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All The King's Men

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Prince Louis Tomlinson of Doncaster is not, nor was he ever, a poorly behaved son. His parents have always found his behavior to be exceptional; and he has always taken his lessons on both royal etiquette and intellectual knowledge very seriously. 

His schedule is packed full of study sessions with private tutors, hours of training with a sword with one of the best fighters in the country, and other activities that vary according to his moods. 

In the summers he stands outdoors in the fields of the palace and works on his archery. Perhaps on a colder winter day he will sit by a hearth inside the castle walls and practice an instrument of his choice until his fingers nearly bleed.

He’s only sixteen, but he takes pride in the fact that he is most likely one of the most well rounded boys in the kingdom. Now, of course, that has everything to do with the fact that his father is the king - but nonetheless, he works very hard. He won't deny himself that.

In almost every sense of the word, Louis is perfect. His family made sure of it; he was crafted and shaped like clay into a prince that his country needs during a time of food shortages and economic collapse.

His people love him, as his mother tells him. They speak of him in the villages as though he is their savior, and that someday he will take the crown and rescue them from their destitution.

His parents look at him at the dinner table as though he is immortal, as if he is their most prized possession in a house full of jewels and artifacts. To put it simply, Louis is aware of his importance.

But as of right now, he is breaking the rules that have been set for him. He, in general, is excellent at abiding by the guidelines he’s been given. He’s always been taught that privilege comes with restriction.

However, Louis is sneaking through his mother’s rose garden on the southern side of the palace under the moonlight tonight. He is assumed to be asleep, but has snuck out of his window and climbed down the vines of the wall, on his way to the forest. 

The garden ends abruptly, and he is met with a wall of trees. They are dark and luminous, but have fascinated the young prince for years. It’s only recently that he’s begun to visit them these past couple of months, and they are less threatening to look at now.

“You’re late,” Harry frowns, arms crossed over his chest as he emerges from the shadows. He’s dressed in his usual attire - that of a peasant. His shirt is loose and off-white, his trousers brown. His black boots are obviously worn out from constant running. Louis is not unaware of the fact that this boy is a thief, but he tries to forget about it.

“I’m sorry,” the prince apologizes, greeting him with a light hand on his arm and a weak smile. “One of the maids was very chatty tonight. I had to wait for her to leave.”

“Did you not simply dismiss her?” Harry raises a brow and leans his back against a particularly tall tree, and crosses one foot over the other.

“I am not as rude as you are, Harry,” Louis rolls his eyes. “You have a heart of stone.”

“My heart is soft for you,” the curly haired boy promises him softly, and the prince can’t help but grin back at him. 

They met four months ago, when Louis had retreated to the forest for a few hours of the night, as he always does. Before Harry, he adored being alone on the outskirts of the palace grounds, where no one was there to survey his every move.

That warm spring evening, they had bumped into one another, none more surprised than the other. Louis hadn’t told him he was the prince, considering his sleeping clothes wouldn’t give it away. Harry, though, had admitted he was running from a shopkeeper in the nearest village.

Their secret meetings became a nightly ritual, and when Louis had finally managed the courage to tell his new companion that he was royalty, Harry had hardly batted an eyelash.

“I’ve missed you,” the blue-eyed boy admits from where he’s standing, and Harry raises a playful eyebrow upon hearing it.

“Oh, have you?” He asks, taking a step closer and placing a hand on Louis’s cheek. “In that case, allow me to make you aware that I have missed you very much as well.”

The prince closes the distance between them, and they kiss carefully. Louis can’t think of a better word for it than that - Harry is always gentle with him, as if he’ll break. He presses his lips to Louis’s as if the other boy’s mouth will disintegrate upon contact.

When they pull away, both blinking slowly, their faces drenched in a quiet happiness, Louis admires his facial features so that he can remember them when they’re apart. Harry has wide, green eyes and big, pink lips. His hair is messy and curly, and his cheeks always seem to have a little bit of dirt on them. 

He must not be able to bathe as regularly as Louis does. Sometimes the blue-eyed boy lets it slip from his mind that not everyone lives as he does.

“Come with me,” Harry pleads. “We will be happy together. I promise.” Louis hates when he asks this. It feels as though the thief is reaching into his chest and tugging on his heart itself. What is he to do? Abandon his country and his family and his people for one boy?

Though, that being said, sometimes looking at Harry’s magnificent smile makes him think that one boy might be worth all of that.

“You know I cannot,” he whispers into the darkness, and the thief’s face falls. He looks as though he had known that answer was coming, but was still hoping he wouldn’t have to hear it. Again. 

So they kiss again, and again, until they are breathless and Louis is no longer a prince and Harry is no longer a poor peasant, but they are instead just Harry and Louis and that’s it.

~

The day of Louis’s eighteenth birthday is the worst day of his entire life, so far. He had predicted his father was arranging an engagement for him, of course. There were hints and signs. Women were practically thrust at him during elegant balls, and he had pretended not to notice the politicians watching them from the corners of the rooms.

They were all older men, picking apart his interactions with different young ladies - all of them lovely, but none of them taking his interest. They were deciding which of the girls would suit him best, and would make the best alliance. Kings kept arriving at the palace, showing off their teenage daughters, desperate for a strategic bond with Doncaster. 

And what is more bonding than a family connection?

“Her name is Princess Amelia, you’ve met her before,” his father informs Louis, who had been summoned to the throne room five minutes ago. “And you will wed her in the early summer.” 

“Very well. Thank you, Your Highness.” He would call him ‘Father’, if there weren’t other diplomats around. Louis bows his head at the king, who promises to speak to him again at the dinner table about the arrangements, and is dismissed.

He has known this would happen for the entirety of his life - never, once, had it been a secret. Princes are wed to Princesses, that is simply how it goes. And yet, the shock hits him like a tidal wave. His breath is caught, and he stumbles down the corridors until he reaches his chambers with shaky steps and a beaten heart.

~

That very night, as he stands before Harry in their secluded sanctuary, he wants so desperately to cry. He doesn’t, though, and melts into the welcoming kiss he receives. It is likely the last that he will ever feel, so he pulls the boy closer to him and makes it last a little longer.

“What was that for?” Harry asks with a breathless laugh, and Louis is shaking his head sadly. The curly haired boy is immediately serious. “Louis. What’s the matter?”

“I’ve been betrothed,” The prince murmurs. Harry stills, standing up a bit straighter, and his lips purse into a straight line. Louis is panicking, immediately. “It was arranged without my knowledge. I’ve got no choice, I-“

“I do not know what to say,” Harry’s fists are clenched and he isn’t looking at him anymore.

“How can you be mad at me for this? We both knew this would happen,” Louis is pleading with him now, his voice hushed and tears trickling down his cheeks.

“I am not mad at you, Prince,” The thief mutters. “I’m mad that I allowed myself to grow so close to you. I’ve been very stupid.” He’s backing away now, but slowly, and Louis feels as though his throat is closing up. He can’t leave, he needs him here.

The thief looks so striking under the pale blue light of the moon. His cheeks are illuminated by the milky splashes of light making their way through the trees, and Louis wants to cry into his broad shoulder. He wants Harry to tell them that they’ll be alright. 

The problem is, they had both known that this would never last. Neither of them was stupid enough to think they would be able to drag out such a scandalous affair - but, regardless, they had neglected to end it before something like this could happen.

“Please - these past two years-“

“Have been a waste of our time,” Harry whispers, and his eyes cast down to the leaves on the dirt floor. “Goodbye, Your Highness.” He’s never called Louis that, not once.

When he’s gone, Louis falls into a tree and cries until he can’t hear Harry’s footsteps anymore.

~

5 Years Later

The Kingdom is in distress, and though it isn’t Louis’s place to dissolve such a problem, he is paying careful attention to how his father is handling the matter.

Thanks to the ongoing poverty, a revolutionary group has broken out and are supposedly recruiting members in the poorest villages. They are planning a massive attack on the monarchy, and no one is to say how large their numbers are. 

They are extremely secretive, and though the king’s army has tried, they cannot find where they meet or how they are spreading the word about their organization.

The dinner table is quiet and tense tonight, as it has been for the past month. Louis’s father and mother exchange nervous glances here and there, and even the servants are stiff and cold and silent. Usually they at least smile and say a quick “enjoy” as they place the food on the table.

“The council and I agree that security needs to be taken more seriously within the palace walls. Starting tomorrow morning I’ll be hiring new guards and creating new routes for patrol.”

“What if you hire secret revolutionaries?” The queen asks, putting her fork down on the table. Louis chews silently, his eyes flickering between his two parents.

“We cannot become so paranoid,” The king shakes his head. “We will lose our minds in the process.”

Louis’s wife, Amelia, says nothing, but gives the prince a concerned look. He places his hand onto hers, reassuringly, though there is nothing he can physically do to make the situation any less stressful for them.

She isn’t terrible. There’s no pressure on them to produce children just yet, considering his father is still alive, and they have become close friends. They do not love each other though, not in the way that they should. It’s a shame, but an expected shame that come with such marriages. At least he doesn’t mind her presence. 

Of course, she is not Harry. It pains Louis to think of the curly haired boy he had loved so dearly as a teenager. They had spend nearly every night together, either talking about their personal lives or napping in each other’s embraces. They would stare up at the stars and point at constellations. They would kiss like old lovers, and quarrel like young friends.

Louis wishes so much that he could have that with Amelia. He feels something for her, but it is not an all encompassing passion that drives him to want to do risky things, like sneak out of his room to meet her in the middle of the evening.

~

When Louis retreats to his chamber that night, he enters his large bedroom with a hearty sigh and begins shedding himself of his formal dinner attire. The balcony doors are open, letting in the cold March air, and he huffs out a sigh as he shuffles across the room to close them. The maids must have neglected to shut the doors when they finished tidying up.

There are a few lit candles in the room to guide him, but he blows them out one by one until only the moon provides any light for him. With an exhausted yawn, he climbs into his large bed and rests his head against the pillow. Though it isn’t for more than four seconds before a large hand is clamped over his mouth and he’s immediately thrust into a terrific panic.

Louis thrashes, but there’s two of them above him. He can’t make out their faces in the darkness, but they’re tying his legs together. Someone pins his arms above his head, and there’s suddenly a face up close to his.

His breath catches, and he feels as though he’s about to faint. It's Harry.

No one is going to hurt you if you keep your mouth shut,” The curly haired boy, older than Louis remembers him, growls under his breath. “So cooperate.” 

And what is there to do? Louis is trained in the art of the sword, but he has nothing at the moment. He is outnumbered, without weapons, and too tired to resist. The other boy, who Louis does not recognize, throws him over his shoulder.

He’s crying, but no noise escapes him. They’ve used a rope to gag him, and are now outside on the balcony. The boy carrying him climbs over the railing, and seems to be hesitant about jumping.

Eventually, they make their way down the stone wall with care, and somehow arrive at the bottom. Louis is too traumatized to understand how they did it. Maybe they brought another rope to aid them.

There’s a horse drawn wagon, and they sit him in it carefully. Harry sits beside him as they begin to move, the wagon bumping on every rock and stick. Louis sways back and forth, and looks up at the boy he used to know so well with disgust.

He’s going to die, probably. He’ll be murdered by whoever these people are and his body will be sold for money or something sick like that. He’s going to puke. Almost as if Harry is reading his thoughts, he says,

“We aren’t going to do anything to you. So please calm down and stop breathing so heavily.” Louis rolls his eyes. He’s just been kidnapped, what the hell is he supposed to do? Shrug and move on with his day? 

When they’re deep enough into the woods, and a long spell of silence has passed, Harry unties the rope from the prince’s mouth. 

“What are you doing?” Louis demands, wrists still tied behind his back. 

“We’re holding you for ransom. And if you do what we say, we’re going to get along just fine,” Harry assures him in a calm voice. There are a few others in the cart, but none of them have spoken. They watch Louis, though, and it’s unsettling.

“Ransom? You want money?” The boy asks, and Harry shakes his head.

“I want the crown. That’s what we all want, for all of us to share. We want a people’s republic instead of this ridiculous monarchy.” Harry leans back against the wooden wall of the wagon and takes a deep breath. 

“Who’s we?” Louis asks, afraid of the answer.

“The Revolution, of course,” Harry flashes a smile so familiar to Louis that he’s immediately in pain. “And you’re looking at the leader.” 

 

Chapter Text

They travel for two days, in almost complete silence except for when food rations are extracted and exchanged from small brown bags on the bottom of the wagon. 

After miles and miles of tall, dark forests, they reach a small village with a cobblestone road and humble houses. People walk about the streets, minding their business, but they stop to stare at Louis and the revolutionaries as they ride by. 

Louis wonders if they know who Harry is. If they know who Louis is. They probably don’t, considering no one is cheering for him or praising him, like they would do when he was young.

The horses pull to a slow stop in front of a cottage on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by a well-tended garden full of fresh vegetables. Harry leans down to untie Louis’s feet, so that he can move on his own.

Two boys, both of whom Louis still does not know the name of, flank his sides and escort him towards the front door of the humble abode. It seems like any ordinary cottage, that could belong to any peasant family. Is this his new home?

He has never before in his life longed for the marble pillars of the palace so much. He probably won’t ever see them again. 

As Louis is nudged through the front door, he takes in his new living space. It’s got a cozy living area, a small kitchen off to the left, and some narrow stairs that lead to an upper level. 

Now, sure, the prince had heard of houses like this, but he had never been inside anything so quaint and plain. The palaces he’s traveled to in his life are a stark contrast to this place. 

He’s still expecting to wake up in his comfortable bed and realize that this all has been a vivid dream. He’ll learn that he’s safe, surrounded by his family, and Harry is still just a memory from his early youth. And yet, blink and blink as he might, he’s still here.

“We’re having a meeting soon to make sure everyone remembers the arrangements we decided upon,” Harry crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the wooden wall of the living room. “We’ll stay here for the first week to attend the meetings, assure everyone that the prince is in our hands, and then we’ll move out.”

Harry isn’t even looking at the prince when he speaks. It’s as though he doesn’t even remember their magical days of running through the forest and tackling each other down into piles of fallen leaves. Louis knows what it’s like to be kissed by this horrid traitor, and the mere idea of it makes him sick. 

And what do they mean by ‘move out’? They’ll be traveling? As if the first journey hadn’t been difficult enough. Louis is feeling too many emotions at once to pin all of them down. He’s afraid, traumatized, and confused. Most of all, though, he’s angry.

He’s angry for obvious reasons, and he’s also angry out of sheer humiliation. He gave Harry his heart years ago only to be kidnapped, betrayed, and made to look like a fool. 

Louis wonders if the other boys in the room know what happened, by the border of the palace those years ago. Do they know that their leader used to hold Louis’s face in his hands and kiss his cheeks? Do they know that Louis used to bring soap and water, sometimes, to scrub Harry’s face and massage the knots out of his curls? 

He would hiss like a cat, the entire time, but he let Louis clean him anyway. He claimed to love being dirty, but he never stopped the prince from washing his curls and cheeks on occasion.

Does anyone know? Louis certainly hadn’t told a soul; or his reputation and respect from his family would have gone down the drain in an instant. But Harry could have told absolutely anyone without Louis’s knowledge, something he had been too young and stupid to consider at the time. 

If they’re aware of the previous relationship between the revolutionary and the prince, the other boys aren’t mentioning or acknowledging it.  

“Liam, do me a favor and run to the tavern?” Harry raises a brow, and the brunette nods before heading towards the door. “Tell them we’ve got the prince and we’ll be keeping him under our watch until further notice.” 

“I’ll begin organizing the note for the palace,” Zayn suggests, but Harry shakes his head. 

“We already agreed, we need to wait until they’re more desperate to find him. We’ll give it a few months, perhaps a year, and then formulate the letter when the time comes. Our demands, and theirs, may change along the way.”

Months? A year? Louis is going to faint. 

“He looks pale,” a blonde observes aloud, and Louis stumbles backwards a few steps. 

“Please don’t hurt me,” he whispers aloud, which is unrelated to the conversation but on his mind at every second nonetheless. The boys are silent, and some of them almost look like they pity him. 

“We are interested in changing the politics of our country, not torturing you,” Harry finally says, and it’s the first words directed at Louis for days. The blue eyed prince scowls at him.

“I’d argue it’s the same thing,” he mutters, and Harry laughs. He actually laughs, as if there is anything amusing about this living nightmare.

“How funny it is, that the advancement of politics only fascinates you when it means more power for your family,” he muses. Louis narrows his eyes.

“I did not say that, you criminal.” 

“Ah,” Harry sticks a finger into the air. “But you meant it. You feel it in your heart. You cannot live in a world that is not run by you and your father. For without your precious title, you would have to face the fact that you, my dear prince,” Harry pauses, “are indeed no one of importance.” 

“I’d argue that I have more importance than you,” Louis makes an unimpressed noise. His wrists are still tied behind his back, which is really beginning to make his arms ache. “I’m royalty - I was born to shift the tide. I’ll be a king, who changes the world for the better, it’s what we do-“

He can’t finish, because everyone in the room is laughing at him. These lowly peasants, clothed in torn garments covered in soot and dirt, have the nerve to make a mockery out of him. He is furious. 

“More like better for yourselves,” someone interjects. “You live in lavish castles while we scrub your floors and grow food for your parties, hardly making enough for ourselves to live."

Some of the others hum out varying agreements, and Louis shakes his head. 

“That isn’t true. My father works extremely hard, passing laws every day to try and aid the villages and get them back on their feet.” 

They’re only laughing again. Louis wants to scream until he’s lost his voice. He hates these people, he hates them with everything he has. 

“You, Louis,” Harry disrespects him by not using a respectful title or term to address him, as Louis is used to, “are going to go down in history as an ignorant and careless, privileged and simple, prince. I am going to be the man who changed this kingdom for the better. They will tell the children of how my men and I rid them of the horrible old system of kings. And it will be you, my old friend, who they speak of with bad tastes in their mouths.”

“You’re wrong,” Louis whispers, but Harry is grinning. 

“You’re still as beautiful as ever,” the curly haired boy says suddenly, head tilted to the side. He sighs, and uncurls his arms from around his chest. “And still as sheltered to what the real world is truly like.” He looks away from Louis, now. “Zayn, show him to his sleeping quarters.” 

~

The sleeping quarters turn out to be no more than a tiny room with a small bed in the corner, underneath a small window. It’s on the second floor; too high for Louis to jump out of without breaking a leg. And he has no doubt that he will be watched during all hours of the night. 

There is a candle on the nightstand. A few pairs of clothes are folded neatly in the dressers, but they aren’t like any clothes Louis has ever worn. His usual wardrobes are made specially for him by a team of tailors and seamstresses, of the finest fabrics and colors. These, though? Poorly crafted and without much design. 

He sniffs in disgust upon looking at them, and tucks them back into their place. There are books inside the drawers of the nightstand, mostly religious studies and historical accounts of famous battles. Louis flips through the pages, but he’s too anxious to really read them.

Is his father sending troops out for him already? Surely they’ll search every village in the kingdom, and beyond. Harry can’t run from the kingdom’s army forever. He’s only one person, after all. Even if he has a group of revolutionaries behind him, what match are they to the royal guard? 

That though soothes Louis to sleep, despite the uncomfortable sheets and small confines of his significantly tinier bed.

He’s immediately woken up by a door opening, though, and the sound of someone shuffling into the space. Louis sits up in an instant, startled and scrambling towards the corner of the bed. 

“You’re fine,” the dark haired boy, (Zayn?) whispers, before sitting down on a wooden chair on the opposite side of the room. “I have to watch you sleep for the next two hours.” 

“Well, I certainly won’t be doing any sleeping if that’s the case,” Louis groans in frustration, and sits up to curl his knees against his chest. He’s quiet for a moment, taking deep breaths, and then he looks up. “What have I done to you?”

“Nothing, really,” Zayn shrugs. “Except for the small fact that your family has control of all of the kingdom’s wealth, and you use it for yourselves. I’ve been wearing this same set of clothes - along with one other pair, for the past ten years.” 

Louis looks at Zayn’s shirt, which now that he pays attention to it, is a tad bit too small.

“Now tell me, Your Highness,” he doesn’t say the words out of respect, but almost ironically. Almost sarcastically. “How many pairs of shoes do you own?”

“I don’t know,” Louis admits. “But what do you expect? I’m a prince.”

“And therefore you need so many shoes that there are none left for me? I grew up barefoot as a child, and you probably never wore the same pair twice.” The other boy is seething now, and Louis decides he’d better not further this conversation. 

“Okay. Can you at least tell me what you all plan on doing, if my father really does give up the crown to have me back?”

Zayn seems to be considering whether or not there’s any harm in explaining the plot to the prince. But what is there for Louis to do other than twiddle his thumbs and wait for his family to come fetch him? He is of no danger to them. 

“The idea is that we will create a new form of government, one that we are constantly changing and arranging and constructing. It isn’t fully complete yet, but it revolves around the idea of a government run by representatives elected by the people.” 

Louis has heard of such governments in other kingdoms. His father has always feared them, and told Louis that the people do not know how to run themselves. According to the king, they need the direction of a monarch to keep them in line. 

“Normal citizens know nothing of political affairs, though,” Louis argues, shaking his head in the darkness. The orange glow of the candle is the only light they’re provided. 

Zayn sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. 

“It’s about time they learn, then, isn’t it?”

 

Chapter Text

Louis is delivered breakfast the next morning by a blonde haired boy. The prince takes the bread and jug of water, assuming Harry’s friend will leave, but he simply takes a seat beside the boy on the mattress and places his hands on his knees.  

"I’m Niall,” he introduces with a smile, and Louis stops chewing to look at him incredulously. He puts the bread down and brushes his hands off. He’s never been spoken to so openly by a complete stranger. Very few people in his life to do not bow at his presence.

“You’re also very disrespectful,” he chews his lip, and the boy shrugs. He’s wearing a cap on his head and his slacks look as though they haven’t been washed in weeks. How dreadful. When the boy doesn’t seem keen on replying, Louis sighs. “Why are you smiling at me? Don’t you all despise me and my family, or something along those lines?”

“I don’t hate you,” Niall shrugs, taking his cap off and running a hand through his hair. “I’ve never met you. Though, I do despise the government. So.”

“I am the government,” Louis rolls his eyes, and Niall scrunches his face up. 

“Not completely. You may think you’re outside all of this, but you were born into this inescapable system just like anyone else.” Louis isn’t exactly sure of what he means by that, so he just returns to eating his bread and minding his own business. He isn’t interested in making friends, after all. He’s interested in returning home.

“Can I ask you something?” Niall leans back against the wall, and toes his shoes off. Louis bites his tongue, trying to hide his disgust. This village boy is making himself comfortable in the presence of royalty. Does he not know manners at all? 

“I suppose,” Louis feels absolutely insulted. Does status mean nothing anymore? When one is captured, he supposes his social and political position are no longer of anyone’s interest. The thought makes him want to throw up. 

“Harry tells us he’s met you, before. But when we ask, he looks frustrated and upset and just… He usually walks away or threatens us to further press him on it. Care to tell me what happened?” His eyes light up, as though he’s been waiting for hear this answer for a long time. Louis swallows thickly, and chews on the inside of his cheek. 

He thinks of five summers ago, when things seemed simpler to him. 

“Moonlight is a gorgeous thing,” Harry notes, as he sits against a particularly thick tree and tosses a pebble into the air, only to catch it in his palm again. “Everyone looks marvelous under the blue, milky setting.” 

Louis watches his eyelashes brush his cheeks, the way he watches the rock as it moves through the air. They’re facing one another, sat in the grass with their feet knocking together every once in a while. 

“Does it do the same for me?” Louis asks, fishing for a compliment that he knows he will receive. Harry’s lips curl into a smirk - they both know what the prince is doing.

“Oh, especially you, my dear,” the thief amuses him. “You look eternal, in the evening. Your skin glows against the darkness and your eyes sparkle with an immortal quality.”

“Do you mean that? Or are you entertaining my arrogance?” Louis demands, smiling even wider now and rolling the back of his head against the bark. Harry sits up a little straighter, and rests his elbow against his knee. 

“I mean every word, Louis,” he promises. “There isn’t a soul that walks this kingdom whose beauty compares to yours. Your arrogance is justified.” 

“I intended for you to tell me that I am not self centered,” the prince says with a small, breathless laugh, and Harry rolls his eyes.

“I promised I wouldn’t lie to you, did I not?” 

At this, Louis only throws a twigs at him until they’re both laughing and there are sticks poking out from Harry’s disheveled curls. 

Niall is still staring at the prince, waiting for an answer. Louis blinks, and opens his mouth. He closes it again, and takes a deep breath. 

“It was brief, and unimportant,” he lies. “I must have passed him by during one of my visits to the countryside,” he admits with a light shrug of his shoulders. The blonde peasant looks unimpressed and disappointed in the response.

Before he can react to Louis’s lie, Harry is entering the room with one hand on his hip and his brows furrowed. He looks aged and serious and tense, almost always. Louis doesn’t remember him like that, not particularly. 

“Niall, we’re going to the tavern tonight to prove we’ve got the prince,” he says, not even sparing Louis a single glance. “But not everyone has been invited. We’re afraid some might throw away the cause for some money to disclose his location. No doubt there will be rewards offered for anyone aware of his whereabouts.” 

The blonde only nods, and stands to leave the room. To do what, Louis is unsure of. But now, for the first time, he is alone with his childhood love. Before Harry can leave, Louis bitterly spits out the words that have been boiling on his tongue.

“You disgust me. You’ve betrayed not only me, but your entire country.” Harry’s lips purse into a firm line and his shoulders tense.

“I am doing what I believe is best for my country. And betraying you is the least of my concerns, so please do not flatter yourself, Your Highness,” he insists, crossing both arms over his chest and leaning against the doorframe. Louis wants to punch him, not that it’d do any good. 

“Such bold words for a boy who used to beg me to run away from my life to join him,” Louis scoffs, leaning back onto his bed with narrowed eyes and a frown.

Harry stiffens, stands up straighter, and looks away. His eyes are somewhere else, now, so that the prince cannot read them. 

“You mean nothing to me,” he mutters. 

“That doesn’t mean I never did,” Louis continues. “We can hate one another with everything we have. But if you are going to keep me from my family, I will torture you with the memories you wish you could forget.” 

“You will try, Your Highness,” Harry looks absolutely revolted. “But you will fail, for it seems you have overestimated my ability to move on.” 

“And it seems you have underestimated my ability to be an annoying, relentless, monster.”

“Believe me,” Harry scoffs, with an unamused laugh. “I have not forgotten.” 

~

Louis is standing in just about the most gross looking place he’s ever encountered. It’s a bar in the middle of the village, and it’s around midnight. Young to middle aged men are all sitting at grimy, wooden tables and staring at him in awe. He’s currently stood next to Harry, who is holding him against his side in a vice grip. 

Does he really think Louis would have a chance in hell of escaping? He’d make it four steps before someone grabbed him and threw him back into place. 

“Now that you’ve got him, you’ll need to move to a more secluded location,” someone declares from the crowd. 

“Well, obviously,” Harry nods with authority. “He will be relocated. I wanted to bring him here first, to prove to you all I had succeeded.” Louis wants to puke. The stench of alcohol mixed with smelly clothing is filling his nose at an unneeded pace. 

“With all due respect, I do not see the purpose in waiting for his father to abdicate,” an older man admits. “Why do we not just demand the prince give up his title, thus ending the line?” Harry is already shaking his head, though. 

“They will find another duke or lord to take his place. This will not work until the monarchy is abolished altogether. And we cannot force the prince to promise this, because he will surely not go by his word when we release him. He will return to business as usual and we will starve."

The crowd grumbles agreement, and Louis can see how he has become the leader of his ridiculous revolution… He knows how to rile people up. 

“Can we beat the living daylights out of him?” One man asks, who appears to be a little more intoxicated than the rest. A few men stand up excitedly, and Louis’s eyes widen. 

Dear God. He’s going to die. Most of these people are twice his size.

“No one will lay a hand on him,” Harry barks, and they return, sadly, to their seats. Louis spares a glance at Niall, who has been the nicest to him out of anyone so far, despite his clear disregard of respect for Louis’s royal status. 

He is leaning against a wall in the corner, surveying the crowd carefully. What is he meant to be doing? Has Harry assigned him some sort of job that Louis doesn’t know about.

The curly haired boy wraps a hand around Louis’s bicep and begins to drag him towards the door. 

“We leave in the morning,” he says over his shoulder to Zayn, who is following close behind. “You and Liam will prepare for departure, and I will help. I’m going to need Niall to watch Louis tonight.” 

Well, that’s a relief and a burden all in one. The blonde boy is friendly, but will probably want to ask too many questions that Louis is unwilling to answer. 

He sighs, but picks up the pace of his footsteps as Harry tugs him further down the street. 

~

Luckily, Niall seems exhausted and falls asleep pretty early in his little wooden chair. Louis curls up into his bed and turns to face the wall. His heart aches for his mother, and his sisters, and his father. He yearns for his expansive, lavishly decorated bedroom and the balcony he used to sit on in the morning hours.

He wishes he would be waking up to a nice breakfast with his loved ones tomorrow instead of a harsh and most likely tiring journey. He wishes he could say his misses his wife, but he doesn’t. Their friendship never reached much beyond that - and if he lacks anything, it’s simply the company she offered him in the lonely confines of the palace. 

Sometimes they would read together, or have tea. Aside from their occasional conversations in the gardens, there was nothing between them and that is all. He hopes she will be alright, if he never returns. Widowed wives usually end up without much of a future ahead of them, in this time. And though he never loved her, he prays she finds love with someone else. 

He feels himself growing sleepy. His eyes blink closed, open again, and close again even more slowly. Dreams will come to him shortly, but as for now, all he can let his mind wander to is Harry. 

How peculiar it is, to have been showered with love from someone for years at a time and now be surrounded by the hatred they project. He remembers falling asleep in Harry’s hold, and listening to his heartbeat as he slipped into a peaceful rest. Now, though, all he hears is faint snoring coming from his guard and the sound of a cricket outside his window.

~

“Get up,” Liam tells him. Louis only knows his name is Liam because he’s heard it spoken to the boy so many times. The prince rubs at his eyes and sits up to find the blonde boy is gone from his chair and it’s now morning. “We’re leaving in approximately five minutes."

“Where will we be going?” Louis asks, but the brunette is only handing him a fresh pair of clothes to put on and leaving the room. 

This kind of rudeness directed towards him is something that will take some adjusting to, for Louis is so new to it that he is constantly perplexed.

By the time he’s fully clothed and exiting the small bedroom, he finds that the boys are packing bags into a carriage just outside the open front door. It is different from the wagon. Though still wooden, it is a full box that would conceal anyone riding inside it. 

“We didn’t go for anything expensive, as it would gather attention,” Niall says to him, suddenly standing at Louis’s side. “And of course, the wagon won’t do because we’ll be going through villages instead of moving through forests this time.” He takes a sip of something in a mug. It looks like a vile drink, and Louis wrinkles his nose. 

“Get him inside it, please,” Harry hurries past, only saying the words to Niall in a quick blurt. The blonde nods, sets his drink down, and ushers Louis to follow him outside. They clamber into the small carriage, whose bench wraps around the perimeter of the inside. There are tiny windows that allow light to enter, but beige curtains can close them. 

It’s the plainest and ugliest carriage Louis has ever been forced to travel in, but he takes a seat in the corner and leans his head against the wall to close his eyes. It’s still early in the morning, and he hadn’t gotten more than four hours of sleep last night. 

Soon enough, all of the boys (aside from Liam, who will be driving the carriage) pile into the small compartment and take their seats. Harry is pressed against his shoulder, and Louis is more than uncomfortable.

The last time they were this close, they were kissing each other in their hiding place. Now Harry is probably taking him to be stowed away in some tower in the middle of the woods, or something ridiculous. 

When the wheels start moving and the entire carriage jerks forward, Louis exhales loudly and closes his eyes. This is hell. He is alive, but he might as well be dead. He says a silent prayer and begs his father to find him soon. 

“The prince tells me that your previous encounter was short and uninteresting,” Niall groans sadly at Harry, who raises both eyebrows. “Nothing of importance. Way to make it seem like it was something fascinating, Harry.” 

“Did I do that?” Harry laughs quietly at his friend. “I did nothing of the sort. I agree with our captive, here. It was quite lack-luster.”

“Then why did you get all sad and storm out of the room whenever-" 

Harry cuts him off with a cough and turns his head to look at Zayn, who looks equally as confused as Niall. Maybe Louis should just tell them, to embarrass Harry. But it would also be humiliating for himself to admit, so he doesn’t. 

“What’s the name of our first rest stop?

“Damforth,” Zayn repeats, clearly memorized. 

“Right, right,” Harry hums. “I had forgotten.” Louis has a strong feeling that the curly haired boy knew exactly what the name of the village was, but needed to get Niall to shut up. He finds some joy in watching this evil criminal feel awkward. 

For the most part of the day, the other three are engaged in conversation that Louis has no interest in. He falls asleep through some of it and is awake for other parts of it, but says nothing. 

“Have you ever been in love, Louis?” Zayn asks, leaning out into the middle to see the prince properly. Louis looks up, surprised, and realizes they’re inviting him to join the conversation.  

“Yes, with my country,” he says proudly.

Niall pretends to throw up. 

“Oh, please. Your father has probably been teaching you that line since you were born,” Zayn rolls his eyes, and Louis grimaces. If only they weren’t right.

“Alright, fine. I was, once."

“With your wife, yes?” Niall presses, and Louis frowns again. 

“No. Our marriage was arranged. She is lovely, and a nice friend, but we are not in love.” 

“What a shame,” Harry mutters. “You’re both so incredibly simple minded and selfish that you would go wonderfully together.” 

Louis clenches his teeth. How dare Harry be so cruel to him. He has no right. 

“As I was saying,” he continues. “I was in love. Unfortunately, though,” he looks right into the eyes of the curly haired boy. “That person evidently no longer exists anymore. Which is a shame, because they were quite an astonishing soul.”  

Harry looks away, as does Louis. 

Zayn and Niall just look confusedly at one another and shrug.

Chapter Text

Louis is seventeen, and sitting on a wet rock on the banks of a large, secluded lake. The water is black under the stars, but shimmers and glows as it reflects the moonlight above it. 

Harry is swimming around, stopping to stand and look up at the prince every once in a short while. His arms cut through the sleek surface, and cause ripples to fan out in every direction. He dips underneath, and comes up with slicked back hair and droplets running down the sides of his face. 

“It’s not too cold, Louis. Come in,” he pleads, with a small smile and an offering of his hands. 

“It looks a bit disgusting,” he wrinkles his nose, and pulls his knees up to his chest. “I think I’ll just watch you.”

You look a bit disgusting,” Harry snorts with a playful raise of his brows, and Louis gasps. 

“How dare you,” Louis finds himself giggling and removing his nightgown (he’s still got his undergarments on, thank you). He folds it neatly, ignoring how Harry rolls his eyes as he does so. Finally, he puts his big toe into the water and pulls it back.

“I don’t know,” he shakes his head.

“Just get in,” Harry sighs, taking Louis’s hand and guiding him into the water. The prince squeals at the cold sensation, and as if that isn’t enough, the thief pulls him into his chest so his cold skin meets Louis’s. 

Harry dips them low enough that their heads are above the water and nothing else. He kisses him slowly and carefully, as he always does. Louis wraps his legs around Harry’s waist, and when they pull away, the curly haired boy is smiling at him.

“I love you, my little prince,” he whispers.

“I love you too, my smelly thief,” Louis says back, and Harry splashes him. 

“I do not smell,” he insists. “Well, at least not today.” 

“I know,” Louis hugs him as tightly as he can, burying his face into Harry’s neck.

~

Louis wakes up with a start, the old memory gone and reality flooding back into him as he regains his senses. He’s still in the carriage, but it has stopped moving. 

“We’ve stopped to eat and get some fresh air,” Niall explains, the only one left siting with Louis. He reaches a hand out to aid the prince in standing to his feet after sitting for hours, and he climbs out into the open outdoors.

They’re in the middle of the forest, but on the outskirts of a secluded clearing beside a river. Louis can’t identify the river, despite his lessons in geography, because he has no idea in which direction they’ve been traveling, nor for how long.

Liam is walking the horses by their reigns to the riverside, probably to let them drink. Zayn and Harry are biting into apples as they rest their backs against the trees, talking amongst themselves.

It’s a beautiful setting, with the mountains on the horizon and the trees climbing up towards the sky. Louis might actually enjoy himself and his surroundings, if it weren’t for the minor detail that he’s being held with these people against his will. 

“I’m thinking we’ll sleep here tonight,” Harry says to Niall, once they’re close enough that he doesn’t need to shout. Louis sits himself down in the dirt and puts his hands in his lap. He wants to lunge at Harry and claw at his face. 

The sky is beginning to darken, so Louis watches as they prepare a fire in the small clearing between the trees. Liam gets it going once the horses are tied up, silently tending to it as the flames begin to grow. They huddle near the warmth, and Louis rests his chin on his folded knees. 

He looks at Harry from across the fire as the boy speaks softly to his comrades. Are his dreams haunted with the memories they share, too? Does he see Louis behind his eyelids at night? Does he still remember his taste, or has he forgotten? Can he map out the prince’s features in the constellations, or does he see someone else when he looks up at the stars?

They make eye contact, and for once, Harry doesn’t look away. He blinks, tilts his head, and continues to stare at Louis with a stone cold expression. 

“You used to love me,” Louis whispers without thinking. Harry swallows thickly, and Niall innocently stops speaking to turn to the prince.

“Did you say something?” He asks, and Louis shakes his head.

“No,” the boy mumbles, picking up a stick and drawing lines in the dirt with it. “I didn’t.”

~

“I need to bathe,” Louis announces once the sky is completely black and he’s really beginning to feel how disgusting sweaty he is. The others seem to be tired enough that their eyes are drooping and they’re ready to sleep.

“Congratulations,” Harry mutters, and Louis narrows his eyes. Without anyone’s permission, he turns and walks towards the river with purpose. 

Maybe he’ll just drown himself. Harry’s entire plan would crumble down into nothing. Everything he’s worked towards would be for naught.

Alas, Louis doesn’t have the strength to do it. He still has hope that his father will find him one of these days.

Almost immediately after he begins making his way towards the water, he hears someone scrambling to their feet and following him. Harry roughly grabs his arm, and Louis yanks it away.

“You cannot just do as you please,” Harry huffs at him, taking Louis’s arm again and attempting to drag him back towards the camp. “Need I remind you that you are a prisoner? We have been very kind to you - but if you do not do as I say, that will change.”

“Kind? Kind?” Louis shrieks. “You’ve taken me from my home and my family. You want to take my crown from me and drag me along your rag tag little revolutionary adventures! I am in hell, Harry Styles.”

“Good,” Harry snaps. “It’ll make up for the two years of hell I spent putting up with you.”

Louis is dumbfounded. He almost goes limp in faint as they stumble back towards the fire, which is still a distant glow in the trees. 

“How dare you lie to me,” the prince seethes, and the word vomit just starts to spill. “The best actor in this planet could not fake the way you looked at me. You cannot admit that you loved me, because I broke your heart. But you did, and I hope it kills you.” He can’t stop letting out these useless and meaningless words. “I hope the dagger our relationship left in your chest is still there. I hope your soul bleeds and I hope that my name is what haunts you, when you cannot sleep.”

“You’ve always had a flair for the dramatics,” Harry says through clenched teeth and a roll of his eyes, stopping in his tracks to turn and face Louis. “And you are wrong about me. About how I think of you.”

“No one forced you to come meet me, those nights,” Louis replies angrily. “I hate you, Harry Styles. I hate you with a fire that licks the insides of my veins and climbs the walls of my lungs until I’m consumed in it. However,” he pauses to take a breath. “At least I have the courage to admit that I loved you, once.” 

“A mistake you will never make again,” Harry replies, his voice firm and quiet. “But do not tell me that you are more courageous than I, simply because you cannot let go of the past.” 

“You are an evil bastard,” Louis grits out, shoving at Harry’s chest until he releases him. Once he’s free, he storms back towards where the others are camping out and plants himself down in front of the fire without a word. 

No one questions his surly expression - it’d be odd if he didn’t look so upset. He’s been kidnapped, after all.

They make Louis sleep in the carriage tonight, with the door locked from the outside so that he cannot leave. He’s curled up on the bench, a blanket draped over him and his head resting against the one pillow he’s been given.

He doesn’t fall asleep for hours, uncomfortable and furious and wishing so desperately to be back home. 

~

After two days of uneventful travel, they reach a larger village than the one they’d first settled into. Louis peeks out of the window from behind the curtain. He watches women in aprons feeding chickens, and children chasing each other through the streets.

The buildings are tightly packed together, all made of wooden planks. There is a strong sense of community here that Louis already feels, something foreign to him.

He wants to scream out to them, beg them to take him home. But most of them have never seen him before, unless his family visited this village before he was old enough to remember - how would they believe that he is the prince? He certainly isn’t dressed like a prince.

“We’re staying at the inn of a family friend,” Harry says to Louis without looking at him. Louis says nothing as the carriage stops, but is silently relieved to be out of the cramped space when he finally sets his feet on the ground once more.

The inn’s lobby is more like a bar, really, But there is a corridor against the back wall that leads to a set of stairs, which Louis is directed towards by Liam and Zayn as Harry catches up with the bartender and Niall fetches everyone’s belongings.

The steep steps bring the three to another corridor, lined with doors on either sides.

“The third from the left is yours and Harry’s,” Liam explains, walking them down the rows until they reach the room he’s talking about. Louis chokes on air.

“Harry?” He asks, and they both nod. Without further explanation or reassurance, they hand Louis a small key. It’s metallic and rusty, but he sticks it into the lock anyway and turns. When the door opens, he’s relieved to see two separate beds. There is also a chest to put his belongings, he supposes.

Claiming the bed closest to the window, Louis climbs on top of it and decides to take a nap. He needs to sleep in a real bed, for the first time in almost a week.

One he’s tucked in and facing the wall, he hears the door open behind him. Harry shuffles into the room silently and Louis pretends to be asleep. He slows his breathing, and chews on his lip with closed eyes.

“You’re not very good at pretending,” Harry sighs. “You snore when you sleep.”

Dammit.

“I’d like to be left alone, if you wouldn’t mind,” Louis grumbles, and he hears Harry moving things around. It sounds like he’s unpacking, but the prince doesn’t want to ask how long they’ll be staying in this crappy place for. Quite frankly, he’s afraid of the answer.

However, he does ask the question that’s been on his lips for days now.

“Actually, tell me this. Where are you taking me?”

“My headquarters, of sorts,” Harry hums indifferently, and Louis frowns. That’s not very helpful.

“And where is that? I thought you were homeless.” 

“I was homeless five years ago,” the boy mutters in response, sitting down on his own bed. Louis can’t see it, of course, but he hears the sound of the mattress giving in to the weight.

“Oh. Did you get a job, then?” Louis can’t even picture Harry with a job. When they were teenagers, they’d lie under the stars and the curly haired boy would describe his misadventures to Louis. They included running through busy streets from local guards, carrying food and other necessities. He stole because he needed to, but he also loved it. He loved the chase.

“Not one that pays,” Harry says. “My job, at the moment, is running the revolution.”

“And how is this revolution being funded?” Louis asks, his back still turned.

“The support of the people, of course,” Harry replies. Louis wants to ask how many are involved. How they got started. What their plan of attack is. Perhaps if he knows all of this, he can tell it to his father when he returns home. “You should sleep now.”

“I’m not tired,” Louis lies.

“Yes you are,” Harry responds, more quiet now. “You speak more slowly when you’re tired.” How the hell does he remember all of this?

“How do you-“

“I said sleep,” Harry snaps. “We’ve got a long day, tomorrow.”

They don’t speak, after that. And for that, Louis is not sure if he is disappointed or relieved.

Chapter Text

Breakfast in the inn is composed of milk, some leek pottage, and. That’s it. There’s no meat on the plate, nor are there any fresh vegetables or fruits. Not even an egg. Louis swallows the food with his eyes half closed - it’s four in the morning, after all. 

Why he was woken so early, he isn’t sure. Perhaps they just want him to be too tired to plan an escape. Harry is at another table, speaking quietly with men Louis doesn’t recognize. Are they, too, part of this revolution?

Niall, Zayn, and Liam sit at the table with the prince. They speak, though not much. It’s clear to Louis that they didn't get very much sleep, either.

“What is the plan, for today?” the prince asks, and Liam glances up from his plate. He shrugs, takes a sip of his water, and places the tin cup back onto the table. 

“Not much, really. This is more of a waiting game than anything else.” Niall and Zayn hum agreements as he speaks, and Louis rolls his eyes.

“You know, this is the lamest revolution I’ve ever heard of,” he mutters, and to his surprise, they laugh. It isn’t loud, but it’s quiet chuckles that startle him nonetheless.

“You’re kinda funny, Louis,” Zayn says with a smile, and Louis chews on his lip. 

“Funny enough to go home?” He leans in, raising one hopeful brow. The dark haired boy scoffs, and bites into his piece of bread.

“No,” he replies cheerfully, mocking Louis’s enthusiasm.

“Damn. Not even if-“ He’s interrupted by Harry approaching their table, arms crossed over his chest. Apparently he doesn’t know what else to do with his hands, because that’s all he does lately. 

“Louis, we’re going for a walk through the village today,” he tells him, gesturing for him to stand with a nod of his head. Louis groans, gets to his feet, and rubs at his eyes.

“This early?” 

“Yes,” the curly haired, taller boy replies. “I need to run some errands and I don’t trust any of these boys to watch you.” 

“Excuse me?” Niall frowns, furrowing his brows. “I’ve done nothing but-“

“It’s not my lack of trust in you,” Harry sighs, closing his eyes. “It’s my knowledge of Louis’s ability to worm his way out of any situation.” 

“How do you know anything about him?” Liam demands curiously, and Harry’s facial expression shows that he realizes his mistake. 

“Intuition, I suppose,” he saves it quickly, before turning to leave the inn. He glances over his shoulder to make sure that the prince is following him, and when he sees that Louis is on his heels, he pushes through the front door and out into the open, dark air.

The sun is yet to rise, and most people are not awake yet. The street is barren aside from a few merchants setting up their stands in the market. 

Harry’s boots press into the dirt path, and Louis silently keeps in line with him. He doesn’t want to ask where they’re going, because he doesn’t care enough to find out. All he cares about is waking up from this nightmare. 

Their shoulders do not brush, but they’re close enough that someone wouldn’t be able to see in between them as they walk. 

“I’m going to be meeting with one of my peers this morning,” Harry explains, not looking at Louis as he speaks. He’s walking at a leisurely pace, not in any sort of hurry. “We’re discussing plans about your placement and how I’m going to go about contacting your father. It shouldn’t be hard. We’ll have someone deliver a note to a member of the search party, wearing some sort of cloak to keep their identity sealed, and it’ll reach him soon enough.” 

“And when will you do that?” Louis asks, praying that it will be soon. The sooner his father learns of his location, the sooner he can go home. He won’t need to give up the crown - as soon as he knows that the revolution has him, surely he can find out where they hide out and fetch Louis from these villains.

“In a few months, most likely,” the curly haired boy shrugs, and Louis’s heart sinks.

“Are you doing this for revenge? Because of what happened between us?” He asks through clenched teeth, and Harry sighs.

“Do you honestly think I would get hundreds of people involved in a massive kidnapping project simply for revenge? You really do think lowly of me,” he mutters.

“Need I remind you that you kidnapped me?” The prince scoffs. “I feel it’s only natural that I have some disdain for you.” 

“I am doing it for a good cause,” Harry defends, stopping in the middle of the street to face the shorter boy. Louis sees the dirt on his cheeks, and briefly remembers running his fingers over Harry’s face with a washcloth until he was smiling and clean. 

“At my expense,” Louis mumbles, and Harry’s lips purse, as though he has no answer for that. “Tell me, Harry. Were you lying, when we were younger, or did you care for me?” 

The revolutionary looks down at him with an almost pained look. He knits his brows and lets out a deep exhale. 

“Of course I did. How could I not?” he whispers, before turning to keep walking.

Louis scrambles to keep up with him, having some solace in knowing that he had not been lied to when they were teenagers. At least he was not the only one so invested. It isn’t even that he loves Harry now - because he doesn’t. He doesn’t even know Harry now. But, it’s nice to be assured that the tear in his heart was not for a mutual feeling that had not existed to begin with. 

He knows that he was miserable over a love that was real, which is what counts to him. There is some dignity in that, he supposes.

They end up standing in front of someone’s private home. Harry knocks three times on the door, and a jolly looking man opens it. He grins at Harry, and his eyes dart over Louis in a surprised way.

“This is him, then?” He asks, and the curly haired boy nods.

“Yes, it’s him. He's under my watch, at the moment.” Louis hates how that sounds. As if he’s a small child. It’s ridiculous and demeaning, for someone of his status to be spoken of like that.

“I see. Well, come in. Come in,” the man insists. He’s middle aged, at least, and his home is decorated plainly. There are lit candles illuminating his small living room. Louis takes a seat on one of the chairs, and lets his eyes explore the wooden walls. 

He hears them speaking, but what they’re saying doesn’t interest him very much. They aren’t giving specific details about where he’s going to go, or how they’re going to get there. They skip around the real conversation with soft, nonspecific words. Louis is sure that it’s because he’s here, in the same room.

He hates this. He daydreams of being home, in his room, reading or enjoying the sunshine coming in from the balcony. He imagines dancing with his wife at a ball, not in love, but at least content. 

He hates being treated like a pawn in the game of other people. He is a future king, dammit, and all respect for him has been tossed to the wind. How dare these people shuffle him around like cargo. Without him, they would live in a chaotic society doomed for crime and failure.

“It sounds like you have this very figured out, Mr. Styles,” the man grins, shaking his hand. 

“Well, I’ve had a lot of time to think,” Harry admits with a smile, and Louis wants to throw up. Preferably, he’d throw up all over these nasty traitors. The audacity they have, to gleefully talk about defying his family right before him.

They leave the house after Harry says his goodbyes, and Louis is furiously silent as they make their way through the village. The sky is starting to turn into cotton candy pinks and purples as the sun rises over the horizon, and people are emerging from their houses. 

Louis remembers when Harry was a cheeky young thief, who used to smile into Louis’s mouth as they kissed. Now, he’s strolling beside the leader of a revolution destined to rip his future apart. Harry wants to dismantle everything Louis has trained for - everything he knows

“Harry?” He asks, and is acknowledged with an uninterested hum.

“I know this won’t be the case, but. What were you planning on doing if my father refuses to give up the crown?” 

“I know how much your father loves you,” Harry replies with a gentle shrug. “I needn’t worry about such things because he would lay his life on the line for your safety, according to what you used to tell me.” 

Louis feels almost sick. Harry has an advantage over him because of things the prince had shared with him in secrecy… Things he had told the boy he was madly enamored with. And now, here he is, captured and embarrassed by his teenage naivety. 

“How long have you been, um, planning this, for?” He stutters through the sentence, terrified of the answer. Was it all a ruse? Was the plan all along to learn about Louis’s strengths and weaknesses, for future reference?

“About three years,” Harry tells him. “And I know what you’re thinking. No, I was not planning on revolting against the government during our… time together. Nor are you the particular reason I began to consider it. I’ve always hated the monarchy, but at the time, you were an exception. Not a motivation.”

“And now?” Louis asks, crossing his arms over his chest. 

“I’m still figuring it out,” Harry admits, but his expression doesn’t loosen. Why does he always look angry? Can’t he relax, for more than twelve seconds? 

“Well, please know that you are the sickest, most vile human being I know,” Louis growls out. 

“Understandable,” Harry says with an agreeing purse of his lips. And they continue on in silence. As they move through the increasingly crowded street, the prince’s mind wanders to when things were less stoic between them. 

~

“I find that stolen apples taste better than bought ones,” 18 year old Harry muses, taking an obnoxious bite as he leans against a tree, one arm tossed above his head. 

Louis sighs and shakes his head. He flicks Harry’s forehead, and the curly haired boy pretends to be hurt until Louis kisses the spot where he’d ‘injured’ him. 

“You’re stealing from me, you realize,” the prince laughs. “It’s my kingdom.”

“Not your kingdom yet, it isn’t,” Harry shakes his head, taking another bite. Louis listens to the crunch as another piece of the fruit disappears into the boy’s mouth. 

“Well, when it's my kingdom, you’d better not steal anymore apples,” Louis snaps. 

“How will I eat?” Harry demands, sitting up straight. 

“You’re going to live with me in the palace, of course,” the prince insists. “And you will eat all of the apples that you please.” 

Harry wrinkles his nose with distaste.

“The castle is not a place for me,” he reasons. “How about you sneak me into the kitchen at night, and hand me a gigantic bag of apples?” He’s laughing at the idea even as he says it, and Louis smiles.

“Nothing else? No jewels? Just apples?”

“Just apples,” Harry nods, but stops to put a finger to his chin thoughtfully. “Well. Perhaps a kiss, here and there.” 

“I think I can manage that,” Louis leans in to him, and rests his head against the thief’s shoulder. They listen to the crickets in a quiet, happy silence. It isn’t uncomfortable or awkward, just peaceful. 

~

A week passes, maybe two. Louis hasn’t kept track of the days. He’s alone in his room at the inn, staring at the wall and sighing. 

Being held captive is boring. For the most part, he spends his days trapped in the cramped living space and doing his best not to go mad. 

Harry and the other boys are sorting out the details of when they’ll be leaving this place, and Louis is almost a bit excited. He can’t stand traveling for a long time, but it will be a nice change to be on the road. 

He taps his finger against the glass window pane, listening to the soft sound it makes. He does it again, resting his cheek in his other hand and taking deep breaths. What is there to do around here? Can’t they supply him with a pen and paper, so he can at least write about his troubles like a real captive?

“You’re coming with me,” someone says, and it certainly isn’t a voice he recognizes. Louis whips his head around, and it’s the man Harry and Louis had visited a week or two ago. 

“Pardon?” Louis stands to his feet. “I don’t think so.”

The man only laughs, bounds across the room, and grabs the prince by the collar. 

Well, this certainly isn’t going well. 

“You’ll sell for a fantastic price,” he mutters. “Though I’m not sure if I should sell you dead or alive yet,” he spits. So. Maybe he’s not exactly a fan of the monarchy. 

Louis is kicking and resisting, but the man is large, and already dragging him towards the door. Where the hell are his so-called protectors? He’ll be dead by tomorrow morning.

“Let go of me!” Louis shrieks, and that’s all it takes for the man to clamp a hand over his mouth. This is all too familiar. He’s getting flashbacks to when he was originally captured, but he knows for sure that he won’t be treated as nicely this time. 

He’s dragged, flailing his body, towards a back exit down a set of steep stairs. Louis manages to free himself for a minute, but only scrambles up a few steps before he’s snatched back up. He feels a blow to his cheek, and realizes he’s been hit. Once he’s back in the man’s grasp, they make it outdoors - where a wagon is waiting for him.

“It wouldn’t be wise for you to take another step,” someone says from behind them, and Louis has never been more relieved to hear Harry’s voice. Ever. 

Of course, he isn’t thrilled about this whole ‘damsel in distress’ situation, but he’d rather be saved by his captor than end up dead. 

The man laughs, and brings a knife up to Louis’s neck that the prince didn’t even know he was carrying. 

“Harry, my old friend. You’re a good man - but you’re not very intelligent. You won’t win this war against the king. You’re better off selling this prince for enough money to set yourself for life and live comfortably.” 

“I won’t live comfortable until this country is free of tyranny,” Harry says with his chin jutted out. If  Louis didn’t fear for his life, he’d roll his eyes. Now is not the time for heroic declarations. 

“Take another step and I’ll kill him,” the man insists. Harry’s lips curl into a smirk, and he raises a brow. 

“Is that so?” He moves forward, and Louis goes to scream out, but before he can, the man holding him shouts in pain and releases him. He falls to his knees, and Louis turns to see that Zayn’s got a dagger in the man’s back. 

The knife hits the dirt. This is the first and, hopefully the last, death the prince has ever witnessed. Traumatized and thankful, he runs to Harry and throws himself against the boy’s chest. He wraps his arms around his torso, burying his face in Harry’s shirt, and lets out a cry. 

Taken by surprise, the other boy doesn’t move at first, but finally reacts by holding Louis close against him and pressing a hard kiss to his forehead.

Oddly enough, in the arms of the person who had originally kidnapped him, Louis feels safe.

Chapter Text

Harry keeps glancing at Louis from across the room as they prepare to depart from the inn. Ever since the incident where his former peer had attempted to snatch the prince up and make some sort of profit off of him, he’s insisted that Louis never leave his sight.

Zayn and Liam are lifting luggage and chests full of belongings, clothes, and supplies. They carry them out to the carriage in silence, as Louis sits at one of the tables on the ground floor tavern with Niall. Harry oversees the whole operation with a silent gaze. 

“I’m sorry about what happened,” the blonde boy says sadly. All he can do lately is apologize for letting the prince out of his sight. “I know we took you away and all, but I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” 

Louis crosses his arms over his chest and leans back into his chair. 

“Niall, you do realize that this is an attempted revolution that you’re involved in, right? People are going to get hurt. Hell, I’m probably a dead man walking at this point. And so are all of you.”

The boy sighs in response, as if he had known this all along but didn’t want to admit it to himself. Or to anyone, for that matter. 

“I don’t want violence and bloodshed. I just want a better life,” he murmurs, tapping one finger against the wooden table. “I grew up in a tiny cottage where we grew our own food and wore the same clothes every day. My family lives in horrible destitution, and I know it’s because of the monarchy. Your father is driving us into the dirt, Louis.”

“Does Harry have an army prepared, or anything prepared, if my father refuses his demand?” The prince asks, and Niall lets his lips curl into a smirk. 

“Well, I guess you’ll find out when we make it back home.” The word ‘home’ rolls off of his tongue so easily that Louis is unsettled. He really is headed towards the belly of the beast. If there’s anywhere a prince doesn’t belong, it’s the headquarters of a revolt against his own family. 

Maybe if the king doesn’t take Louis back, Harry will just let them brutally kill him. He shudders at the thought, and bites on his bottom lip, hard.

“I’m not stupid,” Niall sits up a little straighter, before leaning in. “I know that you and Harry used to know one another. I’m sure the others have picked up on it, too, but are just too afraid to mention it to him.” He shrugs, and keeps talking. “But you can trust me. Please tell me the truth, I’m dying to know.”

Louis scowls. 

“I don’t owe you anything, and I certainly can’t trust you. You kidnapped me,” he snaps at him, and Niall looks defeated. 

“For the record, I wasn’t the one who physically kidnapped you,” the blonde holds a finger in the air, and Louis rolls his eyes with a dramatic scoff.

“Oh, my hero.” 

“Listen,” Niall lets out a deep breath and folds his fingers together. “I know you don’t like me. And to be entirely honest, I’m not your biggest fan either. But let’s admit it, you need a friend, and so do I. Zayn and Liam have known each other since birth, they grew up in the same village. Me, though? I caught them on the road and joined this little group. Sure, they’re my friends, but I’m still an outsider. And forget Harry. I think we all know just how introverted he is,” he laughs quietly. 

Louis knows he’s right. He needs someone to talk to, or he’s going to explode. This keeping all of his thoughts to himself is absolutely tearing him apart, mentally. And what’s the harm in telling Niall? 

“You will tell no one of this,” the prince makes each word sharp and threatening. Niall nods excitedly, leaning in and offering him an ear. 

“Well. It’s a bit of a strange and long story,” Louis begins. “When I was a teenager, I used to sneak out of my chambers at night and walk through the palace gardens. Most of the time, I’d make my way to where the castle grounds ended and the forest began. There was a clearing there, and it became my happy place, of sorts.” 

He stops to make sure that the blonde boy is following him. Niall only blinks and nods for him to continue speaking, so he does.

“Anyway, I was about sixteen and sitting in the clearing when this curly haired boy stumbled into sight, panting and out of breath and drenched in sweat. He looked absolutely disgusting. I scrambled to my feet, and hid behind a tree. He saw me though, and started quietly coaxing me to show myself. He promised he wouldn’t hurt me, and me, being sixteen and faithful, stepped out into the clearing.”

Louis scratches his chin, doing his best to collect the memory properly. 

“He was holding a small satchel. It had food in it, but not that I knew that at the time. I don’t think he could tell that I was the prince - just that I was wealthy, based off of my nightgown.” Niall snorts at the word ‘nightgown’, and Louis chooses to ignore him. 

“He told me that his name was Harry and that he was running from some merchants who had caught him stealing from their stands in a market a few miles away. I didn’t want him to know that I was royalty, for whatever reason, so I told him my name was William - it’s my middle name - and that I had hiked there from a village in the mountains a few miles north of the location. I said that I liked to go for walks at night, and he either believed it, or didn’t care enough to call out my lie.” 

Niall is so entranced that his eyes are wide and he’s got his chin in both hands. 

“We sat together against the trees and he told me about how he was a thief, and that he didn’t have one permanent home. I told him that my family owned some land up north, and I was to inherit it in a few years. Of course, Harry and I started meeting every night and I couldn’t keep the charade up for long. I eventually grew too weary and felt guilty about lying to him, so I confessed that I was indeed the prince. He made me prove it by bringing my father’s crown with me one night - and well,” Louis pauses to laugh. “That’s another story. Just know that I busted my arse to sneak that crown out.” 

Niall’s lips curl into an amused smile.

“Anyway, we spent months together. I started to like him, but I didn’t know how to say it. How do I admit I have feelings for someone I am never, ever going to be with? Our relationship would have been impossible. But then, there was a day late in autumn where he just wordlessly pulled me to him and kissed me. And after that, we weren’t an established thing, but we were.” He furrows his brows, trying to explain it as best as he can. 

For some reason, it feels so good to talk about this. It feels cleansing. 

“We would take naps together under the stars, and swim in a secluded lake nearby. We always used to slip on the mossy rocks and try to catch each other on the way down, but would usually end up just tumbling into the water.” He smiles to himself. “Sometimes I’d bring some of my soap and I’d let him use it in the lake, too. I think he didn’t like to admit it, but his times with me were the only times he had opportunities to bathe with soap. Otherwise, as far as I know, he’d take himself down to riverbeds and use his bare hands to clean himself. He pretended to hate when I’d scrub through his curls, but he’d purr the entire time and look so content.”

Niall interrupts him, almost startling Louis out of the memory. 

“So what happened? Why did it end?” 

“Well, we went on like that for two years, more or less. I started to love him, and I told him so. He loved me too, eventually, and started to beg me to leave the castle. He’d tell me that I could show up one night with a bag full of some things for us, like clothes and food and maybe some money to get us by. He wanted me to abandon my title and start a new life.” 

“And you said no?” Niall assumes. 

“Yes, but that isn’t why I stopped seeing him,” Louis sighs. “On my eighteenth birthday, my father announced to me that he had arranged for me to be married to my wife, who I’m sure you’ve heard of.”

“Yes, of course,” Niall nods, urging him to continue. 

“So I met Harry in the woods to tell him, and he just-“ he purses his lips. “He walked away from me. I don’t know why I was so horribly hurt, you know? I had known this would happen. It was no surprise, by any means at all. I was raised to prepare myself for an arranged marriage. There was no part of me that expected a future with Harry - and yet, when it really hit me that there wouldn’t be one, I crumbled into pieces. I was alone and about to wed someone I had never met. It was a rough time for me. After that, I didn’t see him again until a few weeks ago, when you lads came around to capture me.”

Niall is silent for a moment, and leans back into his chair. 

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he admits, with a small smile. “I was thinking it would be more along the lines of he had committed some crime, and you had been engaged in the court system. I didn’t think that-“

“Yes, well, it’s still a surprise to me, too, that any of it ever happened,” Louis admits. “Sometimes I feel as though it’s a watercolor dream, when I remember it.”

“Having to kiss Harry sounds more like a nightmare to me,” Niall scoffs, and Louis smiles widely. 

“It wasn’t awful.”

~

“Niall, will you quit staring at me?” Harry demands for about the sixth time over the past forty six hours. They’ve been in the carriage for way too long, and everyone is a bit on edge. The blonde boy has been watching their leader curiously, and Louis is the only one who knows why.

“Sorry,” his cheeks turn pink, and he shoots a sly glance at Louis, who is trying desperately not to roll his eyes.

It’s Zayn’s turn to drive the carriage, and Liam is falling asleep against the wooden walls. Louis has been nodding on and off, sometimes waking up (much to his embarrassment) on Harry’s shoulder. The curly haired boy hasn’t said anything, but he usually looks very uncomfortable and conflicted when it happens. 

“So, Niall knows,” Harry says casually, his eyes watching the countryside roll by outside the window. The prince and the blonde boy whip their heads towards one another and exchange horrified looks. 

“Knows what?” Niall asks innocently enough, and Harry huffs out a breathless laugh. 

“About Louis and I,” he nods between the two of them. “You two realize I was about ten feet from you, right?” He raises a brow, and Louis wants to smack his own forehead. Well, fuck.

Now he’s trying to remember if he said anything particularly humiliating. 

“I was just curious,” Niall admits sadly, shoulders sagging. “The dynamic between you two fascinated me and I wanted to know more.” 

“Hm,” Harry hums, lips pressed tightly together. “I mean, there isn’t much to tell. We were very young and very stupid.” 

Louis bites down on his tongue. Harry doesn’t really need to downplay it so much, it’s just plain insulting. It was more than the result of teenage innocence, and they both know that. 

“Yes,” the prince agrees with a tight smile. “Harry was young and stupid enough to know that he wanted me to abandon my life as the heir to the throne and run away with him. He promised me that we would grow old together, perhaps raise some street orphans as our own children. He dreamed of living a domestic life, almost always.”

Louis smiles to himself when he sees that the green eyed boy’s face is red, and his jaw is set. He’d be lying if he denied this to be true, so he looks the other way and closes his eyes.

“I am not the same as I was,” he mutters, to them or to himself, Louis doesn’t know.

“Well, that’s quite the shame,” the prince says, looking at Niall instead of at Harry. “Because teenage Harry had a passion that burned inside him every second. All I see in you now is bitterness and anger.” 

“Just because I am no longer passionate about you does not mean that I am cold and emotionless,” Harry snaps. “I am passionate about many, many things. You just aren’t one of them anymore.” He looks pained as he says it.

Louis doesn’t say anything after that, because, what is there to say when your entire body has just been numbed? 

 

Chapter Text

Light filters through the tall trees, and golden rays splash across the ground outside the window so beautifully that Louis has done nothing but watch them for at least ten minutes. His cheek is pressed against the glass of the carriage, and he’s curled into himself. 

Niall is plucking some sort of stringed instrument lazily as they bump down a dirt road, and the prince can only assume that it’s mid-morning. He can hear birds chirping somewhere, and his heart aches. They’re free - so free that he can almost taste it. 

“We’ll be arriving in roughly fifteen minutes,” Harry breaks the stillness with his voice, and Louis squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t want to see this place, where the revolution is at its strongest. He knows nothing of it, or how many people are there, and he likes it that way. Knowledge is a terrifying thing, at times.

He dozes off, eyes fluttering closed against the light and his lips pursing. Liam is murmuring something to Harry, but he isn’t energized enough to give a damn what it is.

When he wakes again, the carriage has stopped completely and the door is wide open. The boys are piling out of it, and Louis stretches his arms before following suit. When his feet hit the ground again, he takes a look at his surroundings.

Louis had been expecting a village, or perhaps a farmhouse. This, though, is both shocking and terrifying. They are stood before the royal family’s old summer cottage. The word ‘cottage’ does not accurately describe this place, though. It’s a mansion on the water, made almost entirely of marble and towering into the sky. 

It has rows and rows of gardens; gardens that Louis remembers his mother designing with her team of landscapers. He spent his warm months here as a child, before they built a closer summer home whose location wasn’t so terribly far away. This one, he had assumed, was either destroyed or just abandoned.

It is incredibly well maintained, though, and there are people bustling about everywhere. Men and women are tending the gardens, and someone has come to take their belongings from them. In the distance, he can see a group of people sitting on the beach and watching the waves roll in against the sand.

“I’ve created a haven for my people,” Harry tells him from beside the prince, and Louis feels both disgusted and violated. This was where he grew up, and now it’s the meeting place for traitors and criminals who want his family gone?

“This is disgusting,” Louis chokes out.

“What’s disgusting is the fact that this monstrous building was constructed in the first place,” Harry mutters, “while the peasants were starving and begging for food. Do you know how much tax payer money went into this?” He points to the house, and Louis shakes his head.

“This was my summer home, Harry. You’ve ruined it.”

“Your family hasn’t spent a summer here since you were ten years old, Louis,” Harry rolls his eyes, taking a few steps down the gravel pathway. It’s a long walk to the front porch, through elegantly maintained hedge work and fountains. 

“Who maintains-“

“We all do,” Harry replies instantly. “Together.” The prince runs to catch up to him, trying to keep his feet in line with the taller boy’s. It isn’t easy.

“Well, what is the purpose? Why do you all stay here?”

“We stay here so that we can congregate and plan easily. We’re planning on turning this into a government building when your father abdicates. We want that palace destroyed.” 

Louis is going to be sick. 

“Keep up,” Harry calls over his shoulder, as the prince has fallen behind yet again. “There’s people to meet, things to see, and work to do.”

They make it to the porch, which wraps around the entire building and has multiple chairs and tables. Louis remembers playing chess with his sister on this porch in the mornings, as a servant would bring them their breakfast and tea. 

There are men and a few women there now, though, scribbling onto papers and discussing revolutionary ideas. Do these people not know that he is a human? That he has real feelings and a childhood? A childhood now torn apart? This place is sacred, to him.

Harry opens the front door for him, and the inside looks much the same as it used to. A grand staircase to the left, a huge ballroom in the opening foyer, with a few chaises and other places to sit here and there. He remembers standing behind the curtains and watching his parents dance the night away with their friends. 

“This is our meeting hall, of sorts,” Harry says to him, as they stand in the middle of the room. “It’s the largest room in the house, as I’m sure you know, so we fill it with chairs and use a pedestal to allow us to make speeches and discuss ideas.” He walks towards the large windows that line the south wall. It overlooks an expansive lawn, one that eventually leads out to the sea, and folds his arms behind his back, before he continues speaking.

“About fifty of us live here full-time, but there are plenty of people who will spend weeks at a time learning about ideas and speaking of their own. Lots of men show up to gather information that they can spread to their own home towns.” 

Harry takes Louis by the wrist and leads him towards the wide stairs, that lead up to a grande second floor. The memories of this place are flooding the prince too quickly for him to bear. He and his siblings used to slide down these stairs on silver serving trays. 

He places a hand on the smooth railing as they ascend, and he’s doing his best not to let any tears fall. This house is so full of nostalgia and past times - better times, that Louis doesn’t want anyone to touch it. 

He wants it to last for eternity in its frozen state of beauty, a reminder to the world of the gorgeous summers the royal family spent here. He wants it to sit undisturbed and unaltered. It deserves to be preserved in the most beautiful way possible. 

“The king’s bedroom has been servicing as a place for my colleagues and I to arrange our letters, pamphlets, and declarations. We’ve been doing our best to spread word to as many people as possible - and the written word will get us plenty more followers, if we do it right. I spend most of my time in there, writing and editing and rewriting.” 

Louis is staring at the artwork on the walls, and stops in front of one in particular. It is a massive portrait, surrounded by lavish red curtains and illuminated by candles on the wall. It’s a painting of him at the age of eight, standing tall in traditional royal dress. 

He’s got a cap on, and is holding a staff. His father had this done to show the people that he would be a good king, someday. He looks proud in this picture, but Louis was a shy and quiet child. He has a feeling the artist exaggerated his expression for propaganda purposes. 

He’s wearing tight white stockings and shiny black shoes with a buckle, and ruffles around his collar. He almost remembers posing for this, beside his father’s desk in the library. He had stood in the same spot for hours. 

Harry is silent beside him, and chews on his lip. Louis hates him even more now, and so desperately he wants to punch him in the nose. This image of him as a child looks so sure of himself.

This little boy knows nothing of how tragic his fate will be, Louis thinks to himself sadly. 

“You’ve ruined me,” the prince whispers, fingers pressed to his trembling lips. “You’ve obliterated everything that I have lived my life for.”

“I’ve taken you away from the blindness and sheltered upbringing you had,” Harry replies softly. “I may have ruined your chances of being king, but I think I’m giving you something much more valuable, which is a view of the outside world. A view of how your people really live.” 

“I know how my people live,” Louis snaps. “I am not oblivious. I have no chance of saving them, now,” he’s going to cry any minute. He can feel it. 

“You do, though,” Harry pleads suddenly, taking his hands. “You can join me, Louis. Together we can bring this kingdom out of the ashes. No one will die of starvation, no one will rot in debt prisons.” 

The prince yanks his hands away, shocked and revolted. His eyes water, and he’s thrust into a flashback of a younger, equally as desperate Harry.  

“Come with me, Louis. I will never let you be sad or lonely,” Harry begs, rubbing his thumbs over Louis’s palms. “And we can love one another every hour of the day, instead of just these few.”  

“I cannot,” the prince whispers, seventeen and petrified. 

“I cannot,” Louis tells him sharply, and Harry’s shoulders sag. He turns to look down the long corridor, and presses his lips into a firm line.

“Let me show you where you’ll be sleeping,” he sighs. 

They don’t speak as they walk down the hallway, decorated with paintings of Louis’s family and ancestors throughout the years. There are windows everywhere (his father had insisted it be that way; he didn’t want to build a mansion on the sea and not be able to see the beach), and they provide a soft light. 

Everything smells like salt and open air. It’s almost nice, and it’s exactly how he remembers it.

Harry opens the door to Lottie’s old room, decorated with lilac wallpaper and soft pastels. The bed is small, as she had been a young girl when she used this room, but still large enough to hold a full sized person. 

“I had been expecting a servant’s quarters,” the prince admits, and Harry smirks. 

“If you’d prefer to sleep where the maids slept-“

“No, I’m fine!” Louis shakes his head and takes a few steps into the room immediately, claiming it as his own. His little sister’s old hairbrushes are still neatly lined up on the vanity, and his heart aches for her. He misses her, and his entire family. "Why this room?"

Harry shrugs. “It’s unoccupied, unlike most of the others.” He looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t, and leaves. The prince is now alone, surrounded by feminine furniture and doll houses. 

Reluctantly, he pushes the large purple curtains aside and swings the window open. Across the lawn, there are men practicing their sword fighting and chattering. A lot of them have a very brutish and impulsive technique - one that would never work in trained combat.

“I heard the prince is here,” someone says to a friend, and Louis’s ears perk up from his perched listening place. “I wish he’d be locked up in some basement dungeon.” The man spits on the ground, and Louis winces.

“He won’t be, though,” the other man’s friend comments with a roll of his eyes. “Harry doesn’t even let us talk bad about the heir. He snaps at anyone who makes a rude comment. He thinks it’s a big secret that he’s got some sort of feeling for this kid, but it’s quite obvious.”

“I think he kidnapped him just to have him close. He probably doesn’t even want to overthrow the government.” 

“No, no,” the friend corrects him. “He absolutely does. I would never question his motives. However, all I’m saying is, for one reason for another - he’s got a soft spot for the prince. And I don’t know why, or for what, but I’m sure he’s being treated extremely well.” 

“Well, that’s a damn shame,” the other shakes his head and goes back to polishing his gun. Louis slams the window shut and leans against it, hugging his arms to his chest and taking deep breaths.

What was that about? What did it mean?

Harry doesn’t let the revolutionaries speak poorly of him? But Harry himself speaks poorly of him, so what on earth would he do that for? He squeezes his eyes shut and slides down the wall until he’s sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around his own chest and his knees pressing into his ribs. 

The tears finally come, and Louis yearns for home. 

~

Night falls without the prince leaving his new room. All he’s done is watch the sea and think and cry. He finally crawls into the bed and stares at the ceiling, decorated with paintings of cherub angels dancing through the clouds. It must have comforted his sister to sleep, when she used to lie here as a child.  

It offers him some solace, and he looks at the curls on their heads and their chubby cheeks. They have small wings and gentle smiles. 

The door opens, though, and Louis jumps up from his comfortable position. Of course he would be interrupted, just as he’s beginning to settle down and feel alright. 

“Sorry to barge in,” Niall apologizes, but enters the bedroom anyway. “But Harry wants you to join us for dinner.”

“I’m not coming,” Louis lies back down and rolls over, allowing his eyes to close. How can one be hungry when they’re constantly in a state of such stress? 

“Do you want me to bring you food, then?” The blonde offers.  

“No. I’d like for you to leave,” the prince insists, and he hears the door close once more. He drifts into the dreamworld not long after that 

~

Morning comes, and thankfully, no one wakes up. Louis sits up and rubs his eyes as the light comes in through the curtains, the ones he forgot to close before he slept. 

He’d like to have a bath run for him, but he doubts anyone would be willing, so he just changes into new, plain clothes that someone had packed into the dresser for him and runs a hand through his hair.  

As he exits the bedroom and makes his way down the hall, he immediately feels people’s judgmental eyes on him. It’s so strange, to be the subject of so much hatred when it’s usually praise and admiration. Nonetheless, he does not humor them and keeps his head high, without so much as an acknowledgement of their mannerless stares. 

“Good morning, Louis,” Niall tips his hat to him and they descend the grand staircase together. He either isn’t paying attention to the silent eyes, or is ignoring them. “Breakfast is in the dining room. Follow me.”

Louis rolls his eyes, because he knows where the dining room is, but is admittedly growing fond of the boy. Perhaps Niall is the least horrible of these men. After all, he’s the only person who has offered him the tiniest bit of friendship. 

“Niall?” He keeps up with him, despite the fact that the blonde likes to walk very quickly.

“Yeah?” 

“You’re alright. Despite this whole being a part of my kidnapping thing. And being an enemy of the monarchy.” 

The blonde smirks and laughs quietly, slapping a hand onto the prince’s back. Louis is startled, as he has never been touched without being asked permission first, and blinks. 

“You’re not so bad either, for a stuck up, royalist aristocrat,” Niall hums at him.

They round the corner and leave the ballroom, entering the expansive dining hall. It’s decorated with deep, maroon walls and a table so long that it could easily seat twenty people. Harry is sitting at the head, where the king used to sit, and Louis bites his tongue to hide his discomfort. 

The table is talking amongst one another, but all noise stops when the prince enters the room. Some people look perplexed and amazed, and others look downright disgusted and annoyed. 

Louis wordlessly makes his way to the only empty chair left, which is to Harry’s right. Niall has already joined some of his friends, who gleefully greet him.  

He can hear some of the men whispering about him, and Louis looks down at his prepared plate. It looks like the first good food he’s seen in weeks. 

“Who made this?" He asks. Surely they don’t have a professional chef. 

“It depends on who was on kitchen duty,” Harry shrugs, not looking up. “We make everything here. We have our own livestock and vegetable gardens.”  

“I know that,” Louis mutters, irritated. “This used to be my house.” He stabs his egg with the fork anyway, and begins to eat. He’s nearly starving, after all.

When he looks up at Harry, the boy looks pained and hesitant. He’s got his fork in one hand and his knife in the other, chewing on his lip.  Once Louis’s attention is back on his plate, he swears that he almost hears the faintest whisper. 

“This could have been our house.” 

Chapter Text

Louis wiggles his toes in the sand, as he sits on the beach with his knees pulled to his chest. The sun is setting, melting the sky into silky oranges and soft purples. It’s quiet, as the tide laps against the shore in its perpetual pattern. 

He’s been at the summer house for two weeks now, and he’s given a few freedoms. Harry’s too busy nowadays, so Louis is free to roam on his own instead of remaining attached to the other boy’s hips. Though, he has no doubt that people are assigned to watch him from a distance.

Someone’s probably watching him right now. But, it isn’t though he isn’t used to it. He was under constant surveillance at the palace, whether it be his nurses or tutors or palace attendants. 

Somewhere in the distance, perhaps the long stretch of backyard that overlooks the water, there are men training for battle. The clashing of swords sends shivers down his spine and shocks through his toes. The piercing slice of metal against metal, clanging against one another, reminds him that they are preparing to fight the people he knows and loves, if it comes to that. 

But it won’t. He reminds himself surely, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. 

The prince doesn’t know the contents of his heart anymore. There was a time, which seems now like a past life, where it was full of absolutely nothing but Harry. He’s still unsure as to whether or not the thief still holds a spot in it. And does he have feelings for him, or is he simply overwhelmed by the nostalgia of a time long gone? 

Perhaps seeing him again has wrenched him back into a relationship that never got closure. He thinks of his wife, whose supportive and caring nature offers him a sheltering cocoon of safety. It isn’t her that he loves - it’s the way she takes care of him, emotionally, without even intending to. They are each other’s only friends, in the barren walls of the castle, and now she is alone in the confines of the walls. 

He feels awfully for her, but he feels even worse for himself. Louis has never felt more sorry for himself in his life - and he felt pretty damn sorry when he was forced into a marriage he didn’t want.

“Louis,” a voice murmurs, and the startled prince glances over his shoulder to see Harry, standing at the edge of the beach with his hands in his pockets. He deposits himself into the sand, arms resting lazily on his knees, and watches the sun disappear behind the water in its usual, archaic fashion. 

“Please send me home,” Louis whispers. He doesn’t know why he’s so quiet, but maybe it’s because he’s never had to beg for anything in his life - except for when he pleaded for Harry not to leave him, five years ago - and he simply doesn’t know how. 

“I plan on it,” Harry picks up a pebble and tosses it into the water. It doesn’t skip, just plops underneath the surface and creates a ripple. “But in good time.”

“Do you really find me incapable of being a good ruler?” He asks, eyes squinting against the golden light. Harry’s hair is moving gently in the breeze, and he’s wearing his recently constant frown.

“Yes. But not because of you,” he replies. “It’s because you were taught by your father. And because no one can rule a country alone. It doesn’t work. The system is flawed and favors the interests of one family over thousands.”

“I care, though, I want to help-“

“I know you do,” Harry replies, eyes closed and brows furrowed together. “That’s why you need to open your mind. What I want is radical, yes. And I will probably be killed. But maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll start a spark. Maybe I’ll inspire people to just think about the way our government is run. And maybe, if I’m really lucky, that will be enough to really change things, a hundred years from now or so.” 

“Send me home and I will not let you die,” Louis promises him. But he knows it’s stupid of him to say this. He wouldn’t allow Harry to be executed no matter what; despite what the thief has put him through.

The curly haired boy’s lips curl into a smirk, and he laughs breathlessly. 

“Thank you, Louis, but I’m not as afraid of dying as I am of not making an imprint on this world.” 

“You want to make your imprint by destroying mine,” the prince reminds him. “You want to tear me to pieces until my family and I are known as history’s worst and final monarchs.”

“You could give it all up and join me,” Harry says for the second time. Louis gets an awful feeling in his stomach and a sickening taste in his mouth. He could never betray his country in such a way. 

“I will not allow this kingdom to crumble into anarchy,” he spits, and Harry scoots closer to him.

“You and I can create a new government, Louis,” he murmurs. “It would be perfect. The royalist supporters might just be more open to it if you’re involved. We could bring everyone together, and fix the poverty that has struck our home so hard.” He carefully reaches out a hand, and places it under Louis’s chin. 

“You and I,” he continues, in the smallest whisper, “Could do great things. Change the world with me, Louis. I wouldn’t rather do it with anyone else.” 

The prince is silent, because their faces haven’t been so close in so long and it’s like every single kiss they ever shared is flooding into him at once. He’s experiencing them all over again, before his eyes and in his heart. Harry blinks, and he looks as though he’s holding his breath.

The prince would reach out to touch his face if he weren’t so afraid. 

“In my eyes, we already owned the world when we were sixteen,” Louis admits. Without a doubt he will weep into his pillow this evening, when he has time to think about the fact that this really happened. 

“You were my little prince,” Harry smiles sadly. It’s barely noticeable, the way his mouth curls upwards so slightly. But it’s there. 

Louis knows it’s an awful idea, but he wants to kiss him. He wants to pretend he’s an unmarried teenager again, still on his way to being the king of the kingdom and still in love with this boy. 

He leans in carefully, and their noses brush. Harry’s lashes fall down to Louis’s lips, and they both suck in deep breaths. 

Harry!” Zayn is screaming, and they yank their heads up. Brutally thrown back into reality, Louis takes a deep breath. “There are palace guards two miles away. And we have word that they’re coming to search the manor.” He’s panting, out of breath, for he clearly ran here.

Harry jumps to his feet, eyes wide and chest heaving. He starts barking out orders, because surely they had planned for this day, but Louis doesn’t hear a word. His ears are pounding and he can’t think. 

He should be happy, but all he is is afraid. What if they imprison Harry? What if they kill him? He’s going to vomit. He tries to lean over, but he’s immediately being dragged by his arm towards the mansion’s back porch. 

People are running, everywhere. Scrambling, sprinting, yelling back and forth. They’re moving things and carrying swords and Louis is so dizzy that he could faint. It’s happening too fast. 

The doors push open and he has to run to keep up with Harry now, who still has a too-tight grip on his bicep. 

“Take him to the hiding place,” the curly haired boy commands, thrusting him towards Zayn. The prince shrieks as the dark haired boy grabs him, and reaches for Harry. Before he can protest, Harry takes him into his arms once more and presses his lips firmly against Louis’s for just one moment. 

Zayn’s jaw nearly drops onto the floor as Harry pushes Louis back towards him without any explanation. 

“Everything is going to be alright,” the curly haired boy promises the prince, before hurriedly leaving them in the ballroom. He’s calling Niall’s name as he rounds the corner. 

“I would ask you about what the fuck just happened, but there’s no time,” Zayn says almost too quickly for Louis to comprehend. “We’ve established a procedure for this, though.” 

He pulls Louis along, and at first, the prince wonders why he’s keeping such a tight grip. He remembers then, that of course, he should want to run to these soldiers - they’d take him home. But after what just happened, all he can think about is Harry’s safety. He hadn’t even considered the fact that he might be rescued.

They walk through a series of parlors and bathrooms before they make it to the kitchen. Zayn opens a door that Louis has never seen, and they descend down into the murky basement. It’s damp and creepy looking, with cobwebs and dim lighting. 

There are torches here and there, but that’s it. 

“There is a secret room full of old wine barrels,” Zayn turns around to tell him, as they step around puddles. “We’re going to hide in two of them.” 

Louis would be horrified if he could think straight, but he just nods and stumbles along behind Harry’s companion. After a few more rights and lefts, they come across a wooden hatch in the floor. 

“I’m not going down there,” the prince shakes his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “How am I to know that this isn’t just some trick, and I’m about to be murdered?”

Zayn narrows his eyes. 

“You’re going either way. Do I need to push you down there myself, or will you use the ladder?” He opens the hatch, and all Louis sees is darkness. 

Fuck.

He lets out a big exhale, and crouches down. His foot finds the first rung of the ladder, and he begins to slowly climb down. When he finally reaches the bottom, he looks up to see that Zayn is bringing a torch with him. 

The other boy jumps down to the floor and holds up the stick. The flames reveal a small room, full of barrels and wine shelves. 

“There’s probably rats in them,” Louis shivers, and Zayn opens one in the corner of the room. He peers into it, and shakes his head. 

“Nope, no rats in this one. Climb in.” 

Louis remains still, arms hugging his chest, and for the first time today, the dark haired boy looks a little bit sympathetic. 

“Listen, it’ll only be for a few hours or so. Harry will come and get us when the coast is clear, alright?” 

Reluctantly, Louis takes the few steps to the barrel and bites down on his lip. Zayn takes his hand and helps him put one leg into it. He steps fully inside the container, and crouches down. 

“How will I breathe?” He asks. “When you put the lid on, I mean.” 

“We poked holes into two of these about three months ago,” Zayn explains. And, okay, so apparently a lot of preparation went into this. “And then we marked them with a small sliver of red paint so we knew which ones were safe.”

“Oh, alright,” Louis mutters, and sure enough, he notices that light from the fire is filtering in through a small space. 

And then there’s darkness, when the lid is on the barrel. The light of the torch goes out, and he hears Zayn fumbling to climb into his own barrel. 

It smells faintly of alcohol, and he can feel the dust he’s inhaling. The space is tight, so his knees are pulled up against his chest and his head is pressed against the side. He closes his eyes, as it is just as dark with them closed as it is when they’re open, which is a terrifying phenomenon. 

There’s silence for a good five minutes, which Louis mostly spends clinging tightly to the fabric of his shirt, and then there is the unmistakable sound of a door being beaten down somewhere in the distance. 

Chapter Text

Harry has his right hand rested on his sword as he power walks down the long, high ceilinged corridor. He glances to the right, where the open marble pillars lead out to the beach and fill his lungs with warm, salty air. The breeze is nudging his curls from his face, and he huffs. 

Everything will go according to plan, he reminds himself. He is an intelligent person and he planned for this, so he just needs to relax. 

But what time is there to relax when he just kissed Louis and then had to send him away to the cellar? There were so many beautiful ways he dreamed their lips would meet again - thousands, in fact, but none of them were as pathetic as that just was. 

Niall is rushing towards him with red cheeks, and he’s pulled away from his hectic string of thought. The boy is shakily gripping a sword, and Harry frowns. He knows that Niall has had a few lessons, but he is in no way comfortable wielding such a weapon. 

“Stick with me,” he demands. “I don’t want you getting hurt.” 

“I’m not a chil-“

“I know that. But you're my friend, and we both know you’re a few lessons short of being prepared for this,” Harry reasons. 

“Do you really think we’ll have to fight?” The blonde asks, with wide blue eyes and a quivering lip. He’s so damn young. Looking into his youthful features reminds Harry that he, too, is young and afraid. He too easily forgets that fact. 

“I’m not sure, to be honest. We’re going to tell them that we use this place as a refuge for homeless people. It’s not too hard to believe, considering there are organizations out there that use abandoned manors as shelters. They’re usually established by a noble, though, so we’ll have a tough time convincing-“

“They’re at the door,” Liam is suddenly standing beside him, a hand on his shoulder. Harry squeezes his eyes shut, and pinches his nose with his two fingers. 

“If all else fails, and I am gone, do not let the prince be harmed,” Harry insists, looking at both of them coldly enough that they get the message. 

“They won’t hurt him. They’re here to-“

“Many of them don’t even know what he looks like, and he’s in peasants’ clothing. He could very easily be murdered in a misunderstanding. See to it that it never happens,” Harry interrupts Niall, and turns on his heel. 

“Come on, then, we’ll greet them at the door.” 

And then there’s the sound of something pounding. Harry comes to the horrific realization that they are quite literally knocking the door down - so, they have more than a suspicion that the prince is here. 

“Niall?” He asks. 

“Yes?”

“Remember when I said I didn't know if we would have to fight?”

“I do.”

“Well, I know now. We’re going to have to fight.”

“We need to get Louis out of here,” Liam says, reaching for his sword. The sound of the giant door slamming against the marble floor echoes throughout the room as they make their way towards the entry hall. 

“Niall, go get Zayn and Louis and get them out of here. You know about the tunnels, right? The ones the servants used to move produce without the royal family seeing them?” He’s relieved when the blonde boy nods and disappears towards the kitchen. 

At least he won’t have to worry about the unskilled swordsman getting hurt. Liam is capable of taking care of himself, at least, so he continues on his way to where the commotion is happening. He can hear men entering the mansion, and voices. 

As they turn the last corner to enter the main hall, Harry makes his presence known to what looks like fifty or so royal soldiers. They’re in the tradition blue uniform, and they all snap their heads to look at him at once. 

“May I help you, gentlemen?” He asks, and one of them, in a more sophisticated coat, steps forward.

“We are here in the name of His Highness in search of the lost prince. If you do not grant us permission to search the entire place unharmed, I’m afraid we’re going to have to kill you.” 

Harry mentally sighs with relief. Perhaps no one has to die, today. People will die in the future, when the revolution becomes less of a secret, but at least not today. 

“Please, be my guest,” he insists. He explains to one of the officials their use of the manor while search parties disband and travel from room to room. He prays in his head, over and over, that Louis, Zayn, and Niall are long gone. 

If he’s lucky, they’re sprinting through the forest and disappearing into the distance. He’d sooner agree to never seeing Louis again in his life to seeing him end up dead, mistaken for a penniless revolutionary. 

~

“Lads,” someone hisses into the darkness, and Louis freezes. His entire body stills until he might as well be a stone, and he tries not to breathe as heavily. “Lads, it’s me,” Niall hisses angrily, and Louis sighs with relief. 

“We’re over here,” Zayn whispers, and within a minute, the lid is lifted off of Louis’s barrel and he’s got two peasants staring down at him. 

“Well? Help me out, then,” he mutters, and then Niall offers him a hand. A chill runs down his spine when he remembers that Zayn said Harry was supposed to come get them. 

“We need to leave. Now,” Niall is holding a torch, but Louis doesn’t have the slightest clue as to where he got it from. He must have plucked it off of the wall before he came down into the empty room. “Up the ladder and through the exit tunnels. They’re searching for him.”

“Is Harry alright?” He’s chewing on a fingernail now, as he watches Zayn grab the ladder and scramble upwards. 

“Last time I spoke to him, he was,” the blonde says. “I didn’t hear fighting. I think they’re just searching, luckily.” 

They make it back up and into the cellar, where Niall and Zayn work together to push a bookcase aside. It reveals a long and narrow tunnel, and Louis nervously wraps his arms around his body. 

“Why is that here?” He asks, and Zayn snorts. 

“Your own bloody house and you don’t know,” he shakes his head. “The servants used it when bread deliveries and other products came in. Your father asked that no one be seen doing this - it wasn’t glamorous enough to look at.”

“How do you know that?” Louis whispers as they enter the tunnel; Niall assuming the lead with his torch. 

“My father used to transport fabrics to the palace. He’d let me tag along, at times, so long as I was helpful,” Zayn shrugs, and Louis chews on his lip. He and Zayn were in close proximity, probably all of the time, and he hadn’t even known. 

Niall stops moving, and turns around.

“Did you hear that?” He asks, and they all cease their steps to listen. Faintly, there’s a voice that says to someone else, 

“Oi, he could be in this basement.” 

“We need to run,” Niall whispers under his breath, and almost simultaneously, they take off into a sprint. As Louis tries to keep up, listening to the dark haired boy’s breaths behind him, he remembers suddenly that he should be running in the other direction. 

He doesn’t though, for a few reasons. For one, there’s a very good chance these guards wouldn’t know who he is and would kill him on the spot. Another is that Zayn would stop him before he made it two feet. And a third, perhaps the thought most dominating in his mind, is Harry. He doesn’t want to leave him, despite how crooked and twisted his situation is. 

His legs ache and his lungs burn, but they run until there are stone stairs moving upwards, carved out of the wall. They climb and climb and climb, and Louis nearly stops to catch his breath but Zayn grabs his arm and yanks him along. 

Finally, there is a hatch that Niall swings open. Light pours into their eyes so quickly and brilliantly that they squint, but scramble out into the open air, nonetheless. Niall closes and locks the latch behind them. 

Louis gathers his bearings and takes just a moment to suck in a gust of air. He’s nearly sweating now, and they’re standing a little bit of a distance from the house.

“No time to waste. We need to keep going,” Niall insists, and they’re off again. 

“Where are we going?” Louis sprints to catch up to him, afraid that if he yells he’ll be heard. The blonde glances to his right to stare at the prince, as trees whiz past them in a green blur. 

“The meeting place we agreed on, if all hell broke loose,” he replies breathlessly. 

“Has all hell been broken, then?” The prince inquires, and Niall purses his lips. 

“Yes, I’d say so,” he rolls his eyes, but is smiling nonetheless. Louis finds it so peculiar, that this boy can find humor even in the face of death. 

No doubt he’d be hanged for betraying the kingdom. The thought alone makes him want to wretch, so he shakes away the idea and keeps his legs moving. 

After what feels like hours but is in reality about fifteen minutes, they make it to a wooden cottage on the outskirts of the lake. It’s absolutely tiny - a shack, even. 

“The woodsman used to live here, collecting fire wood for the mansion,” Niall explains, as they finally stop running and suck much needed air into their bodies. “We’ll stay here until the others join us.” 

Louis is thankful that he says ‘when’ instead of ‘if’. 

They enter the cottage, which is really just one room with a bed, a chair and two tables, and a cauldron to cook things on. There’s also a small bookshelf, with some religious tales on it as well as some evaluations of modern law. He’s read a few of these, himself, in his studies, he realizes, as his eyes skim the titles. 

Zayn collapses onto the bed. 

“How did you know this was here?” The prince asks, settling into a chair. He’s on edge, and doesn’t feel like relaxing, but his leg muscles need the break. 

“We were very thorough,” Niall leans against the wall and crosses his arms over his chest. His eyes wash over the room, as if he’s taking it all in for the first time. But Louis knows he isn’t. How else would he have known exactly where to go? “We’ve had all of this planned out for months, now, as we’ve told you.”

“I didn’t know it was to such an extent,” the prince murmurs, and the blonde grins.

“Well, Harry does feel quite strongly about this. As do we, of course - but. He inspires us to want to do great things. He makes us feel like this crazy dream is really possible.”

Louis doesn’t want to talk about this anymore. He feels nauseous every time they speak of the revolution. There are times when he forgets the circumstances for fleeting moments, when he’s laughing at one of Niall’s jokes or listening to Liam’s stories. Sometimes, in his head, he calls these people his friends - and then they speak gloriously and proudly of what they’re doing, and reality sucks him back in like an inescapable vacuum.

~

It’s been hours. Louis doesn’t know how many, but he can tell that a good portion of the day has passed because the light is filtering through the windows at a different angle. Therefore, the sun has moved. 

Zayn has pulled a chair up to the window, and the left side of his head is resting against the glass. He’s got his eyes closed, but he’s humming a song unfamiliar to Louis here and there. It’s soft and soothing, and his voice is actually very lovely.

Niall is sat on the bed, elbows resting on his knees and his chin in his hands. Louis, however, can’t stop moving, and has been pacing the small space for at least the past forty five minutes.

Time passes unbearably slowly when there is absolutely nothing to do except wait. He glances up at the ceiling, and suddenly, there’s three knocks on the door. And then another two, after a second. 

“It’s the code,” Zayn jumps up, and bounds across the room to swing the door open. Louis’s eyes are filled with the sight of Harry, with an exhausted looking Liam behind him, and without thinking (at all) he runs to him.

Harry catches him in his arms, and Louis weeps into his shoulder. Everyone is watching them in awe, but Louis can’t be bothered to care. 

Harry buries his face into Louis’s hair, and the prince can’t shake the tears that pour from him - the tears he’s held into himself for five years. He doesn’t know why they’re coming now, of all times and places, but here they are. 

He feels that in this moment there is a silent understanding between them, as Harry rubs his hands up and down the prince’s back. There are no words verbally exchanged, but a sense of we used to be something and we aren’t something now, but we remember how it used to be and that’s painful - so painful, but it’s so relieving to know no one is dead. 

“I’m alright too, thanks for the concern,” Liam snorts, pushing past them to enter the space. Louis and Harry don’t break their hold as their companion awkwardly sidles between them and the doorframe, and Harry presses continuous kisses the top of the prince’s head. 

“My little prince,” he sighs out happily, and Louis wonders if his eyes will ever dry. 

“My smelly thief,” he whispers into Harry’s neck, and they pull each other tighter together - not that it’s entirely possible. 

“Not to interrupt this touching reunion,” Niall coughs. “But we need to get moving.” He’s right, and they reluctantly pull apart as quickly as they had fallen together. 

Almost as if Harry had realized what he had done, his cheeks bloom into a pink color and he doesn’t look at Louis as he steps out the door. 

“We managed to bring a wagon, but the carriage had to be left behind,” Liam tells him, as they all exit the house. The prince’s lips are still stinging with the taste of Harry’s skin, but he says nothing as they clamber into the wooden wagon. 

Zayn grabs onto the reigns of the two horses pulling the thing, and they whine, tossing their lovely heads back into the air before beginning to lazily tug forward. 

Louis’s head is crammed full of memories… And that’s what the strangest thing is, about this whole thing. Harry so much as brushes his fingers against the prince’s skin, and it’s like he personally unleashes a tidal wave of watery times past. 

They flood Louis’s mind and wash him away with them. 

“If I ever had parents, I didn’t know them for very long,” Harry shrugs, his trousers rolled up past his ankles as they wade through the river to cool off. It’s the middle of summer, and they’re sweating buckets. 

“Of course you had parents,” Louis replies, looking down at the way the black water gently laps at his feet. It brushes his skin gently, the coolness of it making him almost jump. “I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I’d be so lost.”

“Don’t go feeling sorry for me,” the curly haired boy warns. “It’s hard to miss someone you never knew. I don’t think I’m missing out on much,” he shrugs, but even the look in his eyes says differently. His face is downcast, and his speech is less confident. 

“I can be your family,” the prince murmurs, and Harry looks up at him with a small smile.

“You already are,” he breathes out happily. 

 

Chapter Text

Louis feels comforting rays of sunlight hug his face as he wakes up. The unsteady sway of the wagon causes his curled up body to swing to and fro, and his eyes are still closed. He exhales, and runs his tongue over his dry bottom lip. Judging by how parched he is, he slept for a long time. 

He’s about to sit up and ask for something to drink when he hears the voices of his captors speaking quietly, over the noise of the wheels running over pebbles and sticks alongside horse hooves digging into the dirt path. 

“I don’t understand,” Zayn breathes out, and Louis hears someone exhale. “I thought you two didn’t have as serious past.” 

“Well, I may have lied,”  Harry murmurs in response, and Louis decides he’d better pretend to be asleep for a little while longer. He keeps his eyelids closed, and tries to even out his breathing. He even releases a gentle and soft snore, because apparently, Harry knows his sleeping mannerisms. 

“So… You were in love with him?” Liam inquires. Louis doesn’t hear Niall, so he can only assume it’s Niall’s turn to drive the horses. “Like, proper in love?”

“Proper in love,” Harry hums. He’s breathing slowly and deeply, something he does when he’s uncomfortable. “I mean, I was young and when I first met him. I didn’t even know he was a Tomlinson. He carried himself like an aristocrat, though, so I assumed he had some importance. He was just…” There’s a silent moment, where he finds words. “He was just lovely. He stepped out from behind the trees with these scared yet sleepy eyes and he was wearing this stupid, expensive looking white nightgown that went to his ankles, but it looked so nice.” 

The other boys are silent now, and Louis can only assume they’re looking at Harry with curiosity and disbelief. The curly haired boy keeps speaking, in a distant sort of way, as if he’s pulling memories out of the depths of the deep ocean and it’s taking all of his concentration.

“And when he spoke, I was done for. He’s so small, but he had this authoritative voice that demanded who I was and what I was doing there. I won’t say I loved him, because I didn’t, at the time. I was just entranced, I suppose.”

“When did you love him?” Zayn asks. 

“It wasn’t one exact moment in time,” Harry dismisses the question. “I wasn’t sitting there and looking at him one night and came to an epiphany, or anything like that. It was more like… More like little pieces of him started to tug on my heart, like his laugh or his sarcasm. I never really came to love him, it happened gradually and continuously. There was no point in time where I suddenly loved him and that was it, I had reached the highest point of affection. My endearments grew by the hour and I started to wonder if my fondness had a limit. It just seemed to swell until I was full of it.” 

Harry must have realized he was rambling, because he shuts his mouth and seems embarrassingly quiet. Zayn and Liam say nothing, and Louis wishes he didn’t have to pretend to be sleeping so he could look at their expressions. 

It’s been so hard for him to keep a straight face, especially listening to Harry say all of these things. 

“Do you still, you know, love him?” Liam murmurs, and Louis feels eyes on him. It’s an indescribable sensation, because there’s no rhyme or reason or proof. But he knows. 

“I don’t know,” Harry admits. He speaks in a way that sounds like he’s trying to figure out his feelings as he expresses them. He’s sorting through his mind verbally, and in front of his peers. Perhaps he’s closer to these boys than the prince originally understood. 

“It’s been five years. I look at him and I see someone new; someone I’m not familiar with. But there are specks of time where his lips curl into the smile I used to know and I suddenly can’t breathe anymore, and I’m drowning in the past. But If I do love him, it’s.. a different.. kind of love than the innocent and exciting one we used to have. I think it’s a more painful one. It's like… Our old love put air into my lungs and… I think this one is suffocating me.” 

Louis can relate to that. 

~

It rains, and there’s nothing they can do to aid the situation other than drape scratchy wool blankets over their heads and hope to stay dry, somewhat. 

The storm brings a layer of sound that they needed, because it cuts through the silence and fills the emptiness that surrounded them with the patter of water hitting against wooden planks. The hooves of the horses slap against puddles and squish through the trail, becoming soft and malleable underneath them. 

The sky has hidden itself in a cloak of grey sadness, and Louis has his face pointed at his shoes. It’s the only way to protect his face, really. And if he’s avoiding eye contact with Harry, well, no one has to know.

He’s aware of how bad his situation is. He shouldn’t be content with his kidnappers, but he’s growing comfortable around them. He’s developing acquaintanceships. He finds himself laughing quietly at their jokes, bantering with the boys like old friends, and losing his guarded behavior. 

He cannot forget what they have done to him. He cannot forget that they can, and probably will, kill him at any moment. And, of course, as much as he’d like to, he cannot forget the feelings he once had for Harry that are unexpectedly blooming once more, like a flower that had wilted for a long winter and was revived by a new summer sun.

He isn’t safe, and if he lets himself neglect that important fact, he will end up dead for sure. He takes the ends of his blanket and wraps them closer around himself. Louis glances up for the first time in a few minutes, and takes in the sight of his captors. 

They’re silent. Zayn is passing out food portions, and Louis denies his. He can’t eat, he’s too stressed out. A part of him knows what he has to do, but he’s so afraid that it chills his bones and makes his teeth chatter. 

He has to get out of here before he sinks effortlessly into a state of familiarity. This can’t become the norm. His life cannot be this barbaric game of cat and mouse where he is passed from town to town and bargained for. He is a future king, dammit, and he curses himself for forgetting it.

He finally admits it to himself when he brings himself to look at Harry, damp curls plastered against his glistening forehead, and dark lashes clumping together. His eyes look even more green in their gloomy surroundings, and he’s blinking at Louis like a lamb instead of someone attempting to take over the kingdom.

I need to run away. 

Of course, from the moment he was captured, he knew that he needed to escape. But it always seemed so useless… 

Now, though? Louis isn’t the only one who has let his guard down too much. They have too much faith in him. They don’t bind his wrists anymore, or demand that he remain within a foot or so of one of them at all times. He has freedom - not much, but enough to work with.

He can do it, physically. He isn’t worried about making his legs get up and run. His biggest problem will be forcing himself to do it; to leave Harry behind for the second time in his life. The first time he had to say goodbye, Louis felt as though he had torn himself into two pieces and both halves of himself paled and died.

Though these circumstances are substantially different, there is a feeling deep in his stomach that tells him the outcome will be much the same. He will ruin himself, again. But he has to. What choice does he have? 

The rain eases up a little, and the droplets are less irritating now that they’re lighter and fewer and farther in between. 

“We’ve got to stop for the night,” Liam says from his seat at the head of the wagon, reigns in his hands as his glances over his shoulder. “The horses need to rest and be fed. There’s still twelve miles until we get to Hartsburg.” 

Harry is silent, thoughtful. 

“Alright,” he sighs, clearly unhappy with the change of plans. “We’ll have to detour deep into the woods, and we can’t have a fire. We’re still too close to the search parties to risk it.” 

Louis’s heart races. Will he run to the search parties? How will he find them? He’s just going to have to sprint and get as far from Harry as he can - until he finds a farm or a village that can help get him home. 

Liam veers off of the path, and the wheels roll over twigs, shrubs, and rocks. The wagon bounces significantly, until the underbrush is too thick and they need to climb out of the wagon. 

They’re far away enough from the path now that no one would see them from it, so they begin to pitch makeshift tents with cloth and sticks and rope. Louis watches as they fasten the shelters together, rain pattering against his forehead. He’s itching to just turn on his heel and sprint away right now.

He can’t though, it would ruin everything. He needs to wait until the moment is perfect - but God, he doesn’t even know what direction would be most beneficial to him. This is going to involve a lot of luck and hopeful thinking. 

The rain slows to a stop and the air is dry now but the ground is sopping wet. Louis’s feet squish through the muck and he wants nothing else but to be far away from here, on solid ground. 

Preferably polished marble, so clean that he can see his reflection if he looks down at it. 

The thought drags him into childhood memories of lying on his stomach in the middle of the throne room, staring at himself in the floor and making silly faces out of boredom as his father pleads with him to pay attention to the council meetings.

“Louis, are you listening?” Niall snaps his fingers in the prince’s face, and Louis angrily swats away the hand intruding upon his personal space. “We can’t have you sleep in the wagon. The mud may cause it to slide tonight.” 

Oh. Oh. This is his chance, then.

“Alright,” he chokes out, as the blonde boy gestures towards a tent that has been set up a sturdy looking tree. It’s small, just a cloth draped across a pole they’d attached to the bark and held up by a few stakes in the ground. 

Liam fetches him a few blankets from the wagon, and Louis looks up at the sky. It’s turning a dusty orange color, and he sucks in a deep breath. When the moon rises, and everyone’s eyes are closed, he will slip into the night. It’s final. 

“You’ll need these,” Liam insists, handing him the pile of quilts and wraps. “Since we can’t have a fire tonight, you’re going to freeze without them.” 

The prince thanks him with a nod, and he hopes that his nerves aren’t too evident on his face. He needs to come up with the plan in his head before he departs. 

He’ll steal one of their swords, God knows they’ve got plenty, as well as one of the food satchels and some water. He’ll grab a few coins, just in the case of emergency and someone doesn’t believe that he’s the prince. 

Deep breaths, Louis. 

~

They boys have been asleep for hours. And to be honest, Louis could have left ages ago. He’s sitting here though, cross legged underneath the protection of his tent, and staring into the looming darkness. How does one intentionally and purposefully step into danger and unknown? With hesitation and reluctancy, that’s how.

He can do this. He knows he can, but he just can’t get himself to stand up. He can see the silhouettes of the boys under the moonlight, sleeping in their own tents. Niall is snoring, just softly enough that it’s audible but not annoying. Zayn rubs his nose in his sleep. Harry’s eyelashes flutter and he rolls over.

Louis’s heart clenches into a tight bundle and he feels the ache. How can he leave? His entire body swells with love and he wants nothing more than to crawl towards Harry and curl up beside him; maybe feel as safe as he did when he was sixteen.

No. He thinks. It’s all the more reason to leave. He isn’t going to allow himself to fall in love with Harry all over again - not after how ridiculously and excruciatingly painful it was to burn the curly haired boy out of his brain the first time. 

His soul still bears the scars. 

Finally, he stands to his feet, fists balled tight at his sides. There’s a bag of food and water and a bit of money over one shoulder, and he’s got a sword sheathed at his hip. It’s Zayn’s, and he took it because he knows for a fact that the boy has another in the wagon.

Luckily, the ground is still soft and gentle after the soothing rain seeped into it earlier today. His steps make little to no sound, and he moves his legs. He’ll start running in just a minute, but first, he sucks in a deep breath.

“Goodbye,” he whispers in the direction of one boy in particular. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t have loved you in a simpler life.” 

He’s turning to face west now, where he knows that they had come from. He had paid attention for this exact reason - he needs to get back to the trail. 

The trail is better than unexplored forest. Sure, there are bandits on the trail, but Louis would sooner fight them than large animals. Animals fight based off of instinct - but men fight based off of emotion and strategy… And Louis is trained to fight men, not bears. 

As soon as he’s at least fifty feet away, he takes off into a sprint. The cool air hits him immediately, and he’ll be cold if he doesn’t find a village tonight - but it wasn’t as though he could have dragged a thick blanket along with him. 

The darkness both cloaks and threatens him at the same time. It is both a shield and a burden. His eyesight isn’t fantastic, and he needs to squint to see where it is that he’s moving. The moonlight is milky white against navy blue hues of evening, strips of light in between columns of trees. 

He pants, chest heaving and flames licking up the walls of his lungs with hot tongues of exhaust. The trail cannot be much farther than here.

Sure enough, he slows to a stop when the trees clear and a wide dirt path stretching in both direction comes into view. He steps into the middle of it, and chews on his lip. The village is twelve miles away, Liam had said, and he glances to the north. 

That’s where he needs to go. He’ll go as fast as he can, and hopefully have someone contact the royal guard before they can catch up to him. 

He runs in patterned intervals. He sprints for as long as he can, and then he’ll walk for a few minutes, taking sips from the canteen he had taken from their camp. He’s dripping sweat onto his pants and loose white shirt. 

He really has missed his wardrobe. He can’t wait to stop needing to wear the same plain, cheap style every day. But there are more important things to think about. 

It’s hard to determine how much time has passed when there is no clock available and Louis is doing nothing but alternating between paces.

Finally, finally, as he was just beginning to believe that the village was farther than he had hoped, he comes across a spattering of houses. It’s a farming community it seems, because there is no central square or cobblestone streets. The dirt path diverges into smaller, more demure paths, that lead up to cottages surrounded by cabbage fields and vegetable gardens.

The forest has abruptly ended, and he sees nothing but rolling, gorgeous hills before him, dotted with humble residencies. Louis sucks in as much air as he can, and wipes the sweat from his forehead. Any of these houses will do, really. 

It would be anyone’s duty as a citizen to make sure he is safely returned home. In fact, he’s probably doing them an immense favor. Whoever returns him to his father will without a doubt receive a cash sum and a hero’s medal of honor from the king himself. 

These peasants would without a doubt be honored to escort him back home. 

He reaches the closest house to the outskirts of the forest. There is a stone walkway to the front door, wooden and a little crooked. He doesn’t see any light coming from the inside, but he knocks three times anyway. 

After a minute or two, the door creaks as it’s swung open and an elderly man is rubbing his eyes tiredly. 

“Can I help you, son?” He grumbles, hair disheveled and eyes blinking slowly. 

“I am the crown prince,” he says. “And I want to go home.”

 

Chapter Text

Louis is seated at a circular wooden table, both of his palms wrapped around a tin mug full of what the old man had referred to as ‘tea’, but is really just hot water with a lemon slice floating in it. He doesn’t mind, though, considering the fact that he’s nearly dying of thirst.

The old man’s name is Gilbert Hawthorne, and his family has run this small farm for generations upon generations. He and his wife live here alone, as their two daughters have both been married to local men and have new families of their own now.

Gilbert is tapping his fingers against the table, and letting his eyes watch the orange sunrise between the mountains from his small, glass window. 

“We live a simple life,” he says quietly. “But I enjoy it.” Louis listens silently as he continues. “Of course, I’m growing too old to tend to the crops on my own. My son-in-law runs a small inn up the road, but he comes down here to help me when he’s got the free time. My grandson is going to inherit the farm when I finally kick the bucket.” He chuckles a little at the thought, which startles Louis.

“How can you laugh at the idea of your own death?” He murmurs, blinking a few times. The old man looks him in the eye, and shrugs.

“With age comes indifference towards passing on, Your Highness…” He stops to furrow his brows. “Is that what I’m supposed to call you?”

Clearly, he has little - if any - experience dealing with social hierarchy and the proper manners that go along with it. The prince shrugs, and smiles gently. 

“Yes, that’s alright. I go by a few titles, but that one is usually reserved for my father. I quite like it, though… Makes me feel important.” He feels as though he’s shared too much, and closes his mouth. His gaze is focused on the worn scratches of the table, evidence of its years of use. 

Gilbert smiles, his face illuminated by the soft glow of the morning sun outside, and rests his folded hands in his lap.

“You remind me of my grandson,” he says, before quickly correcting myself. “That’s a compliment, Your Highness. He is very innocently delighted by the world.” 

Louis purses his lips. Clearly, the old man has misjudged him. If anyone feels bruised and beaten by an unfair and unforgiving world, it’s Louis Tomlinson.

“I’m not sure I’m so delighted anymore,” he whispers, fingers tapping against his cup. He exhales, and the old man’s expression falls. 

“I wish I could do more to help you,” he says. “But I cannot. My wife is ill and I cannot leave her.”  He offers the prince more tea, but Louis shakes his head. 

As the silence ensues, his thoughts wander to Harry, which is something they often do when there is an unoccupied space in his consciousness. His chest aches, but he pushes the feeling away. 

“Perhaps I will go to the inn then, that your son-in-law runs. Surely he will take me,” the prince is convincing himself more than the old man, who is only nodding. 

“I’d be happy to escort you,” he begins, but the prince cuts him off. 

“No, I’ll be alright,” he insists, standing from his seat and stretching his exhausted limbs. “I’ll just need some directions and I’ll be on my way.” 

Gilbert directs him to the door and holds it open, as the prince steps out into the clear air. It’s probably only seven in the morning, and the day is still raw. 

“Thank you,” he says, turning to face the man, who is leaning against his doorframe and informing him on the whereabouts of the inn. “I promise you that I will be sending gifts to your  home as soon as I get back to mine, as well as a visit from the palace medic. For your wife.” 

The man thanks him gratefully, and closes the door behind him as the prince embarks down the dirt path and towards where he had been directed to go. 

~

The prince is hurrying down a cobblestone street, lined with a few buildings here and there - most of them are the residencies of merchants, and a few littered establishments serve as bars and inns for travelers. 

No one spares him a second glance - he doesn’t look like the prince anymore. He’d confront someone if he weren’t so nervous that they’d be some sort of revolutionary in disguise. 

He hasn’t had his beard shaved since he left the palace, and therefore without a doubt grown some stubble. His hair is longer and his eyes are tired… Not to mention his raggedy clothes and peasant-like, hopeless expression. 

He doesn’t look like the young portrait of himself, still hanging in his family’s old summer home. That prince had looked confident, tall, and powerful. He may as well have been holding the world in the palm of his hand, because that’s how Louis used to feel. He wasn’t inheriting a kingdom, he was inheriting immortality. He would be viewed as a leader chosen by God himself.

And what has he been reduced to? He is nothing but shame, now. 

Louis watches his boots press into the stone street, eyes focused on the movement of his legs. His thoughts wander again, and he dreams of being home, in his bed with the maids fanning him during a hot summer afternoon, probably after one of his archery lessons. 

His body slams into another, and he stumbles backward a few steps. Sputtering and insulted, Louis glances up and nearly swallows his own tongue. 

It’s Harry standing before him, arms crossed over his chest and lips pursed into an amused smile. He steps closer to the prince, and Louis’s eyes widen. 

“Now, I know you’ve never had too much common sense-“ He stops speaking briefly when the prince scoffs out something of a disagreement, but eventually continues nonetheless. “But I never would have assumed you would run towards the place I was already headed.”

“I didn’t plan on staying long,” Louis argues, and Harry glances over his shoulder. Niall appears from behind him, and takes him by the wrist. 

“Don’t cause a scene,” the blonde whispers, walking them forwards and keeping a tight grip. He doesn’t further explain the threat, or what his consequence would be, but Louis obliges anyway. He has no doubt that Liam and Zayn are somewhere nearby, waiting to snatch him if he tries anything sly. 

Harry falls into step beside them, and Louis is seething. The humiliation flushes into red patches on his cheeks, and he wants to wriggle himself free and hit the ground in a full tilt sprint. At least if they killed him, they’d kill him a someone who made an effort to fight back. 

But he can’t, he doesn’t have the strength. So he walks forward, and listens to the curly haired boy speak to him, despite his boiling anger.

“I didn’t even expect to see you here, at first,” Harry admits. “We were going to stop here to regroup and determine our strategy. But I saw you leaving that farmhouse, and it seems as though God has decided to show me some mercy, for once.” 

“Oh, please, Harry,” Louis snaps, more out of frustration than anything else. “Your life is pretty damn fantastic. You get to run around the kingdom having rebellious adventures with your friends, and getting revenge on the one person who was close enough to you to break your heart.” 

Harry stills, and closes his mouth. Curiously, he tilts his head towards the prince and furrows his eyebrows together. 

“I don’t want revenge,” he insists. “I want-“

“I know, I know, you want this country to be a place of freedom and people’s choice,” the prince spits, and rips his wrist away from Niall’s grip. “Unhand me. We both know I am unable to escape, at this point.” He rubs at his arm, and clenches his fits tightly to distract himself from the tears threatening to fall. 

He climbs into the wagon without a word, but not without making sure to glare and Zayn and Liam as he takes his seat. 

The thing is, Louis loved Harry, once. That, he is absolutely, positively sure of. But now? He looks into his eyes and he sees and feels all of the love he used to have - because eyes do not change. The rest of Harry is different, though. He isn’t a boy anymore. He is a hardened adult, with an agenda and a stripped innocence that can’t return.

He is a flowing stream that froze over for the harsh and demanding winter. The difference, though, is that Harry will never thaw. He will never be seventeen and careless again. He will never love Louis so entirely and wholly. He can’t, and Louis couldn’t return the favor, even if he could. 

Green eyes meet his as the wagon begins to move towards the forest, and for a moment, all of his bitter thoughts wash away. Harry looks young again, like the excited boy he used to be, and Louis wants to reach out and hold his face into place. Maybe if he doesn’t move, his expression won’t change and the prince can live in his memory for just a little longer.

But Harry frowns, and the dream is washed away with the tide of his changing expressions. 

“You are not the boy you used to be,” the curly haired boy says aloud, and Louis is taken by surprise. He sits up a little straighter, both offended and confused. He blinks, perhaps three or four times, before gathering a response. 

“Of course I’m not. I’m an adult now, with greater concerns than those of a child.” 

“Perhaps that wasn’t for the best,” Harry spits angrily. “You were lovely, you know. So hopeful and happy and gentle. You looked at the world as though it was an undiscovered miracle. You were a wonder, Louis.” 

Niall is sitting beside Harry, staring at him with wide eyes and a zipped shut mouth. He glances between the two of them; between their narrowed eyes and clenched jaws. 

Louis doesn’t remember being what Harry has described, but that isn’t his concern at the moment. His fury is only heightened by this accusation, and he can do nothing but fire back.

“How dare you accuse me of changing,” he growls, “when it is you who tore me from my happiness and have dragged me along on your pathetic revolution.”

“Oh, yes, Louis,” Harry rolls his eyes dramatically. “T’is I who ruined your life, and not your father by arranging you to marry that stranger and send our country into turmoil. Blame me for your troubles and your bitterness. If anything, I’ve done you a favor by removing you from that place. You never belonged there. You were an angel in a house of monsters. That cage was-“ He realizes he’s said too much, and closes his mouth. 

“I knew it,” Louis cries out, tears streaming down his cheeks. “You’re not doing this for yourself. You’re doing this because you think you know what’s best for me-“ 

“That’s not why I did it!” Harry shouts so loudly that the birds flee their perches on the trees and Liam jumps in surprise. The curly haired boy squeezes his eyes shut and takes a few deep breaths. “But I will not deny that your kidnapping was, though unrelated to my purposes, beneficial for you.”

“How dare you.” Louis’s voice is shaking, and his eyes are burying themselves into Harry’s own. He cannot rip his attention away, as much as he wants to. “The audacity you have; to tell me that you have done me a service by positively ruining my life, when I have done absolutely nothing to you.”

The revolutionary takes a moment to reply. His hands rest on his thighs, and his upper body is melting from tension to defeat. 

“And what audacity you have,” Harry whispers, with a broken smile. “To assume that you have not ruined mine.” 

~

“Stop, Harry, I cannot run as quickly as you!” The prince squeals, darting in between trees. He watches the movement of the thief, who is clearly more agile and swift than he.

“It seems all of your fancy lessons have done you no good, then,” Harry giggles over his shoulder, before picking up the pace. Louis groans, and pushes himself to catch up. 

“I am trained in archery, horseback riding, swordsmanship, and swimming. I am not a runner,” he argues, and Harry laughs even louder. 

“Then you’re just going to have to eat my dust!” He kicks up extra dirt behind him, and Louis sputters angrily. He’s smiling to himself though, and when they finally break through into a clearing they’d found a few weeks ago, Harry collapses into the tall grass.

Louis falls down beside him, and they look up at the twinkling stars against a slick black sky. The night is silent aside from their heavy breathing.

“Do you think I’m your best friend?” The prince asks, and Harry rolls his head against the earth to look at him. They shift onto their sides, and the curly haired boy’s lips curl into a wide smile.

“I think you’d have to be,” he mutters. “Considering the only other one’s I’ve got are old women who talk to me sometimes while they’re hanging up their linens on clothes lines, while I lounge about the village squares.” 

Louis laughs loudly, and Harry giggles along quietly. 

“Hey, it’s not like your friends are any better,” he points out, and, okay, he has a point. “Who are your mates? The guard whose job it is to sit outside your door at night?” 

“Fair enough,” Louis is still chuckling under his breath. “I guess all we’ve got is each other then.”

“When you say it like that, it sounds sad,” Harry wrinkles his nose. “Let’s just say best friends, and pretend we’ve got others to compare each other to.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Chapter Text

“Shh!” Louis hisses between his teeth, as he whips his head around to press a stern finger to his lips. Harry is smiling in the darkness and rolling his eyes. 

“We’re not going to get into trouble, Lou. This is your home,” he reasons as they sidle along the palace walls. “It’s not like we’re trespassing.”

“You’d be surprised at how much I’m treated like a respected guest in this place as opposed to a permanent resident,” the seventeen year old prince mutters. 

“Poor you,” Harry coos, with mock sympathy. “I slept beside a tavern last night until I was chased away by its owners. Apparently stray boys aren’t good for business.” 

Louis’s heart tightens upon hearing this, but he says nothing and continues walking along the stone wall until they’re underneath his balcony. He motions for Harry to give him a boost. The thief cups his hands together, meant to be a pocket for the prince’s foot. Louis steps into his grasp and Harry hoists him upwards, until he can stand on Harry’s shoulders.

Louis feels hands immediately wrap around his ankles, holding him steady. They wobble nonetheless, cursing and trying to maintain some sort of balance. Louis stretches his arms as far as they can go, but it’s not enough. 

“Can’t we just sneak in the same way you sneak out?” Harry asks, voice strained as he pants and struggles to keep the prince from toppling over into the garden. 

“Oh, you know what? You’re right. We can,” Louis says, as if he hadn’t known that fact all along. “Let me down.” 

Louis feels Harry’s shoulders tense, along with the rest of his body, most likely. The sound he makes is a snorted mix of disbelief and utter fury. 

“Seriously? Well then what in the bloody hell were we doing all this for?” He demands in a high-pitched, confused squeal. Louis laughs breathlessly as Harry helps him get back onto the ground again, and shrugs.

“I forgot.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Alright, fine. I’ve always wanted to sneak into a place by scaling a wall.”

“Wow,” Harry hums, scratching his chin with his hand and staring off into the night sky. “I’ve just realized something.”

“What is it?”

“You’re an ass, and I hate you.”

Louis barks out a laugh, which is loud enough to blow their cover, but he’s too amused to care. Briefly, and a bit randomly, as he watches Harry’s features tense into a pout under the milky light, he wonders what the boy’s face looks like in broad daylight. He’s never seen it before. 

“You couldn’t hate me if your life depended on it,” the prince murmurs softly, and Harry’s faux anger is wiped off of its face within seconds.

“I know,” he whispers, taking Louis’s face in his hands and kissing him. He smiles into the kiss, though, and shakes his head. “Even if you’re the most annoying little bastard I’ve ever met.”

“I resent that,” Louis gasps, shoving the thief away from him. Harry raises one eyebrow and curls his lips up into a flirtatious smirk. 

“It’s true,” he nods. “You’re unbearable. Arrogant, obnoxious, disillusioned, and worst of all…” He pauses for dramatic effect, looks to the left and right as if to make sure no one hears him, and whispers faintly, “a royal.”

Louis scoffs and crosses his arms over his chest.

“There are worse things to be,” he argues.

“Oh? Like what?” Harry inquires, folding both hands behind his back and waiting for the prince’s answer. Louis smacks his lips and shrugs.

“Well, I could be you, for one,” he says casually, looking at his fingernails. He peeks up at Harry though, with a sly smile, and the curly haired boy is clutching his chest, as if he’s wounded.

“You insult me,” he whimpers melodramatically, and Louis can’t help but smirk even wider.

They kiss again and again, until they remember their original mission and pull away from one another to continue on. 

“We’re going to go to the kitchen,” Louis decides aloud, not bothering to look over his shoulder for Harry’s approval. “And feast on pastries.”

“You have stored pastries?” the other boy asks, astonished. “Do you not eat them as soon as they’re made?”

“The chef always makes more than necessary,” Louis explains quietly, keeping his back close to the palace wall as they scurry along. “Leftovers are kept in the kitchen in case someone wants to eat any in the morning with their breakfast.” 

Harry doesn’t reply, just hums to let Louis know that he’s listening. 

They finally make it to where Louis usually makes his escape - the door that leads from his personal chambers to the gardens. It’s one of the only doors of the entire palace that goes unguarded. 

They slip inside, and Harry takes in the sight before him. It’s just a parlor, meant for entertaining guests (mostly socially acceptable women that may become potential brides for Louis), but Harry looks astonished. 

His eyes widen, and he steps further into the room. He takes in the soft rugs, the thick, patterned curtains an the portraits of Louis that hang around the room from various stages of his life. It’s a bit excessive, but his mother had designed the room - not him.

“Do you use all of these fancy tea sets? And what’s with the old looking swords hanging on the wall over there?” Harry is pointing at everything, as if he’s having trouble taking it all in at once.

“The tea sets are for when I have guests that are here to see… Me, specifically,” Louis coughs quietly. “It isn’t often, since I’m not the king yet, but. And the swords are mostly gifts from other kings who want to get on my good side.”

“Because you’ll be the king, eventually?” Harry asks, turning around to blink at the heir. Louis nods.

“And because they have daughters.”

“Oh… Right.” A silence washes over the room, which hasn’t been formally used in months. Louis doesn’t like spending time in here - it doesn’t contain any belongings of any importance to him. The furniture was picked by his parents, and the decorations are all gifts that he pretended to appreciate but never took much real interest in.

“Anyway,” Louis shrugs, making his way from the door and into the space. “My sleeping and more personal chambers, are up the stairs to the left of us. I’ve got bathrooms and dressing rooms up there as well. Basically, all of my formal spaces are on the first floor.” 

Harry is listening, but he isn’t speaking anymore. He lightly brushes his fingers against the couches and chairs, feeling the fabric on his skin.

Louis realizes, stupidly, that this is probably the first time this boy has seen anything so regal in his entire life. He feels as though he’s presenting the more pompous side of himself to Harry, and for the first time in his life, he’s a little embarrassed by his wealth. 

“Let’s go to the kitchen now, before this room bores me to tears,” he jokes, and the curly haired boy turns around to smile at him. 

They leave and step into the corridor. It’s two in the morning, and the usual guards are fast asleep in their quarters. The only soldiers still on duty are out by the front gates of the palace. 

Their real concern is waking the servants with sounds of their feet patting against the smooth, marble floor.

Louis takes his hand, and begins to lead him down towards the palace kitchen. It’s a gigantic room, with tons of storage closets and chambers that branch off of it. They walk past looming paintings of Louis’s father, cloaked in fur robes with a stern expression and a crown on his head.

The boys take a right, and a new hallway lined with rolled out red carpets and portraits of his younger sisters decorate the otherwise barren walls. 

The paintings are arranged in order of age, and the boys hastily make their way to the end of the long passage. Harry pays careful attention to each painting that they pass, but Louis has seen them so many times that he hardly glances up.

“These are your sisters, then?” The thief murmurs, and Louis hums.

“Yes. I suppose you wouldn’t recognize them because their portraits aren’t as widely known as mine.” He realizes how conceited that sounds immediately after he says it, and tries to correct himself. “Only because I’m the crown prince, and all. Otherwise it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Harry pushes the kitchen doors open once they reach them, and the two boys enter the room with excitement on their breaths. Louis hasn’t had as much fun in his own home for as long as he can remember. 

A few minutes later, they sit on the tiled floor of one of the storage rooms, stuffing their faces with pies and tarts. Harry’s got some crumbs on the corners of his mouth, but the prince doesn’t mention it. 

Harry catches Louis staring, and stops eating.

“This isn’t… Charity, is it?” He whispers, and Louis’s eyes widen. He shakes his head, but Harry continues. “Because I don’t need you to feel sorry for me and give me free food. I’m not-“

“That isn’t what this is, Harry,” Louis reassures him, taking another bite of his slice of pie that he’d cut for himself. “I’m just having a jolly old feast with my closest and most beloved friend.”

Harry’s lips curl into a wide smile, cheeks stuffed full of food, and he looks back down at the sweet, doughy pastry resting in his hands. 

“A friend that I love very much,” Louis whispers, as a continuation of his statement, and Harry’s neck snaps up so that they’re making eye contact again. Harry knows that Louis loves him, but it isn’t often that the prince is willing to admit it.

“I love you too,” Harry scoots closer, eyes shining. “Until the day I die.”

“Which may be tonight, if the two of us keep stuffing ourselves,” Louis giggles, and Harry’s eyes scan the food that is surrounding them from every angle.

“What a glorious way to go,” he murmurs in mock awe, and they laugh until their stomachs hurt.

~

Louis hasn’t spoken to Harry in two days. So it seems, they’re very good at avoiding one another, despite the fact that they’re traveling in a very small wagon with three other people. Niall keeps whistling folk tunes that the prince has never heard of, probably to fill the silent gap that has plagued the group.

Zayn and Liam keep talking in small, hushed whispers that no one cares enough to pay attention to, and overall, spirits aren’t very high.

They’re rolling through countryside that is mostly uninhabited - rolling hills without a tree in sight, and a small path that is supposedly taking them to a village where other revolutionaries will shelter them for a while. 

They pass a few farms along the way, and Louis watches the boys about his age working under the brutal sun. Their backs are hunched, their foreheads are drenched with sweat, and their sunburned shoulders are painful to even look at.

And yet, they laugh with one another so loudly that the prince is drawn to the joy in their eyes. How can people who live such miserable lives be so happy? 

He must have asked this aloud, because Zayn answers his question.

“The spirit of the people in this kingdom is astonishing,” the dark haired boy says proudly. “Which is why we have such high hopes for this new government.”

Harry doesn’t even look like he’s listening. He’s staring into the distance, deep in thought and probably hating Louis with everything inside him that is capable of hate. Louis can at least say that the feeling is mutual. 

~

The nights are cold, despite the harsh heats of the day. Louis wakes up, but only halfway. He’s drifting in between dream world and reality, rolling over on the wooden bench inside the wagon and pulling all of his limbs together to press against his chest. 

He can feel the wind combing through his knotted hair and kissing his cheeks with its icy lips. He shivers involuntarily, and tries to listen to the quiet conversation going on between those who are still awake.

Something soft and warm is draped over him, and he opens his eyes. Harry adjusts the quilt silently, tucking it in at the right places. But when they make eye contact, he hastily looks away and returns to his state of silent resentment. 

“Don’t do me any favors,” the prince says, and Harry looks both surprised and agitated. 

“Fine. Perhaps I’ll let you freeze, and then you’ll stop being a pain in my-“

“Enough!” Niall shouts, startling everyone, and sending the entire wagon into an uncomfortable stillness.

~

“We need to stop to feed the horses and let them rest,” Liam insists. Harry agrees, and the wagon is directed off of the path and towards the riverside a little east of the direction they’re headed. 

The wooden wheels begin to bump over rocks and twigs, causing the entire wagon to bounce uncontrollably once it’s left the smooth surface of the path. Louis tries to grip the wagon, but his hand slips. The wagon flies over another large rock and the prince is launched from the bench. 

Louis scrambles to grab for the side of the wagon and stable himself, but it’s too late. His bottom  has nowhere to land, as the wagon has kept moving, and he’s flown out of it. His hip hits the ground rather harshly, and he cries out in pain.

He hears Liam command the horses to stop with a “Woah!”, and the sound of the wheels pressing into the dirt as they cease their rotation. He can’t focus on what’s really happening, though, because he’s wincing and trying to sit up.

His elbow is scraped up, he realizes from the initial sting. He had tried to catch his fall, but all he ended up with was a rough landing and wobbly knees. Dammit, can’t he stand up? Boots are pressing into earth and someone is calling his name. They sound like Zayn.

Arms scoop him up until he’s vertical again, and he’s held against a chest just so that he can regain his senses and stand on his own again.

Harry’s eyes lock into his own, and all Louis can do is cough out a humiliated,

“That was painful,” it comes out like a whimper, and Louis wants to kick himself in the face. 

“You’re alright,” Harry assures him quietly, and the prince feels kisses being pressed to his forehead. He melts into the affection, and feels himself being half-dragged half-carried back to the wagon. 

Zayn is pouring water over his cuts as Harry holds him, and Louis winces. The only soothing factor of the experience is Harry’s fingers curling through his hair, and the soft hums in his ear, and Louis wonders how he ever thought he could hate him.

When they start moving again, much more slowly this time, Louis is sitting sideways, his body in Harry’s lap and his shoulder pressed to the center of the boy’s chest. His cheek is pressed into the crook of Harry’s neck. 

“You don’t actually hate me, do you?” Louis asks softly and hopefully.

“No,” Harry sighs. “Couldn’t if my life depended on it.” 

Chapter Text

The sky keeps softening into gentle hues of pinks and oranges. Louis blinks lazily beneath the stretched sky. The side of his head is supported by Harry’s chest, as he is yet to move from the comfortable position.

The thief is combing his fingers through Louis’s hair, and the prince is reminded of when he used to do the same for Harry when they were younger. His eyes close, and he breathes in. 

The air is so fresh out here in the countryside, where there are no people and no villages. The smell of body odor, as is common when so many people reside in such close proximity, is nonexistent between these hills. 

“Do you miss home, still?” Harry asks quietly, as not to startle him, and Louis looks up. He sees a curious face waiting for his response, and sits up a little bit. He’s at Harry’s side now, resting his cheek against the boy’s shoulder. 

“Yes. So much that it hurts,” Louis mumbles, and the curly haired boy tilts his head to press a kiss to the prince’s temple. It doesn’t ease the ache, but it creates a brief distraction that he is thankful for. 

“You’re going to go home alive,” he says. “You aren’t going to get hurt.”

“What about everyone else?”

“A lot of people will be hurt,” Harry sighs, fumbling for Louis’s hand until he finds it, and squeezes their fingers together. “But not you. Never you.”

“You can’t say that. You can’t predict the future.” 

“I can in this case,” Harry argues. “Think about it. For as long as I’m alive, nothing and no one threatening will make it within twenty feet of you. And when I die, it’ll be by the hands of a royal soldier - who will then take care of you himself.” 

Louis doesn’t like that Harry says when instead of if. 

“You needn’t be so pessimistic,” he says, rubbing his thumb over Harry’s palm. “You aren’t going to get hurt, either. As soon as I’m home, I’ll make sure my father leaves you be.”

Harry only scoffs at this, his chest rising and falling quickly, one time.

“You think your father will drop his resistance to the revolution because you said so? I don’t believe you’re as powerful as you may think.” 

“I’m not going to tell him to stop the revolution. I’m going to tell him that you are not allowed to die, or I will abdicate the throne the minute it’s mine.”

Harry looks dumbfounded. He blinks a few times, lips pursed, before returning to his senses and attempting to find something to say.

“You wouldn’t actually do that,” his head shakes. 

“Course I would,” Louis shrugs. “If my father had you executed, I wouldn’t want you to die in vain. If you die, Harry, you’ll get what you want. This country will never be a monarchy again, as far as I’m concerned.” He stops to take a breath, and shoots a sideways glance at the boy. “That being said, don’t go sticking a knife in your gut on me now, though.”

Harry’s lips curl into a small smirk, and he curls into Louis’s side. They look down at their clasped hands, and his head shakes.

“I couldn’t do that, could I? Not with you still here.” 

“Can’t live without me, huh?” The prince grins evilly, shoving Harry’s shoulder with the weight of his own body. They sway to the left, and the curly haired boy rolls his eyes with a wide smile.

“You think you’re so charming, don’t you?”

“Yes. I am the living embodiment of the fabled Prince Charming,” Louis replies proudly. To prove it, he slicks his hair back and stands up a little taller. His chest puffed out, he gives Harry his best tooth-filled smile, with one brow raised cockily into the air and his lips curved into a half-smile, all coy and confident.

They both laugh when he relaxes from the pose. There’s a hesitation, a reluctancy that Louis picks up on briefly, before they’re pushing their lips together.

He doesn’t know what they’re doing, or why they’re doing it, or if this is a good idea or not. All things considered, Louis doesn’t know much of anything right now. But he knows that he’s enjoying this, consequences aside.

Harry pulls him close, cradling the back of his head with his hand and tilting his head. His lips move with the prince’s slowly, eyes closed, and Louis doesn’t feel like a solid human being anymore. He’s melting into Harry’s skin.

They pull away, and the curly haired boy’s expression is unreadable.

“I-“

A shrill scream tears them away from each other. The wagon is stopped, and Liam is diving onto the ground to avoid the swipe of a sword. Soldiers dressed in traditional blue have surrounded the vehicle, and Niall is nervously drawing his weapon from his waist.

Harry clings tighter to Louis, frantically gripping at his chest and arms. It’s all over. There’s around twenty of them.

It’s so sudden, so unexpected, and so out of nowhere. The most surprising thing, though, is that Louis realized he’s more terrified of leaving Harry than anything else.

“You can take him in peace, we won’t put up a fight,” Zayn says reasonably, putting his hands into the air. The man leading the soldiers steps forward. He looks like he’s in his fifties. 

“You think you’re getting out of this?” He almost laughs. “You young men have committed the worst possible crime against the crown aside from murdering a royal. You’re going to be imprisoned and executed.”

Louis screams, drawing attention to himself that was probably unnecessary. 

“No,” he’s shaking his head, and he can’t tell if he’s crying yet or not. The head guard - who Louis has met before, looks astonished. He’s never seen Louis look so panicked and disheveled. “None of them will die. I will not allow it.” His voice is frantic and high-pitched, and at first, the man is too shocked to say a word.

Finally, he chokes out,

“I’m afraid that isn’t your choice, your Highness. Your father will make that decision, and if I may speak freely in his place, his mind is very made up.”

Four men march in perfect unison towards Harry, and Louis’s eyes widen. He cries out, grabbing for Harry by wrapping his arms around his chest. He’s definitely crying now, and he can hear the other boy attempting to calm him down.

“Louis. Louis. It’s going to be alright, my darling. Louis. Listen to me, sweetheart. You’ll be okay.” But he looks afraid, his own eyes wide as saucers and his chest heaving. 

“You can’t leave me,” Louis weeps, the hysteria setting in. He doesn’t hate Harry. He never did. He’s lied to himself this entire time, because in reality, being back with the one person in his life who could make him happy has been a beautiful and miraculous thing, despite the circumstances.

And now his world is crumbling down all over again, but for different reasons. They grab Harry by the arms, and violently yank him from the wagon. He slips away from Louis, who screams out and tries to jump after him. 

Zayn snatches him back into the wagon, as to prevent him from hurting himself again, and Louis attempts to wrench himself free. 

He doesn’t think about how the soldiers must be dumbfounded right now. He doesn’t even consider the fact that he might be viewed as a crazed lunatic from here on out. Word is going to spread that he sobbed upon the capture of his own kidnapper, but he doesn’t care.

All he knows is that he can’t feel Harry’s fingertips on his skin anymore, and that may have been the last time he’s ever been close enough to speak to him. 

They drag the curly haired boy away, who fights and wriggles against their grasps. His face is scrunched up, his head thrashing back and forth as he tries to free himself.

Louis only turns around because he hears a muffled noise from Niall, who is being detained as well. All three of the others are grabbed, thrown to the ground, and dragged off toward’s a prisoner’s wagon about thirty feet away. 

He weeps for them. He collapses onto the wooden floor of the wagon and lets himself cry. He listens to them fight the soldiers; shouting and grunting and trying to wrestle themselves free. 

And then, someone is reaching down to attempt to help him stand up. 

At this very moment, suddenly, Louis is numbed completely from head to toe. He cannot feel anymore, because he hit his breaking point. He can’t be any sadder than he already is, so his feelings have shattered into a hollow nothingness.

“They’re gone now, Your Highness. It’s alright,” someone murmurs. He’s probably trying to be comforting, but all it does is send a metaphorical knife into Louis’s gut. 

They’re gone now, Your Highness.

They’re gone now.

The prince doesn’t bother looking up.

“Just take me home,” he whispers, voice cracked and heart bruised.

~

“Are you here to rescue me?” Louis giggles, sitting in a tree branch. He’s swinging his legs over the side, waving down to Harry, who is watching him from the forest floor. 

The thief wiggles his brows, and shakes his head.

“Oh, not at all, my dear,” he jokes, in a malicious tone. “I’m here to steal you away forever!” 

Louis squeals, and wraps his arms around the trunk of the tree to steady himself. Harry begins to climb, laughing the entire time. Louis’s cries get more and more frantic as the boy gets closer to him. And finally, Harry reaches the branch and wraps his hand around Louis’s waist. 

The prince pretends to struggle, but doesn’t do much other than wiggle in Harry’s arms as the thief descends with him. They nearly reach the ground again, but Harry loses his footing and they tumble onto the earth. Louis lands on his back with a hard ‘thud’, but it doesn’t really hurt.

He laughs it off, and Harry snakes both arms around his waist.

“Now you’re mine, little prince,” he says fondly. Louis kisses him, hands tangled in Harry’s messy hair with their chests pressed together.

~

Louis’s mother weeps as she wraps her arms around him.

“My baby,” she cries. “My baby, my poor baby.” The rest of the court watches on in a respectful silence. His father’s advisors are waiting their turn to welcome him back to the palace, but Louis’s mother is the first to be allowed to greet him.

Her tears melt into his cheek, and he weeps into her neck. He can see his sisters over her shoulder, dressed in their finest for their older brother’s welcome. They’re in tears as well, looking as though they’re itching to run to him.

“Girls, come here,” his mother finally allows, and they sprint across the throne room, nearly tripping over their gowns. He’s wrapped up in the most comfortable embrace, and Louis’s aches ease just a little. He had missed his family so much.

When the ladies disperse, he’s left to his father, who looks as though he’s fighting back his own tears. He cannot be as openly emotional, though, of course. A king is expected to be fearless and flawless. 

“I am glad you’ve returned, my son,” he says softly. 

“As am I,” Louis says shakily. “But I have a request to ma-“

“Not in front of the court,” His father says quickly, as though he already knows what Louis is going to ask. The prince shuts his mouth. “We will discuss it later.” 

“Yes, Your Highness,” Louis mutters. At least it wasn’t a ‘no’. Not yet.

 

Chapter Text

Louis’s clothes feel heavier than they used to. Perhaps he had become acquainted with the airy, light shirts and pants that sat comfortably on his skin while he was in the revolution’s claws.

His navy blue coat is buttoned up his chest, tightly fitted and a stark contrast to the white trousers underneath his slick, black boots. It feels odd to be back in royal dress, but pleasant and relieving nonetheless.

He listens to the click of his heels against the floor, and tilts his chin towards the direction of the guard escorting him to dinner. Due to his recent return and the paranoia of his family, Louis cannot go anywhere without protection present anymore. 

The gold buttons that travel down the center of his torso in a vertical line glisten under the natural light of the sun, filtering in through the western windows. Louis can’t look at the gardens outside, though. He’ll see Harry in them, sixteen and smiling and asking the prince to come outside and join him.

He’ll see him at seventeen, all teasing eyes and raised brows and toothy grins, arms crossed over his chest and hip cocked out to the side. 

He’ll see him at eighteen, growing closer to manhood each day and hardening from a hopeful child into a bruised adult. He’ll see his stare tearing into Louis’s core, silently asking him why he left him for an aristocratic princess. Harry’ll kill him with questions the prince can’t answer.

“Are you alright, Your Highness?” The guard asks, startling Louis back into reality. He nods promptly, and slows his pace down. He’s only just realized that he had been practically power-walking. 

“Just fine,” he assures him, and they say nothing else. Wide double doors open seemingly magically, but Louis knows there are two servants on either ends of the doors who were waiting to open them specifically for his arrival.

His entire family is seated at the dinner table, his wife included. He has reunited with her since his return, and during these past few days she has been kind enough not to ask too much about his experiences. For that, he is grateful. 

Louis takes a seat, and though he remembers the rules of eating etiquette, they’re rusty to him. He had nearly forgotten that he cannot eat as he pleases. He has to wait until everyone has arrived, and his father has taken the first bite.

Though it was only a few weeks, he really is taking more than he had expected to readjust. 

“Did they feed you well?” The king asks Louis, and the entire table stills. The uncomfortable air seems to already be choking everyone. For the most part, the family has been acting like he was never kidnapped to begin with. 

“Yes, they did,” the prince nods, looking his father in the eye solely because it’s required of anyone who speaks to the king to look him in the eye. Even his own son. At least with the boys in the wagon, he could avert his eyes in such awkward positions.

“Were you beaten or abused?” The king asks, and the Queen’s eyes widen.

“Girls, you’re excused,” she says hastily, and they all stumble to rise from their chairs. Clearly eager to exit the tension filled dining hall, Louis watches them walk quickly towards the door. “Honestly, was that necessary in front of our daughters?” She asks.

The king apologizes quietly to her, before returning his attention to Louis.

“No, I wasn’t,” Louis keeps his lips pursed. “They had no intention of harming me. They simply wanted your attention.”

“Well,” the king chuckles humorlessly, shaking his head. “I suppose they’ve got it now, haven’t they? Considering they’re living in my dungeon now, and all. And soon to be publicly executed.” 

Louis’s stomach churns. He’s thankful he hasn’t eaten much yet, or he might have wretched. 

“Perhaps that isn’t the wisest idea, if I may speak freely,” he suggests. “Do we really want to create martyrs? Killing these men will only heighten the tension between the peasants and the nobility.”

“I have no choice,” the king replies. “I need to set a standard. If I do not demonstrate the consequences of hurting my family, there will be no stopping it.” 

The prince closes his mouth, but only for a moment while he’s thinking. 

“Where is the palace dungeon, anyway?” He had never thought a such thing existed. Perhaps his father had never had to use it, until now. Surely it would only be kept for the most dangerous criminals. 

“You are not permitted to see them,” The king presses his lips into a firm line. “I do not know what they have done to you to make you so loyal to them, but-“

“Did I say that I am loyal to them, Father?” Louis demands, voice raising in pitch. Amelia is stunningly silent beside him, but he feels her calming hand rest against his. He wishes so desperately he could love her. His life would be so much easier, then. “I am loyal to my people and my crown. But I need answers from them.” 

“Absolutely not,” the king replies, and looks back down at his food, a silent signal that the conversation is decidedly over.

~

“Stan, please,” Louis begs. The boy looks reluctant, sheathing his sword and leaning back on his hip. They’ve just finished a practice sword fight out in the northern fields, by the tall castle wall made of stone. 

Stan is the son of a Duke, who frequently attends the king’s court. Therefore, Stan has grown up at the castle just as Louis has, just with fewer responsibilities and fewer people scrutinizing his every move. He envies him, almost. He’s got all of the luxuries of nobility without any of the work or stress that comes along with being royalty.

“I don’t know, Lou,” he scratches the back of his head. “How am I supposed to explain it to your father if he catches us? He won’t spare me.”

“Are you kidding? Our parents are practically best friends. And you’re my closest mate. My father wouldn’t dare touch you. Besides,” the prince shrugs. “I’ll take the blame and tell him I blackmailed you or something.”

“He’d believe it, too, you devious bastard,” the boy mutters in frustration, with a disapproving shake of his head. Louis smiles widely. 

“You’ll do it, then?”

“I suppose so.”

~

It’s one-thirty in the morning, and the shadows of two young men sweep past the curtains of the southern corridor. The quick movements of their feet create small patters against the floor, and Louis feels the excitement building up inside his bones.

He’s going to see Harry. 

“Are you sure it isn’t guarded at night?” Louis asks, and Stan turns around to respond over his shoulder. Neither of them stop moving. 

“No. We’re short guards because so many of them have had to leave to suppress uprisings in the villages. So there’s only day shifts going on, right now. The guards are on call, of course, but who’s going to call them?”

They round a corner or two, go through some doors that even Louis hadn’t known existed, and soon they’re descending down into a dank and dark place. The prince is reminded of when Zayn guided him to their hiding spot in the summer cottage cellar, and he shivers. 

The stairs end, and Stan makes a left. The walls are lit by torches, but the lights are far and few between. Darkness is creeping up on them from every corner, and the mere idea of having to spend more than an hour down here is terrifying to Louis.

This is where his friends have been living? And did he just think of them as his friends?

“Who do you want to see first?” Stan asks. The answer is so immediate that the prince’s friend looks mildly startled. “Harry it is, then.”

They round a corner, and finally reach the end of a hallway, where there is a cell carved out of the stone wall. There are dark, intimidating bars separating him from whoever is inside of it - as of right now, it’s too dimly lit to tell.

“Harry,” Louis whispers hesitantly into the darkness, and there’s a groan, as if someone is just awaking. “Harry,” he says again, and suddenly, an ashen face emerges from the shadows.

The curly haired boy looks sickly, tired, and defeated. But he smiles so widely that Louis’s entire body aches with hurt. Despite the bars between them, they fall against one another as easily as old lovers. 

Arms reach between the spaces and they’re pressing their mouths together. Louis’s fingers tangle into Harry’s hair, which is dirty and greasy and unwashed. Harry whimpers and cries into his mouth. 

“I didn’t think I’d see you again before they take me,” he whispers against the prince’s mouth. He pulls away just enough to speak in a voice that isn’t muffled. “Listen to me, Louis. I love you so much. I would have enjoyed one thousand lifetimes with you, I-“

“Stop it, Harry. You aren’t going to die,” Louis promises him, and they kiss again, because they can’t help it. The tears on their cheeks melt into each other’s skin, and Louis rubs comforting circles with his thumb into Harry’s jaw. “I’m getting all of you out of here, very soon.”

As if Harry has just noticed Stan for the first time, he steps away from Louis with a guarded expression. 

“Who’s this?” He asks, nodding his head, and the prince turns around.

“Oh, he’s a lifelong friend. He, uh, I’ve told him quite a lot since I returned.”

“Louis, how could you-“ Harry is whispering frantically, as if the boy is not two feet away and cannot hear them speaking about him. “He could tell everyone, he could-“

“He’s been a friend of mine since I was four or five years old,” the prince shakes his head. “And, not to be arrogant, but to lose my friendship would not be in his best interests, socially or politically. Aside from the fact that we’re best mates.” 

Jealousy washes across Harry’s face like an instant disease. His brows furrow, and his lips purse. Louis would have thought that the curly haired boy has worse things to worry about than any potential threats to his relationship with Louis, but clearly not.

“For God’s sake, please lose the pout,” the prince kisses his cheek. “We’ve got to get you out of here before we start worrying about such trivial things.” 

“You love me though, don’t you?” Harry murmurs, and Louis sees the light in his eyes, a reflection of the torches behind them. 

“Of course I do,” Louis tells him, pressing their foreheads together gently. “I never stopped.”

Harry exhales shakily, and closes his eyes. 

“Me neither.”

They sit with each other, on the floor, for at least two hours. Their shoulders press together through the bars and Stan leaves them alone for a little bit to talk to the others and let them know Louis would be visiting them. 

Louis and Harry look at their clasped hands, how the prince’s smaller hand fits so perfectly inside Harry’s own. They don’t speak of the revolution, or the crown, or how Louis is going to get them the hell out of the dungeon.

For this quiet and peaceful moment of time, they are Harry and Louis. They are not the rebel and the crown prince, just two people who cannot escape each other’s love, as desperately as they have tried.

“I’m not as afraid of dying as I thought I would be,” Harry says softly into the silence, rubbing his thumb into Louis’s hand. “At least if they execute me, I will be known for making a difference. People will fight for the revolution in my name… So that I didn’t die in vain.”

Louis hates thinking about this, but he bites his tongue and continues to listen. The pain spreads through him like a venom, but Harry continues.

“I was so afraid of them coming to take me though, to kill me before I could tell you that I’m sorry. And that I love you.” Harry looks him in the eye, his forehead pressed against the bars. “I am sorry that I took you away from your home. I didn’t do it for selfish reasons, though. I just wanted to save this country. It’s all I wanted, Louis.” He looks on the verge of tears. 

“My home is where you are,” Louis admits, and Harry looks so relieved that his entire body seems to exhale and soften. 

Niall, Liam, and Zayn are all kept inside the same cell. And when Louis finally manages to tear himself away from Harry (their goodbye includes a lot of kisses over and over again) to tell them that he plans on freeing them, they look too skeptical to seem excited about it.

He doesn’t care whether or not they believe him, though. He’s going to do it. 

Louis, all things considered, hasn’t done many important things in his life. He’s studied, attended parties, and made appearances. He has not done anything of real value though, and he knows that this will be something useful to the world.

Rescuing these people from an untimely death will be meaningful. It will be worth the consequence, which very well could be exile, if he is found out.

 

Chapter Text

Stan and Louis are sat on the ledge of a fountain, far away enough from the servants clipping hedges that no one can hear them. The gardens have many secluded hideaways, surrounded by tall bushes for people to have more intimate conversations outside during parties.

Louis remembers pushing Harry into his fountain, and then being pulled in himself under the slick black shroud of evening. They were so fearless, then. 

“You realize you’re going to become a traitor to the crown by freeing them?” Stan suggests lightly, hands clasped in his lap and elbows resting on his knees. “You know I’ll help you to my death, Lou… But this… This is big.”

“I know that,” the prince says through clenched teeth. He’s been pulling his hair out for days now, tossing and turning in bed and imagining the disappointment - the disgust - in his father’s eyes. He is very aware. “I’ve got no choice.”

“Are you a revolutionary, then?”

“No, no- I’m-“ Louis used to be able to declare his loyalty so easily. But what is he, anymore? Would he throw away his family and his future for Harry? 

“They want the monarchy to end.”

“Yes, but,” Louis whispers, pained and nervous, “Would it really be so bad?”

Stan is effectively silenced. He leans back, and Louis regrets saying that. Perhaps his friend won’t help him anymore. Maybe he’ll turn his back and report him to the king for treason. Maybe he’s just sentenced himself to death.

“The people can’t rule themselves on their own,” he reasons carefully, and Louis can’t believe that he’s on the other side of this argument. 

“How would we know? We’ve never given them the chance.” 

“They changed you,” Stan looks him in the eyes, searching for a Louis that he used to know. The prince places both hands on his best friend’s shoulders, and swallows thickly.

“I think I needed them to,” he admits. “Are you with me, or not?”

“I’m with you,” Stan says shakily. “I’m just not so sure I’m doing what’s right anymore.”

“Neither am I.” Louis drops his arms to his sides and turns around to stare into the clear water. His tired face is looking back at him, both of them waiting for answers. 

~

Harry’s got his back against the stone wall, and the darkness closes in on him more and more each day. He doesn’t know where the others are, but he hears their voices echoing off of the walls sometimes. He doesn’t call out to them; he’s got no reason to. 

He’d call out to Louis if he could. Seeing him again has only heightened the ache in his chest for him; made him want to break out of this filthy chamber and return to him as quickly as possible. 

Would he give up the entire thing for the little prince? Probably. He just might lay down the revolution if it meant having Louis, like he used to. Because really, they don’t belong to each other anymore. They belong to the restrictions that hold them at arm’s length, Harry’s rebellion and Louis’s loyalty. 

He understands Louis’s hesitancy to join him, but it frustrates him at the same time. They could do everything, together. They could go down in history alongside the other greats. They could redefine government.

More importantly to Harry, though, they could be together without chains around their wrists and hesitancies in their hearts. It’s all so close that he can taste it. 

He can still remember Louis stepping out reluctantly from that tree, the first night that they met, and nearly having the breath knocked from him.

He was so pretty. The way that the moonlight bleached his hair like highlights, and how he blinked at Harry curiously, with his chin in the air just a little bit. He was so arrogant, and Harry was so in love with him. 

All the while, he had known they would never be something. Louis was born for greatness, and Harry was born for scraping by. But thanks to teenage negligence, he’d allowed himself to be wrapped around Louis’s finger.

And now here he is today, a full grown man and longing for him in a cell he will probably live in until his last days.

“Harry,” someone hisses, and he rises to his feet. It’s Louis’s voice, drawing him in like a moth to a burning flame. He’d crawl on all fours through the fire and horrors of hell to reach him, over and over again, for the rest of his life.

He wraps his hands around the bars, and soaks in the sight of the prince’s face. 

“Harry,” Louis says again. “We’ve got the keys. Stan got them. We’ve come to let you and the other boys out.” 

And suddenly, Louis’s friend from a few days ago is rattling the lock and fumbling with something metallic in his hands. Harry blinks a few times, and suddenly, he is standing before Louis without any bars separating them.

They crash into each other like the sea splashes against rocks; roughly and quickly and harshly. Louis sobs into Harry’s shoulder, which is unexpected and almost too much for the moment, and his friend excuses himself to go release the others. 

“It’s alright,” Harry says to him, along with some quiet coos and shushes. He can feel the tears melting into his neck, and that’s alright. He’ll take a sad Louis over no Louis at all.

“Does this mean you’re-“ Louis interrupts him, because he knows what Harry is going to ask, apparently. He breathes out, shakes his head, and keeps his eyes focused elsewhere.

“I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. But I’m saving you right now, so let’s focus on that.”

“Okay. Alright. That’s fine,” Harry nods, and then the other three boys are joining them. They look just as defeated as he feels, but Niall is running towards Louis with open arms. Harry doesn’t want to let him go, but he does anyway, and to his surprise, the prince receives Niall with a happy squeal.

“We don’t have time for reunions,” Stan says quickly, snatching a torch from the wall. “We’ve got to get out of here. You-“ he doesn’t know Zayn’s name.

“Zayn,” the boy tells him, and Stan nods.

“Thank you. Zayn, you and I are going to… take the lead. Take this sword.” He’s clearly uncomfortable, and Louis realizes that Stan has never interacted with someone who wasn’t nobility before. 

They’re running, then, and Harry doesn’t quite understand where they’re going. 

“There are tunnels?” Louis asks Stan, jogging beside Harry. After all, until a few weeks ago, he didn’t even know this place existed.

“Yes,” Stan calls over his shoulder. “The king doesn’t want his prisoners being walked through the palace, so they’re transported through tunnels from outside the walls.” 

“How do you know-“

“As kids, when you were in your lessons, I’d get bored and sit in the kitchen with the maids. There’s a lot to learn from those gossiping old ladies,” he explains. 

The tunnels get narrower and narrower until they have to run in a single file line, and finally, there are stairs ascending to the surface. Louis is so winded that he might faint, but Harry grabs for his hand and his strength floods back into him.

They climb out and surface outside the palace wall. Louis recognizes it as the southern side.

“What now?” Liam asks, looking left and right. “We’ve lost our wagon and supplies.”

“Now we walk to the nearest village and seek shelter,” Harry resumes leadership almost immediately, much to absolutely no one’s surprise. 

Stan, looking uncomfortable, takes a step back. 

“I’m going to go back inside and leave the keys where I found them. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow, Louis.” Naturally, being the royalist that he is, he hadn’t wanted much else to do with this plan than Louis had begged him to do. 

“Thank you,” Niall tells him, putting a hand on his shoulder and smiling. Stan’s eyes widen, and he looks absolutely astonished at the friendliness.

“You’re welcome,” he murmurs, before turning on his heel and descending back into the darkness. Louis watches him go, and then Harry is wrapping his fingers around the prince’s wrist.

“You could come with us, Louis,” he whispers, before adding, “voluntarily, this time.”

Their eyes meet, and Louis sees the silent plea swimming in Harry’s irises. If he were a stupid boy, he wouldn’t take another look at the castle and shed his former self like dead skin. But how is he supposed to do that? He’s got a family that he loves, and a crown that he loves… A crown that’s supposed to be his.

And then there’s Harry, a thief among thousands, who has reached his bold hand into the center of Louis’s life and snatched the prince from his ignorant happiness. 

His life could have been so innocently happy, had he never met Harry, but it also would have lacked the beauty that fills Louis’s heart until he’s about to burst. 

He makes his decision, and the heaviness of it crushes his heart into small pieces. He steps forward, and breathes a few times to steady his voice. The other boys crowd around them, curious and confused. 

Louis looks at each of them. He remembers the hatred that burned inside him for each one, and how all of it was consumed in one giant flame when he thought of Harry. He used to hate and love Harry the most at the same time, and the concept was so ridiculous that it nearly caused him to combust.

“You’re going to leave the kingdom,” he says slowly. “Without me.” Harry looks like he’s about to protest, and Louis shakes his head. “Listen to me. We’re going to do this, but not now. It won’t work, and some of us will die, if not all. My father is old. He won’t live another twenty years. I am going to take the crown by that time, I’m sure of it. And when you hear of my coronation, you will return to my castle and I will hand the government over to the people.”

The following silence is haunting, and Louis prays they’ll listen to him. He can’t believe he’s doing this. It’s not even his immediate family Louis is betraying - it’s every single king that ruled before his father. All of his ancestors will roll over in their graves. But deep down, he knows what’s right. He feels it tugging on his soul more and more, lately.

“Louis, people are starving. Are we meant to wait twenty years to solve our problems?” Zayn asks, crossing his arms over his chest. Louis turns his attention to him, and nods his head.

“I’ll do what I can. I’ll bring attention to my father and I’ll start charity organizations. I promise you, things are going to get better. Just wait for me to be in charge, and I will invite you all in to arrange the dismemberment of our old system.”

They all exchange looks, and Harry looks the most upset by this.

“Twenty years is a long time to wait for you,” the curly haired boy says, and Louis presses a soft palm to Harry’s cheek. 

“I’d wait endless lifetimes for you, Harry,” he says. Harry’s eyes close peacefully, and he nods.

“We’ll go,” he agrees. Louis’s body fills with relief, and he sighs. 

They press their lips together carefully, and Louis tries to memorize the way Harry’s arms feel wrapped around him for when he’s alone. He opens his eyes as they pull away, and exchanges his goodbyes with the other boys.

“Until next time,” Liam says with a small smile, and Niall nearly begins to blubber as he clutches Louis. 

“You’re my favorite prince I’ve ever met,” he admits with a sniff, and Louis smiles widely. 

“I’m the only prince you’ve ever met.”

“Doesn’t change anything.” 

They start to back away, but Louis runs to Harry one more time, and hugs him as tightly as he can. 

“I’ll see you soon, little prince,” Harry mumbles into his hair. “Be good.”

“You be good, too.” 

Louis doesn’t move as they walk away. He stands in place, until he can’t see them anymore. And for the second time in his life, he's left feeling empty as Harry disappears into the trees. 

~

The kingdom needs a lot of repair, and so does the security of the palace. The king is livid when he discovers that the criminals had escaped, but cannot pinpoint who had done it, despite endless interrogations of the castle staff. 

Word of the revolution dies down, and Louis’s father credits himself for his fair ruling and proper handling of the situation. Louis, however, knows the real reason. Harry and his friends have left, and the organization of the whole thing has fallen into disarray. 

At night, when Louis lies alone in the darkness, he wonders if they still hold meetings in some farther away place. He smiles to himself when his thoughts wander to Harry, standing at the head of a table and raising his fist in the air as he spews out revolutionary ideas.

He imagines Niall cheering at his side, and Zayn and Liam smirking at one another. 

He wonders if Harry looks up at the stars, wherever he is, and sees Louis smiling down at him, like Louis sometimes does. In his dreams, they’re teenagers again and dancing through the palace gardens in between giggles that ring through the trees and bounce off of the walls.

Louis’s life is a waiting game now, full of regular routine that pushes him from day to day. He feels less and less regret as he realizes how little his father cares about the impoverished villages. Many a time he has sat down with him and begged him to visit these people, to give them free food and clothes and speak to them about their issues.

And each and every time, Louis is brushed off.

So he goes alone. He walks through the streets with his guards and shakes hands. He knows people are angry with him and his family; he can see it in their eyes. He tries to win them over with promises of better lives. He brings food from the palace and he lets the children teach them how to play their games. 

When he’s standing in crowds of people who are pushing to see him and introduce themselves, an eager and hopeful part of himself is searching for a mop of curls in the crowd. They’re never there, though, and he never expects them to be.

It’s the promise of seeing Harry in the future that pulls him out of bed and forces him to keep his image good. He needs to gain the trust of his people if he’s going to radically change their lives once he’s king.

He attends council meetings, he has tea with his younger sisters, and he rides horses with Stan through the rolling hills of the palace grounds. His life goes on much as it used to, but with a little bit more purpose now. 

It’s when he’s the most proud of himself, like when he’s handing a loaf of bread to a mother, or giving money to a farmer to get him through the harsh winter, that he feels Harry’s lips against his forehead and the gentle praise filling him, as if the boy is standing beside him.

He’d wait until his deathbed to see Harry again, if he had to. He knows it.

Chapter Text

A black shroud surrounds the kingdom, and the entire castle is suffocated by a still silence. Louis is choking on the emptiness of the halls, and he can feel his lungs begging him for air.

How is it possible to breathe in an out and still feel like you’re drowning?

There is darkness everywhere. Dark coats, dark dresses, dark shawls, and dark and distant stares into empty eyes. No one is alive, not at the moment. The king died, and so did the life inside of the palace. 

Louis is dressed in the standard mourning attire - all black, but elegant and extravagant nonetheless out of respect for his father’s prestige and importance. He cannot openly weep like his sisters can. He is going to be coronated the day after the funeral, and all eyes are on him.

He stands straight ahead, at the decorated casket bathed in fresh flowers. His mother is standing off to his left with their daughters, or what is left of them. Lottie and Felicite have since been married off to princes, and cannot make it home in time for the funeral… It would be a week’s journey from where they now reside.

He hears the weeps coming from his other family members, but keeps his face solemn and stoic. He has aged, but not as much as he had imagined he would. Thirty five, at the age of twenty three, sounds unimaginable. He thought he’d be fossilized by now. But the king died earlier than expected, and now Louis has to step up to the position he’s trained his entire life for. 

However, the prince still retains his youth despite the threats of age that are beginning to show themselves in the corners of his eyes. 

The priest’s words are in praise of the king’s reign, and Louis closes his eyes. He can’t look at the black tapestries hanging from marble pillars anymore. His father’s death is wrapping its hands around his neck and choking him, everywhere he looks.

Even the view from behind his eyelids is black, another reminder of death.

Time moves in odd increments. He doesn’t know where he is, but he knows that he’s moving sometimes. He feels hands on his shoulders, from family members he can’t be bothered to recognize. 

There is a procession to the burial ground. Louis can’t figure out how he’s gotten his feet to carry him, but they do.

And he feels himself about to fall to his knees when they lower the coffin into the ground, but he doesn’t.

~

One Year Later

It’s early spring, and the garden is in full bloom. The king is in his study, scribbling with an inked feather into a diary about how lovely the roses outside the glass panes look today, and that council went particularly well and without too much quarreling. 

He writes about the Queen, and how they are expected to begin having children soon, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He doesn’t mention… him, for he doesn’t know who will read this once he dies. But somewhere inside of him, he’s still waiting.

She is patient with him, as she isn’t too eager to have children, either. Louis is very aware that his wife brings suitors into the palace on the side, which should probably be taken as a blow to his pride. It doesn’t, though, and instead offers him some relief from the pressure of starting a family. 

“Your Highness?” Louis looks up, and one of his many advisors is standing before him. He’s young, probably early twenties, and timid looking, despite the fact that he’s been working at the castle since he was a teenager. “You’re needed in the throne room to discuss funding for the new charity organization.”

“Right, of course,” Louis nods his head and rises to his feet, pushing his chair in behind him and closing the book. Two guards escort him down the hall, and when he passes his father’s portrait that overlooks the main northern corridor, he bows his head.

Double doors are opened for him, and his council stands upon his arrival. Louis politely nods at their greeting, and takes his place at the head of the room. His throne is elevated by a platform of stairs, and he looks down at the council with his chin in his fisted hand.

“There are funding concerns?” He asks, and the head of the council nods.

“Yes, Your Highness. We are debating whether or not to create more expensive clothes, or to send them to more people, we-“

“More people,” Louis waves his hand dismissively. “If I learned anything from my time away from the castle,” the room is silenced. They don’t often speak of his kidnapping. “It’s that the quality of these clothes don’t matter to these people, so long as they’ll last the days working in the sun.”

“We can do that,” the head councilman nods, and Louis settles further into his seat. Now that he’s already here, he might as well sit in for the rest of the meeting. 

“Now, as far as these uprisings…” 

Louis sits up straight immediately, eyes widened and all eyes turning to him. He’s sputtering, looking for the words that he can’t find. How has no one told him of this?

“Uprisings?” He demands, and the head of the council furrows his eyebrows.

“Yes. Organized uprisings have been occurring in multiple villages for a few days now. But we’ve got it under control, and we found no reason to alarm you, Your Highness.”

Harry.

Clearly you haven’t got it under control, now, have you?” Louis scoffs, sitting on the edge of his seat. He’s about to break into a cold sweat. What on earth? “What do you know of this? And how were you planning to suppress it?”

Harry.

The men all seem to exchange looks at once. Their eyes say something that they won’t say aloud - they have no plan. They are defenseless and confused as to what to do. There haven’t been rebellions since Louis’s father was king, and most of them were too young to be in the council at that time.

Harry.

“Brilliant,” Louis throws one hand up and lets it fall down against his thigh. 

Harry. 

If his mind could stop drilling him with the same name over and over again, that would be absolutely lovely. Perhaps then he could think clearly.

Harry.

“I’m going to dismiss early today. I want everyone in this entire room to think of a decent strategy to get this under control, and we’ll meet again tomorrow morning.” He stands, because the King always leaves first, and they silently bid him goodbye.

Louis can feel their angry eyes boring into his back. Not one of them wants to wake up early in the morning to meet for council - most of them sit around all day and stuff their faces food until it’s time to gather for the afternoon meeting. 

Frustrated by the lack of communication between him and his subjects, and also baffled by the possibility that Harry may very well be alive and coming for him, he stalks back towards his chambers with heavy feet.

~

It’s been two weeks since Louis first heard about the rebellions, and his head is spinning with questions, possible solutions, and confusion. Mostly nonsense, and a little bit of Harry’s name over and over again.

He’s been trying to distract himself through investigations of the rebellions, but as he is coming to find out, there isn’t much to invest. The townspeople don’t care how fair Louis is trying to be, they don’t want to live under a monarchy anymore. And he understands that. He wants to change that, but he can’t do it without the leader of the rebellion on his side.

So where is he?

Louis is sitting in the council again, leaning back into his chair with his eyes lazily kept half open. He’s trying to remain interested, but the forty-five minute discussion on next month’s banquet has got him nearly bored to tears.

When he’s actually about to fall asleep, a messenger scurries into the room, his feet shuffling across the marble floor and his eyes set on the king.

“Sir Stan Lucas is requesting permission to interrupt the council meeting,” he says quickly, and Louis sighs with relief. The other men don’t look pleased, but the king is eagerly welcoming the disturbance.

Stan, who Louis doesn’t see as often as he used to thanks to their growing list of responsibilities, walks into the room with his usual confident stride. Close friends of the king usually carry themselves in such matters, Louis has come to realize. Stan receives a lot of unnecessary special treatment from other people in the castle simply because he’s so close to Louis.

“You have a visitor,” he tells Louis, and the King raises a brow. “He’s, um,” he stops talking, eyes scanning the faces of the rest of the men in the room. “An old friend of yours, and I’ve escorted him here to see you again.” 

Louis’s eyes widen, but he keeps his expression calm. He cannot make a scene here, he needs to remain collected. Stan is not a messenger. It isn’t his job to bring visitors to Louis. But had he sought out anyone else, they would have sent the revolutionary away. Harry Styles is practically a household name now, after all. Everyone knows the leader of the rebellion who escaped the king’s claws.

Surely enough, the double doors open and a curly haired man enters the room. His feet touch the red carpet, and his eyes are searching the room. Their eyes meet, and Louis has forgotten how to breathe entirely. 

Harry.

He doesn’t look so different. He’s filled out a little more, and his face is a little more aged. His clothes are dirty, and he looks exhausted. But he’s Harry, and he’s here. 

“Welcome,” the king chokes out. Harry nods his head, and all of the councilmen look confused. Why would they know him? They’d know his name, but not his appearance. 

“Your Highness,” Harry addresses him by getting down onto one knee and lowering his head so that he’s looking at the floor. When he looks up, he says, “I’ve come for a visit with my old companion.” A small smirk curls itself onto his lips. His eyes look watery, and his hands are fidgeting at his sides. “Who looks just as I remember him.”

Louis nearly weeps. He smiles back, though, and stands from his seat. 

“I’m going to be leaving council early today,” he tells them. “Continue without me.” He wants to run, sprint, to Harry, and jump into him as if they’d never left each other. It hasn’t been as long as they’d predicted, but it’s been twelve years. These fifty feet between them seem like so little and so much at the same time.

“Follow me, we’ll catch up in my parlor.” They exist the room, escorted by guards to the king’s chambers. Louis swallows thickly as he walks beside Harry. They say nothing, absolutely noting, staring straight ahead. 

Louis’s heart is pounding against his chest like a caged animal and he feels like he can almost hear Harry’s. 

They reach his formal parlor, where he entertains guests, and the guards leave them to themselves. The doors close, and they’re five feet apart. Then two, and one, within seconds. Louis’s entire world explodes when their chests are together and he can feel Harry’s skin again, instead of grasping at memories of what it felt like. 

They’re quiet as they remember each other again, breathing in the sight and touch of one another like an old life. Louis isn’t weeping, due to the sheer numbness of the experience. It feels like a vivid dream.

Harry’s hands press into his back, keeping the two of them held together. 

“’S'pose I can’t call you my ‘little prince’ anymore, now can I?” The curly haired boy jokes lightly, a soft murmur into Louis’s ear that sounds like music. 

“Please do,” Louis whispers. “You probably don’t steal anymore and you’ll always be my thief.” 

“Well…” 

“Not important,” Louis shakes his head, and they pull apart to make eye contact as they laugh. Harry leans into kiss him, and it’s almost as if it’s their first.

Louis fears that they’ve forgotten their rhythm; the dynamic of their relationship. The worry is brief though, because as soon as their lips meet they are the same as they once was. Time is not a factor in this equation, he realizes, bringing his hands to Harry’s hair.

They are eternal. 

They were eternal at sixteen, at eighteen, at twenty three. They are eternal at thirty five, and they will be eternal forty years from now. Seventy. One hundred.

“I’ve missed you so,” Harry says against his mouth. “We walked for days and nights to get here. They worried we’d die in the forest, when we ran low on food, and-“

“We?” Louis furrows his brows.

“The boys and I. Zayn and Liam and Niall.” Louis’s eyes widen, and his fingers tighten against Harry’s shoulders. 

“They’re here? I-“

“Not yet. Stan has them kept in the village two miles from here. They said it’d be best if I came first, since…”

“Since you’re my favorite and our reunion would be too sappy for them to watch?”

“Something like that,” Harry nods with a small smile. And they kiss again, and again, until standing is too tiring and they have to sit on the couch in the center of the decorated room.

“You walked here? Why didn’t you take horses?” Louis asks.

“We had a carriage, originally. It was stolen by bandits along one of the more secluded forest paths and we had to walk the rest of the way.”

“My God, how long did it take y-“

“Two Months,” Harry says, but he’s shaking his head. “Doesn’t matter, though. I’d swim oceans for you.”

“You’re not here for me,” The king teases. “You’re here to change the government with me.”

“That I am here for,” Harry agrees, before kissing Louis’s forehead. “But seeing you again is what drove me to keep going when I was about to stop, which was nearly every five minutes.”

Louis touches his fingertips to Harry’s cheek, and inhales. What seemed like an achingly long pause in the beauty of his life is resumed. 

“We will do great things,” he whispers, so quietly it’s hardly more than a breath. Louis looks at the table in front of him, which has a piece of parchment paper and a feather for writing. It’s usually meant for guests who may want to leave him some sort of note, but he picks up the writing utensil and turns to look Harry in the eye.

“Let’s begin now, then,” the curly haired boy says with a soft happiness. They press the ink to the paper, and ideas flow onto it like waves in the sea. 

 

Chapter Text

2017

 

A small group of history majors are touring the preserved seaside mansion that used to belong to the royal family back in the medieval times. They carry notepads in their hands to scribble down important facts as they stroll through the high-ceilinged corridors.

Their guide, a middle aged woman with a friendly smile and a confident voice, has brought them into the main hall. The students look up almost in unison, admiring the golden molding and decorations in the lavish, almost gaudy hall. The walls are dripping with luxury. 

“This is where the balls and other events were held when King Tomlinson the First kept his family here. They only stayed during the summers, so you can imagine the light ball gowns and the warm air drifting in from those large windows. They’d be open, this time of year. We keep them closed because they’re too old and fragile to handle.”

She directs them towards the wall, littered with both family and individual portraits. 

“Many of these paintings were here even back in those days, though additions have been made throughout the years… Towards the beginning of the revolution, the rebels used this abandoned mansion for their own purposes. And after the revolution was finished, it served briefly as a meeting place for the new representative government before the new buildings were completed.”

She stops speaking for a moment, turning her back to the students to face a portrait framed on either side by red velvet curtains. It’s a man, with curly hair, standing proudly beside a table in decorative clothes and staring softly into the distance. 

“This is Harry Styles, who I’m sure you’ve learned of in your high school history classes. The new government hung his portrait here to demonstrate the influence he had on this mansion. So although this obviously was not here while the royals lived here, we’ve kept it because of its significance to our nation’s history.”

One of the girls in the tour group takes her pen out of her mouth and timidly raises her hand.

“Yes? You in the back?”

“I’ve read that Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson possibly had a romantic relationship outside of their dismantling of the monarchy. Is there any truth to that?”

The tour guide opens her mouth, and closes it again. She purses her lips, and sighs. 

“I’m asked this question all the time,” she admits. “And I’m still a bit unsure as to how to answer it. There is no definite answer. It’s up to speculation, really. There are diaries written by close friends of the two that described them in a way that was anything but platonic - but there is no solid evidence that they were anything more than political allies. At the same time, there’s the fact that they requested to be buried together when they passed away, which all of you saw when we visited their graves that overlook the sea. To be buried together was very common of spouses in the old age, and even today, obviously.” 

“What do you believe?” Someone else asks, and she smiles through a small laugh. 

“I… I like to believe that it’s true. Unexpected and unlikely lovers who come from opposite sides of society…" Her voice trails off, and she takes a moment to think before continuing.

"...Though perhaps unrealistic, it would be quite the fairytale, wouldn’t it?”