scent. He thought Harry smelled sweet—he thought Harry smelled like wildflowers!

The alpha sighed exasperatedly, but even that couldn’t cover up his endearment. “C’mere, love.”

He opened his arms, and Harry sunk into them. Immediately he was filled with warmth. The chill from the air conditioning faded away. So did the immense sense of longing in the pit of his stomach.

Harry inhaled from where he was slumped in Louis’ hold, his nose pressed to the alpha’s collarbone. “You smell like amber and woods.” Dreamy, spiced amber and spirit-moving woods. Sun warmed and pleasantly musky. Masculine in that soft, desirable way. “Like a forest in the fall.”

Louis rubbed his back, smoothing his hands over his shoulder blades. “That’s sweet of you.”

“You smell… so good,” Harry sighed, winding his arms around Louis’ back. The alpha’s scent surrounded him like a comforting blanket, the best sensory soother out there, something so innate it pleased him to his very core. “Really, really, really good.”

The alpha pressed his nose to the top of his head. They stayed like that for a while, hazy from pheromones.

“Did you have a good day?” Harry wondered. He had forgotten he’d already asked earlier, but remembering made him feel even warmer inside, because Louis had asked him the same thing many times within the past few days. Even though they were strangers, they periodically checked up on each other, making sure they were comfortable and happy.

“Of course. Did you?”

“Yes, very. What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“I have all day off, so it’s up to you. We can do something together or you can be alone if you want.”

“Do you want to have a lazy day on the beach with me?”

“Absolutely.”

“Yay.” Harry’s neck started to hurt from the position so he settled down with his head in Louis’ lap. The alpha’s fingers immediately tangled in his hair and began massaging his scalp. “Mm, feels so good.”

Louis smiled down at him and grabbed the book he originally planned on reading, holding it open with his free hand. Harry pulled his phone out of his sweats’ pocket, appeased enough to just scroll through Instagram for a while. He felt comfortable and safe so close to Louis, even with the unanswered messages nagging him on his phone. The messages could wait for later; there was no way Harry would answer them when he felt so happy in Louis’ arms.


&&&


When Louis looked down, Harry was asleep. The profile of his face was perfectly visible, his curls drawn back into a loose bun. A thin red headband was holding the shorter, wispier hair away from his face. The face mask had dried already, but even that wasn’t enough to diminish how pretty he was.

Having a sleeping omega on his lap was almost like having a cat. Louis’ fingers were already tangled in his hair, scratching languidly at his scalp, so it was easy to give into the urge to pet him.

Knowing Harry felt comfortable enough to fall asleep like this because Louis had scented him was… a lot to handle. His skin was still tingling from where the omega had pressed his face up against his collarbones and breathed in deep enough for it to be unmistakable. And all of that happened after Louis had already held Harry still and inhaled his scent with pure intent.

Sharing scents was an intimate act. It wasn’t something people did when they’d only known each other for a few days. But Harry didn’t seem bothered that they’d just engaged in an activity that might not have been appropriate. Louis tried to take a page from his book and not worry about it. Harry’s sweet wildflower scent swirled around him, proving Harry was relaxed and happy. There was nothing to worry about.

If anything, Louis’ inner alpha wolf was appeased.

He picked up his book again after admiring Harry for a while, and began to read. He kept one hand in Harry’s hair, stroking gently.

Harry was… Louis liked Harry. Not that he had to admit anything to himself right now. But it felt nice to think about it. He liked Harry a lot. Harry was kind and silly and a million other things that made Louis so, so interested in him. His occupation didn’t matter. Louis didn’t care that Harry was a sugar baby. It was a part of who he was, but it wasn’t all of him. The omega liked luxurious things, so what, Louis couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t just a pretty face and a nice body—no one was. He was fun to be around and he had all these interesting thoughts and Louis could just talk to him forever. Setting the occasional awkwardness aside, they got along better than anything Louis had experienced before.

Louis was glad that out of all the people Niall could’ve tried and failed to set him up with, it was Harry. Harry was sweet and kind. He was funny, he made Louis laugh. They had fun together today. And, as it turned out, they were able to hang out together by both doing their own thing, Louis reading and Harry messing around on his phone. They were comfortable enough with each other to enjoy their presence while not needing to keep a steady conversation going.

All of this went through Louis’ mind as he took breaks from reading to look down at Harry, asleep on his lap. His long legs were curled up on the cushion beside them and he looked softer than his usual feisty self when he was like this.

Time passed, as Louis kept reading and gazing down at Harry and trying his hardest to soak up this moment. Eventually he felt too tired to keep his eyes open.

Not wanting to wake the omega, he wiggled his arms under his torso and the backs of his knees. Lifting him without jostling him too much was less challenging than he expected. Harry’s head lolled to the side, resting against Louis’ shoulder, and his eyelids fluttered a little, his nose scrunching like a cat’s, but he didn’t wake up.

Louis was pretty steady on his feet, but Harry was all long limbs and Louis really didn’t want to bump him into the wall. Of course Harry’s foot bumped into the doorway leading to the bedroom and he startled awake.

“Shit, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he slurred, big sleepy eyes blinking up at Louis. He seemed confused for a second until he realized the alpha was carrying him, and then he threw his heavy arm around Louis’ neck like he was afraid he was going to drop him. His brows were still furrowed. “Where’re we?”

“Bathroom. Gotta wash off the face masks.”

“Oh, okay.”

Louis set Harry down on the closed lid of the toilet, turning the tap on to warm up the water and wet a cloth. He looked back at Harry to find him slumped against the wall with his eyes closed, his breathing evening out again into long, slow breaths.

“Don’t fall asleep on me now. We still gotta get you in bed.”

“Don’t care,” Harry murmured, eyes still closed. “Know you’ll take care of me.”

Louis rolled his eyes and pointedly ignored the way his inner alpha paced proudly in his chest at the admission. He used the washcloth to wipe the mask off Harry’s face, doing the same with his own.

“C’mon darling, time to go.”

The omega just hummed and didn’t protest when Louis lifted him to his feet. He rested almost all of his weight on him as Louis walked him to the bed and let him flop onto the mattress.

Louis collapsed beside him and he was out in less than five minutes.


&&&


Harry woke up warm and languid.  The midmorning sun was bright even with his eyes closed.

They forgot to draw the curtains last night, just crashed in bed and passed out after washing off their face masks. Harry didn’t recall much, but the memory of Louis carrying him to the bedroom was ingrained in his mind. He wasn’t sure what they’d been like on the couch, but he was pretty sure they were at least half tangled up in each other, at which Louis decided to carry him. They had passed out in bed with a respectable distance between them.

Now, Harry shifted forward, squishing his face against the pillow to hide from the sun. The warm body draped over him shifted with the new position. Harry was too sleepy to freak out, even when he felt something hot and hard poking his bum.

There were enough layers of clothes between them that it wasn’t an immediate concern. It felt nice, even; it was something he wanted. Louis had an arm wrapped around Harry’s torso, a leg thrown over his thigh, and his nose was pressed steadfast to the back of Harry’s neck. His soft breaths sent shivers scattering over the omega’s skin.

Despite being smaller than Harry, he was all encompassing. Harry fit perfectly in his arms.

This was… so new. He couldn’t even remember the last time he spooned with an alpha like this with his clothes still on. The only time he ever did it was as a sex position, and they always pulled away right afterwards, as soon as the alpha’s knot deflated enough to let Harry slip free without hurting himself. Sometimes he got antsy and tried to detach himself too soon, causing them both to startle at the sharp pain. Even then, none of his sugar daddies preferred a position as intimate as this. They always went for doggy, or missionary with Harry folded in half, his knees resting on either side of his head.

Speaking of which, he would need to stretch out sometime soon, or he would lose the flexibility he worked so hard to achieve and maintain. He hadn’t exercised at all since arriving in Florida, no sunrise runs or hot yoga, no weight lifting or pilates on the beach. The worry of falling out of shape in one short week stressed him enough to convince him to wake up more fully.

Okay, maybe not. It was too comfortable in Louis’ embrace. Surrounded by his scent. He didn’t want to disturb the moment, so he let himself doze off for a while.

While he was drifting between consciousness and unconsciousness, the alpha huffed against the back of his neck and ground his hips forward. Harry blamed his own drowsiness for why he matched the movement and rubbed his bum back against the heavy heat of Louis.

Louis snuffled against his neck again, made a little mmm noise in Harry’s ear, and tightened his arms around Harry’s torso. Clearly, he was still asleep.

Harry would’ve been asleep too, if it weren’t for Louis’ boner just a few layers of clothes away from sliding into him.

It would’ve been so easy to fit their bodies together the way they were supposed to. For Louis to press inside, to sink into him and move his hips in languid motions until his knot caught on Harry’s rim. To lock them together still half-asleep, half in a dream.

Harry was also content to just lay here, wrapped up in Louis’ arms and his scent. The back of his sweats were getting damp with slick but he ignored the sensation in favor of snuggling closer to the bed and burying his nose in the sheets again. The action had the double benefit of sheltering his nose from the cold AC and also letting him inhale Louis’ amber and woods scent more deeply.

Louis must’ve shuffled closer to him in the middle of the night while he was asleep because there was no way he would’ve done this consciously.

Okay. The ideal sequence of events? Louis would wake up, realize the position they were in, and decide to indulge in every one of Harry’s passionate morning sex fantasies. Maybe he had some of his own fantasies he would like to act out too. Maybe he would hold Harry still with a strong hand on his waist as he slid into his wet heat, which was dripping with sweet-smelling slick. Maybe he would fuck Harry slow and tender, each deep stroke burning them both to a mess of spark and flame.

Harry had never been in this situation before but he daydreamed about it more than he should’ve, wondering what it must be like to wake up in an alpha’s arms. It was the ideal situation.

He had never felt more safe, more content. He knew this feeling wouldn’t come with just any alpha.

 

&&&

 

When Louis woke up, Harry sensed it. The alpha didn’t move, but his entire body became stiff and tense, like he was bracing himself for a bomb to explode.

Harry was also very still, but in the opposite way. While Louis was rigid and strained, Harry was relaxed. Sinking into the mattress, into Louis’ arms, into the cradle of his hips. He wanted to be closer. He wanted more. But Louis was silently freaking out. So.

It wasn’t until Harry experimentally shifted his ass against the hard, tempting dick resting there, that Louis let out a startled noise and pulled away as if he’d been burned. It would’ve been comical except he was legitimately distraught, wide eyes, breathing heavy. Like he hadn’t noticed he’d been grinding against Harry’s ass for the past two hours.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry. I- have no excuse for that.”

Harry considered telling him it was okay. No harm, no foul. They could pretend that never happened like they pretended all the other little things never happened: the first morning they woke up together and Harry nearly begged Louis to fuck him, the conversations about relationships and sex and the unwarranted possessive jealousy that always resulted, the way their scents heightened whenever they got too close, stared at each other’s lips for too long, touched each other too softly, too tenderly, forgot what they were here for and what they were doing together...

The only thing that came out of his mouth, though, was a broken whimper. Embarrassingly, it was full of longing.

Louis pulled a pillow over his lap to maintain a semblance of decency. Harry had no decency and wiggled against the mattress. He was half trying to tempt Louis to take care of him, half searching for some sort of relief by rubbing off against the sheets. He buried his face in the sheets too, because he was embarrassed but not enough to stop.

“Jesus, Harry. Fuck.”

Harry turned his chin over his shoulder, even though it made his neck ache, and caught Louis’ gaze. “Please? I’ll be good,” he whispered, voice deep and slow. “It can just be this one time. We won’t have to- I won’t ask you to touch me ever again if you don’t want to.”

Louis was watching with dark eyes. The scene was clearly getting to him, Harry rubbing himself off against the alpha’s sheets, their scents of arousal intermixing in the air. Harry was still fully dressed in sweats and a t-shirt—and he was sweltering in the heat of his actions, under the heat of Louis’ gaze—but he knew the back of his pants were wet with slick, and his skin was dewy with sweat. It was almost like he was in heat, that was how desperate he was. There was no way it wasn’t erotic. There was no way it wasn’t tempting.

“Alpha, please,” Harry begged, and woah, the title just slipped out, just like that, without forcing it, without even thinking about it. “I’ll be good for you, the best omega, please, I’ll make you feel so good…”

Louis’ fingers were clenched so tightly on the pillow he was grasping, as if that was all that was left of his self-control. He closed his eyes, wincing as if it physically pained him, and breathed through his mouth to think clearly.

“We’re all caught up in pheromones,” he reasoned, his voice raspy and strained, what it would sound like if he were to fuck Harry. His eyes were blown with lust and he licked his lips despite his words. “You would never- This wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t drowned in my scent. I’m gonna… I’m gonna go..? I should go.”

Harry whimpered again, trying to hide it in the pillow. He wanted Louis so badly, wished he would give in to his primal urges just this once.

“I think we need something from the store,” said Louis, shaky and uncertain. It was bullshit, obviously, but he was trying to convince himself to walk away from a wanting omega in his bed. An omega who was dripping slick everywhere. “I’m gonna go. I’ll be back, in like, an hour. Will you be okay here alone?”

He wanted to say no, obviously he wouldn’t be okay, he was soaked with slick and there was nothing more he wanted than a knot—which was exactly what Louis refused to give him. But even he wasn’t that dramatic, so he hummed sadly and nodded his head, really trying yet failing to hold back a genuine pout.

Louis sucked in a deep, strained breath. “Okay. All right. I will be back.”

Harry waited until he heard the front door slam, the car start, pull out of the driveway.

Then he smashed his face into the pillow Louis had slept on last night and cried so hard over being left alone like this, when he needed Louis the most.

Five minutes later, his pity party was over. Even though he was depressed at being rejected yet again, he was still horny. How annoying. He screamed into Louis’ pillow and then tugged his ruined joggers down to his knees, slipping too fingers in at once. They were met with no resistance, that was how desperate he was, just a mess of slick gushing out of him like he was in heat. Which he wasn’t.

His fingers felt good, but not great. Nothing like what a knot would do for him. Yet he still pumped them in and out with practiced ease, eventually finding that perfect angle that made him melt into the bed, his body tingling all over. His cock was rock hard and sore from rubbing against the sheets, soft silk was they were, but he couldn’t get the rhythm right when he tried to jack off at the same time. Multitasking wasn’t his strong suit, so he settled for cradling the head as he fucked his fingers in as deep as they could reach, adding a third.

Tears sprung into his eyes as he came, trying and failing to catch most of his mess in his palm.

He hadn’t even realized he’d been moaning until his post-orgasm silence invaded the room. Then he realized he’d been whimpering Louis’ name, and that shocked him more than anything. Usually, when he masturbated, he practiced moaning his daddies’ names, so he would be used to saying them when it was showtime. It never came naturally to him, until Louis.

Ugh. Harry was sticky with sweat, slick, and come. It wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning yet.

Too tired to wash off in the bathroom, he strained for some tissues from the nightstand and cleaned up as best as he could. Then he sank back into the sheets and stared up at the ceiling.

What the fuck. What just happened? 

If his phone was within an arm’s reach, he would’ve called Niall and cried about it. Alas, he was left with the stupid angst of his own thoughts.

He tried to work through it logically.

Fact: Louis was sweet and kind to Harry. He hadn’t shown any signs of being disgusted by him, his past, what he did for a living. He brought Harry tea that first night and let him sleep in his bed, even though it probably made him uncomfortable. Even just during the past few days, he was always checking up on Harry, making sure he was happy and okay with everything that was going on. When he hugged him that one morning, he cupped his hand around the back of Harry’s head in a typical protective, comforting alpha gesture.

Fact: Louis made him feel different than anyone had ever made him feel. Niall always joked with Harry that he was cold and heartless, incapable of ever loving an alpha. And usually, that was the case. The reason Harry was so good at being a sugar baby was because he never got attached to any of his daddies, never expected more from them than money, gifts, and respect. Emotions were off limits. Harry was pretty sure he didn’t even feel emotions like that, anyway. Until he met Louis. Now his stomach was constantly wrought with butterflies and he couldn’t stop imagining their future together. Whenever Louis even glanced in his direction, Harry’s skin went all tingly and his heart started beating faster.

Fact: True mates existed, even if they were rare. Harry didn’t know many personally, but his high school biology teacher had bonded with her true mate, and so did one of his sister’s college friends. The signs varied on a personal level, and were difficult to explain because they were so innate, but a telltale indicator was to feel completely comfortable and at peace with each other. That was hard to gauge, though, and the only way to be sure you were true mates was to soulbond while mating, and then apparently you would be able to feel your mate’s emotions as if they were your own.

Conjecture: Louis was Harry’s true mate (???)

Secondary conjecture: Harry was full of shit and the universe was laughing at him for being so stupid right now.

He pursed his lips at the ceiling and pulled the duvet up to his chin. He was always shivery and shaky after an orgasm and today was no different. His mind was still slow enough from the visceral pleasure to not worry too much about anything. If or if not… everything would work out. Right?

Time passed. Harry snuggled into the sheets and dozed off, feeling relaxed now that he finally had some sort of release. Being so close to Louis and not being able to do anything about it had made him uncharacteristically tense. For someone who was knotted so regularly he had to schedule it into his daily agenda, not having sex for a few days was a huge shock to his system. So today’s moderately satisfying yet vaguely disappointing orgasm had been much needed.

Louis returned ten minutes later, with rosy cheeks and sloped shoulders that were more relaxed than they had been all week. He knocked softly on the doorframe and held up a bakery bag. Harry rubbed his sleepy eyes and propped himself up on an elbow to see what it was.

“I got a bunch of pastries. A lot of them are fruity because I remember you mentioning you liked fruity pastries? But I couldn’t remember which kind of fruit so I just got them all. I’m gonna bring them downstairs unless you wanna eat up here?”

“I’ll join you downstairs,” Harry murmured, cringing when Louis’ eyes fell to the wad of used tissues balled up on the nightstand. The blush on the alpha’s cheeks spread to his neck when he must’ve realized what that was. Hell, the entire room definitely smelled like Harry had just gotten off.

Once Louis was gone, Harry exhaled a frustrated sigh and groaned into the pillow before pulling himself out of bed. He was used to getting up right after orgasming, so the short break to relax in bed felt like a luxury. He cleaned up in the bathroom, washing away his slick and come, using a scent-suppressing spray and covering up the chemical smell with cologne so hopefully Louis wouldn’t notice. Then he walked on shaky legs all the way down to the kitchen.

Sat at the dining table, Louis had his head in his hands over a cup of tea.

“Please don’t be mad at me…”

Louis startled, looking up. “Why would I be mad at you?”

“I made you uncomfortable…” and then I fingered myself between your sheets while pretending you were the one touching me.

Fuck, that really was bad. Harry had this sinking feeling in his stomach, his inner omega beginning to panic. He wanted to show Louis he was into him, not scare him or make him disgusted with Harry.

“It’s fine,” Louis assured. “You did nothing wrong. I promise I’m not mad. There’s nothing for me to be mad about. Let’s just move past it.”

Harry bit his lip. If Louis was any other alpha, he would crawl into his lap and kiss all over his neck in apology. As it was, he accepted the raspberry pastry offered to him and nibbled small bites off the end while Louis tried to swing the conversation back around to something more comfortable. But Harry couldn’t stop thinking of how it felt to be held by him this morning.

 

&&&

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

&&&

 

“Need some help with that?”

“Um, sure.”

Louis was clearly hesitant to break the touch barrier again, especially after what happened this morning. Ever since their breakfast of pastries and the strawberry banana smoothies Harry made for them to bring out to the beach, he’d been meticulous with his movements, careful not to go near the omega at all. 

“Lay down,” Harry coaxed. “Get comfy, relax. I’ll help you get your shirt off.”

He was going to break the touch barrier again even if it killed him. He wouldn’t let them go back to their awkward dancing around each other. Harry was not awkward. He simply refused.

Louis obliged with slight hesitation, settling on the lounge chair. Harry fingered the hem of his shirt and pulled it up the broad expanse of his back, enjoying the sight of his lean muscles and smooth, golden skin. He maneuvered the t-shirt over his head and tossed it to the side. The beach breeze whipped around them as he applied a dollop of sunscreen to the center of Louis’ back and began rubbing it in.

“I knew you could use a massage. Your muscles are so tense.”

He groaned a little as Harry dug his fingers into a knot near his spine, working it out. “Oh, that feels so good.”

Harry did the same with another spot, working his hands over Louis’ back until he was malleable like puddy, completely relaxed. For the most part, Louis was quiet, stifling his groans by pressing them into his arms, where his face was buried.

Harry was almost finished, just dragging his palms over his shoulder blades to buy time, when Louis’ phone rang.

He picked it up from where it had been resting on a stack of towels and checked the caller ID. “Ah, shit. What do you want, why are you calling me on my day off?”

Harry’s brows rose at the tone of Louis’ voice, and he took a seat on the adjacent chair, fiddling with his sunglasses before reclining fully and enjoying the bright sun on his skin. He listened into the conversation, but couldn’t pick up much from it.

“Tonight, really? Tell me you’re kidding. What if I already have plans?”

He cast a sideways glance at Louis and found him already staring back, standing up on his knees and running a hand through his hair. As soon as their eyes met, Louis looked away, focusing on the water.

“Why can’t we do it next week, or literally any other time? …. Oh, fuck off. I am busy …. Wouldn’t you like to know …. All right, whatever. I’ll meet you there? …. Six o’clock. We’re closing this deal no matter what …. Oh, you’re such an idiot. Goodbye.”

“Who was that?” Harry wondered.

“Just someone I work with. He’s a bit of a knothead,” Louis laughed. “Unfortunately I won’t be here for dinner tonight. Some important business partners from LA are in town, and they’re leaving for London tomorrow, so, this is our one chance to sort everything out. You’ll be all right here on your own?”

“Yeah, no problem.” Harry tried to smile reassuringly, even though he was sad at missing an entire night from his very limited time to spend with Louis. He turned over onto his side and propped his head on his hand. “You seem like you’d be good at negotiations.”

“How so?”

“You give off the vibe that everything will turn out all right. Which can be very helpful when trying to compromise with someone.”

“Hm, makes sense.” He paused, closing his eyes and resting back in his chair. “For what it’s worth, I think you’d be pretty good too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. You’re calm and practical. You have a good head on your shoulders.”

Harry had been expecting Louis to say something like how Harry was pretty so he could seduce others into agreeing with him. Calm and practical, though, he hadn’t been expecting that.

Louis huffed a little and then started laughing again, clearly trying to suppress it.

“What is it?”

“Sorry, I just can’t imagine you in like an office setting, I dunno. Not in a bad way- I mean, it’s not because I think you’re unprofessional or something,” Louis rushed to assure. “I just mean that you’re too… too creative and- eccentric to spend eight hours a day, five days a week in some boring office building. I mean it in a good way.”

“Eccentric?” Harry choked. No one ever used that word in a good way.

Louis shrugged. “You have a pretty eccentric job right now.”

“It’s not eccentric- Eccentric would be starting my own dog-walking business, or, like, being a hypnotherapist. There are so many people in the sugar bowl. It’s practically omnipresent.”

“Eh, I guess that’s fair. I’ve just never met one until you.”

Harry giggled and assured Louis he’d probably met many before, he just wasn’t aware they were in the sugar bowl. An alpha as wealthy as him, in the elite circle as he was, there was no way he hadn’t come across any omegas like Harry who were interested in exchanging their presence for gifts.

“Hey, so, about tomorrow. How do you feel about sailing?”

“Sailing? As in, sailboats?”

Louis nodded, taking a sip of his smoothie.

“I’ve never been on one before.”

“Would you like to change that?”

“Sure. Absolutely.”

“Cool, cool. One of my friends’ been talking about coming up and visiting—he’s in Miami, right now—so I was thinking it would be fun to take the boat out for the day.”

“Is he alpha?”

“Yeah, yeah, if you’re okay with that? He might bring his mate, too. So you’d have an omega to hang out with, if you wanted.”

“Sick,” Harry mused, to show his enthusiasm. He’d been on many speed boats and yachts in his lifetime, many cruise ships too, but never a sailboat. He was honestly excited. “Is the boat yours? Do you know how to sail?”

“Yes and yes.”

“I thought you said you don’t like frivolous things,” Harry teased.

The alpha huffed. “And yet you believed me even when I have a house like this.”

“True.” The beach house was one of those mansions Harry used to glower at, before he’d ever been inside one. However, Louis was wealthy yet had nowhere near the grotesque wealth that irked Harry to his very core. And, okay, maybe Harry shouldn’t have done this, but on the second day when Louis was at work, he snooped through some of the paperwork resting on the kitchen counter and found receipts and thank-you notes from a mountain of charities that Louis apparently supported monetarily. Which… yeah.

“Well, the house may be a bit much, but I promise it’s a standard sailboat and not anything too flashy. Before I got in the music industry, I actually had a bit of a rebellious phase, and kind of went sailing around the world.”

Harry’s jaw dropped open. He didn’t even try to cover it up. “Around the world?! What? Why hasn’t this come up in conversation, yet?”

Louis looked shy and bashful, shrugging like it wasn’t a big deal.

“You have to tell me everything,” Harry demanded, sitting up and leaning closer. “That sounds amazing! The adventure of a lifetime. I can’t believe you kept this a secret.”

“I didn’t even mean to bring it up, my point was just that I know how to sail and it’s not, like, a status thing. Like, I have a boat because I very well plan on fucking off and travelling the world again if I’m not mated by thirty-five, so.”

Harry had so much to say to that. Take me with you was on the tip of his tongue. Also, the fact that Louis thought he wouldn’t be mated by thirty-five was ridiculous. Surely he would find an omega he loved by then. Or maybe even a beta. Harry tried not to wilt with jealousy, and focused on the other part of what he’d said.

“That’s really, really cool. I had no idea you were so adventurous.”

Louis rolled over onto his stomach, his sun-tanned skin on display. Harry wanted to press kisses all along the bumps of his spine. Instead, he ran his sparkly red nails over his own thighs and began grilling Louis on his sailing expedition. He had so many questions, and Louis answered them happily, telling exciting stories and describing the places he’d been with a certain light behind his eyes that Harry found incredibly addicting.

They talked all the way through lunch, eating salads with grilled chicken while they dipped their feet into the infinity pool and overlooked the beach.

By the time the early evening rolled around, Harry was sun-warmed and sated. After lying on the beach for a while longer, and swimming in the ocean with Louis, they both headed back inside and took separate showers since Louis would have to go to dinner soon.

Harry’s skin was slightly pink from the UV rays by the time he was out of the shower, so he forwent a shirt because he felt warm even in the air conditioning. His hair fell into damp ringlets, brushing against his bare shoulders. While Louis was in the master bedroom getting ready to go out, Harry wandered to the kitchen to make himself dinner. He hooked his phone up to the speakers and sang along to 2000’s hits as he chopped vegetables on the cutting board.

Which was why he was wholly unprepared when the front door opened and a strange alpha entered.

“Tomlinson! Why the fuck are you always late?” he bellowed.

Harry set the celery stalk down on the cutting board and clutched the knife tighter. He turned off the music. The alpha rounded the corner, about to yell something else, but then his eyes fell on the shirtless omega standing in the kitchen.

“Oh! And who might you be, love?” When Harry didn’t answer, the alpha turned his head over his shoulder to yell up the stairs, “Why didn’t you tell me you had such a beautiful omega with you?”

“Jesus Christ, Nick, what is wrong with you,” Louis groaned, his footsteps thundering down the stairs. He thumped the stranger on the back. “I told you I would meet you there.”

“Yeah, well I decided to stop by, and it turns out you’ve been keeping this gorgeous unclaimed omega from me. How long have you been together? Or is this some weird one night stand thing...”

Louis rolled his eyes, and then his gaze landed on Harry standing flustered near the sink. He picked up his own discarded t-shirt off the back of the chair at the dining table and crossed the room to hand it to Harry, who slipped it on gratefully. It smelled like spiced amber and musky woods, like Louis, and it would’ve made him smile if he wasn’t so startled.

It didn’t occur to Harry that maybe Louis have him the shirt because he didn’t want this Nick guy looking at his bare skin.

“Harry, this is Nick, my coworker. Nick, Harry. Okay, enough of that, time to go.”

“Wait, no. You’re really gonna leave this lovely omega here to fend for himself? Where are your manners, Tomlinson. If you don’t invite him, I will.”

“Um-” Harry said.

Louis looked at him. They both knew Harry had been expecting a quiet night in with the house to himself. He was going to pour himself a glass of wine and walk down the beach at sunset. Louis knew that. Harry was also radiating nervousness in his pheromones. Louis also knew that.

He set a comforting hand on his wrist. He looked distraught. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I-”

“Jeff and Bennett are both bringing their mates,” Nick said in a singsongy voice.

“I’m not dressed,” Harry whispered to Louis.

Nick overheard, and said, “We can be late. No worries, you can even take your time getting all dressed up.”

Louis looked torn. You don’t have to, he mouthed, but Harry straightened his spine and nodded. He kind of felt like he had something to prove. Business meetings didn’t scare him, and neither did alpha strangers.

“Will you help me find something to wear?”

Louis’ mouth dropped open, fingers twitching by his side. “Of course, yeah.”

 

&&&

 

“Oh god, this is a disaster.” Harry dug through his suitcase for the third time and still couldn’t find anything suitable to wear. Everything was either too fancy or too casual, too sexy or too showy. He was on the verge of panicking, and the stupid, useless lingerie in his bag was taunting him.

“Hey, hey, whatever you wear will be fine,” Louis comforted. “I guarantee you can go in whatever you want and you’ll be the best dressed out of all of us. Also, look what I’m wearing. Not exactly high fashion, is it?”

He looked back at where Louis was leaning against the guest bed, dressed in a nice pair of black skinny jeans and a vintage t-shirt. He wondered what kind of business meeting this was, if that was what Louis was wearing. Not that he didn’t look good, because he did. He really, really did, but Harry couldn’t focus on how hot Louis was right now, because he was kind of freaking out over other things like what he was going to wear and how he was going to act.

“Do you have black jeans?”

He did, but they were more grunge than the pair Louis was wearing, the dye faded and with holes in the knees. He held them up and Louis shrugged.

“Those could work. What about those white ones, though? Seriously, love, it’s no big deal.”

Harry hesitated before reaching for his pair of white jeans. He bought them because they were the kind of jeans that resulted in everyone’s eyes on him when he walked into a room. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted that kind of attention tonight.

“You can look through my closet, if you want. You can borrow one of my shirts,” he offered, and Harry smiled weakly at him because he knew Louis was remembering a few days ago when he complimented the alpha’s extensive vintage t-shirt collection.

Harry ended up squeezing into the white jeans and choosing Louis’ Pink Floyd world tour t-shirt, because he liked the rainbow on it and how it was printed in 1972. It was well-worn, well-loved, and it smelled clean like Louis’ laundry detergent.

“Beautiful,” Louis complimented once Harry stepped out of the bathroom, all dressed, to ask his opinion. “Not that it matters.”

“What do you mean?”

Louis shrugged, focusing on collecting his phone and his wallet. “Just that you’re not, like, obligated to look beautiful or anything. You don’t owe it to anyone. You’re allowed to just exist, you know.”

It was a strangely sweet sentiment. Harry felt the sudden, deep urge to kiss him.

Instead he grabbed Louis’ free hand and meaningfully squeezed. They walked out to the car where Nick was waiting for them.

 

&&&

 

The white jeans were a mistake, Harry knew as soon as they entered the bar. Because, yeah, they were having a business meeting at a bar. It was posher than the average one, but still pretty casual, and Harry immediately sensed he was one of the only omegas inside. He could easily pinpoint the other two, one curled under the arm of a burly alpha near the bathrooms and the other flirting bravely with someone while perched on a stool.

Harry was used to being surrounded by alphas. It was practically in his job description, and he had learned to be comfortable with it. However, being outnumbered at such a high ratio still made him uneasy. Obviously. He had to fight himself to keep his posture straight, to stop from curling in on himself submissively.

The white jeans were a mistake because they really did call attention to him, and he had the feeling of eyes on him all night. He was used to that feeling, but usually it was different because he was with a date who would act possessively and glare at them for looking a little too closely at Harry. Tonight he felt alone and unclaimed, which was a recipe for disaster when surrounded by alphas.

The fact that he was wearing Louis’ shirt was a great relief. While it wasn’t the most obvious sign that he was uninterested in alpha attention, if anyone got close enough to smell Louis’ faint scent clinging to him they would assume he was off-limits. It sucked that alphas needed the proved presence of another alpha to discourage them from bugging single omegas, but it was what it was.

Louis rubbed his shoulder comfortingly as they approached the table where their acquaintances were waiting for them. It was a large booth in a dark corner with three people on one side and two on the other. Two of them were alphas and the rest were betas. No omega mates like Nick had promised.

They were clearly surprised by Harry’s presence, but Louis introduced him as a friend of a friend staying over for the week, and Harry smiled charmingly, immediately forgetting everyone’s names. He could practically see the questions running through their heads, wondering what kind of ‘friend’ Harry was to Louis, and if so, why did he smell like him but not completely, and why was he unclaimed?

Apparently neither of the omega mates could make it, which was fine. One of the betas gave Harry an apologetic smile as he explained that. Harry smiled back and then focused on enjoying his meal. He was sitting at the end of the booth, which was good because he wasn’t in the way of their business conversation. They talked about a lot of things he didn’t understand, which made it easy to zone out and daydream about what it would be like to be Louis’ mate.

He liked how confident Louis was and how he knew exactly what he was looking for during this business meeting. The others clearly took him seriously and there was a lot of respect shared between them, even if the conversation occasionally turned tense when someone felt like they were being cheated out of a decent deal.

The big, looming alpha across from Harry kept staring at him but he ignored it, politely listening to the discussion around him as he ate his salad. There were slices of apples and strawberries among the hearty romaine, and the dressing was some sort of raspberry vinaigrette. He focused his attention on spearing a grape with his fork rather than acknowledging the alpha staring at him from across the table.

The looks became more intense and seductive as the night went on. They had no effect on Harry except making his inner omega vaguely nervous. He could tell Louis noticed too, by the way his fist clenched on the table and he seemed distracted from the conversation. Harry was only a few minutes from sinking into his side and burying his face in his neck to appease them both and get the alpha stranger off his back.

“So Harry, where are you from?”

They had finished up discussing everything for work, the paper contracts and fancy tablets put away now that everything was sorted out while the night was still young.

“New York City,” he answered smoothly.

“Lived there your whole life?”

“I moved a few years ago.” He smiled shakily, knowing they were wondering where he was from before the city, but not even Louis knew that yet. “I’m from the south, so the cold was a bit of a shock.”

He hoped that was enough detail for them to not ask anymore. Usually talking about the weather was a good idea because it was something everyone could relate to, and it could morph into them discussing how hot it was today, or how nice it was to be near the ocean.

“I’m sure,” the alpha laughed. “Florida must be nice, in February no less. What do you do for a living?”

Harry didn’t even flinch; he was used to this question. Louis, on the other hand, tensed up in a way that only someone looking very closely would notice. He set his hand on Harry’s thigh and squeezed reassuringly, as if to say, tell them whatever you want.

“I’m an actor,” he said with a sugary sweet smile, propping his chin on his palm in a way he knew was endearing. It technically wasn’t a lie, either.

From beside him, Louis snorted, clearly trying to suppress his surprised laughter. Harry bit back a smirk.

“Are you in anything we would know?”

Well fuck. “You might recognize me from Fight Club, Finding Nemo, French Kiss, and Fargo…” He trailed off as if there were more, but really he couldn’t think of any other movies that started with ‘F.’ The table was nodding along like they might’ve recognized him from any of the movies. It was a pleasant surprise that they were either polite enough or clueless enough to not call him out on his shit.

“Also Friday the Thirteenth,” Louis added.

“All ten of them.”

“Harry’s a very good actor. World class. He was trained by Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman.”

The omega nodded in agreement, smiling.

He felt warm inside from Louis playing along with him, and even warmer when he grabbed Harry’s hand and interlaced their fingers under the table. It was a show of solidarity, of comfort, a gesture that said I’ve got you. We’re in this together.

“I have lunch with Tom Hanks in Tribeca every month,” he added, just to be a shit. Louis choked on a laugh and quickly pressed his face in Harry’s shoulder to cover it up. The action succeeded in hiding their humor, but made it look like Louis was scenting Harry. Which was… interesting.

When they pulled away from each other, the looming alpha across the table was staring at them but the rest had already moved on with the conversation. Louis put his arm around the back of the booth, fingers twitching by Harry’s shoulder. Harry sipped his water and pretended he didn’t notice how possessive it was.

 

&&&

 

Things went downhill when the group got up to go play a game of pool.

It would’ve been fine except that, while Harry expected to play, everyone else ignored him and assumed he would rather watch than participate. Since there was an even number of people if Harry was included, they had to go out of their way to exclude him. The subtle sexism irked him, but it wasn’t a big enough deal for him to confront anyone about it. It was just a game of pool, after all.

Louis noticed what was happening a little too late. The complicated teams had already been decided.

“Wait, isn’t Harry playing?”

“It’s fine, Lou,” he assured, taking a seat on a barstool with a good vantage point to cheer Louis on. Playing pool was fun but tonight there would be a certain pressure on him, like he had to prove something for the sake of defending his gender. So it was probably best that he wasn’t playing. Sometimes he didn’t even think about how he was an omega, but right now was not one of those times.. He felt on display sitting up here in his white jeans, but he ignored it all in favor of focusing on the one alpha who was sweet and kind enough to catch his attention.

Louis looked torn. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

It was fun watching Louis around people who were sort of his friends, especially Nick. Despite the annoyance and name-calling earlier, Louis was soft with him in a way Harry had never witnessed between alphas before. It made sense, though, because while Louis was strong and tough and had a take no shit attitude, he was also one of the gentlest alphas Harry had ever met.

He didn’t let his temper get the best of him, he never turned unreasonably angry or full of rage, he didn’t use physical intimidation to get his way, and so on. Sure, he was inclined to manspread whenever he sat down and he always swore like a sailor, but Harry was sure he would move his legs if someone needed a seat and the swearing was harmless anyways.

Once the game was over, they switched to playing darts to let another group have the table. Harry joined in this time. Even though he was nervous, he knew he was a good shot. The look of surprise on everyone’s face when he hit a bullseye on his first try was deeply satisfying.

After the game was over, and Harry’s team had won, he whispered to Louis that he was going to the bathroom to freshen up. Really, he just needed a break from being surrounded by people he didn’t know very well. He pissed, washed his hands, splashed water on his face, and then stared at his reflection in the mirror for way too long.

When he got back to the group, they all quieted down abruptly. It was obvious they’d been talking about him.

Harry had caught the tail end of the conversation though. It’d been a symphony of raucous laughter and a collective agreement to someone remarking thick thighs, nice ass. Good job Louis. I bet he’s great in bed.  

He looked to Louis who was staring at his empty beer bottle like it was the most interesting thing in the world. His jaw was clenched and his face was paler than usual.

Sitting his ‘nice ass’ on the barstool again, Harry pulled out his phone just to fiddle with something. The worst thing about comments like this was that they were always wrapped up in a compliment, somehow, so that he’d have a split-second flash of pride before he realized how shitty the words made him feel.

“Do you want a drink from the bar? I’m gonna get another.”

“Sure. Surprise me,” he tried to smile, smoothing his hands down his ‘thick thighs.’ The white denim felt stiff under his palms, surprisingly unmarked from any dirt or spilled food.

The line at the bar was long, so Louis was there for a while, leaving Harry uncertain of what to do. He sent a reply to one of Niall’s texts to keep himself busy but soon enough the alpha who’d been eyeing him from across the table approached him and tried to make conversation.

Harry obliged at first but then some of the other men crowded around him too and he began to feel a bit overwhelmed. They were all staring at him in that way that made him feel like nothing more than an object in their eyes, and they kept asking him a bunch of personal questions like it was an interrogation. He handled as best as he could, sitting up straight and not panicking, not showing how uncomfortable he was.

“You got a boyfriend who gave this to you?” one of them asked, reaching out to touch the diamonds of the tennis bracelet on Harry’s left wrist. “Nice gift, nice romantic gesture.”

“I bought it for myself,” he lied, knowing they were in dangerous territory now.

“No boyfriend, then? No lucky alpha trying to claim you?”

“Uh…” Harry bit his tongue and quickly scanned the crowd for Louis. He spotted him at the bar, just accepting their drinks and turning around to walk back to Harry. Thank god.

Louis narrowed his eyes at the group as he got closer. Harry prayed Louis understood what was going on, that he knew Harry felt cornered and trapped even if he wasn’t outwardly displaying it.

“Here,” said Louis, accompanied by a tense smile. “I hope you like daiquiris.”

As soon as Harry accepted the drink from him, Louis’ hand pressed to the back of his neck in a feather-light touch, as if to calm him.

It worked, to some extent, but before Harry’s shoulders could slump due to the relief of an alpha saying don’t worry, I’m here, I’ll take care of you, the hand slid down his spine and settled on his lower back.

It was a comforting presence, vaguely possessive but Harry didn’t care. All he felt was relief.

As the reassurance fizzled through his veins, settling him to his very core, he accepted the idea that Louis was the one who made him feel at peace.

The looming alpha didn’t back away at Louis’ silent claim on Harry, didn’t even stop asking his excessive, interogative questions, but Harry found that he didn’t worry as much now that he knew he had Louis to tell the alpha to fuck off if he got too close.

Eventually he got bored of answering all the questions and listening to the comments the men would make in response to each half-hearted answer he gave, so he turned his head to the side and pressed his face into the warm crook of Louis’ neck. It was rude but he didn’t care at this point. He just wanted to be close to Louis, to breathe his calming scent and block out the world by focusing on the pace of his steady breathing.

The noise around them dulled to a warbled hum, as if underwater. Harry matched his breathing to Louis’ cadence and snuggled closer, rubbing his cheek against his neck.

“Strange night,” Louis commented, just for him. He rubbed his back as he said it, palm soothing, just over the low waist of his jeans.

Harry hummed in agreement. Strange was the word to describe the mix of emotions contained within a single dinner. It had been both interesting and boring, uncomfortable and fun, and so on.

“Tired?”

The omega nodded. He was so pleased with himself that he was cuddling close to Louis and Louis was actually allowing it.

“We have an early morning tomorrow, so we have an excuse to leave early…”

A big grin overtook his face and Louis smiled right back. Harry downed the rest of his drink and set it down on the nearest table, slipping off the stool. Louis kept his hand on the small of his back as they said goodbye to everyone, deflecting the petitions for them to stay later. They had to dodge people trying to get them to have one more drink, to play one more round of pool, and by the time they made it out it felt like they’d just completed the greatest, most complicated escape in history.

“Should I call a car, or do you wanna walk home? It’s only two miles, and I know a shortcut,” he winked. “Besides, the night is nice.”

“Let’s walk,” Harry agreed, feeling giddy at the thought of getting to spend even more time with the alpha. His mood dropped when Louis removed his hand from his lower back, but then he quickly took Harry’s hand, interlacing their fingers, and Harry was through the moon again.

“Sorry about that. I know you heard what they were saying when you came back from the bathroom…”

“Eh,” Harry murmured, eyes cast down on the sidewalk. “I’ve heard it all before.”

“And that’s so awful, that this is normal for you. I’m sorry. I really should’ve said something. I was just thinking that we really need this deal, which is so selfish of me-”

“Lou, it’s fine. I’m not hurt by it and I don’t blame you for anything. Actually I should thank you for stepping in when they started asking me all those questions. Usually I can handle that but for some reason tonight I just felt really tired.”

He wasn’t sure where the nickname came from but it was already out there in the universe and he couldn’t take it back. Louis’ lips quirked up but he didn’t comment on it.

“I have to admit, that was also… selfish of me.”

“How so?” Harry wondered.

“My alpha was being possessive. I didn’t like the way they were looking at you. Not that I also wasn’t trying to help you, because I could smell how uncomfortable you were, but...”

Oh.

“Oh,” Harry said.

“Sorry. Sorry if that’s crossing a line.”

“No, it’s okay. I’m glad you did that. It... It made me feel better.” Not just better, but great, amazing, over the moon. “I don’t mind,” he admitted shakily, “Being claimed by you.”

“Okay,” Louis said, after a long pause. He sucked in a breath as shaky as Harry’s words. “Okay. Good to know.”

“Yeah.”

They walked in silence for a minute. The night was dark and clear, the neighborhood they were walking through still and sheltered from the sea breeze. Harry swung their hands back and forth languidly, deep in thought.

“Are there really ten Friday the Thirteenth movies?”

Harry giggled. “I have no idea. Maybe. There are a lot of them.”

Louis laughed too and just like that the tension was broken.

 

&&&

 

The morning was foggy. The Gucci suede Ophidia tote slung over Harry’s shoulder dug into his skin uncomfortably. Each post on the dock had a seagull stationed on top of it.

Louis kept laughing when he was periodically reminded of what happened this morning.

“Oh my god, please, let it go,” Harry grumbled. He wished he could hide his burning cheeks with his hands, but they were busy carrying a bunch of rope they supposedly needed to bring to the boat. Louis was hauling the cooler, because he was the big strong alpha in this equation.

“I can’t, oh god, it’s just so funny.” Louis was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. The sound echoed over the still, empty sea.

It was five in the morning and the only people out this early were gruff fishermen with gnarly beards and dark, troubled eyes. Harry had already tried smiling at one who was lacing his boots on the dock, but all he got was a threatening glare in return. Rude.

“Okay, it’s literally not though.”

“I’m sorry, little dove,” because that was what Louis was calling Harry now, to make fun of him, “But you thought a seagull was a dove!”

Harry huffed. “I’m not a bird expert, Lewis, okay? And my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the light yet. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was a white bird I didn’t recognize pecking at our window. Sheesh.”

Because the sailboat was anchored in the water twenty meters from the dock, they had to take a small dinghy out to get there, lest they want to swim. Louis teased him all the way to the boat. Then he got distracted by all the tasks he had to complete to get things moving. Harry set his bag down and held the rope uselessly, pretty sure he was in the way of whatever Louis was trying to do, but not sure where to go instead.

It was a nice boat, as boats were, clean and sleek, all white. It looked cool in the fog, with the ominous ripples of lazy waves in the background.

Louis’ friends would be here in fifteen minutes. He had no idea who they were, but Louis seemed to be very fond of them, so Harry was excited to meet them. Since they were a bonded couple, it should be pretty comfortable for the four of them to share this space.

“Hey, can you help me with this, little dove?” Louis called.

“Stop it,” he groaned, but went to him anyways. Louis’ instructions were clear but slightly complicated, since Harry didn’t know a single thing about sailing, so he tried his best to follow along.

Louis was currently trying to explain how the wind moves the boat. He was using words Harry had never heard of, like jib, and airfoil, and halyards. Harry tried to hold on to a semblance of understanding, but mostly he watched Louis’ gesticulations and tried not to get caught up in how hot it was that he knew how to sail.

“Got it?”

“Umm yeah I think so…”

He struggled but somehow managed to do what Louis described. He was leaning over the edge of the hull tying what he’d just learned was a sailor’s knot when he heard footsteps on the worn wood of the dock and looked up to see who it was.

When he saw who was approaching, the breath was knocked out of him.

“Louis,” he gasped, scrambling over to the alpha and clinging onto his soft linen shirt. It was unbuttoned, exposing his smooth, tan skin, and he looked like a proper sailor but Harry couldn’t focus on that right now because he was on the verge of a panic attack.

“What is it?”

“Is that- Are those- Are they your friends?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. That’s Liam and Zayn.”

Inside his mind was a mess of oh fuck, what are the odds, what are the odds, what are the odds…

“Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry whispered, still clinging to Louis. His heart was beating fast in his chest and his palms were quickly turning damp with clammy sweat. “It’s just that, do you remember the friend I was talking about and how we had a huge fight and it ended so horribly- That’s Zayn.”

Louis’ eyes widened, his mouth dropped open. “Wait, what?”

The omega laughed maniacally and pressed his face into Louis’ shoulder to comfort himself. “Small world,” he whispered, on the brink of tears. This was horrible. And- oh. “Please, Lou,” he begged. “Please don’t let him know how unhappy I am.”

The expression on his face morphed into confusion crested by a sense of dawning understanding. “You’re… unhappy?”

There was no time to explain, though, because Harry’s archenemy and his handsome alpha mate were heading over and calling warm, friendly greetings to Louis across the gap of calm sea that separated them. Harry allowed himself one last, long inhale of Louis’ comforting but confused scent before he pulled away and forced a smile on his face.

Louis sent him a worried glance and squeezed his wrist as if to say, it’s gonna be okay. He let go and slipped back onto the dinghy to return to the dock to greet them.

Harry watched nervously as Louis greeted them in enthusiastic hugs before helping them onto the dinghy. There were a lot of hey, man ’s and I missed you ’s all the way to the sailboat. Harry took the opportunity to observe Zayn and his mate, Liam.

He hadn’t changed much at all in the months since they’d last seen each other. The moody scowl that used to be permanently etched onto his face now replaced by a soft, open expression. His face was more filled out, cheeks rosier, and he looked healthier than before—like he was doing more than just drinking black coffee in between long periods of chain smoking. His appearance was less cynical, less doomsday. He was laughing at something Louis had said.

“You must be Harry,” Liam smiled once he was on the boat. Louis was busy anchoring the dinghy, so Harry was all alone.

“That’s me,” he offered, voice weaker than he would’ve hoped. He tucked his hair behind his ear with his left hand and shook Liam’s hand with his right, noticing the bondmark on his neck. Zayn had a matching one. It wasn’t necessarily unusual for the omega to bite the alpha as well, but it was a mark of a strong relationship and not something everyone did. It reminded Harry that he would be lucky to find a bondmate at all, let alone someone who would let him reciprocate with claiming marks. All of this went through his mind as he said the obligatory, “Nice to meet you.”

“Long time no see,” Zayn said wryly. It was unfair that he was so composed, that he somehow wasn’t surprised that Harry was here. Or at least he was better at hiding it.

“Wait, you know each other?”

“We’re old friends,” Zayn told him. “How’s the sugar bowl, Harry?”

“Great,” he said through gritted teeth. He didn’t ask Zayn how bonded life was. It didn’t go unnoticed by him how rude it was for Zayn to ask that so blatantly, uncaring if Louis was unaware of what Harry did for a living. Luckily, it wasn’t a secret, but still. It rankled Harry. What if Louis didn’t know, and Zayn just outed him?

Louis came over and rubbed Harry’s shoulder like he could see all the annoyed, stressed thoughts racing through Harry’s mind and knew he needed comforting.

“Harry’s staying with me on vacation for the week. We’re glad you guys could come today.”

Harry nodded and gave them a sugary sweet smile, slipping his arm around Louis’ waist and snuggling up to him. Louis flinched when the omega’s nose brushed his neck but quickly pulled it together after Harry nudged him meaningfully.

After that, he mostly remained quiet as the other three caught up and discussed their lives since they’d last seen each other. Every so often, he would add a witty remark that would make Louis and Liam laugh, but other than that he did his best to help Louis with this sailing thing and stayed out of their way.

The weather forecast said the wind wouldn’t come for another half hour, when the fog would clear up, so they used the motor to get out to sea.

All history aside, Harry had to admit Zayn and Liam were cute together. They were silly and joked around a lot—they had a similar sense of humor and shared a million common interests. They talked about action movies and comic books and unconventional art projects. They talked about music too, which is where Louis chimed in, including Harry in the conversation by talking about the deal he closed last night at the bar.

It was a conscious effort to include him, because he motioned for the omega to come closer and join them.

Eyeing the way Liam’s fingers crawled across Zayn’s lower back to wrap his arm around his waist, Harry felt an ugly blossom of jealousy blooming in his stomach. To combat it, he took Liam and Zayn’s display of affection as a challenge, and moved closer to Louis. He pasted a bright smile on his face for effect.

Louis didn’t react at the sudden proximity, and Harry knew he would have to do more if he wanted to prove to Zayn that he was happy as he was.

The cards were already on his side, though, he reminded himself. There was no need to feel so insecure. While Zayn was tied down to one alpha, Harry had the whole world in front of him, ripe for the taking. Louis was a young, attractive alpha and there was nothing to say he and Harry hadn’t spent the week engaging in endless amounts of no-strings-attached fun. Zayn should be the one who was jealous, not Harry.

Once the fog began to clear, they all stood up from where they were sitting around Louis steering the boat. The wind picked up and Liam and Zayn went to explore the front while Harry stayed back to help Louis with the sails.

He didn’t understand much but Louis was gentle and sweet when he explained what he was doing. He didn’t make Harry feel stupid even though it would’ve been easy for his kind tone to dip into something more condescending. He seemed happy that Harry was interested in helping him sail, and all was not lost even when Harry made a fool of himself by asking stupid questions. Louis seemed to find Harry’s lack of knowledge about sailing and boats in general more endearing than anything, judging by the way he grinned so hard and had to look away when Harry accidentally and earnestly called the halyards “heralds.”

After a period of trial and error and testing the strength and direction of the winds, Louis found the ideal position of the sails.

“How can you tell?”

“Listen, dove,” Louis gently coaxed, halting his movements. They both became still, even as Harry grimaced at the nickname. “The sound of the sails tells you if it’s luffing, if it’s not trimmed properly. The way the water moves foretells an upcoming shift of wind. And when you’ve got everything perfect, it all goes quiet.”

They listened for a moment and Harry smiled when he finally got it.

“All I can hear is the breeze and the water against the boat.”

The alpha was grinning too. The wind ruffled his pretty auburn hair was soft and loose from his shower last night. It made his shirt billow behind him and suddenly the sun was glowing on his skin and everything was perfect, everything was glowing. Harry wanted to kiss him. Harry always wanted to kiss him, but now more than ever the urge was thrumming through him, every cell in his body calling to touch and hold, to be touched and held.

“Exactly. Just the wind, and the hull going through the water,” Louis explained. “It’s primal. Spiritual, even. This is my favorite thing about sailing.”

Harry understood what Louis was saying, because he could feel it too. The simplicity of using basic sensory information in order to determine how to raise the sails. The easiness of the boat gliding through the water, because this was what it was made to do.

“You should go explore,” Louis offered.

“Will you come with me?”

Louis smiled, and made sure everything was as it was supposed to be before he reached out for Harry’s hand. Harry was the one who interlaced their fingers, making the simple gesture more intimate. It blossomed an entirely new swarm of butterflies in his stomach while simultaneously calming him, now that his body was reminded Louis was by his side and not going anywhere. For the time being, at least.

It was a big sailboat, and there was a fair amount to see and for Louis to explain.

“I think you’ll like this.”

A portion of the deck was cut out and replaced with a large square net stretched out flat. Harry peered over the edge and he could see the water rushing six feet beneath it, visible through the net.

“Oh wow. What is this for?”

“Just for fun,” Louis shrugged. “To enjoy the breeze and the spray of the water. Go on, it’s meant for you to sit or lay on it.”

Harry was nervous because it didn’t look stable at all, but he knew Louis would never put him in harm’s way. So he took a breath for courage and then kneeled down, crawling to the center of the net which dipped pleasantly under his weight. The rope was soft against his skin, rather than digging into it, and he immediately recognized this as a great place to lie back and relax. He sat down, took it all in, and then looked up at Louis.

“You like it?”

Harry couldn’t stop smiling. He reclined backwards, closing his eyes and feeling the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the ocean spray on his skin. He was still wearing his clothes but it didn’t matter; this was heaven. “I love it. This is amazing. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

The wind was rushing around him on all sides but even then he could smell Louis’ pleasing scent in the air. Harry was very attuned to it by now, certain he could pick him out in a crowd of thousands.

“Good,” Louis responded.

It was quiet but Harry could hear the alpha pride in his voice—the satisfaction that he was the only one to give Harry an experience like this.

 

&&&

 

It wasn’t until later, when Harry had a thumb in his waistband to pull his jean shorts down, that he remembered what he slipped into this morning and why he wasn’t wearing his swim trunks in the first place.

They had sailed for over an hour and now they were gently drifting with the sails down so that they could go swimming. It was impossible to anchor out here because the ocean floor was so far down, the anchor would never reach. Harry had never swam this far out in the ocean before and he was, quite frankly, concerned about sharks, but no one else seemed to share his worries so he kept them to himself. Liam and Zayn had already removed their shirts and were scoping out the best place to jump off.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Harry assured, nodding to Louis who was gazing at him curiously. The problem was that he felt emboldened enough this morning to put on his favorite thong swimsuit. It was a pretty pearly white color which made his skin look attractively tan, and the straps were sturdy and about an inch thick which made him only feel marginally better right now than if he’d chosen one of his others with thin strings tied into bows at his hips. But the fact of the matter was that his entire ass would be hanging out and as secure as he was feeling this morning, he was really insecure right now.

The insecurity had nothing to do with the state of his body and everything to do with the fact that Zayn was here—Zayn! Harry could still hardly believe it—and he was with his funny, likeable alpha with kind puppy eyes, and he seemed so happy. Meanwhile Harry’s life was a hot mess of running around trying to juggle transactional relationships with half a dozen alphas, and here he was in Florida on the boat of the only alpha he’d ever wanted but couldn’t have, and he was really, really, really trying not to question his own choices in the face of Zayn’s perfect life with his perfect alpha.

“You know how to swim, right?” Louis asked, before his face changed into something even softer. “It’s okay if you don’t-”

“No, I do,” Harry assured. He wished he’d had the foresight to bring the yellow swim trunks Louis had already seen him in, but this morning he’d been thinking that he would chicken out if he had the option. And he was so right.

Sighing, the omega unbuttoned his shorts and slid them down his legs, stepping out of them. His t-shirt, an old blue tie-dye with two unicorns printed on the front, was long enough to reach his upper thighs, so nothing was exposed yet.

“I’m really sorry about Zayn,” the alpha said, keeping his voice down. “I never would’ve done this if I had known he was the friend you were talking about…”

“It’s okay. I’m fine. It was a surprise, but I don’t think he wants to fight with me in front of his alpha, so. There’s nothing to worry about.” After this they would just go back to hating each other, and normalcy would be restored.

Louis went to say something more but Liam was calling his name, yelling at him to get in the water. He and Zayn were already in, swimming languidly in the glittering waves and laughing over something unintelligible.

“Will you wear this?” Louis asked after shushing Liam. He was holding up a black life jacket, like the ones they wore when they went jet skiing. “I’ll feel better.”

“Only if you do too.”

“Okay. Do you want me to help you in the water?”

Harry laughed, knowing Louis was just offering because he was appearing cautious about jumping in while the others did it without even thinking. “I know I’m a high-maintenance omega, but I’m not that helpless,” he smiled, prodding Louis’ shoulder to let him know he wasn’t actually insulted. The alpha’s skin was bare and warm and Harry tried not to look because his thoughts would betray him.

“Shut up, I know you’re not helpless. I’d just hate myself if something happened.”

Harry wondered if he should warn Louis about what he was wearing, but he couldn’t find the words. Besides, maybe he could use it to his advantage.

The best way always just to go about it confidently. He tried to channel the sexy omega he used to be, before this trip to Louis’ beach house threw him entirely off-kilter. Think sexy thoughts, he told himself, running his mind through all the images he knew would give him confidence. Walking into a room and turning heads. Strangers gazing at him with lust no matter where he went, what he did. Going down on an alpha and hearing their deep moans of pleasure. Their fingers tangling in his hair and tugging hard. Being bent over a desk or table. Pinned against a wall. A window. A bed. Toes curling, fingers grasping at silk sheets or curling around warm, sweaty skin. Scratching his nails down an alpha’s back, overcome. Scents of desire mixing all around him. Arching up, reaching closer. His hair fanned out around him like a halo. Thighs aching, burning. Kissing everywhere. Being kissed everywhere.

Harry gripped his shirt at the hem and pulled it over his head as gracefully as he could.

He heard Louis’ intake of breath but didn’t look at him yet. Instead he leant over the smooth metal railing and arched his back as subtly as he could.

Obviously he made a pretty picture like this, halfway bent over the railing, pretending to be looking down at the water. Really, his mind was half a mile away, swimming out at sea. Nervous of what Louis would think, but wanting, so badly, for him to like it.

If he didn’t like Harry, then that was his problem. The omega wouldn’t worry about it. Since when did he worry about people liking him?

With a newfound courage, Harry looked back towards him.

Louis’ eyes snapped up to his face. His cheeks were red and his scent was stronger.

“I hope you don’t mind?” Harry hooked a finger through the strap and pulled the thong away from his skin just barely, rubbing his hand over his hip to draw Louis’ attention there again. “Since we’d be in the sun all day, I figured I’d try to avoid tan lines.”

“Uh… Yeah, that’s… That’s fine, yeah…”

“Great,” Harry grinned, biting his lip as a form of self-restraint.

Usually an alpha’s gaze made him feel ambivalent at best, but this was so different. The giddiness of seeing Louis so affected by his body empowered him. He wanted to give him more, so he reached his arms above his head and stretched like a cat.

“Like what you see?”

Louis’ brows raised. Harry returned his arms to the railing and casually  leaned over it again.

“You say that like you’re not doing this on purpose.”

“Doing what?” Harry asked innocently, wiggling his butt for good measure.

“You’re a menace. An absolute menace.”

The look on Louis’ face, a mix between pained and obviously turned on, made Harry giggle. “I don’t know what you expected from me, a glorified prostitute,” he teased.

“It’s not that. You’re just…” The alpha sighed, covering his face with his delicate hands. “Trust me, you don’t even have to try.”

“Hm?”

Louis still had his face covered, even as he took in a deep, shaky breath. “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what you’re doing. You’re so… captivating no matter what.”

Harry smiled, suddenly more pleased than he’d been the entire day. “Captivating?”

The tone of Harry’s voice made Louis huff, knowing he was searching for more. “Don’t make me say it.” He indulged him anyways, admitting, “Attractive. Sexy.”

Oh, well that was nice to hear. “Irresistible?” Harry tried.

“That too.”

“Beddable?”

“Maybe...”

Harry pouted.

“You already sleep in my bed, though.”

“Yeah, but not like that …”

“You’re a menace,” Louis repeated, shaking his head and laughing. He crossed his arms over his chest in an attempt to look stern, but he failed at keeping his smirk at bay. “You know exactly what you’re doing to me so don’t you dare play dumb. All week, I’ve been trying my best to be respectful and a gentleman, to treat you right and not take advantage of you, and you’ve just been teasing me at every turn.”

“Not teasing you,” Harry argued, setting his hand on his hip. He met Louis’ eyes to show he was serious about this. “You can have me anytime you want. You’re the one who’s always running away.”

Louis groaned and turned away, hiding his face. He ignored Harry’s very blatant offer, and continued, “A menace, I tell you. Running around in your skimpy bathing suits saying things like that. Looking so sweet and soft when you wake up in my bed. Being silly and happy to do anything with me. Cooking dinner, walking down the beach, taking naps on the balcony... When you arrived at the airport you were the most confident and assured omega in the entire place, turning heads with your designer bags and your expensive sunglasses,” he ranted to the sea, throwing his hands up in the air. “And you, last night, wearing those jeans, sitting on that stool surrounded by so many alphas who wanted you, looking like that in my t-shirt…”

Harry was stunned. He had no idea Louis thought all of these things.

“You’re driving me crazy.”

The omega’s reply was shaky even though he tried to stay calm and confident. It came out more like a question, oddly insecure. “In a good way, I hope?”

Louis smiled wryly but didn’t answer. He nodded meaningfully to Harry’s life jacket before doing up the buckles on his own, running his hand through his feather-soft hair and turning toward the water.

Liam and Zayn started calling for them again, wondering what was taking so long. Louis jumped in without another word and Harry watched him dip beneath the surface, breaking the water cleanly, before he popped up again from the buoyancy of the life jacket.

Three more days. That was it. Harry only had three days left with Louis and then it was back to the harsh reality of his everyday life. On Sunday Louis would drop Harry off at RSW and then everything would return to how it was before. No more Florida sunshine or the alpha who made him feel like he was worth more than over the top dinners at showy restaurants followed by lewd sex in unornamented hotel rooms. No more innocent bed sharing, no more planning and cooking meals together, no more beach walks, no more naps together in the sun.

Harry wasn’t ready to return to the cruel New York winter, the ugly truth of a city that tried and failed to hide its poverty, danger, and suffering. Flying back to the city meant responding to the pileup of annoying, demanding messages on his phone and setting up dates and times to meet with alphas willing to pay his bills in exchange for whatever sexual currency they desired.

Returning to his cute, stylish studio apartment meant remembering exactly why he was able to live there in the first place. It was nice but only when he was free of obligations, no phone calls or skype sessions lined up, no strict diets to follow to be ready for whatever obscene activities the next day promised. His recent good memories in NYC all comprised of himself, lounging in bed on clean, fluffy white sheets, treating himself to a bowl of ice cream or an occasional glass of wine, watching whatever he could find on Netflix. Whatever would take his mind off of everything for a little while.

He had no friends there, aside from Niall, but he hardly counted with how busy he was, how he was hardly in the states anymore. He used to have Zayn, but then Zayn left too.

Of course Harry preferred the silent streets of a gated community along the Gulf shore. Of course he prefered a big empty house with the sea breeze rolling through the open windows. Of course he preferred the arms of an alpha who seemed to respect him.

Of course he didn’t want this stupidly idyllic vacation to come to an end.

Three days. He would have to make the most of them.

 

&&&

 

“Grape? Here.”

Louis gave him a weird look but opened his mouth for the offering, letting Harry place the dark purple grape between his teeth.

Once he chewed and swallowed, the alpha whispered, “What’s gotten into you?” into Harry’s ear with a laugh.

Harry fed him another grape instead of answering. Liam and Zayn were just right there, sprawled out on Zayn’s towel and sharing a mimosa, taking sips and passing it back and forth. It was a disgustingly cute sight and Harry felt personally threatened by it. He grabbed more grapes and had to stop himself from chucking them at Louis in misplaced anger.

They’d just spent the past half hour listening to Liam describe the updates to their relationship while his omega nodded along. They’d moved in together last month, apparently, transferring Zayn’s New York belongings to Liam’s home in Calabasas. They hadn’t had their bonding ceremony yet, so they had their hands full with planning the event to perfection, but after that they would enjoy their honeymoon and then travel for a year or two in between work before settling down to maybe try for pups.

Harry really didn’t want to hear any of this, but he had no choice but to sit and listen unless he wanted to look rude and obviously jealous. He ignored the way Zayn kept glancing at him with mild interest, and instead focused on feeding Louis grapes and rubbing his back.

He was trying to be a good omega, trying to appear unbothered, trying to make Zayn jealous, and trying to get Louis to fall in love with him. It was a lot to juggle at once. None of it was really working out. So far he’d only managed to confuse Louis by doting on him.

There was a lull in the conversation. He was relieved because apparently Liam was finished fawning over Zayn and listing all the things he loved about him while Zayn smirked over at Harry. Harry was two seconds away from sticking his tongue out in retaliation.

To distract himself from the intrigue of childish behavior, he stretched out and jokingly tossed his legs over Louis’ thighs. Maybe if he broke the ice like this, Louis would let him sit on his lap. The alpha didn’t react, aside from resting his free hand on Harry’s shins. Progress.

“So, Harry, how’s Oklahoma?”

His tensed at Zayn’s words. Not to mention the tone of his voice, which was wry enough to indicate he knew exactly what he was asking and the trouble it would cause.

In order to avoid looking like a fool, Harry loftily responded, “I wouldn’t know.”

“What’s in Oklahoma?” Louis questioned, clearly confused.

“Nothing-” Harry rushed, at the same time as Zayn smirked and said, “His family.”

“Your family’s in Oklahoma? I didn’t know that.”

“Just my mom…” he whispered, pulling his legs away and sitting up straight, eyes wide and cast to the deck of the boat. He wanted to strangle Zayn for bringing it up.

“You don’t visit her often?”

Louis’ question was just as soft as Harry’s words, clearly only meant for him, but Zayn still cut in. “She calls him once a month but Harry never answers, right Harry?”

The omega dug his fingernails into his palms and closed his eyes to stop himself from cussing Zayn out, or, quite frankly, launching across the small distance that separated them and tackling him to the ground. An ugly ball of rage boiled inside him but he was determined to remain in control of himself and not make the situation any worse than it already was. Zayn had opened up a whole can of worms by mentioning Harry’s family, his home, but that didn’t mean Harry had to react any more than giving Louis the necessary explanation.

Except he had no explanation for why he never responded to his mother’s calls, aside from the truth. It was an ugly truth. It made him look bad. The thought of telling Louis he was embarrassed of his family made him feel sick to his stomach. Louis so obviously valued family life over everything else and if he found out what Harry’s family was like...

“What is it?” Louis wondered, forehead creased in concern. “Does she not support you?”

Harry cringed. That was the understatement of the century. “We don’t exactly see eye to eye all the time.”

The alpha nodded like he was absorbing the information, and he didn’t say anything else on the topic. Harry wanted, desperately, to say something to make Louis see him in a better light again, but there was nothing to say.

He didn’t know how to explain the trauma of growing up poor. How he exclusively wore his sister’s old clothes until he hit puberty and grew too tall and lanky to fit in them anymore. How he learned how to steal clothes from Goodwill after that. How the question of food on the table at dinner was always a game of chance. How the threat of his mom losing her job wasn’t just a worry, but a reality. How life was all about struggling from one day to the next.

In the South, extreme poverty was practically ubiquitous. His whole world had been trailer parks and nothing more, and hardship was something everyone experienced. They didn’t know any different. There was no other way of life. Just stress, arguments, pinpricks of pain and worry. Getting robbed by his neighbors, his friends, and not having any money for them to take—so they took his only pair of shoes instead.

His mom still lived in Pushmataha County, in the same mobile home Harry had stormed away from all those years ago. It only took a few weeks of her refusing the money he tried to send on principle before he gave up all together. If she didn’t want the money Harry offered because it meant her omega son was offering his body to rich alphas, then that was her loss.

To him, dollar bills were dollar bills. A safe place to stay and food on the table was better than any rural Oklahoma trailer park, as far as Harry was concerned. Dignity and self-worth be damned.

Louis’ fingers, combing his hair away from his face, startled him from his dark thoughts.

He looked up and met Louis’ concerned eyes. They were bluer, even, than the sea surrounding them.

“I hate seeing you upset,” he said softly, brushing Harry’s hair back one last time before curling his hand around the back of his neck. Immediate comfort flooded through Harry like a tidal wave, and that… wasn’t normal. An alpha could only affect an omega like that if they were already bondmates. Even then, it wasn’t a given.

Harry slumped forward, unsure if Louis was even aware of what he was doing right now. It didn’t matter though, if it was intentional or not. It felt so good.

Zayn had already gone back to Liam’s side and they were busy cuddling close and talking privately. Harry eyed them as uneasily as he could when Louis was physically calming him with a hand clasped to the back of his neck.

“Want me to move over so you can sunbathe for a bit?”

Harry shrugged, feeling dizzy when Louis took his hand away. Louis didn’t react at all towards the change in Harry’s demeanor, so maybe he wasn’t going all alpha on him on purpose. Which was—interesting.

Spreading his limbs out to rest comfortably on the towel, Harry closed his eyes and enjoyed the sea breeze and the warm sun. Louis sat quietly beside him, seemingly lost in thought, especially when he set his hand on Harry’s back and stroked languidly at his skin with his thumb, tracing invisible shapes with his fingers.

“You drive me crazy, too,” he mumbled into the towel, gripping the edge of it.

“What’s that?”

“You drive me crazy too,” Harry repeated. “Earlier, you said I drive you crazy. It’s mutual.”

“Oh.” He took his hand away. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No, please. I mean in general. In a good way.” It was easier to talk to the towel, especially when Louis was petting his back again. “No one has made me feel like this before.” All tingly and shivery, like there was an electric current thrumming beneath the surface of his skin.

There was a pause of just wind and waves. “Babe, you don’t have to say stuff like that. I’ll take you shopping either way.”

It didn’t sink in for a moment.

“... What are you talking about?”

“I was thinking I could take you tomorrow or Saturday. Or Sunday, if you want, but we then wouldn’t have the full day since we have to get you to the airport. There’s this place not too far away, with a Gucci store and Chanel too, I think. A bunch of other places, I don’t know, I’ve been trying to pay attention to what you’ve been wearing but I’m not too good with brands. Hopefully you didn’t think I forgot? I mean, I know we didn’t talk about it much, but we did agree I would take you shopping. So.”

“Louis,” Harry said, slow and deadpan. He sat upright to look him in the eyes. “Louis Tomlinson.”

“What?”

He didn’t give a fuck about shopping. With every other alpha, yeah, he wanted to be compensated for his time. But hanging out with Louis in Florida? No gifts or money required. No shopping trips, none of Harry trying to spend as much as he could out of the alpha’s pocket and get away with it.

Stupidly, Harry thought, he would pay to spend time with Louis. It was that worth it.

“Please listen to me.” For the first time all day, he really felt exposed, wishing he was wearing more than a skimpy bathing suit. Louis wasn’t looking at him like he was a piece of meat, though. He was looking at him like he was a human being. “Are you listening?”

Louis huffed, shying away from Harry’s intense gaze. “Yes?”

“You’re really sweet. I’d love to go shopping with you, but just for fun. It’s not a requirement. You don’t have to pay me. You’re already doing enough. I’m pretty sure I owe you . Okay?”

The alpha frowned at him, narrowing his eyes.

“I’m not just saying these things because I want you to buy me stuff,” Harry assured, spelling it out very clearly. It made him feel bad that Louis assumed he was being nice to him for gifts. It made him feel cheap. He didn’t know how to prove to Louis that he wasn’t in it for the material benefits, especially when he sort of wasn’t ready to admit it to himself yet. “You’re really great. You make me feel really good—you drive me crazy. That’s all I’m saying. No ulterior motives. I just want you to know that I’ve never felt this way before.”

“You’ve been with many people before, surely-” When Harry jokingly gasped in offense, Louis quickly corrected, with a deep red blush, “I don’t mean it like that! I’m not judging, I’m just saying. You have your pick of alphas, you’ve experienced a lot, surely this isn’t any different. We haven’t even done anything.”

Harry laughed and lazily stretched, resting back on the towel and closing his eyes. He wasn’t sure why Louis was resisting this truth.

“Please just accept this as a compliment. You make me all shivery and tingly and I just wanna be close to you.”

“Okay,” said Louis, still rubbing his back. And that was that.

 

&&&

 

Pushing the confusion of overwhelming emotions aside, it was much easier to enjoy the day as it slipped from late afternoon to early evening. They swam again, sunbathed, ate more snacks, had some drinks, listened to music, and talked as friends. Zayn, seemingly satisfied with the ruckus he created earlier by exposing the secret Harry kept about where he was from, didn’t cause any more trouble. Liam and Zayn still engaged in excessive amounts of PDA, but Harry couldn’t blame them. They were newly bonded and so obviously in love. It bothered him but only because he was jealous.

Harry liked Liam too, because Liam was kind and enjoyed talking to him about his favorite restaurants in the city and the shows he liked to watch on Netflix. He made the effort to bridge the four of them together into one little group of sort-of friends and it was very sweet.

Harry and Louis ended up acting out the “I’m flying” scene from Titanic by accident when Harry climbed up onto the railing in the front of the boat and Louis grabbed him by the waist, worried he would fall. They laughed about it and when Harry climbed back down, he wanted so badly to just hold Louis’ shoulders and kiss him. The feeling was partially assuaged, though, when Louis tucked him under his arm to watch the sunset. The four of them sat off the back of the boat with their feet dipping in the water every time a wave would crest. The sky, a million shades of pink and orange, looked like a painting.

Something had shifted between them. Now each moment felt like more than just a casual ordeal. Harry tried to pinpoint when it all changed, but he struggled to find the exact moment.

Last night was a catalyst, obviously, with the small moments of jealousy and discomfort, and Louis’ protective hand guiding him gently on his lower back making it all better. Then there was their walk home, hand in hand, as they admitted to the mess of feelings they shared. Louis confessed he felt possessive and Harry literally said I don’t mind being claimed by you.

When they went to bed last night, it hadn’t been as strange or awkward as the other nights. It had felt easy and familiar, like they’d been falling asleep next to each other for years. When they woke up to the alarm going off so early in the morning, before the sun was even thinking of rising, they were facing each other with only an inch or two between their faces, and their hands were entangled. They both pulled their hands back to themselves and didn’t say anything about it. Harry tried not to think too much about how they seemed to seek out each other, subconsciously, even in their sleep, but now it seemed like one of the most important things. He felt comfortable with Louis, at peace. He felt safe. It was that simple.

Not to mention the sexual charge that was always between them, though it was easier to write that off as a basic biological reaction between an alpha and an omega. Harry was still clinging to what it felt like to wake up to Louis spooning him yesterday morning. He was still embarrassed about getting off in Louis’ bed as soon as he left for the store.

“You look so hot like this. Like a proper sugar daddy.”

“Do I?” Louis laughed, giving Harry a weird look as he continued rigging up the halyards to sail them back to the docks. It would take only an hour to return and Harry wasn’t ready for the night to end yet.

He nodded in confirmation, fingering a pearly button on Louis’ open linen shirt which billowed like the sails in the wind. “Your hair, too. It looks really good, long like this.” His pretty, auburn hair was soft and wispy in the wind. “We should get you a sailor’s hat to complete the look.” Louis just rolled his eyes and laughed even though Harry wasn’t joking about any of it, not even the hat.

During the ride back, Harry made one last drink for everyone and then settled down on the netting, giving Louis a nice view of his ass and knowing he was staring. He got comfortable on his stomach, resting his head on his folded arms, and smiled privately to himself. Suspended on the netting, with nothing between him and the sea but a bit of rope, the wind billowing around him on all sides, it felt like he was flying.

 

&&&

 

“How’s it going? Living out all your wild sexual fantasies?”

Harry frowned down at his bare thighs, where he was curled up on the couch on the balcony outside Louis’ room. It was 8:30 in the morning and he’d already gone for a run down the beach, took a shower, and changed back into a clean pair of pajamas. He was looking forward to getting back in bed with Louis but he decided to call Niall first, while he had the privacy.

“Not funny, Ni. We haven’t done anything. He won’t even kiss me. I feel like the most inadequate sugar baby ever.”

“Wait, seriously? I thought for sure...”

“Well, whatever, you were wrong. He doesn’t want me even though I’ve been throwing myself at him, and I’ll only be here for two more days so there’s not much I can do to change his mind.”

“Harry-”

“No. He doesn’t like me. Either that or he has more self-control than any other alpha in the world, but I don’t think that’s the case.”

Niall sighed on the other end of the line. “I don’t know, pet. Remember I told you he’s really guarded? It could just be that.”

Harry refused to believe it. Mostly because the little sliver of hope made his heart ache so much. “But why would he be guarded? I’m literally laying all my cards on the table, spelling it out for him.”

Niall was quiet for a moment. “I don’t think you recognize how intimidating you are, Harry.”

“What?”

“Yeah, you’re intimidating. Not in a bad way, either, I just mean that you’re a feisty omega. You’re independent and so smart. And don’t forget really beautiful, of course. It’s a lot for people to handle.”

Harry pursed his lips and wrapped his arms around himself for comfort. The morning was kind of chilly and Harry tried hard to be placated by Niall’s words, but the point was that Louis would’ve done something by now if he wanted him. So obviously he didn’t want him. It was as simple as that.

“Look, he’ll come around, I know he will. I’m sure he’s a little starstruck in your presence, and he’ll get over it eventually. Just give him a chance to get over his shock at how amazing you are.”

That made Harry laugh, lips curling. “Stop bullshitting me.”

“I’m not!” Niall chuckled. “Just trust me on this. You guys would be great together. I just know it.”

“Whatever you say…”

“Don’t worry about it, seriously, it’ll be okay. How about you get back in bed and I’ll call Lou in a bit to try to nudge him in the right direction? I promise I won’t say anything about what you’ve told me.”

Harry’s heart swelled at the sweet offer. “You’d do that for me? Really?”

“‘Course, pet.”



&&&



Louis’ clothes were disappearing. Either that, or he was going crazy.

He rifled through the hamper one last time, certain he’d thrown the past three days of laundry there. The linen shirt he wore yesterday was missing, as were a few of the t-shirts from the other days. Maybe Harry decided to do laundry?

The washer and dryer were both empty when Louis got there. He scratched his head, then squinted at the wall. Huh. It wasn’t that big of a deal. He had mountains of clothes in his closet, mostly untouched because he tended to gravitate towards the same few outfits every week. He was sad about losing his favorite t-shirts, but it would be okay, he was sure they would turn up eventually.

Harry hadn’t been in bed when Louis woke up this morning, and it only took a moment of wondering before he spotted him curled up on the balcony outside, talking on the phone. Louis tried not to think about who was on the other end of the line. It was probably one of his sugar daddies, and, in that case, Louis knew he should’ve just rolled over to his other side and fallen back asleep. He was cold, though, because the air conditioning was working in overdrive, so he got out of bed to find some warmer clothes, which is when he realized shirts and hoodies had gone missing.

“Oh, you’re up.”

“Oh,” Louis said, startled by Harry appearing in front of him. He grabbed a sweater from the drawer at the bottom of his wardrobe and switched it out with the current thin t-shirt he’d been wearing. “Yeah. It’s still early. I’m going back to bed.”

Harry nodded, fiddling with his phone case with one hand and using the other to rub at his arms.

He got in bed, pulling the duvet up to his shoulders. “You look cold. Do you want me to turn the air conditioning down?”

“No, it’s okay.” He set his phone down on the nightstand and smiled. “Can I join you?”

“‘Course.” Louis patted the spot beside him, and Harry crawled in, getting comfy on his side so they were facing each other.

“Your voice is so soft and raspy in the morning.”

“Yours is really deep and you talk slower. Who were you on the phone with?” Louis hadn’t meant to ask, but alas. He was apparently bad at controlling the words that came out of his mouth. He hoped Harry wouldn’t find it annoying. It was just a simple curiosity, if he ignored the seed of jealousy in his stomach. Harry talking to any of his sugar daddies right now was a little too much for Louis’ inner alpha wolf to handle. He could feel it pacing restlessly in his chest, wanting to break free and cover Harry in his scent to claim him.

“Just Niall. He says hi, by the way.”

“Nice. Hey, about yesterday-”

Harry bit his lip. “What about it?”

“Everything’s okay? With Zayn and everything, and talking about your family.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s okay. I’m fine.”

“All right.” Louis tried not to laugh, thinking about how clingy Harry had been as soon as he realized Liam and Zayn were bondmates. It must’ve been a competition in Harry’s mind, because that was when he started to get really close to Louis, always rubbing his back or cuddling up to his side, feeding him grapes or offering to help Louis with anything he needed to do for the boat. He assumed Harry was trying to make Zayn jealous and just went with it, not liking how frantic the omega was but deciding it was harmless.

“Louis, about my family…”

“No worries. You don’t have to explain anything.”

“I’m sorry for not telling you, though. We- I grew up in a bad situation. Really poor. My mom won’t accept any money I try to send her-”

“Harry, seriously, you don’t owe me any explanations.” They’d only known each other for a few days, almost a full week. Louis wasn’t expecting Harry to spill all the family drama, of course. Those issues were personal and there was no need to divulge it right now.

“But I want to tell you. So you’ll know, and understand.” He fiddled with his fingers, wringing them nervously. “She found out where I’m getting the money and she doesn’t want anything to do with me now. That’s why we don’t talk. Zayn made it seem like I don’t care about my family and that’s not true-”

“I know he was just trying to rile you up. It’s okay.”

Harry looked so sad. “I don’t want you to think I’m a bad person.”

“Babe, look. I don’t think you’re a bad person. Trust me.”

The way Harry flushed at his wording was prettier than anything Louis had ever seen before. His cheeks were rosy and he closed his eyes, lashes fluttering against his skin. He still looked downtrodden, but Louis as hoping enough verbal reassurance would do the trick to make him feel better.

“All right?”

“All right,” Harry whispered. “But will you let me tell you about my family?”

Louis wanted to be closer to him, and his resolve was crumbling by the second. They were already in bed together and all this time Harry had made no indication that he didn’t want to be close to Louis. Louis was still mostly convinced Harry was just being nice to him because he wanted to get some good gifts out of their upcoming shopping spree, but also, he hadn’t seemed at all repulsed when they were spooning that one morning. And Louis knew for a fact that Harry had been turned on by the situation, not just because he could smell Harry’s arousal but also even just the sight of him once Louis returned, lying loose-limbed in bed, clearly having gotten off while Louis was away.

Emotional intimacy was a different thing, though. Over the span of this vacation, they’d both opened up about a lot of different things. This was something even bigger, though, even more personal than past relationships or what they did at work all day.

Louis reached out and grabbed Harry’s wrist. He wasn’t sure why he did it—a split-second decision, something his brain didn’t even process until his fingers were already wrapped around his skin, stroking his wrist bone. The omega didn’t recoil, but actually sank into the touch. It was just like all the other times when Louis accidentally yielded to his inner alpha and created a tender moment between them.

“You can tell me anything, always. But don’t feel pressured either, don’t feel obligated to tell me just because I’m giving you a place to stay.” That was important. Louis wanted to make that clear. “It’s all up to you.”

“I want you to know,” Harry whispered, shifting closer. So Louis propped his head up on his free hand, the one that wasn’t busy caressing the omega’s wrist, and he smiled as reassuringly as he could while Harry gathered his thoughts and the courage he needed to talk.

Harry told Louis about his childhood. He started slow at first, setting the scene and going back to before he was born in order to describe the situation his mother was in when she was pregnant. He talked about what it was like to live in one of the poorest counties in Oklahoma, what it felt like to know that meals were never a guarantee, and how he would frequently miss school to work odd jobs for extra money or help his mom with chores. How the world felt small and sharp like a dagger.

Harry’s upbringing was different from anything Louis had ever experienced, of course, given his middle class background which offered the privilege of never having to worry about these things. Louis hadn’t suspected Harry had grown up poor, but now that he knew, it didn’t surprise him. Harry didn’t have the typical entitled attitude of someone who was born into a life of wealth. He also had the awareness that privileged people tended to lack.

“So I guess I’m hoping you don’t think I’m some spoiled omega who has everything handed to him. I know I’m greedy-”

“But you’re not-”

“And materialistic,” Harry continued, ignoring his protests. “But I’m hoping this will give reason to it. It’s like, I worry about money all the time, even though I haven’t had to worry about paying bills in years. I can’t make the anxiety go away.”

“I’m sorry, love.” Louis stayed quiet after that and hoped his emotions showed through with the gentle touch connection between them. Yeah, maybe Harry was materialistic, but that aligned directly with Louis’ weirdly specific need to spoil him, so. It worked out.

Louis then told Harry the grimy details of his own childhood, to even the playing field. Harry already knew about his mom and the houseful of siblings, but he didn’t know many details, so Louis shared them now. He kept his voice soft, because it felt right to speak quietly, especially when the distance between their bodies was infinitesimal. Harry had his cheek pillowed on his hands as he blinked up at Louis, listening intently and asking questions at all the right times, laughing along in giggled muffled against the sheets.

“Hey, by the way, have you seen the shirt I wore yesterday?”

“Oh, uhh. Why do you need the shirt you wore yesterday?”

“Thought I put it in the hamper, but I guess I misplaced it. Must be going crazy.”

Harry pressed his face into the mattress and laughed a little. “Yeah, maybe you are.”



&&&



Their last three days together flew by in a flash. It seemed like the seconds ticked away faster whenever Harry wanted them to slow down so he could enjoy the moment. He was happy and enjoying the end of his vacation, but the promise of a return to his normal life was a rude awakening. Worst of all, he was afraid to leave Louis and never see him again.

On Friday, they visited the aquarium where Louis’ sister used to volunteer. Louis was affiliated with them, and helped them with a lot of conservation work, so the workers were very friendly and invited them to the back where they had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with the animals in captivity. All of them were there because they couldn’t survive on their own, due to injury or sickness, and as soon as they were rehabilitated, they would be released to the wild.

Harry sat on the edge of the large tank which was twenty feet deep and the size of a tennis court, ripping off pieces of lettuce and throwing them into the water for the manatees. He didn’t even think about the possibility of getting in the tank with them until the supervisor returned, brandishing two wetsuits for them to borrow.

It was an unforgettable experience. Harry had never worn a wetsuit before, let alone swam with a tank of manatees. They were ginormous up close, big and gray and swimming so gracefully through the water. They swam to Harry when he slipped into the tank, curious and friendly. He and Louis helped the workers clean the tank and retrieve one of the baby manatees for her daily medical checkup.

By the time the day was over, Harry was exhausted and happy and resting his head on Louis’ shoulder, wet hair dripping, because he was so grateful for the entire day. He’d learned so much and even discovered a hidden interest of his. They went out to dinner at a rooftop bar with an incredible view of the ocean, and on the drive back to the house they plugged in Harry’s phone and screamed the lyrics to the songs that came on shuffle, their voices lost in the roar of the wind.

Since Saturday was their last full day, they decided to stay on the beach rather than driving somewhere else and having to deal with the weekend traffic. They woke up and got out of bed early, going for a walk down the road to watch the sunrise on the bridge over Lover’s Key. Louis spotted a pod of dolphins and they watched them pop out of the water every fifty meters before diving down again and showing up further down the shoreline. It felt like a movie scene, cinematic and just plain gorgeous.

On the beach, Harry felt flushed from the hot, burning sun shining bright on his bare skin. He was a little sweatier than usual, and debating jumping in the ocean to cool off, when he looked over and caught Louis staring at him.

“What?”

Louis pressed his lips together, “Nothing.” But Harry had already caught the flare of his nostrils, the dark of his eyes. Alrighty, then.

“I’m gonna go for a swim,” he informed, stretching out his long legs before standing up from the lounge chair. If there was one thing he would get out of this week, it was the pleasant tan of his skin. His acquaintances back in NYC would be jealous, just like his future self would be jealous of his current self. It was difficult not to dread going back to the city.

“Be careful.”

“I’ve got nothing to worry about, I know you’ll keep an eye on me,” Harry teased, throwing a wink back at Louis for good measure. It was a little too tempting to sway his hips as he walked towards the shoreline, but the sand made it hard to keep his footing, and he stumbled unattractively before righting himself and pointedly ignoring Louis’ laughter.

The water wasn’t as refreshing as Harry would’ve liked, but that was all right because after a minute of wading up to his knees, Louis charged after him and nearly tackled him into the surf. They rolled around in the waves and laughed and shrieked and definitely swallowed too much seawater. Harry wasn’t even mad about getting his hair wet, if it meant giving Louis a piggyback ride, or doing handstands with him in the water.

“Any idea what you want to do for dinner tonight?” Louis asked, once they had settled down enough to have a conversation that didn’t only consist of yelling in between moments of trying to dunk each other under the waves. Currently, Harry had his arms wrapped around Louis’ shoulders, as Louis held him in a bridal carry. It was a less strenuous position in the water, easing Harry’s full weight into something more manageable. Being held in Louis’ arms like this made him feel like a real omega, whatever that meant.

He was about to suggest dinner on the beach, before he remembered what he saw this morning, on the edge of the countertop where the pileup of Louis’ mail resided. On the top was a flyer for the county fair.

Compared to Harry’s current lifestyle, it seemed like a mundane event. Easy to overlook. But Harry had a soft spot in his heart for carnivals, and he hadn’t been to one since high school, when he still lived in Oklahoma.

So he brought it up, asked if they could go.

Louis was understandably confused. “You want to go to the county fair with me?”

Harry probably looked like the kind of omega who would turn his nose up at the mention of the words “county fair.” It wasn’t exactly the fancy restaurant or expensive store a sugar baby would tend to gravitate towards, but alas. Harry was realizing that he wanted to do everything with Louis. Not just luxurious dinners or sailboat rides. Not just walks down private beaches or scenic kayaking adventures.

Harry wanted anything with Louis. He would’ve said yes to dinner at McDonalds, or a date in a Walmart parking lot. He would’ve even agreed to it if Louis suggested they sit down at the table and start filing his taxes. Maybe Harry was desperate to spend time with him, given he’d never see him again after their last day together tomorrow, but he was suddenly realizing how little Louis’ money actually mattered. If Louis went bankrupt tomorrow morning, Harry would still feel this way about him. If he had to live in a cardboard box underneath the highway bridge, Harry would follow him there. Undoubtedly.

This kind of devotion scared him, because he’d never felt it before. Not for a friend, not for his family, and certainly not for a romantic partner. And Louis was none of those, not really. He was in a category all his own—one Harry struggled to define.

“I love carnivals,” Harry said, clinging to Louis for dear life. His skin was slippery in the water, greased up from the sunblock that was steadily washing away with the waves. “Do you not like carnivals? Tell me you like carnivals.”

“I like carnivals,” Louis laughed, squeezing Harry’s waist. The gesture made his insides do somersaults. They were just standing here in the water, no longer play-fighting, but the alpha hadn’t made any moves to put some distance between them, so Harry decided to enjoy it while it lasted. “I’m just surprised you want to go to one, is all. How’d you even find out about it?”

“The flyer was on the counter. It seems fun.” And you seem like the exact person I’d like to go to the carnival with, he didn’t add, even though it was true. Louis was funny and easygoing, he knew how to have a good time. He also didn’t mention how he was willing to hang out with Louis at McDonald’s or Walmart or whatever other undesirable place he could think of.

“Mm, I don’t see why not. Wanna eat there, or have dinner first?”

“Let’s eat here. Have a nice romantic dinner on the beach for our last night together,” Harry joked, even though the mention of their limited time together sent a pang of worry through his heart. In less than twenty-four hours, he would be on a flight back to New York. No more Louis, no more fairytale.

Louis agreed with a quiet “Okay,” and a roll of his eyes, probably at the idea of a romantic dinner. He squeezed Harry’s hips one last time before letting him go, his feet touching the sand, distance between them now. Harry still felt overheated from the sun, even in the water, and Louis’ burning gaze tracking his every movement didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that Louis smelled so, so good. Even better than a few days ago, when he let Harry come close enough to press his nose to his collarbone and breathe him in. He wasn’t sure how that was possible, how Louis’ scent would be even more pleasing to him now than it was just this morning, even.

They took turns showering in the master bathroom, Hary going first because it took more time for him to get dressed. He took the added time to dry his hair and touch up with the curling wand before joining Louis in the kitchen to make dinner. Louis didn’t say anything about what he was wearing, but Harry caught his eyes sliding over to him every time he thought Harry wasn’t paying attention.

The county fair was inland, where the air was muggy and hot. Luckily, as the sun set, it began to cool off. Louis found a parking spot for his nice car among the regular ones, and Harry grabbed his hand and tugged him to the gates.

“Who knew you’d be so excited about this,” Louis mused, fastening the neon band on Harry’s wrist. His fingers were gentle, brushing against his skin.

“You must not know much about me, then,” Harry teased, pulling his hand out of the alpha’s grasp. It was a joke because Louis knew more about him than any of his other sugar daddies combined. But he wasn’t sure Louis was aware of that.

The fairgrounds were chaotic and full of energy and the scents of strangers. Colorful lights and loud noises, crowds of excited people waiting in line and laughing and talking. The cloying smell of fried food followed them everywhere, urging them to buy funnel cake, kettle corn, or cheese fries. It was almost too loud for them to have a conversation, so Harry clung to Louis by the sleeve of his jean jacket and tugged him along excitedly as they took in all what the carnival had to offer. He had this frantic feeling inside that he should stick close to Louis because their time together was limited.

Harry pulled them off to the side so they weren’t in anyone’s way and took a moment to look around, assessing his options. Rides, games, food, he wasn’t sure what he wanted... He spun around and ended up looking at Louis again, who was patiently waiting for him to decide. The expression on his face was clearly endeared, lips pressed together, failing to hide a smile.

“Let’s keep walking,” Harry shouted over the noise. Louis agreed and indulged Harry on his search for the perfect beginning activity. No food or drinks until after rides, and the games were fun to play when they were too tired for spinning or being thrown about. The ferris wheel was good for a romantic moment at the end of the night, so they would have to save that for later. The swinging chairs looked fun but the line was too long right now. However…

Harry grinned and pulled them towards the carousel. Louis laughed but didn’t complain, and they leant against the metal railing as they waited for their turn, discussing their plans for the rest of the night. Harry wanted to go on as many rides as they could manage, while Louis requested the bumper cars and otherwise let the omega decide the schedule.

“You look so happy,” Louis said, grinning at him.

“More than usual?”

“Usually you look like you’re two seconds away from snapping at everyone, so, yeah.”

“Really?” Countless people had told him he had resting bitch face before, but whenever he looked in the mirror he didn’t see it. If it was true, it came in handy, warding off random strangers who might otherwise approach him on the street. Resting bitch face was a necessity in New York.

“You get this furrow in your brows when you’re around a big crowd of people, and your jawline gets sharper,” Louis explained, “like you’re biting back a snarky comment. It’s amusing, but I prefer this Harry over that one.”

Was this Louis’ flirting? Harry squinted at him. It was hard to be sure, but he had that look on his face that he always had when he teased Harry.

“When you’re relaxed, your face smoothes out and you look much more serene.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“I’m not!” They were both laughing when Louis held Harry’s face in his hands and squeezed his cheeks to prove his point. His hands were warm and soft, always soft. The action brought them closer together and Harry grasped the alpha’s shoulders just to keep himself upright as he got all blushy from the attention.

On the ride, Harry chose a sleek black horse on the edge while Louis took the one next to him. As they waited for it to begin, he couldn’t contain his excitement and Louis kept looking over him and laughing. Harry’s horse was decked out in sparkling, glowing jewels while Louis’ was much more casual, a pretty brown shade with a standard western saddle. When the ride started and they felt the summer wind in their hair, their laughter from before bubbled over and they just couldn’t stop.

It’d been so long since he last felt this carefree around an alpha, and he was going to enjoy it for all it was.



&&&



Louis couldn’t stop looking at him. For all intents and purposes, he was glowing—rosy cheeks, windswept hair, and an adorable smile, dimples included, that made Louis’ heart thump faster against his ribcage.

Harry was wearing a ridiculous black button-up with pink flamingos printed on it, unbuttoned to the top of the butterfly tattoo Louis had the pleasure and distress of laying his eyes on every day for the last week, whenever he caught Harry shirtless or sat near him for hours on the beach. He was also wearing jean shorts rolled up to the pockets, and the sight of his bare thighs just right there for anyone to see made Louis blush and turn away at least a dozen times. It wasn’t that Louis thought Harry’s outfit was indecent, but that he himself couldn’t stand to look at him without having some sort of reaction, his scent changing to reflect his arousal, because apparently an omega in jean shorts and an endearingly hideous shirt was what did it for him.

Deep down, Louis knew it wasn’t just any omega in shorts and a flamingo shirt that would make him feel this way. After a week together, he was ready to admit that to himself. Damn the consequences. Harry was cute, and he made Louis feel things. It didn’t have to be complicated. Right?

After the carousel ride, they were both on an apparent adrenaline high and managed to ride every ride at the park within the next two hours. Harry kept tugging him to the next one after they’d exit the first, and by the last few rides he wasn’t just grabbing Louis’ sleeve anymore, but actually entwining their fingers and pulling him along. As unconventional as it was, he was happy to just follow the omega wherever he wanted to go. Maybe that made him a bad alpha, for not taking charge and commandeering the lead, guiding his omega around like a lost puppy, but he didn’t care.

Once they exhausted all the rides, they played a few games. They lost miserably at the rope ladder climb and the balloon and dart game. Harry was surprisingly competitive, and even more surprisingly good at ring toss. Louis had never seen anyone get a ring on the bottle before. He was closer than anyone else trying, and people actually stopped what they were doing to watch his technique and see if he was actually going to succeed.

Louis felt oddly proud as strangers actually began cheering him on. Harry was glowing under the attention and the bright carnival lights. His cheekbones were shining with a tinge of sweat, and he looked like an angel. His bottom lip was wet from licking it in concentration. He asked Louis to kiss his last ring for good luck, which Louis did after an exasperated huff.

Of course that was the ring that finally landed on the neck of the bottle. Louis was so shocked, his jaw dropped open. The crowd of people around them hollered and congratulated Harry, as he threw his arms around Louis in celebration.

“Go ahead, pick your prize!”

Harry looked back at Louis for consensus before picking the gigantic sloth hanging on the corner of the stall. It was bigger than him and when he hugged it in his arms, it completely engulfed him. Louis couldn’t stop laughing.

“This is so silly,” Harry said, a few minutes later as they were walking towards the churros. He had his face pressed against the sloth’s soft fur as he cuddled the stuffed animal, but Louis could see he was beaming.

“You’re silly, you big winner,” Louis countered, nudging him in the shoulder. “What food do you want?”

“Fries and cotton candy.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Lemonade?”

The hopeful look on his face struck Louis as so kissable, he had to curl his hands into fists and dig his nails into his palms to curb the urge. After a quick scan, it was clear that all the tables and benches were full, so he herded Harry over to a quiet area at an empty stall. Here, he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.

“Wait here and I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Okay.” Harry hopped up onto the counter and hugged the big sloth, rubbing his cheek against its fur. He swung his feet back and forth and twirled a curl between his fingers.

Louis patted his knee awkwardly and found it hard to walk away. Even when he was standing in line, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of Harry who was still sitting just where he left him, casually observing the crowd. Louis’ inner alpha was so pleased with itself for giving the omega an “order” and having him actually comply.

Harry must’ve sensed Louis looking at him, even from a distance, because he caught his gaze and started making funny faces at him. Louis entertained him right back, as he moved up in the line, but soon it was his turn to order and he had to turn his back.

It took a long time for the fries to be ready because they’d just started a fresh batch, and then he had to go to a second stall for cotton candy, which meant waiting in another line. By the time he’d managed to balance all the food in his hands, at least ten minutes had passed.

He turned around, expecting to see Harry still waiting where Louis left him, maybe playing with his phone to pass the time. The sight that actually greeted his eyes confused him. For a moment. He saw Harry still sitting on the empty booth, the big sloth resting next to him.

He saw three guys standing there, a little too close, talking to him.

The thing about Harry was that he drew attention wherever he went, no matter what he was doing. He turned heads, people’s gazes following him subconsciously as he worked a room or even just walked down the sidewalk. He could part a crowd with a simple glance. It was like everyone wanted a second look, and doubletakes were common enough that Harry didn’t even react to the feeling of their eyes on him anymore. Louis had suspected this was how things worked for Harry ever since he first saw him, but it wasn’t until the omega joined him at the bar for his business deal that Louis really got to see it in action. It was like, when he walked in the room, everyone stopped what they were doing just to look at him. He was magnetic.

The attention wasn’t always good, though. Clearly. It could get him into trouble.

Louis stormed over there just to get a better look, a better gauge on the situation. He didn’t want to go batshit crazy if it was just an innocent and harmless conversation between Harry and these strangers. They looked like high school kids, big enough to be dangerous but sort of hunched and slouching like they hadn’t grown into their bodies yet. Them not knowing their own potential made the situation more precarious. One sniff was all it took for Louis to know there were two betas and one alpha, newly presented, in the group. The alpha was the biggest one, in the center, the one a little too close to Harry.

Louis nearly dropped all the food in his arms when he got close enough to get a read on Harry. He was uncomfortable, curling in on himself like a flower to a storm, trying to push away from them even though there was nowhere for him to escape. He was cornered, and his expression was a tumultuous mix of annoyed and worried.

It was hard to account for what happened next. Louis was a mess of something he’d never felt before, boiling beneath his skin.

He had no time to think, just dumped everything onto the counter and rushed over there.

He said something like what’s going on here? and the relief in Harry’s eyes when he appeared was all the fuel Louis needed to stand between them and shove the ringleader backwards in a weirdly animalistic action of rage.

The alpha stumbled, and then growled.

Louis growled back. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up with the electricity prickling in the air.

“He belong to you?” the alpha taunted. “This your little omega bitch?”

“Fuck you,” Harry said.

“Shut up, pantyslicker. Knothole.”

Louis wasn’t an aggressive alpha by any stretch of the imagination. All of his omega friends liked to describe him as soft and gentle, the kind of guy who prefered to capture spiders and release them outside rather than kill them. He was more of a hugger than anything, and he’d never gotten into a fight before.

Still.

“Back off,” Louis growled. “Don’t you dare call him that.”

He gave him a moment to back away, but the alpha stepped closer and snarled.

And then Louis punched him in the face.

His knuckles connecting with skin and bone caused a sickening crack to ring through the air like thunder. Harry whimpered behind him. All of it was a shock. The alpha lunged at Louis but Louis blocked his hands and his friends held him back to stop it from escalating.

Louis was ready to go again but he was clearly the stronger alpha with more to lose, and it wasn’t even a question in this moment that he would defend Harry even if it meant taking on two betas and an alpha all at once. The alpha must’ve seen some sort of unwavering determination in his eyes, along with the pure rage at someone like Harry being wronged, because he didn’t resist too much when his friends pulled him back.

“Frigid bitch!” one of them shouted at Harry as they dragged the feral alpha away.

Louis growled at them until they were out of sight. The chaos of the carnival continued on around them. His eyes kept scanning the crowd in case they decided to come back for more.

“Louis, thank you, I...”

He whipped around and laid his eyes on the scared omega. “Fuck, are you okay? What happened? Did they touch you? Let me see-”

Harry remained very still as Louis scanned over his body for any injuries or maltreatments. He ran his palms down his legs, turned his wrists over, rubbed his back, and peered at his face.

“Dove, what happened,” he whispered, once he was sure nothing was physically wrong. If anything, Harry smelled a little bit like the alpha who harassed him, which made Louis livid.

“They came up to me as soon as you went to order,” Harry  replied shakily, taking a big breath. It seemed difficult for him to form words, and it was apparent he was making a real effort for Louis’ sake. “Asked if I was alone. I said I was waiting for you, but they didn’t believe me. The alpha touched my leg and I pushed him away. That’s when you came.” Harry laughed weakly, wiping sparkly tears away from his eyes. His voice was slow and soft and he looked more than a little dazed.

“Harry..?”

“Sorry,” he sniffled, “You made me really spacey with all of your growling.”

“Oh shit, sorry about that.” He hadn’t even thought-

“It’s okay. Thanks for defending me, I really appreciate it. Just, keep an eye on me please. I might drop.”

Louis’ eyes widened. Omegas dropped for a lot of reasons, whether that be a lack of physical touch or a surplus of anxiety and distress. An alpha’s growl had the potential to put an omega in a headspace that made them pliant and floaty, much more willing to do what they were told. Which was obviously dangerous if the omega was in the wrong hands. That was why it was the sort of phenomena omegas tried to avoid unless they were with their bondmate, in a safe place. While dropping in the presence of a mate could be a pleasurable, intimate experience, it was only frightening and scary when the omega was alone.

“I’m okay,” Harry promised at Louis’ worried expression. He had starry eyes and he was still sitting on the counter, so he was much taller than Louis. His scent was sweet and comforting, the same flowery fragrance Louis buried his nose in when Harry invited him to do so on the couch a few nights ago.

“Do you want to go home? Do you want me to call Niall? What do you need me to do?”

“I think I’m okay to stay here, as long as I stick close to you. I don’t wanna let this ruin our last night together. Is that all right?”

“Of course.” Louis had to trust Harry on this to know when it was too much and tell him if they needed to leave. After a week together he knew Harry was a smart omega who didn’t want to cause any unnecessary trouble. “As long as you’re fine with it then I am too.”

Harry slid off the countertop and stood on unsteady legs. Louis’ hands hovered over him in case he was going to fall over. He was clumsy even when he wasn’t on the verge of dropping, so now he was practically an accident waiting to happen.

They decided to find some other place to eat in case those guys decided to come back with a vengeance, and they managed to find an empty table in the midst of all the people.

Harry scooched his chair closer, and they sat huddled together as they picked at the salty fries and shared the large lemonade. Since Harry almost dropped, his scent had strengthened and was now emitting floral notes, broadcasting the message that he was harmless and benign. It was the kind of self-defense mechanism that made him less likely to be targeted in a fight, but the scent was noticeable enough that people were staring at them.

Louis glared at people who gawked for too long or sent judgemental leers in Harry’s direction. The omega was oblivious to most of it, picking at his fries and dipping them into the tub of ketchup, getting his fingers sticky by accident. Louis handed him a napkin and growled at a man who was trying to catch a whiff of Harry’s scent, nostrils flared.

The man looked away, embarrassed to be caught. Louis’ growling made it worse for Harry, though, whose expression turned even more dopey as he rubbed his face against Louis’ shoulder and nuzzled into his neck.

“You okay?”

“Just feel all fuzzy and warm. It’s good. I’m just scared I’m gonna lose you.”

Scared I’m gonna lose you. Well if those weren’t the exact words to describe how Louis felt. He knew Harry was speaking literally, talking about becoming physically separated from each other in the large crowd of carnival-goers, but… It hit close to home, knowing Harry would be gone in less than a day.

“Don’t worry, I’m right here. I’ll be here. You won’t lose me.” And because it felt necessary, he reached out for the omega’s non-ketchupy hand and intertwined their fingers for emphasis. Harry smiled at him, his pupils blown, making his eyes look darker than usual. His scent somehow seemed even more mouth-watering than it was just yesterday and Louis had no explanation for that, except that it was good Harry was leaving tomorrow because he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to hold out much longer.

His self-control only lasted so long before it crumbled to dust, especially when Harry was turning every corner just to tease him, sending him a flirty wink or calling him “handsome.” That wasn’t really what got to him anyway, because Harry took his cue and made it more of a joke than anything, but the moments where Harry was carefree and happy made him absolutely irresistible.

Harry was the most beautiful person Louis had ever seen, no doubt about it. But what sold the deal was how beautiful he was on the inside, too. Going into this, he’d expected to be hosting a spoiled omega just to do Niall a favor. He thought they’d be like two ships passing in the night, never really hanging out and only sometimes seeing each other around the house. He thought Harry would be busy trying to seduce random alphas or persuading Louis to take him on yet another shopping spree. In no way did he expect the omega to actually want to hang out with him, day in and day out. And yet.

And yet, here they were.

“So, what’s next?”

“Bathroom. And then swinging chairs?” The expression on his face was so hopeful, there was no way Louis would ever say no.

Louis smiled and waited for him outside the omega bathrooms, nervous now about letting him out of his sight, after what happened last time. People pointed at the giant sloth in his arms as they walked by, but otherwise stayed out of his way. Louis was still emitting vaguely threatening pheromones from the adrenaline of defending Harry.

“Is it noticable?” Harry asked, rejoining Louis outside. He looked worried, green eyes wide.

“Is what noticeable?”

“I’m slick, just a little bit. Can you tell?”

He nearly choked on his own spit at the question. Harry was so bold about these things, but right now he seemed shy, not meeting Louis’ eyes. It was admirable that he had the guts to ask.

Louis wanted to give him an honest answer, awkward as it was, so he tentatively sniffed the air. He could smell Harry’s lovely floral scent above the rest of the crowd’s, and it was certainly stronger than usual, but maybe his nose was just more attuned to the omega’s scent after a week of spending so much time together, sleeping in the same bed, and so on.

Then he caught the tiniest hint of arousal, wildflowers mixed with honey and rose, and his mouth watered.

“Uhhh. It’s- It’s not too obvious. I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t said something. You’re good. Just stick close to me so I can defend your honor again,” he laughed awkwardly. That last part was a joke but not really.

Harry pressed his hands against his own smile. “I can’t believe you punched him in the face. That was crazy.”

Louis cringed. “Sorry, I’m usually not like that-”

“No, it was good, thank you. He deserved it. He wouldn’t have left if you hadn’t done that. They said some pretty awful things while you were gone.”

They stared at each other for a minute. Harry’s scent was getting stronger and it was making Louis’ head spin. He wanted to lead him to a private place away from all the wandering eyes and pin him against the wall, take care of the omega’s needs the way they always should be taken care of. He wanted to show him that sex was so much better when his partner actually cared about him. He wanted to make Harry feel good.

“So… Swinging chairs?”



&&&



“I get the feeling you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t like shopping,” Harry observed, sliding his sunglasses over his eyes and resting back against the comfortable leather of the car. The weather was bad, so they were in Louis’ Tesla today, rather than the convertible. The windows were rolled up and the air conditioning was on in an effort to curb the heavy humidity from the impending storm.

Harry felt a bit feverish, and he was really hoping he wasn’t coming down with a cold, because travelling while sick was not a pleasant experience. He felt hot and sweaty, but the AC was making him shiver. They had to be at the airport in only a few hours and he was worried about feeling sick by then.

“It’s not my favorite activity,” Louis admitted. He had one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the center console, palm up like an invitation. Harry wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or not, so he kept his hands to himself.

Last night was still a bit of a blur and Harry knew he would never have clarity. The sequence of events after Louis defended him was hazy at best. He’d been on the verge of dropping all night, which should’ve been scary but somehow wasn’t, with Louis by his side. It was like his inner omega knew Louis would take care of him no matter what. Harry trusted him. They stayed close to each other and Louis even let Harry nuzzle into his neck a few times. It felt safe there, comforting.

After the swinging chairs, they got on the ferris wheel and had the pure luck of watching the fireworks show from the ride. It was cold with the wind, and Louis let Harry squeeze into his jacket with him, which of course made Harry very happy. After that, they rode the carousel one last time before going home. Harry popped back some pheromone soothers and then crawled into bed, passing out without changing into his pajamas.

“I think we can find some ways to make it fun.” Most of Harry’s daddies didn’t like to shop either, and over the years he’d learned all the tips and tricks to keep them interested enough to continue spending money. The key was to know what he wanted and not be indecisive, and to involve the alpha as much as possible so he wasn’t just standing there without something to do.

By the time they emerged from the second store, Harry already had four bags in his hands and Louis offered to carry them. Louis was surprisingly patient, and smiled genuinely whenever Harry included him. Harry would pull a shirt off the rack and ask him what he thought of it, if it was something he would like to see on Harry or if he should keep looking. At the checkout, he pulled out his card casually and never flinched at the total, which Harry found incredibly hot.

“Where to next?”

It was starting to drizzle but he didn’t let it bother him as they stepped outside, happy he decided to wear a bandana in his hair today because it was a lost cause trying to tame his frizzy curls in weather like this. Louis produced an umbrella from the car and they walked down the sidewalk side by side. There was a Gucci store not too far from here and Harry was about to suggest that, before Louis pointed to the iconic blue awnings of a store not too far away.

“C’mon, let me buy you something special.”

As if the other four bags of gifts weren’t special enough. Harry’s eyes widened as he saw the Tiffany & Co. sign. He certainly wasn’t going to complain about jewelry.

Inside was full was sparkling crystals and precious metals that very nearly made Harry’s mouth water. When he was in New York, he spent a lot of time wandering around Diamond District, partly because the jewels were so pleasing to him and partly because he was hoping a wealthy alpha would take notice of him. He’d actually met one of his sugar daddies there, so all the time wasted wandering from shop to shop had actually paid off. By now he knew everything about precious stones and metals and the necessary appraisal process to avoid being cheated.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” one of the jewelers greeted, shaking his hand. Apparently she recognized him. “Are you here for the bracelet from the Victoria collection?

“For the ring, actually. I called about it on Wednesday?” Louis asked tentatively.

“Oh, yes. I have it right here.”

While she was busy, Louis pulled Harry over to one of the displays and pointed out a gorgeous diamond bracelet with jewels in the shape of butterflies. “I’m getting this one for my sister’s birthday,” he explained.

“It’s beautiful,” Harry whispered. “She’ll love it.”

“I came here a few days ago after work. For my sister, I mean. But I also saw something that reminded me of you, and I wanted to get it. For you. If you want it?”

Harry was speechless and staring at Louis' bright blue eyes which were somehow the most beautiful gemstones in the entire store. He was about to say something, possibly stumble through an answer, when the jeweler came over and showed them the ring.

“I know it looks like an anniversary band, but I thought you’d like the diamonds on this one,” Louis explained. “If you don’t like it, you can look around for something else, or we could go to another store, but we’d have to get it sized and it takes some time so-”

His heart was pounding and he could barely form a coherent thought, yet somehow he had the wherewithal to weakly ask, “You already got this one sized? How?”

“I wrapped string around your finger while you were asleep.” Louis shifted and scratched at his collarbone. He stared at the glass countertop, apparently too embarrassed to look Harry in the eye—which was all well and good, because Harry was on the verge of tears and he didn’t exactly want Louis to witness him weeping at the strange image in his mind of Louis picking out a ring he thought Harry would like, ordering the correct size, and then bringing him here to try it on.

Harry had a lot of thoughts on the situation, too many for him to sort through at the moment. Instead of saying anything, he pressed his lips together and accepted the ring, sliding it onto his finger. It was a comfortable fit and the way the diamonds sparkled in the surrounding lights made him feel lightheaded in the best way.

“It’s okay if you don’t like it. We can look around for something else-”

“Lou.”

“-or go to another store, or find something online, or-”

“Louis. Stop. It’s so beautiful. I love it.”

Without thinking of what he was doing, he threw his arms around the alpha’s shoulders and smothered him in a hug. Louis was stiff as a board at first, before he tentatively patted Harry’s back, which then turned into gently rubbing his thumbs back and forth, but his lack of responsiveness was okay because Harry was expressive enough for the both of them.

“Um, I’m glad you like it.” Louis seemed to remember himself, standing taller and squaring his shoulders. He suddenly looked like an alpha proud to take care of an omega, proud to give Harry a gift like this.

Harry pulled away just enough to grip Louis’ biceps and stare into his eyes, hoping to convey what words couldn’t. “Thank you so much.”

It was just a stupid ring, a material item, but it was beautiful, and expensive, and it held a certain sentimental meaning to Harry he wasn’t sure even Louis understood. More than anything, it was something to remember him by, a momento kept in a safe place, to look down at it whenever he wanted and know that their time together was so short but somehow it made Harry feel so whole.

Louis swallowed and nodded, and Harry hugged him again until the jeweler awkwardly cleared her throat. They filled out the paperwork, and when they left the store, the new ring glinted in the daylight, even despite the overcast skies.

“Hey, are you feeling all right?”

Apparently Louis noticed the way Harry was pressing the back of his palm against his forehead to check if he had a fever. He felt exhausted all of a sudden, and his skin was clammy but he chalked that up to the humidity. He hadn’t been very hungry for breakfast this morning, so it was probably the lack of food that was making him feel like this.

“You look a little pale,” Louis worried. “Let’s go find somewhere to sit down and get you some water.”

“I’m fine,” Harry smiled, but it didn’t even sound convincing to his own ears.

Louis just rolled his eyes and pulled Harry along. They found a juice bar within walking distance, one that used locally sourced fruits and advertised their full vegan status, which of course made Louis huff and say that he would never step foot in here under normal circumstances, but Harry wasn’t feeling well and they needed a place to sit.

Harry ended up resting at a table in the corner, with a glass of water and a green smoothie in front of him. The smoothie was deemed a monstrosity by Louis, but it looked healthy and the menu said it would fortify his immune system.

“Have you been feeling sick all day?”

“Sorta…”

Louis frowned at him before meaningfully pushing both drinks closer to him. “You should’ve told me.”

“I didn’t want to ruin our last day together.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“I’m fine, seriously.” They only had an hour before they had to leave for the airport, and Harry didn’t want to waste it by sitting here with Louis staring at him like he was going to collapse at any moment.

He made Harry drink the whole smoothie, and only once the cup was completely empty did they leave the juice bar in search of another place to stop. The omega wasn’t feeling any better after that, but he pasted a smile on for Louis’ sake and tried not to show any outward signs of his illness. He felt strange, restless, burning hot but with chills creeping up his spine, and his stomach hurt.

The sight of designer fashion spread out in the store in front of him was just enough to distract him. An attendant came over to help them and soon she was pulling clothes for Harry to try on in the dressing room.

“What do you think of this?” Harry asked, dramatically flinging back the curtain and posing in front of Louis who was sitting on the chair near the tri-fold mirror with his legs spread, elbows resting on his knees.

There was a very distinct urge for Harry to crawl onto his lap. Harry ignored it.

“Nice. I love the trousers.”

“Thanks. Me too.” They were yellow corduroy bell bottoms that sat low on his waist. He did a little dance to make Louis laugh, before pulling the curtain back and trying on something new.

After a few more outfits, he figured Louis was probably on the verge of total boredom.

“Hey Lou, can you help me with something?”

“Sure.”

The curtain pulled back and Louis’ jaw nearly dropped to the floor. He yanked the curtain back in place like he was afraid a passerby would see Harry like this, even though the store was empty aside from the attendant. The action left them confined in the cramped cubicle meant for only one person, and Harry was pleased with the proximity.

“What’s this?”

Louis had seen Harry in next to no clothes all week, but that didn’t stop the shock of witnessing him now. Apparently a black silk and lace kimono was what it took for him to stare at Harry like this. Every alpha had their thing, and apparently Louis was the kind who liked his omega to dress up just for him.

“I picked it out with you in mind.”

“Yeah?”

“Thought you’d like it,” Harry smiled, brushing the lace edging to the side to reveal more of his upper thighs. Barefoot and feeling slightly lightheaded with the impending cold he was coming down with, he leant against the mirror and positioned his legs in the best possible way, accentuating the aesthetic lines of his body.

“Oh, I definitely do.”

Ignoring the thrill in his heart, he tapped his fingernails against the mirror and opened his arms in a way that said so what are you going to do about it?

It was an invitation, like so many of the others Harry had insinuated and voiced over the past week—but this time it felt different. Every other time there had been a hint of teasing, a hint of a joke behind the offer. Now, he had never felt more serious in his life. His heart was thudding, aching, begging Louis to finally do something.

And for the first time, he did.

Maybe it was the time crunch, the fact that they had to leave for the airport in fifteen minutes and once Louis dropped him off, they would never see each other again. Maybe it was what Harry was wearing, specifically, the black silk and lace so smooth and soft against his skin, the way the open kimono draped over him and brushed against his thighs.

Maybe it was his scent Louis found irresistible enough to go back on every promise he made to keep distance between them, to stop the progression of their interactions from going too far. Harry’s scent had swelled and flooded the room, filled it with the fragrance of wildflowers and need , the kind of desperate need that left his hands shaking where they now laid limp and useless at his sides, stunned. Completely, beautifully stunned.

Louis’ lips were soft and insistent against Harry’s.

He smelled like amber and woods, like an entire forest from a fairytale, and Harry was so aching to lose himself in it. Louis’ scent was something hidden and untouched. Something absolute. It was inviting and comforting and it drew Harry in like a lure. He followed blindly, stupidly, to discover nothing but pleasure. He wanted to be covered in it.

Harry wasn’t sure, exactly, how they got here.

He melted under the alpha’s touching, his silk-clad back slipping against the mirror, sinking low enough that Louis had to grip his waist with one hand to keep him upright. He used the other hand to caress Harry’s jaw and tilt his face up for the angle he preferred.

He sure as hell wasn’t going to complain about how they got here.

His arms wound around Louis’ upper back. He clung to him, too overwhelmed to do anything else. Louis was the one doing all the work, propping Harry up against the mirror, tilting his head, and setting the pace. It was uncharacteristic of Harry to not take charge, to not try to guide the kiss in the direction he wanted, but he was so dizzy with emotion and Louis was already pleasing him in ways he didn’t know were possible. Harry couldn’t think. The kiss was eager and messy, wet with saliva and all of Harry’s emotions poured into it, like spilling a gallon of paint all over the pavement.

“Louis…” The utterance came out in a half-whisper, half-whimper, when the alpha pulled away to give them both an opportunity to breathe. A line of spit connected their lips, and Louis smiled, wiping it away, but Harry was too dazed to laugh about it. His mind was fuzzy.

“All right there, little dove?”

He settled his hands on Louis’ shoulders. Their hips were pressed together and Harry was already hard and aching. He squirmed, and the little bit of friction sent chills through his body. And then he felt it. How wet he was getting.

Louis rested their foreheads together and frowned. “You’re burning up.”

Harry closed his eyes. There was no way. No way.

He’d taken his suppressants every morning for four years. He never forgot.

He hadn’t gone through heat since he was twenty years old.

“Harry?”

He opened his eyes. He must’ve looked panicked, because Louis held onto him even tighter, supporting his entire weight against the mirror, and searched his face for what was wrong.

“Holy shit.”

Louis scrambled back, leaving Harry to sink to the floor. He understood.

“You’re going into heat.”

“I don’t know how this happened,” Harry said, his voice surprisingly even and calm. He was past the point of panic, feeling fear wash down his spine like buckets of ice water.

Louis’ palm was pressed to his mouth in shock. He pulled it away and stood in the corner with as much distance between them as possible in the small space. “We have to go, Harry. We can’t stay here.”

“I can’t go to the airport like this,” he whimpered.

“No, you’re right, absolutely not. C’mon, we’ve gotta get out of here.”

Harry took Louis’ proffered hand, letting the alpha pull him up to standing. He was dizzy and shaky and his vision prickled with sparks for a moment.

“Here, you have to get dressed.”

The kimono had already slipped down his shoulder from the passionate kissing. He tugged it off all the way and shakily draped it on the hanger before struggling into his clothes. His boxers were already soaked through with slick and the smell of his impending heat was filling the dressing area. It wasn’t as potent as usual, which was a blessing, and he wondered if it was because he was on suppressants. He was still in denial that he was going into heat but the signs were all there and he had to leave right now.

Louis grabbed his hand again and tugged him out of the store. The shopkeeper looked scandalized and Harry felt bad for causing a scene, but there was nothing he could do except call a measly I’m sorry over his shoulder as they left.

He stumbled out after the alpha, being pulled along at a brisk pace. “Where are we going?”

“There’s a heat clinic not too far from here.”

Another wave of panic hit him, broadcasted to the world through his pheromones which expressed every flicker of emotion. “Please, no,” he begged, twisting his fingers into the back of Louis’ shirt and trying to get him to stop. He hated heat clinics. They terrified him. They were full of unfamiliar people and scents and each room felt like a prison cell, with nowhere to run, nowhere to escape.

“Why not?” Louis asked, startled.

“I just can’t,” he cried. “I hate it there. I don’t feel safe. Please don’t make me go. Please, Louis.”

“Of course not. Hey, it’s okay, I’m not gonna force you to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s all up to you. It’s okay.”

Harry sniffled and rubbed at his nose, getting in the car when Louis opened the passenger’s side door for him.

“Is there a towel I can put on the seat?”

“I don’t give a fuck about the upholstery, Harry.”

“I’m not gonna ruin your nice car.” He pulled a hoodie from his carry-on, which was packed for the flight back to NYC, and folded it over the seat before sitting on top of it. Louis closed the door once he was situated and rounded the car to get in the driver’s side. As soon as his seatbelt was on, he pulled out of the parking lot and pulled out onto the main road which was riddled with typical Florida traffic.

“I have to leave tomorrow for a meeting in Vegas, and then after that I’ll be in LA,” he said slowly, staring at the road, giving Harry’s heat-addled brain the necessary time to comprehend. “You’re welcome to stay at the house for as long as you need. If that’s what you want, it’s all yours.”

“Okay,” Harry whispered. “Thank you.”

Louis gripped the wheel tighter, fingers clenching. “Why is this happening? Did you not take your suppressants?”

“I don’t know,” he cried, wiping tears away and curling up on the seat with his knees hugged to his chest. He didn’t blame Louis for being frustrated, but his irritated, displeased pheromones were making Harry’s inner omega incredibly nervous and insecure. He felt so bad for messing this up, for going into fucking heat when he was supposed to be on a flight back to the city, out of Louis’ life forever. Instead, the alpha had to deal with Harry’s panic and practically babysit him until they figured something out.

“Is there anyone you can call to come down here? A friend or something to keep an eye on you?”

Harry pressed the back of his hand to his mouth to muffle a sob at the insinuation that Louis would be leaving him. He was completely alone; he had no one. The only people he spent time with were his sugar daddies, and he would never ask any of them to look out for him during heat, unless he wanted to be taken advantage of.

“Hey, it’s gonna be okay,” Louis comforted. “We’ll figure it out.”

The use of we made Harry cry harder. He turned away, facing the window so Louis wouldn’t see how pathetic he was. He was still uncomfortably hard in his pants, soaking slick through the layers of his clothes, and he felt burning hot and chilly all at once. It dawned on him that the symptoms he’d been showing the past few days, feeling too warm, his nose more sensitive than usual, and his weakness today, were all signs that he was going into heat. The thought had floated through his mind, but he immediately dismissed it because he hadn’t skipped a day of suppressants in years. Yet somehow he was still going into heat.

“Harry, listen to me. If I noticed this was happening, I would’ve told you. I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up in your scent but I’m so sorry. I never would’ve let this happen.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s mine. I must’ve forgotten to take my meds.”

Louis stayed quiet, but he reached over the divide between them to hold Harry’s hand.



&&&



As soon as they got back home, Harry ran upstairs. Louis wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was worried, because Harry had been silently crying during the drive and stopped speaking after Louis decided to hold his hand.

He followed him upstairs, watching as Harry stumbled down the hall, heading for the guest room. If anyone asked, Louis was following because he was worried about the omega, which was true, but his proclivity for trailing after him like a lost puppy might’ve also had something to do with the fact that he smelled absolutely irresistible.

The desire to bend him over the nearest surface was manageable right now, but in an hour Louis knew he’d be biting his knuckles trying to keep his self-control in check. The deeper Harry fell into heat, the more Louis’ animal instinct insisted on taking over. There was a reason single omegas isolated themselves days before their heats began.

Harry was in heat. Louis still had yet to fully comprehend that little fact.

He turned the corner and followed the omega into the guest bathroom. Because he was worried. Harry was at the sink, counting the pills in his packet of suppressants. Something caught the corner of Louis’ eye, and he turned toward the bathtub, to see… Not a bathtub.

“What’s this,” he whispered.

Harry gasped, slamming his pills down on the countertop. “You’re not supposed to be in here!”

But Louis had already seen it, the bathtub full of blankets and pillows and clothes, everything entwined intricately into a neat and meticulous nest. And somewhere in the mess of his mind he had the stupid thought that of course Harry’s nest would be perfectly neat and orderly.

“Hey, is that my-”

“Get out, get out!” Harry shoved him away, closing the door in his face.

Louis stood there, dumbfounded and trying not to lust after how overwhelmed and cute Harry looked. His skin was glowing with sweat, and his cheekbones glistened in the light. His face was rosy, his hair was ruffled, and the green of his eyes appeared darker due to his blown pupils. And his smell, god, it was intoxicating, but all that was going through Louis’ mind was that he had to protect him.

“I counted them, and I didn’t skip any pills. I think I need to call my doctor,” Harry said through the closed door preventing them from engaging in a face-to-face conversation. “And it’s not a nest.”

Louis pressed the back of his hand against a private smile, just for him. “I didn’t say it was a nest.”

It was totally a nest.



&&&



After sobbing in front of the bathroom mirror for ten minutes, Harry splashed water on his face and rejoined Louis downstairs in the living room. The windows were open to allow the sea breeze to blow through the house, washing away Harry’s scent with each gust. Of course, Harry’s body kept emitting pheromones without his consent, so the smell of his heat stubbornly clung to the air despite the breeze.

“Hey, it’s gonna be okay.” Louis had been saying these same words a lot lately, as if he needed to reassure himself as much as he reassured Harry. “You’re safe here, and in a beautiful place to ride out your heat. It’s like, star treatment. In paradise.”

It didn’t feel like paradise anymore, not with Louis leaving, but Harry kept those feelings to himself. He smiled halfheartedly at Louis’ joke and shifted his weight from foot to foot, awkwardly standing in front of the alpha who was sitting tense on the couch.

“Come here. You look like you could use a hug.”

“I could use a lot of things.”

Louis patted his thigh. “Let’s start with a hug for now.”

“You want me to sit on your lap?”

“If you want to. I don’t mind,” and his face expressed the flash of a smirk, soon contained into a less intimidating smile. 

Harry had a lot of experience sitting on alphas’ laps, so he clambered onto Louis with more grace than he usually possessed, despite how shaky and off-kilter he felt. Louis immediately wrapped his arms around him and held him. He felt so safe and secure, comfort flooding through him in waves, that it was easier now to ignore how empty and desperate he felt.

“Little dove… You can relax now. You’re safe here. I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you,” Louis crooned into his ear, repeating the reassuring platitudes over and over in his soft, raspy voice, as if he knew how soothing it was to Harry to hear the alpha he adored so much saying these words to him.

He pressed his face into the crook of Louis’ neck and inhaled his scent right from the source. Subconsciously or not, the alpha was releasing a lot of comforting pheromones which made Harry feel woozy, like he was on his way to getting high. The closer he pressed, the better he felt. Louis rubbed his hips like he somehow knew they always got sore on the verge of his heat.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were nesting?”

“I wasn’t. I’m not.”

“I saw it with my own eyes.”

“...”

“Obviously that’s a sign that your heat was coming up. It would’ve been helpful to know.”

“I’ve never done it before,” he groaned. “It’s embarrassing!” It was a good thing his face was buried in Louis’ neck, because he was too mortified to look him in the eyes.

“It’s not embarrassing,” Louis argued, “It’s natural. I told you I grew up with a family full of omegas. Our entire house was constantly one giant nest. I know all the ins and outs, baby. It’s no big deal.”

“I hate you.”

“You don’t. You like me.” And Harry could feel Louis’ smile pressed against his own neck.

“I’m so unprepared. I haven’t had a heat in four years. None of my supplies are here, I-”

Louis pulled him back enough to press a finger against his lips, effectively shutting him up. It looked like he had something important to say, though, an idea. “You’re really close friends with Niall, right? He seemed so protective of you. I’m sure he’d be willing to fly down here and take care of you while I’m gone.”

Harry paused. “Take care like take care, or like take care ?”

Louis looked down. “Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Moments like these made him wonder if Louis was as into him as he thought he was. If he was okay with another alpha helping Harry through his heat, then maybe he didn’t like Harry all that much more than a friend. Which was sad. Because maybe Harry was wrong about the light he saw behind Louis’ eyes whenever he looked at Harry, or the way their scents meshed together so well.

“I’m not- I don’t want- I would never, with Niall-” Harry stuttered, wanting to pull at his hair because how could Louis suggest that? “But I think we should call him. To see if he can stay here with me and make sure I eat and stay hydrated.”

“I think that’s a good idea too. Let me call, love. You should rest.”

“Okay.” Harry rested his head on Louis’ shoulder again and closed his eyes, the world drifting in and out of focus as Louis pulled out his phone and dialed Niall’s number. He could hear their conversation, vaguely, but chose not to worry about it, instead of focusing on the soothing lull of Louis’ voice, and Niall’s concerned but calm demeanor on the other end of the line.

By the time Louis ended the call, they were both much more relaxed. “He’s gonna contact the airline for any openings on the next flight down here. What do you need from your apartment? I said I’d text him a list of things for him to bring.”

Harry blushed. “There’s a pink box, under my bed…”

His occupation made it so that he rarely felt like touching himself on his own time, given the frequent escapades with sugar daddies, but sometimes, when he was having a bad week, he’d schedule some time off, order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and award himself with a night of self love, swathed in the endless sheets of his king-sized bed. After, he’d slide the box back under his bed, and fall asleep watching rom coms on Netflix with his laptop propped up on the duvet.

That pink box, though. There was a knotting dildo among bottles of lube and other products he used before he went on suppressants.

“I’d buy you new toys, you know. You don’t have to use old stuff. I can run to the store once Niall gets here. Not gonna leave you alone.”

Harry covered his face in his hands. “Please don’t.”

Louis stared at him, and then he laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Harry scowled.

“You have no qualms about talking my ear off when it comes to the intricacies of your sex life with other people, but as soon as I mention masturbation, you get all blushy and flustered. Who knew it would make you so unsettled? It’s adorable.”

“Ew, don’t call it that,” he whined, burying his face in the alpha’s shoulder again. “And it’s not that .”

“Masturbation,” Louis said, and then repeated it at least five times for effect until Harry pinched his arm and he finally shut up, at least, until, “If it’s not that, then what is it?”

“The thought of you going to the store and buying me things to use during my heat. Things that will go inside me, Lewis, do you know how intimate and personal that is?”

“I do, Harold, that’s why I offered. But if you’re not comfortable with it, that’s fine. I’ll tell Niall about this pink box of yours.”

“Tell him not to look inside,” Harry rushed.

“He has to pack it into a suitcase, love.”

His bottom lip wobbled, and then—suddenly, stupidly—he was crying again. The whole situation was so humiliating, the shame of it felt like a weighted jacket pressing on him from all sides. Niall having to pack a box of sex toys and lube. Louis witnessing Harry slip into an unexpected heat. Harry sitting on an alpha’s lap and whimpering like a baby. Even the essence of heat itself, which turned an independent omega like Harry into a hormonal mess of desperation so severe, he was willing to submit to anyone just to quell the insatiable urge.

“Darling, don’t cry, it’s okay. You’re gonna be okay. If you write me a list of the things you need, I can hand it to the shopkeeper and they can pick everything out and ring me up so I won’t ever have to see it, and neither will Niall. Total privacy, full service.”

Louis rubbed his back when he didn’t respond, aside from a few ugly sniffles against his t-shirt. Harry could feel himself slipping away bit by bit as his perception turned hazier by the minute. He was a perfectionist, a control freak, the kind of person who could hardly ever let go. Even in bed, during a time that was supposed to be about relinquishing control, he could never fully relax. Sex was like a performance to him, something to achieve at, and there was always a crowd to please. It was always about more than just pleasure. Which was why he avoided heat at all costs. It disquieted him, it frightened him.

“Harry, babe…”

Heat made him so goddamn emotional. He caved, saying, “I’ll write the stupid list.”

“I promise I won’t look at it. Do you need anything else from New York?”

He wanted to be back in his lonely studio apartment so he could sob in privacy. Alas, that was impossible, so he sat very still on Louis’ lap and cried into his shoulder and wondered why the hell he was going into heat when he’d never skipped a day of suppressants. It was a question for his doctor, but he felt too far gone to call right now, so he was going to have to wait until he got back to the city to make an appointment and ask what the fuck was going on. He figured it was probably time to switch to an omega doctor, someone who would make him feel more comfortable than the judgemental and apathetic beta he usually visited.

“Should we talk about this?”

“About what?” Louis asked nonchalantly, as if he didn’t know.

“About how Niall, who is alpha by the way,” Harry said, his tone wry, “is coming to help me through my heat, while you’re leaving for a business trip.”

Aside from his jaw clenching, there were no other visible reactions, no stone cold jealousy or animalistic alpha rage. “I don’t mind what Niall does, as long as you’re safe and consenting to everything.”

Just once. Just once, Harry wanted Louis to break and show some real emotions. They’d gotten close today in the dressing room, when Louis lost his resolve and kissed him against the mirror in the heat of all the passion shared between them, but even then, his movements were careful and calculated like he was constantly determining and redetermining how far he could get before crossing a line. Just once, Harry wanted Louis to cross a line. To say fuck this, fuck responsibility, I want to stay with you and help you through this.

Instead, Louis was siccing Harry with Niall. Harry loved Niall, and Niall loved him, but only as friends. They were on the same page, and Harry knew there was no way Niall was going to even touch him.

Harry planned on locking the door to the bedroom and only gracing Niall with his presence on the first floor when he was coherent enough to keep his legs closed, rather than begging any living creature he came across to fuck him. While Harry had never had a heat around Niall before, he was fairly certain Niall would be able to keep it in his pants. Some alphas had more self-control than others, and Niall was one of the tame ones who only ever experienced emotions in mild doses and would never hurt a fly. Not to mention, it was a dangerous myth that alphas simply couldn’t help themselves when they smelt an omega in heat. Sure, it was incredibly difficult to resist, but the ability to walk away was always there.

“So you’re okay with leaving me with Niall.”

“He’s your best friend. And if I can’t stay, I want someone here who I trust. Niall and I are friends too, remember?”

Louis was too goddamn rational. Nothing like the other alphas Harry was involved with, who would be on a rampant warpath if they knew another alpha so much as looked at Harry the wrong way. Maybe they were possessive, greedy, treating Harry like an object, but at least they cared. Meanwhile Louis was acting relieved to pass Harry off to Niall, as if he was a problem more than a solution.

“But why can’t you stay,” Harry whispered.

“Babe, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

Louis sighed, and held him closer, rubbing his back in comforting circles. “Because. You think you know how you feel,  but it’s only been a week and you’re already slipping into heat. You’re not making rational decisions right now.”

“Fuck you,” he mumbled against the alpha’s t-shirt. “Fuck you to act like you have any idea what I’m feeling. You’re the one who caused all of this. You’re the one who kissed me.”

“We don’t know that’s what triggered it.”

“Oh, we don’t, do we? Was it the sight of expensive fabric that got me slick—that stupid lace kimono? The thought of money being spent on me? Your flashy credit card inserted into the machine that sent me into heat? Is that what you think of me?”

“Harry-”

His chest was heaving from his outburst and he was getting sweatier by the second, slicker too, and the world was turning fuzzy and unfocused. There was a storm outside, but he barely heard the claps of thunder, barely recognized the flashes of lightning and the way the power flickered on and off for a moment.

He was feeling too many emotions at once: horny, annoyed, upset, in love. Louis’ arms were still wrapped around him, caging him in, and all of it was so unfair.

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispered. “You know I’m leaving because I care about you.”

He did. That was why it hurt so bad.



&&&



“C’mon love, let’s get you upstairs.”

Harry’s torrent seemed to send him almost fully into heat, and by then he was whining and clinging to Louis like a lifeline. Louis was still stunned by everything that had happened over the past few hours, but if he knew one thing it was that he needed to get Harry upstairs so he could have some privacy. The time for coherent conversations was over. It was all about making sure he was safe and comfortable now, making sure he had everything he needed so Louis could pass the torch to Niall.

The thought of leaving Harry when he was in heat made Louis sick to his stomach, but he knew it was for the best. Even though Harry implied he wanted Louis to help him through it, the proximity of the statement to his incoherence made it so that it could only be taken with a grain of salt. They would’ve had to plan days in advance, which was impossible in this situation. Louis knew he would have to board a plane out of RSW whether he wanted to or not. Not for him, but for Harry. Because he refused to take advantage of him like this.

Niall was a good guy. A good alpha. Harry trusted him, and so did Louis. He was really trying not to let the jealousy show, because he figured if he did, Harry would use that to his advantage and convince him to stay. Louis loved Niall, but the thought of him being here, with Harry, alone, made his blood boil.

He tried to stand up, to get things moving along, but Harry was still clinging to him.

“Do you want me to carry you?”

The omega made a noise of assent and Louis rolled his eyes, already knowing he was going to comply. Harry went willingly as Louis hooked his hands under his thighs, pulling them up to rest around his waist. 

“You’re like a koala.”

Harry murmured nonsense against his neck in response, apparently past the point of being able to respond with coherent words. Louis barely had to hold him up, because Harry was clinging to him so much, but he kept his hands under his thighs for the sake of not dropping him during their trek upstairs. It was hard to focus when Harry smelled so tempting, but Louis was more concentrated on making sure the omega was comfortable and happy, so he found the willpower to ignore his own arousal.

Assuming Harry would want to spend his heat in the comfort of his own nest, he brought him to the guest bathroom and tried to set him down in the tub. Harry was having none of it.

“No, I can’t be here, I hate it-”

Louis was stunned. “What’s wrong with your nest?”

“It’s horrible!” Harry shrieked, refusing to let go of him. “It’s so ugly and messy and I hate it!”

“What?” he asked, baffled. “It’s not ugly or messy—it’s the most organized nest I’ve ever seen. You even folded everything and layered it so neatly,” Louis assured. He was bewildered by Harry’s outburst and also trying not to think about the fact that the omega had been distressed enough the past few days to actually create a nest in secret. When did he have the time to do this? How come Louis didn’t find out about it until today? He looked at the nest again and nearly passed out when he realized how many items of clothing in there actually belonged to him. Harry had been hoarding Louis’ worn clothes, and Louis had no idea…

“I don’t want to be here, please, Louis.”

“Okay, okay. So where do you wanna go?”

“Your bed...”

Okay. That was fine. Logically, Louis assumed Harry would want to ride it out in his nest, but if the master bedroom was where he wanted to be, well. Louis would just have to try not to think about Harry spending his heat in the place they’ve been sleeping together for the past week. Well, not sleeping together. But, yeah. No problem. Totally fine.

He walked them down the hall and set Harry on the edge of the mattress. The omega was reluctant to let go, but Louis shushed him with a kiss to his temple, brushing his hands away.

“You’re leaving me?”

His eyes were wide and sad and beautiful, glistening with overwhelmed tears. Louis wanted to wipe them away and kiss him until he diminished the desire to cry. And then he wanted to kiss him some more, and more, until Harry was completely satisfied and distracted.

Not yet, he thought with a sort of melancholy. He wasn’t leaving yet. “I’ll be right back,” he promised instead.

Walking away from Harry was hard, but the responsibility of taking care of him had Louis running through the house, gathering everything he might need for the days ahead. He ended up with a stack of clean sheets and a crate full of water bottles and nonperishable snacks. When he returned to the room, Harry was lying flat on his back and fidgeting amongst the duvet, squirming like he couldn’t get comfortable.

“I have a bunch of food and water for you,” Louis announced, looking away from the sight of Harry so debauched in his bed. It felt too private, too intimate, and he knew he had to get out of here soon. “You need to eat and drink whenever a wave passes. Do you understand?”

The omega responded well to the hint of alpha timbre of Louis’ voice, stilling completely and staring into Louis’ eyes like he was hanging on to every word. Harry was so lovely, so obedient and good.

Louis tried to remember the last time he used his alpha voice on someone, other than trying it out when he was alone and bored, just to see what it sounded like. If his memory was correct, it was the last person he slept with, more than a year ago—a sweet yet bland omega he met from work, who had begged him to give him strict orders to follow. Louis cringed at the memory of how awkward he had been about it, stumbling over his words and then apologizing for it. Eventually he got the hang of it, mostly when his lust took over and he relaxed into the role, with the encouragement of the omega being very explicit about the pleasure Louis was giving him, but the mood had already been tinged with disappointment and an icky sense of failure.

He did not think he was a very dominant person, which was unfortunate, given his status. At least, he was not a very dominant person in most situations except this one, apparently, because his alpha voice rang low and deep in the air. It sounded strong. And powerful. And everything he could ever hope his alpha voice would be. Harry wasn’t even looking at him strangely or acting like whatever had come out of Louis’ mouth was awkward or embarrassing, so he must have done something right. The desire to smile surprised him, the feeling of pride swelling in his chest as his confidence grew. He knew, now, that this was what he was meant to do. It was not about giving orders. It was about taking care of someone. Taking care of Harry.

For once in his life that creeping sense of guilt for using his alpha voice was nowhere to be found. Eating and drinking was obviously necessary and he was afraid that Harry would forget to do it when he had no one here to remind him after Louis left. It seemed as valid a reason as any to make sure he stayed satiated and hydrated, especially if he was going to go through an entire mating cycle alone.

“I’m putting extra sheets on this chair over here in case you want to remake the bed.” He set them down with trembling fingers, beginning to feel his self-control waver. Having Harry listen to him with undivided attention was turning his resolve into something brittle and thin, threatening to break at any moment. He was afraid to turn around, because all of a sudden Harry’s smell strengthened into something sharp and inviting.

“Louis, please …”

It was impossible to just ignore that pleading voice, even though it meant turning around and finding that within the minute it took for Louis to organize the sheets on the chair, Harry had somehow managed to strip out of all of his clothes and spread himself out on the king-sized bed without considering the repercussions.

The repercussions were that Louis immediately felt woozy and desperate to take care of the omega, no matter the costs. His inner alpha was howling in his chest like a wolf and Harry was lying there, so willing and wonderful, with this needy and hopeful look on his face, as if he wanted something so bad yet knew he was not going to get it. His lips were parted as his chest heaved with shallow breaths, his cupid’s bow glowing with a sheen of sweat. The lavish position Harry had found himself in was endearingly adorable and mindfuckingly tantalizing all at once, limbs strewn across the bed, his hair a beautiful mess of fluffy curls mused from when Louis lost control earlier in the day and attacked him with an unexpected kiss in the dressing room, running his fingers through his locks like he was useless to stop himself.

Louis should’ve looked away, but he was frozen to the place, limbs refusing to move even an inch, standing at the end of the bed, soaking in the sight of the most beautiful omega he’d ever seen.

Harry was the kind of person who was always beautiful, whether he was wearing pajamas in the morning or putting on a green face mask in the bathroom or squirming all sweaty in bed. His legs were long, endlessly long, bare feet tangled in the sheets, toes curling as he fidgeted, his thighs pressing together and then sliding open like the warmest invitation. Louis had been staring at his thighs all week, the warm flesh, the soft hair, the way his lean muscles clenched when he was tense, how his thighs jiggled slightly when he moved. Louis wanted to trace his fingers from knee to hip, on the outside first and then the inside. He wanted to trail kisses and graze his teeth all the way up. He wanted—

Harry bent one leg and kept it propped up, his hand finding its way to his cock, resting hard and heavy against his hip. The blush on his face spreading to his neck and chest too, like the prettiest flower blossoming. He didn’t stroke, but just curled his fingers around himself and rested there, staring up at Louis like he was waiting for instruction, or reassurance, or both.

Louis felt kind of lightheaded at the thought of an omega as legendary as Harry looking to Louis for instruction, or reassurance, or both.

Harry’s voice was languid and dreamy when he spoke, the words coming out even slower than usual, bringing Louis out of his reverie. “That one morning, when I woke up to you pressed against me, I fingered myself in this bed after you left.”

“I know,” Louis said, his insides turning to flames at the memory, scorching him to the core. “I could smell it on you when I came back.”

“I came when I buried my face in your pillow.”

Louis clasped his fingers around Harry’s ankles and gently tugged him to the edge of the bed, letting his legs rest on either side of him and smiling at the surprised noise the omega made from Louis’ actions. He smoothed his hands over Harry’s hip bones, rubbing the soft skin and noticing how the omega grasped and tugged at the sheets like he was overwhelmed just by the simple action. “This is a horrible idea,” he said, trying not to smile.

“I want this so badly and you know it,” Harry whispered, and then he looked up at Louis from under his lashes and bit his plush bottom lip at the same time, like he was perfectly aware of what he was doing. “Please, Alpha.”

He wanted to tease him for the lip biting and looking from under his lashes, but Louis’ heart thudded at the title, which fell so easily from Harry’s lips. He lifted Harry’s hand and squeezed his wrist, pressing a kiss to the inside of it. Contemplating. Wondering why he was always fighting with the wolf inside his chest. Instincts were bad for business deals, but good for feeling so lost inside his own heart. Instincts made things simple.

He pressed another kiss to his inner wrist. Harry smiled and traced his fingernails over Louis’ cheek, soft and fleeting, that feather-light scrape of nails against skin. Comforting, like he was here, even though he was not completely here, already too overcome with heat to be coherent.

“Alpha,” the omega whispered.

“Okay.”



&&&



Harry couldn’t form a coherent thought.

Harry couldn’t form a coherent thought because he was in heat.

Harry couldn’t form a coherent thought because he was in heat, and Louis was kissing him again.

Louis was kissing him again.

Louis’ arms were wound around his back, holding him up, grasping at his shoulder blades and trailing his fingers up and down the bumps of his spine. His hands slipped lower, feeling all over his hips and lower back. Likewise, Harry had one arm around Louis’ neck, the other busy with his fingers tangled in his soft auburn hair. They were kissing. Harry had called Louis Alpha and they were kissing.

He was happy, the kind of over the moon happy that made him dizzy, and he was trying his best to pour all of it into the kiss. He tugged Louis down onto the bed, and Louis obliged, bracketing him in with an arm on either side of his head, a clothed body covering his naked one, their mouths still connected, refusing to detach. He wrapped his legs around Louis’ waist to make their hips collide, seeking pleasure and release. Louis shushed him with a bruising kiss, stilled him with his pressing weight, and coaxed him to relax by scent-marking him.

Harry was a ball of energy, a ball of fire. His heart ricocheted in his chest, his mood soared around the room. He shook like a leaf and kissed Louis hard. He was soaking wet with Louis between his thighs, slick dripping all over the sheets, his body desperate and aching for more. He wanted to be filled; he wanted to stop feeling so empty. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this way about just a kiss.

Louis broke away to give them a chance to breathe. Their chests heaved together, following the same rhythm. Harry curled his hand around the back of his neck and kissed against his jaw, so satisfied to be in the position he’d been dreaming about for days. It wasn’t exactly as he anticipated, with his heat making things more interesting, but he would take whatever he could get.

“Shh, calm down,” the alpha soothed, licking over Harry’s pulse point. “I’ve got you.”

The ministrations did wonders to subdue him. He fell pliant, trying to remember to continue playing with Louis’ hair so as to share the pleasure. Lying there like a useless lump wasn’t an option, blissed out as he felt, if he wanted to prove to Louis how good he was in bed, even during his heat. He couldn’t afford to be selfish. He couldn’t make this all about him.

He raked his fingers down Louis’ back and smiled when he groaned in pleasure.

Louis still hovered over Harry and nudged their noses together to catch his attention, as if he didn’t already have it. “I jacked off in the car that morning.”

“What?” Harry’s brows furrowed at the nonsequitur, not sure what he was talking about. It didn’t help that his mind was hazy and slow on the uptake, quite a bit distracted by other activities.

“That morning we woke up together, when you fingered yourself in my bed. I said I was going to the store, but I ended up jacking off in the car and then driving to a bakery to have something to bring back to you.”

“You should’ve just stayed in bed and fucked me,” Harry whimpered. His whole body was on fire, inside and out, the sweat making his skin slippery against the silk sheets. “I wanted you to.”

“I know you did.”

Louis bit lightly at his neck and then Harry lost the ability to speak, just like that. While the other touches made him squirm, the feeling of Louis’ teeth grazing over his mating spot made him sink into the mattress, his limbs too heavy to move. Euphoria flooded through his veins, turning him all tingly and warm.

“Let me take care of you,” Louis said, thumbing his right nipple. Harry’s vision was blurry but he could make out the alpha’s smile as he shuddered under the touch, goosebumps rising on his skin. “Let me make up for it. Just this once.”

The thing was that Harry wanted more than just once. He wanted as many times as possible, a lifetime full of them, the two of them, together. He wanted heat sex, sure, but he also wanted morning sex, wall sex, shower sex, lazy sex, messy sex. He wanted Louis to fuck him to sleep at night, he wanted to help him through his rut. He wanted Louis to eat him out while he recited poetry aloud. He wanted to suck Louis off while he was finishing up a phone call. He wanted to have sex on the beach, on Louis’ sailboat, on the pool deck, on the veranda. He wanted, he wanted- He wanted.

Louis kissed and licked down his chest, pinching his nipples into hard buds between his forefinger and thumb. He was surprisingly good at this for someone who pretended he barely had any experience. Harry cried out when he skimmed over his cock in favor of leaving wet kisses all over his thighs. They were glistening with sweet-smelling slick and Louis swiped his fingers through it just to bring his fingers to his mouth for a taste. Harry blushed bright red and collapsed back on this bed from where he was propped up on his elbows to watch.

Louis laughed and pulled Harry’s leg to the side to allow more room for him to kiss along his inner thigh. He enjoyed the treatment, but he was desperate for things to move along, and he couldn’t help himself from throwing his legs over Louis’ shoulders and loosely wrapping them around his neck.

“You trying to strangle me?” the alpha joked.

“If you don’t do something soon,” Harry mumbled, twitching when Louis bit at his inner thigh again, harder this time.

“Patience is a virtue.”

“I’m in fucking heat , what do you want from me?”

Louis hummed and looked up at him, flicking his bangs out of his eyes. His pupils were blown, nostrils flaring, and his hand was covered in slick where it rested on Harry’s thigh. He hadn’t even touched him where it mattered yet, either.

“I’m giving you one orgasm and then I’m leaving, do you understand? As soon as you finish, I’m going to leave, and you’re going to lock the door behind me. I can’t stay for your whole heat. This is all I can give you. Do you understand? Harry, answer me.”

Harry nodded numbly at the ceiling, the room spinning. A wave of fire washed through him again, incinerating everything but the desire he felt in that exact moment. “Yes,” he confirmed, gripping the sheets with one hand.

With his eyes on the ceiling, he didn’t anticipate Louis spreading his thighs and blowing cool breath over his burning core. He shivered, clenched his legs around Louis’ shoulders, and tossed his arm over his eyes, throwing his head back.

“You’re so pretty… Everywhere, but here especially. All smooth and soft and pink,” the alpha remarked, running his fingers over the root of his cock, his balls, and teasing near his hole but not touching quite yet. Harry’s hips jerked up under his touch on their own accord, his ass lifting off the bed until he felt nothing but cool air beneath his skin. “No wonder everyone loves you.”

Harry whimpered, keeping his face buried in the crook of his elbow, his face still heated in an obvious blush.

“Please, please Alpha,” he whined, a slew of pleas slipping past his lips like an endless prayer. He wasn’t even sure what he was saying anymore, the words losing meaning as he slurred them together in his pleasure and desperation. It barely even registered in his mind that he was calling Louis by the title most omegas reserved for their bondmates.

Louis rubbed his rim with his thumb, playing with the mess of slick that gushed out at the teasing touch. Harry felt himself clench around nothing, the emptiness no more apparent than it was right then, but he was already delirious and swimming in the heady pheromones filling the room. His inner omega was soothed by the presence of an alpha here to take care of him. Even though he knew Louis was leaving, it didn’t matter. He would be satisfied just this once. He barely had time to mourn the fact that he wouldn’t get Louis’ knot, before the alpha slipped two fingers inside as deep as they would go.

A piercing moan crawled out of his throat before he could stop it, ringing about the room in an echo. His spine arched, his eyes rolling back in his head at the overwhelming sensation. He shivered and shuddered as Louis twisted his fingers, swirling them around slowly before pulling them out even slower. He clenched around the sudden nothingness, bewailing the loss.

Louis pressed his fingers inside again like he was curious about it, watching Harry’s expressions at each new movement. Harry saw the flash of his smirk when he crooked his fingers in an appealing way and Harry let out a surprised shriek, a hand flying to his mouth to stop any other embarrassing noises that wanted to escape him. He was so overwhelmed, he couldn’t sit still, his thighs quivering as he tried to stop from tensing and strangling Louis, his toes curling, his hands restless and in need of something to do because he couldn’t just rest them there. He fisted the sheets, bit his fingers like a gag, curled them into fists, opened them and splayed them as severely as he could, tugged at his own curls, and then when back to grasping the silk sheets, even though they were too slippery to offer any purchase.

Louis pumped his fingers in and out, the squelching sound from the surplus of slick just barely covered up by the obscene noises spilling from Harry’s mouth. It wasn’t just the feeling of Louis’ two fingers filling him up, but the sensation of his other hand holding his hips steady, his humid breath on his inner thighs as he continued to kiss and suck on his sensitive skin while fucking him with his fingers. He had been careful not to leave marks on his neck, but the same care wasn’t applied to his thighs, because they were already littered with bruises and shallow bite marks.

“Baby, I can’t. Not now,” Louis murmured, adding a third finger and increasing his speed. It wasn’t until then that Harry realized he’d been begging for Louis to fill him with his knot. “Not when you’re in heat.”

“Why,” he cried, but Louis must’ve known he wasn’t in the right place to listen to logical reasoning, because he just shushed him and soothed him with more kisses pressed to the creases of his hips.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Louis crawled up the bed momentarily to kiss a few stray tears away.

Harry hadn’t even known he’d been crying, either, so apparently he wasn’t aware of his body at all. His nerve endings were tingling, the base of his spine prickling, and he was so close with just a few fingers in him. He wasn’t sure what he was crying about, aside from how overwhelming it was, and how much more he wanted from Louis, everything he couldn’t ask for.

“Look, here, you can hold my hand. It’s okay. I’m gonna take care of you.”

Harry’s returning smile was watery as he accepted the offer and laced their fingers together, squeezing to show he was okay. Louis shifted back down, entering his fingers again, and astonished Harry by taking his cock into his mouth.

“What’re you… what’re you doing?”

“Sucking you off?” Louis said around the blushing, leaking tip. He let it drop from his mouth, flopping against Harry’s belly, and pulled back to stare at him with confused, concerned eyes. “Have you never..?”

“No, I… No one has ever wanted to..?”

“You’re kidding,” Louis deadpanned.

“I’m really not.”

“That’s not normal. Out of all the alpha’s you’ve been with, no one has ever offered to suck your dick before? Not even your asshole boyfriend? What the hell,” he said, managing to sound gentle about it.

“No. I don’t know- I mean, I’m an omega.”

“Yeah, and you have a dick. Which will feel great in someone’s mouth. I don’t see why your secondary gender matters?”

He stared at Louis and not a single coherent thought graced his mind.

“Do you want me to? Suck you off?”

Harry nodded, speechless, trying to prop himself up so he could watch. Louis smiled and handed him a pillow to rest against before settling in again, using one hand to entangle his fingers with Harry’s again and the other to guide his cock into his mouth, swallowing him in one go. Then he slipped his three fingers back inside, and after that Harry was no longer responsible for the sounds coming from his mouth. He was all loud moans and high-pitched whimpers, and when it got really overwhelming, really pleasurable, nothing but quiet gasps of breath and long, drawn out sighs.

“I’m yours. Tell me I’m yours. Please, tell me I’m yours.”

Louis pulled off again to free up his mouth, fingers still pumping in and out at an unhesitating yet controlled pace.  “I can’t- Harry-”

“Please,” he whispered, so close to the edge and yet denied from it. He could feel his inner omega curling up, shrivelling in on itself. He knew what he was asking for. He knew what he wanted and he didn’t want to think about why Louis was refusing.

“Love-”

“You called me baby, Louis, Alpha, please, please-” and he repeated it over and over without meaning to, the words blurring into one another, saying, I’m yours, I wanna be yours, let me be yours, please.

Louis took pity on him. He added a fourth finger to fill Harry’s emptiness and kissed his stomach, his waist, his thighs as he fucked him, hard and insistent, bringing him right to the edge, to the burning in his core that promised release if only he kept doing exactly what he was doing. “Harry, baby,” Louis said, loud and clear and sure. His alpha voice was reassuring to Harry’s ears. “You’re mine, baby. You’re my omega. My baby.”

The verbal encouragements were enough to coax him over the edge. Pleasure spread through him and he came all over himself, making a mess on his torso, come pooling on his stomach. Fingers were removed from his aching heat and a glop of slick dripped out. Harry closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself. His hand was still clinging to Louis’.

“Let me clean you up, little dove.”

“Stay.”

Louis shook his head, pulling one of Harry’s legs away from his shoulder and kissing his shin, and then his ankle. “I have to shower before Niall gets here.” He did the same with the other leg, and then sat up, stretching his arms. “I can’t stay here any longer, or I’ll do something we’ll both regret.”

“Thought we already… did that…” Harry tried, the words coming out slow and sluggish.

Louis shook his head sadly. “I’m this close to saying fuck it and getting my knot in you.”

Each word separated by the expansion of his heaving chest, Harry encouraged, “Do it.”

“If your suppressants aren’t working, we don’t know about your birth control.”

“Condoms,” he wheezed.

Louis ignored him, adding, “And I don’t think we should go any further. Are you all right? You came pretty hard. Your eyes rolled back in your head. Thought you were gonna pass out.”

“Might’ve. Would’ve been okay. Wanna go again.”

“Sorry, babe.” Louis patted his knee. “You’re on your own now. Let me change the sheets and then I have to go. I can’t believe we just did that.”

With limbs of jello, he could hardly move, let alone roll out of bed and stand up. Louis carried him naked over to one of the armchairs near the sliding glass doors. He looked outside and saw the dark, threatening clouds looming over the sea, a flash of lightning striking the horizon. The resounding boom made him jump.

“You’ve been doing that the whole time,” Louis remarked as he removed the pillows from the bed. “Flinching at the storm. You okay?”

The sound of electricity crackling in the air had always been something that frightened him, and heat made him sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. It was when he was at his most vulnerable, and his inner omega was hyper-aware of environmental dangers. That was why having a bondmate increased an omega’s quality of life—to have someone to look out for them, to protect them. Harry hadn’t even realized until now that he’d been jumping at the storm, though.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to talk.” Louis was almost finished changing the sheets, and his voice sounded strained, but it wasn’t from the exertion. His eyes fell to Louis’ crotch, the large bulge trapped in his jeans. He was clearly practicing miraculous self-restraint, his nose twitching at the scent of Harry’s slick which had soaked dark spots into the sheets.

“Louis,” he said, the name warbled in his lax mouth. He was shivering now, the come making his skin sticky as he folded himself into a ball on the chair.

“I really have to go, darling. Do you want to get back in bed, or do you want me to bring you to your nest?”

“Bed. Please.”

Louis smiled, lifting him again and depositing him on the clean sheets. He wiped him off with a cloth and tossed it toward the laundry basket, before returning to Harry to swathe him in blankets and cover him with the duvet. His eyes lingered on Harry’s ass, which made the omega hide a delirious smirk against the pillow.

“Food, water, right here. You have to eat and drink when you feel up for it. I really have to go. Get some rest.”

“Baby.”

“What?”

“Call me baby.” He would regret the request later, no doubt, out of sheer embarrassment. He was in heat and needy, though, what could he say?

Louis huffed, running his fingers through Harry’s floppy curls on the pillow and leaning over him. He turned him over onto his side, tucking the blankets up to his chin. He pressed a kiss directly on top of Harry’s eyelid to make him giggle, and then a lingering one against his cheek.

“Who knew you were such a softie, baby.”

Harry melted into the bed. Louis kissed him on the lips one last time.

“Lock the door behind me,” he whispered.

Then he was gone, and Harry was alone.



&&&



As calm as Louis had been when he left the room, the moment of peace brought by a safe and satisfied omega in his bed quickly fled and was replaced by agitation. He felt unstrung, almost feral, as he paced the small strip of hallway in front of the closed doors of the master bedroom.

The aching hardness in his jeans was impossible to ignore. It was torture knowing a willing omega was just on the other side, and had already been pleading for him. The doors weren’t even locked, Louis knew, because there was no way Harry got out of bed just yet. And here he was, standing in the hallway, trying and failing not to lose his mind.

He ended up sinking down onto the floor in front of the french doors, his back against the wood as he fumbled with the buckle of his belt. This was a bad idea. All of this was a bad idea. He shouldn’t have touched Harry, he shouldn’t have let him sleep in his bed the past few nights, and, most of all, he should never have agreed to host an omega in his stupid beach house just because Niall asked at the right time, when he was feeling a dangerous combination of charitable and lonely. Stupid Louis, always taking things too far, ruining everything with his lack of self-control.

The storm outside matched the storm inside, and with another crack of lightning that shook the house to its skeleton, he heard Harry jump from fright and bang into a hard surface, the resounding “ow,” just loud enough for Louis to hear. Louis sighed, tipping his head back and closing his eyes as he undid his zipper and freed his cock, taking it into one hand and squeezing the base where his knot was already forming.

An alpha couldn’t pop a knot unless they were in the presence of omega pheromones, so it had been a while since Louis had done this. He stroked himself with one hand and held back his knot with the other, finally allowing himself to surrender to the absolutely obscene images in his mind. The memory of Harry lying on the bed was as clear as day, skin covered in a delicious sheen of sweat, legs open wide so everything was on display.

It was weird to unite the two images of Harry he had in his mind, the independent twenty-five year old who felt fearless enough to wander New York City at night, and the needy omega writhing in bed, jumping at the storm and begging to be touched. Witnessing both sides of the same coin made each feel more intimate, like having a deep conversation with a hooker, or kissing your best friend.

He could hear Harry moving on the other side of the doors, the bed squeaking before he settled again. It was too soon for another wave of heat to hit, which meant he was probably drifting off to sleep right now. Instinct was urging Louis to return to his side and cuddle up against him, to cover him with his body and press him into the mattress so he was hidden and protected from the world.

As an alpha, Louis had a general urge to protect all omegas, but it didn’t run very deep, and with Harry it was much more distinct. Louis was pretty sure it was less to do with the fact that he was an omega and more to do with the fact that he was this lighthouse of a person, this glowing ember of warmth and luminescence. Harry struck Louis as endearingly innocent, not in his sexual proclivities, but in what mattered, his values, his viewpoints, his reasons for existence. Despite his youth, he was hopeful, optimistic, still a proponent of following his dreams and cultivating a perfect life. While Louis couldn’t necessarily endorse those same beliefs himself, he had to admit there was something appealing about Harry having this romantic, idealistic vision of a possible future.

This was not at all what he thought about as he stroked himself to orgasm while sitting on the floor in front of the bedroom doors. He thought about the moments prior, the omega in his bed, fingers twisting in the sheets because he was so overwhelmed. Because of Louis. He squeezed his knot with two hands, pulsing come all over himself, and tried to keep his groans to a minimum.

Harry was there, just beyond the door. He was safe and secure. He would be okay, even after Louis left. Everything would be fine. This was what he told himself, over and over, as he waited, unable to leave his spot guarding the door even to clean up and make himself decent before Niall arrived. Niall would just have to deal with it.



&&&



Three fingers deep, with his wrist crooked at an odd angle as he struggled to reach the spot that made him see stars, Harry stopped squirming.

Actually, he stopped moving altogether, his labored breathing the only motion in the otherwise still room. He stopped moving altogether because there were multiple alphas just on the other side of the door, and they were angry.

Harry could smell their frustrated, short-tempered scents seeping through cracks. The scents frightened him, as did the shouting. And the growling.

His heart was rabbiting with anxiety and desperation as he flopped onto the floor and clambored under the bed, wriggling to get into the cramped space. There was nowhere else in the room to hide, but he didn’t feel safe here. He was still leaking slick and emitting heat pheromones into the air, and it was only a matter of time before the alphas found him and did with him as they pleased.

It had been a sudden thing, the door slamming, the arrival of another alpha who angered the first. They were both in the hall now, yelling and snarling. Meanwhile, Harry was naked and shaking like a leaf. Hiding under the bed. The stress was making him dizzy. None of it made sense.

“You have to leave.” Harry recognized Niall’s calm voice. When he growled, his tone was warning, not aggressive.

The response was mostly a mess of incoherent snarls amidst sharp insults, but Harry caught the words I’m not leaving him.

He shrank further into himself, curling up with his knees to his chest, the side of his face pressed to the floor. Tears dripped down his cheeks, his heat addled brain so sure he was in immediate danger. Where was Louis? Harry missed him. He knew Louis would make him feel better. Louis would take care of him. But he wasn’t here right now.

He hugged his knees even closer and made himself as small as he could, his heart pulsing in anxiety.

He felt so alone.

 

&&&

 

Days passed in a blur. The threat went away, but it took hours for him to feel safe enough to leave his hiding place under the bed, and even then, he covered himself in the messy sheets and did his best to hide whenever he heard an unfamiliar noise coming from another part of the house.

Harry felt lucky to be incoherent during most of his heat, because the longing was agonizing and it was better if he was just simply unaware. At some point, a box of toys appeared outside his door, which facilitated the repetitive process of satisfying himself. A knotting dildo was nothing at all like the real thing, but it filled him up better than his fingers, and he could keep it inside him while he napped post-orgasm, and that was what mattered.

The little moments of coherency were spent sitting up in bed and staring out the window as he sipped from a bottle of water or chewed on a granola bar. He was messy with too many bodily fluids, but every time he stood up to hop into the shower, another wave of heat hit, leaving him crumbling to the floor and scrambling for something to fill him. Slick was everywhere, dripping down his legs, coating the sheets, and he felt horrible for destroying Louis’ bedroom.

He was aware enough to know Louis was gone now, unable to smell his presence in the house any longer. Of course everything still smelled like him, but that was at least a few days old, no longer fresh, just a trace of his existence like a wisp of a memory. Niall was in the house, he knew, lounging around on the first floor while Harry was banished to the bedroom, locked away until further notice. Niall’s scent calmed him marginally because it was friendly and comforting, but he still missed Louis.

Spending a heat alone sucked. There was no other way around it. He was burning hot half the time, sprawled out on the bed with a layer of sweat coating his skin, but freezing cold the other half, wishing he had a warm body to curl up next to. He prided himself on being an independent omega, but his heat made it clear that he would always be dependent on someone or something. If it wasn’t an alpha, it was his prescription of heat suppressants, or the toys he kept under his bed. He had never wanted to have sex so badly in his life, and of course, out of all these years, this was the first time he couldn’t.

On the fifth day, he woke up without the urge to rut against the sheets and whine about being empty. Instead, he just felt tired. Exhausted. Like he’d gone a week without sleep. Which was almost true. It was hard to sleep when he was busy forcing orgasm after orgasm out of himself. But now, that was over. He sat up in bed, knowing he needed to tell Niall that he could go home since Harry was in his right mind again.

A shower first was a brilliant idea, though. He didn’t want Niall to see him like this. He didn’t want anyone to see him like this. The water felt so nice on his skin, soothing and pleasant, enough to alleviate some of the extensive soreness in his wrung out muscles. The last five days had been full of tension and strain, reaching out for something he needed that wasn’t there. His back was sore from contorting into positions that challenged his flexibility, and it felt like someone had mixed up his insides with a fork. How pleasant.

He spent a long time under the shower spray, too tired to cry about everything that had happened, and when he got out, he found two of the fluffiest towels he could and wrapped himself in them. It was so tempting to sink back into bed without changing the sheets, but he knew he would regret it later, so he removed them and added a fresh set. Hearing Louis’ stern voice in his head, he nibbled on the edge of another granola bar and drank a few more sips of water, just to appease the alpha who wasn’t even here. Once his inner omega was satisfied for following orders, he collapsed forward on the bed and promptly passed out.

He woke later in the day, around noon. Disoriented as he was, he only knew the time because he checked his phone. He only checked his phone because he was hoping Louis had left a message.

Sifting through the boundless number of texts and missed calls on his phone only left him even more despondent when he saw that there were none from Louis. He thumbed through a few from some of his sugar daddies, but couldn’t bring himself to reply to any of them, not even the simple miss you ’s or what are you up to ’s.

The messages that actually gave him anxiety were the ones that asked variations of when can I see you again? It was a simple question, one he had never hesitated to answer before. Harry was the star of setting up dinner dates and organizing plans, literally scheduling arrangements to get knotted into his weekly planner. But now the excitement of hanging out with rich alphas had washed away. He only wanted Louis.

Tossing his phone to the side without responding to anything, he wondered if he was single-handedly throwing all of his sugar relationships out the window right now. None of these men liked to be ignored, and they would be cross with Harry once he finally decided to respond. He would have to make up some excuse about a family emergency or something.

Rolling out of bed, he sifted through Louis’ wardrobe for one of the t-shirts he left, and his own pair of pajama shorts. There was a fuzzy pair of pink house socks in the bottom of his duffle. Once he was dressed, he headed downstairs and spotted Niall reclining on the couch.

“Oh hey, you’re up.”

Harry nodded, feeling his lower lip tremble as he crossed the room and wandered over to his friend. There was an empty box of pizza on the coffee table and Niall’s acoustic guitar resting against one of the armchairs. Niall must’ve caught the look on his face, because he stood up and opened his arms without question. Harry sunk into his hold, whimpering. He felt pathetic.

“Jesus, you look like shit. What happened?”

“I’m sad.”

Niall squeezed him closer, rocking them back and forth. With his fingers wrapped tight around either side of his rib cage, it felt easier to breathe. “No duh. Why are you sad?”

“He left me.”

“Oh. Trust me, he didn’t want to. We got in a huge fight over it.”

“What?” This was news to Harry. Louis had seemed happy to leave, very insistent about it.

“Yeah.” Niall sat them down on the couch, helping Harry get situated beside him, so that he was partially curled up on his lap. This was how they always sat together, when Harry would call Niall late at night or even just after a bad date and ask if he could come over. It was almost habit by this point. “I know he told you he was gonna leave because he had meetings he couldn’t miss. But when it came down to it, when you were in heat and needing him, he just couldn’t make himself leave.”

“So why did he?”

“I made him. Sorry,” Niall grimaced at the horrified look on Harry’s face. “You should be thanking me. He was worried about taking advantage of you and he was right. Don’t give me that look. I know you guys did it before I came over.”

“Niall! I wanted him to stay!”

“I know, pet. But by that point you were too far gone to make a rational decision.”

Harry groaned, covering his face with his hands. Niall rubbed his shoulder. He wasn’t stupid, he knew Niall was right, he couldn’t consent to anything when he was already slipping into heat. Louis knew that too, and that was why he was so adamant about leaving. But it didn’t mitigate the fact that it hurt. It hurt like this stupid, aching void inside his heart.

They sat together in silence for a while, Harry soaking up Niall’s warmth and alpha comfort as he mulled over the situation in his mind. He wasn’t sure where to go from here. Was he just supposed to fly back to NYC, and everything would go back to how it was before he met Louis? Or would they stay in touch? They hadn’t discussed it, and now he had no idea what to do, what to expect.

Eventually, Niall got up to make lunch. They ate their sandwiches at the kitchen table and then returned to the couch to cuddle and watch golf on TV. While the competition interested Niall, Harry was mostly bored by it, and dozed in and out of consciousness for the rest of the day.

 

&&&

 

“Hey, I meant to tell you, there’s something for you by the door.”

“What is it?”

Niall nudged him forward. “See for yourself. I’m gonna get ready for bed. Do you think you’ll be ready to leave tomorrow?”

Harry nodded, and then Niall nudged him once again, and he went for the front door. When he rounded the corner, his eyes landed on a mountain of shopping bags in the foyer. There were so many, it was like out of a movie scene. Some of the labels were visible, mostly Gucci and Chanel. Tentatively, as if something was going to jump out at him, Harry peaked inside the closest bag and saw the yellow trousers he had tried on in the dressing room and asked Louis for his opinion.

They had to run out of the store without buying anything because Harry had been rapidly slipping into heat. Louis must’ve gone back to the store or at least ordered the items he remembered Harry liked. The gesture made his heart beat even faster as he peered into a few more bags, finding the luxurious fabrics of some clothes he recognized and others he didn’t. If Louis didn’t care about him, he wouldn’t have done this.

There was a box near the top of the pile which was different from all the rest. Harry thought it smelled like Louis, but it was more than possible that he was going crazy. He picked it up, noticing the small white card tucked into the side.

I’m sorry, it said.

Harry stared at the note for a long time before shaking himself out of his stupor and opening the box. Inside was a worn black shirt. It was obviously well loved because the material was soft, the color faded. That wasn’t what was abnormal about it though. No, what was abnormal was that it smelled so heavily of Louis’ scent, Harry almost passed out.

He didn’t, though. Instead, he pressed it to his nose and inhaled as deeply as he could.

Every positive emotion he could think of flooded through him in that moment. He felt so comforted, so seen. His inner wolf that worried Louis had forgotten about him was suddenly appeased. Louis had left this shirt for him. It was like Harry was his mate. His omega.

“Pet, what in the heck are you doing?”

Harry gasped, spinning around on his heel and clutching the shirt to his chest. “I thought you were upstairs!”

“I came down to see what was taking you so long. It’s been fifteen minutes. I was getting worried.”

Oh. Time flew by when he was smelling Louis’ shirt like an addict, apparently. Harry lifted it to his nose again and glared at Niall. “Don’t judge me.” His voice was muffled by the fabric. “I just got out of heat and I’m needy.”

“C’mon upstairs, then. You’re such a weirdo. What did the note say?”

I’m sorry . What would he be sorry for?”

Niall shrugged, setting his hand on Harry’s shoulder to guide him up the stairs, and didn’t say anything.

“Maybe he’s sorry he left.”

“Maybe he’s sorry for growling at me like a crazy person,” Niall proposed.

“Why would he write it to me, then?”

“Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe all those fancy gifts are for me.”

Harry rolled his eyes, pushing the door to one of the guest bedroom’s open. “I heard you guys snarling at each other when I was in heat. I didn’t know it was you and him, though.”

“Who’d you think it was?”

“Burglars or something, I dunno. Thought some random alphas broke into the house.” He laughed, but didn’t mention how scary it had actually been. His heat made everything blurry, but he could distinctly recall hiding under the bed, terrified out of his mind. The image was pretty pathetic. It was almost laughable. For once he was glad no one had been there to witness it.

“Oh, that sucks. Sorry, pet. We should’ve been more careful. I’m sure you were terrified.”

They crawled into bed, facing each other. Niall opened his arms and Harry shuffled forward, wiggling as close as he could get in order to maximize skin to skin contact.

“So, you had fun? Before it got all complicated, I mean.”

The dopey grin that broke out across the omega’s face couldn’t be helped. He hid it against Niall’s shoulder, squirming and giggling at the question. “You have no idea.”

“Do I wanna know? I feel like I don’t wanna know.”

“Not really. But I’m gonna tell you about it anyways. We went shopping and I put on this pretty lace kimono for him. And then he pinned me up against the mirror in the dressing room and kissed me. It was like… life altering,” he blushed, thinking of all the sensations he experienced when Louis touched him like that. Physically, it had just been a simple kiss, nothing Harry hadn’t done before. Emotionally, it was a different story. “Like, Ni, his lips, god. I’ve never been kissed like that before. And his tongue...”

“Could do without the details, thanks. Funny that he got you to slip into heat just from kissing you. You’re on suppressants and everything. That’s crazy. I’ve never heard of that before. Well maybe with those cheap suppressants, but you take the really expensive ones, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed, still thinking of how it felt to be touched by Louis. What he remembered from their tryst kept playing on loop in his mind. “You don’t think it’s anything bad, do you?”

“Nah, ‘course not. Just make an appointment with your doctor and I’m sure they’ll get everything sorted out, with your pills and stuff.”

“Right. I’m worried about my birth control, though. Like, you know better than anyone how many alpha’s I’ve had up my ass in the past few months.”

Niall didn’t even have the decency to flinch at Harry’s crude wording. “Including Louis?”

“I wish.”

“Gross. He’s my friend.”

“You’re the one who set us up,” Harry pointed out.

“True. And it worked, so you owe me one.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “It only partly worked. Until there’s a bite mark on my neck, I’m not giving you any praise.”

Niall rubbed his fingers over Harry’s neck, which was nothing but bare skin. “Guess I’ll have to work a little harder to get you two together next time, then, huh?”

“You think there’ll be a next time?”

This was finally what surprised Niall. “What, you planned on ghosting him?”

“No,” Harry huffed, indignant even though he could feel himself turning drowsier and drowsier. “It’s just that we never talked about it, about where we go from here. When d’you think we’ll see each other again?”

Niall wrapped him in a loose hug and kissed the top of his head, letting him snuggle closer. Harry felt safe in his arms, comfortable and happy. It had none of the heart-fluttering allure as it did with Louis, but that didn’t matter right now. Niall was Harry’s favorite friend, maybe his only friend. It was calming to know he was here, looking out for him.

“I dunno,” Niall said eventually. “I’m sure he’ll call.”

 

&&&

 

He didn’t call.

Harry spent the first three days back in New York City staring at his phone. He was too exhausted to return to his normal schedule, so he awarded himself a few days off and stayed in his sparsely decorated studio apartment, ordering takeout when he was too lazy to go to the store for ingredients to make a real meal, and skipping the gym in favor of staying in bed until late morning each day.

Staying in bed didn’t mean sleeping, though. He hardly got any sleep, even at night, feeling too keyed up to relax enough for some shuteye. He always started with his phone beneath his pillow, but every night without fail, he would inevitably pull it out to fiddle with the pastel pink phone case and wait for the screen to light up with an incoming call. By morning, his bleary eyes burned with lack of sleep and his body was aching and sore, clearly upset at him for failing to get much rest.

The only calls he received were from a few of his clingier sugar daddies, and he sent them straight to voicemail, feeling too unsettled inside to entertain them even for only a few minutes. His phone rang often, but the call was never from Louis.

Harry had no idea what was taking him so long to call. He expected him to at least leave a voicemail asking how he was holding up after his heat and if he’d gotten it sorted out with the doctor yet. He hadn’t, because his appointment was set for a few weeks later, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that Louis continued to remain radio silent, and Harry was slowly dying inside.

On the fifth day, while he was staring down at the sparkling ring gracing his finger, he decided to suck up his pride and message Louis first. If Louis didn’t want to be the one to take charge after Harry had made himself very clear that he wanted him, then fine. Harry would get over himself and send one little message just to make it even more clear he was still interested.

thanks for the gifts, alpha :) 💓🌸

He debated capitalizing the ‘a’ but ultimately left it as it was, deciding to not go too overboard. The emojis were enough already. It was incredibly tempting to follow up with another text asking when he would be in New York, but Harry was determined to keep at least a bit of self-respect in tact and not seem as desperate as he actually was. He set his phone down on the bed and stared at it like it was going to light up with a response any minute now.

It didn’t.

Harry stared for fifteen minutes before he got bored. He rolled out of bed and tried on a bunch of clothes Louis bought for him, posing in front of the large antique mirror and taking sexy selfies when necessary. He saved them to the folder on his phone specifically for this purpose and put on the lace kimono last. It felt familiar against his skin, bringing up memories of the last time he wore it and making him blush.

With the lace edging falling high up on his thighs, the marks Louis left all over his skin were visible. The bruises and gentle bite marks were fading, since it had been more than a full week since they were together. The more subtle they became, the more Harry mourned their loss. He ran his fingers over them as if to remember Louis touching him there, but it wasn’t the same. His memory was poor and he couldn’t even feel it anymore.

Harry felt so pretty in the kimono, though, he wore it around all day, finally getting around to unpacking his belongings and doing a bit of the cleaning he procrastinated before his trip to Florida. He made lunch for the entire week, tofu lettuce wraps that would be preserved in a tupperware container in the fridge. Then he sat there. And waited. And stared at the fading marks on his thighs, the ones Louis put there.

The lack of response was only partially expected.

He gave Louis the benefit of the doubt and a few days of buffer period, figuring he was probably busy at work. That was what it was. That was why he hadn’t responded to Harry’s cute and vaguely embarrassing text that made his heart beat rapidly whenever he thought about it. God, he was so stupid for sending that text. It made him look like the neediest, most childish omega. He should’ve toned back the emojis. He should’ve said anything but alpha. Suddenly he was cringing every time he thought of it, wishing he hadn’t sent it, wishing Louis would just put him out of his misery even if it meant sending a text that said not interested in you, sorry. Even just leave me alone would’ve been better than not hearing anything from him at all. At least Harry would have an answer then, some sense of closure.

He called Niall every night to whine about it, only sometimes asking if he could come over and keep him company. “He hasn’t been responding to me either, so maybe it’s not personal,” he tried to consol, but it didn’t help very much at all, because one time when Niall was over, his phone rang and he quickly covered up the caller ID before taking it outside, and somehow Harry just knew it was Louis.

So he was hurt, because Louis was ignoring him and calling Niall instead, and Niall was lying about it, and they probably thought it was better to keep Harry guessing with this stupid seed of hope in his chest than to let him down by telling the truth. Harry tried to be mad at Niall, but he couldn’t keep it up for long, always breaking when he was in need of a real cuddle, too dependent on his alpha pheromones to stay cross at him for more than a few days at a time.

One week slipped by, and then another. New York winters were unforgiving, dirty snowbanks coating the city sidewalks as the wind picked up down certain streets and alleys, nearly lifting Harry off his feet. He was constantly freezing, and he didn’t have a proper winter coat, but he finally mustered the energy to drag himself to the gym. There, he spent hours on the elliptical or in front of the punching bag, taking out his frustrations on the beat-up vinyl.

His birthday snuck up on him. Niall and Shawn took him out to dinner in the Lower East Side, and they went ice skating afterwards.

Harry was a good skater, but he was having a bad day, and a beta who was flailing wildly, unable to stop, slammed into him. He hit the ice before he could even realize what happened. The wind was knocked out of him and he ended up accidentally slicing his finger on the blade of his own skate, so they ended the night in the emergency room getting stitches while Niall and Shawn tried to cheer him up.

“We should go back to my place and watch a movie,” Niall suggested, holding Harry’s uninjured hand while the doctor worked on the other. Shawn agreed, already suggesting movies for them to watch, but Harry was less into it.

He had four stitches in his pinkie finger and he just wanted to go home and sleep away the heartache that had been plaguing him for a while now.  “I dunno, I think I’m gonna call it a night. I’m kinda tired.” His fake yawn turned into a real one, and he gave Niall his best puppy-dog eyes.

Niall and Shawn shared a look over his head, like two parents concerned about their child. They’d they’d been doing this the entire evening, and quite frankly it was beginning to feel more than a little condescending. Harry wasn’t a kid, and he didn’t need his friends making decisions for him and moralizing his situation as if he didn’t know better.

“Harry,” Shawn began gently. He looked sad. “It’s your birthday, you shouldn’t have to spend the night alone.”

“Shawn baked a cake for you earlier,” Niall added pointedly, the implication clear. It would be rude for him to not go.

“And you know how comfy Niall’s couch is.”

Harry had no idea Shawn was so familiar with Niall’s brownstone, but he wasn’t going to point it out right now. The two of them had been acting like a bonded couple all night, which was funny because they hadn’t even gone on an official date yet. As far as either one of them was concerned, they were just “friends.” Watching their poorly disguised flirting all evening was the cause of Harry’s continual scowling into the distance. Idiots in love, of course they were. It was totally mutual and Harry was jealous, but more than that, he was happy for them, which turned him into this confusing mess of emotions too muddled to sort through. All he knew was that he missed Louis and he was mad at him for ghosting him. Cue the heavy sigh and the gloomy stare at nothing. Harry was over romance. He didn’t want it anymore.

“C’mon, pet, we can have a sleepover. I’ll even set an alarm and change your bandage in the middle of the night so you don’t have to wake up. What do you say?”

Harry stared at him.

“Niall has a lot of wine,” Shawn added.

“Fine. But both of you have to stop looking at me like that. I can’t stand it.”

Their faces fell to pity again before the simultaneously tried to cover it up with a smile. Harry rolled his eyes and combed his hair back behind his ear with his free hand. The beta doctor finished up, patted his knee, and told him he was free to go. And then he winked.

He was used to random strangers flirting with him, and this time it actually a coaxed a smile out of him, so he laughed kindly and waved goodbye to the doctor. Niall and Shawn were visibly relieved by his smile, but they still walked on either side of him like they were afraid he was going to make a run for it.

At Niall’s place, they lit candles and sang happy birthday to Harry while he blushed and tapped his fingers on the table. The cake was triple chocolate and he was actually very touched that Shawn baked it by himself all for Harry, since they didn’t know each other very well at all and a simple birthday text would’ve done just fine.

Speaking of texts, Harry’s phone was overflowing with messages from his sugar daddies, ranging anywhere from clueless to concerned to straight out angry, and he knew he needed to respond soon. The only messages he’d sent so far were thank-you’s for the gifts he found waiting for him at home when he returned from Florida.

They ended up watching Legally Blonde per Harry’s request, which was interrupted right when Elle went to a party dressed up like a bunny. Niall’s phone lit up with a call and Harry lunged for it, but Niall got there first. Their wrestling match lasted less than a minute because of Niall’s superior alpha strength. He gave Harry a look and then took the call outside, firmly closing the door behind him.

“Was that-”

“Yeah,” Harry said, sinking back into the couch, his shoulder brushing up against Shawn’s. “Your boyfriend keeps taking these mysterious calls outside like I’m stupid enough to not know who they’re from.”

Shawn’s face turned bright red without hesitation. “Not my boyfriend,” he mumbled.

“Not yet.”

“We’re just friends.”

“If you say so. The courting gifts he’s been giving you say otherwise, though.”

“Oh, god,” Shawn whispered, horrified. “I thought I was the only one who noticed.”

Harry smiled. Niall had been buying things for Shawn for weeks now, ranging anywhere from a chocolate bar to a new pair of snow boots to a fancy washing machine after his old one broke. Courting was all about the alpha proving that they could take care of the omega, starting in the form of small gifts and eventually graduating to larger ticket items. It was pretty outdated, and most people didn’t do it anymore, but some alphas did it unconsciously. Harry couldn’t be sure if Niall was aware of what he was doing or not, and he wasn’t sure which was cuter.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Put him out of his misery,” Harry joked. “Ask him out on a date, if that’s what you want. You already know he likes you, so what could go wrong?”

“A lot of things.”

“He bought you a washing machine, for god’s sake. He’s in it for the long haul. It’s gonna be okay.”

“He was just being a good friend.”

Harry stared at him.

“Okay, fine. Maybe… I just don’t know where to start.”

“How about you ask him out to dinner? Choose some place you guys haven’t been to before, so he knows it’s something special. I can give you a list of places I think you’d like, if you want,” Harry said, already diving into helpful friend mode. It had been so long since he’d last given alpha advice. He pulled his legs up onto the couch and turned toward Shawn, smiling, ready to coach him through this. “Niall always takes forever on the phone. We have at least half an hour.”

“Are you sure I should be taking advice from you?” Shawn teased, clearly referencing the fact the current mess of Harry’s love life.

“I may not be in a relationship, but I have spent a lot of time with countless alphas. If there’s anyone in the world who knows what they’re like, it’s me.”

“That is… true.”

So while Niall was outside and on the phone with Louis, Harry busied himself by talking through a game plan with Shawn to get them together. Before tonight, they hadn’t been very close at all, but by the time Niall walked back in, they were in stitches laughing over something so stupid there were tears in their eyes. Niall narrowed his eyes at them but otherwise didn’t say anything, probably too worried about ruining Harry’s good mood.

They unpaused the movie and didn’t talk about the phone call.

 

&&&

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

&&&

 

Two days after his birthday, Harry decided he was over romance, over love, and over Louis. Heartbreak wasn’t worth it. He didn’t want it anymore; he was bigger than that. So, he marked the occasion by setting up a date with a potential sugar daddy. A nice night of emotionless, detached sex was exactly what he needed to get him out of his slump.

While he probably wasn’t in the right place in his life to be adding more alphas to the list of people he had to please, it felt good to start fresh with someone new. He got dressed up in his nicest pair of black jeans and a champagne colored blouse, spraying rose perfume on the crook of his neck to enhance his natural scent. Usually, he never even touched an alpha on the first date, but today he was feeling more than a little reckless. He told himself he wouldn’t mind if they ended up in a hotel room after dinner. Which was exactly what happened.

The meal had gone swimmingly and Harry was surprised by how easily he fell back into his previous role, despite the fact that he was demoralized and depressed. The alpha’s name was Derek, and they flirted over authentic Italian cuisine and mostly talked about football because he was a retired linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a huge person, physically speaking. Harry was more than a little interested in this fact about him.

Everything was fine, up until they started kissing and taking their clothes off. The hotel room was one of the nicer ones he’d been in, and the bed was comfy beneath his back, and Derek was behaving as gentlemanly as he could while also unbuttoning Harry’s jeans, and everything was fine, right, it should’ve been fine. Harry had done this before, hundreds of times. He was practically an expert in these activities. He was no stranger to kissing or undressing or anything that came after.

Except, his hands were shaking. So badly that Derek noticed.

“Are you okay?”

Harry stared up at the ceiling, which was covered in a large mirror. His distraught, debauched reflection stared back. His skin was pale, his eyes lost. He didn’t look like himself.

“Yeah, yeah,” he gasped, going back to kissing him. Kissing was always a good distraction. This kiss in particular wasn’t the most pleasurable thing in the world, mostly due to how unsettled Harry felt, but he could work with it. If only he could get his hands to stop shaking. He felt weak and dizzy but it was probably just from the lack of air, since his mouth was otherwise occupied. The mirror on the ceiling was throwing him off, because with every glance, his eyes wandered to the reflection of him and Derek, and it was wrong, all wrong, somehow, for no reason at all. It didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. It made his skin itch and crawl, made his heart threaten to run away.

Derek shrugged and yanked Harry’s pants and underwear down in one go, leaving him exposed to the cold air of the hotel room. Harry was uncomfortably sweaty and hoping the alpha wouldn’t notice, to the point where his armpits and the backs of his knees were actually dripping, his back sticking to the sheets, the entire surface of his skin turning damp with nervous perspiration. The anxious outside was matched with an anxious inside, a physical ache in his chest and tingles trembling up his fingers.

All of it was incomparable to the overwhelming sense of doom and dread sinking deep into his stomach. He had no idea what was going on, but he knew he couldn’t do this right now.

He pushed the alpha’s hands away from his pathetically soft dick, rolling onto his side and curling his knees to his heaving chest. He was so embarrassed. Each breath was felt shallow and impossible. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the universe to satisfy him. The world was shaky in his vision, vibrating with unexplainable energy. He thought he was going to pass out.

“What the hell-”

His tone of voice wasn’t cruel or rude, but mostly just confused.

“Don’t touch me, please,” Harry whimpered, brushing the alpha’s hands away again. He crawled out of bed, nearly falling off of it, and stood up on the shakiest legs imaginable, impeded by his jeans stuck around his thighs. He looked like a mess. He was a mess. The world kept flickering in and out of focus and he had never felt terror like this before.

“Are you… You’re not okay. You’re having a panic attack?”

Harry could only fish-mouth at him and stutter out, “I have to leave,” in the shakiest, most unsteady voice imaginable. His throat was raw and cracked with dryness, and he sounded like a chainsmoker lost and dehydrated in Death Valley.

“Babe, wait- You can’t go outside like this-”

He yanked his jeans back up and pulled his shirt down, fumbling around the room for his belongings and struggling into his shoes. Phone on the nightstand, purse on the settee. His mind was elsewhere. It was almost comical.

“I’m so sorry, I have to leave right now.”

“Let me at least call you a cab,” Derek insisted.

Harry sucked in one last shallow breath before turning around and bolting out of the room, too overwrought to even decline the kind offer. He stumbled down the hallway and tripped down half the stairs to the lobby, fleeing the hotel altogether. People were staring at him like he was crazy, but he hardly noticed.

The world spun around him as he stood in the middle of the sidewalk, utterly lost. He’d been in this part of the city many times before, but everything around him looked unfamiliar. It was impossible to focus on a single location, a single sight. His mind was racing even faster than his heart. A grimy fire hydrant covered in snow. A whining car alarm with flashing lights. An omega signaling for a cab. Slush splashing on the sidewalk from passing cars. The stoplight changing from red to green. A child throwing a tantrum. Nothing but people, cars, tall buildings closing in on him. He leant his weight on the brick wall beside him and somehow ended up on the ground.

His phone was in his hands. He scrolled through his contacts, called whoever he could. Niall was in Mullinger visiting his family and Shawn was traveling to Boston for work. He had no one else. The rest of his contacts were alphas who didn’t actually care about him. Including Louis. Harry’s thumb hovered over Louis’ contact.

The phone rang. He couldn’t remember hitting call.

He picked up.

 

&&&

 

After a period of separation, hearing the voice of someone you love is like stepping inside a warm building after wading through a blizzard:

Warming, comforting, and so, so welcome.

 

&&&

 

Twenty minutes later, Harry was sitting in the passenger’s side of a car. His hands were folded in his lap, his feet firmly planted to the ground.

He was still shaking, but now it was from the cold rather than the panic. He kept his gaze on the road straight ahead and made a futile attempt to blink back the tears that were steadily streaming down his face.

Zayn was the one in front of the steering wheel, glancing over at Harry and then turning the knob to crank the heat as high as it would go. Neither one of them said a word.

How did Harry end up here? He wasn’t exactly sure. His phone call with Louis was a blur, his mind still stuck on the fact that Louis actually picked up the phone even when he saw it was Harry calling. That had to mean something, right? But it didn’t matter. Louis had gently told him he was still in LA, all the way across the country, but that he would be there for Harry in a heartbeat if he could.

He was worried, obviously, because all Harry did was hyperventilate over the phone and then break out into a bout of distressed, pathetic crying. He hadn’t been able to string a sentence together, let alone explain to Louis what was wrong, while Louis tried to get an answer out of him as to where he was right then, if he was in a safe place or if someone needed to come get him.

He hadn’t been in a safe place. He’d been crumpled on the sidewalk in an unfamiliar part of the city, exposed to the elements and to strangers who might take advantage of him. Louis’ tone only grew more and more concerned as he coaxed simple answers out of Harry, and eventually he told him he texted a friend who was in town to take care of him. He’d sounded strangely apologetic about it, which only made sense once a pair of thin, skinny-jean clad legs appeared in front of him, and Harry looked up to see Zayn standing there with an unreadable expression on his face.

Imagine the shock of Harry seeing Zayn there and realizing he was the one Louis sent for him. He refused to stand up at first, refused to accept Zayn’s proffered hand, and then once he did that, refused to get in his car.

Harry was now in his car. It would’ve been awkward, but he was too done with everything to care.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Zayn asked in his typical bored tone, not even sparing Harry a glance. Between his fingers rested a cigarette, and the window was cracked open to outlet the smoke, which negated the heat pumping into the car.

“No,” Harry said, stubborn and annoyed. He was mad at Louis for sending Zayn, but more than that, he was angry at the universe for making it so that Louis couldn’t be here even when he was the only person in the world Harry wanted.

Zayn didn’t say anything, but in a few minutes they pulled up to a familiar looking apartment building, and Harry scowled.

“What’re we doing here? I thought you moved in with your bondmate.”

“I did. We decided to keep this for when we come to New York.”

“So he’s here right now? And you want me to go inside?” Harry asked incredulously. “You’re crazy. Why wouldn’t you just take me back to my place?”

“Li won’t mind. Louis asked me to keep an eye on you.”

“I don’t need you to keep an eye on me.”

“The fact that you had a panic attack in the middle of the street suggests otherwise.”

“Wasn’t in the middle of the street,” Harry grumbled, but he slid out of the car and followed Zayn up to his apartment anyway.

It was emptier than the last time he was here, so many months ago, most of the furniture moved out, but still fairly chaotic with art projects and clothes strewn about. Zayn left him lost and stranded amidst the messy living room half-packed with boxes, while he went to the kitchen and greeted Liam.

“Harry’s here,” he heard Zayn say, his voice softer than Harry had witnessed recently. Softer and warmer, obviously in love. “He’s gonna stay the night.”

“Is everything okay?”

“He had a panic attack while he was with another alpha.”

“Oh. You don’t think-”

“I have no idea. Louis told me he went into heat a few days after we went sailing with them. He was on suppressants.”

“Wow.”

Harry glared at the wall. When Zayn returned, he pushed him towards the shower and offered a fresh change of clothes. With a pointed look, he said, “When you get out, we’re having a conversation.”

An hour and an expensive water bill later, Harry found himself curled up on the couch, staring at the blank TV, begrudgingly making up with Zayn. Neither one of them was the best communicator, but after Zayn quietly apologized for everything that happened between them, Harry had no choice but to do the same.

After a long time of being alone, it was a relief to have someone on his side again. Harry ended up telling him about everything that happened with Louis, which led him to the events of tonight and how he ended up stranded in the middle of the city, unable to take care of himself. They ate dark chocolate and drank red wine and talked through all the shit that had been weighing on their minds ever since their fight. Zayn sympathized with Harry about Louis and assured him the alpha was being stupid and it would all resolve soon.

They talked all through the night and didn’t sleep until after the sun had already crested the horizon, casting the world in a warm golden glow. When they woke only a few hours later, Liam drove them to get brunch at a cafe a few blocks away.

“When’s your doctor’s appointment, by the way?” Zayn asked casually.

“Tomorrow. Why?”

Zayn and Liam shared a look. Harry glared at them both while stabbing a slice of omelette with his fork.

“You’ll hopefully get some answers,” Liam explained with a painfully cheerful voice. It was obvious he was trying to be the chirpy one to make Harry feel better, while Zayn was as morose as always. “About your suppressants and about what happened yesterday, I mean.”

“Nothing happened yesterday.”

“You had a panic attack, Harry.”

He stabbed another slice of his omelette and shoved it into his mouth. “Yeah, a lot of people have those.” It was a good omelette and didn’t deserve to be treated so harshly, but alas, Harry had no choice but to take out his frustrations on his breakfast food.

Zayn and Liam shared another look.

Harry threw his hands up in the air. “Why is everyone doing that to me? First Niall and Shawn, and now you two!”

“We’re not doing anything,” Liam assured with a certain calmness that alphas rarely possessed. Liam was a good alpha, Harry couldn’t deny it. He was warm and happy and comforting and Zayn was really lucky. “We’re just worried about you.”

“Well don’t be. I’m gonna go to the doctor tomorrow and they’re gonna increase my prescription strength and then I’ll be all good, my hormones won’t mess with my emotions anymore and I’ll be able to get back to what I was doing before Louis ruined my life. Easy. End of story.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” Liam suggested. Harry stabbed a third piece of omelette with his fork, even harder this time, and stared out the window at the dark gray sky.

 

&&&

 

“Did you notice any symptoms leading up to your heat?”

Harry shifted on the examination table, the paper covering it crinkling under his movements. He hated going to the doctor. It always made him nervous, and the questions were too personal, and he didn’t want to discuss any of this at all, let alone with a stranger.

“It’s really important that you answer this, Harry.”

They were on a first-name basis, apparently. Harry was wearing a crinkly paper gown just as uncomfortable as the paper he was sitting on, completely naked underneath it. He felt so exposed and vulnerable. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the wall instead of the doctor sitting on a rolling stool in front of him, white lab coat pristine under the harsh examination lights.

It would’ve been easier with a mate to sit beside him, to hold his hand and comfort him with their presence. He was envious of those who didn’t have to attend appointments like these alone. But then it would be so different. If he wasn’t alone, none of this would've happened.

“I’m not sure, I can’t remember. Like I said, I was with this alpha all week, so I can’t differentiate which reactions were from my heat and which were just because I was close to him. I mean, I’ve been on suppressants for years. I didn’t expect this to happen, so I wasn’t paying attention to any  symptoms .”

“You have to try your best to remember. How about sweating, hot flashes, nausea, tiredness, dehydration, lack of appetite, incoherency? Hypersensitive sense of smell? Increased sex drive?”

“I thought I was coming down with a cold,” Harry recalled, staring down at his hands. He felt stupid for not recognizing the signs, but how was he supposed to know his suppressants were failing? Sure, previous doctors had mentioned the possibility before, but it was so  rare . It didn’t make any sense. “I felt like shit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but those aren’t normal preheat symptoms. Louis was worried, too. He could sense something was wrong.”

“Louis is the alpha you were with?”

Harry nodded, dragging his nails over his knees. Saying his name out loud sent pangs of longing through his heart. He missed him.

“But you didn’t notice a change in your scent, and neither did he.”

“Right. Not until I was actually in heat, and then it was too late.”

“Tell me about Louis. How long have you known each other?”

Harry had no idea what this had to do with his suppressants failing, or at least he preferred not to think about why Louis was important to this situation, but he humored the doctor anyway because he didn’t have a choice, unless he wanted to walk out of here without any answers. “We only knew each other for a week, by that point. We have a mutual friend who set us up. We were strangers, but it hardly took any time to get to know each other. Usually I’m more cautious around alphas, but with him it was different.”

“How so?”

It was cheesy but Harry said it anyway, he couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop now that he had started. “It felt like we’d met before. Like we already knew each other, like we were already close friends. I’m usually great at separating feelings from work, but with Louis I just couldn’t do it. I felt so happy and comfortable with him.”

The doctor nodded in understanding, having Harry lay back on the table for a physical examination. As he gently prodded at Harry’s stomach looking for god knows what, he said, “Am I right to assume you’re familiar with the concept of soulmates? Scientifically proven ones, where their pheromones compliment each other’s, I mean.”

Harry nodded slowly, staying quiet.

“You probably know, then, that there’s not a lot of research on them, but it’s widely accepted that they exist. They’re rare, but they exist. Do you believe in soulmates?”

“I mean, you just said it’s true that they’ve been scientifically proven…”

Of course he believed in soulmates. All his life he wanted and hoped and pushed it all to the side, knowing the odds weren’t on his side.

“You probably know someone, then. A couple you’ve met in real life. Relatives, maybe, or a distant acquaintance?”

“Yeah.”

“So you’ll know from talking to them, that their experiences are quite similar to yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve mentioned your scent matching perfectly with this alpha’s, like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. You’ve talked about how comfortable you felt with him as soon as you met, as if you were old friends. He triggered your heat, while you were on suppressants, just by touching you.”

Harry stared at the ceiling. He already knew none of that was normal, but coming to terms with it was a different story. Trying the words out loud made his head spin as he said in a dull voice, more to himself than anything, “You’re saying he and I are soulmates.”

“We can do the tests to confirm the cause of your situation. All it takes is a bit of blood work. The failure of the suppressants you were on is incredibly rare. I know you’re aware of that.”

“So what do I do?”

“After a suppressant failure, it’s advised that you go off them completely for four to six months. Since you just went through a heat, you’ll probably only have one more before you start taking the pill again. You’ll have time to plan accordingly. You need to give your body time to reset and readjust, to do what nature intends. Most of my patients who stop their suppressants for a few months report feeling more energized and even happier. So many strong medications can take a toll on your body, and it’s good to give it a rest for a little while. I understand that going off suppressants may not be possible given certain circumstances, and we can work together to come up with a different plan, but I strongly suggest, if at all possible, you take a break for at least four months.”

Countless questions circled Harry’s mind. Countless uncertainties. He didn’t want to have another heat at all. He didn’t want to spend it alone. “What about birth control?”

“You can choose to go off it, or we can switch you over to a different form of contraceptive. For health reasons, I can’t keep you on the same one, though.”

“That’s fine. I’d like something new. I can’t go off it.”

The doctor nodded, jotting down more notes in his messy scrawl.

“Have you been sexually active since your last heat?”

Harry blushed, but felt too self-conscious to even cover his face for fear of drawing attention to his embarrassment. Under normal circumstances, this question wouldn’t phase him. “I tried,” he admitted, “with a different alpha. But it didn’t work out. I was feeling so anxious and unsettled, and I left before we did anything.”

“That’s to be expected. If you really felt a connection with the alpha who triggered your heat, your inner omega will tend to resist sexual interactions with others. Don’t worry, it’s a totally normal reaction for soulmates.”

“Right,” Harry said, and stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of it all.

“There are support groups for separated soulmates. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

Harry stared at his hands. His nail polish was chipping, which felt reflective of his current emotional state. He repainted them using the same color Louis used on him back in Florida. Just the sight of the sparkly red bottle saddened him. A mess, that was what he was. A mess.

“There’s a possibility I could be pregnant,” Harry said. “Right?”

“We’ll know as soon as your bloodwork comes back. There are resources for you, Harry. You’re not alone.”

Harry pressed his lips together and accepted the slip of paper, covered in dates and locations, in his shaking hand. He folded it in half, and then in half again, until it was small enough to slip into the pocket of his jeans which were bunched up on the chair beside him. He picked at his nails and ran his thumb over his bottom lip. He didn’t think about the countless alphas he’d slept with recently. He didn’t think of the possibility of a tiny, unknown life growing inside him. The doctor left the room to print information sheets about his diagnosis and treatment plan. Harry was left alone in the cold room with goosebumps covering his skin.

 

&&&

 

The results came back negative. During the walk home, he wiped tears of relief and aching sadness off his cheeks before they could freeze in the harsh wind.

 

&&&

 

Time passed slowly with little change. Harry hid out in his apartment, always either listening to music while curled up in bed, or staring at the blank walls in silence. He ate comfort food like mac ‘n’ cheese and chicken noodle soup, drank countless cups of tea, and took long, hot showers, soaking up the steam and crying until he couldn’t cry anymore. It was a relief to let it out, to release all of the emotions he couldn’t describe.

He stared at his phone and waited for Louis to call him. Or text him. Or give any indication that he was thinking about Harry. Any indication that their week together meant something to him. He waited for an explanation, an answer. A reason as to why he hadn’t responded, why he was going through Niall to ask about Harry when he could’ve done it himself, why he was being an asshole or a coward or whatever it was that was that made him pull back.

Harry told himself he would be okay if Louis told him he wasn’t interested, he didn’t care for him like that, he didn’t want all the baggage that came having a bondmate like Harry. He told himself he would be okay if Louis called just to say he didn’t want him. Just to say Harry wasn’t good enough for him, not what he wanted or needed, not what he pictured when he thought about love or soulmates. He told himself he would be okay if Louis was just honest and open and said he couldn’t do it. It was the silence that was killing him, not the answer.

All of these awful thoughts were running through his mind, and he learned to keep them to himself after Niall chastised him for hours after he admitted he understood why Louis didn’t want an omega like him. Niall was unreasonable, Niall didn’t get it. Louis had rejected him.

Late one night, Harry found the courage to sift through online research articles about soulmates. He read the ones that weren’t hidden behind a paywall and tried not to worry with the new information that he would spend the rest of his life longing for something he couldn’t have.

He stared at his online banking information, at the total amount of money in his savings account. He stared at the stuffed animal from the carnival resting on his bed, the one he cuddled every night. He stared at his fading tan in the mirror when he stepped out of the shower. He stared at the write-up from his doctor. He stared at the ring on his finger. He wondered if he should take it off.

“I’ll talk to him,” Zayn said, exactly a week after Harry’s panic attack and the awkward sleepover that resulted. They were kind of friends again. Harry was at Zayn’s place again, lying on the floor in front of the tv, flipping through a Cosmo magazine and squinting at his horoscope. It offered nothing helpful.

“Talk to who?” Even though he already knew who.

Zayn was observing him from the couch. “I’ve never seen you like this before, over an alpha or otherwise. You’re a mess.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m totally fine, Zayn, let me just not react to the fact that I have a  soulmate  who is  ghosting  me. Let me just go back to how things were before I knew I was doomed to a life of yearning for someone who  doesn’t want me back . Let me just ignore my own flaws and shortcomings even though there’s obviously a multitude of reasons why he  ran for the hills  the first chance he got. Let me just-”

A pillow whomped him in the face, knocking the magazine out of his hands. He sat up and glared the most menacing glare he could muster.

“What happened to independence?” Zayn wondered, going back to sketching a hyper-realistic picture of Liam. Smiling, happy, in love Liam. Ever since they bonded, Zayn’s entire portfolio was full of different renditions of Liam. “What happened to being a badass omega who doesn’t need an alpha?”

Harry shifted his glare to cheerful, sketched Liam. “I have  a soulmate who does not want me , are you even listening to me?”

“You have a soulmate who doesn’t know you’re his soulmate,” Zayn corrected. He pulled the sketch closer to himself like he was protecting Liam’s likeness from Harry’s bad juju.

Harry ignored him. “I have a soulmate who thinks I’m worthless and ugly. I’m a bad omega, so bad that he doesn’t want me even though we’re meant to be together-”

Zayn chucked another pillow at him, smacking him in the face. His aim was impeccable.

“You’re not a bad omega. You’re just a human being, living your life. And I know you know Louis doesn’t think any of that is true. I know you know how much he cares about you, even from only knowing each other for a week.”

“I don’t know what I know anymore.”

“A god damn drama queen.” In his effortlessly cool manner, Zayn set his sketchbook aside and crossed the room, pulling Harry off the ground and squeezing his biceps. His face said he was unimpressed, but his scent signals were concerned. Comfort and reassurance flooded Harry, the kind only an omega could offer. It was impossible to feel hollow inside when his old best friend was sharing pheromones with him, reminding him in that subtle, nonverbal way that everything was going to be okay. “I said, I’m going to call Louis, and we’re going to figure this out. There must be some miscommunication, some reason why he’s ignoring you. I refuse to believe Louis of all people would do something like this.”

He steered Harry over to the couch and tossed a blanket to him, gently this time. He pulled out his phone as Harry wrapped his arms around his knees, and when he dialed the number, they both held their breath.

It rang, and rang, and rang. It went to voicemail.

Zayn tried again. Harry wondered why Louis picked up that night when he was on the street, lost and panicking. Why that time, of all the times Harry called? How had he known Harry was in trouble? Or had it just been luck?

They tried five more times. On the fifth, Zayn left an annoyed-sounding voicemail in his typical bored drawl, the kind that said he was unimpressed. Harry drank a bunch of wine and then passed out while complaining into Zayn’s lap, Zayn’s fingers stroking through his hair.

In the morning, Liam drove them to brunch, where they ate too many breakfast foods all at once and danced around the topic as to why Harry was such a mess. Hence, the beginning of a weekly ritual.

 

&&&

 

A few weeks ago, Harry might’ve felt remorse for what he was doing right now: invading privacy and eavesdropping on a conversation he clearly wasn’t meant to hear. However, things had changed, and Harry was losing his morals. He was desperate.

“Yes. He’s fine. I’m telling you, he’s fine.”

Harry leant his head against the wall and tried his best to listen over the noises of the city. He was at Niall’s house, and Niall was out on the porch, in the cold, pacing back and forth. He was talking to Louis.

It wasn’t fair that Louis only picked up the phone for Niall.

Sick of waiting for the call to end and pestering Niall for answers he refused to give, Harry took it upon himself to open the window and listen through the screen. Niall hadn’t noticed, or if he had, he was nice enough to pretend he hadn’t. Harry was sitting on the floor, in the dark, with his back to the wall as he closed his eyes and imagined Louis’ voice on the other end of the line. Niall’s responses in the beginning were so ambiguous, it was difficult to tell what they were talking about, and Harry did his best to fill in the blanks with the use of his imagination. Then, it got interesting.

“For fuck’s sake,” Niall groaned, finally cracking and showing some real emotion. He was the cheeriest, most happy-go-lucky person Harry had ever met, and it took a lot for him to actually convey his annoyance. “If you want to know who he’s sleeping with, you’re gonna have to ask him yourself. I’m not a messenger pigeon for transcontinental gossip. If you want to know so badly, book a flight over here and see for yourself.”

Harry thought he heard loud sounds of shouting and growling coming from the other end of the line, but he couldn’t be sure.

“Jesus, calm down. I just told you I’m not answering that. You don’t have any right to be acting like this. He’s not your omega. You don’t have any more of a claim on him than anyone else does.”

There was another pause before Niall’s voice rose again.

“No, you don’t get to shout at me about this. I don’t care what happened. What matters is that you’re not here right now, and that’s your problem, your fault, not mine.”

Harry listened to the tone of Niall’s voice as it turned more and more agitated. An annoyed growl rumbled low in his chest at something Louis said on the other end of the line, and Harry pulled his knees to his chest and curled up into a ball to comfort his inner omega. He knew he wasn’t in any danger, but his inner omega didn’t know that, and all it heard was an aggravated alpha outside, which stressed him out to no end.

“God, you are  such  an idiot. This is honestly ridiculous. I get that you’re insecure, but there’s no way you’re daft enough to think it isn’t mutual. You know how he feels about you, so why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you doing this to  Harry ?”

They argued back and forth for a few minutes more, but Harry had trouble ascertaining what was happening when he could only hear one end of the conversation. He was left mostly confused.

“Yes, of course I’m taking care of him, unlike you! Ugh, I can only take so much of this. I’ve told you, he’s fine. Sort out your own shit before you call me again.”

Whatever Louis said in response, must’ve lightened the mood, because suddenly Niall was laughing and smiling again.

“Jesus, you’re an idiot. A real idiot, Louis Tomlinson.”

The call ended shortly thereafter, following a conversation about sports that Harry didn’t seem to follow, especially when it was hard to make sense of Niall’s incoherent gibberish on one end of the line. He didn’t bother to close the window or get up from his obvious eavesdropping spot as Niall came back inside and spotted him there, his smile falling only slightly.

“Hey, it’s getting late. Do you want me to take you home, or do you want to spend the night?”

Harry stood on wobbly legs. His inner omega was still trembling from all the growling and yelling. “Stay the night, if that’s okay?”

“‘Course it is.” Niall secured the window shut and locked it, letting the curtains fall closed again.

“Does he know?”

“Hm?”

“Does he know we’re soulmates?”

“Oh. No, I haven’t told him. I think it’d be best if it came from you.”

“Yeah, well he won’t talk to me.”

“I know. I’m working on it.”

“Do you think it’ll change things? If he finds out?”

He hung his coat in the closet and kicked his shoes off, subtly sending out comforting pheromones to soothe Harry’s omega. The action made Harry melt, his limbs feeling like jello to the point where he had to lean against Niall to stand upright without sinking to the floor.

“Yeah, pet, I do. C’mon, let’s go to bed.”



&&&



Louis was losing his mind.

He could not think straight. He could not focus on anything. Not work, not travel, not everyday tasks, nothing. He could barely see straight, his mind was a storm of memories, of images and feelings. It was panic he felt. The kind of panic at losing someone he needed more than anyone.

It had been weeks. Too long. Louis was on his last miniscule of self-restraint. It would run out soon. There was only so much he could do to keep himself from chasing after the omega who didn’t even want him. He was losing his mind. Maybe he was being dramatic. He couldn’t stop thinking about him. He missed him, so much. So much.

He was sitting in a meeting, at the head of the table because he was the second most important person here, damn it, this meeting was for him. And he just could not focus.

Los Angeles was so far away from New York City.

2,451 miles. He had looked it up days ago.

The number made his inner alpha prowl restlessly in his chest, howling with each turn. 2,451 miles. So far away.

Louis was losing his mind.

He could not sit here any longer. Excusing himself hastily, the world was too off-kilter for him to create a decent explanation, not to mention an apology. The alphas and betas around the desk were shocked. He staggered out of the room, the door losing hard behind him with a slam that made him flinch. The next time he opened his eyes he was in the bathroom, staring at his reflection in the mirror. A ghost stared back. An exhausted, demoralized ghost with dark circles under his eyes like purple crescent moons. His skin was sickly pale. He was tired. So tired.

It had been weeks since Florida. Weeks since he fucked up and did something he shouldn’t have. Weeks since he ran away without an explanation.

After  fucking  Harry and  leaving  him, Louis found himself on a flight back to his hollow LA house for another week of business meetings and work and stress.

He barely made it off the plane before his rut hit.

It had been unexpected, out of the blue and sneaking up on him, no warning signs at all. Or maybe the warning signs were there, but he had not noticed them because he’d been too busy focusing on the omega in heat. He thought that was a valid reason to not notice his own warning signs. Maybe. But also inconvenient because he barely had time to grab a box of protein bars and a pack of bottled water before locking himself in the bedroom and tearing his clothes off like he couldn’t get them off fast enough.

After sleeping off the end of his rut, he woke up groggy and vaguely horny to the pileup of messages on both his work phone and his personal phone. He ignored work, not even caring enough to worry about missing at least three meetings without even shooting a text to say he wasn’t going to show, and instead focused on his personal phone, and specifically the message from one person in particular.

thanks for the gifts, alpha :) 💓🌸

It was clearly just a flirty text to keep Louis in the loop, probably hoping the use of ‘alpha’ would coax Louis into buying him more things. Not that Louis minded buying things for the omega, but he figured this was the generic text Harry sent to every alpha who spoiled him.

Louis stared at it for a long, long time before deciding Harry didn’t expect a response. Not only did he not expect a response, but he probably didn’t even want one, unless it was to offer him money or more gifts. Louis knew what Harry was like with the other alphas he interacted with, and he had no intention of becoming one of them. He wasn’t strong enough to handle knowing he was just one of many. It hurt too much to even think about it.

He’d tossed his phone to the side and face planted into bed, frustrated with himself for getting so attached to an omega who had more than a dozen suitors at any given moment, an omega who wasn’t looking for a relationship and even if he was, he would never choose Louis.

And now here he was. Staring at his reflection in the mirror, desperately clinging to some semblance of sanity before his inner wolf completely took over. If his wolf had its way, he would be in New York right now, tracking Harry down by scent alone. Which was creepy. Terribly creepy. Add Louis to the list of creeps who became obsessed with Harry after being shown only a little bit of affection by the omega. The thought of Harry regarding him as an inconvenience and an annoyance made him feel sick to his stomach.

Things were not going well.

Just last night, he’d called Niall to check up on Harry. To see how he was doing, if things were okay. If he was sleeping with other alphas.

He already knew the answer to the last one, an obvious yes. But Louis still had to ask, just for the slight hope that Niall would assure him that no, Harry hadn’t slept with anyone since Louis. He knew it wasn’t true, knew it was too much to ask for Harry to not move on just yet, knew it wasn’t even his business at all anymore, but he still couldn’t shake the question from his mind. He thought about it constantly, in the worst of ways: Harry with other alphas, going on dates, receiving gifts, letting them touch him…

Louis stared at his reflection in the mirror to ground himself in the moment. There was nothing he could do about Harry’s decisions. The omega was probably getting pounded in a luxurious hotel bed right now and it was none of Louis’ business. He gripped the edges of the sink so hard, his knuckles turned white.

Niall had said something last night, though.

If you want to know so bad, book a flight over here and see for yourself.

It wasn’t an invitation by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough of a nudge in the right direction to crack Louis’ resolve until it shattered.

His excuse to fly across the country came in the form of a rescheduled meeting later that day. The representative claimed a Skype interview would do just fine, not wanting to inconvenience Louis.

“Where will you be on Friday?” Friday was the day they were supposed to have the meeting.

“New York.”

Louis’ jaw clenched, his entire body wrought with tension. Newfound energy was thrumming within his veins.

He tried on a cordial smile to let the amiability it seep into his tone. “I would prefer to meet in person, Mr. Harding. I’ll come to you.”



&&&



“What… are you doing?”

Harry spun around, away from the mirror, holding up four shirts—two in each hand. Shirtless, in just a pair of trousers, he watched Niall scan over the room with a critical eye.

“I need your help choosing what to wear. I can’t tell which top looks best with these pants.”

Niall eyed him even more suspiciously. “...What are you getting dressed for?”

Harry threw the shirts on the bed with a dramatic flair, throwing his hands up in the air. “Can’t you just help me choose?! I’m having a crisis. I need to know which top says I’m worth a million dollars but also totally willing to get destroyed in a hotel room after dinner.”

Niall just stared at him, and then he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Do you really think this is a good idea?”

“Niall, focus.” He pointed at the shirts. “White ruffles or black satin? Or red satin? Or pink silk with the cute pearl buttons? Or maybe-”

“Seriously. Pet, please.” Niall grabbed his wrist, tugging until he was facing him and couldn’t escape unless he really tried. “I think you’re doing this as a form of self-destruction and I’m not going to just stand here and let you do it.”

Harry avoided his eyes, looked down, and felt like a child being reprimanded by an adult. He pulled his arm away and stood up straighter. “This is my decision. I’m a single omega in my twenties and I should be able to go on a date whenever I want, with whoever I want, without you sassing me like you’re my dad, because—newsflash—you’re not!”

They stared at each other for a long, heated moment before Harry turned his chin and plucked the black shirt off the bed, running the smooth fabric between his fingers. A dark color to match his dark mood, that was what he would wear tonight. He slipped it on, fumbling with the buttons due to the fact that his fingers were shaking.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Niall said quietly.

“I’ll be fine.”

It was silent as Harry finished getting ready, aside from his rings clanking on the table as he scooped them up into his hands, even as Niall remained in the room, taking a seat on his bed. They’d spent the day together, watching another golf tournament, which basically meant that Harry made comments about every alpha he saw on TV and Niall laughed at his ridiculousness. The tried a new recipe for dinner, and it failed miserably, so they ended up with their fallback plan of takeout delivered straight to the apartment. And now Harry was getting ready to go out with an alpha, Michael, the one he’d had dinner with just before Niall introduced him to Louis.

He continued getting ready, pulling on his favorite pair of boots and touching up his hair with a curling wand. Niall watched the whole ritual passively, but Harry ignored him, too keen on having this one night to hopefully get over Louis. The last time he tried this was a bust, but he’d rushed into things too fast. Tonight would be different. Tonight would be better.

On his way out the door, Niall pulled him into a hug and held him to his chest in a protective gesture. “Keep me updated. Text me periodically, when you get to dinner, when you leave, and if anything goes wrong-”

Harry squeezed him tight, and then let go. “I will. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

The restaurant was on the other side of the city, so he took a cab, glad to escape the horrid weather. He didn’t have a winter coat, so he shivered the whole way, pressing his hands between his thighs. By the time he got inside, he was a shivering icicle, teeth chattering but somehow able to cover it up for the sake of not looking like he was losing his sanity. He gave the name at the front podium and was eyed warily by the hostess before being led back through the opulent restaurant full of affluent people. Real affluent people, not the ones who tried too hard to appear wealthy, but the ones who didn’t feel the need to try at all. The atmosphere was cool and sleek and Harry, after years of attending dinners at places just like this, felt like he was right where he was supposed to be. He was comfortable and confident, so at ease.

Michael was there, waiting for him, on time. Harry was fashionably late, certain he looked that endearing kind of flustered with rosy cheeks and windswept hair as he kissed the alpha on the cheek and apologized for being late, making up some excuse that made it sound like he had an interesting, fast-paced life.

“There will be repercussions for your tardiness,” the alpha teased with a wink, taking a sip of his ice water.

“Mm, I like where this is going,” Harry hummed right back. He opened his menu to appear nonchalant, and swirled his finger around the rim of his own glass, which was wet with condensation.

Their conversation flowed easily, because Harry was a good conversationalist and Michael wasn’t a boring person. He had an intriguing outlook on life and his job was dark and glamorous, full of exciting stories that harry didn’t mind listening to. It was easy to nod along and respond appropriately as the alpha described a recent case he just won, defending a beta accused of triple homicide.

When the server came for their order, Michael encouraged Harry to choose whatever he had a taste for, no matter the cost or amount. With a delicate shrug, Harry selected a countless number of dishes that sounded tempting, knowing he would bring home whatever he didn’t finish.

It was going well. Everything was fine. There was no panic striking his heart, no stomach-churning fear that made him hyperventilate or run away. The evening was calm and familiar, something he’d done a million times before, something he knew like the back of his hand. He ate small bites of his meal because nothing was worse than feeling stuffed and bloated when an alpha was undressing him. He counted his sips of wine and declined a second glass with a cheeky grin.

Hyperaware as always, the feeling of a few pairs of eyes around the room settling on their table didn’t perturb him. It was easier to focus on the alpha and not worry about what others thought, and by now he had this sick sense of satisfaction that he was receiving attention for engaging in a taboo activity. None of the people glowering at him knew anything about his life, about what he was doing and why he was here right now. They didn’t know him. They had no right to judge him.

Harry was happy, kind of. Maybe happy wasn’t the right word. Perhaps satisfied fit better. Satisfied was good. Satisfied was a success. Didn’t people spend their whole lives searching for satisfaction?

The restaurant was busy, full of people and scents. Crowds like this were always overwhelming for his nose, making it too difficult to pinpoint anything, the world just a swarm of emotions conveyed through pheromones. His nose twitched with the scent of something familiar, though.

Michael procured a small gift box from beneath his chair, tied with a black ribbon that matched the material of Harry’s top, which successfully distracted Harry from subtly sniffing the air.

“I saw these in a shop window in Verona and they reminded me of you,” Michael explained, and something about his smile was so handsome and dangerous, a darkness simmering beneath the surface, that Harry nearly melted in his seat.

He opened the jewelry box to reveal two gold bracelets, resembling wide cuffs. A blush spread across his visage as he noticed the addition of a smooth chain tethering the two bracelets together.

“They can be worn as jewelry, of course, you can remove the chain. But I think we can come up with some other uses for them.”

Harry laughed, removing one bracelet from the box to try it on. “I’m sure we can.”

The metal was cold, but it warmed up against his heated skin. He was burning from the inside out with anticipation, excited that the night was turning out as he’d hoped. An evening to get lost in the sensations and just not think for a few hours was exactly what he needed. It didn’t matter who the alpha was, when it came down to it. Maybe Michael did not want a relationship, maybe he was not one for affection, but none of that mattered. What mattered was that he was looking at Harry like he knew exactly how badly Harry needed to come undone.

The server returned, interrupting their heated moment. Michael surprised Harry by ordering a slice of chocolate cake for him and nothing for himself.

“We’ll see how patient you can be,” the alpha proposed in a dark voice.

Harry stared at him with his lips parted for a moment, before he snapped his mouth shut. “All right, then.” Not one to shy away from a challenge, he sat up straighter and resolved to be on his best behavior. The alpha smirking at him from across the table made him a little nervous in the best way.

When the dessert arrived, Harry pushed the plate to the center of the table. “Aren’t you going to feed me?”

Michael laughed, picking up the fork and scooping up a bite of chocolate and fudge. When he offered it to Harry, the omega accepted it teasingly, tongue and teeth and all, licking his lips when he was finished, brushing a bit of fudge away from his mouth with his thumb.

Harry cast his gaze to the side to play coy. The repercussions of that simple action were that his eyes landed on someone sitting at a table not too far away.

Not just someone.

Harry’s heart stopped. He would recognize that face anywhere. Blue eyes, sharp cheekbones, foxy features. Pretty lips.

Michael forked him another bite of cake, and Harry accepted it mindlessly, still unable to look away. He was going crazy. There was no way Louis was actually here right now. Harry was just hallucinating. He had to be. Right?

Louis was at a table of four, with one other man and two women. Harry couldn’t make out their presentations from here, not that it mattered, really, when he was so focused on his  soulmate . He was wearing a dark suit with a burgundy sweater beneath it, dressed intelligently for the unforgiving winter weather. The situation looked like some sort of business meeting, stiff and cordial, which wasn’t a surprise at all, and that didn’t matter either, because Harry was still reeling over the fact that Louis was here, in this restaurant, only a few tables away. Louis was here in New York City and made no attempt to reconnect with him. Louis was here.

Louis was here.

Harry stared after him, baffled and longing.

He looked so beautiful and lovely, and Harry wanted to run across the room and sink into his arms. He wanted to bury his face in his neck and never let go. He wanted to cling to Louis forever and ever and cry into his shoulder and promise he would be the best bondmate in the world, he would do anything Louis asked-

“What is it, darling?”

“Oh! Nothing,” Harry rushed, focusing his attention back on Michael. “Sorry, just lost in thought,” he cringed. “You should try some cake. It’s yummy.”

Michael was a no bullshit kind of person, and he didn’t look convinced. He could tell a lie from the truth. That quality was probably what made him so good at his job. Harry withered under his gaze, so distraught he couldn’t think straight.

“You can tell me, you know. Whatever it is.”

He shook his head slightly, nudging the fork back into the apha’s hand. “It’s really bad,” he admitted quietly.

“Try me.”

Harry glanced over at Louis, who was mid-laugh and glowing with amusement. His eyes crinkled when he smiled and Harry wished he were closer, so he could count the freckles on his nose.

Michael’s face was impassive, possibly expectant. Impartial. Non-judgemental. That was what mattered. It wouldn’t hurt to be honest.

Harry sighed. “I met my soulmate a few weeks ago. He triggered my heat, even though I was on suppressants, and then he left me, and I haven’t seen him since. And now he’s at that table over there. So.”

“He left you?”

“Made sure I was safe, yeah, and then he left. But he hasn’t returned any of my calls, so like, point taken.” Harry’s shoulders folded in, making him appear smaller. “It just hurts, knowing he doesn’t want me. Knowing he’s here right now and he doesn’t even care enough to explain what happened. Sorry, I’m being dramatic.”

“He’s clearly not that intelligent if he’s willing to give you up.”

“Maybe,” Harry allowed.

“Do you love him?”

“I hardly know him. I thought I knew him. I don’t know.” He couldn’t think about anything with Louis so close. He wanted to approach him, but was wary of ambushing him. In any situation he could imagine, he was the one who would embarrass himself, the pitiful, desperate omega pining after an alpha who didn’t want him.

Michael set his hand on the table, palm up. “There is a cure for heartbreak, you know.”

Harry wasn’t naive enough to miss his teasing, mischievous tone. “Oh, is there now?”

The alpha gestured for the bill and their server came running, which showed just how much influence he had. He handed over his card and she disappeared again to complete the transaction.

Harry set his hand in Michael’s open palm, enjoying the feeling of being encompassed. Michael brought Harry’s hand to his mouth, kissing his knuckles and nosing along his wrist to inhale his scent. It was an overtly sexual gesture, like kissing with tongue or groping your lover, too indecent for the public eye.

“You haven’t been yourself tonight.”

A pout graced Harry’s lips before he could stop it. He thought he’d been doing well at playing normal, but apparently not. Both his wrists were now clasped in the alpha’s hands, fingers stroking over his soft skin.

“Let me make it up to you,” he promised softly.

“I’m in no position to refuse,” Michael smirked. “Let’s get you back to my suite, have a drink, look out at the city. Some rosé and a good view should do the trick, take your mind off of him. If not that, then maybe...”

Harry curled his fingers, and then let his hands fall from Michael’s grasp. He smiled shakily and stood up on wobbly legs, trying not to appear so frazzled, considering what he was insinuating. “Sounds good. I’ll be right back, I’m gonna run to the bathroom?”

The satisfied look on the apha’s face said he knew exactly how flustered Harry actually was. “I’ll be here.”

Harry pulled himself away from the table, stumbling in the direction of the bathrooms. Half of him wanted to hide from Louis and the other half wanted to walk right up for him, so he settled for weaving in and out of the tables a few feet away, not too close to be obvious.

It didn’t matter, though. Harry failed to keep his gaze steady ahead of him, and glanced to the side. In that moment, his eyes locked with Louis’.

A wave of emotions flooded through him all at once, indistinguishable and overwhelming. Louis didn’t appear shocked at all, which either meant he was apathetic about the situation, or he had noticed Harry before. Harry severely hoped it was the latter.

He could not tear his eyes away. Which caused him to trip over his own feet and bump into a table. He apologized profusely, blushing bright red, and glanced back at Louis to see him pushing his chair back and standing up. Walking in his direction.

Harry panicked. He scrambled forward and nearly ran toward the bathrooms.

It made sense now, the familiar smell in the air. Louis’ amber and woods scent was much more prominent now that Harry was focused on it. It made his heart ache and thud. He stumbled into the dark hallway, cursing the ambient lighting for making it so difficult to see. He turned around and Louis was right there.

“Harry,” he said.

His expression was lost and almost hopeless, a little dazed. Not at all what Harry expected. Maybe a look of pity, or apathy, but this… He didn’t know what to make of it.

“Hi,” Harry breathed. “What are you doing here?” He stumbled over the words, pressing one hand on the wall so he didn’t have to focus on staying upright.

“I’m here for business. I was hoping to see you…” Louis trailed off, stepping closer. There was a peculiar expression on his face, unreadable. “How are you doing?”

Harry stared at him harder. He couldn’t make out what was going on. What did he want to hear, that he was absolutely miserable and pathetic ever since realized Louis didn’t want him?

But he’s here…  his inner omega whined,  He’s here right now…  

“I’m… okay.”

The alpha nodded, brushing his fringe out of his eyes: a nervous habit. He tapped his fingers against the wall and nodded again. “That’s good. Yeah, that’s good.”

His voice was soft, hushed, raspy. Harry had missed it. That one short phone call when he was in the middle of a deep panic had not left a lot of awareness for Harry to appreciate his voice, how he longed to hear it. But he appreciated it now. He wanted Louis to keep talking, about anything, to soothe his worried omega with his words.

His mind blanked on what to say, nothing of substance coming to the forefront. “Yeah...” he trailed off, awkward and stilted.

“Right. How was your heat? You went to the doctor and everything, got it all sorted out?”

The hallway was dark enough that Harry was sinking back into the shadows. “I don’t think you have any right to ask me that,” he said softly.

Louis bit the corner of his thumb, taking a small step back, and then a bigger one. “You’re right. Sorry. Um…”

“Why are you here right now, Louis?”

The harsh tone of the words spilling out of his own mouth surprised him. Taken aback by himself, he paused just as much as the alpha did in response to the accusatory question hanging thick and heavy in the air. Frustration, anger, confusion. He  was  mad. Louis had hurt him, more than anyone had ever hurt him before, in such a short time. He had offered no explanation, no apology, nothing to validate Harry’s feelings or assuage his fears. And now he was here, right now, asking if Harry had been to the doctor. Like they were friends. Like they knew each other at all.

The alpha held his hands up defensively, taking another step back. “I’m at a business meeting, honest.”

“Why didn’t you respond to my calls? Only when- Only when I was in trouble did you answer. How did you know? And why didn’t you- Why won’t you give me an explanation?”

The questions burst out of him like tiny fireworks popping off in the dark. They scorched his insides, his throat, his mouth. He was angry and humiliated and somewhere in the restaurant, an alpha was waiting for him to bring him back to his hotel room and fuck him until he couldn’t think, couldn’t worry about any of this.

Louis’ brows furrowed. “You don’t have to pretend with me, Harry.”

“What? What am I pretending about?”

“You don’t have to pretend I’m more than just another rich alpha to fund your shopping habits. It’s okay, you don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings,” he said with spite. The words  rich alpha  and  hurting my feelings  sounded weird coming from him, warbled and a little too high-pitched.

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Is that what you think of me?”

Louis did not respond.

“No, seriously. Is that what you got from our week together? From me pouring all of my feelings into everything we did together?  Begging  you to stay with me, only for you to leave me high and dry, all alone to deal with my fucking  heat ?”

More silence.

“I cannot believe this. I cannot believe  you . You think this is me treating you like I treat all the other knotheads in my life? You think I open up to them and tell them all about my past? My family, my childhood? All the time we spent talking, all the late night conversations and the secrets I shared, and you were just- The whole time you were thinking I do that with every alpha who knots me? Just so- Just so they’ll buy stuff for me?!”

The volume and shrillness of Harry’s voice rose with word and by the end of it, people at the tables near the hallway were staring. His chest was heaving with the force of it all. He was indignant, angry. He was making a scene. He had no idea Louis thought so little of him.

“I,” Louis stuttered, his face a mix of shock and startlement.  Good,  Harry thought. “No, that’s not it at all, I just didn’t want to bother you. I had no idea you… I honestly thought you were like this with everyone. I thought I crossed a line. I thought I was being creepy and weird.”

“Well, you weren’t,” Harry huffed, crossing his arms. “You’re such an idiot.”

“Yeah… Sorry. Are you- You’re here on a date?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Well.” Louis searched for the right words and didn’t seem to find them. “Sorry for interrupting…” he said lamely.

They stood together in silence for a moment, unsure of what to do. Louis’ face was shadowy and hard to read.

“You’re just going to leave me? After all that?”

“You’re with another alpha.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t want to be with Michael; he wanted to be with Louis.

“Did you come here without a coat?”

“Huh?”

“I saw you walk in without a coat. You were shivering. Do you not have a winter coat?”

“No.”

How do you live in New York and not have a winter coat?  That was what Louis was thinking, judging by the look on his face. “You should really get one. It’s freezing outside.”

Harry tried to think of a way to bring up the fact that Louis was his soulmate without just blurting it out. The whole ordeal made him feel so tired. He slumped against the wall, resting his head back.

“What am I supposed to tell Michael?”

“Who? The alpha you’re with?”

“Yeah.”

Louis shrugged, but his nonchalance was so forced, it was painful to watch. “That’s up to you.”

“There’s no way I can go back to his hotel now. I just- I can’t. But we already had dinner and he paid for the meal-”

Louis held his hand up. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“He paid for dinner.”

“Dinner isn’t an all-access pass to your body. I can foot the bill, if he’s so inclined to be an asshole about it.”

Harry bit his bottom lip, considering.

Louis stared off into the distance with a troubled look on his face. Then he drew his shoulders back, squared them, and stood taller. He seemed to decide on something.

“I’ll be at my table. Come get me if you need me.”

He grabbed Harry’s hand and kissed the back it, sending shivers down his spine.

“And get yourself a winter coat, little dove.”

Then he walked away.

The omega could only stand there and revel in what was left of his scent in the air, familiar and comforting. The feeling of his lips on the back of hand, too. He leant against the wall for a moment before shuffling into the bathroom to pull himself together, too distraught and confused over what just happened. All he could think was that Louis still did not know they were soulmates.

When he returned to the table, Michael was busy composing an email on his phone. Harry’s lip was going to be bitten raw by the end of the night, with all the worrying he was doing. He sat down on the edge of his seat.

“I’m really sorry, Michael. I can’t do this.”

The alpha didn’t seem surprised. He nodded contemplatively and nudged the takeout box toward Harry’s side of the table. “You talked to him?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“No problem. Keep the bracelets. I hope it works out for you.”

“Thanks, but you should take them back; I don’t think he’ll want me to wear them. Give them to another sugar baby.”

Michael laughed, his hand settling on his stomach. “All the more reason to keep them, then. Make the bastard jealous.”

Slightly nervous, Harry giggled and accepted the gift again, fairly certain he would sell them on Ebay the first chance he got. “Well, thanks. I should get going.” He stood up and gave him a soft kiss on the lips, deciding to reward good behavior as a form of positive reinforcement. He waved goodbye, and that was that.

Once outside, beneath the falling snow, the phone only rang twice before Niall picked up.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Can you pick me up?” He rattled off the address, blowing on his hands to warm them. “I have no idea what just happened.”

 

&&&

 

Two days later, Harry was at the gym, on the phone with Niall. His hot yoga class started in a few minutes and he was going to be late.

“So you’re just not gonna return his calls?”

“No, for the millionth time. I don’t want to talk to him right now. Just thinking about him makes me angry.”

After dinner that night, Niall picked Harry up at the restaurant and listened to his endless rant the whole ride to his brownstone. Harry had been shaky and distraught, too confused to come to any conclusions. Niall drew a bath for him and they shared a bottle of wine while Harry soaked up to his shoulders in bubbles and spilled all of his feelings, everything that was on his mind, to Niall who sat on the closed lid of the toilet and tried his best to follow along with Harry’s wandering logic. Niall was such a good friend.

“I don’t understand you two. One minute you’re crying about how he won’t call you, and the next you’re refusing to answer him. And with Louis it’s the reverse.”

“Well, good. Let him long for me. Serves him right. I think I’m gonna block his number, actually,” Harry said while shoving his bag into a locker, phone cradled between his ear and shoulder.

“You’re ridiculous. Both of you. I can’t I have to deal with this.”

“It’s your fault, you know. You’re the one who set us up.”

Niall groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

“Yeah, well. I’m gonna be late for hot yoga.”

“Will you call him when you finish? Please?”

“No,” Harry repeated stubbornly.

“I’m literally begging you, Harry.”

“No. I don’t want to talk to him right now. He thinks I’m a gold digger who has no morals!”

Niall said dryly, “You are.”

“Niall!” Harry gasped. “What is wrong with you. I don’t lie to alphas about being in love with them. They know exactly how committed I am and they buy me gifts of their own volition, no manipulation required. And it was different with Louis, it was  always  different with Louis, from the very start! For one we never slept together, and also I would want to be with him even if he were the poorest alpha in the world!”

Niall was quiet for a moment. Harry jammed his bag in the locker with more force this time, and slammed it shut.

“You should tell him that,” Niall suggested as gently as he could, voice soft on the other end of the line.

“I don’t want to talk to him.”

“Please think about it at least.”

“I have to go. Goodbye.”

Niall sighed. “Bye, pet.”

Hot yoga was the perfect thing for Harry right now, even though he was late and frazzled. The instructor glared at him when he shuffled in and knocked over someone’s water bottle, the clanking sound resonating through the quiet room and disturbing the concentration. He unraveled his mat and hurried to catch up, moving into position. Fifteen minutes in and he was dripping sweat, letting the ambient music roll through him, his thighs shaking as he held goddess squat with his hands pressed together at heart-center. They did some forward folds and Harry’s spine cracked on each one, releasing tension in a satisfying pop.

Afterward, he picked up a kale and kiwi smoothie from his favorite juice bar on his way home. It was snowing heavily outside, the wind blowing the snowflakes right into his eyes, so he tugged the hood of his favorite sweatshirt over his head and ducked down to protect his face. Moments like this made him miss Florida more than anything.

Back at his apartment, he was half undressed and on his way to a lengthy shower to destroy his water bill when there was a knock at the door. His immediate reaction was that it was takeout, but he hadn’t ordered any food, so that didn’t make sense. He slipped his sweaty t-shirt back on and peered through the peephole. A beta woman stood outside holding a large garment bag.

Harry swung the door open. “Hi.”

“Harry Styles?”

“That’s me.”

“I have a delivery for you.”

Harry accepted the bag. “Um, thanks. I don’t know what this is.”

“Have a nice day.” She started to walk away.

“Wait, is there a note? I didn’t order this.”

“No. Sorry. It’s a gift.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, thanks.”

He let the door swing shut, bringing the garment bag inside with him. It was heavier than any clothing had any right to be. He set it down at the table and carefully tugged the zipper down, shrugging the bag off until he could see what it was.

Whatever it was, it was very furry. Like a bear. He smoothed his hand over the material in shock. It was a brown shearling coat. He checked the tag, running his fingers over the signature Yves Saint Laurent stitching.

There were few people who could have sent him this. Obviously. He wasn’t stupid.

He slipped it on in front of the mirror. It was heavy. Warm. It smelled like a five thousand dollar coat. Which was to say, it smelled good.

He wore it around the house a little bit, let the sleeves cover his hands. Glanced at himself every time he passed the mirror. Drank some water, ran his fingers over his lips. Debated picking up the phone.

He was still annoyed with Louis. He wanted him to grovel. He wanted him to be sorry for assuming the worst of Harry.

His phone was right there, though. It would be so easy to call. To tell him they were soulmates. He had the doctor’s note to back it up and everything, all the paperwork waiting for him, pinned to the fridge with a cat magnet.

Harry pouted at himself in the mirror. He should probably go do that. Louis deserved to know.

He slipped the coat off, setting it gently on his bed, and took a shower instead.

 

&&&

 

The idea came to him in the shower, out of nowhere. He had been closing his eyes and letting the hot water soothe his sore muscles, running down his body into the drain, when a heavy loneliness and longing struck him. As much as he loved New York City, as much as he hated it, it did not feel like home. Not now, not ever.

Bundled up in a fluffy bathrobe and a towel covering his hair, he powered up his laptop and bought a plane ticket before he could talk himself out of it. His flight left in six hours. He had little time to pack, but he didn’t need much. Deciding not to bother Niall asking for a ride to the airport, he sent him a brief text explaining where he was going. Niall deserved the right to know. God knows he worried about Harry enough as it was.

The liminal space of the airport was a place of comfort. As much as Harry fantasized about traveling the world with his future mate, there was something gritty and empowering about walking through the terminal alone. The security lines were relatively short, and once he was through, he bought himself an iced coffee and took a seat against the window, entranced by the sight of planes rolling down the runway at a steady rhythm.

Be safe. Keep me updated,  Niall sent.

Will do. Love you.

He spent the hour waiting to board by reading Susan Sontag’s  Regarding the Pain of Others , which was so thick with jargon it gave him a headache, despite her beautiful writing. He was not even thinking of Louis as he got in line to board, one hand on the strap of his duffle and the other thumbing listlessly through his phone, trying to anticipate the outcome of this trip. He had not been home in years. He was arriving unannounced. He knew he should call his mother, but he had no way to get in contact with her. And even then there was no certainty she was in the same place he left her. She could have been dead for all he knew. The thought made him feel weak, dizzy. The omega behind him asked concernedly if he was okay. His pheromones were sending vaguely distressed signals into the air, the hint of worry clinging to him like cheap perfume.

He assured her he was fine, offering a small smile at her kindness. Sometimes strangers did something like this, surprised him with their gentleness, and brought him to the verge of tears with just a simple act. But maybe he was just a hormonal omega longing for his soulmate.

There were three people ahead of him in line. He got his ticket ready on his phone, turning the brightness up so it would scan easier.

“Wait! Hang on!”

Harry turned to the familiar voice yelling, footsteps resonating against the floor. When he saw who it was, he stood there, stunned.

Louis came skidding up to him, sweaty and disheveled, a printed out plane ticket crumpled in his hands. His eyes were bright and wild and he looked like a mess.

“Wait, don’t go. Please.”

Harry pulled Louis off to the side to avoid making even more of a scene. “What are you doing here?!”

His chest was heaving from running all the way down here, hair chaotic, face flushed. His clothes were in disarray; it looked like he was still in his pajamas, gray sweats and a ratty oversized t-shirt. “You can’t leave. Not like this. There’s so much I have to tell you, so much to explain, to apologize for.”

“Which flight are you on? Are you on my flight? What the hell?” Harry asked, so confused.

“What? Oh, this?” He looked down at the crumpled ticket. “I couldn’t get through security without a flight, so I bought the first one I could find. Listen, Harry, I’m so sorry-”

“Why did you- What are you doing?”

“I can’t let you just leave like this forever. I can’t just never see you again without apologizing at the very least. Please, let me just say this, and then you can decide what you want to do, maybe, if what I say changes things for you, which I hope it does, but- Niall said you were leaving and I just couldn’t let you go like this. I can’t just sit here and watch the best thing in my life leave, never to be seen again. I’m sorry. I was such an idiot. I treated you so unfairly and it was all because of my own insecurity. I know I’m a bad alpha. I try so hard to be good and not lose control but I messed up when you went into heat and I’m so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you like that, but I also shouldn’t have left you, but then I did, and I didn’t explain why I left-”

“Louis-”

“I left because I knew that if I stayed I wouldn’t be able to control myself and I would do things you hadn’t consented to and I couldn’t let myself do that-”

Louis , I understand.”

“No, you have to let me finish.” His voice was rising and he was hyperventilating trying to get the words out. Harry looked down and noticed his shoes were mismatched; he was wearing one black van and one Adidas slide. “Then I was so ashamed with myself and thinking you would never want to hear from me again at all, so I didn’t call even though I was so worried about you and wanted to hear how you were doing, wanted to hear your voice.”

“I texted you. I called you!”

“I know. I’m so sorry. I thought you were just taking the opportunity because I’m clearly willing to follow you to the ends of the earth, so of course I would buy you things if you asked. I would do anything if you asked. So I didn’t respond because I thought that was the same message you sent to everyone-”

“I used emojis!” Harry cried. “I called you alpha!”

Louis grabbed his hand. “I know, little dove. I’m so stupid and I’m so, so sorry. I understand now.”

The line was moving quickly and there were only a few people left waiting to get on the plane. “Lou, I really have to go.”

“Wait! Hear me out, please Harry. I bugged Niall so much that past month calling him to see how you were doing. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer and he kept telling me to come here, or at least talk to you, but I didn’t because I was a coward and also just really stupid and I regret that so much. And now you’re leaving and I can’t- Harry, please, don’t leave.”

“I’m just going to Oklahoma for a few days,” Harry huffed. “I’m not leaving forever.”

“What?”

“Where did you think I was going? To Antarctica to live with the penguins?” Harry snorted.

Louis’ jaw dropped. “I thought you- I thought you…”

“I really have to go now. I’ll be back on Thursday.”

“You’re serious?”

“I promise. I really have to go, though, or I’m gonna miss my flight.”

Louis squeezed Harry’s hands between his sweaty palms. “I didn’t come to New York by chance. I moved my meeting here to hopefully find you.” Louis’ eyes were wide and frantic and so sincere. “When I saw you with that alpha at dinner, Harry I-”

An announcement for last call boarding flight 1150 to Oklahoma City sounded over the intercom.

“I can’t make the same mistake again,” Louis gasped. And then he dove forward.

Their lips crashed together. Louis’ hands flew up and gripped Harry’s jaw. The hold was soft and desperate all at once—clinging to him. Harry was too stunned to react. So he just stood there and let himself be kissed. It was bruising and messy and all teeth clashing by accident, noses bumping into each other, Louis’ lips sucking on his own like it was the last taste they would ever have.

The desperation was flattering and dramatic. Harry loved it. He barely had time to set his hands on Louis’ shoulders in what he hoped came off as reassurance, before Louis was pulling away, wild and hopeful and sheepish. It was the strangest, most beautiful combination Harry had ever witnessed. He wanted to kiss him again and again forever. But he was really going to miss his flight.

“I’m sorry.” It was Harry who said it this time.

“Call me, please, I promise I’ll answer this time.”

Harry kissed him against the cheek, nosing against his face to scent mark him. “You better,” he whispered, teasing and playful, giddy, heart soaring. The awed look on Louis’ face was worth more than anything in the world.

Harry blew him a kiss as he forced himself away. It was almost impossible to leave, but he floated the entire way to his seat, replaying the moment over and over in his mind.

Well, that was unexpected,  he thought, biting his lip at the mere memory. If only the timing hadn’t been so poor.

 

&&&

 

It was just as he remembered. Balmy air and dark nights, the after-hours quietness that settled over the trailer park.  Tiny sounds scattering over the condensed space. It was quiet, but not deserted. A woman lit a cigarette while standing on the stairs, looking out over the stillness. The prickling sense of being watched by more than just one pair of eyes filtered over him like the mild breeze. Harry’s boots squelched in the mud as he wandered down the aisles of mobile homes, remembering the pathway like the back of his hand. He didn’t even have to think. It was all muscle memory.

The scents, too. The people. He recognized not all, but some. Campsites like this made for a kind of vagabond life, requiring travel when the park operator demanded too much money. Prices fluctuated, and people migrated, but Harry caught a whiff of a few familiar scents, those older ones that had always been around, the man on the corner who still chewed tobacco, the beta couple with their dogs. Well, the dogs were different now, but the couple was the same.

The trailer was near the back of the park, squished in between two larger ones, the broken roof still cracked and slanted, just as it was years ago. He stared at the tinkling wind chimes that used to lull him to sleep, the ones the neighbors complained about every chance they got. When the wind drifted, so did the sounds.

The steps creaked under his weight. A figure was peering at him from the window, the curtain drawn back slightly, watching. Harry rapped his knuckles on the door. The hinges old and rusty, it opened.

The whole way here, the plane ride, waiting at the terminal, driving the rental down the roads he remembered from his childhood, passing the diner where he used to work, passing fields and farmland and windmills and darkness, he tried to figure out what to say and what to do, given the thousand possibilities. There was a chance his mother was not even living here anymore, a chance she had moved on long ago. He had tried to prepare for that possibility. He had also tried to imagine what he would say to her, if it turned out she was still here. He even tried writing down a speech, an apology. But he hadn’t settled on anything in particular, the words refusing to come.

If he had managed to prepare a speech, though, it wouldn’t be any use now, standing in front of the life he had tried so hard to leave behind.

“Mama,” Harry breathed, all the air wooshing out of his lungs in one word. “I’m so sorry.”

She stared at him in the way only a mother could stare: appraising, calculating, quiet. He half-expected the door to slam shut in his face. He knew he deserved it. But soft arms shot out and wound around his back, yanking him inside. He was smashed against her in a cradling hug.

An inexplicable warmth flooded him, and he felt small, like a child. It had been so long. Her familiar scent wrapped around him like her arms, the unspoken promise: I’m here. I never left. Harry sunk into her hold, let her support him. Wasn’t that how it always was.

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated, over and over, starting to cry. She coaxed it out of him like she always used to, pulling him over to the couch and rubbing his back, rocking him side to side.

“Harry,” she said. “You came back.”

She never displayed her emotions and tonight was no different. Harry, quite the opposite of her calculated collectedness, shrunk under her gaze and wiped the tears that had gathered beneath his eyelashes, sniffling and laughing a little because he was dramatic and pathetic and so, so happy she hadn’t slammed the door shut in his face.

“I’m so sorry. For everything.”

“I know you are.”

He cringed, running his nails along his jeans. “I missed you. I missed home.”

He didn’t know what else to say. It seemed they were both beyond words. Anne reached across the divide again and pulled him into her, tucking him into her shoulder. They didn’t speak, just stayed like that for a long time. Her pheromones were soothing and accepting; they said all the words they couldn’t say.

She finally pulled away, leaving him curled up beside her. “I’m making hot chocolate. It’s freezing outside.”

“Feels warm compared to New York,” he murmured, sitting up a little straighter. She offered him a wry smile before filling up a pot of water and setting it on the stove.

“Why are you here, Harry?”

“You were right,” he admitted softly, suddenly very interested in the pattern of the couch. “You were just trying to protect me and I wouldn’t listen. New York is nothing like I thought it would be, nothing like they told me it would be, and I… I have a good life, I have enough money to live like I wanted but it doesn’t feel right.”

“Are you still with that alpha who whisked you away from here?”

Harry blushed at the memory. Despite his mother not knowing much about what his life was like now, she knew the nature of his relationship with alphas.

“No, we... we drifted apart.” That was the truth, at least, without all the grimy details, how he hadn’t been offering Harry enough of an allowance, and Harry dropped him as soon as he found other alphas willing to take care of him in the way he felt he deserved. “I met someone else, mama. Someone good.”

“Oh yeah?”

“His name is Louis. I really like him. We’re soulmates,” he admitted shyly.

Her eyebrows raised but she didn’t say anything, always the one to hide what she was really thinking.

Touching his neck, he ran his fingers over the sensitive skin of the bonding region, devoid of any sort of mark or claim. “We’re not really together right now. There was a big miscommunication, something stupid, and he still doesn’t know we’re soulmates. But I went to the doctor and got the bloodwork to confirm it, and everything.”

She laughed, and just like that, the previous tension was broken. “Sounds complicated.”

“It is,” he agreed, sitting back, much more comfortable now. “Because of what I do. With other alphas. I think he thinks I only care about him because he has money.”

“So he’ll take care of you, then.”

“Yeah… If he wants me. But I can also sustain myself now. On my own. If I got a real job, I’d be completely independent.” He shook his head, sliding his hands between his thighs to warm them. “He’s so different from all the others, mama, he actually cares about me. I can’t lose him.”

She handed him a mug after stirring the cheap cocoa powder into it. After years of eating decadent desserts from the most expensive restaurants all over the world, he supposed he might’ve been expected to turn his nose away from something like this. But the hot liquid tasted delicious to him, a relic of his past, the nights when he would come home moody and distraught from school or work and the other kids who always gave him a hard time, especially after he presented as an omega, and his mom would sit him down on the couch and make him a mug of hot chocolate as he complained about his day and the people who hurt him.

She sat down beside him, blowing on her own mug. “Tell me about this alpha of yours. What’s he like?”

Harry smiled at the floor and told her in his long, rambling way. His voice was too fond for his own good, but it was so great to be able to talk about Louis with someone who he knew wouldn’t judge him. Anne just wanted what was best for him, and he could trust her opinion and her honest advice. She listened, laughing at Harry’s infatuated descriptions and asking about how they met, what Louis did for a living, and why he left Harry after his heat.

“It sounds like he thinks you’re treating him as just another one of your sugar daddies,” she said, making his face burn in embarrassment again at the direct acknowledgement. Knowing what she really thought of his ‘occupation’ didn’t help.

“I’m not, though. It’s so different with him, I don’t even want his money. I just want to be with him.”

“But he doesn’t know that.”

“I don’t know… He ran after me at the airport because he thought I was leaving for good, and he kissed me in front of everyone even when he found out I was only leaving for a few days, and then I had to go. I don’t know where we stand right now. I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I go back.”

She smiled. “It sounds promising. He clearly likes you, dear. You need to tell him you already know you’re soulmates. It’s only fair.”

“I want to tell him in person.”

“So do that, then. What are you waiting for?”

“I’m nervous,” he whined.

Anne leveled him with an unimpressed look. “Harry. Seriously. What happened to being a confident omega?”

She was right. No nonsense as always. Still, “I can’t just tell him over the phone.”

“Then do it as soon as you get back. You have to tell him.”

“He left me, though. Who leaves their soulmate for a month and refuses to answer any of their texts or calls?”

“Someone who is afraid of how strongly he feels for you, because he doesn’t know the reason behind it.”

She had a point. Harry groaned, setting his mug on the table and faceplanting into the couch.

The night continued on. They stayed up for hours just like they used to, catching up and clearing the air between them. Anne asked how long he was staying and Harry told her about booking a hotel for the next few days. She told him to cancel his reservations, that he could stay here instead, if he wanted. He obviously accepted, and found himself crawling into his old bunk hours later, cramped and claustrophobic now that he was much taller than before. But it felt like home.

 

&&&

 

The next day, Harry spent the day by himself while Anne was at work. He went for a long drive, visiting his old haunts, letting the memories overwhelm him. He ate lunch at the diner and stayed there for a long time, almost all day, swirling his milkshake around in its glass with a cold metal spoon, not having much of an appetite. His stomach was a jumbled mess of stress and uncertainty, just as confused as he was. Afterward, he took a long walk out in the country to clear his mind.

It was inevitable, really, that he found himself later in the evening with his phone pressed against his ear, as he sat outside on the stairs leading up to the trailer, his back resting against the closed door. The thought of being the first one to crack was unappealing, but what was worse was the thought of not hearing from Louis at all. Besides, he had already thrown his dignity to the wind, the first time he cried over missing the alpha. There wasn’t much to lose at this point. He just had to suck up his pride and hit the little phone icon staring up at him from the screen displaying Louis’ contact information.

Harry reminded himself it was Louis who came running after him at the airport, not the other way around. Calling him tonight was in no way conceding to the chase. Louis still had a lot to apologize for, and there would be time for that. For now, Harry just wanted to hear his voice.

The phone rang for a long time, the connection finicky out here where the cell towers were sparse in the sprawling landscape. The jagged hitch of the call connecting surprised an inaudible gasp from him.

His voice crackled on the other end of the line, as if they were connected through old telephone wires strewn across the country from one locale to another. “Harry?”

“Hi.”

“It’s late,” Louis breathed in a gentle exhale that again crackled over the phone in the kind of static that sent shivers down Harry’s spine with the familiarity of it.  His voice is so, so beautiful,  Harry thought, stupidly. A rustling sound came from his end of the line, like sheets brushing up against each other, a kaleidoscope of noises.

“Oh... Sorry.” The thought hadn’t even occurred to him, but now that it was in his mind, he could visualize it perfectly: the alpha opening sleep-bleary eyes to the vibration of his mobile, wondering who it was. “Did I wake you? Shit.”

Louis laughed, his voice sounding raspy and somehow warm, even so far away. “It’s fine,” he dismissed, putting Harry’s mind at ease despite how rude it was to phone him so late at night without an explanation, without a  reason . Vaguely he wondered if Louis always kept his phone switched on during the night, or if he had it on silent and only allowed calls from a few specific people to filter through, and if so, Harry was one of them, wasn’t he, he had to be, right—

“So, why did you call?”

There was a beat of silence. The question did not necessitate considering, but rather a certain courage of spilling the truth. The energy between them was not, despite all odds, awkward, even though the last time they saw each other they had shared the most unexpected and passionate kiss Harry had ever experienced in his well-seasoned and adventurous lifetime of kissing alphas. The numbers were on his side yet somehow that one moment rose above the rest, unmatched. It was not awkward, despite the obvious tension that resulted from kissing and  leaving , without explanation on either end, without closure.

Maybe Harry felt sheltered like this, so far away, hidden from everything but the sound of his own hushed voice and the wind that gusted around him. Maybe he felt comfortable because there was no fear of projecting his intense, overwhelming emotions via facial expressions or body language or god forbid pheromones, which would surely unveil  the sheer potency of his desire in a mere flash of a millisecond and one casual inhale through the nose.

Maybe he felt safe, safe enough to be honest, because, despite his embarrassment, he was gazing out at the unlikely place where he grew up and there was an even more unlikely alpha on the other end of the line, quiet and patient and the kind of lovely that made Harry want to sink into his presence no matter the occasion, no matter the consequences. Maybe he felt safe enough because he knew, on some visceral level, that Louis would always accept him as he was instead of trying to transform him into something he was not.

Still there was a part of him that resisted, the part that was afraid and said  please, don’t say it, so clingy and whiny and embarrassing and vulnerable.

“I wanted to hear your voice,” he admitted quietly. Heart on the line and all that came with it, unwanted and unwelcome emotions filling the spaces between the syllables, dripping with the kind of sincerity that usually made him cringe.

The other end was quiet, before Louis’ sharp exhale. “Well, that’s always nice to hear.”

Harry didn’t know what else to say. Neither did Louis, if his lack of follow-up was anything to go by.

“What’re you doing right now?” the alpha asked eventually, a menial question that felt particularly intimate given the oddly interconnected yet separateness of their situation.

“Sitting outside. You’re in bed?”

“Yeah, in the hotel.” Again, the scratchy and soft voice tickling Harry’s eardrums, pulling at his heart. “Are you not cold, being outside?”

“It’s a lot warmer here, like fifty-five degrees I think,” he elaborated. Sitting still made him feel colder, with the aggressive breeze brushing up against him, but he was bundled up in a double layer of jumpers beneath a jean jacket. He had left the coat Louis got him back at his apartment, too worried about losing it or ruining it while travelling. Besides, dressing up wouldn’t be the smartest idea while returning home. He felt like an outsider enough as it was and he also wasn’t in the mood to get robbed, the ditzy omega big-city stupid about his recently procured wealth he was not.

“Well, as long as you’re taking care of yourself. I don’t want you to freeze.”

The concern was sweet enough to encourage Harry to roll his eyes. “Thanks for asking after me, but I’m fine, promise. Also. Thank you for the coat, by the way.”

“You’re welcome. Wait-” There was a pause. “I mean, what coat? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A gleeful giggle tumbled out of Harry’s mouth. “Fuck off, I know it was you.”

“...No comment.”

“So,” Harry said, acknowledging. Because he was an adult, all right, he could do this. “Are we just going to ignore the elephant in the room?”

“That was the plan,” Louis agreed in a wry voice. “Sorry for, like, attacking you with a really, uh, insistent kiss.”

Harry pinched his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger, trying to remember the ghost of the feeling. Just the memory of it made his skin all tingly, nerves prickling like they were inquiring for more. Now was not the time, not with the distance between them, not with the miles upon miles between this human body and that one. Separation, yes, that was today’s undoing.

He pinched his bottom lip harder. “No apology needed. I was also very, um, into it. Just so you know.”

“Oh.” Louis sounded genuinely surprised, as if Harry hadn’t kissed him back just as hard. “Okay. Cool.”

“I wouldn’t mind. If we did that again.”

So obvious so obvious so fucking obvious,  the fearful part of him chanted, refusing to be stubbed out like the end of a particularly dissatisfying cigrette.  Could you be any more obvious?

Yes,  Harry snarked right back to that annoying insecure voice in his head.  Yes, I could. Be happy I’m holding back.

“Noted.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what’re you wearing right now?” In that instant, it was like they were at the beach house again, saying increasingly ridiculous things just to see who could get who to blush the most. His tone took on a teasing lilt, the playfulness apparent, so sweet, like dipping into the leftover sugar at the bottom of a poorly mixed mug of coffee.

Harry tried his hardest to keep the smile out of his voice. It was safe to say he failed. “Jeans and two sweaters. Very sexy.”

“Oh, I have no doubt. Always sexy, you.”

Playing with the seam of his jeans beside his knee, he grinned to himself and wished it were more than a joke. “And you?”

“I’m completely naked.”

“You are not.”

“I am! Are you asking for proof?”

An embarrassing squawk escaped Harry’s mouth, as if nakedness were something unfamiliar to him. As if  flirting  were something unfamiliar to him. He pressed his hands to his face, covering it up, shaking his head at himself. His traitorous body couldn’t be trusted.

“That sounds like a yes, lovely. Hang on, one second.”

“You’re so ridiculous.”

“That still doesn’t sound like a no,” Louis laughed. “There, I sent it.”

Harry slowly pulled his phone away from his ear, worried Louis had actually sent him a picture.  Attachment: one image.  He bit his thumb as he opened it, eyes widening at the sight.  Jesus.  As promised, Louis was naked, just barely remaining semi-decent with the sheets pooled strategically in his lap. The rest of him was on display, his bare chest and tummy, tattoos, and bedhead, complete with a lazy, infuriating, beautiful smirk at the camera. All of it radiated such intense alpha energy, that upon just one glance, Harry felt woozy.

“Oh my god, Louis. I feel like I need to reciprocate.”

Louis laughed, clearly pleased at the mostly speechless reaction. “You don’t have to.”

Harry stared at the picture for a long moment. God, yes, this was the alpha Harry had feelings for, this was his  soulmate , stunning and striking and silly and teasing and gentle and kind, all around lovely, the kind of person that was beyond words altogether. Harry couldn’t fathom him in one image, in one conceptualization. Louis was endless, everywhere, all-encompassing in his mind, turning the omega into some sort of dramatic philosopher with the way he made him feel. As if there was some sort of logic residing in its existence, like,  we are soulmates because...

He had to tear his eyes away, to scroll through the private album in his photos app for one of his own pictures, fingers a little shaky. He obviously wasn’t going to take one right now, like Louis had, but he had countless images to choose from, collected during years of sugaring. He selected one that made him feel pretty more than anything, the aesthetic lines of his body accentuated by the good lighting in the photo. He sent it before he could chicken out, and then closed his eyes. And then opened them again, but only to look at Louis’ picture, because it deserved to be looked at some more, all right.

The sharp intake of breath on Louis’ end made Harry grin.

“Holy shit, little dove. Look at you…”

Harry thumbed over to his own photo for just a second, just to see if he could imagine it from Louis’ eyes for the first time. He was kneeling in the photo, sitting on his heels, wearing black lace underwear with his hand resting on his thigh. He wasn’t a curvy omega by any stretch of the imagination, but the way he was sitting made his hips look wider, also benefiting from the ratio of broad shoulders to narrow waist, which was something Harry had always cherished in omegas, something that made him a little self-conscious, and yet.

“There. Now we’re even,” he whispered, a little too overcome given the fact that they had just exchanged nudes, not a love declaration. It still felt vulnerable, though, like saying  here, here is a piece of me.

Louis’ deep groan was the kind of noise that pleased Harry’s inner omega like nothing else, the sound of it curling up his spine and spilling into his ribcage, squishing against the pericardium of his heart. He smiled to himself, eyes back on the picture Louis had sent him. He wished he were here right now, within arm’s reach, obviously. He could only imagine how cosy it would be with Louis in his bed. And those were only the innocent thoughts.

“You can touch yourself. I don’t mind.”

“You don’t mind?” the alpha laughed.

Out of everything, sex was the easiest to him, his own love language that wasn’t really a love language at all, except maybe it was, when it had to do with Louis. Emotional intimacy be damned, there was something so simple about physicality. Lips pursed, he admitted, “Fine, I would enjoy it if you touched yourself.” Easy. Not even that embarrassing.

“All right, well, your wish is my command.”

“Am I on speakerphone?”

“I’m using headphones, actually.”

“Okay, good.” He got more comfortable, leaning against the door and listening to the sounds of Louis slowly stroking himself. Slick, soft, sort of spellbinding, et cetera.

“What are you thinking of?” he wondered. Always wondered, really, what was going on inside that complicated, guarded mind of Louis Tomlinson. So calculating, with so many self-imposed rules, right, that had to be it.

“What are  you  thinking of?”

Harry blushed, gnawing on his thumb. “How I wish I was with you right now.” A bigger admission than any of the sexual things that had come to mind.  If I were with you...

“Oh yeah?”

“I’ve been craving you all day.”

Louis moaned, letting out a satisfying exhale. “Is there a place you can go where you’ll have privacy?”

“Um, I can go to the car,” he fumbled, standing. Hadn’t been expecting this to be a two-way street. Something in him aching to please, even though he was aware on more levels than one that Louis’ words were far from an order. Always so careful, that one. So thoughtful. It was making Harry’s head spin.

I would not mind, in this situation, if you used your alpha voice on me,  he thought about saying. Then he shook his head and thought better of it.

“Okay. Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, of course.” They were both quiet on the line as Harry walked to the car and got settled inside, feet scuffling along the gravel on the way there, feeling oddly exposed amongst the weathered relics of his past. “Okay, I’m here.”

“Lovely. And there’s no one around?”

“Right.”

Louis was quiet for a moment, pensive. “Wish you were with me, you know. Wish I knew you were safe, had someone to protect you so you wouldn’t have to worry.”

Miles upon miles be damned, “I have you.”

There was a pause, heavy and thick like a disruption in the line, like it cut out for a moment. But no, Louis was just tight-lipped, unspeaking, in the few seconds the silence lasted. “That’s right,” he agreed after a beat, too belated to be the kind of convincing and affirming Harry needed right now.

Sex first, he told himself, in an effort not to worry or panic over the hesitation. Sex first and then he would get the alpha to fall in love with him, somehow, one way or another, by power of the stars or streetlights or telephone wires that had nothing to do with their phonecall right now, wobbling with uncertainty. Harry unbuttoned his jeans, slipping his hand down to stroke himself, to take his mind off of it maybe. But maybe that wasn’t what Louis wanted? He paused, pulling his hand back until it was hovering again. Such self-restraint, he thought idly, augmented by the intrinsic desire to please. “Lou?”

“Hey, so. You up for this?” the alpha asked, in a way that said  I remember you like to be told what to do, let me tell you what to do.  Which, like.  Clearly.

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely.” He was going to ruin the fucking rental car with how wet he was right now, even though he was shaky too, keyed up and needing Louis to confirm he was his, that they belonged to each other. His own scent was drenching the upholstery; it was a bad idea to do this here. It was worth the cost, though, right, maybe Louis would fall in love with him if he heard how hot Harry sounded while getting off over the phone, following his directions. He felt too frantic to come up with a better solution. It was here, or nowhere. He needed to prove he could be a good omega.

“Stroke yourself slowly, until I say to stop.” Louis could be awkward at times, unsure about his role as an alpha, polite in that tender respectful way that was  so  sweet. But this was not one of those times, because his voice was full of a resolute sort of confidence, like, he had talked himself up to doing this, and he was going to do it, damn it, maybe for Harry’s sake, maybe for his own.

Either way, Harry whimpered, his hand moving to fulfill the request. Something about that confidence that made him wetter, impossibly wetter, and Louis had hardly even  said  anything yet.

“Lovely, good,” the alpha praised,  his  alpha, and Harry sank further into the seat, going limp with the validation and comfort of not having to think, not having to calculate his own pleasure or determine the pathway to his own release. Not having to consider, right now, that maybe Louis only wanted him for moments like this, for the simple task of getting off, and nothing more. He clenched around nothing, wanting, but willing to wait for it too. Louis would take care of him, obviously, he need not worry about that one bit, at least for now.

It was temporary, perhaps. Pleasure like this was always temporary. Comfort like this was always temporary. He let Louis’ voice encompass him, resounding from the phone propped between his ear and his shoulder, the soothing sound of his commands allowing Harry to close his eyes and just listen, just follow, just feel.

The worries kept creeping in every time he pushed them away, but then he was slipping into that warm, fuzzy space that felt a lot like floating. His mind went quiet for a while.

 

&&&

 

3 missed calls… 3 text messages…

(12:44) Hey ! so i think the call cut out or somethign . Call me back when you can ?

(1:19) hi again . A little worried about you

(1:49) ?

 

&&&

 

Harry woke up aching and disoriented. Confusion blinded him like the sunlight glaring over the flat, endless horizon, orange-gold light burning into his gaze. He rubbed his eyes, sat up, and wondered why he was so fucking cold. And also only half-dressed, his jeans tangled around his knees, pale thighs covered in goosebumps. He was shivering uncontrollably.

The cold metal and glass of his phone rested against his skin. With bleary eyes crusted with restless sleep, he swiped up from the lockscreen and made a valiant attempt to read the notifications. Only then did it all come rushing back.

Fucking shit,  he thought.  Shit shit shit. Fuck.

Numb from the cold, his limbs were stiff and creaky, refusing to move as he wanted. He couldn’t feel his toes, which was not good.  Not good , he repeated in his mind, struggling to pull his jeans back up and button them, smearing dried slick and come. His fingers were too frozen to do the zip and the button, so he gave up, tugging his double-layered sweaters down and huffing on his hands to try to get the blood flow back. He tumbled out of the car, dropped his phone on the ground, struggled to pick it up, and failed to come to terms with the fact that  he went into omega space last night just from Louis’ voice over the phone which was bad bad bad because that meant the apha wasn’t here right now and if an omega didn’t have an alpha after they came down from omega space then—

Then—

Dropping was like you expected it to be, cold and so alone. Like ice and numbness, like sinking into something dark and frigid. Not cold in the sense of temperature, although he was fucking freezing due to falling asleep outside, but cold like feeling low, low, low… It was kind of funny, how low he felt; he would have laughed if his jaw wasn’t frozen shut, too painful to wrench it open even for the sake of dark humor.

In the bleary, miserable haze he managed to unlock his phone again and stare at Louis’ concerned messages. He felt so scared and alone because he did not have the motor function to text back or even call and all he could do was stand there, legs locked and frozen in place preventing him from falling down, and stare at the fading screen of his phone. The screen turned black again and somehow Harry crumpled down to the dirty gravel. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew he was down there because the stones felt sharp and jagged against his back, and he could see the sky. And he had this really crystal clear thought of  oh, these stones are different from the ones that were here when I was a kid. They must have shipped in some new ones recently. How neat.

 

&&&

 

What they do not tell you about dropping is that time will pass slower than molasses. What they do not tell you about dropping is that you will be aware of everything that is happening and everything you are missing. Every stone against your spine and every icicle in your heart, what they do not tell you about dropping is that you will feel  all of it.

 

&&&

 

“Thank god, you’re up. Welcome to the land of the living, dear.”

The old, thrifted teapot whistling on the burner filled the small, quiet space.

“What am I going to do with you? You come home for one night and then I lose you all over again. It’s always because of some alpha, now isn’t it.”

Harry’s eyes trailed his mother around the microscopic kitchen as she moved with purpose. Water was boiling on the stovetop, something else was spinning in the microwave, and Anne was rummaging through the sparse pill containers on the top shelf of the cupboard, looking for something.

“Ah, here it is.” She bustled over to him, coxed his jaw open, and set a pill on his tongue before lifting a glass of lukewarm water to his lips. “Take a sip and swallow.”

Harry did as he was told because he was helpless to it with the way she was standing over him, no other choice. He was swathed in blankets and it felt like he was burning, blood beginning to flow back into his fingers and toes. He wasn’t even shivering anymore, which should’ve been a good sign, except he suspected it was because his body had given up on trying to keep warm. Had given up on him, in total, actually. Harry didn’t blame it. He would do the same. He hadn’t been very kind to his body lately, despite the self-love session last night, since it mostly ended in utter disaster.

“Now, can you use your words and tell me what happened?”

He opened his mouth but no sound came out. It was probably better that way, as there was really no decent way to explain what happened, to his mother of all people.

“Well, fine.” She shoved something under his nose. “Here, take a deep breath.”

He did, and a weak sense of comfort filtered through him, the dull effect of soothers, artificial alpha pheromones. He breathed in again and it was nothing like what he actually needed, but it would have to do. After a few deep breaths Anne removed the small vial, rubbing some of the liquid onto Harry’s neck so he could keep smelling it even when she set it down.

“You know, I don’t like to wake up to the neighbor banging on my door telling me my estranged son is unconscious in the parking lot.”

“Not estranged,” Harry croaked, the words coming out rough and gravelly.

“Maybe I’ll kick you to the curb again, might do you some good. This has to do with that alpha of yours, or am I to assume there’s someone in this county who would do this to you?”

Harry shook his head. To what, he didn’t know, but it hurt, so he aborted the movement almost immediately after he began it.

Anne sighed. “You know, I’m not sure I like this alpha all that much. He doesn’t take care of you very well.”

Frowning, he managed to get out, “Not his fault. Was mine. My fault.”

She surprised him by wrapping him in her arms, all warm and full of motherly protection. “Well, I don’t care whose fault it was. Don’t let it happen again, you hear me? You’re lucky Mr. Warren was out there so early in the morning. Another hour out in the cold and who knows, you might’ve lost your toes.”

Harry was so depressed. So low. It was weighing on him. The world felt dark and scary and not even the familiar scent of his mother could comfort him. He knew it was just from the crash of coming down after such a high of dopamine and serotonin, all the good feelings Louis made him feel over the phone, and not having a physical presence beside him offering care and affection. Omega biology was so finicky and Harry hated it. He loved being an omega but things like dropped made it awful sometimes, made him feel so weak and dependent.

He could only imagine what happened last night, literally, because the last thing he could remember was his vision going blurry as Louis crooned praise in his ear. It had been good at first, right, the lovely feeling of being told what to do, of taken care of. He wondered when the phone call had cut out, though. He also wondered if Louis had put the pieces together, yet, or if he just thought Harry was asleep, or maybe ignoring him?

There was no way Harry was going to call him, ever again, after this. He was so embarrassed and demoralized. Normal omegas didn’t  drop  after getting off on the phone with an alpha. His relationship with Louis was unclear and touchy, already jeopardized by the weird miscommunication between them, and Harry simply could not give Louis yet another reason to turn him down.

So when he finally had the ability to fumble for his phone, he didn’t call. Instead, he sent a very basic text that said  I’m ok, sorry for worrying you!  and then he shut it off without waiting for a response, and that was that.

He spent the day with Anne, hovering close to her side to mooch off of any soothing pheromones she could provide. She made a valiant attempt to keep his mind off of how low he felt, catching him up on everything he had missed since he left, and asking him questions about his own life. The amount of time they had to make up for seemed never-ending, but it was kind of perfect that way, like sitting down and telling a rambling story to the only person who had ever really cared. The tension between them dissipated as the hours rolled by, turned sweeter. Before Harry left for the airport, they hugged for a long, long time.

 

&&&

 

Leaving Oklahoma was much different than last time. A piece of him ached now, like a phantom limb, and he knew Pushmataha County would always be a part of him no matter what. He would be back soon to visit his mother, now that they had agreed to be a part of each other’s lives again, no more hard feelings. Their relationship wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they would have time to mend the necessary wounds.

He was exhausted, and sort of melancholic, but mostly relieved to head over to Niall’s place and cuddle with him on the couch for a few hours, hopefully falling asleep with his head on his lap and a hand petting his hair. Niall was the best at listening to Harry’s whining complaints about the woes of his life, and also his alpha pheromones were a decent replacement for exactly what Harry lacked. After dropping, he was desperate for any sort of alpha comfort, and Niall was always there for him.

He bought a bottle of pheromone soothers at the airport gift shop to use during the flight back to New York. Despite the sensory aid and the fact that his limbs were bone-tired, eyelids heavy and threatening to close at any moment, he was too keyed up to fall asleep, his inner omega restless and constantly scanning the surrounding area for a threat. There was an alpha sitting two rows behind him on the plane, his aromatic signal sending out the sour fragrance of frustration and annoyance. Realistically, Harry knew the feelings were not directed at him, of course not, but his inner omega was convinced otherwise. He spent the whole flight resting his head on the window, fighting the urge to turn around and apologize to the alpha stranger.

He was being ridiculous. He had nothing to apologize for. But his inner omega was convinced he had done something wrong.

The airport wasn’t as hectic as usual when he landed, due to the late hour and the bad weather. A blizzard was coming down the coast and a lot of flights had already been delayed due to freezing rain and low visibility. The landing had been bumpy, and Harry was glad to be on the ground. He wrapped the blanket he always traveled with around his shoulders, clutching it with one hand and using the other for his luggage. He only used a carry-on, so he skipped the luggage carousel and headed straight for the doors where Niall would be waiting for him, hopefully with a thermos of hot chocolate and  arms that were ready for a nice, long hug.

Except, it wasn’t Niall who was waiting for him, and Harry rubbed his eyes, too tired to outwardly display his surprise. Yet again, Louis was standing there, this time wearing real clothes instead of pajamas, holding a bouquet of flowers in every color of the rainbow. He smiled when he saw Harry and held the flowers out like an offering.

“Is this becoming a habit?” Harry asked as he approached, swaying sleepily. He accepted the bouquet and stared down at it, vision blurry. The colorful flowers were staring right back at him, bright and hopeful.

“Hopefully not. I came here to make a real apology this time, one that doesn’t involve attacking you and sucking your face off.”

The omega pursed his lips in a pout, thumbing over the crinkly cellophane, “But I quite liked that part.”

Louis laughed, a joyous little laugh that eased the tension in Harry’s shoulders, and then he fiddled with his fringe, brushing it to the side once and then twice. His expression turned serious, smile fading from his face. “Look, Harry, I’m really sorry. I’ve been an absolute dick and you don’t deserve that. No one deserves that. I’m so sorry for assuming you were only tolerating me for my money. You have to understand it wasn’t because I thought you were manipulative or a bad person or something. All of it, everything that happened, was due to my own insecurity, and I’m sorry I let that mess things up between us.” He paused to take a deep breath. It sounded like he had spent a lot of time thinking of what he wanted to say while he was waiting for the flight to land. “But most of all I’m sorry I hurt you. Niall told me how hard these past few weeks have been on you and I am so, so deeply sorry I caused you pain. I’m not expecting you to forgive me and I would understand it if you don’t want to ever see my face again, but I guess, just, please know that I am so sorry.”

Harry held the flowers a little closer to his chest. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

Louis stared at him, eyes scanning back and forth over the omega’s face as if he was searching for an indication that he was upset or going to reject him. “Okay,” he said finally. “Cool. So how was your trip?”

They made small talk all the way outside, where Louis pulled Harry into him after some deliberation, linking their arms together. It was awkward, with the tension of their last talk hanging heavy between them, and they both fumbled around it, pointedly ignoring what happened the last time they talked… Though Harry’s cheeks were burning with thought, because he had slipped into omega space and had no memory of what happened, but he knew it wasn’t good. He must have sounded so needy and clingy and vulnerable he couldn’t even  remember  it, and Louis was right there, obviously remembering it.

He wanted to bury his face in his hands. Instead, he slid into the cab after Louis and turned his gaze out the window after offering his address to the driver, looking out at the snowy city and the dark sky.

“You seem tired.”

Harry nodded, playing with a stray thread on his sleeve. His vision kept swimming in and out of focus. “I feel kind of weird.”

“Weird?”

He sucked in a deep breath. “Dizzy.” Maybe now would be a good time to tell Louis what happened. But he was just so tired, and the world was dipping into darkness like swirling a strawberry through melted chocolate, and he was tipping over to the side, falling Louis’ shoulder, which was warm even through his coat and smelled nice-

“Jesus, Harry,” followed by a string of mostly incoherent cursing. “Are you..?”

His eyes must have closed without his consent, because he couldn’t see anything, but he could feel that he was slumped against the alpha now, sinking into his lap as Louis attempted to prop him up, holding him with his hands wrapped around his biceps in a strained position, muscles tense.

Yeah, now would be a good time to tell him. The words were slow and warbled but he got them out: “I… dropped. After our call.”

Louis said something like  why didn’t you tell me?!  but Harry was already halfway to unconscious so it didn’t matter. He had Louis with him now and  that  was what mattered. Unlike during the past twenty-four hours, he felt safe. There was no doubt Louis would take care of him. He was the one who caused this, after all.

So Harry sort of fainted, sort of took a nap, and despite the circumstances, it was nice.

 

&&&

 

“What am I going to do with you?”

“You’re not the first one to ask that, you know,” Harry sniffed, having recently gained his ability to form sentences and share them out loud. They were in Harry’s apartment, staring at each other. Harry was sitting on the couch and Louis was hovering over him, brows furrowed, worrying. The room was just as Harry had left it, slightly cluttered and lived in yet still so empty, like he had been living in a void all this time. There was a fashion magazine spread open on the coffee table and a knitted blanket bunched up on the side of the couch, and the lamp was flicked on, casting a warm glow throughout the room, and somehow it was never more apparent than right now that he had been alone for so long.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s embarrassing, and also not a big deal.” Besides, he had more important things to tell Louis. Not that he told him those things either, but still. Harry bit his lip and twisted his hands in his lap before pressing them between his thighs, trying not to think of the papers from the doctor resting on the countertop. His hands were cold and fidgeting from nervousness, or maybe anticipation. His inner omega was whining in his chest, suffering because Louis was so close yet just out of reach.

“Not a big deal?” the alpha scoffed, turning his face away. “You could’ve been badly hurt. You were in the airport. A place full of strangers! Anyone could’ve taken advantage of you-”

“I’m fine. I just got really tired and closed my eyes for a second. It’s fine.”

“Fuck  off , you fainted on me in the cab!”

“Yeah, ‘cause I was letting myself rest, since I knew it was safe. It’s no big deal.” Sure, he was totally downplaying the situation, because omega dropping was a big deal and Harry still felt terrible, physically and emotionally, though Louis’ presence was already doing wonders. His head was pounding and he felt all shaky and needy  but his inner omega was mostly assuaged by the alpha’s presence.  His  alpha. He just needed to take a nice, long nap and hopefully have someone cuddle him. He shifted his gaze to Louis, feeling surprisingly sanguine, that line of hope threading itself through his chest.

“What am I going to do with you,” the alpha sighed, mostly to himself this time. Then, more directed to Harry, “Look, how about you take a shower and get changed into your pajamas so you can go to bed.”

“You’re leaving me?” he pouted.

“What, you want me to stay?”

The internal scream of  yes! please!  was somehow contained as he voiced a quiet, “Maybe…”

So much for making Louis chase after him. Oh well. Harry couldn’t win them all, you know. Besides, he had a good feeling about this.

“Alright, fine, but you still need to take a shower. You smell like airport and random strangers and I don’t like it.”

Harry huffed, standing on wobbly legs. “So demanding,” he muttered under his breath, secretly pleased and probably doing a bad job at covering it up. “Um. So. Will you stay the night?” Harry had never had an alpha spend the night in his home. “You can go through my closet for clothes to borrow, and I think I have an extra toothbrush in the cupboard, and we can go out to brunch tomorrow because I don’t really have food in the fridge, otherwise I would make pancakes and scrambled eggs and stuff for you-”

“Go take a shower, Harry.”

Cue the third pout of the night. He even added sad eyes to intensify the effect, but Louis just looked at him pointedly, unimpressed, and made a shooing motion with his hands.

Harry backed out of the room, almost to the hallway. “Will you take one too? You smell like work and stress.” Louis’ scent was already apparent in the room, like he was scent-marking it, intentionally or not. Harry wasn’t even sure if Louis knew he was doing it, but either way he didn’t mind. If everything he owned held his soothing alpha scent, well, Harry wouldn’t mind that at all. And it was true, he did smell more stressed than usual, with leftover anxiety and frustration from whatever meetings he must’ve had earlier today, but Harry didn’t mind that so much either. In fact his omega was urging him to go back to his side and see if he could take the stress away, because that was what soulmates did for each other. So.

“The stress is mostly due to you,” Louis wryly stated. “But fine, sure, I’ll take one if you don’t mind me using your soap.”

“Of course I don’t mind. Also, saving water is a thing.”

Louis smirked. “Trust me, you’re pushing your luck.”

“All right, whatever. Just thinking there is a very easy way we can solve this problem.” The problem being the fact that he dropped yesterday and was still feeling the effects of it, making him drowsy and sad, and Louis was right there, with his alpha pheromones, warm skin, and inviting arms. It would be so easy.

“Little dove?”

That stupid nickname that now made his heart jump in his chest. “Yeah?”

“Get in the shower. We’ll sort you out after.”

“Well, okay, all right.”

He sent one last longing glance at the alpha who was still staring right back, somehow smug about it. Louis acted like he was so shy and innocent but moments like this made it clear he was also a menace, and aware of it, which was helplessly, infuriatingly attractive. Damn it. He had Harry wrapped around his finger, obviously.

His shower was a relief, even if he was alone, the steaming hot water cascading down his back and releasing some of the tension in his muscles. He took his time, told himself not to rush, and used a combination of his favorite body washes to thoroughly scrub his skin until it was pink and new. The lineup of bath products balancing precariously on the edge of the tub were a testament to his interest in self care, and also the fact that his friends were very predictable in buying him birthday presents. Not that he minded. He loved experimenting with different fragrances, determining which ones complemented and enhanced his own natural scent.

He stepped out of the shower feeling like a new omega, different than whoever he had been before. A hot shower could mimic the skin to skin contact that was necessary to prevent or remedy a drop, so he felt marginally better. The hot shower trick was one he’d had to use countless times before, because the alphas he had been with rarely wanted to cuddle, or even just stick around and talk as soon as the bedroom activities were finished, which was usually around the time Harry would call Niall to pick him up or send a car, so they could snuggle on the couch watching a peaceful golf tournament. No offense to Niall, though, but Louis being here was much better. There were some longings platonic affection could not quell.

Now, though, he wrapped himself in his warmest, fluffiest robe, donned a pair of fuzzy house socks that caused him to slide against the hardwood floors, moisturized his face and added product to his hair, and finally rejoined Louis at the couch.

“Happy now?”

“Very,” Louis nodded, after looking up from the email he had been composing on his phone while he had been waiting. He patted the spot next to him for Harry to sit beside him. “Feeling better?”

“A little, yeah.” He sat down, curling his legs up on the cushion and resting a hand on his shin, rubbing to keep himself warm. “Sorry I took so long. Hopefully you weren’t too bored.”

“I enjoyed looking at all the magnets on your fridge. And also browsing your bookshelves.”

“Oh, god.”

“A fair number of cheesy romances, which I expected,” Louis grinned, setting his phone down. “But the extensive sci-fi collection? And the music theory books? What a plot twist, honestly.”

Harry went to defend himself, embarrassed, but Louis shushed him.

“No, I mean, I love it. I recognized, like, a lot of them. Which is cool, so.”

“Oh.” This was news to him. “Do you have a favorite?”

“I’ll have to think about it. I want to hear all about your favorites, too.” He stood up, pulling the blanket over Harry and tucking it around him with a teasing smile. “There’s water on the stove. What kind of tea do you want? I’ll make you a cup and then hop in the shower.”

“Chamomile, please,” he murmured, absolutely confused by whatever was happening right now. At the very least, he was comforted by the fact that Louis was here. That was what mattered, everything else was just background noise. “Thanks.”

Louis returned from the kitchen with the mug, passing it over, careful not to spill. “I’m still mad at you for not telling me you dropped.”

“I’m still mad at you for abandoning me for more than a month.”

He cringed, reaching out to fix the blanket where it had slipped down Harry’s shoulder. “All right, yeah, that’s fair. Sorry. I really am sorry. Well, okay, I’m gonna shower. You should put a movie on or something, take your mind off things.”

Harry did as Louis suggested, pulling his laptop out of his bag as soon as he was gone, selecting a romantic comedy he had seen at least a dozen times already. The familiarity of it was like a warm hug, and he snuggled into the couch with the laptop propped up on his thighs, his mind wandering. He sent a text to Niall letting him know he was okay and also thanking him for somehow arranging Louis to pick him up from the airport instead.

You need to tell him , Niall responded almost immediately after his message was delivered. Harry replied with a string of sad emojis, to which Niall sent back,  there is absolutely no reason why you can’t tell him right now!!!!!

but he’s in the shower :(

Fine. Tell him when he gets out

im scared :( :( :(

Don’t make me come over there.

:( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

Turn that frown upside down :)

no :(

Ugh. If you haven’t told him by tomorrow night, I’m hunting you down.

Louis’ shower was much quicker than Harry’s, and when he returned, he was wearing a pair of sweats and a t-shirt he’d found in Harry’s closet, his feet bare. He smelled clean and sweet, like alpha mixed with the lightly-scented soaps resting against the shower wall, and Harry kind of really loved it.

“We should, like, talk,” Louis said, eloquently, as he took a seat on the couch. He was close to Harry but not touching, the warmth of his body radiating out to him. Harry lifted the corner of the blanket and offered it to him, and then they were both under the blanket he’d knitted a while ago in a long depressive episode last winter, and it was nice. Louis was sitting with his back against the armrest so that he was facing him, and Harry was curled up on the cushion, and they were leaning towards each other without realizing it.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Honesty hour?”

“Sure. I don’t know where to start.” He knew where he  should  start, with the words  we’re soulmates  resting on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t just blurt it out, could he?

“Well, okay. I’ll start. So, fun fact, you triggered my rut.”

The air wooshed out of Harry’s lungs like a forcibly deflated balloon. He blinked. “What?”

“It started when I was flying to LA. I mean, I made it home first, obviously, but I didn’t really have time to prepare. And I guess that’s sort of why I didn’t call you? At first it was because I literally couldn’t, because I was like, otherwise occupied,” he said awkwardly, looking down. “But then afterwards I just felt guilty. Because we barely even knew each other and yet I was so affected by you I went into rut.”

“Yeah, and I went into heat because of you, and you knew that, so why were you worried?” Harry asked softly. He had a feeling he might not ever understand, and that was okay, but he did not want Louis to feel  insecure  about this, of all things.

“I don’t know, okay? This isn’t as easy for me as it is for you.”

“It’s not easy for me at all.”

“Well, you make it seem easy.”

“Well I’m fucking terrified, just like you are, so there’s that, you know.”

Louis sighed and it sounded like relief, or fond exasperation, or a mix of both. “Come here, come closer.”

Harry obliged, leaning forward, any previous self-restraint flying right out the window. The alpha’s hand tentatively cupped the back of his neck, bringing him closer and guiding his face to the crook of his neck. Without thinking about it, Harry inhaled, and the wave of feelings washed over him like the hot water cascading down his back in the shower, like the steam curling up to the ceiling, like Louis’ hand feeling warm and secure against the back of his neck. The world went fuzzy and soft around the edges, quiet for a little while.

“There, that’s it, love.”

Louis breathed, burying his nose in Harry’s damp curls, and they sat like that, wrapped up in the blanket, holding each other.

Now would be a good time to tell him, wouldn’t it? It could even just be one word,  soulmates . Louis would understand, of course he would.

There was still a tension in his bones and the creeping worry that Louis would run in the other direction when he found out. Or he would think Harry was lying, making it up for the sake of access to his fortune. Bloodwork from the doctor’s appointment not long ago had already proved Harry had met his soulmate, through the biological changes his body experienced, but there was nothing yet to scientifically confirm it had been Louis. Maybe he would demand proof before taking Harry’s word for it. Maybe he wouldn’t believe him.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Louis whispered into his hair, holding Harry tighter. “I’m right here, it’s okay.”

With Harry’s nose pressed against the exact spot on Louis’ neck where his scent was strongest, the edges of reality softened. Louis rubbed his back, scratching his nails up and down in a repetitive motion that both soothed him and sent tingles ricocheting through his body.

“I was so happy you called me by the way. Not just because we- you know, but I was happy just to talk to you. Everything else was a huge plus, obviously, but, yeah, yeah. Sorry for being the shittiest alpha ever and not realizing you dropped.”

“It’s hard to tell over the phone,” Harry mumbled. “I don’t remember what happened but I went into omega space and probably didn’t drop until after we ended the call.” He blushed, face still hidden in Louis’ neck, not sure how to ask, not sure if he really wanted to know. “How was… I mean, I don’t remember, so… what was I like, I guess?”

“You got really quiet, so I should’ve suspected, I don’t know. But I could hear your breathing the whole time, so I didn’t worry too much.”

“So I didn’t say anything?”

“Um, not really.”

“What does  that  mean?”

“Uh, I mean, nothing important.”

Harry tensed. “There’s something. Tell me.”

“Well, you called me your alpha, in, like, a sincere way…”

“Oh. Huh. That’s interesting.” His heart threatened to burst out of his chest, it was beating so hard.

“Yeah.”

“What else?” he asked, to distract himself from cringing.

“I mean, not much...” Louis ran his nails up and down Harry’s spine. “You just got really polite and quiet and like, submissive. Typical omega stuff.”

He stared off to the side. “Right.”

“I don’t mind, you know. I mean, obviously I don’t mind, no one should mind. But just so you know. It was really fucking hot. And, like, cute.”

Harry didn’t say anything, but continued to breathe against Louis’ skin.

“Seriously, I loved it. All of it. You are really amazing.”

“Well, thanks.”

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Yeah, sorta.”

“You’re not very convincing, you know. Would it help if I scent-marked you?”

“Oh.” He paused. “That would be nice.”

“All right, well. Come sit on my lap?”

Already loose limbed and malleable from having his nose buried in an alpha’s neck, Harry pulled away enough to maneuver himself and smiled dopily. He fumbled with the blanket and managed to swing one leg over and sit on his thighs.

“Where do you want me to..?”

Harry tilted his head to the side and brushed his damp hair out of the way, exposing his neck. His fingers felt mostly numb from anticipation when he rested them in his lap. Everyone point of contact between Louis' body and his own was tingling. “I don’t mind, anywhere is good.”

“Thought you’d be more adamant about what you liked, being such an experienced omega and all. Surely you have preferences.”

“I know what I like,” Harry laughed. “You’re right. I’m just trying not to be so pushy. Also, I know I’ll like anything you do.”

“Fair enough. Though, I don’t mind pushy, for the record.”

“Yeah, well.”

Louis’ fingers brushed against his collarbone. Then he thumbed at his jaw, playful and smiling. “Who even are you, Harry Styles?”

“Gosh, just do it already,” Harry laughed, really blushing from the attention now. Louis obliged, and leant in, his nose going directly to the spot just below his ear. He rubbed his cheek against Harry’s cheek, flushed skin meeting flushed skin, marking him. His nose traveled down his neck as he inhaled, taking some pleasure for himself, taking time to enjoy the omega’s scent even though there was a clear objective here. It was kind of really hot. Harry shivered when Louis licked at his skin, covering him in his distinct scent. If Harry were to go out in public after this, anyone would assume he was Louis’.

“I wanted to do this the whole time we were in Florida. Ever since I first saw you. And then even after that, too, when we were apart.” He murmured the words into his skin, one hand holding his chin in place and the other resting softly on his hip. “Especially… especially when others were looking at you. When we went out to dinner, when I had that dinner meeting for work. When we went sailing. At the carnival,” he listed. “Every time.”

“You should’ve just done it,” Harry replied shakily in a maddening attempt to cling to a coherent thought. “I wouldn’t have minded.” It was difficult to focus when Louis was making his mind so fuzzy and scattered.

The alpha licked continuously at his neck, and then lifted his wrist up to his lips and licked at that too, the tender skin, until Harry was coated in the scent of amber and woods, musky and sweet, that magical forest like a fairytale. Each ministration made him shiver, skin tingling, heart thudding. He was getting wet. He couldn’t help it. Being covered in Louis’ scent was both appeasing and enticing, half of him comforted and the other half desperate and awakened. He wasn’t even embarrassed about it. About how much he wanted it.

Soulmate, he’s your soulmate, and he doesn’t know…

Not now,  Harry thought hard at the voice of his own consciousness, anxious and annoyed.  Not now, we can worry about that later, we can so worry about that later.

It wasn’t until Louis was murmuring “Hey, shh, what do you want?” that he realized he was whining, the kind of whining that was whimpery and needy like a question, like he was asking for something without words, because yeah, he was. There was no other way to interpret the neediness in his tone. The embarrassment of it finally caught up with him, and he tipped forward, burying his face in Louis’ shoulder this time to hide.

Louis squeezed his hips through the thick fabric of his fuzzy robe. “Use your words.”

“You’re more of a daddy than you think, you know that right?”

His statement startled a laugh out of the alpha, momentarily distracting him. “Oh yeah?”

Harry nodded, his chin brushing against his shoulder as he kept his gaze unfocused, seeing the back of the couch and the wall. “You’re dominant even when you’re trying not to be. It’s just who you are.”

Louis cringed, “Sorry-”

“No, don’t you dare apologize for something like that,” he huffed with a smile, pressing it against the collar of Louis’ shirt.

There was a contemplative pause. “Just so you know, I don’t agree with you.”

“What, you don’t think you’re total daddy material?”

“Please, please don’t call it that,” he pleaded, torn between a laugh and a groan, obviously aware that Harry was having him on.

“Sorry, I’m just stating the facts, it’s who you are, you can’t help it,” Harry teased.

“Yeah yeah, whatever, whatever.”

“No, but seriously. I mean it,” he said, unable to help the way his voice softened. “You’re really caring and protective, and you make me feel so safe.” He thought of their phone call, how Louis had made sure Harry got himself to a safe, private location before he started. That kind of concern, even when they were hundreds of miles away, was like a warm glow in a dark room.

“Well, that’s good.”

“Very.”

“You never answered my question.”

“I… forgot..? What it was?”

Louis hummed pensively and licked a wet stripe all the way up his neck from his collarbone. He bit at his ear, and  oh,  Harry thought in surprise, another full-body shiver prickling through him.  That was something.

“Tell me what you want,” Louis whispered slowly, exhaling warm breath against the crest of ear. His words were heavy and pointed and Harry was now very aware of the position of his own body on top of him, and how wet he was, and how he was getting wetter by the second, and how Louis smelled so good, and Louis was hard.

What were the words for what he wanted, and how much could he reasonably ask for? Because he was sure he wanted everything. Like, everything everything, no limit to what he wanted, no limit to his desire that approached infinity.

“Well, for one,” he tried casually, but his voice was shaky and the smell of his slick was cloying and unavoidable, Louis’ nostrils flaring, it was all so obvious, and that was okay. “For one,” he repeated, gripping the back of the couch, this time getting it out, “I would like you to kiss me.”

“Interesting request. Very doable, though.”

“Oh, shut up,” Harry sighed, and then Louis held his jaw with one hand and leant in and  that  was really something.

Harry melted completely without even meaning to, fully sinking into it, more than overwhelmed.

Okay, so Harry was not in control of his hands, apparently, because one of them ended up combing through Louis’ fringe in obsessive repetition, and the other one really had a mind of its own, roaming all over his chest. To be fair, Louis seemed to be having the same problem, torn between squeezing Harry’s hips or running his hands up and down his sides or softly touching his ass or stroking his bare thighs where the robe had slipped away to reveal nothing but warm skin. Their lips were still attached, kissing hungrily, messily, while groping each other as if this were the last time they would ever have the chance.

A thought hit Harry, right at that moment, somehow through the vacancy in his mind, because he was quite occupied. But then it wouldn’t go away, and he could not stop thinking about it, and he just had to pull away and ask.

“What changed?”

“Huh?” Louis breathed, wiping the spit off his lips with the back of his hand, as the other one stopped its movements on Harry’s lower back, stationary and clinging instead.

“What changed? Why did you decide you want to do this now, after you kept telling me no when we were in Florida? Why now? What’s different? I don’t get it, I don’t understand.”

He meant to only ask the one question, but the words kept spilling out like a dam bursting. One crack in the wall was all it took. Insecurity swallowed him whole.

Louis grabbed his hands, which he had not realized were shaking.

“I thought you didn’t want me for real. I thought you just wanted me for a hookup, nothing more than our week together. I thought you would drop me as soon as someone better came along. Now I know, though. Okay? It’s okay. I understand, babe. You’re okay.”

Soulmates, we’re soulmates-

“Okay, okay yeah,” Harry breathed, “Sorry for freaking out, I’m fine, let’s just, yeah, let’s just go back to what we were doing.”

Louis stared at him, trying to figure him out. Harry didn’t like the feeling of being analyzed, so he took matters into his own hands and dove forward, kissing the alpha with as much passion as he could muster, which was to say, a lot of passion. He poured every feeling into it, every emotion, until it felt like a fire was ablaze between them, within them, igniting them to the very core.

He was grinding against the alpha without even realizing it, getting himself soaking wet and both of them aching hard. Louis was in his clothes and their scents were mixing together and it was kind of really beautiful. Harry pulled away to kiss at his neck and Louis swore, arms winding around his back to squeeze him in a hug. “Fuck, darling.”

“Yes, please, let’s,” he rambled, not making any sense, but somehow the point carried across. Maybe they were telepathic, maybe that was a soulmate thing. Louis slid his right hand between Harry’s bare thighs, underneath the fuzzy robe that was now making him swelter.

“You’re so wet,” Louis breathed, awed. “You smell so fucking good.”

Harry lifted himself up, untying the bow on the robe and letting it slip down his shoulders. He allowed himself a deep inhale and then removed it completely to toss it to the side, cold air hitting his burning skin. He looked to Louis, for what, he didn’t know. Reassurance? Compliments? Directions? Harry was more confident than this. He grabbed Louis’ wrist and tugged his hand to the place where he wanted it the most, moaning so loudly when his fingers bumped against his entrance.

“Fuck, holy fuck,  please.

But Louis was still stunned and soaking up the sight, eyes travelling all over his body as his fingers mindlessly rubbed at his rim.

“You are so beautiful, you are otherworldly, shit, wow. Look at you.”

“Alpha…”

Louis brought his slick-wet hand up to caress Harry’s face, staring deep into his eyes. “Hey, shh, it’s okay.”

“Why do you have to have so much self control…” the omega complained, making him laugh.

“So I can take care of you, instead of being selfish.”

He was right. Still, “Then why aren’t you taking care of me?”

“Patience is a thing that exists, little dove,” he said, but he also trailed his hand down Harry’s spine and slipped a finger right into his wet heat without any preempt, so. One finger wasn’t nearly enough but it was so much better than nothing and Harry fell forward, his hands grasping for purchase on Louis’ shoulders as he buried his face into his neck again and breathed heavily, totally encompassed by his scent, which grounded him in the overwhelming situation.

“Fuck, god, oh god, oh fuck.”

Since Harry was supporting himself, Louis removed his other hand from where it was hooked under his thigh, and wrapped it firmly around his dick, which had been neglected thus far. He stroked hard once, then thumbed at the tip, smearing precome and startling a whine out of him.

Soulmates, soulmates.

“What was that?”

“Huh?”

“You said something.”

“Oh, nothing.” Harry gasped when Louis added two more fingers at once, a long moan curling out of him as he arched his spine and tipped his head back to the ceiling. It must have been a sight to behold, because Louis swore, and jerked him off faster, pumping his fingers in and out with renewed vigor.

“Shit, do that again, baby, fuck.”

Harry laughed a little, his heart soaring around the room. He clenched down just to see what would happen, and then Louis crooked his fingers inside him, and he saw stars. It was so good. Overcome with pleasure, he didn’t even have to try, and when he arched his back again, Louis pulled him closer just to kiss his chest.

“You’re so lovely.”

“You, too,” Harry gasped. He couldn’t believe Louis was still fully clothed. Reaching down with one hand, the other clinging to his shoulder, he felt how hard he was. The base of his knot was already apparent even through the sweatpants, and when Harry touched him, Louis groaned. He wanted Louis in him, for real in him and not just his fingers, like, right now. He tried to tug his sweatpants down but somehow the task was too complicated for him at the moment.

“Hey, look at me, hey,” Louis whispered, calling his attention. “We’re gonna make you come first, and then again, and after you come twice we can worry about me.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. He didn’t know what to say to that, but he whimpered when Louis’ lips latched onto his right nipple and sucked. “Well, okay, all right, if you’re sure.” He wasn’t going to say  no .

Louis smiled at his rambling and continued his actions, which were  so  good. Harry was no stranger to his cresting orgasm so he started bouncing a little more to get himself there, throwing his hips into it to chase the pleasure accumulating in his core, even though the alpha was doing more than enough to get him there. It graced him in waves, and if he caught the right one he could ride it all the way home. With Louis’ relentless motions, it was inevitable. Harry could barely hold himself up, and his skin was covered in a sheen of sweat, slipping against Louis’, and slick was getting everywhere, and he was pretty sure he was drooling on Louis’ neck.

Harry really did have the best soulmate in the world.

What  did you just say?”

“Fuck,” he whimpered, when Louis pulled his hands away. Cold air rushed into the sudden emptiness he felt.

He hovered on his knees for a second before sliding off Louis’ lap to sit on the cushion and stare at the wall.  Fuck.

“Harry, what?”

He rubbed at his eyes, frustrated. God, he was so stupid. Sex made him so stupid. Sex made him say things he did not mean to say.

“You can’t possibly mean… I mean… Really?” Louis whispered. Confused, mostly, that was what he sounded like. That was all Harry could decipher.

Harry himself had nothing to say, but he nodded numbly at the wall, too afraid to meet the alpha’s eyes or even look in his direction. He crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap, a defensive gesture, now incredibly uncomfortable being naked and trying to cover himself. A moment ago, he had been teetering on the edge of pure bliss. This was  not  the way to have this conversation.

“Wait, really? You’re serious…”

Lips pressed together, he felt his vision blur. He would not cry. He would not. But it felt so awful, being so vulnerable.

“Fuck, Harry, what?” Louis was in shock. But he still had the wherewithal and the sense of care or maybe just alpha protective instincts to reach over for the blanket and cover the omega with it, biting his lip. “Love… What’s wrong?”

He hugged his knees to his chest under the blanket and then dug the heels of his palms into his eye sockets, trying to take a few steady breaths. Louis’ concerned pheromones spreading out around him were not making this any easier on him.

“The papers from the doctor are on the counter, if you don’t believe me.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

He kept his eyes closed. He was afraid to open them. “When I went to the doctor, he said it was possible that my heat was triggered by meeting my… person. So I got the bloodwork done and it confirmed it. Apparently meeting your person changes your biology, so, there’s like, proof. Laboratory data. I don’t know. He explained the numbers to me but I don’t really understand, I was so bad at science in high school, I don’t know.”

“Your… person,” Louis repeated, voice duller than usual. “Wait. Fuck. Woah. Okay, um…”

“So, yeah. There’s that.”

Louis laughed a little, stilted and on the verge of hysterical. “Okay, all right. That’s very interesting. That’s very, um, yeah, yeah. Wow.”

Not sure what to make of the alpha’s response, Harry stood, careful to keep his body covered with the blanket, and went to the kitchen for the papers. They were right where he’d left them after coming home from the doctor, right where they’d been haunting him for weeks. The amount of times he’d fantasized about calling Louis and him actually picking up the phone, or even more so seeing him in person, to tell him about this… Now, the moment was here, and he did not know what to say.

So he thrust the papers in Louis’ face. The alpha looked them over with an impassable expression, eyes scanning the printed words, as Harry stood in front of him, wilting, the blanket wrapped around him as tight as he could hold it.

When Louis finally looked up, his brows were furrowed. He set the papers on the table, almost as if he were dismissing them. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s not something that’s easy to tell,” Harry mumbled.

“A simple, ‘we’re soulmates’ would have sufficed, you know.” He paused. “Wait, I mean, it is me, right?”

Harry wanted to scoff,  who else would it be , but he understood that Louis had a responsibility to make sure. So instead, he said softly, “Yeah. It’s you. It’s us.”

“Oh, thank fuck.”

His relieved reaction startled an incredulous laugh out of the omega. “What?”

Louis smiled, and like magic, it eased some of the heavy tension polluting the space between them. “No, I just mean I thought I was going crazy. But this makes so much sense. Why do you look so nervous? This is great news. Wow.”

Harry was speechless. Louis’ smile slowly slipped off his face, dipping into a concerned frown.

“What’s wrong?”

“I thought you would be mad?”

“Why would I be mad?”

“I… don’t know..? Or maybe disappointed, I guess, or something, I don’t know, it’s stupid, I don’t know what I expected, but something bad,” he mumbled.

“No, it’s okay, um. Well. I can tell you I’m surprised, but also not surprised, if that makes sense? Like, I’m surprised. But also, this is very logical. I mean, we both knew I triggered your heat. And you triggered my rut. And we only knew each other for a few days. And I, at least, felt very strongly about you from the beginning. So this is logical, really, and just lovely news. Are you not happy?”

“I was worried… and now I’m confused.”

“Well, that’s okay. We have some time to figure it out.”

“I guess,” he sniffled.

“Hey, hey, woah. Don’t cry. It’s okay, little dove, it’s all right,” Louis worried, standing up and hovering his hands over his torso, unsure if he was allowed to touch him now. “Oh, god, don’t cry, it’s okay, it’s all right, shh, it’s all right.”

Louis moved closer, and Harry didn’t react aside from sniffling, tears flowing freely now, the floodgates broken in one hysterical instant. What a turn of events. Louis took it as a sign that it was okay to touch him, and so they embraced. Well, it was less of an embrace and more of Harry standing there, stiff as a board, with Louis holding him. Harry stood and Louis held. Harry also cried, and Louis also comforted. Harry clung to the blanket, terrified of it falling and leaving him exposed. Louis rubbed his back.

“It’s okay to feel overwhelmed,” he assured in the kind of gentle whisper that only a person like Louis was capable of. It wasn’t even an alpha thing, it was just a Louis thing. “But also, I’ve got you. I’ve got you here, I’m going to look out for you. You have nothing to worry about.”

His words made Harry cry even more, because for some reason acts of kindness tended to tip him over the edge when he was upset. He sobbed against Louis’ shoulder, getting tears and snot on his t-shirt, which was actually Harry’s t-shirt, and that was probably for the best, because the fabric was now soggy and gross.

It wasn’t until the crying died down to weak sniffles a while later, after he was all cried out, that he finally attempted to extract himself. Louis wouldn’t let him go very far.

“What do you need? Let’s sit you down on the couch. I can make more tea. Chamomile? I’ve heard peppermint is also good for anxiety, I saw some in the cupboard earlier, maybe you want to try that. Or we can mix them? Oh, here, look, here’s your robe. Or do you want real clothes? I can go get you some real clothes, too, if you want.”

He sniffed, laughing once, pathetically. “The robe is fine. Thanks. Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. Really. I’m feeling pretty emotionally raw right now too. Just wait, and then I’ll start crying,” Louis joked. “I just had to make sure you were okay first before I started too.”

“I don’t deserve you,” he mumbled, wiping his face.

“I think you’ve got that backwards, but. You know. There’s time to work on that.”

Those words were the ones that coaxed a tentative smile out of him.

“Hey, soulmate,” Louis nudged, gentle and sincere.

“Hi.”

“Hello. So, tea?”

“I think just a hug is good for now.”

“A hug from your soulmate,” Louis agreed, eyes twinkling. It seemed he was trying hard to keep his own smile at bay. He opened his arms and let Harry wander into them this time, of his own volition. “You’re so lovely. I’m still kind of confused, I’ll admit, but also, this feels very okay. Very right, very correct. And you’re very very lovely, and I’m very very happy, and wow, we just wasted, like, more than a month, because I am a big, big idiot.”

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder?” Harry tried.

“Sure, we’ll go with that. But right now? I’d very much like to be close to you.”

“Me, too.”

“Good.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“We can sit on the couch, the couch is nice.”

“No, I mean, our relationship,” he blushed.

“Oh, trust me, I know. But I’m just saying we don’t have to worry about that right now. We have so much time to figure it out.”

“Aren’t you leaving soon? For work. In LA. Or, somewhere-”

“I can always reschedule meetings,” Louis whispered against his neck, holding him impossibly closer. “You’re much, much more important.”

“Oh, well, okay.”

Louis rocked them back and forth. Harry enjoyed the motion, enjoyed the rhythmic way they were swaying. He kept his nose tucked in the crook of Louis’ neck, clinging to his shoulders as the alpha held him more around the lower back.

There were still countless uncertainties swimming between them, but that was okay, because for right now, Harry felt safe and comforted. The world was quiet when he was in Louis’ arms. He hoped he could offer that same gift to Louis. He hoped the feeling was mutual.

 

&&&

 

“Oh, god,” Louis moaned as soon as he sank into the mattress, letting his limbs flop limply. “This bed is so sick. Truly the height of luxury. And of course it smells like my  soulmate , which is a huge plus, so.”

“Stop saying it like that,” Harry complained, crawling onto the bed beside him. He hid his smile against his shoulder so it was not so obvious, but it was impossible to keep the fondness from seeping into his voice, negating his efforts.

“I will not. I refuse. You’re just gonna have to get over your aversion to the word.”

“It stresses me out.”

“It shouldn’t.”

“Well, it does.”

Louis turned over onto his side, so they were facing each other. He propped himself up on his elbow’ meanwhile Harry snuggled closer to the sheets, his cheek smashed into the pillow, as if he could hide.

“What even happened tonight?” he whispered.

“You know, I don’t really know. But I’m happy it happened.”

“Me, too,” Harry admitted. “Even though I freaked out like a big baby.”

Louis’ lips quirked up at the corners. “Hah, well, don’t worry about it. It’s all good.”

Harry wanted Louis to lean down and kiss him. His lips were so soft and sweet and just the memory of them on him made his skin tingle and heat up, blood rushing to the surface. He knew he was blushing and yet there was nothing he could do to help it. “Um, so, I have a question.”

“You don’t have to preface your questions with a question. You can just ask, you know.”

“Well, alright. So, the day I called you, when I was, um, freaking out. And you actually picked up? And sent Zayn to get me?”

“Yeah?”

“I was wondering how you knew to pick up the phone then, out of all the times I called you. Because that was the only time where I was actually in danger.”

“Oh, yeah, about that,” Louis said weirdly. He played with the edge of the sheets, fiddling with the line of thread. “It’s hard to explain, but I just had this  feeling  that something was wrong. I don’t know, it was like, a very instinctual feeling. And then you called and I put the pieces together and you remember the rest.”

Harry took a moment to think about all of the research he did on soulmates, the academic articles and scientific journals he had read late into the hours of the night, huddled up in bed, unable to sleep. They discussed premonitions, and instinctive feelings and urges, the special bond between soulmates, the need to protect.

“What are you thinking so hard about?”

“You really want to know?”

“Always.”

Harry scooched closer. Louis reached out and stroked his arm where his t-shirt sleeve didn’t cover his skin. Usually he slept naked but he was feeling too vulnerable already for that to happen tonight. He had changed out of his robe and into a pair of soft shorts and a sleep shirt while Louis politely averted his eyes and busied himself with something on his phone. It was kind of funny because they knew each other, to some extent, in an intimate way, yet there was still a large gap between them in terms of familiarity and time spent together. There was still a lot to learn, still a lot of familiarity to gain, something that would only grow with time and proximity.

Louis’ fingers brushing against his skin were distracting. He briefly lost his train of thought, and when he looked up, the alpha’s lips were pressed together in an attempt to suppress his smirk.

“Oh, now you’re so smug.”

“Just living life,” Louis defended with a laugh. “Just living life.”

“Ugh, whatever.”

“You drive me crazy too, you know.”

“Well it’s hard to tell, you’re always so calm and collected.”

“Trust me, inside, I’m a mess. Whenever you even look in my direction. I can’t focus on anything but you. It’s totally mutual.”

Harry huffed. “What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. I’ve done a lot of reading about soulmates. The body of research isn’t too expansive, because of the rarity of the experience, but… I could tell you what I’ve learned, if you want?” 

His hand slipped down his arm, moving it around his waist, but neither one of them mentioned it, as if Harry were not flushing bright red and hot from the attention. “I’d like that, yeah, that would be nice.”

So Harry recited what he knew, mostly staring at Louis’ neck and collarbones because it was easier than meeting his eyes. He told him what he understood of the biological changes and blushed when he described how soulmates meeting could affect their mating cycles, often causing them to sync up. He blushed even harder when he explained what he knew about two soulmates bonding, how it was stronger than any other bond and a lot of soulmates preferred mutual marks and more than one for that matter, and how a mark could be anything that drew blood, for example, a common one being the omega leaving scratches down the alpha’s back. Louis listened and asked questions and they both shared their doubts and talked late into the night and it ended up being a really, really nice moment.

Near the end of covering Harry’s limited knowledge, they got a little distracted, and ended up making out for over an hour, rolling around in the sheets and learning each other. Harry was melting from the absolute attention and care with which Louis showered him, every inch of him glowing from the inside out with pure affection and other warm feelings he decided not to name.

“Here, feel, feel what you do to me,” Louis murmured when Harry was sitting on top of him, leant over him and kissing him hard, his curls falling into his face. The alpha guided his hand to his chest, pressing Harry’s palm just above his heart.

The steady beat was rapid and hard, thudding against Harry’s palm to the same rhythm of his own heartbeat. Fascinated by this, and absolutely distracted by the wonderful feeling of Louis, alive and happy, heart beating beneath him, he laid down and pressed his ear to his chest just to listen and feel. Louis ran his fingers through his hair, petting him and scratching at his scalp in a way that made him go all limp and tingly.

Aside from the small ministrations, they did not move. They stayed like that for a while.

 

&&&

 

In the winter, morning light trickled in through the east window like liquified gold. Harry was not a morning person and yet today he woke up with the sun, blinking open bleary eyes and noticing the shimmering hue over everything.

It was freezing inside, crisp and biting and a reminder that he forgot to turn the heating back on after turning it off to conserve energy during his trip to visit his mother. But there was something else keeping him warm,  someone,  really, so it was not that big of a deal. All he needed to do was snuggle closer to the warm body beside him and bury his nose against the chest of said body and everything was fine again.

Harry did not remember falling asleep last night, but obviously falling asleep was a thing that had happened. It was morning now, and Louis was laying on his back, and Harry was curled up against his side, resting his face on his chest, with the duvet pulled up to his eyes. When he let his mind wander, it was like being in that perfect amber forest in his imagination, encompassed by Louis’ scent. He had no idea where this thought was coming from, because he was not an outdoorsy person at all, but it was there, and it filled him with the warmest sense of affection.

The last thing he wanted to do was get up, but he had to pee. Curse his stupid bladder.

Doing his best not to disturb the sleeping alpha, he awkwardly crawled out from under the arm that was wound around his shoulders, replacing himself with a pillow. He watched in quiet awe as Louis hugged the pillow to himself in his sleep, burying his nose into it as if Harry were still there and he was trying to scent his hair.

Harry sighed, unable to control himself from dipping down and pressing a kiss to smooth out the alpha’s furrowed brow, nosing against his forehead and then the side of his face and his cheek too. He smelled so good, and he was so warm, and so lovely. His face took on a serene expression when Harry kissed his cupid’s bow and withdrew to hover an inch away from his face, definitely creepy, but unable to help himself. He was so in love, it wasn’t even funny.

He managed to pull away, nearly running to the bathroom because the wood floor was freezing against his bare feet. After using the bathroom, brushing his teeth, and making a valiant effort to fix his messy curls, he pulled on a hoodie and his favorite pair of pajama pants, along with a pair of thick wool socks. After that, he practically flung himself into bed, crawling under the covers and wiggling as close to Louis as he could manage. He removed the pillow Louis was clinging to and fit his body into that space instead, burrowing into his armpit. His inner omega had never been happier.

Why  are you up so early?”

Louis’ sleep-raspy voice startled him enough to make him jump. Shit. He thought he had been asleep.

“Had to pee. And I was cold,” he explained into Louis’ armpit. He thanked god his face was hidden.

“I could see that.” Louis’ fingers traced the sleeve of his hoodie. “You also stared at my face for a creepy amount of time.”

“Well,” he said. Damn it, so the alpha had been awake for a lot longer than he’d let on. Harry had no way to defend himself or pretend it wasn’t true. He snuggled closer and inhaled Louis’ scent, enjoying it immensely.

“If you wanted a kiss all you had to do was ask,” Louis murmured, running his fingers through the tangles of his curls. His voice was soft and slow as he continued, “Actually, you don’t have to ask me. You can just do it, if you want.”

“Good to know.”

“Mhm.”

Harry shifted his hips from where they were pressed against Louis’, which was what led him to the realization that Louis was hard. He smiled, the glory of morning wood. “Well, hello. Good morning to you too.”

“Are you talking to my dick?”

“Do you want me to?” Harry laughed. He pulled himself up on his elbows and took in Louis’ sleepy smile, eyes heavy-lidded and half-closed, blinking against the morning light. It was still fairly dark in the room, the golden glow casting shadows.

“Let me kiss you first, then we’ll see.”

Harry could get behind that. He tipped forward and let Louis capture his lips, kissing sweetly before licking at the corner of his mouth and pressing his tongue inside. Harry made himself comfortable, resting on Louis’ chest and playing with his hair with one hand, using the other to tilt the alpha’s chin at the ideal angle. It was so easy to get lost in this feeling.

“I was so mad at you,” Harry admitted when they pulled away to breathe. “I was so mad at you when you showed up at that restaurant and somehow you convinced me to not be.”

“I am so sorry,” Louis said, sincere as ever. He kissed him again. “I’m an idiot.”

Harry sighed, dropping his head to the alpha’s shoulder. “You ruined my date.”

“Don’t say that.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, remembering. “You don’t even know what I was going to do that night.”

Louis held him tighter, arms wound around his back. He bared his teeth and pressed them against Harry’s neck so his entire being was tingling with heightened awareness. It was the most possessive gesture he’d displayed thus far, aside from the night at the carnival when he defended Harry from the aggressive teenagers who were harassing him, but even then it was more protective than it was possessive. “Don’t. Don’t say that.”

Harry didn’t know what else to say. Louis’ teeth brushed against the most sensitive part of his neck, back and forth. A full-body shiver traversed through him, his fingers straining where they were resting beside Louis’ head. The hint of jealousy, the knowledge that Louis cared about him enough to feel jealous in the first place… It healed something within him, like stitching up an open wound.

“Ugh,” Louis growled. “I don’t want to think of that. I hate the thought of anyone else getting to be with you like that.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry apologized, letting himself be held. Louis slipped his hands up the back of his hoodie and let them roam all over his flushed skin. He had been cold earlier but now he was blazing with flames, burning to the core in the best way.

“I was going mad, the whole time we were apart, knowing you were with other people-”

“I never did anything,” Harry rushed to assure, biting his lip. He had  tried , but it never worked out in the end. He cringed just at the memory. “Did you?”

“God, no.”

“Even during your rut?”

Louis shook his head. “I promise.”

Relief flooded through Harry and he slumped forward even more, until he was starfished on top of the alpha. He kissed him hard, saying, “Thank god. Thank god.”

They both laughed a little at how ridiculous they were being. They were clinging to each other, completely wrapped up in each other, and yet they were somehow worried the feelings were not mutual. It was ridiculous. There was nothing to worry about. They were soulmates. True mates. They were meant for each other.

“You’re mine?” Harry tested, just to be sure.

Louis smiled against his neck before biting down gently, too soft to make a mark but the intent was clear. “I’m yours.”

And, well. Harry shouldn’t be blamed for what happened next, for the way he absolutely melted and begged Louis to take care of him. The thought of having someone who cared about him was too much, too overwhelming. He got tangled up in his hoodie trying to get it off, and they laughed about it and then stopped laughing so they could kiss again as they clumsily attempting to undress each other. Hands shoved pajama pants down thighs, hands ran over hips and tummies and torsos, hands grasped for purchase and searched and carressed. Lips searched and carressed too, traveling, exploring.

They burned, they melted, they mixed into one. The early, early morning sun was golden and bright, almost blinding through the windows now. They were tangled up in each other and breathing heavily, rhythms blurring. It was impossible to tell where one of them ended and the other began.

“What do you want?” Louis managed to ask, a surprisingly coherent sentence despite the chaos of their lust. He had always been the more collected one, out of the two of them.

Too many things, that was the answer, way too many things to even name. But Harry wanted one thing more than anything else and he didn’t care which way he got it, as long as he had it, so he rubbed at the front of Louis’ boxers and kissed wetly along his neck, all the way up to his ear to whisper, “Knot me, please.”

There was static in the air, an electric charge caused by a kind of storm that brewed and swelled and swept them away, into the air, into the forest of Louis’ scent, into the wildflowers of Harry’s. They locked eyes and Harry was struck again by how beautiful the alpha in front of him really was, how caring, how lovely.

“I care for you, so much,” Harry choked out in a sound that was partly a gasp, partly a sob, and partly something else entirely.

Louis pulled him into his chest and held him impossibly closer. Harry could hear and feel his heartbeat, his breathing, his movements as he maneuvered them into a more manageable position for what Harry had asked for in the first place. It wasn’t a traditional position, not that he was a traditional omega by any standards, but it also was not anything he had ever done before. He was laying on top of Louis, touching everywhere he could manage. It felt raw and new.

Louis planted his feet on the mattress for more leverage and lifted his hips. All the while he was also busy sucking a dark, aching mark on Harry’s neck. Every time his teeth grazed the spot he was working on, Harry got wetter, to the point where he was actually dripping down his thighs. Louis bucked his hips again and Harry whimpered.

“Ever had morning sex before?” the alpha asked with a smirk. And how, how could he be so composed?

“No, shut up, you know I haven’t,” Harry groaned, nearly crying into his neck. There may have been tears. He wasn’t going to admit to it, though. He’d had sex so many times he’d lost count, but it was almost always late at night, hidden away in a fancy hotel room that made it so easy to detach from the word. And this, right now, was the absolute antithesis of all those moments. Early in the morning after waking up next to each other. There was no darkness to hide behind, no alcohol to loosen his limbs or take away his anxieties, no money or gifts to tempt him. It was just him, and Louis, here, together, completely as they were, honest and open and vulnerable, glowing in the brilliant morning sun.

“Neither have I, so, a first for both of us.”

Harry wanted to tell him that none of that mattered, all the experience he had and all the alphas he’d been with over the years. None of it mattered because everything with Louis felt like a first. Everything felt new and exciting and different than anything he’d ever done before. Even the innocent stuff, like talking about books, or brushing their teeth at the same sink, or falling asleep together. All of it was new. All of it felt like a first. All of it was momentous because of  Louis , because they were soulmates.

He was kind of beyond words, though, so he just breathed heavily into the alpha’s neck and hope he got the point across. He could always talk to him about it later, too, to reassure him that it felt just as new for Harry as it did for him. Maybe even more so for Harry. That was a thing he’d been realizing during the past twenty-four hours: they had time.

Speaking of time, Harry was going to lose it if Louis didn’t hurry up. He was pretty sure he would implode, or maybe just disintegrate, if he didn’t have something inside him within the next two minutes. He tried to wait as patiently as he could, trusting Louis and letting his legs slip open even more in the most inviting way. He could’ve reached back and done it himself but he was also  heavily  enjoying the feeling of Louis taking care of him. Harry trusted him.

Louis kissed the side of Harry’s face and every other part of his face he could reach from this angle. “I’ve got you,” he was saying. “It’s okay, I’ve got you, I’ve got you.”

With the way Harry was currently reacting, he had reason to believe he might not actually survive Louis being inside him. What a way to go, though.

“Can I?”

“Please,” he sighed. Louis lined himself up and Harry was so wet but there was still resistance, and then he was pushing in, and the world was blurry stars and gold light shimmering through his tears that weren’t tears of sadness but rather tears of whatever overwhelming emotion he was currently experiencing, the overwhelming emotion he could not explain.

Harry was so overcome but he still had half a mind to check on Louis. He found him in a similar state, lips parted as he exhaled in total pleasure. Out of his mouth next was a string of curse words and praises that sounded sort of like a prayer, and it was so flattering, and sweet, and hot, and Harry was not going to make it out of this alive, he was not, because wow, damn it, holy  fuck , that felt good .

“Jesus, Alpha, holy shit, oh god-” his moan was cut off with a forceful thrust, and the tension drained from his body, his eyes slipping closed. He felt warm and fuzzy, and safe, and loved.

Like this, their hearts were pressed together, beating against each other. Harry had never felt more connected to someone in his life. It was like total understanding passed between them, the sort of honesty that was terrifying and aching but so, so worth it.

He kept his neck bared on instinct, his inner omega quietly hoping Louis would sink his teeth and seal them together forever. The other part of Harry, the part that reason with logic instead of primal instinct, knew they should definitely talk about it first before doing something as drastic as that, especially since soulmate bonds were more intense than normal ones, more permanent, more catalytic. Their lives would be different when they bonded and there would be no going back. Not that Harry minded that. He was just about ready to sell his soul to Louis without question. But, communication. Communication was important. So he kept his neck bared on the off chance that Louis had a momentary lapse in judgement and decided to sink his teeth into his skin. He knew it was not going to happen today, or at least this morning, but hey, an omega could hope.

There was not a lot of room to think, anyway. Mostly Harry just  felt , more than anything, and watched, because Louis was beautiful and every little reaction or expression was like heaven on earth, knowing Harry was the one to cause that. When he regained the ability and some composure after the initial shock of being filled, he rocked his hips back and forth to the rhythm Louis had built, and delighted in every reaction he could draw from his soulmate.

They kissed, which turned into breathing and gasping and moaning into each other’s mouths more than anything. It felt so nice to be close, to be touching, to be connected. Harry clung to Louis’ shoulders, his bony fingers clamped onto his skin like a vice, and when he scratched his nails down his skin he felt his knot catching on his rim, swelling by the second. There wasn’t time to think before their hips collided in surprising synchronicity, both trying to hold themselves together, and then they were joined, and Harry came harder than he ever had in his entire life.

He vision whited out in a bright spark of euphoria, spreading through his veins. He was tingly and prickly and floating high above the world, above the universe. He shivered with it, the wave of pleasure the most intimate sensation he had ever experienced. He was trembling. Beneath him, he felt Louis reach up with slick-wet fingers and brush his hair out of his face.

“Fuck, I love you.” His groan rang through the air, deep and confident and real, and Harry shivered again, because he’d never felt  that  before. “I love you so much, little dove.”

Louis’ fingers brushed the tears off his cheeks, where they’d spilled from the corners of his eyes. And when his vision cleared, he saw Louis’ eyes were glittery too.

“Oh, god,” Harry breathed with a laugh, slumping forward for the last time. Every few seconds brought another pulse of Louis inside him, warm and wet, connecting them in a way that was incomprehensible.

“Can I bite you? Not- not for real,” he stuttered. “Just, one that will last a few days. So you’ll have a mark, one that people can see.”

Harry nodded, delirious and beyond words, so happy. Louis nosed along his jaw and then his ear and down his neck. He sank his teeth in, drawing blood, but not yet deep enough to seal the bond, and they moaned in synchronicity, trembling against each other.

Time passed, but it was mostly a haze of pleasure and satisfaction. Reality came back gradually and Harry enjoyed the soft edges of the world as it returned. His limbs felt heavy and numb in the most pleasant way. He snuggled closer and let himself enjoy the feeling of Louis licking at his neck, cleaning the wound and making sure it smelled just like him. He blushed, thinking about what would happen later. Everyone would know, immediately upon seeing him, what had happened. Louis had  claimed  him. His inner omega was bursting with pride. Hell, his entire being was overflowing with good emotions.

“How are you feeling? Was that okay?” Louis asked. “Do you want to switch positions so you’ll be more comfortable?”

Harry managed to pull the duvet up to his shoulders, cocooning them in warmth and safety. “Never been better,” he replied dreamily. “And I love you too, by the way.”

Louis tensed. “I did say that out loud, didn’t I.”

“You did. ’s okay, I was thinking it too. We’re soulmates, think it’s allowed.” His words were slurred and sleepy and the exhaustion of the recent events were finally catching up to him. They both could really use a few more hours of solid sleep.

“Well, all right then. You sure you’re comfortable? I should’ve thought through the position more. This is clearly why people do it the other way.”

His hips were a little sore from his legs being spread for a long period of time, but there was not much he could do about that right now. “I’m great, as long as ‘m not crushing you.”

“Nope, all good. You’re like a weighted blanket. Very nice.”

“Love you,” Harry mumbled.

“Love you too, baby.”

 

&&&

 

They slept late into the morning and then lazed around even after they had both woken, too content and warm to leave the bed. At one point, Harry rolled over onto his side, and Louis huddled close to him, tracing lazy shapes on his back with the tips of his fingers in a whimsical manner.

“Could get used to this,” he murmured, waving an inert hand through the air to gesture to the entirety of their situation right now: late morning, warm bed, the kind of peace and quiet that seemed so elusive these days. Their heavy limbs were weighted with post-orgasm satisfaction, and time felt slowed down, like the universe was allowing them to enjoy this moment for all it was worth.

Louis kissed the back of his neck and nosed along the bite mark just below his ear, beside the hinge of his jaw. The wound was still tender and sore, throbbing when Louis nudged against it.

“Does it hurt?”

“No, feels good,” Harry sighed, letting his eyes slipped closed again as Louis continued his ministrations.

“Wanna go again?”

His fingers grasped the sheets and he could feel himself getting wet just at the thought of it. “Well I’m not gonna say no.”

“Good.” Louis mouthed lazily at his shoulder as he pulled the omega back into him, wrapping an arm around his chest and hooking his leg over his thigh. He aligned their hips and grinded against Harry for a while, until they were both breathless and heated and impatient for more. Harry was even tighter in this position and Louis moaned about it against his ear, stroking his hand down his side and finding his way to his cock to give him even more pleasure. It was different from earlier this morning, and last night even, as both times were frantic and desperate and full of overwhelming emotions. Now, they were still sleep-sluggish and mostly sated, and it was easier to take their time, to soak up the feeling of each other and focus their attention on sharing the maximum amount of pleasure.

Harry thought he would not be as fond of this position because it removed the possibility of kissing Louis, but he was wrong about that. He loved it, like he loved anything that had to do with the alpha. Louis was clinging to him, wrapping him up in his arms, and Harry felt small and safe and encompassed, sheltered from the world and swathed under the comfy duvet and Louis’ warm, sweaty body. He melted into the mattress and pressed his face into the pillow to muffle his cries of pleasure as Louis knotted him. Teeth sank into the mark on his neck again, not enough to bond them, but definitely enough to make it last another week or two. Harry had the feeling Louis was not going to let it fade.

A while after, they ambled to the shower and got cleaned up, super clingy and hanging off each other. They got dressed in fresh pajamas, Louis still wearing Harry’s clothes, and wandered to the kitchen in between long, teasing kisses.

“I hear you, and I love you, but we really don’t have anything edible in the fridge,” Harry sighed, running his fingers through Louis’ drying hair. They both wanted to stay home, to avoid bursting the little bubble of comfort they had created for each other, but also, breakfast.

“Cereal?”

“We just had sex for the second time today for like two hours straight. We’re not having cereal for breakfast.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means we’re gonna need more energy than cereal can provide if we wanna do what I have in mind. We need a full meal.”

Louis’ brows raised. “And what do you have in mind?”

Harry made a locking motion over his lips and tossed the invisible key over his shoulder, making them both laugh. His plans possibly included Louis holding him up and knotting him against the large window overlooking the city. He had found the alpha’s smaller stature to be deceiving; he had a lot of upper body strength, certainly enough to hold Harry up against the window.

Louis rolled his eyes fondly and pulled him down to kiss him against the fridge. It took them another half an hour to make themselves decent enough to go out in public, because they kept getting distracted by each other. Harry was wary about going out in their pajamas, but Louis convinced him otherwise. If they couldn’t stay at home and have a sleepy breakfast in bed, they would simply have to bring the same energy to the cafe they were going to. Apparently that included wearing pajamas in public. But Harry couldn’t complain, because Louis looked so good in Harry’s sweats and oversized hoodie.

At the cafe, they laughed over just about everything, and ignored the weird looks strangers sent their way. They were in their own little world. Harry couldn’t stop smiling.

Louis scrunched his nose, “I can’t believe my soulmate is a coffee-drinker.”

“You can believe it and you love it,” Harry corrected, hooking the alpha’s ankle between his own underneath the table. He took a sip of his steaming drink and blew a kiss to Louis to prove his point.

“Ugh. Ridiculous.” But Harry noticed the way he tried and failed to hide his own smile by shoving a chunk of sugary pastry into his mouth, wiping stray cherry filling off his bottom lip.

Harry had never been on an actual brunch date before and it was making him melt. Like this morning, it felt like the true antithesis to his previous habits. No more prurient dinner dates and stuffy snobbish restaurants. The thought struck Harry like a thrill in his heart and he stared down at the smooth surface of the black coffee in his mug to collect his thoughts.

Louis noticed the change in demeanor, and Harry was flattered by how he could pick up on something so minute. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he murmured truthfully, running his fingers through his hair. His hand fell to his neck subconsciously, running his fingers over the sensitive, raw skin of the fresh mark. He looked up and met Louis’ confused, concerned eyes, and said, in a soft, careful voice, “I was just thinking about how I’m officially retired from sugaring.”

Louis stared at him. Harry could tell it had been a point of perturbation for the alpha by the look of pure relief that washed over his features, brow smoothing out, eyes softening. “Oh, okay,” he said gently.

“I could tell you were worried about that, so I just wanted to make it clear,” Harry admitted, reaching boldly across the table to grasp Louis’ hand where it was resting against the plate, still holding onto the fork. “There was no way I was ever going to do it again. Obviously. I mean, it stopped being a possibility after the night you came back and we saw each other at dinner. So, like, don’t worry about it. I already messaged all the alphas and told them I was out of the sugar bowl for good.”

Louis looked incredulous and bewildered and a little bit in awe. “Really?”

“Yes, you silly alpha, of course I did. You really thought I was going to continue going on dates with random alphas even though we’re together?”

“I mean, it’s your livelihood, though,” Louis reasoned, voice wavering. “I wasn’t going to ask you to stop doing something you’ve been doing for years.”

“You didn’t have to ask me, I decided to stop all by myself. Seriously, Alpha,” Harry smiled. “It’s sweet that you are so careful about not pressuring me into anything, but also, please know that I would never put you through that. That part of my life is over. So, ta-da,” he waved his hands and flashed a grin complete with dimples, “You’re looking at a retired sugar baby.”

“I love you,” Louis said, helplessly.

“And I am so lucky that you do. I love you too. I have to figure out something else to do with my life and that’s kind of stressful but it’ll be okay. There are so many things I’ve wanted to do.”

“I can help you find something,” Louis insisted, interlacing their fingers. “You can do anything you want. I’m a businessman, I know these things.”

“I mean, yeah, ‘cause you’re my sugar daddy now,” he teased. He had an idea of what he wanted to do, and he would tell Louis about it later, when the mood was right and they could put some plans into action, or at least onto paper.

The exasperated sigh he pulled out of him was so worth it. “You’re never gonna let that go, are you?”

“I just love how flustered you get. You’re blushing. You definitely like it.”

“Ridiculous,” Louis repeated, shaking his head.

“It’s okay, I’d love to be your sugar baby.” He squeezed Louis’ hand, smiling at the sight of the ring on his own finger, the one the alpha had given him when they were still in Florida. He had never taken it off, even during the long time they were apart.

“Hey, I meant to tell you,” Louis began, poking at the fried egg on his plate with his fork. “You look really beautiful.”

“Oh, gosh,” Harry pressed his palms to his face.

Louis proceeded to endlessly list the features he found beautiful, which was apparently everything from Harry’s messy curls down to the nearly invisible freckles dotting his nose. Louis was ridiculous.

“Stoppp,” he whined, hiding his face again and peeking out from between the cracks of his fingers.

“You’re glowing.”

“I’m having a really good day.”

The past twenty-four hours might’ve been the best in his entire life. His relationship with his mother was mended, and now the alpha of his dreams was sitting across from him at the table, staring at him with so much love. There was a bite mark on his neck and a cozy bed waiting for them at home. They were in their pajamas eating  pastries . All things considered, Harry was quite certain it could not get any better than this. And yet life kept proving him wrong.

Louis leant his elbows on the table and propped his chin up on his hand, smirking, eyes twinkling. Talk about beautiful. “Oh yeah?”

Harry linked their fingers together and sighed happily when Louis thumbed at his knuckles in a soothing gesture that said,  I’m here.

“Yeah.”

He could get used to this.




&&&




EPILOGUE

Three months later…

 

“Hush, he’ll be here any minute now. Stop worrying.”

“I’m not worrying,” Harry groaned into the thick material of the sweatshirt against which he was currently smashing his face. He was surrounded by a vast, messy accumulation of his and Louis’ clothes, but it was still nothing close to the real thing of having the alpha beside him and actually being able to bury his face in his neck and breathe him in.

“You’re totally worrying. I can see right through you,” Niall proclaimed. Harry didn’t have to peel the sweatshirt away from his face to know that he was folding his arms over his chest in a way that said  I know I’m right.

“No, I’m not. I’m just… longing. Missing him.”

Niall’s voice softened as he said, “I know, pet. It’s okay. Look, he just texted saying he’d be here in ten minutes. You can wait until then, can’t you?”

Harry shot up, out of the bathtub that was currently housing his cozy, cluttered nest. “Ten minutes?! Niall, why didn’t you  tell  me? Oh god, I look so ugly, I was going to get ready, I was going to do my hair!”

“You look fine. What are you talking about?”

“Oh no,” he whispered, spinning around frantically for something to focus on. “No no no. This is all wrong.” He was still wearing the same pajama shorts and loose tank top he’d been wearing the past few days, to cool off from the fever of his pre-heat. He had planned on dressing up and doing his hair and cleaning the apartment and-

“Harry. Calm down. Jesus. Why does it matter what your hair looks like if Louis is just gonna mess it up with his hands the minute he sees you?”

The omega pressed his palms to his mouth to muffle a scream. Niall didn’t understand. This was their first heat they were actually spending together through its entirety. Louis was going to  bond  him. Harry couldn’t look like an absolute mess when Louis bonded him!

“God, okay, look, it’s okay. You start getting ready and when Louis comes I’ll stall him to buy you some time. Okay?”

Harry nodded in agreement before grabbing a handful of Louis’ clothes to tide him over as he ran to the bedroom to get ready. He kept the clothes pressed to his nose as he searched the closet for the outfit he’d planned to wear. The amber and woods fragrance calmed him to no extent. He was able to pick out the lingerie set and the fancy kimono with shaking hands. He brought everything to the bathroom and then set to work fixing his hair with a curling wand.

A few minutes later, he heard the click of the front door of the hotel suite opening, and Niall greeting Louis. Harry wanted to run to his alpha and jump into his arms, he missed him so much, even though Louis had only been gone for a work event for three days, but he knew it would be worth the wait if he got ready first. His proximity to heat, teetering on the brink of it, was making it that much more difficult to focus on the task at hand. His skin heated up just knowing Louis was in the other room. He was already melting with anticipation, his sweet scent filling the air. He completed the finishing touches, checking over his reflection one last time.

The thought of what was about to happen made him flush all over his face and down his neck and chest. He smoothed out the lace of the lingerie and thought about how they’d been planning this vacation for months now. Not even a few days after Louis showed up at the airport with flowers, they’d had the important discussion about what they were going to do for Harry’s next heat. Louis had suggested renting a suite somewhere nice, to make a vacation out of it, an occasion, and the omega had agreed with a certain warmth in his heart at the mere notion of Louis taking care of him like this. He had never felt more special and appreciated in his life.

So here he was, now, standing in an extravagant suite in Amalfi, Italy, about to spend his second heat off suppressants with the love of his life. His  soulmate . He was wearing pale pink lingerie and subtle perfume and despite his freakout minutes earlier with Niall, he’d never felt prettier. He was nervous about showing Louis but he knew there was no reason to worry, it was mostly just nerves due to anticipation of what was in store for him. Last month was when they had started talking seriously about bonding. They both agreed they wanted to make it a special moment, a memory they would keep forever, but they were also not too keen on waiting for months or years when they already knew they were so in love with each other. So Louis had suggested Harry’s next heat and Harry had melted into a puddle of goo because that sounded  perfect . And now, here they were.

Harry took a deep breath. And then he stepped outside. The suite was huge and lovely and way too extravagant, but Louis loved to spoil Harry and Harry loved to be spoiled, so. He walked as carefully as he could to the sitting room where he knew Louis and Niall were waiting for him. Since Louis had to be at an important event for work in London the past few days, they asked Niall if he could hang out with Harry and keep him company for the time Louis would be away. Niall was such a good friend so of course he agreed, and he and Harry had spent the past few days exploring Italy and also cuddling on the couch at night because Harry was needy and he missed Louis, and Niall was so good at giving cuddles, anyways.

“Hi,” Harry said shyly as he entered the room, hovering by the door.

The conversation between the two alphas abruptly stopped and Louis looked up sharply at the sound of his omega’s voice. His lips parted, mouth falling open slightly. Gaze unwavering, he stared.

“Little dove…” Louis breathed.

“All right, well, I think I should get going,” Niall said awkwardly, gathering his belongings. “This was great, pet, I loved hanging out with you. Okay, um, be safe, don’t get pregnant, unless that’s what you want. Also, try to keep the noise down. There are other people around here, you know.”

“Think that might be too much to ask from this one,” Louis said, nodding towards Harry.

“Okay, all right, too much information, I did not need to know that, don’t break any furniture, goodbye.”

The door closed behind him after he left but Harry hardly reacted. He was too busy staring at his alpha, unable to look away. He was still wearing his suit from work and he looked so, so fucking good. He smelled even better. He smelled like everything Harry had ever dreamed of.

“Hey, love,” Louis said softly, setting his bag down on the table. He briefly retreated to the door to slide the locks into place, making sure they were secure. When he turned around again, he asked, “How are you?”

“Good,” Harry choked out, grasping the lace hem of the kimono. It was the one Louis had bought him in Florida, the one he’d been wearing the first time they kissed. “So much better now that you’re here. And you?”

“Doing well,” he grinned, taking a step forward. “Very, very well. You look lovely, by the way. Beyond words. I might not survive.”

Harry’s heart was rabbiting in his chest and he could only stand there as Louis approached him, crowding him up against the wall. His back hit the hard surface and that was when he melted into the alpha, going completely lax in his arms. He clung to him, nose buried in the junction of his shoulder and neck, breathing him in. Louis wound his arms around his back and nosed against his hair.

“Fuck, baby, you smell so good.”

He whimpered and continued clinging, his heart absolutely soaring. Tonight was the night he had been looking forward to for months. Everything was perfect because Louis was here and they were together and that was all that mattered. They would bond tonight and promise each other forever. Louis gripped Harry’s thigh with one hand, fingers slipping beneath the edge of the kimono. The simple yet suggestive touch sent a full-body shiver throughout the omega.

In one smooth and quite frankly impressive motion, Louis hooked both hands under the omega’s thighs and lifted him, wrapping his legs around his waist. Harry huddle closer, holding on for dear life, unwilling to pull himself away from his alpha even for just a moment. The edges of his heat encroached on him, but for the first time in his life he felt nothing but peace and calm. There was no doubt, Louis would take care of him. There was nothing to worry about.

“Nest or bed?” Louis whispered the question into his ear, causing another tremble.

“Nest, sorry,” he murmured against his neck, still too embarrassed to say it boldly. Even after months of being in a relationship, Harry still felt too shy to openly talk about his nesting habits with Louis. Just the mention of it made him blush and want to hide his face. It was something he was learning not to be ashamed of, especially when Louis cuddled him close and told him how much he loved that it was a habit of Harry’s. He only really built a nest during pre-heat or when he was feeling stressed, or when he was away from Louis for more than a day.

“You’re so adorable, I love you, don’t you dare apologize for that.”

His nest was in the bathroom, which was not thee sexiest location in the world, but he had done his best earlier in the day to set the mood, adding candles in places where they were unlikely to be knocked over even during the throes of intense and passionate sex. Windows overlooking the coast rose up from the tub, and the sea on the horizon was reminiscent of the place where they first met.

The bathtub itself was roomy and luxurious. Harry had spent the past few days building the best nest he’d ever created, carefully lining the porcelain with neatly folded clothes and blankets, adding pillows beneath to make it more comfortable. Louis had offered all the soft clothes he owned, and Harry had spent hours going through each item and pressing it to his nose to determine where to place it. Now it was complete, and it smelled like the perfect mix of Harry and Louis, and as embarrassed as he was, he was also incredibly thrilled and soothed to know this would be where they would bond.

“You did such a beautiful job, Harry. This is lovely.”

It was funny how the pet names and nicknames made him melt, but nothing was more effective than when Louis said his real name. It was so simple, and yet.

When Louis gently set him down in the bathtub, effectively swathing him in the soft textures that held that indescribably perfect scent, Harry kissed him hard and said, “I love you so much.”

His life had been a dream ever since he and Louis made up three months ago. Sure, there had been some disagreements here and there, and some petty arguments that almost always ended in soft whispered apologies and gentle cuddles in bed, but more than anything they were just two soulmates in it for the long haul, in it for the end of time. They were still learning each other, still exploring what it meant to be in a relationship and what it meant to be in love.

A week after they got together, Harry had sat Louis down over a dinner of homemade fajitas and outlined his plans for the career he wanted to pursue. His interest and experience with money, along with the driving desire to help people, had combined to create a rewarding occupation. He wanted to start a practice to teach financial skills and strategies to omegas, so that they could acquire the skills they needed to live on their own and remain financially independent. Louis was completely supportive of his idea and so excited about it, and they spent the whole night discussing their ideas and the possibilities of such a feat. Now, Harry already had four clients and was working with Zayn to help broaden his scope.

Speaking of Zayn, he and Liam had recently become great friends with Niall, who had apparently been corresponding with them throughout the entire period of time when Harry and Louis weren’t speaking. They had weekly lunch meetings to discuss how to get Harry and Louis together. Harry had been shocked when this information was revealed, but he couldn’t deny that he felt so warm knowing how much his friends cared about him.

Harry was also in consistent contact with his mother, calling her every Sunday night and talking for hours about anything and everything. She hadn’t visited him in New York yet, but she was planning to very soon, because she wanted to meet Louis. They had talked over the phone before, the conversation flowing freely enough that Harry felt okay leaving the room for a bit to finish some work in the kitchen, and when he returned to the bedroom he got to witness the beautiful sight of Louis and Anne laughing together on the phone over a funny story that almost definitely involved embarrassing childhood shenanigans and Harry.

So things were good. Things were great, actually. Everything was falling into place and for the first time in his life he felt happy and secure all at once. And now he was lying in his nest in Amalfi with the love of his life hovering over him, bracketing him in and making him feel so safe and loved, and yeah, it was really, really great.

“The first time you wore this,” Louis mumbled, fingering the edge of the silk and lace kimono where it brushed over Harry’s nipple, “I don’t even know… Couldn’t keep my hands to myself, could I?”

“Wanted you so badly,” Harry told him, searching his pale blue eyes which looked darker in the dim lighting. Louis had taken the time, after setting him down, to pull out his lighter and individually light each and every one of the candles Harry had set up. Now, the room was cast in a warm glow that flickered and quivered in the soft sea breeze rolling in from the open windows. “Want you even more right now.”

“You have me,” Louis told him, dipping down to kiss the mark he’d kept consistently dark for the past three months. “You have me now, darling. I’m yours.”

Tonight he would sink his teeth into the tender skin of his omega’s neck, tying them together with a thin golden thread sewn their souls. The waves would crash outside and the wind would drift by and the candles would flicker, and Harry would find himself in the arms of the one he loved, forever and ever.

It was kind of really, really perfect.