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A Place With Skeletons

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A Place Of Our Own

 

“This doesn’t mean anything,” Louis says, keeping his eyes fixed directly in front of him. There’s nothing but a blank white wall there, a little bit of dust accumulating along the baseboard.

Harry’s breath is warm as it washes over Louis’ ear and the side of his neck. “Absolutely nothing,” he agrees, except he sounds like he’s only humouring Louis.

Despicable. If Louis’ pent-up muscles weren’t screaming that he needs this, he’d be on his feet and stalking out the front door. He hates when Harry sounds like that, smug and all-knowing. It’s not as though Harry’s instincts are always right. Louis would say he has the scars to prove it, but.

“I wouldn’t be here right now if I had any other option,” Louis continues. Crammed into a corner of Harry’s kitchen, between a wall and the end of the counter, Louis’ arse is starting to hurt. The tile is old and probably needs to be replaced. It’s a pale blue pattern that Louis has never paid much attention to before now. Some of the tiles are chipped at the corners, betraying their age. Somehow, it works well in this space, making the room feel homey rather than dated.

“I know,” Harry says patiently. His right hand is resting where it always does, on Louis’ side, in the middle of his ribs. Where the scar would be, if there was one. “You say this every time.”

Louis wouldn’t have to say it if they weren’t in this position to begin with. They are, though, and so far nothing they’ve tried has been able to pull them out of it. So until they figure out a solution, or until the blood finishes cycling through Louis’ body, they’re stuck here.

Not literally here. They could be doing this anywhere. It doesn’t have to be on the floor of Harry’s kitchen. Sometimes it’s in Louis’ house, or at Harry’s office. On occasion, it’s happened in public, which has always been obscenely embarrassing. If they have to put up with this, the least their bodies could do is wait until they’re alone.

There’s dirt smudges on Harry’s hand. Louis only realizes he’s been looking at Harry’s hands when he notices the dirt. Fuck. He tears his gaze away, refocusing on the patch of wall he’d been looking at earlier.

“I would choose anyone other than you,” Louis says, picking up his train of thought again. He feels a lot more cornered and defensive when they’re in Harry’s house, for some reason. It doesn’t really make sense, considering that this time, Louis was the one who couldn’t hack it any longer. He broke first. There’s something about being in Harry’s space, though, the green and earthy feeling of it. It should feel like open space with all the plants, but Louis has never felt more claustrophobic than he does when he’s here.

Harry’s chest moves against his back, a sharp intake of air. Before he can open his mouth to defend himself, Louis keeps going, “If I had a choice in any of this, I would have been saved by that elderly security guard over you. I wouldn’t mind having to have the occasional cuddle with her.”

“Considering that she was only fifty-three, I’m not sure she’d appreciate you calling her elderly,” Harry says blandly. It figures that he’d know how old she is.

“She seemed like a lovely lady,” Louis continues, ignoring Harry’s comment altogether. “I’m sure we could have had some excellent conversations. Instead, I get stuck with you.”

No matter how much he tries, he can never get his voice to meet the disdain he’s aiming for. It’s probably why all his insults seem to roll off Harry’s back. Either that or he’s got a really thick skin. Louis doesn’t know which one it is. He doesn’t care, either.

“I’ve heard,” Harry says, still using that same dry, deadpan tone. Louis hates it. “Do you want to take our shirts off?”

That, at least, he says gingerly, carefully. As though he’s expecting Louis to blow up at him for it.

For a second, Louis considers doing just that. He also hates it when Harry acts like he knows what to do to make this easier. Like the right thing just comes to him naturally. Louis refuses to accept that as the truth. Neither of them know what they’re doing here. They’re both just riding it out.

Reacting poorly to the suggestion isn’t going to get him anywhere, though. Louis’ fingers are trembling in his lap, despite the way they’re laced together. He’s been trying to deny it for the last five minutes and he can’t hold out any longer. He needs Harry’s skin against his, and he knows Harry needs it too. The longer Louis resists it for, the longer he has to spend here, on the floor of this bright, sunny kitchen he’s gotten so familiar with. It feels like he lives here some days.

Three weeks. It’s only been three weeks since the hospital.

“Fine,” Louis bites out. He leans forward to give Harry some space, and strips his shirt off over his head in one angry motion. When he settles back against Harry’s chest, their bare skin presses together. It’s such a relief actual tears well up in his eyes.

Fuck. This is probably the part Louis hates the most. When he gets overly emotional and Harry tries to comfort him. It’s been months since the bond formed, and it’s still happening every time. At some point, Louis has to get used to it, right?

Harry doesn’t even hesitate anymore, hand slipping back into its usual spot against Louis’ side, the touch tender and familiar. Despite himself, Louis’ head lolls back against Harry’s shoulder at the feeling, eyes slipping closed. They’re still wet, tears threatening to slip past his lashes, and there’s an even chance Harry’s going to comment on it. It feels like he thinks he’s being helpful when he does, but that’s not what Louis needs when he’s emotional.

“You smell nice,” Harry says into his ear.

Louis huffs out a disbelieving laugh, slapping gently at Harry’s other hand, splayed out wide across his belly. “Stop it. This isn’t sexual. Stop trying to make it something it’s not.”

Harry’s lips are warm against Louis’ earlobe, so close Louis can feel his breath. He represses a shiver, drawing his knee up as close to his chest as he can get it with Harry’s hand still in the way. “Maybe for you it’s not,” Harry murmurs.

Christ. This is why Louis tries to avoid him for as long as possible – he gets Louis to put himself into compromising positions, and then he’s nice to him. It’s hard to hate someone who’s nice to you. Louis would know. He’s constantly trying.

Louis doesn’t trust his voice not to break in the middle if he tries to reassert his claim. Instead, he says nothing, swallowing hard. It would be so much easier to deny everything if it wasn’t for their first few meetings, when Louis was open and honest about his attraction, and Harry was – lying about everything. All the bitterness Louis holds close to his chest is entirely justified. That’s something he’s constantly reminding himself of. Especially in situations like this, with their bodies pressed up so close together he can feel every breath Harry takes. Louis needs to keep reminding himself of his bitterness to keep himself sane.

The warm, heavy weight of Harry’s hand against his side is practically all Louis can think about. It’s entirely too comforting to him. The feeling he gets when Harry touches him there is the only reason Louis keeps letting him do it. One day, when he’s a bit stronger, he’ll make Harry stop. Go cold turkey or something.

As the minutes tick by, all the anxiety and pain Louis had been feeling trickles away. It had been hard to understand that feeling at first. Considering his circumstances at the time, Louis thinks his confusion had been entirely justifiable. Bonds like these – he absolutely refuses to use the proper term for it – are rare. So rare that the medical team at the hospital, just after the incident, hadn’t been able to give them much advice on how to handle it. They’ve been muddling through one day at a time.

“Are you sleeping?” Harry whispers eventually. Louis startles a little, even though he hadn’t been. He shifts in Harry’s arms, opening his eyes and remembering where he is. When his body eventually remembers how it’s supposed to behave, he might miss the warmth of Harry’s chest. It’s a feeling he can only admit to himself in moments like these, on the verge of sleep and when he feels safe.

Safe is a feeling that’s been hard to come by, lately.

“No,” Louis says, clearing his throat so he doesn’t sound quite as rusty. In front of him, the wall is still white and a little dusty. It hasn’t changed in the time he’s been here.

“Do you want – ” Harry hesitates a little, even though Louis already knows what he’s going to ask. It’s the same thing he’s asked every time. “Do you want to stay here tonight?”

Does Louis want to sleep in his bed with him, he means. It’s a one-bedroom house. There’s no other places for Louis to sleep. If Louis was anyone else, Harry would probably offer to take the couch. But he’s not, and Harry won’t. Not if it meant they could be sleeping together.

“Absolutely not,” Louis says. His brain wants him to prickle with indignation at the suggestion, but his body is too comfortable for that. He’s going to have to leave soon. Before it gets dark. Normally, Louis doesn’t mind driving in the dark, but he’s too tired right now. Another ten minutes and Harry’s offer might start sounding too tempting to resist.

Louis won’t sleep in his bed, though. That’s a hard fucking line.

“You could, if you want,” Harry continues, as if Louis hasn’t just told him no. “I bought a pillow for you. One of the ones you like.”

Harry’s mouth is edging down Louis’ cheek, getting closer to his mouth with every breath. If Louis doesn’t stop him, he’ll try to go for it.

It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve kissed. Or the second. Or even the third. Louis hasn’t let it happen since the first week they met, though, and he’s sure as hell not about to start now.

“Fuck off,” Louis sighs, shifting his head an inch or two on Harry’s shoulder so his lips leave Louis’ face. His tone isn’t nearly as acerbic as it needs to be to put Harry off entirely, but he stops trying for Louis’ mouth.

“Just want to make sure you know,” Harry says, voice barely above a whisper. “There’ll always be a place for you here.”

That’s Louis’ cue to leave. There’s a tight, squirming ball in his stomach that feels entirely too close to butterflies for his liking. If he stays, he’ll let Harry talk him into doing things he wouldn’t normally consider.

It still takes him a few more minutes before he manages to push himself up. The way he stomps out of Harry’s house isn’t graceful, but at least it accomplishes something.

 

 

In The Beginning

 

Louis has known about his veela genes for pretty much as long as he can remember. For a while, when he was a kid, he didn’t spend much time thinking about it. Everything in his life seemed normal. He had a mum who loved him, a little sister to dote on, and a ton of friends. If he was always picked first for games and sports in school, he attributed that to his naturally outgoing personality. Before he’d learned the meaning of the word, he would have thought of himself as charismatic. It didn’t seem abnormal that his friends would clamor to give him their pudding cups at lunch or that everyone always seemed to want to hang out with him. It was just a part of growing up, he figured. Everyone shared with their friends.

It wasn’t until he hit his teenage years that the reality of his genetics started becoming apparent. Being surrounded by surging, fluctuating hormones all the time brought a sudden light to his situation, much like the blinding headlights of an oncoming truck. The older he got, the more impossible it became to ignore the fact that his genes had a direct impact on how people treated him. Louis was forced to become much more careful when choosing people to surround himself with, a process that took a lot of refining before he ever came close to getting it right.

At twenty-seven, Louis has had a long time to get used to the pros and cons of being what he is, and he’s accepted himself. There’s no changing what’s written in the code of his DNA, but knowing that it’s there can make all the difference.

It’s helpful, sometimes, that people look at him and think things like wow, what a face, or so pretty. Helps him cut through a crowd at a bar or on the street, helps catch someone’s attention so they’ll listen to what he’s saying, makes people more forgiving of his attitude. He’s taken full advantage of his veela genes in order to get laid, and he’s not ashamed of that. Needs must, and all.

Getting people to see him as more than just a pretty face can be exhausting, though, and that’s definitely one of the major downfalls. It’s why Louis has become so careful about who he lets into his inner circle.

It’s why he’s so angry at himself for falling for Harry’s act when they first met.

 

 

You Short My Circuitry

 

The music in this club is loud and pulsing. Louis can feel the thump of the bassline under his feet, thrumming up his legs and into his belly. The genre isn’t really his cup of tea, too poppy for his liking, but beggars can’t be choosers and all that. It’s not like he came here for the music anyway.

Drink in hand – paid for by some girl at the other end of the bar who had smiled hopefully at him when the bartender presented it – Louis turns around and makes a quick escape into the crowd. Originally, his plan had been to do a few shots at the bar before getting into the midst of things, but the girl had thrown that off. He learned a long time ago to just take the free drink and disappear before the buyer could make their way over to him. Rejecting it outright tends to end poorly, and waiting around to say thanks only gets him sucked into a conversation he didn’t want to be in in the first place. And leaving the already paid for drink sitting on the bar has never sat right with him, either. Giving up free booze isn’t really his style.

The press of bodies all around him is a tight, familiar squeeze. Louis sips at his drink gingerly, tasting tequila and cranberry. He doesn’t know what it is, but it’s tasty. Quickly, he downs the rest of it before looking for a place to set the cup down.

Before he can, there’s the heat of someone’s body pressing up close to him. Not touching, not quite, and not moving away like they would if it was an accident. Louis glances over his shoulder, taking in a head full of artfully messed dark curls and broad shoulders.

Yeah, okay. He can work with that.

“Can I take that for you?” the guy asks, nodding at the empty cup Louis is still clutching in his hand. His voice is deep and drawling, sounding out every syllable. There’s something immensely soothing about it.

Reflexively, Louis looks down at the cup. “Why, are you a waiter or something?”

The guy plucks the cup directly out of Louis’ hand and makes it disappear. Louis doesn’t see him drop on the floor or anything. It just straight-up disappears.

Instantly, Louis thinks magic. It sours him enough that he doesn’t turn fully around to hear the guy’s response. He has nothing against magic users – what he does have an issue with is when they immediately start showing off their skills. Louis doesn’t have any magic, per se, just the ability to attract creeps with his face and a biting wit to go along with it, and he hates when people do this. Show off their magic like it’s a parlour trick rather than something dangerous and powerful. It’s all well and good to say that respect is something that needs to be earned, but Louis is of the opinion that that isn’t the case when it comes to magic. Respect it right from the get go, is his philosophy.

“No,” the guy tells him solemnly, the corners of his mouth tugging down like he knows exactly how attractive he is. Ugh. “I was just worried that cup was a s-mug-gler. I didn’t want you to get caught up in its petty crime.”

For a full minute, Louis doesn’t say anything. He stands there staring at the guy in relative silence, trying to decide if terrible jokes are enough to make him walk away. The music continues thumping as the guy grins at him, unrepentant and dimpled.

In the end, it’s the dimples that sell him. Louis has always been a sucker for dimples.

“You shouldn’t be allowed to make jokes,” Louis informs him. “Do you want to get out of here?”

 

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

Louis is shopping for groceries the next time he starts to feel it. It begins with an ache in his gut and a slight tremble in his fingers. It begins the way it always does, and Louis pays it no mind. He can ignore the discomfort for days on end if he has to. He’s done it plenty of times before.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that this time is different. By the time he’s finished with his shopping and is standing in line at the check-out, the trembling has advanced to full-blown shaking. He barely manages to get his groceries on the belt and pay, black spots starting to dance around in his vision.

There’s no way he can drive like this. It wouldn’t be safe. Given the inevitable outcome of this situation, it makes more sense to call Harry and see if he can still drive safely than any of his other options.

Outside of the shop, standing just out of the way of other patrons, Louis takes a few minutes to muster up the resolve to make the call. He doesn’t worry about whether Harry will answer – Harry’s never not answered when Louis calls him. Not even once.

Harry picks up on the second ring. “Hi,” he says, breathless. “Are you alright?”

Louis forces himself to breathe, staring through the spots to the other end of the carpark, where there’s a line of trees offering up shade. “Can you come pick me up?”

“Yes,” Harry answers immediately. Faintly, there’s a short sound of jingling, like keys being picked up. “Where are you?”

Louis tells him, breathing some more. For half a second, he thinks about ensuring that Harry’s not having the same symptoms he is before the thought slips out of his mind. He has ice cream in one of the bags, and it’s going to melt. Maybe he should have put it back instead of purchasing it.

There’s a bench a few feet away. Louis makes his way over to it slowly, collapsing down onto it as soon as he’s able. His bags pool at his feet, a single grape getting loose from a package and slowly rolling away. Louis watches it go mindlessly, unaware of time passing. The pain doesn’t get any worse, but it doesn’t get any better, either.

He doesn’t notice when Harry’s car pulls up, leaving it idling as he jumps out. He rushes over and drops down to his knees in front of Louis, taking Louis’ face in both hands. Louis blinks, vision suddenly getting clearer.

“Jesus Christ,” Harry says, knocking their foreheads together. Belatedly, Louis realizes that he’s curled his fingers against Harry’s forearms, holding on. “You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were dying or something.”

This isn’t what dying will feel like, Louis is pretty sure. The last time he came close to death didn’t feel anything like this.

It makes sense, though, Harry’s panic. He knows what Louis sounds like when he’s been hurt, so if he heard that in Louis’ voice again he would have dropped everything to find him. Louis doesn’t know how much time has passed since their phone call, but he thinks it can’t have been more than ten minutes. If Harry was at home, he must have broken every speed limit to get here this quickly.

“No,” Louis says. He has to stop and clear his throat to make his voice come out less thickly. “I just. Had a moment.”

He takes one hand off Harry’s arm and presses it against his chest instead, feeling the fast, steady thump of Harry’s heartbeat under his palm. It’s the bond, making him react like this. Harry’s entirely too calm and rational for it otherwise.

“You had a moment,” Harry repeats disbelievingly.

Louis opens his eyes to catch Harry watching him. They’re so close that their mouths are mere centimeters apart. They could kiss, if they were so inclined. “My ice cream is melting.”

Harry’s the one to close his eyes this time, albeit briefly. “Okay.”

He stays there for a little longer, boxing Louis in, before he gets up and takes Louis’ bags, leading him to the car.

 

You Short My Circuitry

The guy – Harry, he’d introduced himself as in the cab, gritting it out from between his teeth as Louis squeezed his cock through his jeans – is all hands. They’re big hands, complete with rings on practically every finger, and Louis can’t wait to get them inside of him. It’s been two months since he last had sex. It’s not his longest dry spell, not by a long shot, but he’s eager and willing now.

They barely make it into Louis’ flat before Harry is shoving him up against the nearest wall and kissing him. It’s hot, searing, so good all Louis has to do is tip his head up for it, body already starting to lax in Harry’s hold. As a rule, he tries not to be so easy for it. Likes to make guys work for it. Figures it gives him a little bit more power and security.

Five seconds in, and he’s already giving it up for Harry. It speaks to something Louis doesn’t have the emotional capability to examine right now, focusing on the kiss. On hitching a leg up around Harry’s hip, grinding up into him. The air is hot and muggy, clouding Louis’ judgment. He doesn’t mind, doesn’t even mind as Harry hoists him up to put him on the narrow table Louis has in the hallway, knocking things over in the process. He was hard in the cab ride over, and he’s still hard now. Harry is hard, too, the press of his cock heavy and obvious as he rocks his hips forward in a quick, easy rhythm.

They’ve barely even started and Louis can already tell that it’s going to be good. That’s why it comes as such a shock when Harry pulls back abruptly, so fast that Louis’ efforts to chase after his warmth do nothing to help.

“What – ” Louis starts, blinking his eyes open. Harry hasn’t gone far, only leaned back a little. They’re still touching from the waist down, a fact that doesn’t do anything to appease Louis’ ire.

Watching the heavy way Harry swallows does, though. Only a little bit, but it does.

“We should go on a date,” Harry says, pressing his thumb gently against the corner of Louis’ mouth. Louis blinks at him again, just as dumbly as he did the first time.

“Now?” he asks incredulously. “It’s midnight.”

The slow shake of Harry’s head sends his mess of hair moving. It’s oddly fascinating. Maybe Louis has had one drink too many. “No,” Harry says slowly. The deep, slow tone of his voice is both morbid and exceedingly pleasant. Louis could listen to him talk all day. It’d probably take all day for this guy to get a single coherent thought out. “Later. Tomorrow. Let’s go on a real date, Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis raises an eyebrow and reaches down to squeeze Harry’s cock through his jeans. He hasn’t pulled away any more, the shape of him obvious and pressed up against the inside of Louis’ thigh. Harry doesn’t back away from it, grinding into the pressure. “It feels like you want something a bit more than just a date, Harry Styles.”

The flash of Harry’s white teeth when he smiles shouldn’t make Louis’ heart throb like this. It’s unnerving.

“I do,” Harry confirms. “How about we start with a date, first?”

He doesn’t give Louis a chance to answer, dipping his head to kiss him again. It’s a good kiss, thrilling and warm, still sends butterflies flittering through Louis’ belly. It doesn’t feel as frantic as it did before, though, and Louis already knows that convincing Harry of anything more than a date isn’t going to happen.

“Okay,” Louis sighs when Harry deigns to let the kiss end, resting his head back against the wall. “But you better take me somewhere nice, Harold. I’m pretty high maintenance.”

The curve of Harry’s smile doesn’t lessen any. “I’ve no doubt.”

 

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

Exactly twenty-eight days after being discharged from the hospital, Louis is lying curled up in his bed, underneath at least two comforters and a couple of blankets, sweat about to soak through the threadbare t-shirt he’s wearing. His cheeks are flushed from the heat, and it’s not as though he doesn’t want to cool down. He does. Except.

The one thing he’s found that helps the pain from the bond – the only thing – is the weight of the blankets on top of him. It seems to trick his body into thinking the extra heat is from another person, and the extra weight is a limb tossed across him. It probably also helps that he’s wearing a hoodie he stole from Harry’s closet the last time he was at his house. The hoodie smells more like laundry detergent, cleaned and washed, than it does Harry, but it’s enough to ease the ache of being apart for too long.

Louis has his phone tucked underneath the mound of linen with him, an episode of I Love Lucy playing on the screen. He’s not really watching it, too busy wondering if Harry has trouble dealing with the pain while he’s working. Louis hasn’t started working again yet, but he’s not worried about it. He works from home anyway, on no set schedule, so if he finds that it ever starts getting overwhelming he can always stop for the day.

Harry, on the other hand, has a job that requires him to be sharp and focused at all times. Louis doesn’t know how he’s doing that and not getting constantly distracted by the tug they both feel. It’s something Louis is feeling right now, despite all of his attempts to distract himself. It’s just beginning to actually hurt, a deep ache that radiates in from his side, where the wound was, towards his heart. There’s something ironic about that, Louis thinks, but he doesn’t want to dwell on exactly what.

He lasts another twenty minutes before the pain becomes unbearable. Cursing his body, the stupid fucking circumstances that got them into this mess in the first place, Louis sits up. The blanket pile falls to his waist, still hot enough that he has to kick his way free of the mess irritably. Just as he’d expected, his shirt is damp with sweat. Exposed to the cool air of the bedroom, it feels gross against his skin. He should shower. He should definitely shower.

First, though, he pulls up the text message app on his phone, scrolling until he hits Harry’s name. It’s rather annoying that he barely has to drag his finger along the screen at all before he comes across what he’s looking for. The only two people he’s texted more recently than Harry are his mum and Liam.

Instead of requesting a visit, Louis sends him the most creative insult he can think of. At three in the morning, after a full twenty-four hours of no sleep, it’s not nearly as rude as he wants it to be. Still, he thinks it gets his point across.

He’s expecting it when his phone starts ringing not even two minutes later, but the sound still makes his heart start racing. He fumbles with the phone as he tries to answer it, nearly dropping it into his pile of bedding. “Hello.”

“Are you okay?” Harry cuts to the chase, not bothering with pleasantries. It’s what he’s done every time Louis has called or texted him out of the blue like this, and the familiarity of the lack of greeting makes Louis’ stomach twist.

“Peachy fucking keen,” Louis croaks out. He sounds miserable even to himself, so he can only imagine what he must sound like to Harry, who’s become so attuned to every cadence of Louis’ voice that it feels like he’s staring directly into Louis’ soul sometimes. The impulse to hide from that gaze has only gotten worse over time.

“I’m coming over,” Harry tells him decisively, leaving no room for Louis to protest. Louis’ mouth stays stubbornly shut anyway. “Don’t make me knock on your door for ten minutes this time.”

With that, he hangs up, and Louis exhales loudly into the still air of the room.

 

It barely takes Harry twenty-five minutes to arrive at Louis’ door. By that time, Louis has pulled himself out of bed and put on actual clothes, dressing himself like a real boy and everything. Of course, in this context he means that he pulls on a pair of thick socks and old trackies, but that’s neither here nor there. He waits for Harry on the couch, already halfway to falling asleep.

Maybe it’s just the change in scenery, but the pain has already started to fade. By the time Harry actually knocks on the door, the ache has receded to manageable level. Louis probably could fall asleep right here without any issues. Harry buzzes, though, and Louis drags himself up to answer the door.

He so tired that he doesn’t even have a witty remark ready on the tip of his tongue when Harry makes it up the stairs and to Louis’ flat. He sways on his feet, door pulled open and thinking about leaving it that way for Harry to just come in, but he doesn’t feel like dealing with the lecture that would ensue. As though there’s something that could happen to Louis in the two minutes it takes Harry to climb the stairs.

Harry arrives promptly and not even a little bit out of breath. “Hi,” he says, and immediately puts his hands on Louis’ body.

Louis can’t repress a shiver, inching backwards slowly enough that Harry’s hands don’t lift from his hips as he follows. It’d feel good – feel right – to put his hands on Harry right back, but he doesn’t, pausing just long enough for Harry to kick the door closed behind them and twist the lock before he continues his slow path into the living room. As tempting as his bed seems right now, he can’t lead Harry to it. That’d be a bad fucking decision on Louis’ part, and he’s trying to make better decisions lately.

“Hi,” Louis says, belated. Under his feet, the floor changes from laminate to the area rug he’s got half underneath the couch, and Louis knows his own flat well enough to know exactly when it’s safe to fall onto the cushions without needing to look. He’s about to do just that, already starting to go boneless with expectation, except –

Without a single word of warning, he’s lifted off his feet. Louis yelps, hands flying to grip at Harry’s shoulders, suddenly, violently wide awake.

“Sorry, sorry,” Harry says, voice hushed and appropriately apologetic, but he doesn’t seem like he’s actually sorry. And before Louis can demand to know what the hell he thinks he’s doing, Harry’s sliding onto the couch before him, taking up most of the space. Louis ends up half in his lap, which, he suspects, is exactly where Harry intended for him to be.

What a fucking move. Louis is too impressed to be properly angry, but he gives it his best shot anyway, shuffling down to the other end of the couch so the only part of him still resting in Harry’s lap is his feet.

“You can’t just manhandle me like that whenever you want, you know,” he starts, putting as much heat into his voice as he’s capable of, given his current state. He’s going to continue, a million half-formed complaints and idle threats already floating around in his head, but Harry cuts him off yet again, yanking at Louis’ ankles until he slides down the couch, halfway back to being in Harry’s lap again.

“It’s four o’clock in the morning,” Harry starts, his voice crisp, every syllable well-enunciated, “and I’m tired and irritated and if I need to manhandle you, I’m going to.”

Jesus. Electricity crackles through Louis’ veins, trying to convince him to start a fight. A real fight, not just one of their petty squabbles.

“Fuck you,” Louis says. It’s the harshest thing he can come up with. Harry’s right – it is four in the morning, and they’re both tired. As much as Louis lives for a good argument, revels in them, he doesn’t have the energy right now. Not after being awake for so long.

Harry squeezes one of Louis’ ankles, his stupidly big hand wrapped almost all the way around it. It probably could wrap all the way around. Louis shifts uncomfortably on the couch as he thinks about it, trying not to look down. Over the past couple of weeks, he’s convinced himself that he’s got Harry’s hands committed to memory. It’s an awful, terrible image to be able to recall with perfect clarity.

“As much as I’d love to sit here and let you berate me, I’m actually exhausted,” Harry tells him, head tipped against the back of the couch, eyes mostly closed. “Can I take a raincheck?”

Louis only hesitates because Harry truly does look exhausted. It’s written all over his face now that Louis is allowing himself to look, aided by the fact that Harry’s not looking back. Something tugs at his chest. Louis would call it mercy, or empathy, but he doesn’t have either of those for Harry. So he doesn’t know what to call it.

“You can’t come into my house and order me around,” Louis says eventually. His ankle is still encased in Harry’s grip, sending slow shockwaves of warmth throughout his entire body.

Harry sighs, eyes sliding closed entirely. He goes silent, breathing deep and even. It’s a good act, fairly convincing, but Louis isn’t fooled. He nudges his toes into Harry’s thigh, trying to garner some kind of reaction. For the first time, he notices that Harry’s wearing the clothes he must have been sleeping in, a pair of old shorts and an inside-out t-shirt. It’s – Louis swallows. He has a hard time not reacting to someone dropping everything for him.

His veela genes don’t do anything for him in that regard. No one outside of his family has ever really dropped anything to come to his rescue. People take notice of him all the time, sure, and try to buy him drinks or chat him up, but that’s as far as it goes. Not one of those people would ever think to do something real for him, something as intimate as throwing on a shirt the wrong way and rushing over to check on him at four in the morning.

This time, Louis’ nudge is a full-blown kick. Harry swears, eyes snapping open as he makes a grab for Louis’ foot. Either he has very good aim or Louis doesn’t pull away nearly as fast as he thinks he does, because Harry catches it, pulling Louis down the couch even further. His arse is resting flush against the outside of Harry’s thigh now, a hairbreadth away from being fully in Harry’s lap. Again.

What the – fuck. How does Louis keep ending up in these situations, that’s what he wants to know.

“Don’t be bitchy,” Harry says, chiding, and Louis is geared up to release holy hell upon him before the last syllable even leaves Harry’s mouth, except –

Bitchy. With the obvious exception of his family, his veela mother, the only way people have used that word is the common one. Bitchy. Louis knows that about himself, accepted it a long time ago. Uses it to his advantage, even. That doesn’t mean he has to like it when it’s everyone’s favourite word to describe him. Bitchy. It’s a fact of being part veela, the same way turning heads is whenever he walks into a room. It’s never really said as a compliment. After all, attractiveness can only get you so far before your personality starts to shine through. For better or for worse, Louis has inherited the bitchy aspect of the veela gene just as much as he has the allure.

It only takes a split second to recognize the difference in how the word sounds leaving Harry’s mouth versus how it sounds leaving everyone else’s. As though it’s something to be admired, something genuinely attractive. Louis closes his mouth and swallows so hard he can almost hear it echoing through his living room.

A simple word shouldn’t turn him on. It especially shouldn’t turn him on when that word is bitchy. Louis shifts, trying to alleviate some of the pressure of his pajama pants against his slowly filling cock. He must be fucking crazy for getting turned on by this.

“You don’t get to call me that,” Louis says, but his voice sounds weak, and the way he can’t stop squirming is a dead giveaway. Obviously Harry knows what’s going on. Hopefully he’ll be too polite to –

“Why not?” Harry asks, squeezing his ankle again. The touch is tender, this time, only adding to the growing frustration of Louis’ arousal. “Because you like it?”

He phrases it like a question, but there’s no mistaking it for one. The only way out of this situation would be for Louis to rip his ankle out of Harry’s grip, hurl himself off the couch and crawl to cover. It’d be an ungraceful, undignified escape.

“If that elderly security guard had have saved me,” Louis starts.

Harry’s free hand lands squarely on the center of Louis’ belly. Louis sucks in a sharp, surprised breath, stopping mid-sentence, and doesn’t let it out again. “But she didn’t,” Harry says simply. “I did.”

It’s the closest either of them have actually come to acknowledging what happened in the bank. On Harry’s end, it’s not for a lack of trying. On Louis’ end, it’s absolutely for a lacking of trying.

“I don’t owe you anything,” he snarls, and somehow he’s sitting upright now, and he doesn’t remember moving. They’re so close, too close, close enough that they’re breathing into each other’s faces, and Louis is turned on and pissed off and he absolutely knows that he’s the one who makes the move.

Harry’s hand is tucked into the crook of Louis’ knee, and his mouth tastes vaguely like old toothpaste, a sure sign that he hadn’t brushed his teeth before coming over here. Just dropped everything because he’d known Louis was hurting, and Louis’ chest hurts even more as their tongues sweep together, clashing and demanding in equal parts.

In a weird way, it feels very familiar. Louis is entirely too aware of how much time they spent snogging during that first week, but it’s been a long time since then. Seems like their bodies should have forgotten how this feels since then.

Louis’ body is awash with sensation, his nerve endings prickling in every place Harry’s touching him. He’s not in Harry’s lap, not really, but he could be easily. Harry’s strong enough that all it would take is one pull to get him there, and his hands are already in the perfect position to accomplish it. One still tucked into the crook of Louis’ knee, the other pressed against the small of his back. It’d be so easy for him. Just one little tug. One little tug and Louis would be there.

With the way his head is swimming, it’s hard to convince himself that he needs to tear his mouth away before this goes any further. He’s already let Harry kiss him – kissed him first, a little voice inside his head hisses insistently – when he shouldn’t have, the last thing he needs is to allow this to go any further.

Fuck, does Louis ever want to climb into his lap. Just allow himself to grind down and see how long Harry could take it for before he’d take over in earnest, take all the control Louis is longing to give up. He doesn’t want to decide things for himself right now, just wants to be taken care of and made to feel good, and there’s no doubt in any part of his body that Harry would be able to do that for him.

Guilt claws at his throat as he forces himself to reel back. It’s the bond, he’s pretty sure. If the bond had its way, he’d be split open on Harry’s cock right now. So Louis knows that he has to ignore it, that guilt. None of this is his fault.

He’s still leaning in, curled against the side of Harry’s body, as he says, “You did save me.”

Harry’s eyes are so the darkest green Louis has ever seen them, pupils blown. He doesn’t move his hands from their places on Louis’ body. Doesn’t even try to. “And you don’t owe me anything for it.”

If there was a right answer, it’d be that one. And if Louis wasn’t freshly kissed by the man he’s bonded to, his heart and body might not be reacting like this. He feels dizzy and out of sorts, and that’s exactly why he finds himself standing up, extending a hand to Harry once he’s on his feet.

“Very true.”

When Harry doesn’t take a move to take it, Louis curls his fingers impatiently. He’s tired and ready to go to bed. “Come on. It’s cold out here.”

To his credit, Harry barely hesitates any longer, rising from the couch and taking Louis’ hand. He doesn’t ask where they’re going, but that’s not really a surprise, considering how small Louis’ flat is. He has to already know.

Louis leads them down the hallway to his bedroom and tells himself that he’s not going to let Harry kiss him anymore. He’s not. Not even if they wake up tangled together and Harry’s mouth is right there, just waiting –

He’s not. Louis has willpower.

 

 

Do You Kiss On The First Date

 

Harry’s exactly on time when he arrives to pick Louis up. Louis is expecting to hear his flat buzzer go off, but instead he gets a knock at his front door.

“Did someone let you in?” Louis asks as he pulls the door open, after he’s checked through the peephole to make sure that it really is Harry. Can’t be too careful and all.

“No, I picked the lock,” Harry says cheerfully. He looks good, dressed casually in a well-fitting pair of jeans and a loose, somewhat shimmery shirt. Louis squints at him, trying to decide whether it’s an outfit for going-out or whether it’s a casual one. It’s impossible to tell.

He gives his own clothes another glance, trying to look at himself critically. “Where are we going? Do I need to change?”

The way Harry appraises him is slow and hot. It’s nowhere near as critical as the way Louis had looked at himself. “Honestly, I think you could be wearing a paper bag and you’d still show up everyone else in the room.”

There’s something resigned in his tone. Louis likes it when boys are resigned to how much they like him. It’s a personality defect he’s come to accept about himself.

“Good,” Louis says, beaming, and pats Harry on the chest. If his hand lingers a little, checking out exactly how sculpted Harry’s muscles are underneath his shirt, that’s no one’s business but his own. “Lead the way, Scooby.”

“Sure,” Harry says, distracted. He’s still busy looking at Louis’ face. It feels different than the way other people look at him. It’s appreciative, obviously, but it feels like there’s also something examining about it.

Before Louis can delve too deeply into the feeling, Harry’s shaking his head a little, looking wry. “Can I kiss you?” he asks, already leaning in.

Louis finds himself swallowing hard, nodding slightly just before Harry’s hands make contact with his face, tilting his chin up. It’s strange to be this nervous about a kiss. It’s especially strange to be this nervous about a kiss with someone he’s kissed before. Someone he almost had sex with.

All of that melts away the second their mouths make contact. Louis opens up for it on a gasp, already clutching at Harry’s shoulders. His knees feel weak. That’s not right. His knees are usually pretty strong.

He’s been backed up against the door before he knows it, wood pressing against his body through his clothes. Harry kisses him expertly, thoroughly, tongue quick and sure as it slides against Louis’. He tastes like spearmint, like he’d been chewing gum before he arrived. There’s no other traces of the actual gum in his mouth now, though, and for some reason that thought makes Louis laugh into the kiss, loud enough to break it.

When Harry pulls back, just an inch or two, he looks amused. “What?”

God, his hands are nice. They’re not even squeezing Louis’ arse like they were at the club and they still feel amazing, resting low and hot against the small of his back. Louis desperately wants to find out if he’s as good with them as he seems to be.

“You taste like gum,” Louis tells him, touching Harry’s jaw lightly. He’s clean-shaven, skin gliding smoothly underneath Louis’ fingertips.

Harry’s smile only widens. There’s dimples in his cheeks, unfairly attractive. Louis can’t resist the urge to dip the tip of his finger into one, testing how deep it is. Harry takes it with the patience of a saint, looking more amused by the second. “Do I?”

He doesn’t seem shocked by this information. That’s not surprising, considering that he would have been the one chewing the gum and all.

“Yes,” Louis tells him firmly, hooking a finger into one of Harry’s belt loops and looking up at him through his eyelashes. It’s a move that never fails to make all the boys weak, and it has the same effect now. Harry sways a little closer, bracing himself against the door with one hand. “Did you bring any for me?”

Harry blinks, shaking himself out of his stupor. He gives Louis a slow, appraising look, still leaning in close to him. Louis doesn’t get a chance to try to figure out what it means before Harry says, tone easy, “Yeah, I have a pack. Let’s get going and I’ll give it to you on the way.”

He tangles their fingers together and pulls Louis out of his flat, barely giving him enough time to pull the door closed behind him. It’s a good thing the doorknob was already locked or he’d be returning to find his place ransacked.

 

By the time they finally arrive at the restaurant, Louis is no longer sure what he’d been expecting. They’d stopped three times along the way – once to duck into a shop for a bottle of wine, the second to help a couple of kids retrieve their ball from where it was stuck in a tree, and the third to watch a puppy chasing after a leaf in a park. When Harry had said reservations, Louis had assumed that he meant actual reservations. Not show up whenever you feel like it.

Despite the slow start, Louis finds himself having much more fun than he’d expected. He gets a little bit in his head about dates sometimes, catches himself wondering how much the guy’s attraction to him is linked to his veela genes and how much of it is genuine. If that even matters at the end of the day, because it’s not as though Louis can change that part of himself. More often than not, he finds himself smiling politely and accepting a possibly well-intentioned compliment about his looks. It never really goes any deeper than that, which is something Louis has come to terms with. More or less.

Naturally, given all of that history, it’s surprising that Louis hasn’t thought much about his veela genes in relation to Harry. There’s been a couple passing moments, but for the most part he’s been living in the present, as stupid as that sounds. He’s barely even aware of the time passing, making jabs at the weird way Harry drives. It’s not actually weird, but he likes the way it makes Harry laugh. Harry has a good laugh, deep and sincere sounding.

So when they actually pull up to the restaurant carpark, about an hour and a half after they’d left Louis’ flat, Louis doesn’t even notice at first. Not until Harry pulls the key from the ignition.

From the outside, it looks like a small place, the kind of place Louis might have passed by on any other day. They walk to the entrance with their shoulders brushing, close enough together that they might as well be holding hands. On the short trip from the car to the door, Louis fantasizes about it, how Harry’s hand would feel against his. It’s weird, that. He’s not normally the hand-holding type.

The only reason he doesn’t do it is because the walk is so short. Before he can decide to go for it, they’re already at the entrance and Harry is pulling open the door for him. Once inside, it turns out Harry actually did make a reservation. It also turns out that he’s a regular at this particular establishment and that his reservation is more of a regular table.

Louis doesn’t care. Actually, it’s kind of charming, how the staff all fuss over Harry walking in as though he’s someone special. They’re led to a quiet, intimate table in the back of the restaurant and ushered into their chairs by an older woman who doesn’t look to be a waitress. Maybe she’s the owner or something. Louis means to ask when she’s gone, except she turns her attention to Louis, one hand fixed to the back of Harry’s chair as though she doesn’t even notice she’s holding it, and says, “Looks like our fine young gentleman here has finally brought another fine young gentleman, eh?”

Fine young gentleman. It’s an interesting compliment to give to two men in their mid-twenties. Nice, though. There’s something about it that Louis particularly enjoys. Receiving a compliment that isn’t even a little bit related to his veela genes is something of a rarity.

“He the anti-social type?” Louis asks, raising his eyebrows at Harry from across the table.

Harry laughs, relaxing easily back into his chair. “Margie likes to take the piss sometimes.”

Margie, huh? Louis can work with a first name. He turns his full attention to her, giving her his best smile. The one that says I’m completely innocent and nothing I do could ever be considered wrong. It usually works with people. “A woman after my own heart, then.”

To his delight, Margie laughs and begins telling a story about Harry as a teenager. Louis listens with rapt attention, knocking his ankle against Harry’s underneath the table. By the time Margie wraps it up and takes their order, they’ve been sitting there for thirty minutes and there’s a slight twinge in Louis’ side from how much he’d been laughing. He likes her. It helps that Harry’s been chiming in every so often in an exceedingly dry tone, objecting to Margie’s version of things. It feels a little like meeting a significant other’s family for the first time, and surprisingly, Louis doesn’t mind. He should – it’s much too early for that kind of thing – but he doesn’t.

When Margie leaves, bustling away towards the kitchen to put their orders in, Louis leans forward, planting his elbows on top of the table. “Did you bring me here to trick me into thinking that you’re a good, honest boy?”

The corner of Harry’s mouth twitches, almost a smile. He leans forward too, mirroring Louis’ pose, and says, “That depends. Is it working?”

The restaurant isn’t incredibly busy, what with being a midweek night and all, but Louis still leans in even closer, until his arse is just about hovering over his seat, and whispers, “Nice boys don’t feel up people’s arses like you were doing to me two hours ago.”

Before Harry can whisper something even dirtier back – and Louis knows that he would, because that’s the kind of boy Harry is – he sits back down in his chair properly, folding his hands in his lap primly. Louis isn’t a nice boy either, but fuck if he’s not good at pretending to be one.

It turns out that he may have slightly misjudged Harry, though, because Harry doesn’t make any effort to lower his voice or sit back down properly himself. That smile that had been tugging at the corner of his mouth becomes full blown and dirty. Louis has to resist the urge to fan himself a little, which is something he can honestly say he’s never experienced before.

“I can’t really help that when gorgeous boys like you come fully equipped with amazing arses, can I? What am I supposed to do, just not touch it a little?”

There’s not even a semblance of shame in his voice, despite the volume at which he says it. Louis barely resists the urge to check over his shoulder, see if anyone heard. He’s not going to allow Harry to beat him at his own game. That’s just not who Louis is.

“So what you’re saying is that you have no impulse control,” Louis says. He knows it’s a bad idea before he’s even done it, but he still finds himself wriggling out of one shoe to press his toes against Harry’s ankle. He’s wearing socks, so it probably doesn’t feel as nice as it could, but it’s still worth it for the sharp inhale he gets in return.

He watches as Harry’s fingers flex on top of the table. Clearly there’s something running through his mind, something telling him to reach out and touch. He doesn’t, though, and Louis is reluctantly impressed by his willpower.

"You wanna talk about impulse control right now, sweetheart?" Harry asks, raising an eyebrow at him. He's laced his fingers together on the table, holding very still. Louis’ belly throbs with warmth, arousal threatening to begin slithering through his veins. He likes the way that word sounds coming out of Harry’s mouth. Sweetheart. No one has ever called him sweetheart before, at least not in this context.

“Sure,” Louis says, raising an eyebrow right back. He slides his foot up higher, caressing Harry’s leg the best he can from the angle he’s sitting at. It feels weird for him, but he’s not getting the impression that it also feels weird for Harry. “Let’s talk about impulse control. I’m controlling my impulse to skip dinner and take you back to my flat. What are you controlling?”

Harry unlaces his fingers to pick up his water glass, throat bobbing as he takes a long swallow. Louis watches him, appreciating the sight. There’s something incredibly attractive about it, despite how normal the motions are. He likes that he got to Harry so much that he needed to take a second’s reprieve.

After Harry’s returned the glass to the table, nearly half empty, he levels Louis with a look that speaks to something Louis can’t understand. There’s heat in that look, and desire, but there’s something laying underneath it that seems indecipherable.

“Right now I’m controlling my impulse to kiss you,” Harry says, voice finally gone soft and silky. Louis finds himself leaning in to hear it better and immediately curses himself. Clearly that’s the effect Harry intended it to have on him.

The words aren’t exactly unexpected, either. If Louis stopped to think about what he might have expected Harry to say, it probably would have been something like that. They still make his heart pick up its pace, though, breath sticking in his throat before he remembers how to make his lungs work properly. He finds himself at a loss for a response, brain scrambling to come up with anything that isn’t yes please.

Luckily, Margie comes back to drop off their orders before the silence has stretched on for too long. Louis busies himself with picking up his own water glass, taking several long pulls from it. He murmurs his thanks, swiping his thumb through the condensation left behind on the table.

“You’re a cheeky one, aren’t you?” he asks once Margie has disappeared again, presumably off to the kitchen.

Harry’s face goes bright and open again. Louis’ stomach doesn’t unclench, too full of butterflies for that, but he relaxes. “Takes one to know one, sweetheart.”

Jesus. Louis really does have his hands full. He’s very much not opposed.

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

“Did you think to yourself,” Louis starts, muscles twitchy, hands pressed against his sides, leaning against the door so there’s no room for Harry to squeeze by, “this morning, when you were getting out of bed, hey, I think I’m going to bother Louis today?”

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. Either it’s far too early for this or it’s far too late, and Louis can’t decide which one.

Harry looms over him like some kind of – loomer, or something, unnecessarily big and unnecessarily tall and unnecessarily broad. Louis’ met bigger, broader, taller guys – had bigger, broader, taller guys before. He shouldn’t be wanting to take a couple of steps back just because Harry’s using his height to his advantage. Louis is constantly using his face to his advantage, he doesn’t blame other people for using every advantage they’ve got. That doesn’t mean he’s got to like it, though.

“I can’t say that I did,” Harry says, frowning thoughtfully. It’s a fake thoughtful frown, and Louis hates that he knows that. Before the hospital, he might not have. He’s had a lot of time to get accustomed to Harry’s facial expressions over the past couple of months, though. More time than he’d like. “When you kept calling me and hanging up the second I answered, that’s when I thought to myself, Harry, you should probably go over there and see what’s wrong.”

God, Louis hates him. He’s seething with it, clenching his hands into fists at his sides. If it wasn’t for the low-grade ache in his side he’d be considering using one of those fists against Harry’s face. Mar his stupidly perfect face. That’d serve him right.

“I hate you,” he announces to the world at large, and spins around on his bare heel, marching back into his flat. He leaves the door open, figuring if he doesn’t Harry’s just going to spend the next ten minutes knocking again. The last thing Louis needs is someone complaining idly about him and another private investigator taking it upon themselves to find out all of his dirty little secret. One of those is enough for a lifetime.

“I know,” Harry says solemnly, from way too close behind him. Louis barely has time to yelp before he’s being picked up off his feet and carried into the living room.

He puts up a fight, struggling in Harry’s arms, but it doesn’t do anything to lessen the iron band of muscle holding him up. Louis finds himself swallowing hard, thinking about that week they spent snogging. It feels like a lifetime ago now, but the reality is that it wasn’t. That in the grand scheme of things, barely any time has passed at all.

“I double hate you,” Louis says crossly, feet finally touching the floor again when Harry sits down on the couch, pulling Louis down against him in the process. He squirms, trying to get more comfortable, not really trying to get away anymore. It’s too hard to try to make his body do something it doesn’t want to do.

“I know,” Harry agrees again. He’s nuzzling at the side of Louis’ head, mouth warm even though it’s not actually touching any of Louis’ skin. Louis can’t help but relax into it, tipping his head to give Harry more room, a sudden empty ache in the pit of his stomach. Harry’s arm is still wrapped around him, holding him in place, and that’s the only reason Louis doesn’t try to wiggle away. The only reason.

He’s blindingly turned on. The realization should be like a bucket of ice water being emptied over his head, but it’s not. Louis’ fingernails dig into the meat of Harry’s arm as he tries to control his breathing, to stop himself from making any noises. It’s getting harder by the second, and the only thing Harry is doing is breathing on him, for fuck’s sake. He shouldn’t be this turned on by Harry’s mouth-breathing. There must be something seriously wrong with him.

It’s the bond. It has to be. That’s the only rational explanation for this.

“So you – what,” Louis starts demandingly, shifting on Harry’s lap. He’s trying to convince himself to ignore the cock he can feel pressing against his arse, and it’s not working. Harry’s not even hard yet, at least not all the way, and Louis still can’t stop thinking about it. “Heard me breathing on the other end of the line and decided that you needed to come see me?”

His words don’t make any sense. His nails dig into Harry’s arm harder, threatening to break the skin.

“Sure,” Harry agrees. “Does thinking that make you feel better?”

No, it doesn’t. Nothing about this situation feels good. Especially not Harry’s cock.

“Shut up,” Louis sighs. He can’t stop his muscles from relaxing one at a time, until he feels practically boneless against Harry’s chest. It’s warm, and Harry’s arm is still looped around his belly. Louis’ head lolls against Harry’s shoulder a little, catching a glimpse of Harry’s face and the dark wave of his hair. “I hate you.”

“You said that already,” Harry points out. His voice is a low, soothing murmur against the backdrop of the noise from the telly, barely pitched above it. Louis catches himself turning his head to hear him better and can’t stop the flush crawling its way across his cheeks. “It’s starting to make me think your supposed hatred is just a front for all the feelings you really have.”

The breath in Louis’ lungs whooshes out all at once. His fingers go lax against Harry’s arm, cheeks definitely burning. For a second, he can’t stop himself from shifting his weight, fidgeting, before he abruptly remembers that he’s sitting on Harry’s lap and that’s Harry’s cock directly underneath his arse.

Fuck.

“I don’t have any feelings for you other than hatred,” Louis manages after a few stunned seconds. He stares straight ahead, willing the blush to go down. He’s not normally a blusher. This is completely out of the ordinary for him. What use are his veela genes if they don’t protect him from random blushing?

“Alright,” Harry chuckles, patting Louis’ belly with one big hand. Louis’ entire stomach swoops. “You’re so fucking pretty.”

Louis’ face might be on fire. He opens his mouth before shutting it with a click, swallowing hard. People call him pretty all the time. Everyone from people he knows well, people he’s been friends with for years, to random shop associates when he’s picking up groceries. It’s a compliment Louis is used to hearing. Sometimes he even hears it several times a day.

Somehow, it sounds different coming from Harry’s mouth. Louis’ guts cramp with arousal, hit by it so fast it feels like he’s going to pass out for a brief second. He squirms again before managing to stop himself, but it’s already too late. There’s no mistaking the thickening of Harry’s cock against him, much like the thickening of Louis’ own.

Double fuck. This is exactly why Louis keeps saying that he should have bonded with the elderly security guard at the bank instead of Harry. As lovely as she probably is, he doesn’t harbor any attraction to her. His entire life would be so much easier if it had have been her.

He wants to be anywhere other than here. He doesn’t want to be anywhere but here.

“You’re emotionally manipulative,” Louis accuses, slumping back into Harry’s hold again. There’s no point denying his growing arousal. It’s just something his body is doing in the face of an attractive man. It has absolutely nothing to do with a like or dislike of Harry’s actual personality.

Harry laughs, squeezing him tighter. It goes a long way towards mollifying Louis, and he doesn’t understand why. “I’m emotionally manipulative? You’re the one who busts out the waterworks when he starts losing at poker.”

In that month at the hospital, they spent a lot of time playing cards on Louis’ too-small bed. Harry was the person who visited the most, despite Louis’ often-too-loud objections. It’s crazy to look back at it now and realize that they’ve only known each other for a handful of months. As hard as Louis tries to resist it, Harry has wormed his way under his skin. It feels like he’s stuck there now, and Louis hasn’t been able to shake him off.

Not that he can until this bond dissipates. He’s still holding out hope that it’ll fade by the time Harry’s blood is out of his system. Ignoring the skeptical faces Harry makes every time Louis voices that thought has become something of a practiced skill.

“Well, in my defense, you usually lose because you get too distracted by my face to pay attention to the cards, so I’m not used to you winning.”

That – alright. Louis really needs to start thinking before letting words leave his mouth. It’s not as though the statement isn’t true, but Harry doesn’t need to know that. Louis is already having a hard enough time keeping him on his toes.

“That’s because your face is too fucking pretty,” Harry tells him. It would be another compliment, except he squeezes Louis even tighter around the middle, eliciting a squawk from him.

Louis slaps at Harry’s arm and starts to struggle again in earnest. He still thinks he could probably break free of Harry’s hold with a well-placed elbow, but the truth is that his body still needs the close contact. This position, sitting in Harry’s lap like this, is the best they can do without lying down somewhere or taking off their clothes.

Jesus fuck. Now he’s gone and put the image of them naked together in his own brain. There must be an off button for it or something, right?

“Ugh,” Louis complains, slumping back against Harry’s chest for the umpteenth time, folding his arms across his own. They fit perfectly above Harry’s, providing him with warmth from the nipples down. “You’re stupidly strong, did you know that?”

“Maybe,” Harry says, warm breath grazing the side of Louis’ neck, making him shiver, “you just need to spend more time in the gym.”

Louis squawks again, both outraged and offended, and jams his bare heel against Harry’s calf. It doesn’t do anything other than make Harry squeeze him a little tighter, really threatening to pop him now. Louis digs his nails into Harry’s arm, trying to prevent his breath from squeaking out of his throat in a high-pitched frequency, but it’s no use. It’s already happening.

If he truly put some effort into his struggle, he’d be able to break free. Without it, all he’s doing is squirming uselessly in Harry’s lap, play fighting in a way he hasn’t done in years. If ever. Probably not ever, actually. This kind of thing is more dangerous than it seems on the surface. People catch feelings if they’re not careful, and Louis’ genetics have always played a big role in deciding how careful he needs to be.

“The gym is overrated,” Louis announces once he’s got his breath back, hands still pressed against Harry’s arm, which is still wrapped tightly around him.

“Of course you would think that,” Harry says. “You’ve always got the most creative excuses for why you can’t go.”

Are they creative? Whenever Harry mentions the gym Louis panics and says the first thing that comes into his head. He figures that if he gets in there first it won’t give Harry a chance to even extend an invitation, much less actually expect Louis to accompany him.

“I have a lot of very important things to do, Harold,” Louis announces haughtily, trying to keep his attention on what they’re talking about and not how good it feels to be sitting in Harry’s lap. “I can’t make time for your puny little gym sessions.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, considering how intense Harry’s gym sessions are. Luckily, Harry doesn’t pick up on that line of thought, squeezing Louis again, gentler this time. “I know,” he says solemnly. “I trust your judgment in this and every other thing.”

Louis relaxes fully against Harry’s chest. Now that the initial tinge of embarrassment of having Harry see right through his excuses and come over is gone, he feels warm and content. The bond wasn’t aching hard enough to need the skin-to-skin contact it sometimes does, so sitting here fully clothed feels almost like it would if Louis was sitting on someone else’s lap. In a way, anyway. It’s almost forgettable right now, the fact that they have something linking them together in a way that might be impossible to break.

“Good,” he says belatedly. Soon, he’s going to need to get up and make something to eat, but for now he’s content right where he is.

 

Shoot ‘Em In The Back Now

 

Louis has been out and about for the last hour and a half, running errands. The weather in London is nice for once, sun shining down upon him with nary a cloud in sight. It’s fall, so it isn’t exactly warm, but it’s nice enough not to have to duck into a shop to alleviate the chill. Scattered leaves blow past him every so often, flying down the street before disappearing into the throng of the mid-afternoon crowd. As much as Louis usually detests having to go to more than one place to pick up what he needs, he finds he’s not minding so much right now.

After he’s been walking for a few more minutes, he comes to the abrupt realization that someone is following him. More specifically, he realizes that Harry’s following him. Louis can see him out of the corner of his eye when he turns his head a little, and while Harry’s still too far away to be able to make out the expression on his face, Louis has no intention of letting him catch up. There’s no mistaking what Harry is doing, either – this isn’t just a leisurely mid-afternoon stroll for him. No, he’s very conspicuous about the fact that he’s following Louis.

It’s been four days since the truth emerged, and despite his best intentions, Louis is still reeling from it. He hasn’t responded to any of Harry’s texts or calls. He’s barely been able to look at the texts, and he hasn’t listened to any of the voicemails. He’s definitely not ready to have any kind of conversation with him right now.

Up ahead, there’s a branch of Louis’ bank. It’s one he’s never been to before, but it seems like as good a way to escape as any, so he picks up his pace and ducks inside. He’s hoping that he lost Harry in the crowd as he joins the line for the teller, bypassing the ATM altogether. If Harry does come in, it’d be too easy for him to accost Louis there.

Coming into the bank is a move Louis hasn’t entirely thought through. He doesn’t have any actual banking to do, much less any that couldn’t be done at the ATM, so he scrambles for a reason as he waits behind the other five or six people in line. Before he can come up with one, the bell above the door chimes as it’s opened again, and Louis catches himself turning his head to get a glimpse of who it is.

It’s Harry, of course. Louis curses underneath his breath and turns back around, facing forward with his spine rigid. He doesn’t think Harry’s going to chance cutting the queue that’s formed behind Louis, only two people deep, not with how unfailing polite he is, but Louis is still panicking. With two tellers and only another four customers ahead of him in line, this plan is getting more ridiculous by the second. Louis should just duck out of the line and make a run for it before Harry realizes what he’s doing. It doesn’t help matters any that Harry knows where he lives, and given that he’s stalked Louis into the bank Louis doesn’t think –

When it happens, it happens so fast that Louis doesn’t realize he’s bleeding until he’s on the ground. He can feel how wide his eyes are as he clutches at his side, ears ringing so loudly that it’s all he can hear for what feels like several long, endless seconds. Then, as abruptly as the ringing had started, it’s gone. All around him there’s chaos, people screaming and rushing around. The pain, when it comes, flows into his body slowly, and all of sudden he realizes what the noise was before he’d hit the floor.

Gunshots.

Fuck, Louis thinks dazedly, this can’t be right. Slowly, he reaches up to touch the back of his head. For some reason, the idea that he might have hit his head on the way down is more concerning than the blood he can feel gushing out of his side.

His fingers slip against his own hair, wet with blood. He forgot to check to see if his hands were already bloody before he reached up, and now he can’t tell if he has a head wound. That’s a problem. What’s even more of a problem is the sticky rush of blood pooling underneath him. He cranes his neck, trying to check if his white joggers are getting stained. That’ll be a bitch of a stain to get out, and Louis doesn’t want to have to toss these shoes. He just bought them a month ago.

He doesn’t notice his name being shouted on repeat until Harry’s hand presses against his side, covering the wound as he tries to keep Louis’ blood from spilling out of his body. For a minute, Louis had forgotten that Harry came into the bank after him.

Slowly, Louis looks up at him. The pain is easier to ignore when he has something to focus on. “I think I got shot,” he says. The world is spinning dangerously fast, much too fast for his head to be able to keep up with. Nausea hits him out of nowhere, almost too much for his body to take. He tries swallowing it down and fails, retching onto the floor beside him.

When he looks back at Harry, mouth dirty and unwiped, his face is grim. There’s still chaos all around them, but Harry seems unconcerned by it, laser focused on Louis.

“You did,” Harry says. His tone is short, clipped. He doesn’t look happy. Louis is pretty sure he’s seen Harry look happy before. He’s pretty sure that he’s seen happiness on Harry’s face when he looks at him before.

The spinning of Louis’ head is making it difficult to concentrate. Or maybe that’s due to the blood loss. Either way. He can’t tell if his thoughts are making any sense or if he should just close his eyes and let sleep overtake him.

“Do you – ” Louis has to stop to swallow a mouthful of slightly bloody saliva, “Do you want to apologize again?”

Harry opens his mouth to respond, but Louis loses consciousness for a minute. Just for a second.

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

The doorbell has rung at least five times now. Louis has been ignoring it each and every time, careful to remain quiet lest the person know that he’s home. It’s a plan that doesn’t seem to be working, but he’s loathe to stop. His only other option is to get up and answer the door, and he already knows what he’s going to find on the other side.

Who he’s going to find.

He hasn’t answered any of Harry’s texts or calls for the last two hours. Sent him a terse I’m fine before that, but it hasn’t seemed to appease Harry any. And it’s only been two hours, is the thing. In the grand scheme of things, two hours is nothing. Two hours is a nap. Two hours is a nice, leisurely walk. Two hours is a single film, for fuck’s sake. If Harry can’t leave him alone for the timeframe of a single film, Louis is going to snap.

Ignoring the incessant chime of the doorbell only works for another two minutes. It sounds like Harry’s leaning on the damn thing now. Infuriated, Louis tosses his phone onto the sofa and goes to yank the door open.

He’s barely had time to spit out, “What the fuck is your problem,” before Harry is barging his way inside, kicking the door closed behind him like an afterthought.

“Hi,” Harry says belatedly, hands already in front of him like he’s going to touch Louis immediately, “Sorry for this.”

Louis doesn’t manage to take more than one step back before Harry is tossing him over his shoulder. He shrieks, the sound escaping his throat, and bangs both his fists against Harry’s back. “Put me down!”

Harry ignores him, taking the few steps necessary to get to the bedroom in Louis’ tiny flat, tossing him down onto the bed just as quickly as he’d picked him up. Louis scrambles into a better position, up towards the headboard. He’s not thinking about getting away, too distracted by the efficient way Harry strips his shirt off over his head, and he gets caught under Harry’s body when he comes down on top of him heavily.

“Ow, fuck,” Louis complains, beating at Harry’s back again. Only with one fist this time, though.

Harry doesn’t waste any time shoving Louis’ shirt up to his armpits, putting his face directly against Louis’ bare skin, just above his belly button. Louis sucks in a breath, shocked into silence. Gingerly, his hands come down to rest against Harry’s shoulders, unsure of what’s going on.

“Does it ever occur to you,” Harry starts, his voice tight and rumbling against Louis’ skin, “that sometimes I’m the one who needs this?”

Carefully, Louis takes a breath in, letting it out again as slowly as he can manage. For some reason, he’s kind of afraid to move too much. Or – maybe the right word isn’t afraid, but. Something like that. “I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about you,” he says icily.

Harry doesn’t react, putting a hand near his face. Which, of course, means that he’s resting that against Louis’ bare skin as well. Great. Quickly, Louis’ panicked brain tries to find a way out of this situation.

There’s no way out of this situation. Not when giving into it is what his body wants.

“When I do think about you, it’s mostly to curse your name or try to find someone who’s willing to put a few spells on you to give you a bad day,” Louis continues. His mouth has always been his downfall.

“The way that your heart is pounding tells me that isn’t quite true,” Harry murmurs softly.

Instinctively, Louis looks down. Harry hasn’t moved in the last five seconds, head still resting with his ear pressed to Louis’ belly. There’s no way he can actually hear Louis’ heartbeat from that position. Louis thinks. Louis is pretty sure.

“Shut up,” Louis says stubbornly. Harry’s big and he’s dumb and Louis hates him.

Only one of those things is actually true.

“You’re the one talking,” Harry points out. In the span of two minutes, his voice has gone drowsy and soft. It almost feels like he’s threatening to fall asleep, right here in Louis’ bed.

Louis can’t let him fall asleep. No matter what his body is trying to convince him of.

“Did you have a bad day?” he asks, nudging at Harry’s side with his knee. Harry makes a deeply unsatisfied noise in response, but he rolls onto his back, spreading his arms out across Louis’ bed and taking up entirely too much space.

“Yes,” he says shortly. He doesn’t expand. Doesn’t offer up any information about why his day was bad, or what happened.

Try as he might, Louis is having a hard time not caring. One of the things he knows best about himself is that he can’t let questions go unanswered for too long. One way or another, he’s going to give in to his urge to ask, so it might as well be now.

Intentionally clumsily, he clambers over Harry’s leg and settles into his lap, digging his fingers into Harry’s side. Harry sighs dramatically, gaze fixed on the ceiling fan spinning lazily overhead, but he’s smiling. There’s really no hiding that smile. Not with those dimples.

“Is it because I paid someone to hex you into slipping on banana peels for the next three days?” Louis asks. His shirt has settled back into its original place against his hips, meeting the top of his trackies. He’s fully dressed, has been all day, and somehow he still feels exposed. As though Harry can see right into his soul.

“That would explain a lot,” Harry says thoughtfully, a frown twisting his lips as he considers. Despite his insistence about having a bad day, his hands come up to rest against Louis’ hips, covering a good chunk of them. Louis looks down, unable to resist, breath caught in his throat. It doesn’t matter how many times Harry touches him like this, how inevitable it all feels. It ends up taking Louis’ breath away every time. “There has been a suspicious amount of bananas around lately.”

God. Sometimes Louis also tries to convince himself that he also hates the way Harry’s wit can go dry and biting when it’s least expected. He’s never been too successful.

“Just for you,” Louis tells him, saccharine sweet.

“God, you’re pretty,” Harry sighs, fingertips slipping underneath the hem of Louis’ shirt. The touch feels mildly electric, only made better by the compliment.

Coming from anyone else, it wouldn’t feel like this. It’d be a compliment, sure, but a shallow one, related only to the way Louis looks. He’s heard enough of them over the years that they practically slip off his skin now, unable to affect him. It’s a side effect of his genes, one he’s had time to grow accustomed to. Harry’s the first person – the only person – to say it like that, in the same tone he uses when he calls Louis bitchy. In a way that somehow transcends the way everyone else has ever said it to him.

Louis is bitchy. It’s a personality trait he fought against when he was younger, a grating kind of word that was always accompanied by someone feeling attracted to him. Bitchy and veela go together hand-in-hand, no matter how much he used to hate it. Now, he’s used to it. Embraces it, even.

It’s never sounded like it does when it’s coming out of Harry’s mouth, though. Dripping past his lips as though it’s a term of endearment, like it’s something to be admired. Like it’s something he likes about Louis, something that runs way deeper in him than it does in everyone else. Like it’s something that turns him on. It’s the same way he calls Louis pretty. Like there’s a much deeper meaning to it than what lies on the surface.

“Hush,” Louis says, sinking his nails into Harry’s sides through his shirt. All it does is make Harry blink up at him slowly, eyes gone soft and dreamy again. Thinking about things Louis has only dreamt about.

There’s no pain. Considering that Louis had only been feeling a rather bearable amount of it before Harry showed up at his door, that’s not surprising. He can hazard a guess that it’s completely gone for Harry too. He doesn’t think he’d be very far off base if he did.

“You can’t sleep here,” Louis tells him. He’s having a hard time keeping his voice firm. His bed is already going to smell like Harry’s body wash. What difference will a few more hours really make?

“I have this case,” Harry starts as though Louis hadn’t said anything, hands falling limply to his sides against the sheets, “this client. Wants me to find his estranged daughter.”

When Harry doesn’t say anything else, Louis prompts, “And you don’t want to?”

“It’s not that,” Harry says, shaking his head slowly. “He – I don’t know. Something about him just seems off. I’m trying to find out why before I proceed further.”

Of course he is. Because he only behaves so recklessly when it comes to Louis. It’s an unsettling thought. Louis refuses to examine exactly why it’s so unsettling.

“Well,” Louis says pragmatically, “as long as you don’t try to trick him into dating you, I think you’ll be fine.”

Instead of shutting down, Harry only raises an eyebrow, sliding a hand underneath Louis’ shirt and stroking along his back gently. He never seems to mind when Louis tries to use that against him. He’d tensed up a bit the first few times, but that’s been about the extent of his reaction.

“I won’t,” he says. His voice is as deep and calm as it always is.

Louis sighs to himself, planting his elbows against Harry’s shoulders and leaning down. It feels like he’s the one in control in this position. It’d be entirely too easy to lose himself in that feeling. That false feeling.

“Promise me,” Louis insists. Even as the words come out of his mouth, he feels silly for saying them. Despite what Louis tends to say out loud, Harry’s good at his job. He knows what he’s doing.

Harry’s hand comes to a stop on the center of Louis’ back, big and warm. He has good hands. Louis could do with being a little less obsessed with them. “I promise,” Harry says solemnly.

The twist it sends through Louis’ gut is almost a little painful. He sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, staring down at Harry’s open expression. Louis hasn’t caught him in a lie since the first week they met. That doesn’t mean Harry hasn’t lied about anything, of course, only that he’s good at covering it up.

He knows he’s going to do it well before he actually does. It’s not as though the thought hasn’t been hovering around the back of his head this entire time. Every time. Not as though he hasn’t made this exact same rash decision more than once since the incident.

Louis is the one who makes their mouths meet. Louis has been the one to do it every time since the hospital. Whenever he tells himself that they haven’t kissed since that first week, that they haven’t done anything, it’s a lie.

Maybe Harry knows it. Maybe it’s why he doesn’t push Louis on things, always lets him take his time.

When Louis does, though, when he initiates it, it never takes long before Harry starts to take over. He does the same thing now, hand slipping out of Louis’ shirt to cradle the back of his head instead, tongue achingly hot as it slides against Louis’. Louis can’t help the noise he makes in response, tiny and throaty. Before he can even blink, Harry’s rolling them over, slow enough that Louis could stop it if he wanted to. He doesn’t.

Harry’s slow and deliberate as he settles into the space between Louis’ thighs. The kiss barely broke in the roll, leaving their mouths pressed together. Everything he does when they do this is so deliberate, thought out as though Louis couldn’t derail him even if he really tried. Everything he does, he does in a way Louis can always see coming. So he could put a stop to it.

He never does.

It’d be easier if Harry didn’t seem to already know all the things Louis likes. Louis has never had to tell him, never even had to breathe a word of it. He was a lot more reckless before the incident, more prone to tossing Louis up against things. In every sense of the word, he’s more careful now. Louis has started suspecting that part of him thinks Louis will break if he does something just the slightest bit too hard.

They kiss for a long time, languid and lazy. It’s always erred on the cold side in Louis’ bedroom, but it feels warm now. Almost hot. It wouldn’t take much to convince himself to take off his clothes, which is how he knows this needs to end. Right now.

Like he can read Louis’ mind, Harry backs off. Not before giving Louis another long, lingering kiss, but he backs off. Louis can’t help but sigh softly into the air between their mouths, blinking his eyes open slowly.

“Do you want me to stay?” Harry asks quietly, green eyes boring into Louis’.

Louis is breathing out, “Yes,” before he can think about it. Once it’s out there, it’s too late to take back. And Louis is tired, anyway. He needs to sleep. He sleeps better when Harry’s with him for a multitude of reasons he generally tries not to think about.

“Okay,” Harry agrees. He leans forward again, giving Louis one more soft, chaste kiss before getting out of the bed altogether. “I’ll go make us some tea.”

He leaves Louis in his wake, blinking up at the ceiling in somewhat of a daze. Absently, Louis presses his thumb to the corner of his mouth, feeling where his lips have gone hot and tender. It’ll only be a few more weeks until Harry’s blood is out of his system.

 

Shoot ‘Em In The Back Now

 

The chaotic noise in the bank hasn’t stopped, but it’s gotten less intense. Louis comes to a couple minutes after he’d passed out, blinking hazily up at the high ceiling. The tiles are too far away to tell if they’re off-white or just dusty from years of subpar cleaning. Louis takes a deep breath in as he contemplates it.

Immediately, sharp pain shoots through his entire body. “Fuck,” he wheezes, blinking rapidly. He might be crying. He honestly can’t tell. His face feels wet, but that might be from sweat or blood. There are people talking in loud voices, clashing against the noise of an alarm blaring, but there’s no more screaming. That’s good, right? That has to be a good thing.

Please let it be a good thing.

“Louis,” Harry says, relief evident in his voice. Louis blinks again, head lolling towards the sound of it. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?”

Slowly, Louis licks his dry, chapped lips, considering the question. Bringing words to his mouth takes much more effort than it should. “’m okay.”

Belatedly, he realizes that’s not the right answer. It’s not an answer to the question Harry asked. It’s not even the truth. There’s a wet, sticky pool of his own blood underneath his back, getting cooler by the second. He can’t feel it leaving his body, not anymore, but he knows what it is. There’s really no mistaking that feeling. Louis never thought to imagine what getting shot would feel like, but somehow it’s different than what he would have expected.

Harry might have responded. Louis’ brain isn’t working fast enough to keep up with everything that’s going on. Overwhelmed, he turns his head the other way, trying to catch a glimpse of the bank’s lobby. “The shooter – ”

“Tasered,” Harry responds immediately, not even giving Louis a chance to finish asking the question. “He’s down, the security guard has him covered. You’re losing a lot of blood.”

It’s more of a statement than anything. Louis turns his head back in Harry’s direction, fingers twitching at his side. He wants to put them against Harry’s hand, reassure him a little, but he can’t work up enough strength to lift his arm. That little fact is somehow less worrying than Louis thinks it should be. The center of his chest feels calm, which could be a bad thing or a good one. Louis doesn’t know.

“It’s okay,” Louis tells him. There’s a dreamlike quality taking over his vision now. The pain is starting to fade, leaving him feeling numb and a little cold. A blanket would be good, but that’s a stupid thought to have, given their situation.

Harry makes a soft noise, raw and wounded. It doesn’t make any sense. Louis is the one with an actual wound, after all. “It’s okay,” Harry agrees, but there’s something in his voice that says he doesn’t agree.

Normally, it’s something Louis would comment on. He’s too tired right now, letting his eyes slip closed. It’s getting harder and harder to breathe evenly, lungs not getting enough air.

“Louis,” Harry says sharply, pinching at Louis’ arm. Louis makes a soft noise, trying to squirm away from it. That doesn’t hurt as much as it should either. “You need to stay awake, alright?”

What difference would that make? None. Louis is pretty sure of that. He makes a soft, irritated noise, trying to move away from Harry’s touch. His body doesn’t obey him, refusing to move even an inch.

Well. That’s slightly worrying.

“I can’t,” Louis says, forcing his eyes open again. The words stick in his throat, barely passing his lips. The pain is floating away, lulling him towards sleep. Or unconsciousness. He remembers vaguely reading something about gunshot victims being more likely to survive if they’re still conscious by the time they make it to the hospital.

“Okay,” Harry says. His face is swimming in Louis’ hazy vision, but from what he can see there’s a tense, worried look on it. He’s saying something else, something Louis can’t focus enough to hear, chapped lips moving around the words.

Louis’ mum is going to kill him if he survives this. The thought causes laughter to bubble up in his chest, out of place with the dark atmosphere of the room. Desperation is clawing its way up from his gut, threatening to overwhelm him and send him into an adrenaline fueled tailspin. That’s the last thing he needs, he’s pretty sure.

“Take care of me,” Louis whispers, focusing back in on Harry’s face. There’s a smear of blood along his jawline. It must be Louis’ blood. That’s gross. Very unsanitary. “Please, don’t let me – ”

Harry cuts him off before Louis can finish the sentence, his expression gone frighteningly grim. “I won’t.”

It’s an odd thing to agree to. It’s the kind of promise that gets made right before someone dies. That doesn’t matter, though. The certainty in Harry’s voice has Louis relaxing back against the grimy floor, eyes sliding closed again. He can sleep now, he’s pretty sure. Harry is going to take care of him.

Someone’s shaking him by the shoulders. Louis makes an irritated noise, trying to squirm away. He doesn’t get very far, despite the pool of his own blood underneath him. That should make the slide easier, if anything, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.

“Louis.” Harry’s voice is sharp as he calls Louis’ name. Louis tries to open his eyes, he really does. His eyelids feel too heavy, though, as though they’re glued to each other. “I’m going to try something, alright?”

What can he try in the middle of a crisis? The only thing to do is wait for the paramedics to show up. Although they probably won’t be able to come in until the police have cleared the scene. That must be what’s taking so long.

Distracted by his own thoughts, Louis barely feels the sharp pinch of cold metal jabbing into the thin skin of his elbow. It’s not a gentle touch, but he barely feels it. All that dread he’d been feeling earlier has pretty much melted away, leaving him loopy and out of it. He doesn’t think he can stay awake much longer.

He forces his eyes open again, head lolling against the floor as he tries to find Harry in the haze. It’s getting harder and harder to breathe, and that can’t be good. Nothing about this is good. He wants to tell Harry to make sure his mum knows that he loves her, and to tell the kids that they’re all little gremlins that definitely don’t need to be fed after midnight.

“You’re going to be fine,” Harry says. His voice sounds rough, rougher than it did before. Louis catches a glimpse of clear tubing and an indescribable look on Harry’s face before he can’t hold off any longer.

He passes out.

 

Empire Of Dirt

 

Less than twelve hours after leaving the hospital, Louis starts feeling a little bit off. He chalks it up to the aftermath of having survived a gunshot wound, easing himself back into bed two and a half hours after he’d climbed out of the one in the hospital for the last time.

It’s strange, the feeling. It’s not exactly pain, more of an ache that sits heavily in his chest. Curling up on his side with all the lights off, Louis shuts his eyes resolutely and attempts to take a nap.

Forty-five minutes later, he has to admit that it isn’t happening. As tired as he feels, his body won’t let him fall asleep. Echoes of the things the doctors said keep bouncing around in his brain. More than anything, it’s the lack of knowledge that’s getting to him.

Soulbond. Ugh. Who even came up with that term? It sounds ridiculously romantic when the reality is anything but. It isn’t romantic to have to have close physical contact with someone so you don’t get sharp, stabbing bursts of pain. If anything it’s more like torture.

In the safety of his childhood bed at his mum’s house, it’s easy to fall into a slight hole of self-pity. He can’t even get his usual pick-me-up by going out and enjoying all the appreciative stares of strangers. Not when he’s still more attached to his bed than not. The wound is healing well, the doctor says, but healing well and completely healed are two different things. And it definitely isn’t completely healed yet.

He lies there with his eyes open, staring at the wall across from the bed. Just because he can’t sleep doesn’t mean he has to get up, either. Eventually his mum will come up to see if he wants something to eat. Until then, Louis can wallow in his self-pity as much as he wants.

Or until there’s a quiet knock on the door and his mum poking her head in. “Harry’s here to see you, sweetheart,” she says.

Louis lies perfectly still, his back to the door. If he doesn’t move she’ll think he’s asleep and he won’t have to face Harry. It’s a perfect plan.

He’s justified when the door closes quietly again without another word. Louis sighs a little, relaxing into the bed. His muscles relax one by one, leaving him feeling much better than he did before. All the discomfort he was feeling has melted away, leaving him content. Maybe he’ll even be able to fall asleep now.

Two minutes later, when the door is pushed open again, that proves not to be the case. This time, Louis’ body doesn’t stiffen, even as Harry’s voice floats over to him. “Can I come in?”

Of course his mum sent Harry up anyway. It’s exactly the type of thing she would do. She never allows Louis to get the last word, not even when he pretends to be asleep. This is emotional blackmail and Louis won’t stand for it.

“No,” he says, figuring that Harry knows he’s awake. No point in pretending otherwise. It’s been two weeks since they first got the news of their bond at the hospital, and since then Harry has been consistent about picking up on the subtlest of Louis’ body language.

The soft sound of footsteps trailing closer tells him that Harry’s ignoring him. Well. Isn’t that just perfect.

“You wouldn’t let me explain at the hospital. I’m going to do it now.”

If Louis was any less injured, he’d be seriously considering jumping out the window. He didn’t want Harry’s explanation then and he doesn’t want it now. It doesn’t matter why Harry did what he did. All that matters is that he did it, and that he lied about it. Louis doesn’t need to hear anything else.

“Please don’t.”

All that time Harry spent visiting him at the hospital must have made him too comfortable. His weight presses the mattress down a bit as he sits, so close to the backs of Louis’ legs that his body heat is bleeding through the thin blanket Louis has covered himself with. Louis grumbles, but he doesn’t do anything to make Harry move. He could, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t.

“Mrs. Hurst’s son hired me to try to track down some money that had gone missing from her bank account,” Harry begins without preamble. Mrs. Hurst. Louis vaguely recognizes the name. Thinks she may have been one of his neighbours at some point or another. “When I started looking into it, I found a series of other minor crimes and misdemeanors in your neighbourhood that fit the same kind of criminal profile. All of the suspicious activity seemed to center around you, but in order to find out more I had to invent a reason to get to know you.”

Slowly, Louis breathes out. The curtains, a deep navy shade, are drawn, filtering out most of the light even though it’s only two o’clock. The room is dim, which is good for sleeping. Not so much for reading people’s facial expressions. It’s why Louis doesn’t try to turn around.

“When I realized that you’re veela, it became apparent that things were happening around you, not because of you,” Harry continues.

Part veela,” Louis interjects. There aren’t any full-blooded veelas anymore, haven’t been in hundreds of years. He can’t imagine what his life would be like if he was a full-blooded veela. The kinds of things he could get people to do for him and the horrors that would accompany that.

“Part veela,” Harry acknowledges. “It seems like you drew people in, and some of those people happened to be involved in criminal activity.”

“You didn’t have to date me for that.”

It’s as much of an argument as he’s willing to make. It’s as much of an argument as he needs.

Harry’s quiet for a long, long minute. He doesn’t defend himself. That should make Louis happier, knowing that Harry knows what he did was wrong. Instead, it makes him angry.

“You know what, fuck you,” Louis says, practically spitting out the words. “You upended my entire life, I hope you realize that. And now we’re stuck together.”

Harry’s breathing goes uneven and ragged. Louis feels a deep, perverse pleasure at the sound. “Okay. I’m sorry.”

That’s all Harry says before he gets up and leaves. Literally just walks out of the bedroom door, leaving Louis alone in his wake. For a minute, Louis considers chasing after him, still fueled by rage, but that thought dissipates the second he rolls over and pain sears through him.

It’s normal pain, this time, unlike the ache that had been keeping him awake earlier. It’s the pain from his wound. It only feels this bad because of his abrupt movement.

“Fuck you,” Louis says to the pillow. He’s not sure who he’s talking to.

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

Louis should be used to the pain by now. It’s been four months. Four months of dealing with the low-grade ache that comes first, always centered around his side where his wound used to be. Four months of holding off until the last possible minute, until the low-grade ache has ballooned into something piercing and unmanageable. It’s a slow climb until it gets to that point, but it’s been happening more frequently lately.

It’s been two days since he last saw Harry. It’s not the longest stretch of time they’ve gone without having any contact. All day, Louis has been telling himself that he can hold out for at least another day. That he doesn’t need it as bad as his brain is trying to convince him he does.

Sucks when his brain and his body are working in unison against him. There’s really no fighting that, is there.

For the last half hour, Louis has been sitting on his couch, staring listlessly at the telly so he won’t stare listlessly at his phone. It’s clutched in his hand like it’s a lifeline or something. He hasn’t been able to let it go since he sat down.

The temptation to call Harry has been eating away at him this entire time. It doesn’t make sense – the pain is still in the low-grade level on the chart, there’s no reason to want to talk to Harry this badly. It’s not as though the mere sound of Harry’s voice will be able to soothe him.

Won’t it, though? Harry’s got that deep, melodic voice and he talks like he’s got all the time in the world. Louis doesn’t usually sit around feeling sorry for himself for what he went through, but there’s something about the slow way Harry speaks that entrances him into believing he has time. That he has all the time he’ll ever need.

If he asked, Harry would drop everything and be at Louis’ front door as fast as he could. He has done exactly that many times already. Louis refuses to feel any semblance of guilt for it when Harry’s technically the one who bound them together like this. Louis was too busy being unconscious and bleeding out to give any sort of consent.

If Louis was ever the type of person to be fair, he would acknowledge that Harry didn’t give any consent for a bond to form either. Harry saved his life, and he got stuck with Louis in return.

That’d be a much easier thing to believe if it wasn’t for how quickly Harry comes running every time Louis calls. When Louis is feeling ungrateful and angry about their situation, he sometimes wonders whether Harry wanted this to happen all along. Bonds like theirs are rare, not often heard of, but they are heard of. Who knows what kind of bad romance novels Harry might have been reading to put the idea into his head.

True to form, Harry answers on the third ring. “Do you need something?”

Not even a hello. Pretty soon Louis is going to stop feeling special. The lack of greeting irritates him so much he makes an angry noise into the phone and hangs up without saying a single word. It’s for the best anyway – he doesn’t have anything to say that isn’t please come over.

Not even thirty seconds later, his phone is lighting up with an incoming call. Louis stares at the screen for two full rings, contemplating sending it to voicemail. As enjoyable as that petty little revenge would be, ultimately it’d end up backfiring on him when Harry shows up at his door. This is something Louis knows for sure.

Louis answers with a snappish, “I don’t need anything from you.”

Listening to Harry take a deep inhale before responding is a hollow victory at best. “I’m sorry. I was in the middle of something and I’m frustrated, but that’s no excuse to take it out on you.”

If Louis had actually been angry about it – and if he had a different personality – the apology would deflate him. He stays silent, bringing his feet up onto the sofa with him and wrapping an arm around his knees. There’s no one around to see the way he breathes into his own skin, tamping down the emotions threatening to surge up out of him.

Harry’s tone changes when Louis doesn’t say anything. Gentler, more concerned. “Are you okay?”

Nothing about this is okay. Louis doesn’t blame anyone but the soon-to-be-convicted criminal for what happened to him in the bank, but he does blame Harry for breaking his trust before that. He walked away once, and not having the ability to do that again grates on his nerves. Makes him more susceptible to outbursts of anger and sullenness.

“I have to withdraw some cash,” Louis says. It’s a lie. He doesn’t. “My sister needs a birthday present.”

The only reason Harry doesn’t catch on to the lie is because Louis has a hoard of siblings and even he has a hard time keeping their birthdays straight sometimes. He has to put reminders in his phone so he won’t forget to start looking for presents early enough.

He knows what Harry’s going to say before the words come out of his mouth. Immediately, it’s, “I told you not to go to the bank.”

“I have to,” Louis insists.

Logically, he knows that the odds of anything even remotely negative happening to him at a bank ever again are so slim they’re laughable. The thought of going to a bank still makes his palms sweat and his heart race. It’s an expected reaction, only four months after the shooting, but it still makes him feel weak.

He has no idea why he even brought it up in the first place.

“I’ll come with you,” Harry says next. It’s less of an offer than it is a demand. Louis knew he was going to say that too, and for some reason the words go and bank still came out of his mouth.

He’s been to an ATM exactly once since March. Harry hovered over his shoulder the entire time, big and broad and keeping Louis between him and the machine. It had felt like an odd combination of overprotective and security.

“No,” Louis says. He doesn’t actually need to withdraw cash, and he’s not going to go to an ATM just so it’ll look like he wasn’t lying. He scrambles to come up with a different excuse, another reason to have called Harry in the first place. Something that makes more sense. “I’ll just e-transfer it.”

After that, he has nothing to say. No more excuses, thinly veiled as they are. If he stays on the phone any longer Harry’s going to figure that out, so Louis hangs up. He can handle this. Calling Harry in the first place was just a lapse in judgment. That’s all.

He sits in silence for the next two minutes, staring at an infomercial playing on the television screen, before his phone buzzes with a text.

Coming over is all it says. Louis exhales forcefully, picking up the remote and turning the volume up. It’ll take Harry at least fifteen minutes to get here. Louis can use that time to figure out a better excuse for why he called in the first place.

Instead of doing that, he gets up and puts the kettle on. His hands busy themselves pulling an assortment of snacks together, cubing some cheddar cheese he doesn’t remember buying, throwing some crackers onto a plate. No matter what he sets down, Harry will eat it without complaint.

The tea is ready, pot covered with a cosy his mum gave him when he first moved in here, sitting in the middle of the rickety table Louis keeps meaning to fix, when the doorbell rings. Louis surveys the table once more before nodding to himself and turning around on his heel to answer before Harry gets any ideas about leaning on the doorbell again.

Harry greets him with a lingering, one-armed hug at the door. It’s enough to sate the mild ache for now, although Louis probably won’t be able to let him leave without getting more. It doesn’t occur to him that it’s odd that Harry hasn’t said anything until they’re sitting at the kitchen table and Louis is pouring milk into Harry’s tea.

He stops in the middle of the pour, bottle still in hand, and looks at Harry sitting across from him. There’s dark circles underneath Harry’s eyes, indicating a lack of sleep, but that’s not particularly unusual when he’s working on an intense case. There’s something else, something that’s off about him.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Harry says immediately. He slouches lower in his chair, tucking his hands into the pocket of his hoodie. That must be the thing that’s so off about him – even when he trails people, he doesn’t wear hoodies while he’s working. He says a hoodie is too conspicuous. Despite the amount of times he’s explained why, Louis still doesn’t quite get it.

Louis frowns at him and sets the bottle down on the table. “Why are you lying to me?”

Harry’s sigh is deep and heavy. “I’m not. I’m okay. Just this case that’s been bothering me. It’s nothing.”

It doesn’t sound like nothing. Louis’ entire being vibrates with the desire to push, demand answers. Another time, he probably would have. The last time they talked they ended up fighting, though, and he doesn’t want to risk the fraught peace they’ve got going on right now.

They doesn’t usually fight, him and Harry, so last night was a bit of a shit-show all around. Or, Harry doesn’t usually fight with Louis, at least. All the arguments they have are just that – arguments. Good-natured, mostly, and run-of-the-mill things. Louis’ mum says they argue like they’re married, and Louis has to fight back a blush every time. Whenever Louis tries to pick a proper fight with him, Harry manages to de-escalate him so fast that Louis actually forgets about it until Harry’s gone again. It’s become somewhat of a vicious cycle.

All of that in mind, Louis swallows down the need to find details and says, “Okay. You can talk to me, you know, if you need to.”

The words are out of his mouth before he considers what they’ll sound like. It’s not the first time he’s caught himself saying something like that, and it probably won’t be the last. He blames it on the bond making him weak.

Something must have changed, though, because Harry doesn’t accept it with the grace he usually does. Instead, he stares at Louis thoughtfully from across the table for about three seconds, and then he gets up out of his chair. Louis’ heart has doubled its rate in his chest before Harry has even taken his first step, rounding the table neatly to drop down onto his knees beside Louis’ chair. It’s – it feels like a lie, trying to say that he hates how his body responds to the simplest things Harry does. It’s thrilling, knowing how easy it is for Harry to make him feel something. No one else has ever made him feel the way Harry does. Not even before the bond.

“Thank you,” Harry says, leaning their foreheads together. Louis watches, vision slightly blurred, as Harry closes his eyes briefly. He can’t help the flush he can feel in his cheeks, light and pink. Doesn’t even need a mirror to know it’s there, and he’s grateful that Harry’s eyes are closed. Who knows how he’d take it if they weren’t.

It’s – it’s unfair, is what it is. Louis does nice things for people all the time, maybe as a way to compensate for the unprompted favours people do for him based on his face, and they usually don’t make him flush like this. The gratitude is stupid. It’s not like Louis promised Harry his firstborn or whatever. And he kind of has an obligation to Harry anyway, seeing as Harry literally kept him alive in the bank while they waited for the paramedics to show up.

It’s been a while since he’s thought about his veela genes this much in depth. He doesn’t necessarily like that Harry makes him think about it so much.

“You’re welcome,” Louis whispers back, allowing his own eyes to slip closed. They stay there for a few minutes, breathing in the same air, and it feels like breathing in electricity.

 

The Old Familiar Sting

 

Louis wakes up in a confused haze. There’s a light shining directly in his face, and he doesn’t remember going to sleep.

The dull pain in his side reminds him of everything that’s happened before he’s even opened his eyes. There’s noise in the room all around him, but not as much as he might have expected. Considering that he’s just been shot and all.

The drugs they’ve given him must be incredible. Louis can’t feel half of his body, numb on his entire left side. Before opening his eyes, he swipes at his bottom lip with his tongue. His mouth feels hot and dry, and he desperately needs a glass of water.

Someone’s talking. It takes a minute before Louis is conscious enough to recognize the slow, quiet timbre of Harry’s voice. It washes over him like a cool, soothing mist, putting him at ease. He knows he’s in a hospital, remembers that he’s been shot. Harry was with him when he lost consciousness, and he’s still with him now. There’s something very steady about that. It feels like something Louis can hold onto.

“The light,” Louis murmurs. His voice cracks in the middle of the sentence, as though it’s rusty with disuse. It can’t have been that long, though. Right?

“What?” Harry asks, but he must be leaning over Louis’ bed because the light dims. It doesn’t go away, not entirely. It’s enough that Louis can peel his eyes open, dark curls and broad shoulders swimming into focus in front of him.

Harry should be a nurse. That’s not a thought Louis has because he wants to see him in sexy scrubs or anything like that. No, Louis is pretty sure he should be waking up to a nurse sitting beside him. He must have had surgery to get the bullet out and repair anything that needed mending. Proper protocol must be to have a nurse monitoring his wake-up. Louis is pretty sure of that. He doesn’t have any medical training, but that much just seems obvious.

With an irritated noise, a short nurse in blue, flowery scrubs elbows Harry out of the way. Which means that Louis was right.

Ha. He knew it. He’s always right. About everything.

“How are you feeling?” the nurse asks. She may introduce herself. Louis’ head is a little too fuzzy to catch it if she does.

“Tired,” Louis says slowly, considering the question. “Thirsty.”

“Any nausea?” the nurse asks, checking something on a screen beside the bed.

“No.”

“Great. I’ll be here to monitor you for a bit longer before the doctor comes in to speak with you. Do you have any questions for me?”

Louis shakes his head. Immediately, he regrets that decision. It sets off a pounding he can’t ignore. He does his best, reaching a hand out to Harry, who’s still hovering behind the nurse, so close she can probably smell him. Jesus. What a creep.

Harry doesn’t hesitate in taking it, coming right up against the side of the bed, so close Louis can smell him now. He smells faintly of blood, a little like some sort of chemical. It’s not as off-putting as it sounds. Or maybe Louis is just still high.

Louis is probably just still high.

“Hi,” Louis breathes. He must be imagining the faint sheen of wetness in Harry’s eyes. “Is my mum coming?”

Harry will know. Louis doesn’t know why he’s so certain of that. It’s just another thing that makes sense.

“Yeah,” Harry says, bending his head so Louis can’t see his face. “She’s on her way.”

That’s all he says. For some reason, Louis had been expecting more. He doesn’t know why.

The drugs the doctors must have used during the surgery – Louis has to assume that there’s been a surgery, considering no one’s actually told him anything yet – are incredible. They’re just strong enough to make Louis relaxed and comfortable without immediately sending him back to sleep. The fact that they’re still running through his system is the only explanation for why he reaches out with one trembling hand to touch Harry’s face. He has to stretch to do it, putting unnecessary strain on his injured body. It doesn’t feel like a choice he’ll come to regret.

“Are you okay?” He doesn’t know what compels him to ask. The drugs, probably. Everything seems to go right back to the drugs. It’s an excellent excuse for all of his current behaviour.

Harry clears his throat before looking up to answer. “Fine. How are you feeling?”

“High,” Louis informs him. “I think they gave me drugs.”

Harry huffs out a quiet laugh, removing Louis’ hand from his face gently and collapsing into the chair at the bedside. Louis hadn’t even noticed it was there. “They did, yeah. Any pain?”

He sounds like the nurse now, asking after Louis’ health. What are normal questions after someone’s been shot, though? Is there any such thing?

Louis puts his hand against Harry’s knee, letting his eyes drift closed again. It feels like it fits there, and he can feel the warmth of Harry’s skin bleeding through his jeans. Although maybe bleeding is a poor choice of words, considering. “No,” he murmurs, barely parting his lips to let the word out. “’m thirsty.”

“I know,” Harry says, patting at Louis’ hand gingerly. Louis wants to tell him that he’s not going to break, but the words get stuck in his throat. Besides, maybe he will break. Who knows? “Melissa is getting you some ice chips.”

“Who’s Melissa?” Louis wonders drowsily. Harry’s knee feels like it’s going to slip away like water sliding through his fingers. Louis clutches at it harder, trying not to let it get away.

“The nurse.”

There’s no chance to say anything else before Nurse Melissa comes bustling back, handing Louis the cup of ice with an expectant look on her face. She raises the bed so Louis can take it, moving gingerly, scared to cause himself any pain.

The next few minutes are a blur of sucking at ice chips and giving mumbled responses to Nurse Melissa’s questions. Louis’ eyes keep threatening to close, exhaustion sitting heavily in his bones. It feels weird that Harry’s not touching him anymore.

Louis’ mum and the doctor arrive at the same time in a flurry of motion. Things get chaotic and emotional, making Louis’ head spin too fast to keep up with any of it.

It takes him a while to realize that Harry’s slipped out of the room quietly.

 

After a handful of hours and a couple of quick naps, Louis is starting to feel more human again. The doctor had filled him in on the medical stuff he’d missed while he’d been unconscious, and the police had filled in some of the other gaps.

A lot of it was information Louis has no use for. He gave a statement to the officers, honest in his inability to recall much of what happened, and got a few pieces from them in turn. The shooter was taken into police custody, and a few people had been hurt. Louis’ injuries are the worst of the lot by far – one woman was grazed by a bullet, and another sustained a broken wrist when she hit the ground, and a few other minor scratches here and there. It’s hard for Louis to feel lucky when he’s lying in a hospital bed with a bullet hole in his side, but he supposes that he is. At least there was no casualties.

The doctor tells him that he did indeed have surgery, and that the bullet missed any major arteries so it was a fairly simple procedure, at least as far as bullet wounds go. Then he proceeds to tell Louis that he should also consider himself lucky that Harry was in the bank with him when the incident occurred. It turns out that Harry had given him a blood transfusion, ensuring that Louis didn’t bleed out while they were waiting for the cavalry to arrive. That blood transfusion is what ended up saving his life, is what Louis is told.

He’s got a million questions by the end of it all, but not enough strength to get through asking them. And what does it really matter, anyway, if he hears the answers to them? It’s not as though getting answers is going to change his current situation.

Reluctantly, Louis allows his eyes to slip closed as soon as the room is empty. He’ll figure out what to do in the morning, he promises himself. If he needs to do anything. He doesn’t fucking know anymore.

 

 

Empire Of Dirt

 

A few days after being released from the hospital, Louis goes home. His mum had insisted that he stay with her for a while, until he got back on his feet. It had been nice for a while, having her fretting over him like when he’d been a kid. The company of the kids was also nice, even though they spent most of their time clambering all over him with little regard for his wound.

Honestly, Louis didn’t actually have to be there. Not after the first day, anyway. His wound is still healing, but he can do most things for himself now. Can bathe and dress himself, even cook meals. The time with his family is nice, but by the fifth day, he’s ready to see his own flat for the first time in almost a month. His mum is reluctant to let him go, considering what he’s been through, and only allows it under the condition that Harry drives him back.

It’s a condition Louis is reluctant to accept. The less he sees of Harry the better, in his opinion, but it’s not as though he really has any choice here. Either he can allow Harry to drive, or he can stay here for an indeterminable amount of time. At the end of the day, it’s an easier choice than Louis will admit out loud.

It’s been exactly nineteen days since they learned of their bond. Almost three weeks. Not really sufficient time to get used to it, but Louis will admit that it’s been manageable so far. Of course, he has no idea what it’ll be like when they both go back to work, how they’ll manage it then. Any conversation they’ve attempted to have about it has been cut short due to one or both of them getting frustrated and walking off.

At exactly two in the afternoon, the doorbell goes off. Louis can hear it from where he’s sitting in the bedroom upstairs, but he makes no move to get off his arse. There’s a twinge of pain on his side, where the wound is, and he can’t tell whether that’s related to the healing or the bond. He’s leaning towards it being the healing – Harry hadn’t left until almost eleven o’clock last night, so it’s barely been twelve hours since they’ve been together. They’ve managed for longer than twelve hours.

He still doesn’t get up from his place when Harry lingers downstairs, the sound of his voice drifting in through the open doorway. Louis can’t tell what he’s saying, but the cadence of it is soothing, and he hates that he thinks that. His life would be so much easier if his body would just listen to him instead of betraying him like this.

When Harry comes upstairs a few minutes later, hovering in the doorway, he asks, “Are you ready to go?” hesitantly, as though he thinks Louis may have changed his mind.

Louis hasn’t changed his mind. He wants to see his own flat again, get comfortable in his own space. “Yeah.”

Despite that, he still doesn’t move. Harry comes into the room properly, sitting down gingerly on the other side of the bed, as far away from Louis as he can physically get. He’s gone back and forth between those two extremes over the last few days – crowding as close to Louis as he can possibly get only to stay clear across the room a couple hours later. It’d make Louis’ head spin if he was prone to that type of thing.

For a minute, they sit there in silence. There’s been a lot of silence between them lately, not all of which has been uncomfortable. That’s the thing about spending vast amounts of time with someone, Louis thinks ruefully. No matter how hard you try, you always get accustomed to their presence.

“I’m tired,” Louis says eventually, completely unprompted. He doesn’t realize how true it is until he says it.

There’s another beat of silence. “Okay. Do you want to leave tomorrow instead?”

“No,” Louis says heavily.

More hesitation. Clearly Harry’s got something on his mind. Louis wishes he would just come out with it already.

“Do you – I haven’t seen you applying the salve lately. You’re still using it, right? It’ll help with the scarring.”

Yes, Louis knows. It’s not the first time Harry has told him. It’s not even the fifth time. “I’m still using it.”

“Good. How is it healing?”

“It’s a bullet wound, Harry. It’s healing how it should be.”

According to the doctors, at least. It’s not as though Louis has any realm of experience here. He’s only glanced at it in the mirror long enough to apply the salve. It’s not something he wants to be faced with all the time, but it does look to be healing quite nicely. He doesn’t know whether that actually has anything to do with the cream or not, but he keeps applying it diligently. Better safe than sorry, after all. Harry’s green thumb might actually come in handy in this one specific circumstance.

“Can I see it?”

At first, Louis thinks he’s misheard. There’s no way Harry is asking what he thinks he’s asking. Louis’ ears must be playing tricks on him, right? “What?”

“Can I see the wound?” Harry repeats. And yeah, that is what Louis thought he said the first time around. He blinks dumbly at the door, curling his toes against the hardwood flooring underneath them. That’s not a normal question to ask someone. It’s especially not a normal question to ask someone in their situation.

It’s on the tip of Louis’ tongue to say no, or to at least ask why Harry wants to see it. His medical expertise is not nearly that of an actual doctor, so there’s no reason for him to look at the wound.

Except – Louis is abruptly thrown back to that day at the bank, to the look on Harry’s face just before he’d felt the cold sting of the needle against his arm, and he swallows back both of those comments. “Okay.”

A smarter person would have immediately refused the request. Louis has proven himself to be a much dumber person than he’s always thought. He doesn’t have time to change his mind, pull away or anything like that before Harry is leaning over, lifting the hem of Louis’ t-shirt gingerly.

Louis’ heart hums in his chest, each beat wild and frantic. Controlling his breathing is so much harder than he remembers, especially as Harry’s palm skates gently up his side, skimming over his skin. The touch is gentle, barely there, something Louis wouldn’t even feel if he wasn’t so hyperaware of Harry’s body sitting next to him.

Determinedly, he fixes his eyes forward, staring out the open door and into the hallway. For once, everything is quiet downstairs. The kids are probably trying to eavesdrop on them from the staircase.

Eventually, when his side is bare enough to expose the wound in all its shiny glory and Louis can’t take the silence any longer, he says, “Everything to your liking?”

Harry makes a soft noise, neither an agreement nor a disagreement, and examines the wound for a little longer. Louis fidgets a little, pressing his fingers into the bedding. Harry’s barely touching him, and Louis can still feel the heat of his fingers bleeding into his skin. It feels so much better than he wants to admit.

“Have you put the salve on today?”

Harry’s voice is abrupt and a little jarring. Louis jolts, fingernail catching on a fold in the sheet. His heart has returned to a more normal rhythm. For a second, he thinks about lying, but ultimately decides that if he does Harry will probably see through it. “No.”

It’s become a habit, the way Harry reaches out and snags the jar of salve from the nightstand without asking. He unscrews the jaw single-handedly, still holding Louis’ shirt up with the other. It’s a motion so attractive Louis has to swallow hard and look away again, willing himself to be strong this time. Protesting isn’t going to do him any good – every time he’s tried, he’s ended up sounding like he’s got something to hide, and Louis isn’t that transparent. Harry’s request, when it comes, is belated and perfunctory.

“Can I?”

Louis nods. What else could he have really done?

The salve is cool and slick against his skin like it always is. Louis sucks in a breath, but it’s more from the touch of Harry’s fingers than it is the cream. He tilts his head to the side, trying not to breathe too obnoxiously, trying to think about anything other than the way Harry is touching him. It’s not sexual, he tells himself. It’s literally medical. There’s nothing sexual about that.

As usual, Harry takes much longer than is strictly necessary. His breath washes over the side of Louis’ neck as he concentrates, and if Louis was at his full strength it’d be enough to get him hard. At this very second, he’s kind of grateful for his injury. At least it’s keeping his body from betraying him.

Although if it wasn’t for this injury, Harry wouldn’t be touching him. That’s just a fact. An undeniable, indisputable fact. Simple as that.

“What are you thinking about?” Harry’s voice always seems so much deeper when they’re sitting this close together. Louis represses a shiver.

You almost slips out of his mouth before he can catch it. He has to bite his tongue to keep the word in. It’d be the truth, and the last thing he wants is for Harry to know the truth.

“How long you always take to do this,” Louis says. It’s less deflecting than he intends it to be, and he prays that Harry doesn’t catch it.

It seems like Harry is finished, hand unmoving against Louis’ side, but he doesn’t pull away. No, he leaves it there, warmth bleeding into Louis’ skin, lighting him up from the outside in.

“It’s not going to work if it’s not applied properly, Louis,” Harry tells him in a reasonable tone. Louis bites back a half-hysterical laugh, darting a glance at Harry’s face out of the corner of his eye.

That fucking face. Louis has been trying not to look at it for too long lately – when Harry smiles, it reminds him of the fun they’d had during that first week, before everything went to shit. Things had been so easy then. It’s crazy to think that it’s only been a month since all of that joy and laughter. Louis’ entire life has been changed since then.

“I know,” Louis agrees absently. It’s a conversation they’ve had many times. They don’t need to have it another one, but here they are.

“Good,” Harry says, and just for a second, just for half a second, Louis could swear that Harry’s about to kiss him. And instead of doing anything rational – jerking away, vocally putting a stop to it – Louis tilts his head a little. Just a little.

Harry doesn’t, though, and Louis’ chest constricts. Half out of embarrassment and half out of a crushing sense of disappointment.

What the fuck. Louis needs to get his shit together. He’s not allowed to have these kinds of feelings about Harry. Not anymore.

“Alright, we should get going,” he says brightly, trying to cover up the slight waver in his voice. He yanks his shirt down, the material sticking slightly to the still drying salve, and stands up before his body can convince him not to.

Just as quickly, he exits the room, leaving his mostly packed bag behind for Harry to take. He doesn’t want to waste another second in a bedroom where he’s being accosted by his own feelings.

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

“Is my room ready for me?” Louis asks into the phone, tucking it between his shoulder and his ear as he reaches up into a cupboard, trying to find his car keys. They’re probably not there, but they haven’t been in any of the last twelve places he’s checked either, so. He’s running out of ideas.

“Yes,” his mum says absently. It sounds like she’s cooking something. Louis hopes it’s a roast. God, what he’d do for a Sunday roast right now. “Can you ask Harry to bring some of that wine he brought last time? We’re all out of red and I don’t have time to run to the shops.”

Louis scowls up at the cupboard, banging his hip as he tries to reach up higher, rooting around deeper. The keys don’t seem to be in here but he’s loathe to give up before he’s really sure. “Harry’s not coming, mum.”

His mum tsks, still absent. It sounds like she’s stirring something now. What could she possibly be stirring that can grab her attention more than Louis? “Of course he’s coming, Louis, I just asked him yesterday.”

“Why are you talking to him,” Louis complains. He startles when his keys are plopped down on the counter in front of him from over his shoulder.

Harry steadies him with a hand pressed against the middle of Louis’ back, reaching up into the same cupboard and snagging a couple of mugs. He pulls them down gracefully, stooping down a bit to say into the phone, “We have a support club. It’s called people Louis forgets to text back in a timely manner.”

By the time Louis goes to elbow him, reflexes belated in that just-woke-up way, Harry’s moved out of his space and is already pouring the coffee. His elbow hits nothing but air. Louis sighs to himself, pulling his hand out of the cupboard and resting his fingers on top of his keys.

“I don’t want him to come,” he whines into the phone, turning around to catch Harry’s face as he says it. If Harry doesn’t react to Louis bad-mouthing him half the fun is taken out of it.

Unfortunately, Harry’s back is turned, looking down as he mixes cream into Louis’ cup. Louis makes a face to himself, pushing off the counter so he can wiggle his way into Harry’s personal space. Harry doesn’t even react, frowning down at the cup thoughtfully as he judges whether he should add another splash of cream.

“Well, if you could go longer than twelve hours without needing to touch each other that would be more of an option,” his mother says pragmatically. “Tell him about the wine.”

With that, she unceremoniously hangs up. Louis sighs, snagging his mug with two fingers and pulling it gently towards him. “My mum says to bring wine,” he tells Harry grumpily.

Even without looking directly at him, Louis can see the amused smile tugging at the corners of Harry’s mouth. “I heard.”

Ugh. Just for that, Louis is going to make him sleep on the floor.

 

The drive up to Louis’ childhood home is mostly quiet. He makes Harry do the actual driving part, head tipped back against the seat with his eyes closed. It’s not that long of a drive, only about forty-five minutes, and by the time they get there he’s feeling well-rested and ready to take on a herd of children.

That, it turns out, is a good thing, as a small herd of children overtake them the second they step out of the car. Louis swarms his way through them with a battle cry, leaving Harry behind to fend for himself.

He makes it into the house relatively unscathed, following the scent of cinnamon scones and fresh coffee to the kitchen. His mum is standing at the counter with her back towards him, stirring something in a giant mixing bowl. She doesn’t even flick a glance at him as she comments, “Just left him to fight his way out of that mess all by himself, huh?”

Louis makes his way across the kitchen to wrap his arms around his mum from behind, hugging her tight. She doesn’t pause in her stirring, nearly elbowing him in the ribs in the process. “He can handle it,” he says dismissively, trying to catch a glimpse of what she’s making. “It looks like there’s more kids out there than normal. Have you been stealing them again?”

This time, the elbow to Louis’ ribs is done on purpose. “You know I hate it when you do that,” mum complains.

There’s a crash in the hallway that sounds like Harry extracting himself. Louis ignores it, dipping a quick finger into the batter and sidling away before his mum can stop him. “It looked like there was at least seventy of them,” he continues, talking around the finger popped into his mouth. It tastes vaguely like strawberries. Strawberry cake, maybe?

“I’d say probably only sixty,” Harry says, making it into the kitchen at last. His hair is in disarray, and it looks like there’s a couple of scratch marks on his forearm. Louis would feel bad about abandoning him, but he doesn’t. “My two favourite people,” he croons, going to hug Louis’ mum the same way Louis had.

This time, she laughs, leaning back into the embrace and patting at Harry’s hip with a flour-dusted hand. Louis watches, folding his arms across his chest.

“Why do you like him more than you like me?”

His mum barely spares him a glance as she goes back to mixing. That cake batter has to be mixed enough soon. It’s getting ridiculous. “Don’t worry, darling, I have an equal amount of love for you in my heart. Harry is still shiny and new, though. It’s the exact same reason I keep stealing all those kids.”

“Ha! I knew it!” Louis says triumphantly. He keeps watching from his spot next to the table as his mum lets Harry take a swipe of the batter, sucking his finger into his mouth to lick it clean. She doesn’t do anything to stop him, even tilts the bowl towards him. If Louis wasn’t well aware of how much she loves him, he’d be kind of hurt by it.

As it is, he’s pretty sure that the only reason she lets Harry get away with the things she won’t allow Louis to is because she still feels grateful that Harry saved his life. Which, whatever. If Louis doesn’t feel grateful he doesn’t see why anyone else should have to.

Okay fine, so what if he feels a little grateful? It’s not like he’s ever going to say that to Harry’s face.

The sound of a small herd of children is approaching. Louis makes a quick escape out the back door, heading into the relative quiet of the garden. There’s a light drizzle, fine enough that it feels more like a mist than proper rain. Louis tips his face up into it, enjoying the feeling of the water against his skin. He’ll regret this choice later if there’s no time to change before dinner, but for now it feels nice, as though it’s clearing his skin from the stale air of the car.

Only two of the small herd of children are actually related to him. The last time he was over, they’d been more fascinated by Harry’s hair than Louis’ entire personality, so he doesn’t feel bad about avoiding the chaos for a minute. He stands there in silence, looking out across the familiar yard, mind blessedly quiet for once. Maybe it’s all the noise coming from inside.

It’s impossible to tell how much time has passed before there’s the sound of the door sliding open again. Louis doesn’t startle, arms huddled against his chest. It’s gotten kind of cold out. Maybe he should have brought an actual jacket instead of just a thick jumper.

“You’re going to freeze out here.” Harry’s voice is disapproving. It sounds eerily similar to Louis’ mum’s.

Louis shakes it off, still looking out over the garden. The grass could do with one more mowing before fall truly sets in. Maybe he’ll convince Harry to do it before they leave. If there’s one thing Harry’s good for, it’s manual labour. “Should have brought me a jacket, then, shouldn’t you have.”

On cue, a jacket lands on his shoulders, warm and thick. It’s not Louis’ jacket, seeing as he didn’t bring one, so that only leaves one option. It must be Harry’s.

He sighs, turning his head just time to see a blur of messy hair as Harry wraps his arms around Louis’ chest, holding him tightly. “I hate you.”

“You look good in my clothes,” Harry tells him, choosing to ignore the insult.

“Shut up,” Louis says, aiming to sound cross. “You think I look good in everything.”

“You do look good in everything,” Harry agrees. “You want me to lie to you or something?”

Six months ago, the mere mention of Harry lying would have worked Louis up into a frothy rage. Six months ago he was still bedridden with a nasty scar on his side from a traumatic surgery. A lot can change in six months.

One thing that hasn’t changed is his dislike for Harry.

“I want you to mow the lawn,” Louis says, twisting around in Harry’s arms. With the jacket still hanging from his shoulders and his chest now pressed up against Harry’s, he feels warm and toasty. Content. Like he could stay out here for another three hours despite the rapidly setting sun. “The grass is getting a little long.”

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Harry promises. “Your mum said she’ll make you cocoa if you can get the littlest ones to sleep.”

Louis would like to say that he wavers, but the truth is that the entire point of coming home is to see the little ones and cement his place as favourite older sibling, so he goes back inside the house with Harry trailing close behind him. All in all, Louis can definitely say he’s had worse evenings.

 

Louis’ childhood bedroom hasn’t really changed much. He’s told his mum over and over that she can use it however she likes, but for now the twins are still enjoying sharing a room, leaving it as a shrine to his younger years.

And Louis means that literally. Every time he comes home, his mum lights candles on the dresser and arranges a rather morbid display of black and white photos of Louis through the years. It became even more morbid after the incident at the bank. A little more hesitant, the first time Louis visited after it happened, but there’s something reassuringly normal about coming back to it despite everything that’s happened to him in the last six months.

He’s also pretty sure that Harry has stolen one of the photos every time they’ve come here together. It’s a thought Louis always tries to push to the back of his head, ignoring the way it makes his belly twist.

“I’m taking the bed,” Louis announces, throwing his bag down on said bed. He’d retrieved it from the front hallway just for this moment. “You can sleep on the floor.”

Harry’s hand covering one of his comes as a surprise. Louis blinks down at it, hadn’t even realized that it had been shaking. “Do we really have to have this argument every time?” Harry asks, stroking his thumb across Louis’ fingers.

“Oh, we’re not arguing,” Louis says easily, leaning back slightly. Just enough that he can rest a bit of his weight against Harry’s chest. “This is me stating a fact.”

“A fact, huh,” Harry murmurs, laying his free hand against Louis’ stomach and pulling him backwards, all the way into Harry’s body. It leaves him off center, unbalanced. He relaxes into the hold, body almost slumping with how easily he goes. “Will we still not be arguing if I point out the fact that you couldn’t even make it an hour before you started trembling?”

It’s getting worse. This incessant need to be with Harry all the time. He doesn’t know whether Harry feels it too, or if it’s just him. He’s too scared to ask.

Usually, when Louis gets cornered, he goes on the offensive. It’s been his default setting for so long now that he can’t remember a time that it wasn’t.

Something about Harry makes him weak. Louis sways on the balls of his feet, trying to resist the urge to let his eyes slip closed. “Shut up,” he mumbles, suddenly exhausted. “You can sleep on the floor.”

Harry exhales harshly against the side of Louis’ head, but he doesn’t object again. Which means Louis has won.

Ha.

 

It takes Louis all the way until bedtime before he realizes that he hasn’t actually won. He emerges from the bathroom, pink-faced from having scrubbed his skin clean, and wanders down the hallway until he can kick the door to his room open.

Harry’s already tucked into the bed, sheet pulled up to his shoulders. He’s lying on his side, on the outside of the mattress. Louis would have to climb over him to lie down, what with the bed being pushed up against the wall and all.

It feels like he’s taken the decision right out of Louis’ hands. It feels like a relief. Louis kicks the door closed again, putting a knee on the edge of the mattress just behind Harry’s back. “Are you asleep?” he whispers, pitching his voice low.

“Mm,” is the only response Harry gives him, eyelids closed and barely visible from where he’s pushed his face into the pillow.

Louis watches him for a minute, oddly lulled by the gentle rise and fall of Harry’s bare back. He puts his hand against it, feeling the warmth of Harry’s skin. Harry doesn’t react, no change in his breathing. He doesn’t seem like he’s fully asleep, but either way he’s committing to the bit. To get him out of the bed, Louis would have to make a lot of noise and risk waking up the little ones.

Fucker. He definitely knows what he’s doing.

“I know what you’re doing, you know,” he informs Harry’s still back, and then climbs over him to get to the empty spot. He doesn’t bother keeping his limbs in check as he does it, elbowing Harry a time or two in the process. Or three. Maybe four. It’s hard to tell in the dark.

For a few minutes, it’s silent. Louis takes his time getting comfortable, twisting his way underneath the sheets and pressing his toes against Harry’s, trying to leech some of his warmth. It’s not cold in the room, but who doesn’t like toasty toes?

Eventually, Harry’s voice comes, followed quickly by the light, almost non-existent touch of his hand against Louis’ side. Louis knew he wasn’t actually asleep. “Can I see?”

No is on the tip of Louis’ tongue, just waiting to be spit out into the darkness between them. It’d be the logical answer. Sometimes it’s the answer Louis wishes he could say.

Despite himself, despite everything, he’s never said it. Not when Harry asks this of him. “Yeah,” he whispers, barely parting his lips to say the word. He doesn’t regret it when the ghost-like warmth of Harry’s hand leaves his side long enough to flick a lamp on, bathing the room in a soft glow. It’s unfair that Harry asks for this when he knows Louis is weak and vulnerable.

He lies still, on his back, as Harry pushes the hem of his t-shirt up slowly. It’s an old thing, the t-shirt. Worn so often the lettering on the front is all but illegible, threadbare under the arms and around the neck. It’s Harry’s shirt.

The air all around them is starting to feel thick and hot. Harry’s hair falls down around his face like a curtain as he bends his head, watching what his hands are doing. The first few times he did this, Louis couldn’t resist the urge to crack nervous jokes, trying to break the tension. There’s something almost ethereal about the way his hand glides along the curve of Louis’ hip, over his sleep pants before moving up, not touching Louis’ skin so much as hovering over it.

It looks the same as it always does, the spot Harry’s looking at. It looks the same as it did before the incident ever happened, skin perfectly intact and unblemished. Louis has looked at it at least twice a day since being discharged from the hospital. He watched as the salve Harry gave him did its thing, healing him until no trace of the wound was left.

Just the memory of it.

Harry’s next question is no more startling than the first one was. “Can I touch?”

“Yes,” Louis says, even quieter than the first time. It’s no more than a breath exhaled into the air, something Harry would have to strain to hear if he was any further away.

Harry listens, the palm of his hand settling down steadily against Louis’ side. Despite the lack of a physical indication, he always find the exact place the bullet had pierced Louis’ skin. There’s something unnerving about it, that complete accuracy. Almost something magical. If Louis didn’t have an entirely too vivid memory of the look on Harry’s face as he was bleeding out on the floor, he would think that there is something magical about it.

He can’t forget it, though, and he knows that Harry can’t forget it either. Knows that Harry can always find the exact spot on Louis’ ribs because he had pressed his hands there for several minutes, trying to stem the flow of blood while they waited for the cavalry to arrive.

It always goes the same way when Harry asks to do this. He’ll ask to see it first, and then to touch it, and then he stops asking for permission altogether.

This time is no different. Louis sucks in a sharp breath as Harry surges downwards, ducking his head to press his entire face to the spot. His eyelashes feel a little wet against Louis’ skin, breath warm as it rushes out against him. Tangling a hand in Harry’s hair, Louis stares up at the shadows dancing across the ceiling. Ignoring it never works. Still, he tries every time.

It’s hard to tell what Harry needs from him during these moments. Louis doesn’t have it in him to be a quiet, silently supportive person. Already, his breathing is going ragged from the need to say something. Anything to break the silence that’s weighing down on his shoulders, trying to push him under.

He licks at his bottom lip, trying to overcome the dryness. It’s a good thing Harry’s face is still pressed against his skin, otherwise he’d be watching Louis do it. He watches everything Louis does when they’re in bed together. In a bed together. Sharp eyes, taking care to keep his hands to himself.

Mostly.

“Still intact, yeah?” he says eventually, his voice shaky. The sheets are tangled around his thighs, trapped under Harry’s side. Getting out of the mess would be a mission, one that would leave him flailing until he hits the floor. It’s the only reason Louis doesn’t.

It’s not the only reason.

When he replies, Harry’s voice is equally as rusty. “Still intact,” he murmurs.

The difference between the way he touches the spot is all down to the shirt. Not the fact that it’s actually Harry’s shirt. It could be any shirt. The majority of the time, Harry touches the spot over Louis’ shirt. He does it without asking, without even hesitating most of the time. He only starts asking for permission when he wants to touch Louis’ skin without the barrier of clothing in the way. Half the time, Louis thinks Harry doesn’t even realize what he’s doing when he touches it through Louis’ shirt.

It’d be easy to assume that it’s a politeness thing, or a consent thing. Louis doesn’t think it is. He thinks it’s a rejection thing. He thinks Harry doesn’t want to risk doing it and having Louis reject him.

Examining that concept in greater detail would involve Louis delving into thoughts he doesn’t want to be having. Like so many other things in his life over the past six months, he pushes it to the back of his mind. Willing it away.

“Good,” Louis says, unable to sound out the word as sharply as he’d like. He tugs at the strands of Harry’s hair between his fingers pointedly. “Come up here.”

For the first time in several minutes, Harry turns his head enough for Louis to see the sharp glint of his eyes, hardened by the dim light of the room. “Why?”

Licking at his bottom lip is more pointed this time. Purely for Harry’s benefit. Louis watches as Harry’s eyes narrow a little more, suspicious. “Because you’re heavy and I want you off of me.”

“Liar,” Harry says softly. The edge of his thumbnail skirts across Louis’ belly, the sensitive skin there rising with goosebumps.

He’s not wrong. Louis considers his next words carefully.

“Because we’re already trapped together in this tiny twin bed, so you might as well spoon me to sleep. It’s not like we’re not going to wake up that way anyway.”

Harry’s already moving as he replies, “This is a double.”

Another thing he’s not wrong about. The bed isn’t giant, but it’s plenty big enough for them to each sleep on their separate sides and not have to worry about too much touching during the night. What Louis has just done is invite Harry to get up into his space.

He doesn’t regret it. It’s probably the heavy breathing against his side that’s making him feel this way.

“There’s not enough space in this twin bed to keep us from rolling into each other during the night,” Louis continues as though Harry hadn’t spoken at all. “I don’t want to wake up with bruises because you couldn’t control your elbows.”

Harry’s all hands as he yanks at Louis’ body, putting him into a different position by force. Louis grumbles to himself, hiking his knees up to give Harry the exact right amount of space to curl in behind him. When they’re done, they fit together from chest to toe, warm and snug. Harry doesn’t waste any time laying his hand back against the spot on Louis’ side, his shirt still rucked up so his skin is bare.

It feels nice. It’d be entirely too easy to get used to.

“You’re ridiculous, you know that?” Harry murmurs in his ear, less of a question than it is a statement. The lamp is still on, which means that Harry will have to let him go in order to turn it off. Louis doesn’t mention it.

“I’m amazing,” Louis says, purely for what he knows Harry will say in response.

It comes half a second later, barely enough time for the words to finish leaving Louis’ mouth before Harry’s correcting him, “Bitchy.”

He says it the way he always does, admiring and earnest. It’s not an insult. He’s the only person Louis knows who has never used it as an insult.

Here, in the quiet comfort of his childhood home, the safety of being surrounded by family, thinking about the things Harry deserves for it makes Louis weak. It’s impossible to keep Harry at a distance under these circumstances. Louis had known it all along. It’s why he put up a fight about Harry coming with him, despite the fact that Harry’s come with him before.

Turning over, he hitches a thigh over Harry’s hip, leaving them pressed together all along their fronts. Curls his fingers against his palm before pressing his hand to Harry’s bare chest, looking up at him from beneath his eyelashes. Listens to the ragged way Harry breathes in, looking back. Thinks about all the things he could say right now, things that would get Harry to kiss him.

In the end, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to say anything. Harry mutters something under his breath, so low Louis doesn’t catch it – probably a cuss of some sort – and closes the distance between their mouths without needing to be pressured into it. He’s gentle about the way he kisses Louis, threading a hand through the hair at the back of Louis’ head to hold him still. It’s a slow, soft, intimate kiss, the kind he doles out when he thinks Louis has been particularly insolent and deserves to be rewarded for it.

Something aches in Louis’ chest at how well he knows this kiss. The past six months feel like they’ve blown by and have taken forever at the same time. It’s hard not feel like he knows Harry intimately by now, like there’s no part of him that he wouldn’t let Louis see. No matter what Louis tries, it’s a thought he’s found himself coming back to more and more lately.

If they’d been together for a year, for five years, it’d be the type of kiss that might not turn Louis on. A slow, liquid kind of kiss that would fill his chest with emotion but not necessarily his cock with blood. It’d be safe and warm and familiar. The kind of kiss couples share when they’re tired and ready for sleep, or when they part for work in the morning. That kind of kiss.

Knowing that doesn’t help Louis right now. None of that helps Louis right now, easing onto his back slowly and pulling Harry with him, until Harry is balanced over him, holding himself up with his forearms planted against the mattress. It’s a thin mattress, worn down from use over the years, and normally Louis doesn’t enjoy sleeping on it. Right now, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be than underneath Harry with his steadily hardening cock.

That’s the thought that makes him pull away. Eventually. After a few more minutes of being kissed like that, as though Louis means everything to this man on top of him, Louis turns his head, letting Harry mouth idly at the side of his neck. He shivers under the attention, desperately wanting more of it and knowing he needs to put a stop to it at the same time.

“Time for sleep,” he says, voice rough and shot through. He’s gripping at Harry’s biceps even as he says it, reluctant to let him go.

“Okay,” Harry says, giving Louis’ throat one last kiss before he rolls away, back onto his side of the bed. Immediately, Louis misses the heat of his body, turning back onto his side and putting himself up against Harry. It feels like he can’t stop himself, despite everything. It feels like he wouldn’t even ask for the bond to broken right now.

Louis falls asleep feeling like he’s screwed, and he means that in every possible sense of the word.

 

The Old Familiar Sting

 

The physiotherapist is droning on in Louis’ ear, something about the level of pain being normal. Louis ignores him, facedown on the cool tile floor. The back of his t-shirt is drenched with sweat, sticking to his skin. His entire right side feels like it’s on fire, and he’s having a hard time catching his breath.

“Shut up,” Louis groans into the floor.

He’s not expecting it to work, but there’s sudden, blessed silence. He turns his head, blinking sweat out of his eyes, and doesn’t see anything.

“Marvin says you’re being uncooperative.” Harry’s voice comes out of nowhere, startling Louis so badly he flinches, and then groans in pain.

“Fucking Marvin,” Louis snarls to the floor. He only gets half the amount of his usual viciousness into the words, too out of breath to make the words properly count, but he’s pretty sure it gets the point across.

The heat of Harry’s thigh bleeds into Louis’ side – the left one, the uninjured one – as he settles down onto the floor with him, placing a hand square in the center of Louis’ back. The touch is light, appropriately gentle. Louis grumbles some more, wishing he had enough energy to wiggle away. He doesn’t have the energy to deal with Harry right now. He thought they were done with this crap.

“Marvin is still here, you know,” Marvin calls out mildly. It sounds like he’s halfway across the room, probably with another patient by now.

Fucking Marvin.

“You have to do the exercises,” Harry tells him patiently. “You’re never going to get better until you do.”

Why the fuck is Louis’ physiotherapist even talking to Harry? Doesn’t that violate some kind of doctor-patient confidentiality? Or does that only apply to people who haven’t been labelled a hero by all the medical staff in this damn hospital?

“Fuck off,” Louis says, turning his head so the words come out clearly. “What the fuck are you even doing here, anyway?”

Ignoring him, Harry runs his hand down the length of Louis’ back, still obscenely gentle about it. Louis doesn’t even have the energy to protest the treatment. There’s no denying that it feels good. “Is he done for the day?” he calls, presumably to Marvin, as though Louis isn’t even there.

“Considering that he’s not actually doing what I tell him to, we can call it quits for now,” Marvin says agreeably. He probably just wants to get Louis out of his gym. Louis refuses to feel bad. It’s not like he can possibly be the worst patient here.

“Great,” Harry says, tapping at Louis’ back. “Are you going to get up or do I have to carry you?”

“You can’t carry him, you might tear his stitches,” Marvin says, voice suddenly closer.

Painfully slowly, Louis rolls over onto his back. “Carry me,” he demands.

Harry makes a sad face at him, fingers resting gently against Louis’ belly now. He doesn’t seem inclined to pull them away. “The mean man said I can’t,” he whispers. “I’ll get you some ice cream later, though.”

Louis makes a face. Harry makes it back at him, ten times more dramatic. It’d make Louis laugh if he didn’t feel like his entire chest was on fire. Grudgingly, he allows Harry to help him to his feet. It’s a slow, painful process, and by the end of it he finds himself leaning heavily against Harry’s side, listless as Harry guides them back through the maze of hallways back to Louis’ room.

By the time they get there, a mere two minute walk away from the physical therapy room, Louis is exhausted and sweaty. He collapses into his narrow bed with a grunt, pulling his feet up with him laboriously. It takes much more effort than he’d like to admit to get into a comfortable position, pulling the pillow up behind his back so he can lean against it.

What he wouldn’t give for an extra pillow. His mum is supposed to bring him one the next time she visits, but so far Louis has had to make due with the shitty hospital-provided one.

“Water?” Harry asks, eyebrows furrowed as he takes Louis in. Louis doesn’t even have the breath to answer, nodding once. He closes his eyes for a minute, listening to the sound of Harry rustling around, presumably producing a cup.

The cup, when it’s pressed into his hand, is cool and plastic, crinkling slightly under Louis’ fingers as he grips at it tightly, trying not to drop it. He takes several long sips before opening his eyes again, starting to feel slightly cooler.

“What are you doing here?” he asks again, figuring that he has a better shot at getting an answer now that they’re alone.

Well, alone with the exception of Greg, who’s snoring lightly in the bed on the other side of the room. Half-heartedly, Louis wishes that he was having a nap right now too.

“I brought you some salve,” Harry tells him, thrusting a jar out in Louis’ direction.

Louis blinks at it a few times before looking back up at Harry. “I don’t want it.”

Harry rolls his eyes, irritation flashing across his face for a brief second before his expression evens out again. Finally. Louis was beginning to think that he’d become a pod person. “It’s to help with the scarring.”

Inside the jar, the paste is an off-white colour, thick and clumpy looking. Louis eyes it dubiously, making no move to take it. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to rub something on my wound without consulting the doctor first.”

It’s about as tactful as Louis can be, especially under the circumstances. Although to be fair, the pain has faded rather drastically since leaving the physical therapy room. He knew it was the exercises. Clearly Marvin doesn’t know everything after all.

Louis doesn’t quite know why he’s trying to be tactful, though. Literally screaming in his face would be an appropriate reaction to Harry being here. Louis decided, after Harry had shown up for the third day in a row, that all that gratefulness he felt for Harry saving his life had run its course and he could go back to being angry.

On day ten, he’s having a hard time figuring out what’s going on. He still attributes that to the drugs they gave him during surgery and the painkillers afterwards.

“I asked Dr. Melendez already,” Harry says. “She said it’s fine.”

The way Louis sees it, he has two options here. The first being to choose not to believe Harry and pitch a fit until he leaves. The second being to suck it up and allow it to happen. Considering how tired Louis is, the second option is the only real one he has.

“Fine,” Louis says grumpily. He’d fold his arms across his chest to showcase his displeasure, but his wound is still making that kind of dramatics next to impossible. It’s been ten days since the bank and sometimes it still feels like the shooting just happened. “It’s not going to do anything, though.”

He doesn’t bother asking what’s in the salve, figuring that he probably doesn’t want to know the answer. Probably some combination of weird earth-y herbs and dirt. If he doesn’t get an infection from this he’ll count himself lucky.

“It will,” Harry says easily, making his way closer, so he can perch on the edge of the bed. Abruptly, Louis is glad that he’s graduated to real underwear, at least. Those flimsy paper hospital ones really weren’t doing anything to make him feel protected. And in this exact moment, it feels like he needs the protection. “Do you want me to help you put it on?”

Instantly, Louis scowls, yanking the jar out of Harry’s hands. “What, so you can feel me up?” he snarls. “No fucking thanks.”

He opens the jar using both hands, scooping out a liberal amount of the paste onto two fingers. It takes some maneuvering to get his hand shoved up under the hospital gown he’s been forced to live in for the past week and a half, trying to spread the paste over the wound without being able to see it. Or to twist well enough to even be able to reach the wound in the first place.

Fuck being shot. It fucking sucks. These are all things Louis could have gone his entire life without knowing.

Through it all, Harry watches him silently with slightly raised eyebrows. He doesn’t seem too concerned when Louis grunts in pain once, or when it happens a second time. It’s not until the fourth time that he finally says, “Are you sure you don’t want some help?”

Louis lets his hands fall into his lap, limp. He doesn’t bother to eye Harry distrustfully, sighing deeply. “Fine.”

Harry doesn’t hesitate, taking the jar from Louis’ hand gently and setting it down between his own legs. Instead of scooping some of the salve out onto his fingers, he takes Louis’ grease smeared hand in his and works the mixture off of his skin. All Louis can do is stare down at Harry’s hands blankly, not even blinking.

That’s totally a thing a normal person would do. Yup. Totally normal.

It gets even more normal when Harry starts pulling the hem of the hospital gown up. It’s an action that does actually make sense – in order to put the salve on he probably needs to be able to see where the wound is – but Louis still yelps and slaps at his hands, heart suddenly hammering in his chest.

Immediately, Harry stops, withdrawing his hands. “What?” he asks, a little bit of panic in his voice.

Louis clears his throat, doing his best to brush off his sudden nerves. So what if Harry sees his bare chest. It’s not like Louis is ashamed of his body. “Nothing. Just thought I saw a spider is all.”

Harry doesn’t turn to look, one eyebrow climbing slowly, until it’s hovering above the other one. It gives him a quizzical expression, and it’s a minute before he responds. “Alright. You want me to put it on now?”

It’s a chance for Louis to change his mind. Knowing Harry, it’s probably intentional. Louis hesitates. Saying no would be the obvious answer. Harry pressured him into saying yes the first time, after all. Louis could back out now and not think any less of himself.

“Fine,” he says, biting the word out from between his teeth. “Be gentle.”

“Of course,” Harry says quietly. He bends his head, not saying anything else as he pushes the bottom of the hospital gown up again. It slides up Louis’ skin, exposing him. Goosebumps prickle up against the cool air he’s suddenly exposed to, nipples hardening long before the fabric makes it all the way up.

Christ. Louis swallows hard, forcing himself to relax back against the thin pillow. Harry’s hair falls down, obscuring his face before the gentle touch of his fingers presses against Louis’ wound.

Louis can’t help the way he hisses out a breath through his teeth, staring up at the off-white ceiling tiles with watering eyes. It hurts – of course it hurts, someone touching his fresh bullet wound – but it doesn’t sting as badly as he’d been expecting. Either Harry is unnaturally good at wound care or the nurses have become progressively more fed up with Louis’ mouthing off and stopped doing their best to be gentle. Both options seem equally as likely.

“Does it hurt?” Harry asks softly, fingers still tender as they rub the salve into Louis’ sore body.

“Yes,” Louis says honestly, his voice coming out more whimpering than he’d like. It’s a tone that begs to get kisses to make it feel better, and despite himself Louis can’t change it. “Stings like a motherfucker.”

“Sorry,” Harry murmurs. It seems like this is taking forever.

All Louis can smell is the scent of Harry’s shampoo, herbal and fragrant. He smells good, clean. Freshly showered, maybe. The thought makes irrational giggles rise up in Louis’ throat, threatening to escape. It’s all he can do to swallow them back down.

He must be going crazy. It’s the only explanation for all of this. Why he’s letting Harry rub an admittedly nice-smelling salve into his fresh wound. Why he allowed Harry into the room in the first place, that first day he came back. And then the second, and the third. No one would blame Louis if he was still angry at him. Louis is still angry at him.

“Are you almost done?” Louis asks. “I need to pee.”

He doesn’t, but it’s the only excuse he can think of to extract himself from this situation. Maybe if he takes long enough in the loo Harry will get bored and leave. Louis doesn’t have high hopes, but it’s something. Not quite a plan, but not not a plan either.

“Hush,” Harry says absently. His hand is big and warm, even through the cool of the salve. It doesn’t seem like he’s looking at anything other than the wound, and it’s not as though Louis is self-conscious without a shirt on, but. This still feels way too intimate for what they are.

He also feels a little crazy for how much his body likes it. There’s still the pain – there’s no denying the pain – but it’s faded to a manageable ache, centered right beneath Harry’s slow, careful fingers. It’s not that the rubbing feels good. There’s really nothing pleasurable about it. No, what’s making his heart race is the proximity of Harry’s body to his. The smell of his shampoo and cologne, the heat of his body bleeding off and into Louis’. It feels like Louis could stay here forever and never need a blanket, that’s how warm Harry is. He probably makes an excellent bed partner for someone like Louis, who’s constantly cold.

Louis clears his throat, barely resisting the urge to rip himself out of Harry’s grip. Doing that would only cause him more pain. It’s not worth it. “So what is this greasy shit made from anyway?”

Talking will help. Louis lives by the philosophy that talking will always help. Of course, that’s mostly because he’s got a natural talent for talking, but he knows how to use what he’s got. Any trouble his mouth gets him into his face can usually get him out of.

Usually.

“Plants and herbs,” Harry says vaguely. “Green stuff.”

He’s still working the salve into Louis’ skin. It doesn’t sting anymore, just feels like the pressure of Harry’s hands against his skin. It could feel a lot worse.

“Green stuff?” Louis repeats. It’s hard to keep the venom in his voice when Harry is so close to him, warm and alive. Louis doesn’t know why it feels so comforting, only that it does. “You better not be shoving kale past my stitches.”

Harry huffs out a quiet laugh, fingers coming to a slow halt. It’s another few seconds before he lifts his hand away entirely. “It’s not. It’s a healing salve. It’ll help your scar fade faster.”

“What, are you some kind of herbal enthusiast or something?” Louis demands. He might not be able to do venomous but he can at least do loud and demanding. Loud and demanding are things he excels at, after all. He can pretend like things are normal this way. It’s not a great coping mechanism, but it’s what he’s got.

“Not really,” Harry says, shaking his head slowly. He’s examining his work with a slight frown, looking like he wants to put his hands back on Louis’ body. Louis is hit with a sudden ache that wants to let him.

Flustered, he pushes it away, continuing with his needling. “Just really into gardening, then? You had a lot of plants at your house. Maybe you’re some kind of secret gardening freak.”

“I have a green thumb,” Harry says absently. Finished with his exam, he screws the lid back onto the jar and wipes his hands carelessly on his jeans, leaving them grease-smeared and slightly damp.

Louis stares at him, blinking a few times. His heart beat has kicked up a couple of notches, a fact he’s uncomfortably aware of. A green thumb. That’s – apparently Harry has more magic than Louis thought. He doesn’t know how he feels about that.

“A green thumb,” Louis repeats. There’s no mistaking those words, not in the society they live in. Not quite magic, but not-not magic either. An innate ability to coax things to grow. To live.

“Yeah,” Harry says, glancing back at Louis’ face. He looks a little perplexed now. “Enough that I can make some of this stuff, help people out a little.”

There’s not too many ways to make fun of something like that. Desperately, Louis searches for one anyway. It’s a simple thing, someone having a green thumb, and yet he feels off-kilter and unbalanced by the revelation. He doesn’t hate people with magic, he truly doesn’t, but he’d be lying if he said that it doesn’t take him longer to trust them. Magic makes him skittish, always has, and he knows there’s a direct link between that and his veela genes. He’s never cared to examine it in detail, but it’s there, lurking underneath the surface.

“You sell it?” Louis asks, eyes darting to the jar in Harry’s hands and then back up to his face. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation, but at the same time he can’t manage to force himself to change the subject. The question doesn’t come out nearly as casually as it should, fraught with tension that hangs in the air between them.

Fuck. This has somehow taken a turn, and Louis doesn’t even know how to get back onto the right path anymore.

“No,” Harry says. His tone is even slower than normal, somehow, and Louis doesn’t understand how that’s possible. “Are you – is there something wrong?”

Something aside from the obvious, he means, because he already knows about Louis’ wound. He just had his hands all over it, for fuck’s sake, with his weird salve thingy that he claims is going to help the healing process. Who the fuck does he think he is, some kind of herbalist? The thought repeats itself in Louis’ head, banging around in there as thought it’s trying to escape.

Weird, maniacal laughter bubbles up in Louis’ chest, threatening to spill past his lips. He swallows it back down, trying to regain control over himself. It must be the hospital, bringing this out in him. He usually has a much better grip on himself than this.

“No,” Louis says, shaking his head. He forces his tone into something light and easy, leaning back. Easy and casual. He can do easy and casual. “Just wondering how much money you can possibly make as a P.I. is all. You must have to supplement it somehow, right?”

“I do alright,” Harry says, but his tone isn’t easy anymore. “I get a lot of cheating spouses cases.”

Right. That makes sense. Louis nods his head a little too vigorously, nearly pulling a muscle in his neck. “That’s great. For you, I mean, not for the wives. Must suck for the wives.”

Christ, what the hell is he even saying? He’s babbling. He never babbles. Maybe it’s the veela in him, but he’s usually one of if not the most confident person in the room. It’s not good for him, having Harry around.

Before he can scramble to come up with something to say to get Harry to leave – something firm but not too impolite, because apparently he’s still stuck on the fact that Harry saved his life – a nurse comes in, already wearing an exasperated scowl. She’s here to tell Louis off for the physio thing, probably.

Nurse Fletchinson shoos Harry out of the room much better than Louis ever could, and finally, nearly an hour after Harry showed up in the first place, Louis can actually relax again. He’s already feeling better now than he did two hours ago. That physical therapy must actually be working.

 

 

Do You Kiss On The First Date

 

He’s seen Harry every day this week. They met on a Saturday night, and it’s Wednesday now. Five straight days of seeing him. Louis’ entire body shouldn’t be thrilled like this, especially not before Harry’s even come to the door.

It’s probably because Harry’s so attractive. As an obscenely attractive person himself, Louis knows what looks good on other people, and everything looks good on Harry. Yesterday he showed up in a literal sweater vest and Louis still couldn’t stop himself from trying to climb him.

He still mocked the vest, but that’s to be expected, given Louis’ personality.

As usual, Harry’s exactly on time, knocking on Louis’ door at six pm sharp. Standing on the other side of the door, inside his flat, Louis waits exactly thirty-four seconds with his palms braced against the cheap wood before pulling it open. Can’t look too desperate, after all.

“Hi,” he breathes, and doesn’t even wait for Harry to respond before linking his hands around the back of Harry’s neck and pulling him down for a kiss.

Right away, Harry kisses him back, putting his hands on Louis’ hips and holding him still. Warmth blossoms in Louis’ chest, spreading throughout his body. It’s not arousal. Or not entirely arousal, anyway. It feels like happiness.

If Louis was someone else, he’d be embarrassed by it. It’s hard to be embarrassed by anything when Harry is kissing him like this, slick and all-encompassing and like he’s just as into Louis as Louis is into him. Besides, Louis doesn’t feel shame when he knows someone is attracted to him. Benefits of being part veela, he supposes.

Louis isn’t embarrassed. He’s a little turned on – more than a little, maybe – chasing the slick curl of Harry’s tongue as he tries to pull away. He’s warm and content, and if Harry wanted to go into Louis’ bedroom Louis would gladly lead the way.

He can’t believe it’s been five days and they haven’t even had sex yet.

“Hi,” Harry says, laughing a little as he stands up to his full height again, bringing his hands up to cup Louis’ jaw. “You ready to go?”

Louis tugs at the bottom of Harry’s shirt, a plain black t-shirt today. He kind of misses the sweater vest, and if that’s not an insane thought to have Louis doesn’t know what would be. “Or we could stay here tonight.”

Harry cocks an eyebrow at him, already leaning in as Louis takes one step backwards. Ha. Louis totally knew this plan would work. “Then we’ll miss dinner. I made a reservation.”

That seems like a lie, given Harry’s casual outfit. Who needs a reservation on a random Wednesday evening?

“We can eat here,” Louis says immediately, toying with Harry’s shirt.

Harry’s eyebrow rises a little further. “Do you even have any food?”

Of course Louis has food. He’s not a complete heathen. He can’t make a five-course gourmet meal the way Harry claims to be able to, but there’s a package of spaghetti lying around somewhere. Louis is pretty sure of that.

“Yes,” Louis says, taking another step back, trying to entice Harry into stepping into the flat properly. Once he’s in, Louis is pretty confident in his ability to get him to stay. “Or we could just skip to dessert.”

He refrains from wiggling his eyebrows. It doesn’t matter, though, because Harry does it for him, the biggest, stupidest grin taking over his face. Louis can’t help the way he breaks into laughter, pulling at Harry’s shirt harder. He wants Harry in his space. In every possible meaning of the phrase.

Harry does step inside, but he doesn’t kick the door closed behind him. He slides his hands along Louis’ shoulders, down the lengths of his arms until he can twine their fingers together, the toes of his boots brushing against Louis’ still-bare feet. Something about it feels incredibly sensual.

They’re going to kiss. There’s no doubt in Louis’ mind. They’re going to kiss, and that firework-y feeling he always gets when he kisses Harry is going to overtake him. Louis licks his bottom lip, tipping his chin up. There’s no mistaking what he wants.

It comes as a surprise when Harry doesn’t give in, swinging their joint hands loosely.

“I’d like to have dessert with you, sweetheart,” Harry says, his voice a heavy drawl, “but first I wanna have dinner.”

Louis tugs at Harry’s hands a little, trying to see if he’ll give. He doesn’t. “Did your mum instill the no dessert before dinner rule on you when you were growing up?”

Dimples form in Harry’s cheeks as he smiles. It’s far from the first time Louis has seen them, but he thinks he might be in love with them. The dimples. He never knew he was such a dimple guy.

“Among other things,” Harry says cheerfully. He swings their hands one more time before letting go. “Now go put on your shoes.”

Immediately, Louis retorts, “I don’t have shoes.”

Harry’s grin gets wider. “Really? What happened to the shoes you were wearing yesterday?”

Louis shrugs easily. “Lost ‘em.”

“You lost your shoes? How do you even go about doing a thing like that?”

“Well, you see,” Louis begins, grabbing Harry’s hands again as he tries to lead him further into the flat, “there was an incident with a fence and a mud pit. It got real complicated real fast, so I ended up having to improvise a solution using my shoelaces. Then, once my shoes were lace free, they were a lot looser and easier to lose. So of the course the inevitable ended up happening.”

“Of course,” Harry echoes, that devastating smile still tugging at the corners of his mouth. He pulls one of Louis’ hands up to his mouth and brushes a kiss against the back of Louis’ knuckles. “Now go put on your shoes for real, please.”

The tenderness of Harry’s mouth against Louis’ skin is what shocks him into obeying. There’s an annoyingly pleased squirming in his belly, distracting him from realizing that Harry’s won until it’s too late. They’re already out the door, Harry’s arm slung across Louis’ shoulders despite the way it makes walking more difficult.

Louis narrows his eyes as they head towards the lift. He’ll have to keep a better eye on this one, he decides. Harry’s turning out to be rather sneaky.

 

The Old Familiar Sting

 

On day three of being in the hospital, Louis gets a visitor. It’s just past two in the afternoon and he’s already tired and cranky. More than anything, he wants to get discharged so he can go home and sulk in sullen silence there. He’d recover faster if he was in his own space, he’s pretty sure. The doctors keeps saying Louis won’t be discharged until he’s ready, but so far he’s refused to put an exact time frame on it. Keeps saying a vague anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Apparently it all depends on how the wound heals and how well Louis is moving. It all sounds like bullshit to him.

Absently, he lays a gentle hand on the gauze covering his wound. It’s been aching more than usual today. The sound of the tiny telly hanging in a corner of the room isn’t enough to distract him from the pain, and he’s been doing his best to minimize the amount of painkillers he’s been taking. He’s all too aware of what could happen with his senses completely dulled. If it wasn’t for his veela side, he probably wouldn’t be worrying about it.

Apparently, something about a veela in pain draws people in. It’s enticing in a way that’s hard to defend himself against, and even when he has no doubt that the people being enticed have good intentions, it’s not something he wants to deal with. The last thing he needs is someone getting handsy with him while he’s more agreeable than usual. None of the staff at this hospital have much experience handling the medical needs of a veela, and while Louis isn’t mistrusting of those handling his care, he knows what he needs to do in order to protect himself.

At least, he knows what he needs to do when his brain isn’t foggy from painkillers. It’s a line Louis has been attempting to toe for the last few hours, how frequently he asks the nurses for another dose.

He doesn’t know that Harry’s coming until he arrives. Louis is busy breathing through the pain, trying to keep his lungs working evenly, hand still pressed carefully to his side, so he doesn’t notice Harry standing in the doorway until his roommate clears his throat.

Greg, fifty-three, recovering from a kidney transplant. He’s been Louis’ roommate for the last sixteen hours. Before that, it was a guy named Craig. Louis had still been on the higher dose of pain medication after the switch, and the rhyming of their names made him laugh for an hour. Intermittently, of course, because the laughing made him wince in pain. It turns out that two of his ribs had cracked when the bullet entered his body, which is the cause for most of his pain now. There isn’t much that can be done for that.

Aside from painkillers, of course.

“Harry,” Louis says, surprise colouring his tone. He turns too sharply to look in Harry’s direction and gets a stabbing pain for it. Figures.

“Hi,” Harry says. He looks across the room at Greg, hesitating. “Can I come in?”

It’s on the tip of Louis’ tongue to tell him no. A week ago, he would have told Harry to fuck off in no uncertain terms. Four days ago, Harry saved his life. Things may have changed from a week ago.

“Okay,” Louis says. He won’t go as far as to agree happily, but he can give Harry a break. Just this once. And only because Harry technically saved his life.

He had thought Harry walking out of his hospital room without saying anything was a sign that he was walking out of Louis’ life. Giving up on him. Seeing him again, after Louis has told himself a thousand times that everything is going to be fine, may have broken something inside him. He doesn’t know exactly what yet.

Harry’s gait is slow as he enters the room, hesitating before he sits down on the chair at Louis’ bedside. He’s wearing dark jeans and a dark shirt, with a heavy jacket over top of it. It’s not the dressiest outfit in the world, but compared to Louis’ backless hospital gown and flimsy pants, he looks incredible. Louis bites his tongue to avoid saying anything about it at all.

Just let him talk first, Louis tells himself. Give him a chance to explain why he’s here. That way Louis won’t look like he’s eager to know.

“Why are you here?”

Or just completely ignore all rational thought and do it anyway. Great.

“I just – ” Harry starts. He’s fidgeting with a loose thread on his jeans. Louis keeps staring at the movement. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Harry fidget before. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

For some reason, it makes Louis blink. He doesn’t know exactly what he was expecting, but Harry checking up on him wasn’t it. “You saw that I was fine before you left.”

Louis doesn’t mean to be combative. Or maybe he does. It’s hard to tell. His pain isn’t making his head swim right now, which is a welcome change, but he still feels odd. Out of sorts.

Slowly, Harry bobs his head, still looking down at his knee. “Yeah,” he confirms quietly.

Louis’ irritation spikes to an all-time high. He slaps a hand against the bed, anger becoming even more irrational when it barely makes a muffled noise. “I can’t believe you,” he says bitterly. “First you abandon me in some grungy hospital, and when you finally come back all you can say is yeah?”

Incredulous, Harry finally looks up at him. “What?” he asks, no heat in his voice.

Christ. Louis’ emotions are all over the place. He doesn’t know whether he wants to scream or cry. “Don’t,” he says sharply.

A flicker of something ugly crosses Harry’s face. Good, Louis thinks with satisfaction. He doesn’t deserve to be the only one experiencing a range of emotions so complex they can’t be sorted through.

“I didn’t abandon you,” Harry says. His voice is much milder than that expression on his face was. “You were surrounded by your family when I left.”

He doesn’t seem to be getting that the problem is that he left in the first place. What was the point of staying with Louis for so long if he was just going to up and leave the second someone else showed up?

“Whatever,” Louis scoffs. He’d fold his arms across his chest, but he’s got a gaping hole in his side from being shot.

Alright, it’s not actually a gaping hole. Still. The point stands.

Harry takes a deep breath in before responding. “Okay. I came to tell you that I’m sorry.”

Louis’ blood pressure shoots through the roof. It’s not an exaggeration – the monitor literally starts beeping like crazy. He’s saved from having to answer by a nurse rushing into the room, examining him and shooing Harry out all at the same time. That’s some excellent multi-tasking, there.

It’s a reprieve that won’t last forever, Louis knows. But it’ll give him some time to figure out what he wants to say. If he even wants to say anything.

 

Of course, Louis doesn’t actually figure out what he wants to say. By the time Harry comes back – a mere two hours later, as though he couldn’t bear to wait any longer – Louis has barely had a second to himself, much less time to think. The doctor has been in and out, running what feels like an endless amount of tests. In the last ninety minutes, Louis has been poked and prodded enough to leave behind a lifetime of bruises. Isn’t it enough that he’s stuck in the hospital with a slowly healing gunshot wound?

By some miracle, the room is completely empty of any other people when Harry returns. Even Greg has been taken away. To where, Louis doesn’t know, only that he’s going to return in about an hour. He’s been looking forward to the alone time, so Harry showing up again makes him groan the second he realizes what’s happening.

He’s not being overly dramatic as he flings himself back against the pillows, pulling the thin sheet up and tucking it under his arms. “What are you doing here?”

This time, Harry doesn’t hesitate, striding into the room and taking a seat on Louis’ bedside chair. Dammit. Louis should really have that chair removed.

“I know you’re not going to let me apologize,” Harry says, “so at least let me answer your questions.”

That – is probably the last thing Louis was expecting. He blinks a little, startled into silence. The longer the quiet lasts, the more likely it becomes that Harry is going to comment on it, so he scrambles for something to say. “What makes you think I have any questions?”

Combative and bitchy. It’s a perfect combination, turns Louis back into something resembling himself. He relaxes a little, flexing his toes against the bed.

“You always have questions,” Harry tells him. Coming from someone he’s only known for a little over a week, it should grate at Louis’ nerves. It’s an undeniably familiar statement. Maybe even close to being an assessment of Louis’ character.

He’s right, though. Louis does have questions. And if he asks them, it saves them from having to do any awkward navigating around their feelings. Or lack thereof. So.

“How did you know how to give a blood transfusion?”

“I attended a year of medical school,” Harry says. “Figured out that it wasn’t the right path for me after a while, but before I did I learned a few things.”

Medical school. Huh. The list of things Louis didn’t know about Harry Styles could fill a book. That realization is less jarring now, and he couldn’t explain why. It feels like his lungs are getting a proper amount of air for the first time in a while, and the sudden rush of oxygen is making his head spin.

“Anything else?” Harry prompts after Louis has spend a minute pondering the answer without saying anything.

A blood transfusion requires supplies. Louis might not have much in the way of medical knowledge, but he knows that much. “How did you even find the stuff for that?”

“There was a first aid kit at the bank, and I made the rest of it work with stuff I found. I wasn’t going to let you bleed out if I could help it.”

The way Harry delivers the information – factually, devoid of any emotion – speaks to his ability as an investigator. Louis swallows back a barrage of insults directly related to Harry’s choice in career. It doesn’t do anything to help his situation by insulting Harry right now. Louis can save them for later. Maybe he’ll write them down so he doesn’t forget any.

He doesn’t have anymore questions, though. And he’s not going to thank Harry for doing the things he did. As much as Louis appreciates still being alive, he’s not ready to express any sort of gratitude towards Harry. He knows that it’s neither of their faults that Louis got shot – logically, he knows that – but that doesn’t change what Harry did to him before any of that. Louis isn’t ready to forgive that part. He’s never going to forgive that part. Harry can just get out of his life and Louis can get on with things.

“Yeah,” Louis says. “That’d make you a terrible person.”

A muscle in Harry’s jaw jumps, the only sign that Louis’ words have affected him at all. Louis watches it, fascinated.

“Yeah,” Harry echoes, his tone short.

Jesus. Even when he’s irritated, he’s way too attractive. Louis swallows, looking idly in the direction of the telly. It’s turned off, screen black and silent. It’d be a good distraction to have right about now, but the remote is on the table beside Greg’s bed. Even if Louis was up to shuffling in that direction, he’s not going to do it with Harry still in the room. They may have only known each other for a little over a week, but Louis knows him well enough to know how much he’d hover, trying to help without forcing himself in. It’d be unbearable.

“Exactly,” Louis says. He doesn’t know how to end this conversation and get Harry out of his life, so he goes with the most direct course of action. “You can leave now, you know.”

It’s not nearly as rude as he could have been, and he thinks that has to account for something. It doesn’t get much of a reaction from Harry, just a slow bob of his head and no flicker of hurt across his face. Either he’s good at controlling his expressions or he just doesn’t care. Louis ignores the stab of hurt the thought causes.

“Yeah,” Harry says quietly. He stands up, hesitating for a second before adding, “Call me if you need anything. Anything at all.”

That’s what he says in lieu of a goodbye, making a hasty exit. He doesn’t look back, doesn’t take another glimpse of Louis sitting in the hospital bed over his shoulder before he’s gone. Louis exhales harshly, fingers gripping the cheap cotton bedsheet between his fingers.

Just like that, it’s over.

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

Harry’s off somewhere in the deep recesses of Louis’ house. Well, as deep as a three-room flat can get, anyway. If they were at Harry’s place, Louis probably wouldn’t even be able to hear him banging around and cussing every so often. He claims to be fixing something, but what he’s really doing is banging a wrench around underneath the sink in the loo and taking his anger out that way.

Louis doesn’t care. He’s relaxed on his couch, channel surfing through infomercial after infomercial, because that’s what’s on at two o’clock in the morning, and he doesn’t care.

Alright, so maybe he cares a little. They haven’t had a fight this bad since Louis was first released from the hospital. The ridiculous part is that it was a fight about nothing, too – Harry was in a bad mood when he arrived, and instead of making things easier on him Louis made them worse because that’s what he does, and now Harry’s making a racket under the guise of fixing the drip in Louis’ sink.

It’d be easier if he just went home, but they haven’t met their quota of daily touching yet and Louis can still feel the bond simmering angrily underneath his skin. Presumably Harry can too, and that’s why he hasn’t left.

After a few more minutes, Louis’ temple starts throbbing. He’s getting a headache from the noise, and he’s sure that his downstairs neighbours are going to start complaining soon. Dealing with this isn’t something he can avoid anymore, and if he’s being honest he’s geared up for a fight anyway. It didn’t feel finished when Harry walked away.

Louis clicks the telly off and tosses the remote onto the couch, uncaring of where it lands. He stands up, stretching quickly before he starts to move. The banging doesn’t pause, even as Louis takes loud, thumping steps towards it. When he arrives at the bathroom door, pushed all the way open, he’s not as angry as he could be. No matter what, this feels like a very silly fight, and the only reason they’re having it is because there’s a thousand other things they’re not fighting about. Neither of them are going to bring up those things, not after all this time has passed, but it’s been an underlying issue.

“Hey,” he says sharply, to be heard over the noise, “you’re making a racket. You’re gonna wake up the entire building.”

If anyone’s still asleep, that is. Harry pauses, but he doesn’t emerge from under the sink. All Louis can see of him is his legs, clad in tight black jeans, and his feet, the threadbare heels of his multi-coloured socks.

The lack of a response makes Louis madder. He inches forward and pushes his toes against Harry’s foot, gentler than a kick but harder than absolutely necessary. Harry doesn’t pull away from the touch, the muscles in his thigh jumping.

“You should just go home,” Louis says, doing it again. “If you don’t even want to be in the same room as me, there’s no point in you being here. It’s not like it’s going to be much longer before the bond is broken anyway, so we might as well start getting used to being apart.”

For some reason, that statement gets Harry moving. He pushes himself out from underneath the sink, the smear of dirt running down his arm reminding Louis of exactly how poor he is at cleaning hard to reach places, and frowns at him as he sits up. “What are you talking about?”

Louis frowns back and crosses his arms over his chest. He doesn’t take a step back, despite the way Harry’s standing up and taking all the space in this tiny little bathroom. It’s Louis’ bathroom, he’ll stand in it if he wants to. “The blood,” he says impatiently. “It should be completely replaced with my own soon, and then there won’t be anything linking us.”

Harry’s completely on his feet now, staring at Louis with not nearly enough space separating them. He’s holding the wrench loosely in his right hand, so it dangles uselessly at his side, barely looking like it’s been touched. Ha. Louis knew Harry doesn’t know how to fix plumbing. No regular people know how to do that.

Eventually, Harry stops staring long enough to say, “What are you talking about?”

The tone of his voice is making Louis start to doubt himself. He frowns harder, hugs his arms against his chest harder, and says, “The bond will break when there’s nothing tying us together anymore. I’m sure of it.”

He’s not sure of it, not anymore. Not with the look on Harry’s face, going shut off and cold. He’s never seen that look on Harry’s face before.

“You – ” Harry says the word like it’s the beginning of a complete thought before he shakes his head sharply and tears his gaze away. “No, nope, not doing this with you.”

He brushes past Louis on his way out the door, so close that Louis has to squeeze himself against the wall to let him through. Immediately, he’s angry with himself for having done it. This is his house, his space. Harry doesn’t get to take all of it up and use it as he pleases.

Anger simmering in his belly, much more real than it was before, Louis follows Harry back out to the living room where Harry has started gathering his stuff.

“What?” he demands, blocking the doorway so Harry can’t get past him again. “Why don’t you just say what you want to say, Harry, huh?”

Harry turns around, standing at his full height as though he thinks that is going to intimidate Louis. As if he could ever intimidate Louis. Between the two of them, Louis is the intimidating one. He’s got one hell of a resting bitch face.

“If you seriously think that the blood was the only thing linking us together, I’m not sure there is anything to say,” Harry says. His voice is heavy, and a part of Louis aches in sympathy. It’s a hard feeling to brush off.

In the face of overwhelming emotion, Louis has always had a bad habit of doubling down. That’s what he does now, jabbing at Harry’s arm. “So you’re just going to walk away, then? What happened to being honest with me?”

For a second, it seems like Harry’s going to ignore him and push past. Louis’ feelings, all of them in their tangled, complex web, simmer in his belly, trying to consume him. He doesn’t know how much longer he can push them down for, how much longer he can ignore them.

When Harry speaks, he says the last thing Louis would have ever expected him to.

“You’re selfish.” Harry’s voice is low and gritty, more sad than it is angry. Louis’ stomach sinks all the way down to his toes. “You’re so goddamn selfish, and it’s only ever with me. With everyone else you’re constantly sacrificing yourself for no reason, and I can’t – ”

As abruptly as he’d started speaking, Harry falls silent again, breathing raggedly. He stares at Louis from a few feet away, the set of his shoulders betraying the tension he’s feeling. Louis doesn’t say anything, barely breathing. All the rage he’d worked himself up into feeling has faded, turning into something much heavier. Something much guiltier. It’s a feeling he hates, one he isn’t very familiar with.

“I don’t think it’s the blood,” Harry continues eventually. He pushes a heavy hand against his forehead, sweeping his hair back. It’s a gesture so familiar Louis’ entire body aches with it, and he doesn’t know what to do with that. He doesn’t know what to do with a lot of things. “I think there’s more to our soulbond than that, more to us than that, and if I’m wrong it’s something I’ll live with. I don’t know how to do this with you anymore, though, not without lying, so I’m going to go.”

Louis’ feet feel frozen to the floor. He can’t move as Harry does exactly what he said he was going to do, edging past Louis and out the door. Every single word he knows gets stuck in his throat, refusing to come out. By the time he remembers how to speak, Harry is long gone.

 

The Old Familiar Sting

 

When Louis wakes up, it’s to pain. That’s not exactly something unexpected, given his situation, but there’s something about this pain that feels different. He had it when he went to sleep last night, albeit not to this degree. At the time, he had ignored it, figuring that it was directly connected to his healing wound. Nurse Carla had given him some painkillers, which Louis had washed down with water, and then he’d gone to sleep. It had been easy enough to ignore, especially once the painkillers had kicked in.

Now, in the early hours of the morning – exactly how early, Louis can’t be sure, seeing as there’s no clock in this room – the pain kicks in again, much worse this time. It wakes him up, disoriented and grouchy, and he asks Carla if he can have more pills when she comes by. She obliges, and Louis lies back down in the too-hard bed and waits for them to kick in.

And waits. Ten minutes go by, then twenty. Thirty. Once the forty-minute mark hits and the pain hasn’t ebbed – has gotten worse, in fact – Louis groans into his pillow and tries to regulate his breathing. The pain is centered in his chest, strongest where his wound is but radiating out through the rest of him. It’s beginning to bring tears to his eyes, making his back damp with sweat. It’s something he never realized before, how pain makes him sweaty.

The thought is only enough to distract him for a minute before the pain takes over again, searing, demanding his full attention. It’s all he can think about, overwhelming to the point of genuine distress. His hand hovers over the wound, tempted to press against it and see if that will offer some relief. Logically, he knows that it won’t, that it’ll make it worse, if anything. But he still wants to do it.

Carla comes back in before he can try it. “Alright, honey?” she asks, clearly noticing Louis’ state. There’s a slight amount of concern in her voice, nothing that says she realizes how bad this truly is.

“Pain,” Louis gasps out. It’s not nearly as descriptive as it needs to be, barely gets the point across, but it’s all he can get out. His heart feels like it’s constricting in his chest, the muscles squeezing around nothing.

He blacks out for a bit. Turns out that blacking out isn’t quite the same as losing consciousness, and now that Louis has experienced them both he’d say that they’re equally as terrible. Vaguely, he’s aware of noise and movement in the room around him, that Carla is probably injecting him with something after a hushed conversation with a doctor. Time must pass, because that’s what it does, but he doesn’t start to feel any better. Exhaustion seeps into his bones, probably from whatever they’ve given him, but the pain doesn’t go away. It doesn’t even fade.

That’s where Louis exists, in a nightmare fueled place of hurt and anguish, sweating and crying, for an amount of time he’ll never really be able to figure out. Then, as abruptly as he’d been woken up by the pain, it’s gone. Completely gone, not even a twinge of it left throughout his whole body.

For a minute, he thinks that the drugs have finally kicked in. Silence is ringing in his ears, almost overwhelming compared to the roar of his own blood pounding he’d been hearing only seconds ago. It takes him a while to lift his head from where he’d buried it in the pillow, finally able to breathe in air again without it becoming trapped in his lungs. His head is almost spinning from how much better he feels, all the pressure he’d felt suddenly gone.

Then he realizes that there’s a weight on the tiny bed with him, something holding down his ankle. No, something pressing against his ankle. Louis opens his eyes, looking at it. A hand. A hand with a cross tattooed on it. Louis knows about that hand. He’s fantasized about that hand.

As soon as he realizes Louis’ looking at him, Harry says, “Hey.”

That’s it, just hey. Louis closes his eyes again and pretends like he’s unconscious. In his chest, his heart won’t stop pounding.

 

The doctor has been talking for a while now, explaining things. Louis has been listening to every word, and he knows Harry has too. Harry’s body language is tense, giving away way more than his face would if Louis could see it. It’s one thing Louis can’t actually blame him for. If he didn’t think it would tear his stitches, he would probably be throwing a fit instead of sitting in this bed like a calm, rational person. Louis is none of those things, after all.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he says after the doctor has finished, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against the hospital bed. The movement doesn’t cause him nearly as much pain now as it did two weeks ago. If anything, he’d go as far as to say that he feels alright today.

He refuses to accept that has anything to do with Harry. The way his body heals has nothing to do with Harry. If pushed, Louis might acknowledge the effect his healing salve is having on the wound, but that’s as far as he’ll go.

The doctor sighs, clearly starting to get irritated by Louis’ refusal to accept the facts he’s lying out. If they even are facts. Louis isn’t so sure.

“Like I said, there isn’t too much information about soul bonds available. Not a lot of research has been done on the topic because of the limited number of bonds that we know about.”

His tone is much more patient than that dramatic sigh was. Louis doesn’t worry about it. He can break a doctor. It probably won’t even take much additional effort given the mood he’s in.

Harry hasn’t said anything for the last five minutes. Sitting on a chair with his elbows resting on his knees, head buried in his hands, the only reason Louis knows he’s even still alive is the ragged way his shoulders are rising and falling, too quick to be his regular breathing pattern. Not that Louis is hyper-aware of what Harry’s regular breathing pattern is. He’s definitely not.

“We barely even know each other,” Louis points out, focusing back in on the doctor. He knows his name, but he refuses to use it. The doctor will earn that privilege when he starts giving them some real answers.

Harry makes a low noise, so quiet Louis has to strain to hear it. He narrows his eyes, glaring in Harry’s direction. If Harry can feel it, he doesn’t look up.

God. Why do these things have to happen to Louis? A soul – christ, he can’t even finish thinking the word in his own head. This can’t actually be happening. Wasn’t getting shot enough? He’s not seriously going to be bound to Harry for however long it takes for this bond to dissipate. If it can even do that. So far all the doctor has been able to do is give them a rather helpless shrug in response to most of their questions.

Most of Louis’ questions, anyway. Harry’s been strangely quiet this entire time. Louis doesn’t have the brain capacity to think about why.

“The bond may have formed due to your shared trauma or the blood Mr. Styles gave you while waiting for medical assistance. There’s really no way to tell.”

It’s exactly as unhelpful as everything else the doctor has said so far. It might actually be the second or third time he’s said that exact statement. Louis’ brain is too busy swimming through the fogginess to remember.

The pain in his side is growing sharper with each passing second. It’s all Louis can focus on for a minute, squeezing his eyes closed. His hand hovers over the wound, wanting to touch it to ease the ache but knowing that will only make it worse. He can’t remember when he had his last dose of painkillers. Is it time for another round? The nurses will know, but Louis can’t pry his lips apart long enough to ask.

As abruptly as it started, the pain washes away. The sudden ebb of it means that it takes Louis another minute to realize that Harry’s hand is on his elbow, gripping it firmly.

There are tears in Louis’ eyes when he opens them again. Harry’s all he can see, his face swimming in front of him. They’re close together now. Harry must have gotten up from his chair, bending down at Louis’ side. His eyes are clear, green and deep, but there’s a faint grimace on his face. Louis doesn’t think it’s from having to touch him.

They breathe in tandem for a while, both of them louder than normal. It doesn’t feel normal. Nothing about this feels normal. Somehow, it still doesn’t feel as odd as Louis thinks it probably should.

Neither of them say anything, just looking at each other and breathing. Before Louis knows it, the pain is completely gone again.

Apparently soulbonds are actually real.

 

“So what do you know about these kinds of bonds, then?” Louis asks. He has to concentrate very hard on keeping his tone light and pleasant. More than anything, he wants to snap the words out. Harry’s still sitting in the chair at his bedside, close enough that he could reach out and touch Louis if he wanted to.

They’re not touching. Not anymore, at least. As soon as Louis’ breathing had returned to normal, Harry had removed his hand and sat back down in the chair. It seems as though both of them are pretending that it never happened in the first place.

“Not much,” the doctor admits. If he’s uncomfortable with the display of – ugh, Louis doesn’t want to be using this word, but he doesn’t know how else to describe it – affection a couple minutes ago, he’s good at hiding it. “Like I said, there’s limited information available. A lot of documented observation about soulbonded couples is unique to the two. There’s – ”

“We’re not a couple,” Louis cuts the doctor off. This time, he can’t keep the snappiness out of his tone. It’s not bitchiness. This is a tone he reserves for when he’s being truly wronged.

The doctor grimaces. It’s hard to tell whether that grimace is an apology or irritation. Louis doesn’t care for it either way.

“Right, of course. Regardless, your bodies have decided that physical closeness between the two of you is a necessity. How long you can go without having that, or to what extent you’ll need it is something I can’t say. A lot of what we know says all of that depends on factors like stress and emotional state, so it could vary on a day-to-day basis. Without physical contact, you’ll experience pain and fatigue, likely mood swings and other side effects. There’s been no documented cases of death due to this type of bond, but that may only be due to the individuals affected ensuring that they get enough contact to prevent any lasting effects. Really, there’s a lot more that we don’t know than what we do.”

Well, isn’t that spectacularly unhelpful. Louis bites down on his tongue so he won’t let the retort out. With those words held back, he has nothing else to say. He can feel the beat of his heart in his chest, not rapid but still faster than usual. Aggravation and irritation are running through his veins in equal measure, the kind of emotions that tend to cling.

Harry speaks up before Louis has to flounder for something to say, thanking the doctor and assuring him that they’ll let him know if they have any more questions. Louis doesn’t catch a glimpse of the doctor’s face, too busy staring idly at a loose thread on the blanket, but he’s pretty sure it must be one of vague horror. He probably doesn’t want to be dealing with Louis any more than Louis wants to be dealing with him.

The doctor makes a hasty exit after that, leaving them alone in the room. Well, alone aside from Greg, who sounds like he’s asleep. Louis pulls at the thread with two fingers, tugging more of it free from the blanket.

“So,” Harry starts.

Louis abandons the thread and focuses his attention on Harry. “This is your fault,” he says. There’s a sudden, sinking realization in his chest that it is Harry’s fault. All of this can be traced back to Harry’s lies. There’s a direct correlation here.

Harry barely even blinks. “Okay. We need to figure out – ”

Louis doesn’t want to hear what Harry thinks they need to figure out. “Fuck you,” he says mildly, waving a dismissive hand towards the door. It’s hard to tell whether Harry follows the obvious hint, given that he’s still sitting on Louis’ goddamn bedside chair. That chair is Louis’. There’s no other reason for it to be there. “You did this to me. You think I want to have you constantly touching me, all over me with your – your fucking giant hands and shit? Fuck you. You need to go.”

With a sharp, irritated sigh that pleases Louis down to his very core, Harry snaps, “We have to figure out how we’re going to manage this.”

“You think I want to talk to you?” Louis continues his rant. If he didn’t feel so weak, he’d be on his feet, jabbing a finger into Harry’s chest to get every word across. The thought fuels him forward, words sliding out of his mouth before he has a chance to think about what he wants to say. “What, so you can lie to me some more? The only reason we’re even connected at all right now is shitty luck and that’s it. I’ll call you when I need you, and other than that I don’t see a reason for us to be in the same room for very long.”

If Louis had a second to think about it, he’d stand by the mini-speech. Every word of it sounds true. Harry still doesn’t flinch, though, and aside from a brief eye roll, he barely reacts. “Well, that’s too bad, isn’t it?” Harry says, but he doesn’t give Louis a chance to answer. “We’re stuck together now, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to get along.”

Ha. Get along. They’d get along just fine if Harry hadn’t lied to him, and Louis isn’t going to ignore that for the sake of Harry’s feelings. Fuck that.

“Who says I want to get along with you?”

Harry huffs a long, drawn-out sigh. “Louis.”

“Harry,” Louis mimics, taking care to exaggerate his tone. He can’t be quite sure of what the end result is, but he thinks it comes out sounding exasperated and tired. It’s close enough.

For a second, Harry regards him with the kind of patience Louis has only ever experienced from his mother. It sends a warm, heady rush through him that’s almost impossible to push down. Immediately following that feeling comes a rush of panic that’s equally as hard to push down. He doesn’t like that his body doesn’t seem to have registered that Harry’s a threat to his sanity. That Harry has wronged him in a way that’s impossible to come back from. It’s very disconcerting.

“You’re not going to scare me away, you know?” Harry says conversationally. “You can be as mean as you want, and I’m always going to come back. Whether you like it or not.”

He stands up, hovering over the bed for a second, and Louis is hit with the abrupt desire to have him sit down on the bed instead. So they’d be close enough to touch. So they would be touching.

That must be the bond. Gotta be.

Louis finds his tongue again and says, snide, “You’re leaving now, though, aren’t you.”

“Yes,” Harry says easily, picking up his jacket from the chair. “Because you asked me to. But I’ll be back tomorrow to help you put the salve on.”

That’s all he says in terms of a goodbye, striding out the door with his shoulders set. He looks strong from this angle, confident. Louis watches him go, only half admiring the way he looks as he does it.

 

Do You Kiss On The First Date

 

Louis is a nosy person by nature. It has nothing to do with his veela genes and everything to do with who he is as a person. After twenty-seven years, he’s had plenty of time to accept that part of himself. It’s not his best quality, he knows, but it’s also not his worst. And most of the time he’s able to repress the urge to snoop through other people’s stuff, so that’s something.

Most of the time. This isn’t most of the time. He should have known there was a reason Harry was so reluctant to bring him to his house. There’s always a reason.

On its own, this little piece of paper wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Louis has a terrible, sinking feeling in his stomach, though, and he learned a long time ago to trust his gut. Why hadn’t it spoken up when Harry had first run into him at that club? That would have been the most opportune time for it to tell him something. Save him from this.

Private investigator. It’s a license. Who knew you had to be licensed to be a private investigator? Louis certainly didn’t.

It’d be easy to dismiss if Harry hadn’t been so specific about what he does for a living. Or what he claimed to do for a living, anyway. Gardener. Louis had believed him, listened to the way Harry had sounded when he’d been talking about it. He’d fallen for it even more when he’d stepped foot into this place, covered in green plants and blooming flowers. It looks like the home of a gardener. It had been an easy lie to believe.

Cover story. That’s what it was, wasn’t it. A cover story. Louis would be hurt if it wasn’t for the anger welling up inside him. Anger is an easier emotion to control. Hurt is just too – weak. And the last thing he needs to be right now is weak.

 

It doesn’t take much longer to find the evidence. The second Louis had seen the license, he’d had a sinking feeling in his gut. The same one that should have been there on the day they first met but somehow wasn’t. Getting past the lock on the desk drawer barely takes any effort. A few seconds of light jiggling with a safety pin he’d found in a cup and Louis is in. The file is sitting right there for him to find, laid under four or five other folders in the same colour, all labelled in blocky capital letters. Tomlinson.

Louis doesn’t open it to see what’s inside. He doesn’t need to. It doesn’t matter what’s on the inside – all that matters is that Harry has it, here in his home that he reluctantly invited Louis into.

It turns out he doesn’t have time to look inside of the folder, anyway.

“What are you doing in here?”

Slowly, Louis looks up. He stays where he is, sitting in Harry’s desk chair, the file tossed on top of the other ones. Tomlinson. Harry was investigating him. There’s no mistaking this for something else. There’s nothing Harry could say that would convince him otherwise.

“Were you thinking about this moment every time you kissed me?” Louis asks, folding his hands together on his lap. His fingers aren’t trembling. Despite the anger surging through his body, he feels calm. It’s a betrayal, but at least he hadn’t invested more than a week in Harry. He can still come back from this.

“Louis,” Harry says. There’s something a little helpless in his tone. “I can explain.”

Abruptly, Louis stands up, slamming the drawer closed with his knee. It hurts a little, but Louis barely notices. “Don’t bother. It doesn’t matter.”

He stalks past Harry on his way out the door, slamming their shoulders together along the way. He barely feels that either, too fueled by adrenaline and ire. There’s enough rage in his body to carry him all the way home.

He doesn’t get that far. He only gets a few feet out of the office before Harry’s catching up with him, grabbing at Louis’ arm and pulling him to a stop. “Louis, wait.”

For a brief second, Louis thinks about yanking his arm free and continuing on his way out of Harry’s house. He’d be justified. It’s not the justification that stops him. What does is the sudden realization that Harry must have self-defense training. Training on how to subdue someone. Private investigators must have those kinds of skills in their line of work. Trying to pull away isn’t going to get Louis anywhere if Harry really means to keep him there.

He doesn’t say anything, waiting for Harry to speak. Harry doesn’t say anything right away, either. Louis can feel the way his eyes are fixed on the side of Louis’ head, watching him. He thinks about all the times Harry’s kissed him over the past week, the multitude of ways Harry’s kissed him. Ranging from soft and sweet to deep and intimate. Those weren’t kisses that were given out of a need to extract information out of him.

Except they were. Louis’ rage is simmering underneath the surface, just waiting to explode.

“I never meant to hurt you,” Harry says quietly.

Louis’ chest explodes into something raw and ugly. He makes sure to turn enough to look at Harry, arching an eyebrow. “I wasted a week on you,” he tells Harry mildly. “It’s not as though I had any real feelings for you. Give me two days and a night out and I’ll be over it in no time. And under someone else.”

With that, he twists his arm out of Harry’s grasp. It must be the shock of Louis’ words – not nearly as vicious as he could be – that has Harry’s fingers slipping off without even a token attempt to hold him there any longer. Louis exits Harry’s house with his head held high. He doesn’t cry until he’s in the safety of his own bedroom, all the lights shut off and curled up next to his bed on the floor.

It feels like a fitting end to the most disastrous and short-lived relationship Louis has ever had. Really, how else could it have ended?

 

A Place Of Our Own

 

The first pangs of the ache only hit twenty-five minutes ago. It’s still bearable pain. Ignorable pain, even. The severity hasn’t increased any within the timeframe, so Louis could probably go at least a day without having to give in to what his body is telling him.

Instead, he’s standing on Harry’s doorstep, having given in to the very first pang that hit him. He gave in so quickly that he hadn’t actually been sure it was the ache at all. It could have been a random twinge, for fuck’s sake, and yet he’d still gotten in his car and drove directly to Harry’s house. Do not stop. Do not pass go.

He saw Harry yesterday, is the thing. Last night. Late into the night, even. Either the bond is getting worse or Louis is becoming a crybaby about the pain. He doesn’t know which option is more terrible. Maybe they’re equally as bad.

Today has been a bad day, though. That’s what makes it okay for Louis to be here. He’s had a shitty day, and he needs some comfort. Getting it from Harry is not only the easiest way to do that, but the quickest. Really, it’s about petrol money. He doesn’t want to waste more than he has to. Efficiency is Louis’ middle name.

Harry opens the door after the fifth knock. He’s in a pair of shorts and an old white t-shirt, threadbare around the collar and the hem, looking like he just woke up. It’s five in the evening, so Louis refuses to feel bad, pushing past him into the house and informing him, “Efficiency is my middle name.”

He can feel Harry blinking confusedly at his back and smiles smugly to himself, heading towards the kitchen. If they have to have this stupid bond thing, at least Louis can occasionally have some fun with it.

“What?” Harry asks belatedly, following him. The sound of his bare feet hitting the linoleum is oddly soothing. Louis doesn’t know why he’s enjoying it so much.

“Nothing,” Louis says, pulling open the fridge. “Do you have any snacks?”

Of course Harry has snacks. He keeps his fridge much better stocked than Louis does. Humming to himself, Louis pulls out a brick of cheese and sets it on the counter before going to find himself a knife.

He’s interrupted in the middle of executing his plan by Harry’s arms wrapping around his chest and pulling him to a halt. It’s a loose grip, one Louis could easily pull out of, but doing that seems more counterproductive than ever today. It’s what he came here for, after all, the warm press of Harry’s body against his. It’s what he needs, so Louis abandons his cheese plan and turns around, looping his own arms around the back of Harry’s neck and stretching up onto his toes to hug him properly.

Maybe it’s because Harry has just woken up, but he doesn’t comment on Louis’ unusual behaviour, hugging him back tight. He squeezes so hard that he lifts Louis off the floor entirely, constricting his breathing for just a second before loosening his hold again, as though he’d realized what he was doing and consciously put a stop to it.

Huh. That’s something Louis’ brain wants to concentrate on. He doesn’t let it, resting his cheek against his arm, his own bare skin pressing together where his shirt sleeve has ridden up. Harry’s uncharacteristically quiet. No matter what anyone else thinks, Louis knows exactly how much Harry is capable of talking, and this is a lot less than usual. He’s not even making quiet observations about Louis breaking less than twenty-four hours after the last time they saw each other.

Double huh.

“Did I wake you?” Louis asks eventually. He’s content to hold onto the hug for as long as he can, until Harry’s ready to let him go. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he’s not the only one who needs this, especially when Harry’s out martyring himself because he thinks that’s what Louis wants.

“Yeah,” Harry says. His voice is low and rusty, thick with exhaustion. He sounds like he hasn’t slept at all.

Louis doesn’t say any of things he would normally say to someone under these circumstances. Sorry for waking you. I can leave. You can go back to sleep and I can come back later. He’s here, and until he gets his fill there’s no point in leaving.

He also doesn’t offer to go back to Harry’s bed with him. No matter what happens, he’s never going to offer to do that. It’s hard enough getting his body to believe that he doesn’t want to have sex with Harry no matter the circumstances without sleeping in his bed. This is a line Louis absolutely refuses to cross.

There is something he can do, though, and he knows he’s going to do it even as he strokes a hand across Harry’s back. “Let’s go sit on the couch for a bit.”

It feels like a line. It’d be so easy to make it a line, and knowing that reminds Louis of every single time they’ve ever kissed. Both before and after the bank. He can practically feel Harry’s mouth against his, it’s so familiar. He’s the only person Louis has kissed in the past six months.

Louis brushes the thoughts away and leads Harry to the couch by the hand. Harry doesn’t resist, either because he doesn’t feel the need to or because he’s too tired. It doesn’t matter. He follows, and that’s what counts.

As soon as Louis is sat on the couch, in his usual seat on the leftmost cushion, Harry’s falling down onto it with him. His head ends up in Louis’ lap, legs sprawled across the armrest. Almost instantly, his eyes fall closed again, body going heavy and lax. Louis feels none of his usual urge to poke at him, holding Harry’s head in place gingerly as he stretches to reach the remote on the coffee table. He doesn’t turn the telly on too loudly, barely even aware of what channel he lands on. Nothing about this feels weird or off, and he finds himself sinking down into the couch cushions, his entire body relaxing. The only thing that could make this better would be a cup of tea, but he’s honestly not that bothered by the lack. This is exactly what his body needs, and it doesn’t matter that he had it only yesterday.

He’ll stay in this position for as long as it takes for Harry to wake up.

 

 

The Needle Tears A Hole

 

Louis’ phone is ringing. His hands are smeared with grease and wet enough that he has to smash his elbow against the screen to answer it. “Hello?”

“Louis, honey,” a voice begins delicately. It’s Harry’s mum’s voice. Louis can’t spare a second to be upset that he knows her voice well enough to recognize it from two words, elbow slipping off the edge of the counter with a sharp bang.

He listens to her speak numbly. Less than five minutes later, he’s out of the house having barely managed to get his shoes onto the right feet.

 

He makes the drive to the hospital on autopilot. Anne’s words are ringing through his head, echoes of altercation with a client and head wound circling around his brain until he feels like he’s going to scream. It’s the same client Harry has been speaking about so warily recently, Louis is sure. He can feel his heartbeat in his chest, pounding with adrenaline. The ten minute drive feels like it takes a lifetime, even as he makes turns and switches lanes without his brain’s conscious input.

Anne had said that Harry was a little banged up but fine, and that he’s been conscious and talking before she’d left the room to call Louis. That makes Louis feel a little better, breathe a little easier, but he won’t feel right until he sees Harry for himself. He has to wonder why the bond didn’t give him any indication of what was happening. It wouldn’t have changed anything, but at least Louis would have known.

It’s that thought that really solidifies things for him. The conclusions Louis has been coming to for the better part of a month, and definitely in the last week, are crystal clear and waiting to be acted upon.

Louis swallows hard and drives a little faster.

 

It’s strange, looking at Harry in a hospital bed. He doesn’t look any smaller than he usually does, broad shoulders taking up a lot of space and his legs stretched out. He’s asleep, not unconscious, the doctor had told Louis when she’d seen his panic-stricken face. A mild concussion and some light bruising on his ribs, split skin along his knuckles. The injuries don’t mirror the ones Louis had when he had been admitted into this very same hospital six months ago, but they’re close enough to send chills racing up and down Louis’ spine.

The circumstances are nowhere near the same, either. Harry hadn’t lost consciousness, and there hadn’t been a gun. Those facts are doing little to ease the tremulous churning of Louis’ stomach.

He’s been here too often. Admitted for two and a half weeks after getting shot, and then intermittent visits until the wound finally finished healing. It took nearly three months before he stopped having to attend weekly appointments. The last place Louis wants to be right now is in this hospital. Maybe if it was any other hospital, he’d be handling it better.

“I can’t believe you,” Louis tells Harry’s sleeping form. Harry doesn’t have the decency to stir. “Every time I try to be done with you, you find a way to pull me back in.”

Despite the way the words sound, Louis doesn’t really mean it. It’s been a week since Harry told him, and Louis has had a lot of time to think since then. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who doesn’t actually know any more than he does. Everything Harry said was guesswork and theories. Nothing’s actually concrete. And if Louis is being honest with himself, it’s a theory that he’s tried to avoid considering over the course of the last six months. Harry coming right out and saying it was less of a shock than Louis had been pretending it was.

It probably doesn’t help that they’d had a mid-week encounter to get them through. Louis had insisted on complete and utter silence beforehand, a rule he’d broken not even five minutes in. They hadn’t talked about anything important, though, and he hadn’t forgiven Harry in that time.

Coming to the realization that Harry hadn’t done anything he needed to be forgiven for sucked, but Louis is here now, faced with it. The fact that Harry is asleep only makes it a tiny bit better.

“You’re lucky your face looks like that,” Louis mutters under his breath, mostly to have something to say. Harry isn’t hooked up to any machines aside from a heartbeat monitor, so Louis climbs into the bed with him carefully, laying his head against the center of his chest and listening to the steady thump underneath his ear.

Slowly, he allows his own eyes to close. It’s easier to drift off in a hospital room when you’re not the one who’s been admitted.

 

Harry wakes up before him. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be that surprising. Louis is a late riser, and he’s not ashamed of that fact.

That minor concussion Harry’s got is what makes it surprising. Louis blinks his eyes open to the harsh light of the hospital room. It’s not like he’s forgotten where he was or anything, but that light still sends a shudder down his spine.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Louis asks without lifting his head, his voice rusty.

“Probably,” Harry admits slowly. His hand is warm and heavy, resting on Louis’ back.

For a tiny hospital bed, this is surprisingly comfortable. It’s not something they’ve ever done before. All the times they’ve slept in the same bed, it was Louis’. Not one in a hospital, despite all the time Louis spent in one.

Louis resigns himself to lifting his head up, careful not to prop his elbow on Harry’s chest like he normally would. He does have a modicum of manners, after all. “How do you feel?”

“Tired,” Harry says. “A little sore. Unexpectedly pleased to wake up to you.”

Ignoring the tiny little flutter in his belly is easy after all this time. It’s so easy that Louis almost misses it, so used to brushing it off every time it happens.

“Yeah, well,” Louis says, shrugging one shoulder, “you have a concussion. That’s only to be expected.”

“The sore part?” Harry asks, raising an eyebrow. “Or the pleased part?”

Apparently they’re talking about things now. Louis isn’t sure he’s ready for that.

“I dunno. Both,” Louis decides. He stretches up to press a quick, barely there kiss against Harry’s mouth before scrambling backwards out of the bed, practically shouting, “Okay, I’m leaving now bye!”

It’s not a particularly impressive exit. An unforgettable one, maybe. But not impressive.

 

 

Instead of going home, he goes to Harry’s house. He doesn’t even have to break in, having stolen Harry’s keys right out of his jacket pocket.

Entering the kitchen feels like restrictive than it usually does. It’s the room Louis has spent the most time in out of all the rooms in Harry’s house. The room he’s most familiar with. Every time he’s walked in here, he’s felt the sharp pangs of anger and anxiety mixing together, becoming impossible to separate. They had always faded after a while, but the fact is that they were present at the beginning. Every time.

Every time except now.

 

The quiet, semi-muffled of the front door opening and then closing again is what startles Louis out of his light doze. He opens his eyes, blinking away the lingering exhaustion, but doesn’t get up quite yet.

Harry’s bedroom looks exactly the same as it did four hours ago, when Louis first laid down in the bed. He’s only been in here a handful of times before, and never long enough to actually fall asleep. The fact that it looks the same isn’t surprising. It isn’t even surprising to wake up in it. Louis still knows exactly where he is.

There’s slow, echoing thumps coming from downstairs. Louis still doesn’t move, tangled in Harry’s duvet, surrounded by all of his things. He waits for Harry to make his way upstairs, curling the fingers on his left hand into his palm for no other reason than he’s nervous. He thinks he knows what Harry feels for him, even with Harry never having spoken the words out loud, but there’s always a chance that he’ll be wrong. He’s been wrong in the past when it comes to Harry.

Eventually, Harry makes his way up the stairs. The bedroom door is still open, letting in light from the hallway when the switch is flicked on. Louis waits, silent. Sees it the second Harry sees him.

Instead of coming all the way in, Harry leans against the doorframe. It looks like a heavy lean, the kind someone only resorts to when they’re truly exhausted. Having had a serious wound in the last twelve months, Louis can relate to that kind of exhaustion. If he was a better person, maybe he’d consider having this conversation another time.

He doesn’t want to wait anymore.

“Louis,” Harry murmurs. His voice is low and tired, laced with a complex layer of emotions. “You’re in my bed.”

Louis is hit with the almost irresistible urge to make a Goldilocks joke. He has to swallow it back. The fact that Harry didn’t comment about it being the first time Louis has been in his bed doesn’t mean anything. Harry’s generally a more polite person than Louis is. That’s all it is.

The fact doesn’t leave Louis’ heart sinking a little at all.

“You wanted something from me from the very beginning,” Louis says, watching Harry’s face for a reaction. “You wanted more from me than just answers to solve your case.”

A slight furrow appears between Harry’s eyebrows as he creases them together. “Yeah.”

He says it like it’s a foregone conclusion, as though Louis shouldn’t even need to ask him. Maybe he doesn’t. But maybe he does, too. Louis doesn’t want there to be any more misunderstandings between them.

“What, Harry,” Louis says. For some reason, his fingers are trembling, so he knots them together in his lap. “What did you want from me?”

“Everything,” Harry says easily, honestly. “I don’t know how you could never see that.”

If this was a film, that might be enough. Enough for Louis to throw himself into Harry’s arms, crying dramatically, and profess his undying love.

This is not a film. This is Louis’ life, and he’s spent the last six months of it with someone who lied to him in the very beginning. He’s over that now, has been for a while, if he’s being honest with himself, but they had a rocky start to their relationship. There’s no denying that. If this is going to work, they need to be open and honest with each other.

Louis thinks he wants it to work.

He sits up in Harry’s bed, letting the covers fall down to his waist. Now that he’s more awake, he can feel the way his jeans are digging into his hips, twisted awkwardly from how he was lying. There’ll be an imprint on his skin later.

“Come sit,” he says.

He’s expecting Harry to follow his instruction easily, sit beside Louis on the bed. The invitation can’t have come as a surprise. Finding Louis in his bed in the first place, maybe, but everything after that would have to be less shocking. They have a goddamn soulbond – maybe it’s time they start accepting it for what it is.

Maybe it’s time Louis starts accepting it. He’s going to try.

Instead of moving, Harry squeezes his eyes closed and rubs his palm across his face. He sounds even more tired when he speaks again, his voice heavy in a way that Louis’ never heard it before. “Louis – ”

Louis is on his feet before the second syllable of his name leaves Harry’s lips, crossing the cool wood floor to loop his arms around Harry’s neck and pull him down into a hug. He’s as careful as he can be, trying to mind Harry’s bruised ribs and sore body, not giving him time to reject the embrace. The ache he’s come to associate with the bond isn’t sitting heavily against Louis’ ribs, but that doesn’t mean Harry’s not feeling it. And even if he’s not, there’s no reason they can’t hug.

“Come to bed,” he whispers against Harry’s shoulders, sliding back down onto the balls of his feet slowly. It’s not the ache of the bond he’s feeling, but it is neediness. Recognizing the difference is harder than Louis thought it would be.

He’s thinking about a lot of things now that he never used to. It’s both scary and exhilarating.

Harry stays silent even as Louis leans backwards. He’d returned the hug after a few seconds, arms still wrapped around Louis’ back, and Louis trusts him not to let him fall. Louis trusts him. That’s really what it comes down to.

“You need to sleep,” Louis continues, tucking his fingers into the empty belt loops of Harry’s jeans and tugging him forward, one step at a time. His heart is beating a little faster than it usually does, but it’s not an adrenaline-fueled race. This isn’t normal for them, but it’s not scary. Louis isn’t scared.

Alright, maybe he’s a little scared. He’s spent so long rejecting Harry rather venomously that it feels a lot different to be on the other side of things.

“I need a lot of things,” Harry mutters to himself, but he’s following where Louis leads, albeit slowly. Louis suspects that has less to do with his injuries than it does his confusion about the situation.

Oh well. Louis can think for the both of them until after Harry’s had a nap. He doesn’t mind.

“It’s okay,” Louis says, pushing Harry down onto the bed. Harry’s muscles are lax and tired underneath his hands, and he doesn’t put up any sort of fight, even though he’s still wearing all of his clothes. “I’ll take care of you.”

The glance Harry flicks at him is a little amused and a lot shocked. He doesn’t say anything, toeing off his shoes and collapsing back against the mattress sideways. The position leaves his feet pressed firmly against the floor, the big toe on his left foot peeking out of a hole in his sock. Louis swallows down some kind of inane comment about it, sitting down at Harry’s side gingerly.

Maybe Louis is more than a little scared. They might be stuck together indefinitely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want the same things.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Louis says softly, putting his hand against Harry’s knee. What he really wants to do is peel Harry’s t-shirt up and see the extent of the damage for himself, check how bad the bruises really are. Not giving into that urge makes his hands twitch uneasily.

More silence. It stretches on between them for so long Louis is starting to think that Harry may have fallen asleep.

Eventually, Harry says, “I only ever lied to you during that first week.”

Louis breathes out once before he lies down slowly, carefully, putting his face against Harry’s arm. The position is uncomfortable and cramped, with barely enough room left on the bed for him to lie down without his arse hanging over the edge. “I know.”

He does know. He’s known that for a long time. They’ve had plenty of misunderstandings, both of them too stubborn for their own goods, but none of it has been down to outright lying. Well. Maybe some things Louis has said have been outright lies, but that’s not what he means. And he’s pretty sure Harry has seen right through those. There has to have been a reason Harry kept coming back, after all, soulbond or no soulbond.

“If you weren’t injured and tired, I’d tell you that I know how shitty I’ve been and how much you sacrificed to try to keep me happy,” Louis says. Harry’s warm even when he’s wounded, radiating body heat that makes Louis want to close his eyes and fall asleep. “I wouldn’t say I’m sorry because you deserved some of it and you liked the rest, but I’d say that I know, and that I appreciate you. In the morning we can talk about all of that and all of the feelings you have for me, but right now you need to rest.”

Harry makes a low, halfway-towards-incredulous noise. “God,” he mutters, more to himself than to Louis.

It’s not an unhappy noise, and that’s all that matters. Carefully, Louis pushes himself up onto an elbow, leaning over Harry’s face. Harry looks up at him, unimpressed.

Louis has a lot of strong feelings about that face, especially when it looks like that. Now that he’s not denying it, they rush over him in a warm wave, never ending and timeless. He likes the way it makes him feel.

“Sleep,” Louis repeats. “We can talk in the morning.”

“What if I don’t want to talk in the morning?” Harry asks, but there’s no heat in his voice and he’s already shuffling his way up the bed, rearranging himself so his head lands on the pillow.

Louis rolls his eyes, reaching down to tug the covers free of Harry’s legs and arrange them neatly over them both. “You always want to talk about things.”

Harry opens his mouth to say something else, argumentative despite his physical state. Louis cuts him off before he can, leaning down to press their mouths together. It’s a soft, chaste kiss, one that doesn’t last more than a few seconds before Louis is pulling away again.

“You’re – ” his heart stutters in his throat, “that for me too. It.”

As love declarations go, it’s far from perfect. Harry seems to get it, though, a softer, longer sigh escaping his throat before he’s curling fingers against the back of Louis’ neck, tugging him down enough that their foreheads are leaning against each other’s.

“You’re part of my soul,” Harry murmurs into the space between them, so quiet Louis has to strain to hear it.

As stupid as it seems, the words go a long way towards quieting the frantic beat of Louis’ heart. It’s easily the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to him, and it should elate him, fill him with a frenzied joy. And it does elate him, it does, but the feeling it sparks is less earth-shifting than it is ground-stilling. It’s as though his heart has shifted into place, like things have finally stopped shaking underneath his feet, and it feels good. It feels so fucking good.

“Do you want me to cry?” Louis asks, blinking once or twice. Not because his eyes are wet, though. “Because this is a good way to make me start crying, and then you’ll have to be the one who takes care of me.”

Finally, Harry laughs, the sound of soft and melodic. He has a good voice, Harry does. It’s no wonder Louis has always been so attracted to him. “Alright, Tommo. Do you still want me to go to sleep?”

“Yeah,” Louis answers, letting go of the iota of strength he’s got left in his arm and lying down properly, still at Harry’s side. “You don’t have to call me that, you know.”

Harry turns onto his side so they’re facing each other, bodies pressed up close despite the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the blanket. In a minute, Louis will fix that. In a minute. “The last time I called you something other than your name you tried to bite my head off. I still can’t figure out whether you were trying to take a piece out of me literally or figuratively.”

Yeah, because the last time he did it Louis was still mad at him. None of that changes the fact that Harry has never once called him Tommo before now. It’s weird. It’s made even weirder by Harry saying part of my soul. Louis likes that a lot more than he likes Tommo coming out of Harry’s mouth.

“Yeah, well, I’m inconsistent. It’s one of the things you love about me.”

As he says the words, his heart stutters. He’d use the term skips a beat, but that feels too wishful. Maybe tomorrow, when they talk about things properly. He wants to believe the deeper truth in them – thinks he probably does, even without the pep talk he’s giving himself – but it has to wait. Just a little while longer. Because if there’s one person in this world who deserves Louis at his best, it’s Harry. And as uncomfortable as that thought can make him at times, he knows it to be true.

He can’t watch Harry’s face, either. You’re part of my soul is pretty much I love you, at least in this context, but he can’t face up to the sliver of a chance he’ll be rejected.

Before Harry can open his big, dumb mouth and say something either reassuring or heartbreaking, Louis adds, “Now go to sleep. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

For a few seconds, it seems like Harry’s going to push it. Louis waits, tense, eyes half closed, before Harry’s breathing returns to its slow and even rate underneath his hand.

“Okay,” Harry agrees. “But you better not run off in the morning.”

I won’t, Louis thinks, and keeps listening to the cadence of Harry’s breathing as he falls asleep. I won’t.

 

Louis doesn’t get much sleep. He spends most of the night lying on his back in Harry’s bed, staring up at the dark ceiling. Harry’s a warm, familiar lump underneath the duvet next to him. He sleeps deeply throughout the night, soundly. He doesn’t even wake up when Louis gets up to get a glass of water, and he usually does. It must be his body trying to right itself after being attacked.

It was probably the nap that did Louis in. His sleep cycle is going to be fucked up for the next few days, he can already feel it.

Oh well. He can deal with it.

He waits for Harry to wake up somewhat patiently. He doesn’t feel as restless as he thought he would, working and re-working what he wants to say in his head. By the time dawn breaks, he’s got a carefully crafted speech committed to memory, highlighting all the most important bits. It’s a good speech, might even be epic. It’s ready. He’s ready.

Time to be a fucking adult, Louis thinks to himself, and looks at the clock glowing red numbers in the corner of the room.

4:43am. Shit.

Harry usually gets up at 6:30am and has a light breakfast before he does some exercise. They’ve slept in the same bed often enough that Louis knows this is his routine. He doesn’t know what today’s going to be like, what with Harry’s concussion and all, but he’d be willing to bet that Harry didn’t remember to turn off his alarm.

For a minute, Louis debates whether he should get up and turn it off or not. On one hand, it would be the nice thing to do. It’s not as though Harry’s going to be able to get any work done until he’s feeling better, so there’s no reason for him to wake up early. On the other hand, 6:30am is a lot closer to now than 7:30am would be. Or 8. Or 9. Who knows what time Harry would wake up, left to his own devices. Besides, isn’t it better for him to keep to a routine?

He’s deep in his own head, thinking about it. So deep that he doesn’t even notice Harry stirring a little.

“You’re a loud thinker,” Harry murmurs. His voice is heavy with sleep, a little hoarse. Louis doesn’t startle, tapping his fingertips against his stomach softly.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I got punched in the face,” Harry says a little wryly. Louis doesn’t understand why he’s using that tone – he literally did get punched in the face. There’s nothing wry about that.

“Do you want breakfast?”

Harry’s hand covers Louis’, pressing it down lightly. Louis hadn’t realized that he’d still been doing it, the tapping. Shit.

“No,” Harry says. “Come here.”

In the dark, it’s impossible to tell what his face is saying. Louis resist the gentle tugging, lying heavily against his own pillow – the one Harry bought for him all those months ago – and tries to scramble his brain back into working order. “Why?”

His tone comes out demanding and suspicious. He feels antsy, overly nervous, and as much as he wants to pretend that he doesn’t know why, he absolutely does. He’s never been honest enough with anyone before to run the risk of being rejected. All of his relationships have been casual and mostly sex based before. What he has with Harry – what he wants with Harry – is very different.

“Because you’re freaking out and I want to kiss you,” Harry says easily. He unwinds Louis’ arms and tugs on one until Louis acquiesces and rolls onto his side, facing him.

Harry could give him time to think this through, a few seconds to wonder if maybe they shouldn’t have the talk first, before they do any of this. He doesn’t. Bends his head down to press their mouths together, hot and sweet, and in some ways it’s like every other kiss they’ve ever had.

In a million others, it’s not. It’s the kind of kiss that would make Louis’ foot pop up if they were standing, achingly tender and sincere. Harry’s palm slides around the back of his head to cradle him closer, the kiss close-mouthed and intimate for a few long seconds before Louis’ breath shudders out from between his ribs and he parts his lips. Harry doesn’t waste any time licking his way inside, and as sleep sour as it is, it still makes Louis squirm.

In the end, Louis doesn’t mean to say it, but the words come out of him anyway, pushing a weak hand against Harry’s chest as he tries to create some space between them, just because he thinks he should. Not because he wants to. “God, I love you.”

Somehow, without Louis noticing, the sun has come up enough to begin shining weakly through the sheer curtains hanging over the windows. It bathes the room in a soft glow, just enough to make out Harry’s face and the expression on it. The smile, dimples and all.

He doesn’t even hesitate to respond, “I love you too.”

Well. So much for the speech Louis laid awake all night crafting in his head. He can’t bring himself to care, can’t bring himself to force down the answering smile on his own face. “Yeah?”

Harry rolls his eyes, but he still looks fond and amused. “Of course, you brat.” As if Louis should have known. As if there was no feasible way Louis didn’t already know.

Louis’ entire chest feels warm and flushed. It feels like he might cry. He’s not actually going to, but the feeling is there.

“That’s good,” Louis says, clearing his throat quietly. “Because I already told my mum all of this, and she’d be very disappointed in you if you decided to leave me.”

“Well, she doesn’t have to worry,” Harry says, hand still warm and cupping the back of Louis’ head. It’s a soft, intimate touch, and Louis doesn’t want it to ever stop. “I’m never going to leave you.”

It’s a stupid thing to promise someone. Relationships break up all the time, even if they don’t go out in a blaze of glory. Thing happen, people drift apart. Harry can’t promise that.

It’s even stupider that Louis believes him. Especially before they’ve actually talked anything through. God. This better not come back to bite him one day, or he swears he’s actually going to start paying people to hex Harry.

Louis sniffles a little, but he’s not crying. His eyes are just a little wet. “I fucking hate you,” he complains.

He can hear Harry’s smile just as much as he can see it as Harry says, “I know,” and kisses him again.

They don’t get out of bed for a long time.

 

By the time Louis finally makes it downstairs, it’s nearly eleven o’clock and his back is kind of aching from lying in bed for so long. Harry’s still upstairs, showering, and it doesn’t matter that they haven’t talked yet. They need to, of course, but that anxious ache Louis has been feeling in his chest is completely gone. Turns out that just knowing how Harry feels about him is enough. They can get through the rest of it. If they’ve made it this far, Louis has no doubts about their ability to make it through the rest.

He hums to himself as he makes coffee, something short and jaunty and entirely out of tune. He’s in a good mood, happiness bubbling up inside of him, threatening to spill out. Nothing could bring him down.

Harry’s not particularly light on his feet as he comes down the stairs, slow and heavy. Louis pops a couple of bagels into the toaster, about as much work as he’s willing to do for the sake of breakfast, and turns around, leaning a hip against the counter. “How’s your ribs?”

“Sore,” Harry says, coming into the kitchen slowly. He’s wearing a soft looking shirt and a pair of trackies, fresh and clean from his shower, and it makes Louis want to touch him. “Still pretty bruised.”

He sits down in the closest chair, easing himself down into it. Louis watches. “Gonna put some of that weird smelling salve stuff on them?”

The sarcasm in his tone doesn’t go unnoticed, but it makes Harry smile as opposed to frown. “Hey, you don’t get to complain when you have no scar to speak of. And I already did. I applied it after I showered.”

Of course he did. Despite Harry’s repeated explanations, Louis still doesn’t understand how the cream worked so well. He literally had a gaping bullet wound in his body. Something like that should leave a scar. Don’t get him wrong, he’s glad that it didn’t, but it should.

He shakes his head a little, trying to stop himself from getting so distracted. It helps that Harry’s wearing a shirt. He wonders if Harry knows that it helps that he’s wearing a shirt.

“I love you,” he says, just as abruptly as he’d said it the first time. Behind him, the toaster dings as the bagels pop up. Louis turns around to fetch them, nearly burning his fingers as he drops them onto a plate. Harry’s bound to have butter somewhere, Louis just has to find it.

He’s prevented from searching it out by Harry’s arms sliding around his waist and the nuzzle of Harry’s mouth against his ear. It elicits a shiver from him, fingers going tight around the edge of the plate before releasing it entirely. It doesn’t clatter against the countertop because he hadn’t been holding it up in the first place, but what a nice image that would have been.

“You do that, you know,” Harry says into Louis’ ear. He’s all warm and broad against Louis’ back, and Louis could stand here all day and enjoy it. There’s something immensely comforting about it. “Tell me things absently and then not give me a chance to react to them.”

Carefully, Louis leans back, trying not to put pressure on Harry’s ribs. He’s suddenly anxious to know how long it’ll take for them to heal. They won’t be able to have sex until they heal. Not that Louis is sex-crazed or anything – clearly he’s not. He hasn’t had sex in over six months, already too attached to Harry to consider trying to have sex with someone else. He hadn’t realized how much the bond had fucked with his perception of his own life until now.

“Do you have butter?” he asks. “Now’s your chance to say something if you want to.”

“About the butter?” Harry asks back. “Or the fact that you love me?”

Louis waits six seconds, pretending to mull it over. “The butter, obviously. The bagels are getting cold.”

He can feel the amusement in Harry’s chest against him, somehow. Is that the bond? Is that what the bond feels like when Louis isn’t resisting it?

“So bitchy,” Harry says, rocking them from side to side slowly. It’s more like swaying. A sweet, gentle sway.

Jesus. Louis is going crazy from all the touching. It really does something for the bond, having it in excess. He feels lighter than he has in years, happier, and he can’t tell how much of that is from finally being back on steady ground and how much is from having what his body wants. As much of it as he wants. It’s a thrilling feeling.

He doesn’t know whether it’ll ever break, or fade, the bond, but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. He thinks he could be happy either way. Thinks that he will be happy either way.

Louis grips at where Harry’s hands are linked on his belly, holding them tightly. “You can’t lie to me,” he says, desperate again out of nowhere. “Never again, alright?”

There’s not even a split second of hesitation as Harry promises, “Never.”

Louis believes him. It’s something he’s struggled with for a long time, his instinctive reaction to believe everything Harry tells him, but he doesn’t anymore. He just – believes him.

“Good,” Louis says, clearing his throat. He turns around, tipping his head up so he can watch Harry’s face as he continues, “I forgive you, you know. For lying to me in the first place. I understand that it was part of your job and that you were just trying to protect people. I don’t have to like that you did it, and I definitely don’t, but I’m past it and I want you to know that.”

Harry’s hands come up to cradle Louis’ face, tipping his own head down to rest their foreheads together. It’s still kind of scary for Louis, recognizing that the feeling he’s had for so long is love, and how overpowering it is, but it’s a good kind of scary. Feels like falling from a skyscraper but knowing he’ll be saved before he hits the ground.

“Thank you,” Harry whispers, and they stay like that for several minutes, swaying together in the silence of Harry’s kitchen.

Louis is loathe to say it feels like home, but.

 

 

And It Goes On And On And On

 

Louis’ skin is itching. He refrains from scratching at it, crossing one leg over the other and then back again, unable to pay attention to anything for longer than five seconds. His gaze keeps darting to the door, waiting for the knob to twist and Harry to walk in. He jumps at every noise he hears, even immediately identifiable ones like dogs barking or birds chirping.

Not that he’s actually heard any birds chirping, but the point still stands. He’s both anxious and eager, half-afraid to hear the news that Harry’s going to come home with. There’s a low feeling in the pit of his stomach that keeps insisting it’s not news he wants to hear.

It’s been two and a half hours since Harry left. By any measure, he should be home within minutes. Of course, Louis has been thinking that for the last half hour, so he’s not sure how realistic his expectations are. All he knows is that he wants Harry here, and either way he wants to know.

Eventually, the knob starts turning. Louis watches it with his heart in his throat, suddenly glued to where he’s sitting on the couch. The second Harry’s inside, before he’s even got the door closed behind him, he says, “Well?”

Harry cocks an eyebrow at him, pushing the door closed and doing up the three locks before he responds. Louis fidgets in his place, tucking his hands underneath his thighs and hoping that the weight will keep them still. Harry’s only taking his time with the locks to drive him crazy, Louis knows, but it’s working. It feels as though his entire body is vibrating with pent-up need.

“All clear,” Harry says, leaning back against the door.

Louis blinks, nails biting into the thin skin of his thighs. “All clear?” he repeats, voice wobbling and unsteady. Harry could have texted that information to him at any time. He had at least twenty minutes to do it since he left the doctor’s office. The outrage of him not doing so fills Louis’ chest, enough that he could shout about it for several minutes without getting winded.

“Yeah,” Harry confirms. He pats his side over his jacket. “The ribs are all healed up. Nothing to worry about.”

Louis’ toes tingle. “And you couldn’t have texted me that information? I could have been ready by now.”

That draws a smile out of Harry as he pushes away from the door to shrug out of his jacket. He hangs it up neatly on the hook he always uses, and then nudges Louis’ shoes until they’re right up against the wall, out of the way. He ambles into the living room properly, taking his sweet time about it, so unhurried Louis could cry.

“And miss that look on your face? Absolutely not. Besides, if I had have told you earlier you’d have already fingered yourself, and I want that to be my job.”

He says it so casually, so matter of fact. Louis knows he’s flushing, can feel the warmth underneath his skin. Great. That was probably Harry’s exact intention. Louis has to struggle to get the situation back under his control.

“How do you know I didn’t already do that anyway?” Louis asks, pushing himself to his feet. He meets Harry halfway, so close that their body heat is mingling, warming Louis up all the way down to his toes. The toes that are still tingling. God, Harry’s attractive.

Harry pauses, tilting his head like he’s considering it. “I suppose I don’t. Doesn’t really matter, though. Either way I’m gonna finger you.”

So goddamn sure of himself. He’s lucky Louis likes that in a man.

“What if I don’t let you?”

Harry rolls his eyes and yanks Louis towards him with one strong hand. Louis makes a noise, stumbling, and only catches himself against Harry’s chest. Which, he realizes, is probably exactly what Harry intended to happen. So. There’s that.

Louis calls upon every ounce of his veela genes and lets the charisma seep out of him. He looks up at Harry from underneath his eyelashes, curling himself in against Harry’s chest nice and tight. Makes himself go soft and wanton, the exact type of thing he knows Harry likes. Considering that it’s Louis’ default state when there’s anything he wants to accomplish – distracting someone, getting laid, avoiding an argument – he likes that Harry likes it. Makes things a lot easier for him.

It doesn’t fail him now, either. Harry draws in a sharp breath, making a low noise in the back of his throat. He looks like he can’t decide whether to give Louis’ arse a smack or kiss him, and it’s a look Louis might like on him even more than he likes all of Harry’s other looks.

“I guess that depends,” Harry says softly. Louis represses a shiver at the tone of his voice, deep and commanding. “Are you going to let me, sweetheart?”

Stumbling backwards takes every ounce of self-restraint Louis has. He doesn’t have much of it in the first place, and it’s all used up now. He probably won’t be able to stop himself from granting every single one of Harry’s ridiculous requests that are sure to come in the next few minutes. “I haven’t even showered yet.”

“Well, that’s easily fixed.”

Before Louis can predict Harry’s next move, Harry’s already making it, taking the two steps necessary to throw Louis over his shoulder. It happens so fast Louis barely has time to blink before he’s hanging upside down, arms dangling towards the floor. The breath gets knocked out of him in the process, incapacitating him for as long as it takes to get it back.

“Oh my god,” Louis complains, high-pitched and slightly shrieky, banging a fist at Harry’s back. “Just because I said I love you or something doesn’t mean that you get to manhandle me whenever you feel like it!”

Harry pats his arse with one hand, only holding him in place with the other. Strangely, it doesn’t make Louis feel off-balance or as though he’s about to fall. He still feels safe in Harry’s hold. “Or something?” Harry checks, making his way up the stairs. He’s not being nearly as careful as Louis thinks he should be, and even that doesn’t worry him. “The way I remember it, you explicitly said as much to me. Or do you wanna take it back?”

Louis goes quiet, considering his response. In that time, Harry makes it to the loo, turning on the shower taps before setting Louis down on the floor. Instead of backing up to give him space to undress, Harry crowds him against the wall, hands planted on either side of Louis’ head, caging him in. Butterflies flit back and forth across Louis’ stomach.

“Maybe I do,” he says, tipping his chin up to meet Harry’s gaze directly. If there’s one thing that’s always going to be consistent about Louis, it’s the way he always goes on the offensive when there’s no need for it. Sweet and sappy has never been his style.

Abruptly, Harry steps back, making a sweeping gesture towards the door. “By all means, feel free to go.”

If it wasn’t for the tiny smirk playing at the corner of his mouth, Louis might actually believe that he means that. And in the face of overconfidence, there’s really only one thing he can do.

Strip.

Meeting Harry’s eye, Louis hooks two fingers into the waist of his trackies and pushes them down to his ankles. He steps out of them slowly, kicking them into a corner. He can hear Harry’s ragged breathing, revels in it. It’s technically not the first time Harry’s seen him naked, but none of those other times count. Not really.

Humming to himself, he turns his back on Harry, clad only in the t-shirt he’d stolen from Harry’s dresser earlier, and puts his hand under the water to check the temperature. It’s warm but not quite hot enough so he reaches to adjust it. As he does, Harry’s hand touches his back, light and fleeting. It’s a touch meant to draw Louis’ attention, and damned if it doesn’t. There’s something so warm and intentional about it, and it’s making Louis hard. He had never realized how easy he is for the right touch.

“You need help taking this off?” Harry asks. Louis shoots him a look over his shoulder, intentionally sultry, and shrugs until most of one collarbone is bare. There’s advantages to wearing Harry’s clothes, after all, and Louis would be remiss if he didn’t exploit them.

“You just want to see me naked,” he accuses, drawing his hand out of the water. It comes away dripping wet, and he doesn’t waste any time turning around so he can press it against the center of Harry’s chest, leaving a handprint on the cotton of Harry’s shirt.

Harry’s smirk turns into more of a smile, unrepentant. “Of course I do,” he agrees. “You know what you are, pretty and bitchy, and I want to see more of you every chance I get.”

Louis toys with the hem of his shirt, making like he’s going to pull it up. He doesn’t, of course, just draws Harry’s eyes to where he’s still not quite exposed. “Do you know what you are?” There’s no need to wait for a response. “So easy it’s laughable.”

With that, he finally pulls the shirt off, spinning around and stepping into the shower as quickly as possible. The curtain swings behind him, mostly closed, and there’s a few seconds to enjoy his victory before Harry’s cursing and stepping in with him, somehow completely naked already. World record holder for taking off his clothes, apparently.

Louis is expecting it when Harry pushes him up against the wall again, water streaming down over both of them. It’s warm in here, the air all around them steaming, and Louis’ toes curl against the tile before Harry even does anything. He’s eager for the first press of Harry’s body against his, and everything he wanted during that first week – the last four weeks – comes flooding back. He barely has the room to arch up and wrap his arms around Harry’s neck, but he manages, and their slick skin slides together in a way that’s undeniable and amazing.

“Easy doesn’t even come close to covering it when it comes to you,” Harry says roughly, and kisses Louis’ answer right out of his mouth.

In here, in the cavern of his own shower, his own home, it’s clear that Harry intends to be in charge. Louis is okay with that. God, he’s more than okay with that, rising onto his toes as Harry slides a thigh between his own, giving him something to rub up against. Explosions of pleasure crackle along his spine, breath coming out his lungs in great gasping mouthfuls that are already beginning to sound like pleas. He can feel the demanding press of Harry’s cock against his hip, already big and thick, and he wants to do something about that, he really does –

“Fuck,” Louis gasps when their mouths tear apart, Harry ducking lower to layer more biting kisses to his neck. They’ll end up leaving marks, he’s sure, and the thought of it thrills him. His head tips back against the wall, arching up into the press of Harry’s thigh, and that’s more than enough foreplay for him. Maybe another day they’ll take their time with it, but not right now. Not when Louis is this desperate to get Harry’s cock inside of him.

His foot skids against the wet floor as he tries to move, clutching at Harry’s back to keep himself upright. It doesn’t matter anyway, though. Harry’s got a firm grip on him, hands all but encompassing Louis’ waist, and there’s no way Louis could fall when he’s got a grip like that. When he’s got such strong hands.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, the same amount of mindless desperation in his tone that Louis feels. One of his hands slides around Louis’ back to grope at his arse, squeezing gently. It’s a nice touch – so fucking pleasant that Louis’ breath catches in his throat, but it’s not exactly what he wants.

For the past six months, whenever Louis allowed himself to think about this or couldn’t manage to stop himself in time, he’d thought that Harry would be the organized, take-charge type when it comes to sex. He still thinks that, despite Harry’s obvious distraction from getting to the main goal. Harry just needs a little help, it seems.

“Thought you were going to finger me,” Louis says, shifting again, trying to get his bearings. He can’t coax Harry into going faster if he can’t think straight, and he’s alarmingly close to not being able to think straight. Harry’s all over him, big and warm and so naked, and Louis can’t not think about that.

“Don’t rush me,” Harry murmurs against his throat. He’s not biting anymore, tongue sliding against Louis’ skin. Louis’ cock throbs, his belly. All of him.

Harry’s ducking lower, clearly heading towards Louis’ chest, and Louis can’t let him get there. Not if he wants to get fucked anytime soon. They may never have actually had sex before, but Louis knows that Harry will get way too distracted by his nipples, and Louis will let him. So. That can’t be allowed to happen.

“Stop,” Louis breathes, the word coming out of his mouth before he can think through the possible ramifications.

Instantly, Harry does, taking his hands off Louis’ body and a step back. “Are you okay?”

His tone is even and non-confrontational, but Louis still hears the spike of fear hiding underneath it. He pushes himself forward, directly under the spray again, and tangles both of their hands together, squeezing Harry’s tight.

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Sorry, sorry, just didn’t want you to get distracted.”

“God, I forget how impatient you are sometimes,” Harry says. He’s smiling, though, just a hint of dimple peeking out of one cheek, and happiness bubbles up in Louis’ belly. He shrugs one shoulder, abruptly reminded of how naked he is and all the ways he could use that to his advantage.

“Well,” Louis says, untangling one of his hands to sweep across Harry’s abs and catch his cock in a firm grip before Harry can think to stop him, “now that you’ve been reminded, what are you going to do about it?”

For a second, all Harry does is stare at him, mouth slightly open, a flash of his tongue as he runs it over his teeth. Louis can practically still taste him, remembers every second of how Harry kissed him a few minutes ago. He wants it more than ever, for Harry to fuck him.

“Alright,” Harry murmurs eventually, just as Louis is about to start using his hold on Harry’s cock to jerk him off, figuring maybe that would get him moving. He leans out of the shower stall, back muscles flexing, and Louis lets go on autopilot. His mouth goes a little dry, reminded again of exactly how strong Harry is from the view.

Harry comes back with an unlabeled bottle in hand. He pushes Louis back up against the wall, and Louis doesn’t even miss the heat of the water as Harry’s body covers his, pinning him in place.

“You already know I’m going to give you everything you want,” Harry says. His voice isn’t much louder than it was a few seconds ago, barely piercing through the noise of the water. Louis strains to hear it, wanting to catch every syllable and hold them in his memory forever. “Pushy little thing you are.”

It surprises a laugh out of Louis. He doesn’t think he’s ever been called that before. Pushy. He supposes he is. It sounds like a nicer way of saying bitchy, and while he doesn’t mind how that sounds coming out of Harry’s mouth, he finds that he likes this too. He can be pushy for Harry.

“If you’re just going to stand around calling me names,” Louis starts. Gets cut off by the shift of Harry’s body as slides wet fingers down the crease of Louis’ arse, slipping lightly over his hole.

“Fuck,” Louis breathes, stomach tightening. He hadn’t even noticed Harry getting his fingers lubed up, but he must have. The slickness feels markedly different than water. More intentional. There’s really no mistaking what’s about to happen here.

As though he’s had a sudden desire to speed things up, or maybe he’s just finally started listening to Louis, Harry wastes no more time sliding a finger inside. It’s so easy for him, pressing Louis up against the wall like this, and Louis can’t stop thinking that it must feel like Harry’s finally getting everything he’s wanted. The thought causes another burst of laughter to bubble up in him, light and airy, and Harry’s smiling at him before it even finishes leaving Louis’ throat. “What?”

“How many times have you thought about having me like this?” Louis asks, already gone breathless from how it feels, the way Harry’s fingering him. Now that he’s got one inside, he’s doing it slowly and lazily, as if he doesn’t care how long it takes to get Louis ready. As though he’s stand here and do this all day if Louis let him.

“Too many to count,” Harry whispers against his mouth, and it’s exactly what Louis was expecting him to say. Right down to the cadence of his voice. Still, that bubble of happiness in his chest spreads, exposing all of his nerve endings and lighting them on fire.

Shit. He’s not really the sentimental type, but if he had have known that sex with someone who cares about you this much was like this, he might have let Harry put it in him weeks ago. No matter how much Louis tried to deny it, Harry was always pretty transparent about how much he cared.

While Louis is distracted thinking about it, Harry slides a second finger in. His mouth drops open, clutching desperately at Harry’s shoulders as he tries to get used to the stretch of it. Harry’s fingers are long, dexterous, and he knows exactly how to use them, pressing gently against Louis’ prostate. Louis’ cock jumps, wet at the tip, arousal clawing at his insides. Fuck, this is working for him. He can barely even feel the heat of the water anymore, too focused on everything else, and he thinks he could come from this. From two fingers tucked up into him just right.

Harry’s saying something else, mouth pressed against the shell of Louis’ ear. Louis barely catches the words, registering them somewhere in the back of his brain. In his defense, it’s very hard to concentrate when Harry’s touching him like this, in all the places Louis likes. Very distracting.

What about you. That’s what Harry was saying. Louis is pretty sure of it. He swallows, trying to catch his breath enough that he won’t sound like a completely spaced out mess when he answers.

“Never,” he lies, voice breaking in the middle of the word. It’s entirely due to the fact that Harry chooses that exact moment to stroke his fingers over Louis’ prostate again, curling the fingers of his other hand around Louis’ cock.

For a second, Louis’ vision goes white and hazy. He thinks he’s going to come. He could swear he’s going to come. The only reason he doesn’t is because Harry’s squeezing at the base of his cock, preventing it.

“Fuck, please, I can’t – ” Louis gasps, knows that he’s begging and doesn’t care anymore. So far past the point of even being able to.

This is exactly what he thought it’d be like with Harry.

“Never,” Harry muses, curling his fingers slowly. Louis’ cock jerks again, still ready to come, still can’t because of the way Harry’s hand is wrapped around it, preventing it. He can’t even see Harry’s face to know what he’s thinking because of the way he’s standing. “Why don’t I believe you, baby?”

Louis’ entire body feels like it’s on fire, wants to take everything Harry will give him. “You should,” he says, nearly slurring, rocking down on Harry’s fingers. He wants to get fucked, properly fucked with Harry’s cock.

“Should I?” Harry asks, and every ounce of that cocky tone he’d had the night they first met is back in his voice. Louis’ cock is practically dripping, he’s so turned on. “Tell me why, then, sweetheart.”

Louis could try to win this conversation, might even be able to do it if he could get Harry to back off a little, but that would distract them both from what they really want. So.

“More than you,” he manages, digging his nails into Harry’s shoulders. It’s an answer to Harry’s original question, and he knows that Harry will understand that.

Harry pulls away from Louis’ ear, fingers slowing to a halt. His hair is soaked, plastered to his head, and even now he’s the most attractive man Louis has ever seen. If he was a sentimental person, Louis might say that his heart is throbbing just as much as his cock.

“You know I love you for more than just what your face looks like, right?” Harry asks abruptly. The question comes out of left field, leaving Louis blinking at him stupidly and wondering if the pipes have been charmed, because the water hasn’t run cold yet. That’s strange, for an old house like this.

“I know,” Louis says slowly, raising an eyebrow. “Do you really think I’d be here right now if I had any doubt?”

He’d never do that to himself. Not even for Harry.

It feels like he can feel it in his soul when Harry relaxes, stupid grin plastered across his face as though he’s never heard anything better. Maybe it’s the bond. Or maybe it’s just that he likes it when Harry smiles like that.

“Good,” Harry says, and pulls his fingers out and shifts them in one magical movement, lifting Louis up off his feet and lining them up. The whole thing only takes a split second, it feels like, and then the head of Harry’s cock is pressing up against his hole, starting to sink inside.

It really does feel like magic, and Louis’ entire worldview shifts a little in the time it takes for Harry to slide all the way in. Everything else fades away in the face of how it feels, big and demanding and so fucking good Louis might be crying a little. He wiggles, trying to catch his breath, and opens the eyes he hadn’t realized he’d closed.

Harry’s watching him, one strong arm curled behind Louis’ back, keeping him in place, keeping him steady, the other splayed across Louis’ hip. He’s looking for a reaction, Louis realizes, waiting for Louis to tell him it’s okay to start moving.

Louis licks his dry lips, hungry for it. It already feels good, the stretch of it aching and tender, and he wants more. Wants everything Harry can give him. “Feels good.”

“Yeah, it does,” Harry agrees, and despite how cocky it sounds coming out, Louis doesn’t want to slap him. Instead, it warms him all over, sending tingles throughout his body. He laughs, has to, arms wrapped around Harry’s neck, legs wrapped around Harry’s back, happiness filling him almost as much as Harry’s cock is.

It must be enough of a reaction. Harry bends his head to kiss Louis as he starts moving, slow, languid rocks of his hips. Louis sucks in a harsh breath, friction and pleasure and endorphins flooding through him all at the same time.

“Fuck,” Louis says, barely aware he’s saying it, barely getting the word out against the sudden crush of Harry’s mouth against his. All he’s doing is holding on as Harry fucks him, gradually picking up speed, until it feels so good he thinks he actually is crying now. The kiss is messy, tongues meeting and clashing, and Louis is back to needing to come in no time. “Please, wanna come – ”

Harry’s hand cuts him off in the middle of slurring the words out, wrapping around his cock again. Louis forgets how to breathe, clenching down around Harry’s cock, pressure building in his spine, in his stomach. His eyes squeezed closed, overwhelmed, focused on how good it feels. How good Harry’s cock feels.

“Can’t believe I finally get to have you,” Harry murmurs against his mouth, and that’s the thing that sends Louis tipping over the edge. He comes in a haze of whispered secrets, things he’ll take to the grave with him about love and destiny and souls. Things that’ll stay between him and Harry forever.

Swimming in a sea of hazy pleasure, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact second Harry follows him, hips grinding in nice and deep as he comes. Louis breathes into Harry’s mouth, eyelids fluttering. One of Harry’s hands is pressing his against the wall over his head, he notices for the first time. The water is still running hot, cementing his notion of it being charmed.

It takes a bit before either of them come back to their senses enough to move. They’re kissing again, slow and lazy this time. Louis’ body is still trembling with aftershocks, toes curled behind Harry’s back.

“Okay,” Louis whispers eventually, patting Harry’s chest with his free hand. He opens his eyes fully, blinking away a few stray water droplets. “You did a good job. You can put me down now.”

Harry’s chest is still rattling from the big breaths he’s taking. He squeezes Louis’ hand, their fingers tangled together. “What if I don’t want to.”

It’s not a question, and that makes Louis laugh, somehow even happier than before. He squeezes down around Harry’s cock again experimentally, getting a hissed, breathy noise in return. “You can’t stay in me all day,” he tells Harry reasonably.

“Prove it,” Harry says, and sinks down onto the tiled floor. Louis ends up in his lap, Harry’s softening cock still tucked up nicely inside of him.

“We haven’t even gotten clean yet,” Louis says, gasping the words as Harry’s cock twitches inside him, as though it’s threatening to begin hardening again.

“That’s okay,” Harry says, trying to nudge Louis’ chin so they can kiss again, kiss some more. Louis barely manages to resist, pressing his face into Harry’s shoulder. “We’ve got time.”

Louis sighs softly, but he can’t resist it any longer, letting Harry draw him into a longer kiss. That happiness is threatening to overwhelm his entire system now, but he doesn’t mind. This does mean something.

This means everything.