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For the Sake of Propriety

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Dearest Nephew,

I am penning this letter to write you on matters of estate.  With nine months having passed since the loss of your parents, your father and my dearest sister, I request the manor under your present care to come beneath my proprietorship once again. 

It is with my utmost hope that you understand, with two sons of my own, I must not let their inheritance be squandered.  You will have until the end of the year, three months hence, before my youngest is to arrive and the estate to be given to him.  I do wish the best upon you in finding a place for you and your sisters to stay.

Respectfully, your uncle,

Colin Ewan Poulston

 

Louis folded the crisp material, creases well-worn upon the thick parchment.  He tossed the note atop his desk, stalling his pacing-- a relief to his already thinning carpet, trailed innumerable times since the first reading of his Uncle’s letter.  He dropped into his leather-bound chair instead, if only momentarily, to allow a quiet breath to escape him.

The same inconsistent ponderings and wavering uncertainties clawed at his chest once more.  Without the estate, he and his sisters would have nowhere to stay. Unable to live with their estranged grandparents, nor impose upon any of his friends, Louis had little to do than to allow the unease to creep up his spine with every pause he took to think on his situation.  Louis knew he would not feel right asking his friends for a place to stay in any case.  He had a bit of dignity to keep.  An affluent man reduced to a state of depravity, all with a few hundred words upon a page, it was laughable.

There was one solution that had presented itself to him, on a frozen morning in early February, when the dew had yet to harden upon the withering grass.  It was a morbid thought, a wandering wisp of wind which rubbed his cheeks raw in the cold winter air.  If his grandparents were to pass he would be the one to inherit their property; the eldest son of their eldest son.  He found it wicked, upsetting to wish for such things.  He had not spoken the words of his thought aloud, ashamed he had been the one to contemplate it.

Even then, it was uncertain when his grandparents’ time would come, and he was once more at a loss for what to do.  The only hope he had, to ascertain his sister’s wellbeing, was to marry them off, and as quickly as he could.

He did not know how he was supposed to find worthy suitors for his sisters within such a small time.  His heart panged with the thought of his parents; they would have known what to do.  His mother would have already had his eldest sisters gone and married to the most suitable gentlemen, his father ensuring that the rest of them still had place to call home.

Louis had no idea of how to even begin mending his worries.

A harsh rap at the door startled him out of his repetitive, looming thoughts.  He stood after a moment, with a rasp, “Come in.”  He cleared his throat as their butler entered, bowing before he spoke. “Mr. Tomlinson, Mr. Horan has arrived and the carriage is readied for departure.”

Louis nodded, pushing his concerns to the back of his mind for later brooding, knowing he had more pressing matters to attend at the moment.  He put the creased letter back in his desk’s drawer, shifting to fix his shirt, pulling his heavy coat on over the material. The weather was still unremitting outside, chilling to the bone.

He nodded to the man still standing at the door, slipping his gloves on to fight the cold from biting at his fingertips.  “Thank you, Mr. Wrotham.  We will not need any more of your assistance this evening.”

He was met with a calming smile, although any vocal response Louis was to receive was sharply cut off by his sister running past the door, her skirts hiked up to help her move better, with a chippered, “Best hurry brother! The twins are soon to prove manic with how pleased they are to be going to Ullhame Park,” being called over her shoulder.

Louis looked towards Mr. Wrotham who seemed amused by the young mistress’ behavior, having grown accustom to it over the years.  “How entertaining a ride this shall be…”  He muttered before he was moving out into the hallway and quickly down the steps, calling after her, “Felicite!  Walk like a lady.  A lady, please.”

His words fell on deaf ears, all the girls chattering together outside of the carriage, ankle-deep in snow with Mr. Horan, as Mr. Wrotham had spoken true about the man’s arrival, telling them an impressive account of his day.  Or perhaps it was another one of his exaggerated tales; the Irishman was quite good at making them up whenever the twins begged him to.  Arguably it was too often an occurrence, though Louis found them far more comical than he would care to admit.

“Tell me again why Mother never hired a governess for you lot.”  Louis muttered to his sisters as he moved into the circle where they were all speaking over one another, the twins hastily fixing one another’s hair.  Upon closer inspection, rather, Louis could see Daisy pulling quite harshly on one of Phoebe’s braids.  He tried not to grimace when she slapped her sister’s hand away.

“Who needs a governess?”  Felicite was quick to ask, as if she was not the worst behaved of them all.  She gave him an innocent smile before she was opening up the carriage door and slotting inside, the twins quickly following behind her.  His eldest of siblings, still younger than him by seven years, was the last to follow in.  Charlotte, ever the calming presence, hastening the girls to calm their excitement.

Louis shook his head, turning to the man beside him.  Niall Horan, his neighbor and a dear friend for several years, was dressed in the usual dark red tailcoat he so often wore.  Louis wondered whether he had dressed as such on purpose, knowing the twins always thought it funny when he looked like the Irish shoemaking faeries he repeatedly regaled stories of. 

He beamed, gesturing towards the cart.  “Ladies first, my fair Mr. Tomlinson.”

Louis spared him a withering glance before extending his own hand, “Are you to assist me into the carriage, Mr. Horan?  Only a real gentleman would.”  When Niall moved closer with a laugh crackling out of his parted lips, Louis reached out to smack him on the pink cheek, stepping into the cart himself, with no assistance required.  Niall yelped into another laugh at the sudden slap before following Louis in and sharing his opinions on the eldest man being the one in need of a governess.

Louis hummed in response to his misguided sentiments, a large grin present on his lips as he moved towards the middle of the cart and fell into the soft velvet seat.  Phoebe seated on one side of him and Felicite on the other.  Niall was situated across from him, looking at ease with the wild chattering of the girls as he delved into a quiet conversation with Charlotte, her body angled towards his and the ruffled hem of her olive skirts pressing quite near to his booted ankles as they shared in simple smiles and easy words.

Louis cleared his throat to garner their attention, not minding that the youngest girls continued to whisper at each other and swing their feet into one another’s shins from across the seats.  “Charlotte, Felicite, have you thought any harder on what I suggested?”

It was a moment of silence until Felicite was shooting him the ugliest look she could muster and stating quite purposefully.  “No, I do not wish to be married.”

He pursed his lips.  He had hoped she would have had a change of heart since the last they spoke.  Even still, he wanted to appease the flare of anger in her glare.  “Felicite, you know I only want what is best for you.”

She was hasty to reply, “Marriage is not it,” her tone terse and frown sharp.

“Charlotte…?”  Louis questioned next, looking to the other girl, unaware that his expression gave away the pleading his voice had so well hid.

Charlotte had always been the model child of the five.  The most reserved and proper, the best behaved.  Louis hoped she would ease his worry.

But instead, the blonde looked to her skirts with her lips pressed tight, “Umm, no… I cannot… think of anyone.”  He narrowed his eyes, confused by her stilted response. Charlotte was never one to have such uncertain pauses in her words.  She had always been the most eloquent of the Tomlinson children.

His youngest sisters took the opportunity of silence to speak, perking up in their seats.  “We will marry, Louis.”  Daisy spoke first, grinning like a wolf as she met the eyes of her twin from across the carriage.  Phoebe was fast to chirp in her own, “Yes, we are most thrilled for when the time comes.”

He breathed out a huff, though it could not keep the small smile from his lips.  “You girls are sweet.  And kind to your brother’s anxious heart…  What I would give to have you two be the eldest.”  He wished he could have it as easy.  If they were of marrying age, he would already have them out the door.

“You have a few years yet before Louis will even think of letting you two go.” Niall replied. 

They met him with a shrug, Phoebe hooking her arm in Louis’, “We will just have to stay with our favorite brother, then.”

“Do not fret, Lou.  We have time.”  Charlotte hastily replied in the lull, to try to soothe his worry. 

He shook his head, still uneased, “Two and a half months, Charlotte.  At most.”

Niall looked between the two of them, brow drawn in concern.  “Louis, you know you are all welcome to stay at my estate.”

He nodded.  It was not the first time he had been offered such an arrangement.  “Thank you.  Niall, you are a true friend, but not all of us can stay with you.”  He looked to each of his sister’s in turn, expressions varying in degree of worry.  Until Felicite asked, voice unusually hesitant, “Have you spoken to Grandmother Adeline yet?”

He could feel his shoulders tensing with the shake of his head.  “I have not spoken to her in years.  Far longer since our mother and father had.”

She persisted, sounding far more resolved in her thought, “But have you tried speaking to them?  They may change their minds-”

“Felicite, please.”  Charlotte’s voice was the first to cut her off, “You know how they feel about us…  How they felt about our mother.”

There was a long moment of silence, each of their thoughts scattered in different places.  Louis worried over each of their expressions again, leaning further into the velvet seat.  The clipping of the horses outside, pulling them across the countryside, kept him steadied.  He cleared his throat, shame creeping over him.  “I regret speaking at such a time...  I just, worry… a trait of which you are all aware.” He met gazes with Charlotte and Felicite, who nodded their heads in understanding.  Niall gave him a smile to ease him of his worry.  “Let us not think on it again tonight, and have an enjoyable visit at the Payne Estate.”  He looked to Felicite, who still seemed uneasy.  “I know Zayn will be there, Felicite.”

“He is back from Scotland already?”  A smile immediately bloomed with her excitement.  “I should have brought my books to discuss with him.”

Louis exhaled a breath of relief, continuing his murmurings, “I am sure he will have copies for you to see.  Maybe even his newest published, to give to you.”

“You really are his biggest enthusiast.”  Niall chuckled.

That seemed to spark her anticipation further, “His writing is incredible.  He has managed to cast his words as both emotive and daring with a hidden wit often hard to find in books of the type.  My friends still cannot believe you have been in his acquaintance for so long.”  She grinned at Louis.  It seemed all offences were forgotten, for the time.

He smiled back, as Charlotte hummed, “I heard the notorious Mr. Styles will be there as well.”  The others seemed to perk up in interest at that.

“Mr. Styles?” Louis asked, the name rolling from his tongue with an air of question. He had not heard of the man before.  “Notorious for what?”

“His charming smile and wit.”  Charlotte supplied first, before she could be interrupted from the other girls calls.  Daisy’s, “His hair,” and Phoebe’s, “His eyes,” and Felicite’s intent, “His fortune.” 

Louis had little chance to balk in surprise at their immediate responses before he was turning to the blond across from him, “His ability to entrance every man and woman that he has the pleasure to encounter.”  Niall grinned, tacking on an appropriate, “At least, that is what I have heard. The neighbors love to chatter on.”

“As if you are not chattering on just as much with them.”  Louis replied causing the blond’s grin to grow.  He paused his thoughts, mulling over the information he had just been supplied about the clearly well-established Mr. Styles.  “Good looks and an incredible fortune to match...  If he is so renowned, how come I have never heard of him?”  His voice took on the sound of petulance at the thought that he was the last to know of the man.  There was no response to his query as Phoebe tightened her hold on his arm and Charlotte flashed him a grin.  He hummed, “Well he better be as illustrious as you all have spoken or I will think you daft.”

More grins met him, Felicite shaking her head affectionately and leaning into his side.

The carriage bumped with a start after another moment, slowing as the horses out front stomped their feet in place.  “We’re here!”  Daisy cheered, jumping from her seat to rush out onto the ice.  A cool draft of air hurried in upon her exit, a few specks of white frost swirling by Louis’ boots when he stepped out himself. 

Standing tall, in all its regality and polished white stone, Ullhame Park remained.  Its windows gave out a light that danced upon the drifting snow mounds outside their panes, warmth rising in billows from a multitude of chimney stacks.  It was welcoming to those who shared in its opulence.  A large estate that was home to two, but no stranger to the friends who came to enjoy its rooms or the staff who everyday scurried its halls.

Louis began to usher his siblings towards the manor, the six of them having not made it fully up the steps before the front door was being opened, a greying man on the other side allowing them entrance.

Making sure there was no lingering snow upon him, Louis looked over his sisters one last time, aware that the blue fabrics of the twins’ gowns were soaked near the ends, their height having not helped them against the melting ice.  Felicite was dispassionately messing with her hair and Charlotte was smiling towards Niall, the touch of cold outside giving her cheeks a rosy color and him a rosy nose.

Louis would have taken the chance to tease the Irishman for his reddened features matching his coat were they not being lead towards a waiting area.  The greying man, undoubtedly Liam’s butler, spoke politely as he directed them further through the halls, “Mr. Payne and his guests are in the salon.  Please allow me to show you the way.”

It was not a far walk before they were stopped outside the room, Louis pulling at the lapels of his jacket once more to straighten them.  The greying man opened the door for them and Louis was quickly stepping inside the chamber, gaze instantly finding their host and the gargantuan grin he wore.

“Niall, Louis, you have arrived!”  Liam hailed in merriment, eyes sparkling with happiness as he quickly bowed to Louis’ sisters before approaching him with a few quick strides.

Louis grinned, responding to the greeting with his own amused tone, “Quite a warm welcome from the, oh so illustrious, Mr. Payne.”

“Must I listen to your taunting every time you come around, Louis?”  Liam asked, though the smile on his face far outshined any annoyance he could have at his friend.  He already had his hand extended to shake, his eyes crinkling at the corners when Louis happily did so.

“Yes, every time, Liam.  It is what makes our encounters so special.”

“Special indeed…” agreed the man stepping up beside Liam.  The newcomer’s raven black hair was swept back and out of his face, a serene expression only refined further with the sharp gleam in his oftentimes impassive gaze.

“Zayn Malik.  It has been too long...”  Louis mused with a large smile, shaking his hand next.  It truly had been a time since he had last seen his oldest friend and it was comforting to see the man face to face once again.

“Much.”  Zayn grinned, “I must enquire upon a visit.”

“You are most welcome to do so.”  Louis replied, letting their hands drop, the familiarity of Zayn’s presence warming his smile further.  It had been long, though not the longest they had ever gone apart.  Zayn had his travels, and Louis his estate to attend; it was often hard to see the other man when he was half-way across the world.

Louis turned his attention to where Liam was greeting Niall with a similar shake of hands, bowing quite contentedly, again, at the girls before he spoke to them.  He turned to Louis after, stepping back a few paces to present the room at whole, “I must introduce you to the rest of my party.  Louis, Niall, you know of Mr. Aurand and his wife.”

Louis nodded his head in the direction of the man and woman he had spoken with on occasion. The two both shared in nodding back as Louis’ eyes tracked to the next person Liam was to introduce.

Liam’s giddiness peaked when he gestured to his wife, layered in the finest of muslin fabric, hair pinned together in intricate braids and curls, and softly falling over her shoulder to the complex embroidery sat upon her breast.  “My beautiful wife, of course.”

Louis gave Sophia a quick smile, accepting one in turn as Liam stepped back from her to present the last member of their party.  Disappointingly for him, Niall and the girls could see the man as Liam did his best to block Louis’ view.  “And this is Mr. Styles…”  He paused a moment before continuing, gesturing to them in turn.  “Mr. Styles, allow me to introduce, Mr. Horan, Mr. Tomlinson and his sisters, Miss Tomlinson, Miss Felicite, Miss Phoebe, and Miss Daisy.”

Louis tried to be discreet when he leaned to one side, to look past Liam’s shoulder and see the man so heavily lauded by his sisters and friend.  “It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance.” A low murmur came, and the man’s voice was smooth and sweet, sharpening the direness at which Louis wished to look upon his person. 

He was at a bow when Louis’ eyes found him, a head of lush brown curls hiding his face, though his body was enough to look at in its place.  A long, lean frame, seamlessly fitting clothes, and the dark colors he wore easily offset the soft paleness of his hands.  The man stood a moment later to his full height, which was far above Louis’ own, and his lips curved up into the most alluring smile Louis had ever seen before, dimples pooling at the corners of his mouth as he met his gaze. 

Louis felt his heart thrum with an uneasy giddiness he could only associate with the flittering of wings as he remained staring back, until it seemed Mr. Styles would not be the one to avert his eyes.  He felt a faint blush creep onto his features at being caught almost gawking at the man when he turned his attention elsewhere.

Though he could no longer look, his mind still processed the beauty of the gentleman in front of them—the perfect cut of his jaw, the tilt of his nose, the amused line of his brow.  He must have realized his own competencies in attraction, if the way he held himself was any indication; the way his lips formed a tempting smile that momentarily left Louis absent of breath.

Louis was cautious suddenly, wondering if Niall and his sisters had not exaggerated in speaking of the man’s charm as well.  He turned aside when Liam collected their attention, guiding them through the decorated halls and into his dining room, dishes already adorning the long table.

Their hosts for the evening instantly went to their given seats, at the heads of the table, and the girls easily followed Sophia to the side opposite of himself.  They immediately began squabbling over who would sit next to whom and had they not been in the presence of Louis’ good friends, other than Mr. Styles and Mr. Aurand, Louis would have worried about how they were being perceived; Niall, Zayn, Liam and Sophia, accustomed to it as they were, seemed endeared by their behavior.

Out of amusement more than disappointment or curiosity, Louis puffed at the spectacle.  “And why is the same treatment not imparted to your favorite brother?  Why are you not bickering over who can sit across from me?”

“If we did not see you every day, Louis, then maybe we would.”  Phoebe replied, ever so snippy.

Louis immediately balked, though he exhaled a laugh all the same.  “You see Niall every day!”  To which Daisy was quick to respond with a flick of her bangs, “Yes, but we like Niall better.”

If he was not so amused he may have been offended.  He put a hand to his chest, “I am insulted!”  They still hadn’t chosen their seats, but Niall made it simpler by seating himself across from Daisy, who made sure to irritate her sister with a pleased giggle.

Zayn and Louis exchanged glances as Phoebe and Felicite quickly argued over who would sit across from them.  Louis did not have a significant preference either way, mostly enjoying ruffling his sister’s feathers whenever he could.  But his attention was immediately taken when Mr. Styles acknowledged the chattering group, his voice drawing Louis’ gaze to those wine rose lips, words rumbling through the still air to touch at his skin and force him to meet the other man’s self-assured gaze. “To settle this dispute…  Since I have already had the satisfaction of speaking to Mr. Malik, Mr. Tomlinson, would you care to sit beside me?”

Louis furrowed his brows for a hesitant moment, the wings fluttering again in his stomach this time, as he slowly nodded his head. “It would be my pleasure.”

The man gave another smile then, mouth quirking up at the corner, eyes gently trailing over Louis’ profile as he turned to seat himself with all the air and regality of the wealthy, beautiful man that he had been proclaimed to be.  The rest of the table seated themselves quickly after, having waited for the children to stop their squabbling, and quickly fell into conversation.  Across from him Felicite sat with Charlotte on her right and the twins to her left, Mrs. Aurand taking the seat beside Liam and across from her husband.

They were served almost immediately and Louis kept his eyes to his meal, though they often drifted to his sisters across the table.  His ear clearly tuned into the conversation happening to his side, where Mr. Styles and Sophia could be heard chattering about his new town home.

Louis decided to participate after he had had enough of his thinking, turning to them with rigid determination.  He was just as swiftly distracted by the gentleman’s smile, once again.  Something about the man’s lips keeping draw of Louis’ attention. 

He cleared his throat to attract their eyes.  “Mr. Styles, I do wonder how you are acquainted with Liam.”

The man seemed pleased to be addressed by Louis and quickly angled himself his way, placing his fork down as if to be fully immersed in their conversation.  Louis was flattered if nothing else.  The gentleman’s words were slow as he sat back in his chair, like he had not a care in the world, speaking on such matters.  “Mr. Payne and I met through want of economic and political reform.”

Louis’ own lips quirked into a small smile as he mused, looking towards the chandelier above, “Ah Parliament then.  Has it worked well for you?”

“As any a pursuit would.”  The man replied, watching him carefully, before speaking again, “And in what affairs do you partake, Mr. Tomlinson?”

“Nothing too extraordinary.  Caring for my sisters, watching over our estate… gambling and hunting if I have a spare moment.”

“A man of sport...”  Mr. Styles considered.

“A man of propriety.”  Louis corrected in jest.  The gentleman seemed amused by the idea.

“Propriety…”  He ruminated, mouth gliding over the word like a heron would the cold winter’s breeze, effortless and taunting to those who wished to fly.   He continued with the eloquence and reverence of a man pretending he was not affected by his fates, “A trait of which I sorely lack.” 

Louis eyed him in question; a response forming at the tip of his tongue when Sophia spoke in his place, breaking him from his reverie.  He met with her gaze, momentarily confused at her wonderings before surprise ticked at his mind.  He had not given the rest of the table an ounce of attention since turning to the man beside him.

Louis sat back in his seat when the intensity of Mr. Styles’ eyes shifted from him.  He did not engage the gentleman in conversation again, only overhearing murmurings from his and Sophia’s conversation of a ball being held at Ullhame Park in a months’ time. 

He did not let the oddity of his own conversation with Mr. Styles, and the captivity of his thoughts during so, wander long as he averted his considerations to Zayn instead, on the undertakings of his recent excursion.  How he had spent his holiday and how he wished it had not ended quite so suddenly.

To his unfocused mind Zayn’s words were of little regard when the presence of the man beside him, warmed at his side.  Heated him and made him wonder, numerous times, if he was being noticed just as much.

Only did that feeling leave when they finished with their meal and moved, men to the parlor, and women, equal parts their own, to the drawing room.

Louis watched his sister’s walk with cheerful steps as they spoke with Mrs. Aurand and Sophia.  He had a moment of wishing to go with them.  Not to be watchful or overbearing of any sort; he was no stranger to Liam’s parlor meetings, however, and the type of conversations they so often were to provide.

He walked in time with Niall, who patted him kindly on the back as they moved.  For, seemingly, no reason at all, except comfort.  He gave the man a smile, but returned his attentions to his front not long after, hesitantly letting himself look over Mr. Styles’ daunting figure who gracefully strode a few feet ahead of him.

He was struck by the gentleman’s hair again-- so long and unruly and curled over the collar of his jacket.  It was odd for a man’s hair to be so long and not held back by a ribbon, to be so pretty and to look so soft in the light.  He folded his hands at his sides to keep from reaching out to touch it, averting his gaze to the interior of the parlor when they entered, not new to its elegant interiors.  Satin curtains dressed the wide clear windows in emerald and golden frames outlined the edges of the wall in intricate patterns meant only to catch the wandering eye of its visitors; those unaccustomed to the penchant of the rich to show off in every way they could, most prominently.

The upholstered chairs and their gilded wood sat warming themselves by the fireplace in composed disarray, as Liam opened a box of cigars he had lying on the mantle above it, amiably offering them to all who were present.

Louis joined the rest, mingling about in the way they tended to do. He often found himself taken with Zayn and Niall and their frequents abroad, even if he had heard them countless times before, instead of listening to Liam engage whomever else he had around in his discussions of Parliamentary business.  Louis had no care, really, for being in such a debate at so late an hour, knowing that the subject would surely cause him to fall asleep in Liam’s velvet crushed bergère in the most unbecoming fashion.

When it seemed Niall and Zayn did not hold the same opinion, he stood, discreetly walking from the group to work his legs, so his brain could begin to work as well.  To assist the tiredness in drifting from his system.  He watched the snow trickle down the window pane, warmed by the heat inside, how it dripped atop the soft heaps already present on the ground.

He continued his movements, wandering to a pine painted desk pushed off in the corner, scoping the books and papers atop its surface.

It was distracting; his mind flitting about over what he had to do, wondering what it was, that Liam had last read.  He had not been aware of the eyes following him across the room, taking in his every movement, every step and sway of his hips.

An unfamiliar voice broke him of his concentration.  “Pray tell, Mr. Tomlinson, why are you over here in the corner, instead of participating in the company of your host?”

Louis turned at the rough, drawling tone; catching the dark, green eyes of Mr. Styles’ with his own.  He paused, tying his lips in a knot as he collected his composure.  The moment, in which he turned back once again, to study the scribbled notes and volumes atop the desk by his side was short and riddled with afflictions, “…I find Liam’s rants can be throbbing to a mind so deprived of sleep.”

The gentleman let out an entertained snort before a more concerned, lowered tone passed between the two of them. “You have not slept well, Mr. Tomlinson?”

He was slow in his response, thumbing over the title of the text beneath his hand.  “I have not.  But it is of no consequence to you, I can assure…”  His mind only momentarily reminded him the reason for his restless nights; the coming of his cousin and the repossession of a home he had always thought of as his to keep.  He knew it was not in good etiquette to keep silent in the presence of the other man, so he opened his mouth, once again, to speak, “Why is it, then, that you are over here?”

When Louis turned to look back up at him, it seemed the gentleman had not set his gaze upon anything, or anyone else.  As if he had to only fulfill the one occupation of studying Louis.  The thought had his skin shivering with unprecedented anticipation; for what, he had never been more unsure.

The other was unhurried in his speech, the melody of his voice enticing Louis to listen intently and watch fixedly as he tilted his head, thoughtfully, towards his smaller stature.  “To admire the most exquisite piece in the room.”

His smile provoked the thrill, once again, to travel over Louis’ body, like a feather tickling over his skin and leaving goose’s bumps in their wake.  The response, though, caused him to stall, confusion evident in his expression as he quickly glanced around where they stood. “Mr. Styles, there are no paintings over here...”

The smug upturn of his mouth only grew, “A painting is not what I’m referring to, Mr. Tomlinson.”  Only one slip of silence passed between them before he was continuing, finally breaking his eyes from Louis’ gaze.  “A breathing portrait, of which no painter could capture the beauty of, is what I find to be the most magnificent in this room.”

Louis squinted, his heartbeats pace quickening, “Do you speak so candidly with every man that crosses your path, Mr. Styles? Or is that privilege only reserved for those whom you find respond to your enthusiasm, most amusing?”

The gentleman stepped imperceptibly closer as a smile ignited his once indifferent features.  “Though your quick tongue does inspire a certain, enjoyment, at which I am most ready to admit…” He reached forward, fingertips whispering over Louis’ cheekbones, “It is the blush of your cheeks that compels me to continue our exchange.”

Louis’ lips parted the smallest breadth, no words coming to them as he took a hasty step back, letting the cool of the room touch at his heated skin.  He averted his gaze, seeing the group of men still conversing with an air of giddy sentiment, unaware of which was not in their sights.

His eyes found the gentleman’s once again.  “Mr. Styles, I believe you’ll find what the others are discussing is of a much more fascinating nature to you…”  He swallowed down the dryness in his throat, gesturing towards the group with his arm stiff by his side.  He tried to contain the flustered stumble in his speech, “S-shall we?” and before he could welcome a response, he was moving with intent, away from the situation he’d been presented with.  Away from the gentleman and the silent shake of his heart those quiet words had elicited.  Louis understood at that moment, what Mr. Styles had spoken at dinner; why he had said propriety was not a trait that he had.

It seemed the decorum of which he lacked was not in acquaintance with him, and Louis, confused as he was, knew his mind wished for their quick meeting.  His chest pounded in hopes that that time would never come.

Chapter Text

Peals of laughter and conversation slid over the intricately golden walls of the theatre, dropping low to the pit where the orchestra sat tuning their instruments and practicing their melodies. Tiers of boxes surrounded them, on both sides, high enough to tap the roof.

Louis was seated with his sisters, near the ground floor in a box of their own.   The room was loud and full of boisterous enjoyments that he surreptitiously delighted in.  Easy sounds and ardent activity was always quick to give him a rush of excitement; even more so if he were the center of it.

The back gallery was slowly filling with more of the assembly, individuals bringing their own food and drink to share. Louis looked towards the booths for anyone he recognized; wanting to converse, as it often pleased him greatly.

He found he would be even luckier if he could speak highly about his sisters with a possible suitor and so his gaze flickered over the passing faces of those near them. He was too easily interrupted when Charlotte caught his attention with her words, “Look Louis, there is Mr. Styles.”

He turned, almost abruptly, to see where Charlotte had pointed, eyes falling to a figure dressed all in black. He was speaking with a woman, nodding his head appealingly to something she had said, only a few boxes away from them.

Louis pursed his lips, to mutter, “I did not think he would be here…” In truth, he had not thought about the man at all since leaving Ullhame Park the week last.   Not even to ponder the way he had brushed cool fingertips across Louis’ cheek, his soft words dancing in his ears.

“Looks as if he is with Mr. Payne... And Sophia is here as well!”  Charlotte spoke next, grinning at the knowledge as she shifted back in her seat to get a better look.  Louis allowed his gaze to fall away from the man, finding his friend not a few paces away speaking animatedly with his wife.  “Felicite and I will have to greet her after the performance is over.” 

He gave a nod to her words, though he was hardly paying attention to them. It seemed he had not been very subtle in his lack of consideration, for it was only a moment later that she was muttering, “I cannot help but be pressed to notice how attractive Mr. Styles is.” 

Louis glanced to her with quick eyes, his tone unintentionally raising a few octaves in response, “Is he?” Charlotte paid his reply no special mind as she continued to watch, as if fascinated. Louis knew his siblings prized the notion of observation, but their newest person of interest was not someone he wished to partake in the discussion of.

“Most certainly…” Felicite’s voice filtered through the cacophony of tones surrounding them, “Nice jaw-line, pretty eyes, full lips.  He would be any woman’s dream.”  Louis turned to his opposite side, gleaming olive eyes meeting his own as his sister flicked long locks of her hair over the maroon capped sleeves of her dress.  She pressed her lips into a thin smirk and Louis was reminded, as he so often was, of the similarities they share.

Felicite, of all his sisters, was most like him, with the same chestnut hair and charmed smile; taking after his wit and sharp, often unrelenting, tongue. He grunted in response, before his expression lit up in wary uncertainty, “Are you interested in Mr. Styles, Felicite?”  And a longer moment passed as she watched his expression intently, “I can… ask him about you…”

She finally breathed a note of laughter, sharp and bright, after making him wait before a quiet snort left her nose, “Heavens no...”

He wished to question her motives for having said such flattering things if she was not at all interested, however, he was not fast enough to do so before Charlotte was muttering another comment into his ear, tone smooth as if it was just a passing thought. As if they ever were.  “I heard he’s only twenty-five…”  Louis followed Charlotte’s gaze to see she was still watching blissfully, the man conversing with the others in his box, further away.

“Then two years my junior…” He hummed reluctantly, shifting his eyes to unwillingly assess those observations which Felicite had informed him of.  Mr. Styles was an arresting sight, a decorated vest fitting tightly to his torso, a tailcoat pulling towards his waist; the fabric of his breeches flaunting slender hips and firm thighs.  Louis’ eyes traveled back up his figure, coming to a halt on the profile of his face.  A truly beautiful creation, his smooth jaw, defined cheekbones accentuated by the glimmering candlelit chandeliers surrounding them.  Louis felt a sharp tugging from his middle and he willed himself to avert his gaze once again.

“Yet ten times richer.” Felicite broke him from his trance, giving him excuse to turn to her with an unimpressed glower.

“Hush, you. We are very well off...”  He reached forward to jab her in the cheek with a finger, as she huffed and angled her brows unflatteringly towards him.  He hoped no potential suitors were around to see it, as it would have most certainly frightened them off.

“Not for long...” He could hear her mutter under her breath and he made it a point to not argue back; she was well informed.  Without an estate, they were no better off than the lower gentry. 

He really needed to marry his sisters off, and soon. It would be a much harsher challenge to find them proper husbands if they had no land to their name.

It was not a moment later that deep red curtains gradually parted to show movement on stage.

The chamber did not grow much quieter in conversation; the opera merely beginning.   Many in the boxes moved to their seats, clearing the aisles of commotion, some of those in the gallery sitting on the hard floor, though most continued their standing.

Louis settled further into his seat, easing his mind of troubling thought for the rest of that afternoon, and for much of the evening. The opera was not an event for those of impatient standing, nor for any with fidgeting hands and feet.

Especially as the one performance was to be followed by a pantomime act that would no doubt bring Louis to stitches, and a comedy after that would have his belly sore from mirth.

A swift ballet and an operetta would close the night, and Louis, having grown accustomed to the singing of the early stage, found the women’s voices in the second opera to have been much more appealing than the first. Even sounding sweet, to those ears seeking reprieve of ordinary speech.

Louis found they eased him into a comfortable state, and he soon caught himself blinking tired eyes as the night drew closer to its end.

He stood when the curtains pulled to their close, to stretch his arms and ease his back, aching slightly from having sat for so long a period. He looked down from their box to see much of the assembly preparing themselves to leave, the volume of the room increasing to such a level that Louis was sure it would break the walls in its attempt to escape.  He called to the girls beside him with a murmured, “It seems now is the best time to retire…”

He was diverted from enacting such a plan when Charlotte replied. “Louis, we wished to see Sophia before the night’s end.”

He turned to her at that, momentarily lost in thought before recalling her earlier sentiments stating as much. He glanced over in the direction of Sophia and her companions, still enjoying the company of their box and the lateness of the evening.

It was mostly her husband’s companion who gave Louis pause. He did not wish to elongate his night any further with thoughts of the man drifting into his dreams at night and doing nothing to cool the simmering flames beneath his skin.

He brought his gaze back to his sisters, who looked back at him with hope glimmering in their eyes and smiles brightening their faces. The two youngest did not seem as apt to assist in their sisters’ begging and instead took to peering over the edge of the box to overhear conversations happening below.  He cleared his throat, “It may be best that you visit with her another day, and not tonight.”

“What reason do you have for saying so? It would be in good etiquette to see our friends.”  Charlotte murmured in reply, knowing her logic would be hard for Louis to deny.

He gave her a withering laugh, “Have you not already had your fill of excitements from the show…? Should we not put your minds to ease instead, with knowledge of a long ride home and a bed that awaits you there?”  He kept his eyes shifting between the two, until Felicite was almost stomping her foot with a vexed calling of his name.  As if she were even more put off than he.

Louis arched a brow at her, knowing that perhaps he too often let them get away with what they willed, when they were persistent enough. “Do not swoosh your paisley frock at me.”  He sighed, as if actually troubled by their biddings.  “Fine, be off.  Do not be too long though, Thomas will be waiting with the carriage.”

They cheered excitedly at the announcement before scurrying off to be with their friend.

It was with their absence that Louis’ fears were proven true. Liam looked over when Felicite and Charlotte entered their box and, with a wave, made to come over.  Unfortunately with the ever charming Mr. Styles trailing effortlessly behind him, a soft upturn already placed sweetly on his lips.

Louis tried to seem unaware of their approach, fussing with glancing back at the twins who were whispering to each other and subtly giggling at something they had heard. He considered enquiring upon them to whether he looked his best, if his hair was in any way disheveled from his moments of laughter or if his embroidered waistcoat seemed to fit him well enough.  Liam always looked his most proper; Louis thought it would only be appropriate to likewise present himself in the best fashion.

He flattened his palms over his waist, hugging the curve of the fabric to his hips, before dropping his hands and looking up when Liam’s voice greeted him. He was only met, in its place, with the distraction of Mr. Styles’ observant eyes lifting from where they had seen the movements of his primping.

He quickly glanced away when Liam called his attention, with an amiable, “Your sister told us you were beseeching them to a quick departure.” A lighthearted laugh was swift to follow and Louis allowed himself a moment to calm the thundering of his heart.

“Yes that certainly seems the case.” He replied, much to Liam’s amusement, and derision.

Liam chuckled again, before asking with most sincerity, “But why, Louis? Are you not having a wondrous time?”  It was made clear by his expression that he was having enough of a wondrous time for the both of them.

Louis stated as much, eliciting another grin. It seemed that response did not please the other person in their group of three, however, and Louis turned again, to Mr. Styles, when the man deemed it fit to try to guess upon the reason behind Louis’ wishes to leave.  “You do not like the opera?”  He sounded merely amused, where he faced Louis with an arched brow.

“The art is beautiful, and it is an admirable activity… but the Opera House is not where I would go in pursuit of such diversions.”

Mr. Styles stared at him still, with that easy grin still in place on those pretty lips, of which were soon forming the words, “Then, can you sing, Mr. Tomlinson?”

It was but a moment before he responded, “Everyone can sing.” And another breath’s pause, “…Just with varying degrees of finesse.”

“I do not believe I have ever given singing a try…” Liam interrupted with a brusque laugh, “I’m sure I would be quite awful at the pursuit.”  Louis grinned back at his charmed friend, knowing he was being, perhaps, too humble.  If the other man ever were to try, he would probably have been better than he presumed; Liam had always had a knack for the arts.

Daisy almost stumbled over herself as she pulled Phoebe into the circle of men with her, “We can sing!” She spoke quick, excitement emanating from her like that of a honey bee whirring about its favorite garden, “It is most fun.”

Phoebe herself seemed just as eager, sharing in her sister’s pluck, “Yes, we do it every Tuesdays and Thursdays! And sometimes on Fridays if we’re really feeling like it.”

Mr. Styles hummed and Louis turned aside, knowing those calculating eyes were, once again, on him. Until they were no longer as he faced the youngest, Phoebe, who was most content fiddling with her dotted skirts in tedium.  “…And does your brother sing?”

She chirped up, giggling so slight, “Yes, very well, Mr. Styles,” before reverting her gaze back to the man in question.

“He used to sing to us often, lullabies before bed.” Daisy added, flashing a most darling smile. 

Louis could feel the flush crawling up his neck, coloring his cheeks like rouge when Mr. Styles spoke next, voice soft, “It seems he is quite fond of you two...”

He needn’t spare a look to know the younger man was watching where he was sinking teeth into his bottom lip, in order to stop a most timid smile from flourishing on his face. He was remembering those nights they would beg him, wily little girls doing anything in their capacities to prolong their wakefulness, that he replied, his own tone much too swayed, “It seems that I quite am…”  The twins gave him their finest grins, knowing they far too easily got their way with him, “Now quiet silly girls.  And go fetch your sisters so we may depart.”

“They are with Sophia; I will gladly show you to them.”  Liam acknowledged from where he had been smiling and watching on in interest.

“Please, Mr. Payne.” Daisy spoke.  “Thank you very much.”  Phoebe added sweetly.  And they left, in a flourish of bright colored gowns and light-hearted giggles.  Louis was overcome with partiality for the twins that he almost forgot he was not alone.

Except he could never fully forget the beautiful man standing beside him, leaning in as if so entranced by Louis’ presence he could not help himself.

Louis turned to the younger man, considering, feeling his cheeks pinken once again at their proximity. He cleared his throat, “Do you have any siblings, Mr. Styles?”

That seemed to distract the gentleman enough from his relentless observation that he turned to ponder the question, pressing his lips tight in thought. “Yes, one elder sister.  Though she is not half as delightful as yours are.”

Louis nodded, shifting to see if he could catch the blonde heads from where they stood. “They are twins... I suppose, it will always be double with them.  Double the wardrobe, double the sweets, double the spirit.”  He shook his head recalling the plentiful aches their boundless vigor had caused his mind.  He tried picturing what the infamous Mr. Styles’ sister must be like.  He wondered if she was as beautiful as he was; undoubtedly.  He wondered if she was just as insufferable too.

He cleared his throat, knowing it was not kind to be thinking so little of the woman he had never met. “Well, if your sister is anything like you, I am certain she is most…” He paused, considering the most suitable word to use, not wanting to offend the other man.  His voice still gave way to his thoughts it seemed, as he uttered quite plaintively, “pleasant...”

The younger man smirked, flashing a cratered dimple in his left cheek. “You hesitated, Mr. Tomlinson.  You do not think me to be very pleasant?”

“N-no, I—” Louis stumbled. He was not quite sure how he felt about him.

“Be honest. Say what you think of me.”  He grinned, baiting him; Louis knew that much.  But he did not wish to give the younger man the satisfaction.

After a moment’s pause, Louis blinked up at him with long, distracting eyelashes, wetting his lips to respond with, “You, Mr. Styles, are the most pleasurable gentleman I have ever had the honor of being in the presence of.”

Green eyes flashed with mirth. “Do not tease me, Mr. Tomlinson.  I delight in it too much.”

And he parted his mouth to respond, when a gentle hand came to settle on his forearm. “Louis, we are arranged to depart.”

He turned to see Charlotte smiling up at him, beautiful as ever, blonde tendrils silhouetting her face where they loosened from a periwinkle bowed bonnet; and patient as ever, as the other, younger girls tromped towards the doors without them, seemingly exhausted, waiting for their older brother.

He gave her a short nod, before turning back to appraising eyes. “I presume this to be our goodbye, Mr. Styles.”

“It seems it is.” He responded before Charlotte gave the gentleman a polite farewell and he bowed with a leisured, “Mr. Tomlinson, Miss Tomlinson.  I hope our next encounter will not be far off.”

Louis nodded compulsorily, biting his lip as he followed his sister away, giving one last parting glance towards the taller, broader man. He had his hands pressed firmly behind his back, poised and looking every bit a gentleman and Louis could finally feel his heart’s pace slow to a gentle thrum the further he moved away.

Being near Mr. Styles did odd things to him… those of which he was almost convinced he did not like. Or, perhaps it was that he liked the fire sifting through his veins too much; the dripping honey in his gut drawing him to yearn for that which he should not want.

If he were to ever take a step back in the other man’s direction, he knew he would not return from those dark desires; none where he could remain unimpassioned, where there would be no craving for more.

Chapter Text

The notes of the music plucked at his feet until he moved them in time with the music, guiding the woman in front of him. She was handsome, as women went, blushed faintly, and flattered him when they spoke. He did not feel anything for her, except a listless hope he could send her off with an acknowledgement of their dance and be finished with it. It was not that he had any ill will towards the woman. She would make a proper wife, to another man.

He did not have the means to be looking for a wife. Not when he had his sisters, and their own unwillingness to marry, to contend with.

It was when the last few chords dissipated that he dropped the woman’s petite hand, giving her a short bow. She blushed again before returning to the side of the ballroom, Louis moving with haste to the opposite.

It was crowded, however, not yet enough for him to be unwilling to push through the flurry of silks and lace surrounding him. He stopped to look back to the middle of the room, concern tight in his chest. The chandeliers above rained light upon the gleaming smiles, laughter and the orchestral music dancing high up to the ceilings.

It was only a moment’s pause before his eyes found those of his sister’s moving bodies. Charlotte was again standing opposite of Niall, as she had been most of the night— when Felicite had not been— eyes glistening with enjoyment as he mumbled something to her, apparently quite to her delight.

He knew his sisters were just using Niall’s good charms to stop other men, suitors, from asking to dance with them. Louis rubbed at his temples waiting for the song to end, and glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder while he did so.   Upon the fading of the final chords, his foot tapped against the floor, watching as they made their way to him.

The following piece began before Charlotte was swept away to dance with another man. This one an actual potential match for his sister, Mr. Shone. Louis was pleased. Mr. Shone was a well-respected, well-off man in their community; he had always shown good will towards their parents and was known for being very charitable. Charlotte did not seem very happy, though she kept her unwillingness well-hidden and smiled up at the man. Louis exhaled a breath of relief.

“You must not feel so inclined to dance with my sister’s all night. No matter how they convince you on the matter.” Louis said to the Irishman beside him. Who merely smiled with an amiable, “I do not mind, Louis. Your sisters are the best dancers at this ball.”

Louis pursed his lips at the flattering statement. “They should be dancing with prospective husbands.”

He did not have time to argue any further when he looked across the floor of dancers to see Sophia coming towards them, a bright smile fixed on her face and a giggling girl caught on her arm. “Oh no, here she comes again…” He quickly ducked, not having to bend very far, with his height already being of assistance in such an act. Niall merely laughed at him and he threw the man a withering look before sneaking away, one final declaration of, “Prospective husbands, Niall,” called over his shoulder.

He could not be sure whether the loudness of the ball drowned out his words or if Niall merely chose to ignore them for the sake of his sister’s wishes.

He did not have time to ponder the thought, or chastise Niall again, while he was rounding the room, once, then twice more, eluding Sophia and her amiable means and well wishes, and the three other girls she deemed worthy to introduce him to. That she would encourage he dance with as well.

He passed Zayn on his way back from his third circuit, getting an odd look for his half bent form. He merely grinned, put a hand to his mouth in a show of quiet, sneaking away again.

When a palm grabbed his arm, he felt his heart leap, his eyes widening as they did when he turned, ready with an excuse at the tip of his tongue.   It was Niall though, who quickly dropped his hold, giving Louis a nod in the direction of where Sophia must have been. His grin was vast, as he questioned him. “Why has Sophia made it her authority to introduce you to every good-looking woman here?”

Louis brushed his shirt off, glancing around to make certain he could not see the offending woman. “I believe Liam has put her up to it. He does love to irritate me.”

“Oft without intending to.” Niall beamed. Louis spared him a disgruntled look before allowing himself to turn his gaze from where Sophia had gone to find his sister’s instead. The twins were in the corner talking with their friends while Charlotte danced with another man. Felicite, he could not find, and he hoped she had not hid herself away from the rest of them. He had thought she enjoyed these kinds of festivities.

“Where’s Felicite?”

Niall glanced at him from where he had been watching Charlotte with her dance partner, “I just had the pleasure of dancing with her.” He supplied before catching sight of Louis’ upturned brow. “I, uh, well, I mean, she is likely dancing with an appropriate suitor… at the moment.”

“Hmm…” Louis continued looking. She was not near Zayn, who was currently dancing with a pretty blonde. Nor was she near the host of their ball, Liam grinning with a group of men, engaging them with trivial talk they all seemed to enjoy. He continued his search and, upon spotting her, he took a step back. She was with Sophia, and quickly pointing in his direction with a bright, menacing smile. “That woman is persistent...” He muttered, clutching at his vest, the open corner of his lips allowing him to murmur, “If you will excuse me…”

He turned, walking back a few paces, before ducking into a darkened hallway. It was far from empty, a fair few guests mingling in the light of the wall lamps.

Louis moved passed them, feet taking him where they willed, mind sorting through the various rooms they were passing. When he reached the end of the hall, he glanced once over his shoulder and, swearing he could see the pale pink colors of Sophia’s gown, he pushed through the entrance there. Slipping inside the library doors and shutting them in front of him with a flourish, he stared at the offending wood in hopes it would not reopen with Sophia excitedly dragging a lady acquaintance with her.

A calculatingly slow voice suddenly cleared the air and Louis swiveled around with a jolt, hand still behind him, gripping at the door handle like it could save him if he needed it.

Louis’ eyes fell to Mr. Styles, who was flipping idly through a book, gaze drawing lines over its crisp pages and inky black scrawl. “Mr. Tomlinson, what a delightful surprise…” He spoke aptly, eyes having yet to acknowledge Louis’ presence.

“W-what are you doing?” Louis, still frazzled from having escaped Sophia’s scheming, stayed close to the door, thinking that perhaps it had not been the best of ideas to enter the library in particular.

“Reading, of course…”   Came his apathetic response. Louis’ brows furrowed, his hand twitching on the handle of the door. He took a small breath when the gentleman’s eyes finally flicked up to meet his.

Louis said nothing, feeling knotted to the floor for a short moment. Until he was pulling himself together and stepping further into the room, unsure of where to go. What to do with the man’s reverent regard tracking his every movement, every slight shift of muscle beneath his shirt, every place a hint of blush appeared. He walked forward to a large desk that separated them, a few books scattered atop its wooden surface.

“And, may I ask, what you are doing in here, Mr. Tomlinson?” The man’s voice was quiet, soothing almost, as he spoke. Louis’ gaze flit to his once more. “Sophia wishes to have me dance with every woman she has ever spoken with.” He bites his cheek momentarily, fingers tracing the edge of a book cover. “Usually I would not mind… if it were not for the worry I hold for my sisters.”

Louis pursed his lips fleetingly, pinching the skin of his palm to stop himself from saying more. He was unsure why he had just shared such an unnecessary detail with the man. Family matters were supposed to be private. Only told to the closest of friends, if even that much was done.

Not shared with rich, young… beautiful gentlemen like the one standing in front of him.

“Why worry?” Mr. Styles asked, curiously, keeping the book in his hand, even as he came up to speak to Louis from across the desk.

Louis kept his gaze down for a hesitant moment, biting on his lip, uncertain whether to continue the dialogue he had unwittingly started. “I want to see my sisters married soon, is all.”

“Your sisters are exceedingly lovely, I suspect that many suitors will be begging for their hands before long.” He responded, watching him again.

Louis caught his eye in curiosity. The gentleman sounded genuine, and it seemed unlikely that he sought to gain much from saying such complimentary things in regards to his sisters. Louis lowered his voice to mutter, “If only they would be so keen to agree as I am.”

Mr. Styles tilted his chin, gaze unwavering with the same level of intensity and uncertainty as it always seemed to hold. The unease in his frown gave way to a small smile, turning up into a wolfish expression as he watched confusion flitter across Louis’ face. “You will get wrinkles, worrying yourself like that…” He added a moment later, eyes clear and bright, “Such a beautiful face should not be blemished at so young an age.”

Louis’ fingers curled away from the desk. To press themselves into fists at his side. “I do not believe I asked for your opinion on my features.”

Another smile quickly bloomed on the man’s lips at his remark. “No… but just as a rose does not wish to be a symbol of love and desire, it still is.”

“I am not a rose, Mr. Styles.” His eyes narrowed, heart beat fluttering in opposition to the rigidity of his tone.

“Are you not just as desirable as a rose is, Mr. Tomlinson?   Just as pleasing to look upon? You certainly have thorns that one must be careful not to prick himself with.”   He set his book aside, not feigning to look upon its pages when he could look upon Louis instead. He smiled even as he watched Louis with an inscrutable expression. “Though perhaps that is the reason roses inspire so much fascination. One could hurt themselves… and yet, I still wish to touch.”

Louis did not believe he resembled such a flower, even as his cheeks heated to the faintest color of rose and he bit down on his lip, keeping himself from saying anything ill-mannered. He stopped short, before, “Perhaps you should keep your musings to yourself.”

Mr. Styles watched his lips form the words. “I would if it were not so diverting to see you react. To see you bite your lip… it frustrates me, how tempting a sight you make.”

Louis did not refrain from snapping out his next response. Cold statement at odds with the heated air of the room, “And yet you continue with such provocative words.”

“And yet I do…” He agreed. Smirk still present, dimple pressed into the smooth skin of his cheek.

Louis allowed the frown to stay on his lips, gaze ducking to view Mr. Styles more closely. The way his long fingers caressed the spine of the book lying before him, the way he stood tall and dignified, his eyes never once wavering from their target.

As if to prove Louis’ earlier statement on his provocation, the man continued, after much too long a moment, waiting for their gazes to meet once more. They did, Louis’ with poorly disguised contempt and Mr. Styles’ with poorly disguised amusement. “Have you ever been to a Molly House, Mr. Tomlinson?”

Louis immediately flicked his gaze away from the other man’s face, surprise written in the curve of his brow as he stumbled upon his words. “N-no, that is not a place I would, or ever have, sought company nor entertainment.” He felt his stomach turning at the thought. Of what those men would do when they got together, the activities they would partake in…

Louis had never set foot in a place such as that.

“Is it not?” The man questioned next, lips quirking again as Louis’ own turned down further into a grimace.

“By the way you speak, you must be wanting me to infer a judgment on the matter. It begs me to enquire, Mr. Styles, have you been to a Molly House?” He momentarily paused to consider what it was that this particular gentleman would have done there. No doubt a participant in the illegal, dirty activities they allowed. Louis did not know why the image made his cheeks wish to heat and a stirring to erupt in his belly.

Mr. Styles grinned openly, unabashed as he replied. “I have. Many times in fact.”

Louis did not know what to do with the secrets the gentleman was sharing with him. He stared back, in frustration. “And why is it of import that I am privy to this information?”

The man continued to grin, a very pretty upturn of lips, as he seemed continuously amused by Louis’ words. “Not of importance...” He watched every tick of Louis’ expression, head tilted to the side in interest. “I just wished to hear your words on the subject. Which I was certain there were a great many… as you have always spoken so gratuitously of your opinion in the past.”

Louis opened his mouth to respond, before biting down on his cheek to pause. A moment to gather his bearings. “I am sorry to disappoint you. But I have no opinion on the subject in question.”

“Hmm…” He did seem disappointed in Louis’ response. Likely since Louis had made sure he would not blush, or stumble over his words, or bite his lip. Or anything else the man would seem to think was pleasing to watch.

Louis did not want to lose the man’s attention though, not yet; he took another step closer to the desk, idly looking at the books on the table in front of him, asking after a moment, “Why are you not out there?” He did not need to gesture to show where he was wondering. It was obvious to what he was referring.

“I am not a pleasant dancer.” The man replied. Louis looked up to him, unimpressed.

“You are not a pleasant many things, Mr. Styles, but dancer I do not believe is one of them.”

He put a hand to his chest, with a mock look of offense, “Your words sting.” He smiled afterwards, one that Louis had not yet seen. Amused, yes, but more pleased than Louis would have imagined his quip could cause.

Louis was reminded again of how agreeable Mr. Styles looked. How much Louis wanted to tangle his fingers in his hair and track the lovely curve of his lips. He glanced away, pulling at the cuff of his jacket sleeve. With a nod, he stepped away again with, “I must be on my way... should check on the girls.”

Louis could still feel the man’s eyes on his profile, a soft, questioning, “So soon, Mr. Tomlinson?”

He gave a sharp nod, murmuring, “Good evening, Mr. Styles,” turning then, to slip back out the doors in which he had come. It felt cooler, in the hall, the warmth of the people still milling about almost refreshing compared to the stifling heat that seemed to have overtaken him in the library. That he had so readily wished to leave behind him.

It was not refreshing enough, though, the change in atmosphere. He could feel it still coursing through his veins, warming the inside of his skin. The sudden want. He took an even breath, hoping the bitter March air would sooth his blush one final time as he headed out in search of his sisters.

Chapter Text

They strolled, in step, across the cobbled walk.

There was a rustling on the street, the normal midday haste, carriages taking people to and from their homes to places mottled around town. “How is it staying at Ullhame Park?” Louis asked, turning to Zayn to see him, shoulders rolled back, glancing at the houses around them.

“As lavish as you would expect.” He responded, giving Louis a quick smile. His cheek was freshly shaven, his hair swooped back off his forehead. His cheekbones were sharp, marble like a statue, his hands holding tight to a leather-bound journal, pages sticking from its binding haphazardly.

Louis grinned in reply, looking around at the perfectly decorated buildings around them, brushing passed well-dressed people on the streets, “Ah, well, Liam has always been known for his enjoyment of the finer things.” He paused, thinking on his next question.

Though they had just spent an hour or two at the local gentleman’s club together, they had not been able to engage in more enjoyable, personal wonderings, mingling with mutual acquaintances instead. “And where is it that your family is now?”

Zayn pursed his lips momentarily, “They recently settled down in a town in Prague.”

Louis’ eyes widened in wonder. He could not even imagine living somewhere so far from England. “Prague? I am glad you are still able to visit us here then…”

The man nodded, tone drawling as he mused, “Liam and Sophia have always been very hospitable.”

“I recall when you stayed at mine the first few months after your parents left. The first time.”

His mouth upturned into a wide grin, almost disarming in its charm. “Yes, the twins had not even been born yet.”

Louis could not stop his own impish expression, thinking back. “No they had not...” He could hear the sound of a piano flittering out from an open window; the rumbling of chatting voices from another. “And where is it that you plan to venture next, Zayn?”

He gripped his journal a bit tighter, as if in anticipation, eyes lighting up with wonder of the world. “Sweden, perhaps. Though I have a few months before I plan on leaving again.”

Louis nodded at his words with a huffed, “Good. I miss you when you are gone.”

“I miss you too, Lou.” He paused then, brown eyes perusing the townhome numbers, before nodding at a certain one. “Ah, if you will give me a moment.”

Louis turned, a black gate standing before them, an archway above its opening, lavender flowers twining through its cool frame. It was the beginning of spring after all, the flowers blooming under the nippy breeze, but pleasant sun. “Where are we?” A very nice townhouse sat behind the gate, with neat trimmings and varied brown brick. Louis followed Zayn through the entrance, stilling at the man’s response.

“I must deliver a parcel to Mr. Styles.” He turned to him with a quirked brow at Louis’ paused state. “I hope you do not mind.”

Louis bit back his immediate response. It was not that he did mind… Not particularly. “This is his townhouse?” He was not sure why he asked such an obvious question, or why he sounded so hesitant. He had been to plenty of townhomes before, ones just as extravagant as Mr. Styles’ was.

“Yes. Pretty, is it not?” Zayn asked, eyeing him hesitantly with one of his black brow’s lifted in question.

Louis shook his head, to rid himself of the sudden irregularity in his heart’s beat. “Very. Should I wait out here?”

Zayn grinned at that, again showing off his effortless beauty. “No, come with. It will only take a minute.”

Louis nodded, following after his friend as they knocked and a butler showed them into the home. It was just as nice inside as out, not that Louis was surprised. He imagined Mr. Styles would only surround himself with beautiful things, if it were his choice.

Louis almost wanted to step on his own toes at the way his thoughts were now revolving around the gentleman he had not seen in more than two weeks. Their last conversation had been… pleasant enough. Near the end.

They were led up a long flight of stairs, large, bright windows presenting the calming grey sky outside. Louis felt his insides flipping when they were allowed into a sitting room to await Mr. Styles. He did not sit, though, jittery where he perused the room with his eyes.

The walls were a pale yellow, ornate curtains pulled back to expose the light from outside. A chandelier sat above them, coloring the room in a relaxed hue. The feeling was quickly replaced when Mr. Styles entered, looking immediately broody, mouth pressed into a pout. Even as he greeted both, a nod towards them each, “Mr. Malik. Mr. Tomlinson…” His gaze lingered on Louis before being hastily taken away when Zayn handed the man a few parcels hidden in his journal.

Louis kept his eyes averted as they chatted, glancing around the room once more. For anything to look at that was not pretty smooth skin or sharp eyes and amused smiles.

It was only a moment before Mr. Styles’ low voice was bringing him back to the conversation he had been trying so hard to disregard, offering Louis a seat. He declined, deciding instead to step towards the fireplace and run his fingers along the white frame of it, glancing up to see his reflection in the mirror on top of it, noticing the white snuff box and tall candles there. Blue eyes reflected back at him.

Mr. Styles seemed a bit sullen when he spoke to Zayn, sounding almost irritable when Louis declined his offer to sit, as he and Zayn had already made themselves comfortable on the elegant chairs there. It was another moment before the chatter behind him silenced and he turned to see the two of them looking at him. He glanced between the two, blushing slightly, “What?”

Zayn stood with a fond shake of his head. “I was just telling Mr. Styles that I had to be off.”

“Oh.” Louis wrapped his fingers a bit firmer around the edge of the fireplace before dropping his hand to step away. “Then I will join you.” He glanced over at the man at that, feeling his blush not die down like it should have when he found him looking his face over.

Zayn seemed surprised, reaching for his journal. “You do not have to leave, do you? I thought Mr. Styles could entertain you in place of my poor manners.”

Louis did not turn to look at the other man that time, feeling his gaze anyways. He did not want to… Which was why he was so willing to say no.

He did not reply with such an answer though.

He gave a short nod, Zayn resting a palm against his shoulder before he was walking out the door. Louis turned, staying near the wall. Distance was good, he would maintain it.

“Mr. Styles…” Louis acknowledged. The man quirked a brow at him, seemingly less amused than he usually was. He stood from his spot on the luxurious couch, idly stepping towards Louis.

He waited a few long seconds, messing with the flower arrangement on the small table beside him. He frowned down at it, long fingers picking through its petals, pushing them around until it fit his liking. “Harry.” Louis blinked at that, watching the way the man turned from the roses to trail his eyes over Louis’ body, delicate like he had been when petting over the soft red petals. He held Louis’ gaze, when he clarified, “My name is Harry.”

“Yes… I know.” His tone was quieter then, the look the man was sending him causing him pause. He could feel his heart beat skip harder, the conversation they had shared in Liam’s library coming back to him as Harry touched over the roses, being careful not to prick himself on their thorns.

His long fingers stroked along the edges of the flower’s leaves again, watching the action even as he continued their conversation with a musing tone, “Do you not find it interesting how referring to someone by their first name implies how close another person is to them? That it is thought to be improper if done with the wrong company.” He turns his full attention to Louis then, dropping his hand against the flat surface of the table, “You call Mr. Malik, Mr. Payne, and Mr. Horan by their given names. It would be a lie if I said I was not envious of their acquaintance with you.”

Louis felt his cheeks flushing, as he asked, faintly, “Why would you be envious?”

“I want you.” The words were said with such ease, the air growing heavy and thrumming sluggishly as it wrapped around him, pulling Mr. Styles closer. Willing him closer, just enough so the heat could die down from the intensity of their separation.

“Call me by my given name, Mr. Tomlinson.” His voice was low, wanting.

Louis blushed harder, a shiver running down his spine as he looked up to meet his gaze, “To a-address you in such a manner would be unfitting.”

Mr. Styles regarded him with frustration, longing, gazing down at Louis’ parting lips, watching as a shaky breath escaped them. “I long to hear it uttered from those perfect lips. Please...”

Louis stared up at him, the name hastily, softly murmured into the space that kept them separate. “H-Harry…”

He did not seem satisfied yet, murmuring another quiet, “Again.” Even as his fingertips found purchase at the edge of Louis’ waist. Heat burning through the material there.

“Harry.” He exhaled the name once more, the feel of it lovingly slipping from his tongue. “Harry…” He murmured again, Harry’s eyes caught on the soft movement of his lips, the grip of his hand tightening slightly.

His eyelashes fanned across the papery skin beneath those vibrant green eyes, as he shut them for a wavering moment. “How is it that my longing only seems to grow, the more my name is lifted from your careful tongue?” Louis startled minutely when he felt Harry’s other hand reach up, the pad of his thumb ever so gently caressing at his jaw.

The man’s brows furrowed at the motion, a touch of sadness crossing his features. “If I were to call you by your given name, would it have the same effect?” Harry’s tone pulled at the thrashing tide of Louis’ pulse, words ringing like an ocean bird’s song and sounding just as sweet to his ear. “Louis Tomlinson…”

He could not draw a breath as he felt the ghost of soft rose lips brush along his cheekbone. Warm breath teasing at his lips when a muted knock at the door had him sucking in a small gasp. The other man was reflexively still as if he’d been expecting it, and it was only with reluctance that he finally stepped away, Louis frozen still, tiny bumps lining his skin even where they lay hidden beneath folds of fabric.

Harry moved further then, stepping carefully towards the couch there, trailing a deft hand along the top of its cushion, looking burdened again. “Come in.”

Louis inhaled a heavy breath, unable to rid the intoxicating scent of the other man from his mind. And he laid his eyes to the floorboards in attempts to never meet Harry’s again, placing an unsteady hand atop his left breast as if he could physically stop the hammering in his chest.

The man who had shown Louis and Zayn to the room they were in then, entered again. “Mr. Styles, your guests have arrived.”

“Send them in.” Harry replied after a moment. Louis did not dare look up to see if he was looking back at him. He could still feel his cheeks were hot and he took a few steadying breaths. He had no words, his tongue tied in his mouth.

“I should leave.” Louis forced out, in the few moments of silence after the butler had left, still not making eye contact. He did not receive a response before three women were entering the room and he looked up to see them.

One of the women was older, standing in front of the other two and demanding attention with her posture and shrewd brown eyes, hair blonde and greying at the temples. She was the first to speak, as Louis assessed the other women. Both beautiful. One with long black curling hair and a pale blue dress. The other, another blonde, with her hair pulled up in an intricate set. She wore a soft pink color that brought out the blush of her cheeks. They smiled lovingly at Harry as the older woman addressed him with a large smile and a bow, “My dear nephew.”

Harry gave her a small smile, Louis’ eyes finally flickering over to him to see. It certainly did not touch his eyes, the pretty dimple Louis had started to become acquainted with, hidden away.

She turned hard eyes on Louis, which almost made him jolt back. He would have if he had any more shock remaining in him after Harry had frightened it out of him earlier. “Who is your guest?” She looked Louis over and her eyes were much more observant and judgmental than they had been on her nephew. Louis tried not to fidget with his vest.

“This is Louis Tomlinson, a friend of mine.” She only looked at him for a few more seconds before turning back to Harry as he introduced to Louis, “My aunt, Lady Selley.” Louis nodded, feeling terribly uncomfortable as he gave her a simple bow and looked to Harry for any sign of what to do.

With a cattish smile, she introduced the girls with her, the blonde, “Miss Blackwood,” and the black haired, “Miss Cope.” They both gave proper bows, fluttering their lashes at Harry and pressing their perfectly painted lips together in soft smiles.

Louis stepped forward towards the couch, drawing the other four’s attention back to him as he turned to Harry with a quiet, “I really must be off…” Harry gave him a slow nod. He turned back to the three ladies, giving another bow under their scrutinizing gazes. “It was of pleasure to meet with you, Lady Selley, Miss Cope, Miss Blackwood.”

He looked back at Harry one final time, to see his lips pulled down into a frown. Of which stirred his already quickened pulse, his heart fluttering, as he spoke again, “Farewell, Harry…”

Lady Selley seemed surprised by their informality, brows rising as she assessed him for a second time. Louis could not care, his sole attention focused on the small smile Harry was giving him then; eyes softer than they had been since the arrival of his and Zayn’s earlier that day.

“Farewell, Louis.” He responded, words soothing and simple as they ever so gently plucked at Louis’ heartstrings.

He turned to make his way out of the room and down the long stairwell again, exiting the house with slow movements, thoughts frazzled and flitting every which way. He was sure his cheeks still held a warmth not ordinarily there.

He tried to hinder his mind from thinking about everything that had happened at Mr. Styles’ townhome.

He was not successful in the coming days, his stomach warming and cheeks heating every time he thought about it. Temptation and arousal heady against the thin cotton of his bed when he dreamt of Harry’s lips brushing his own, Harry’s hands touching him where he wanted them most. He never acted on it when that happened. He did not rut down against the sheets when he dreamt of the other man, did not touch lightly over himself thinking of Harry’s soft lips and pretty words.

Unexpectedly, he was not glad when a distraction came later that week, in the form of a very keen Mr. Shone asking for Charlotte’s hand in marriage, and her immediate refusal of it.

It was when the man left their home, after Louis gave him a reassured, ‘let me speak with her’ that she cornered him. And he found it much easier to ignore the prior week’s events.

Louis was sitting at his desk, he had just sat down to take a heavy breath when she entered and stopped right in front of him. On that thinning carpet, teary-eyed and dress rumpled in distraught. “Please, Louis. Do not make me marry him.”

He was not surprised by her audacity to beg him to not force her into an engagement with Mr. Shone. Yet he was still at wits end, frustrated where he ran stiff hands through his hair.

“Charlotte, you know our situation.” She just blinked back at him, nodding her head as her eyes welled with fresh tears.

She knew she was not playing a fair game. Louis was weak when it came to upsetting his younger sisters.

“I know, Lou…” She sniffled, letting silence crowd around them. She wiped her cheeks with a handkerchief before speaking again, leaving Louis unsure whether he was pleased to hear her words or not. “There is someone else with whom I wish to marry… Not Mr. Shone. Please, Louis, he-” She cuts herself off from saying anything more, though it does nothing more than to rattle Louis’ brain. Shock slowly sinking into his veins, itching at his nerves.

“There is someone? Charlotte why have you not spoken of this before?! Who is he?” Louis stared, dropping his hands from his hair to fully gawk at her, brows lifted to the high heavens. He had not seen her socializing with any man in particular and the news was so lost on him that he did not even know where to start.

She sniffed again, looked towards the carpet adorning the floor. “I have not… spoken of him before as I am unsure if the feelings are returned…”

Who is this man?” Louis’ patience was growing thin, though he tried to stop his irritation from showing through. He knew she would not tell him if he pushed too hard. If she would tell him at all.

He could only be so nice when she was suddenly dropping such a significant piece of information upon him though. It seemed she had had no intention of being wed from the start and the thought made Louis’ irritation flare.

He groaned after another moment of silence, looking off to the side in frustration. He was sure of it, his sisters were put on the earth for the sole purpose of tormenting him.

“It is—” She squeaks out, before giving a short shake of her head and again refusing to tell him, diverting her gaze once more. “I do not wish to say.”

“Is it so uncertain as to cause you shame?” He asked, trying to keep his tone tender just as their mother’s had so often been. “Just a name, Charlotte. We can figure it out, together.”

She flushed further, voice a hesitant murmur, “You would not understand…” She took a few steps closer to him, grabbing his hand in her gentler ones, holding them tightly in hopes to not upset him further as she gave another defiant shake of her head, “I-I cannot tell you.   Please, brother, do not give me away to Mr. Shone. I will find another husband… Please.”

He looked up into her clear blue eyes, wet still from her worry, and he knew he could not. He already knew he would not have been able to when she showed up in his study, crying.

He exhaled a small breath, replying. “Fine.” She thanked him profusely, kissing his cheek and promising him it would all be well in the end.

Louis wanted to believe her, he did. It was difficult to when they were still in the same position they had been in two months prior. A few more fortnights and they would no longer have an estate to call home.

His sleeping grew worse after that night, his head aching at least once a day, at twelve sharp more often than not, when he sat in his office, writing letters to distant relatives, writing letters to eligible men for Felicite.

The twins would sit with him sometimes, helping him stamp his letters and then taking them out to be delivered. Felicite kept with her readings and engagements with friends, Charlotte with her forlorn expression and quiet sighs. She still would not tell Louis who it was that she loved.

He stopped asking eventually, even though he could not keep his mind from wondering. And being just as forlorn about her refusal of marriage with Mr. Shone.

“Never in my life have I met two girls so unwilling to wed!” Louis exclaimed to Zayn and Niall one afternoon, receiving sympathetic looks from both men sitting across from him. A tinge of anxiousness in Niall’s brow, thoughtfulness in the tilt of Zayn’s head.

The blond sat forward in his seat after a moment, pressing the tips of his fingers together. “I had not thought he would ask for her hand.”

Louis rubbed once more at his temples, the headache appearing like it had the day prior and the day before that.

“Is that not a good thing?” Zayn questioned, taking a drag of his cigar and watching the two of them with apt curiosity.

Louis exhaled once again, mumbling his next words, recalling the event with no ounce of obscurity. “It is not when she wholeheartedly denies the request.”   He gave a second heavy exhale. “She claims to be in love with another man.”

Zayn puffed on his cigar. “Did she say whom it was that she loved?”

Louis did not bother stopping the distress and sleeplessness from contorting his expression, pulling on his lower lip. “No. She would not tell me, too humiliated of the circumstances, I am sure.” He sighed in discomfort, sinking further into his chair, mind doing much the same as it sunk further into the recesses of uncertainty and anxiousness. “I cannot believe that the feelings are not returned by this… ‘secret love’ of hers. Charlotte is beautiful, intelligent, polite. Always smiling… the gentlest out of all my sisters. I cannot see how she could be unsought after.”

“Maybe she is worried it is with someone you would not approve of…” Niall proposed hesitantly, Zayn nodding to the statement as if thinking it a proper assessment as well.

Louis broke off another sigh to respond. “At this point, I feel I could approve of anyone she were to love. I trust her heart; I trust her mind even more. She has always been bright, has always made the best decisions...” He held a weak expression, wishing the two in front of him could hold the answers he sought. His parents surely would have. “I am unsure of what to do…” He finished. Quietly, lamely.

His companions did not know how to help, though they spent the next hour coming up with places he and his sisters would be welcomed to once they lost their home. Niall was fidgety and Zayn was surprisingly lost on ideas, but they listened and that was all Louis really could have asked of his friends.

When night began encroaching upon his estate, wiping the soft hues of sun off of each glassy surface and well-traveled floor, Louis walked Zayn towards the door. Conversation having gone lighter when they began discussing Zayn’s merriments with his time instead.

As it had come to be realized, their visit to Mr. Style’s townhome the week before was because Zayn needed to deliver a letter from a correspondent they both shared from Lancashire. Upon this revelation came the thoughts of Harry flooding back through Louis’ mind.

Zayn was not much comfort on the topic himself, enquiring upon the rest of Louis’ visit after he had left. Louis did not make eye contact with the other man, glad to be walking the comforting halls of his estate. His cheeks flaring a soft pink again as he spoke. “…I did not stay for long once you left.” His stomach twisted ever so lightly, his throat starting to itch. “He had a visit from his Aunt and two young mistresses.”

Zayn lifted a dark brow, cutting through Louis’ guard with a sharp, interested look, “Lady Selley? Trying to interest him in marriage, then… It is no surprise he was in such a mood when we called upon him.”

Louis was not surprised that Zayn had noticed Mr. Styl-- Harry’s odd behavior. He would have chosen it as a topic of conversation if he had not been so struck with the other statement flying from Zayn’s mouth. “Does he not wish to marry, then?”

Zayn shrugged, aloof, though Louis knew him better. He knew he enjoyed gossip just as much as the rest of them. Zayn’s eyes sparkled, “I do not know. Perhaps he just revels in being difficult.”

Louis could not bring himself to smile at the quip, or laugh, though he normally would have agreed with such a statement, and even participated in jest at the nature of certainty behind it. Harry Styles was most certainly a difficult man as Louis had come to know him. As Louis had possessed the, not quite, privilege of witnessing in their conversations together.

Thinking back to his most recent conversation with Harry left Louis twisting idly in his place, suddenly warm all over. His lips pulled into a tight frown as he murmured in reply, “Perhaps…”

He was broken from his wandering mind by light toes quickly prancing down the stairs, bare feet covered in stockings as Felicite stopped a few steps above them.

“Miss Felicite.” Zayn nodded towards her, reaching into his bag a moment after to produce a leather bound book. “Here is the book you enquired upon.”

She came down the last few steps to politely take it from him, wide eyes staring down at it as if it were the only item she had ever wanted in her life. And the most important item she would ever need again. “Thank you very much.” She beamed at Zayn, holding the book to her chest. A signed version of his latest novel, Louis assumed.

Zayn nodded again, glancing towards Louis as he insisted, “Anything for the sister of a friend.” She seemed to take that as her invitation to leave, slipping away as quickly as she had arrived to pour over the newest reading Zayn had given her. No doubt to finish it as hastily as she could and read it over three more times before passing it along to her friends.

Louis’ lips curved in appreciation, eyes following suit, even whilst he shook his head. “You are too kind to them.”

“Your family is family to me, Louis.” His grin broadened, as he reached up to place a hand on Louis’ shoulder. “Your sisters are my sisters.”

Louis gave a laugh, escorting them towards the door. “How poetic. Do let your own sisters know that, I would love to see them if they ever cared to stop in Britain.”

Zayn’s warm eyes brought an equal amount of warmth to Louis’ chest. “I will pass along the invitation.”

Chapter Text

The rain came down in torrents, wishing to soak them enough to keep them cold and shivering throughout the party.  Louis was glad they were already seated in their carriage, doors closed to the temperamental sky outside.  His coachman was likely not as glad.

He stayed quiet through their journey to Ullhame Park, the weather not helping with his mood.  His sisters did not seem to mind his solemn behavior.  They knew why it was present and that they could say nothing to cheer him up.

All five of them seemed to perk up slightly when the hooves of the horses slowed to a stop.  The clouds’ teardrops now a gentle splash against the ground.  It was enough for them to risk rushing out and up to the entrance of the estate.

The twins seemed to think it was funny, once they got inside, to flick tendrils of wet hair at one another and get droplets on their dresses.  Louis wiped the water from each of their faces, thumbing across their cheeks before squeezing at their noses for good measure.

They smiled up at him before rushing off towards the sound of voices.  Louis, at a much slower rate, exhaled silently before following after them, Charlotte in step with him.  He wondered if her secret infatuation would be at the party.  If she were not so hard to read, he would have considered watching with whom she spoke, to see if he could guess.

At the moment, it seemed, he had bigger things to worry about.  Namely socializing and feigning a well-rested attitude.

The five of them walked into the parlor room, a large group of friends and acquaintances already in the center, a number standing off to the walls and mingling with drinks in their hands.

The bulk of them formed a circle, sitting and standing in various shades of disarray.  Louis was unsure what they were playing but he could hear shouts and taunts from each corner, could see the twins grinning in delight before rushing closer to oversee the merriments.  Felicite followed after them, before making a beeline towards Sophia instead, Charlotte staying by Louis’ side as they took in the entirety of the spectacle.

The drawing room they were in was different from the one they had visited months before, though it was not unknown to him.  Louis had traipsed through it many times the night of Liam’s ball.  The curtains were drawn to show the greying clouds outside and the trickling of water slipping down the window panes.  It seemed to have let up more, the greens of Liam’s fields shining through the droplets resting there.

The crowd was large, an assortment of silk gowns and embroidered vests colliding together in a flood of color and lace.  Liam noticed them before Louis was able to decide upon his own course of action, stalking up to them with a large grin. 

“Your eminence.” Louis greeted, before being pulled into a tight embrace, and receiving a fond eye roll for the title.

“Sophia and I are overjoyed you and your sisters could make it.”  Liam replied, pulling back to bow towards Charlotte, who returned the acknowledgement with a curtsy and a warm smile.

Louis grinned at the man, “We are overjoyed we could make it as well.  The weather outside is dreadful.”

“Yes, the rain.  Good for the fields, bad for a social event.”  Liam seemed pleased, nonetheless.  And Louis was not surprised at his continued merriment.

He glanced around the room once more, musing. “Though I suppose it explains the games.”

Liam grinned brighter, nodding his head and gesturing towards a few small tables pushed off into a corner. “We already broke out the cards.”  His eyes lit up when he continued, “Sophia did spectacularly during charades, if only you two could have been here to see it.”

Louis laughed, imagining it.  “Well if I do recall, you are quite outstanding at the rhyming games.  Have you played any of those yet?”

Liam stroked a hand down the front of his vest, looking almost offended at the question.  “Ah, no!  We really should.”  The expression quickly passed before he was prattling on again, about just how well he would do if they played Rhymes with Rose.  Louis and he jested back and forth, practicing lines.

Louis felt better while they did so, even if the thought of losing their estate still lingered at the back of his mind.

He scoped the room when Liam sauntered off to mingle with more of his guests.  He was not searching for anyone in particular, but when his eyes did not fall upon a single set of familiar brown curls, he sighed in relief.

He could relax for the moment.  It had been an errant thought of his, for the past few days, whether he would be seeing Mr. Styles at Liam’s party.  And he had a few restless nights because of it. 

He was glad that it seemed their meeting would not occur.

Upon inspecting the room once more, Louis could see Miss Edwards, one of Zayn’s acquaintances, blindfolded and grinning as she moved around the group of people, arms outstretched to reach for anyone she could.  When she found someone, with a loud round of cheers and jests, she felt over their clothing to guess who it was.  The woman who had been caught tried to confuse her with the fabric of her neighbor’s skirt, the cloth slipping through their fingers, though Miss Edwards guessed correctly in the end.

It seemed the group had decided on playing Blind Man’s Bluff and Louis watched on with a smile, seeing Zayn go over to congratulate Miss Edwards on her job well done, and the blindfold was passed on to the next awaiting guest.

Louis did not know how he ended up being forced into the game a few round later.  Especially as they tied a blindfold across his eyes to mar his vision. But then again, with Felicite choosing him to take over after her turn, he, of course, could not have refused. He could feel himself grinning in amusement. 

He could still hear the talking and laughing around him, the cheering and scattering of people as he moved towards anyone in his surroundings.

He even found himself laughing after a few moments of trying to grab someone and listening to Niall’s shouted taunts.  When he finally ran into someone, the noise in the room quieted.  Or perhaps that was only because his concentration focused in on figuring out who he had found.  He felt the thick fabric of their vest and slowly he lifted his hand to drag it up the material.  Careful to not seem too invested in the material of their clothes.  The vest was a rich silk, stitched with designs though Louis could not tell what they were.

He reached up after a long moment, to touch their face, fingers brushing passed soft hair.  And thumbs finding dimples.

Louis stilled immediately, frowning, and if anyone where to remove his blindfold, they would see his eyes narrowing in annoyance.  Of course Harry Styles had let himself be caught.  And of course it was Harry Styles, who Louis had not seen at all before then.  It pained Louis how his luck toyed with him.  Harry had probably stood right in front of Louis just for the sole purpose of flustering him.  Or irritating him.  He drew his hands back.  Murmuring, “Mr. Styles.”

He was applauded for his correct response and he could feel those deft hands reaching up to untie the fabric from around his eyes.  It meant that they were closer than they needed to be.  Louis hated that he did not mind the proximity.  Though the familiarity of it brought back the memory when Harry’s face had been so unbelievably close to his own, when he had been at his townhome and Harry’s lips had brushed so carefully across his cheek.

“I was hoping to speak with you,” were the first words out of Harry’s mouth when the blindfold was off.  If Louis had not been so distracted by their movement, he may not have heard him over the chatter surrounding them.  He stared over his features, lips parting on a quiet breath when he really took in how close they were.

Louis gave a succinct nod a terribly long moment later, and they passed the blindfold to Niall, who grinned raucously at the challenge.  The two of them stepped out into the hall, though Louis stayed near the door, where someone could still see them if they cared to look out.  He would not allow for them to find themselves in close quarters once again.

Louis noticed Harry’s gaze on his face, flushing from it before he was glancing away.  “What is it?”

“I have an offer for you.”  The words caught his attention and Louis returned his gaze to his mouth.

He fidgeted slightly in his place.  “An offer?”

Harry’s lips were very pink.  And even in Louis’ distraction, what he said was unexpected.  Only assisting to confuse Louis further.  “You know I reside in the halls of Briglane Manor...  It is quite a large place for me alone.”

“I do know.”  Louis replied.  It had been the talk of the town when it had been purchased by the youngest member of the Styles’ family years before.  Louis still wondered what the purpose of their conversation was.  He arched a brow at him.

Harry’s following words were precise.  “Come stay with me at my country home.  With your sisters too.”  And he did not wait for the blood to rush towards Louis’ face, his stomach knotting immediately, before he was continuing, “I heard you would be without an estate soon.  I have plenty of rooms for all of you.”

Louis took a quick breath through his nose, feeling incredibly exposed.  His words came out slightly sharper than he intended, a harsh, whispered, “How did you know of that?”  Certainly Louis had not told him, and rumors could not have begun to spread already.  Louis had only told his closest friends.  And his sister’s knew to keep quiet.  He clenched his hands, clammy with heat.

Harry watched him closely.  “I was entertaining a meal with Zayn and Liam when the business of your affairs may have come up.”  He seemed unaware of how his statements were affecting Louis, or aware and uncaring of Louis reprimanding him.  “Consider my offer, Louis.”

Instead of giving Harry what he wished, a response, Louis turned around to march away, tongue bitten between his teeth.  “Do not call me Louis.”

He was furious.  And embarrassed.

He stayed far from Harry for the rest of the party, keeping eyes on him only to know when to walk in the opposite direction.  He was livid.  Unsure whether he wanted to chide Liam and Zayn for talking about him too, or not.  He was ashamed, stomach twisted and cheeks hot.

Harry had been right, they would be losing their home soon.  A month.  And he still had not secured another place for them to stay.  Louis was a terrible brother.  He sat down at a chair in the corner, away from the joviality of the party, arms crossed and lips pursed.  When he looked back over to Harry, the man was being flirted with by one of the women who had been introduced to him at his townhome the other week.  The black haired one.

Louis turned his gaze away when Harry caught him looking.  A hot, ugly pull in his stomach.  He looked around the room to find his sisters.  They were laughing and enjoying themselves, as they should have been.  They were his life.  And he needed to protect them.

They had no immediate family to stay with.  It had been made clear through follow up letters that their cousin would not be allowing them to stay in their current estate.  Liam had offered, but he already was housing Zayn, and Louis would be imposing too much to bring himself and his four sisters to their always bustling home.  Niall did not have a large enough estate for them.  Even though he had offered enough times.

Louis would not split up their family and his eldest sisters still denied finding eligible husbands.  Harry’s offer started sounding the slightest bit better.

He did have a large estate.  Not that Louis had ever seen it, but it was clear from what he had heard from the old women gossiping at church, and from what he had gathered about Harry’s wealth, that it would be grand.  His townhome had been and that was insignificant in comparison to a country home.

Louis looked back towards Harry.  He was smiling at the woman.

Louis frowned a little harder.  Before he could think on it he was stomping back over to them.  Harry immediately looking towards him as he approached, smirking like he had been expecting it.

The woman by his side, Miss Cope, Louis thought he recalled, was much less aware of him.  Louis bowed to her when he cut into their intimate little conversation, trying to be polite even as he prickled at how close they were standing.  “Excuse me…” He murmured, before turning towards Harry and keeping his pout well pronounced.  He inhaled deep, still irritated.  Annoyed by how presumptuous the man had been earlier and the manner in which he had offered Louis and his sisters a place to stay.

“Mr. Tomlinson…”  Harry said, voice bordering on snide.  Louis noticed he had not called him by his given name.

His lips puckered further in frustration.  “I accept your invitation, Harry.”  He made sure to emphasize his name.  Harry’s lips only pulling up further at the corners when he did.  In fact, Harry’s whole body was turned towards him, Louis almost forgetting that there was someone beside them.

Miss Cope cleared her throat lightly, Harry’s gaze did not waver.  He continued watching Louis’ expression, seeing how his brows eased slightly, though his cheeks were still puffed in a scowl.

“I am honored.  I will let my staff know you and your sisters will be joining us.”  Harry’s eyes followed down the line of Louis’ body and if Louis were not already full of irritation, he would perhaps flush a bit at the attention.  As it was, he could not stop the tiny pleased pull in his abdomen, unfurling and snapping up his spine.  Along with a small, unwelcome smile.  Harry still had not looked back over at the woman beside them.

“Good.”  He turned again, biting over his lip.  He did not need to glance back as he walked away to know that Harry was still watching him, eyes raking over his slim figure and probably stalling on the sway of his hips.   He did not move them anymore than normal in order to keep Harry’s attention.  And he would forever deny any allegations to the contrary.

Chapter Text

Louis had lost all of his fire and irritation from when he had accepted Harry’s invitation at Liam’s party some weeks before.  And he had only been left with a generous bundle of nerves and unease.

"This was the best solution, dear brother.  Do not look so distraught."  Charlotte placed a gentle hand on his arm, as they looked up at the mansion from inside their carriage.

The horse’s hooves prattled against the cobblestone as they neared the immense structure.  Its stone was weathered, off-white in a shade that stood in such contrast with the effervescent green grass growing around it and cut off by the edge of the path.  Columns and their archways held up the estate’s heavy walls, statues angelic and poise at the edges of the rooftop.  It was massive and it was gorgeous, if a bit overwhelming in its regality.  Large windows sculpted out the sides, doing well at hiding the luxuries inside.

Louis breathed deep, noticing the tall trees surrounded the estate, and the sculpted bushes and flowers.  He sat back in his chair when the twins and Felicite were pushing through to get their own look at the manor, chattering about how beautiful it was and how they could not wait to explore it’s every nook and cranny.

The path to the home was such a long one that Louis had a few minutes to close his eyes and clear his mind, the rattling of the wheels beneath them, rhythmic and jittery just like his nerves.  Charlotte was right.  It had to have been the best solution.  Or he would not have agreed to it.

Their cousin had kicked them out of their family home earlier that morning and Louis did not think his life could fall any further than it already had.

They were effortlessly and promptly welcomed into the lavish house by the staff.  Louis did not have to wonder long where Harry was when Briglane Manor’s chief butler informed him that he would be at his townhome for a while longer with parliamentary duties to attend to.

The thought did not ease Louis as much as he had hoped it would.  Not that he had wanted Harry to be there.  He really did not.

He just perhaps, wondered why he had not made special effort to do so.

Louis did not think long on the matter, he and his sisters being escorted through the halls.  They were allowed to wander and see anything they wished to look upon. And everything was magnificent.  From the grand staircases to the gold encased windows and porcelain vases painted in the most spectacular detail.  With pristine floors and rugs beautifully embroidered, the draperies colorful and soft.  Louis was in awe.

The girls were each given their own room, which they delighted over, squealing to themselves and chasing each other into and out of each of them.  Only Charlotte stood back to watch instead of participate, still feeling forlorn from her love’s lack of interest.

Louis watched on with fondness, though he wondered if the butler and maid taking them around would tell anyone of the girls’ behavior.  At that moment in time, however, after everything they had been through, Louis cared very little of how improper their behavior may have seemed.

Leaving the girls in their wing of the house, Louis was escorted to his own room and he almost balked at the size and splendor of it.  The walls held drawings of thin flowering trees, green with small blue birds atop their branches and flying in the air.  The bed was large with a soft meadow green colored bedding and oak bedposts climbing tall and reaching for the ceiling. Satin curtains sat atop them, billowing down their sides.  There was a rug on the wooden floor and a couch with seats and tables near the fireplace.  And a vanity sitting off to the side that Louis glanced in, admiring the reflection of the room that he saw there.

He thanked the butler for showing him in and, before he was left alone, he was told that dinner would be served in the main dining room in an hours’ time.  Louis nodded, entranced once again with the intricate detail of his room’s furnishings.  He noticed a bookshelf near the fireplace and walked over to peruse the readings.

It did not hold his attention for long and he found himself back in the hallways, searching through every unlocked room he could find.  Which was most of them.  It seemed Mr. Styles did not have any secrets to keep.

It was a bit odd being at his home without him there.  But he pushed the thoughts of the man from his mind.  He would not be able to stay at Briglane Manor for long, and he needed to think of a way to house him and his sisters once they left.

The thoughts in his mind were inconclusive.  He did manage to find the dining room within all his ponderings, though, and felt quite accomplished for such a feat.  The estate was really quite large.

And Louis was not surprised to find that the food was exquisite as well.  He was feeling like a proper prince the longer they stayed and really, he could not have that.  He did not want Harry to have the satisfaction of knowing Louis was enjoying his stay.  It had only been half a day for goodness’ sake.

When he went to tuck the twins into their beds later and wish them the sweetest of dreams after their evening readings, he stopped by Charlotte’s room, overhearing Felicite and her talking quietly amongst themselves.

He knocked, pushing open the door slightly.  The two girls both looked over at him, before Charlotte was giving him a small smile.  All of her recent smiles had not seemed quite as bright as they usually were.

They were sitting atop her bed, which was pink in color and looked just as comfortable as Louis’ had.  “May I come in?”  He asked, inching the door a bit wider.

They nodded and he moved closer, to perch himself on the edge of the duvet.  “What are you two whispering about?”

Felicite grinned, glancing around the room, “Oh, just how beautiful Mr. Styles’ home is.”

Louis glanced around to where she was looking, noticing the similar pattern of wall design as was in his own room, the white band lining the ceiling and gold strip trailing right beneath it.  “It is quite lovely…”

“I wonder if he will be making a visit soon.”  Charlotte murmured.

“I am surprised he is not present already.  To see our brother.”  Felicite added, sweetly.  Charlotte gave her a small look, confusion on her features.  Louis frowned at her instead, in uncertainty and sudden concern for what it was she was implying.

He fiddled with the cuffs of his sleeve, staring at her with his voice just a touch above a whisper. “What do you mean, Felicite…?”

Felicite glanced between the two of them for a long moment before shaking her head.  “Not a thing.  Just… since he invited us, I assumed he would want to welcome us as well.”

“Ah…”  Louis swallowed, feeling his cheeks warming and his stomach flooding with tension.  At what Felicite had meant.  Charlotte did not seem convinced Felicite was speaking her mind either, her brows still pinched slightly in the middle.

She did not question her sister though, breathing out a small sigh.  The sigh of a lovesick girl.

It was Felicite and Louis’ turn to exchange a glance, as Louis reached out to touch Charlotte’s shoulder and Felicite spoke.  “Do not agonize Charlotte, it will all work out.”

Charlotte glanced up from the duvet to give them each a small smile, “I do wish I had never fallen in love in the first place.”

“Nonsense.” Felicite touched her cheek.  “You will find the right one.”  Charlotte gave an unconvinced nod and the three of them spoke for a little longer, before Louis kissed them both goodnight and ventured back towards the room he had been given.

He wore his usual night clothes, stripping out of them when it got too hot beneath the duvet.  The bed was unbelievably comfortable, soft and firm everywhere he wanted it to be.  And yet he still could not fall asleep right away.  Even after travelling earlier that day and being fed until he was stuffed.

Perhaps it was the thought that he was in Harry’s home that kept him from sleep.  What Felicite had said not long before that made him restless, rolling from one side of the mattress to the other and back.

Felicite had not been the only one to think Harry would have been there to welcome them.  Louis had also thought they would have had dinner together, all six of them, and that Harry would smirk that frustrating smile and say something improper to Louis like he always did.  Would wind Louis up until there was that tight pull in his abdomen and that red flush climbing across his cheeks; the one he was unsure if he liked more than he hated.  He could feel that warmth starting again in his stomach, just the thought of Harry had him losing sleep and peace of mind.

Louis closed his eyes tighter in hopes that it would stop.  The squirming in his stomach did not lift.  The cool air of the room prickled across the bare skin of his shoulders and chest, and blew across his collarbones.  He rolled onto his front, trying to bury his head in the pillows.

He took in a sharp breath when a spark ran up his spine from where he had rubbed up against the sheets.  He wondered if Harry had picked out the bedroom specifically for Louis.  Had thought about him lying under the duvet, thought about whether he would strip out of his clothes beneath the layers of warmth that covered him.

Louis rolled his hips down again, intentionally, wondering if Harry often did the same thing in his own bed, and flushed so red when he imagined it.  Imagined Harry touching over himself thinking of Louis. 

It felt so good, shifting against the bed again.  Everything was hot and the thought of what he was doing, in Harry’s home, had him biting down on his lower lip and exhaling a tight breath.

He had chastised Harry for being lewd and improper, but he had no right to talk.  Harry had told Louis that he was beautiful, that he had wanted him.  The idea of what he could have meant shot another spark down Louis’ spine, as if a cool finger was tracing over the dips of his back.  He imagined what it would be like if Harry touched him, trailed his hand from the top of his neck to the lowest parts of his waist.

Louis gave out another quiet breath, fumbling beneath the sheets to grab a hold of himself, touch to release some of the pressure.  Hand coming up so he could thumb at the tip, beading with wetness.

He wondered what Harry would do to him.  If he would hold him down.  Would put those lips on his heated skin, lick into his mouth.  He stroked himself, legs spreading a bit wider and an embarrassingly soft sound falling from his lips.  He increased the speed of his hand, imagining it was Harry’s hands instead.

He was so wet at the tip and the drag of his palm felt just right.  He thought again about when he had been at Harry’s townhome, when Harry’s lips had brushed his cheek and his breath had been so warm.  He wished he had closed the distance between their mouths, if only to have something real to draw upon.  Harry would have told him he tasted sweet, would have bit ever so gently over his lip.

Louis exhaled the gentleman’s name, breathy and quiet, and the only sound in the room besides his soft sighs of breath.  His heart beat heavy thuds against his chest at the name.

He said it again, whining when his foreskin kissed over the tip of his head.  He licked over his lips, the pressure building to an eclipse.  He came undone a few strokes later,  thinking of Harry saying his name, whispering it in his ear, deep voice caressing and sending little pulses of want to his fingertips.

He laid in the wet spot on the sheets, breathing heavy and so ashamed of his behavior.  He got up a moment later to wipe the mess from his belly and any of it that he could get from the duvet, lying back down on the far side of the bed, trying to strangle himself with the quilts.  It had been so good, had felt so right...

He forced his eye to close and his mind to clear.  His body was already relaxed from its exertion, his bones weary from the day’s adventure and his activity.  Little aftershocks still tingled against his skin and he focused on the peaceful flutter in his tummy instead of anything else.

He really hoped Harry would not be home for a very long time.  It took him much longer than he had anticipated to fall asleep.

 

It was bright and early the next morning, right after they had eaten a very large, very wonderful breakfast that they received a guest Louis had not thought would be making an appearance just yet.

When Niall walked into the study they were all sitting in, allowing themselves time to digest, he did not even look around at the magnificence of Harry’s estate before honing in on Louis, looking flushed and out of breath.

Louis’ complete attention was taken immediately, brows furrowing.  “Niall, to what do we owe such an impromptu visit…?”

“I, umm, wish to ask something of you.”  His voice was shaking slightly and he was fidgeting where he stood.  Louis sat a bit more forward in his chair, nervousness, the emotion Niall’s behavior inspired.

“What is it…?”

Niall breathed heavily once as if trying to collect himself for whatever he would be asking of Louis.  His eyes suddenly broke from Louis’ to scan the other faces in the room, stopping when they fell upon Charlotte’s.  She stared back at him, lips parted slightly as if ready to jump in and say something herself.  Wide-eyed and shocked.  Louis was not sure what was going on, but Niall’s next statement threw him into a whirl. 

The Irishman took another step, further into the room, voice determined as he said, “I wish to have Charlotte’s hand in marriage.”

Louis’ head snapped back to Niall’s.  He was not sure if he had heard correctly.  It was dead silent in the room.  Niall and Charlotte were still staring at each other.  Louis’ neck was beginning to ache from his constant movement back and forth looking between their faces.

“What?!”

Niall chanced a glance at him, expression contorting into something a bit more unsure and a bit more frightened.

Louis’ head flipped back to Charlotte’s.  She now had her mouth closed, and she was smiling.  Genuinely smiling, clearly pleased by the turn of events.  The sparkle in her eye, the one that only came out on special occasions—like when she played with the twins when they had been babies and picked flowers with their mother—was even present.  Louis opened and closed his mouth, failing to clear his throat.  He had not seen that sparkle in quite a time. “I have been the most blind.  It has been Niall this whole time.”

That seemed to catch her attention and she turned her sparkling gaze on him instead.  She bit her lip after a moment though, realizing that Louis really would be the final decision in response to Niall’s favor.

Louis shook his head.  Ridiculous.  They were both unbelievably ridiculous.  “Well, of course.  Yes.  Whole-heartedly yes.”  He was not sure which of his emotions was overpowering the others.  Happiness for his sister and best friend, relief for no longer having to worry for her, irritation for not having been told earlier, or peculiarity since it was his sister and his best friend.  The latter two stood the strongest one moment, only to be overlapped with the first two seconds after.  He really thought he would have noticed something like their budding romance sooner.

He laughed at the absurdity of the situation, “Could you not have asked months ago?  To save me the worry.”

Niall grinned, had not stopped since Louis had said yes.  Even as he mumbled an apology.  A weak apology, in Louis’ opinion.

It was only another moment before Charlotte was standing from her chair and Niall was reaching for her hands, to hold in front of them all.  Their smiles were the brightest, happiest expressions Louis had seen in a long while.

He ushered the younger girls out, who gave Charlotte large hugs and exclamations of excitement, to give Niall and Charlotte some privacy.  He punched Niall on the arm when he passed him.  It was not a friendly punch.

He was going to have a long, hard talk with his friend when they next were alone.  And another long, hard talk with Charlotte as well, for keeping petty secrets from him for no reason.  If she loved Niall she should have just bloody said so.

Niall stayed for lunch that day, and for dinner, barely breaking his gaze and smile from Charlotte’s.  It would almost be sickening, if Louis was not the proudest and happiest older brother and friend alive at that time.  The younger girls were very happy as well, chattering on about the wedding and how they had known all along.

Charlotte had plans to stay with them at Briglane Manor for a little while longer, until her and Niall’s marriage license went through the Parish and she would be moving away to live with him at his estate.

That particular bit of news was even more exciting for Louis, even if he was still irritated by their secrecy.  Only one sister to worry about.  Finding somewhere to stay with just him and the twins to look after would be a much easier feat. 

When Louis went to sleep later that night, he did not dream, and he did not stir.  He had the most restful night he had in the longest time.  His sister was in love and he was exceedingly thrilled for her.

 

It was the talk of the household for the next few days, even the maids and footmen seeming to be excited for Charlotte at the announcement.  Louis wanted to tell people, but had to wait for Charlotte to tell Sophia first and for Niall to tell Zayn and Liam before he could comment on the matter.  If Harry had been at his estate, Louis would have been able to tell him first.  Since Niall nor Charlotte were friends with him.  Not that Louis was either, but they had some type of friendliness towards one another.  He was asked to live at Harry’s country home after all.

And it was a magnificent home at that.  Louis had still not grown accustomed to the area, or where each of the rooms were.  Yet.  He still stumbled upon rooms he had never seen before.  Always amazed by how lovely and unique each and every one of them were.

One morning saw itself sunny and calm.  The manor was quiet and Louis was alone again, looking for something to do, somewhere to settle with his thoughts.  When he came to a hallway not far from his room, he decided to walk through it, slowly opening the doors he passed, looking inside for anything to preoccupy his time.

Louis opened a door at the end of the hall, in front of a large window overlooking the gardens, his fingers curling over the wood’s edge as he peered into the space.

The room was open and bright, the windows wide so that the clear sky could shimmer through.  Rays of light reflecting off of teal walls and the thin golden lines decorating them in intricate patterns, the palest green color marking the ceiling.  A feeling of warmth drifted down from the twinkling chandelier onto the soft wooden floors.  There were a few small statues in the room, white and marbled, sat beside chairs and sofas, with a piano set to the side and angled towards the middle of the area.

Louis took a few steps further in, fingers suddenly twitching to play a piece of music just as inspired as the room.  To set the halls alight with a softness only produced through the fragile rings of a piano chord.

Louis walked towards the piano, trailing his finger ever so lightly over the keys, not making any noise, yet.  Just relishing in the cool, smooth ivory beneath his fingertips.  It had been quite a while since he had time to play.

He sat after another moment, pressing into the keys with one hand, just a little tune.  He smiled, unable to stop himself as he set up in the correct posture, hands hovering over the board, his back straightening.  He closed his eyes as he began to play, trying to remember the last thing he had practiced.  He slowed it down, to make it last longer, a deep beautiful sound flowing from the open lid of the piano’s base.

He hummed the next line, in time with his tapping.  Singing the next words quietly, voice vibrant and light, twinkling over the notes as if dancing off of their very surface.  Fragile and soft.

He sang a few more lines, quiet, to not overpower the piano’s voice, looking down to watch his hands travel expertly over the keys.  He smiled softly, before looking up.

It was nothing that was said, just his attention that was caught.  The sight of an angel, curly haired like the statues scattered around the room, standing at the door, green eyes almost as bright as the room itself and smile as soft as the shadows that drifted onto the walls, listening to him play.

Louis stood, the bottom of the chair’s legs catching on the tile, wobbling in place.  “Harry...” He exhaled.  Looking down to the piano again, to pull his attention away from the man on the other side of the room, “Excuse me… I had not thought to ask.”  His voice was still quiet.  Embarrassed at being caught.  At seeing the man again.

“No.  Please continue.”  Harry walked closer, slowly, biting lightly onto his plush lower lip, as if he were suddenly nervous.  Louis had never seen that shade of emotion on him before.  He allowed his eyes trail over his every feature.  Harry murmuring a moment before he reached the edge of the piano, “Your voice really is as lovely as your sisters say...” 

Louis flushed, stomach fluttering at the words.  At hearing Harry’s voice again.  “They enjoy flattering me.”

Harry smiled at him, before glancing down at the piano again and tracing a finger over the shell of its polished wood.  “Shall I play with you?”  He smiled towards Louis, taking a seat beside where Louis had been on the bench.

Louis felt too jumpy to sit so soon after standing, but he did. He sat down next to Harry, making sure their legs did not touch, though he could feel a pull of wanting to, hair standing on edge as if to do it for him.  Harry was watching him again.  And Louis thought back to what he had done in the bedroom Harry had given him.  He flushed darker, glancing over at him, even as Harry turned to fiddle with the keys.  “Your estate,” Louis pressed his lips together, pondering how to say what he wanted to, “Umm, it is really quite lovely…  Thank you for allowing us to stay here.”

He could feel his heart beating rapidly.

“You are the most welcome guests I have had in a long while.”  Harry responded quietly.  Cordial, as he plucked a few notes.  He turned his head to look back at Louis, removing the smallest inch of distance between their shoulders. It was so natural, Louis almost did not notice it.  Except he was too aware of every little place they were suddenly touching.  His arm felt alight with heat.  “Sing for me?”

Louis blinked at him, distracted.  Until his question registered, and he was abruptly shaking his head.  “No, no.  I could not possibly…”  Harry’s lips pulled up into that attractive smirk that Louis had dreamt about.  The way he was fixating on it only proved to the accuracy of the statement.  He had dreamt of that sly smile meeting his own.  

Louis wondered if his lips would sing for Harry, if he were to kiss him then.

He turned his head at the thought, back to the keys where he was now also fiddling with the buttons.  His thoughts were growing ridiculous.  He did not want Harry to do anything to him, or with him.

“I was not sure when you would be, uh, coming back…”  Louis said, a moment later.

It was a long while before Harry responded.  Enough to almost convince Louis to look over at him.  See Harry looking down at his pretty hands, his eyes dark green and colored like marble, skin porcelain in the sunlight.  He glanced up at him when he murmured, “I did not want you to be… uncomfortable staying here with me.”

The flutter was back in Louis’ chest and so was the smile budding onto his lips.  Small and unsure, and nervous.  He was not used to feeling the way he did.  Not used to the jitters that accompanied Harry’s presence, the hopefulness that came along with their legs precariously pressed up beside each other, and their shoulders brushing as their hands tickled the keys.

Louis watched Harry’s long fingers begin to move, make the loveliest melody he had heard in a while.  “I am not,” he blurted, in such odds with Harry’s playing.  “I, umm, am not, uncomfortable staying here.”  He took in a breath, tagging on a quieter, “I think,” making Harry smile and exhale a sweet laugh.

Louis was feeling warm, shamelessly wanting to hear it again.  Instead he heard Harry tap out a few more melodies, more familiar to him.  A popular duet following quickly after.  Louis only hesitated momentarily before adding to the tune, playing the higher notes in the song.

It was mesmerizing, the beautiful sounds lifting off of one another and dancing together in the peaceful air, sharing in whispered secrets and small smiles.  Harry’s part was lower and sweeter to the ear, contrasting and still harmonizing so delightfully with Louis’ much brasher, quicker part.  Louis grinned a bit larger, catching Harry’s own smile from the corner of his eye.

He could not believe he was playing the piano with the charming, ever grating Harry Styles.  Or that they were not disagreeing on something.  Harry was still causing an inner turmoil to unwind in Louis’ mind and body, but the tension eased the longer they played.

Harry hummed to his part, and Louis, knowing it was what Harry had asked of him, sang a little part.  Only the smallest refrain and he smiled so large when Harry turned his head to watch him do it, complimenting him again once they had finished, in that wonderfully deep, lovely voice of his.

“I could listen to you all day, Louis Tomlinson… I think I would like to make a habit of it, if you would allow me.”

Louis did not respond with words, though the twitch of a smile on his lips and the blush on his cheeks, he felt, was answer enough.

Chapter Text

Harry and Louis had gotten into the behavior of sharing the smallest of smiles with one another.  Always feeling a bit secretive when they did so, as if it were only meant for the two of them.

Harry had started to become less irritating, as if he were trying purposefully to not annoy Louis.  And maybe, perhaps, Louis was getting a bit used to Harry’s wry and candidly provocative statements. 

Especially with the amount of time they were spending together. 

Louis, of course, tried to refrain from allowing it to be too often, with the way the flutter in his chest exhausted him.  Harry assisted with that endeavor by traveling back and forth from his townhome when he saw fit, continuing to do his duty to parliament and only stay at the manor for few days here and there.

Louis often found himself looking a bit forward to those days, when he knew Harry would be coming home.  Not because he enjoyed his company.  But rather because he thought the host should be there when he and his sisters were.  It just seemed proper.

His sisters were enjoying their time at Briglane Manor immensely.   Felicite the most, who had found the library not long after they had arrived, and the twins with their hide and seek games with the handmaids.  Charlotte had not bothered herself much with growing familiar with the estate, knowing she would soon be moving into Niall’s home after their license had been approved by the church.

She was ecstatic if nothing less, with a daydreaming look in her eyes and a smile constantly present on her face.  Felicite was not so easily convinced that finding a husband would do the same to her.

Louis knew he needed to focus on finding Felicite a potential suitor since Charlotte was no longer a concern.  He wondered how she would feel if he offered her hand to a man he had met at one of Liam’s parties.  He himself had not been too inclined with the fellow, but he figured that, in and of itself, would convince Felicite to jump right into his arms.  She always enjoyed being contrary with Louis.

She had, unfortunately, been unwilling to do so when he had brought the subject up.  He tried getting Charlotte to talk to her, but Charlotte was too busy being kind to her sister’s opinion to express her own.  Or Louis’ for that matter.

And inevitably, it was much too soon before Charlotte was standing in front of Briglane Manor in a lovely laced dress with her bags packed, saying goodbye to her sisters, and making them all promise to visit her and Niall as soon as possible.  She saved her brother for last and though he had wanted Felicite and Charlotte to be married off as quickly as they could be, it still felt a bit agonizing to allow her to leave.  He would miss her very much.

It was shortly after they had seen her off in one of Mr. Style’s many carriages, that Louis joined Felicite, Phoebe, and Daisy in the library.  The girls were each reading, not quite peacefully, and Louis decided to take his own book to enjoy the wonderful weather and gorgeous gardens outside.

He walked for a while, a book in his hand and his thoughts in his head, wondering what he would do about their living situation.  And what he would do about Felicite’s lack of romantic interest.  He did not want to force her into marriage, but he did want her to be secure and have a good life as she grew older.  Which meant marrying her off to a proper suitor.

His head was spinning with thoughts.  So much so that he did not even get to really enjoy the gardens he had intended to before he had already passed them by.

When he had wandered far enough, and found a nice spot in the grass by the roots of a shady tree, he sat.  He was quite far from the Manor then, though he could still see if anybody came out or went in, the stable boy moving around the horse barn and a few maids going in and out the back entrance to take care of their duties.

Louis breathed deep, leaning back against the wood and opening the book to where he had left off when he had escaped the library.

It was an interesting read, as were most of the books Louis had found around Harry’s home.  It felt nice to be alone and to enjoy the soft sounds of the leaves moving with the slight breeze, the shade shielding him from the sun’s heat.

And he became so enraptured with the text on the pages, he did not notice that the sun was disappearing behind imposing grey clouds, the wind picking up only slightly.

It was still bright, and he was still comfortable, relaxed in the grass that he did not even notice a horse nearing, or the man sat atop it, until they were right in front of him.

“Louis.”  Harry smiled down at him when Louis looked up in surprise.  He had not seen him in a few days and he could not help the way his smile grew a bit brighter at being able to do so.

“Harry…”  He watched as Harry dismounted the imposing horse, Roman, he thought it was named, and stepped a few paces closer.

He pet at the horse’s mane, eyes still on Louis’ face.  “I do wish you had been with me this morning.  Mr. Aurand had quite a bit of idiocrasy to share with the lot of us.  I am sure you would have had quite a few choice words to share with him.”

“I am sure I would have.”  Louis replied, shutting the book and marking his page with his finger.  “Which is why I decided Parliament life was not for me.”

Harry hummed in reply, still watching him.  “Good it was decided then.  It would be impossible for me to concentrate on those old men when I could be enjoying your beauty instead.”

Louis pursed his lips at him, brows twitching together.  “I am sure you would manage.”

Harry grinned in reply, voice soft.  “Perhaps.”

It was when Louis was about to ask Harry if he would sit with him that he felt a drop of water on his cheek.  And another a moment after on the top of his hand, a teardrop.  Harry looked up to the sky, Louis would have as well if his attention was not caught on the expanse of Harry’s neck.

Louis stood as quickly as he could, knowing it would take him too long to get back to the estate by walking.  That he was bound to get much wetter if it decided to rain harder than the few drops it already had.

Harry was looking back at him when Louis fidgeted in uncertainty.  “I can take you back.  Before we get rained on much worse than this.”

Louis agreed, hesitantly, before stepping forward.  He would have been embarrassed by the fact Harry had to help him onto the gigantic horse in front of him, if he was not so concerned with the book in his hands and the cold rain wetting the strands of his hair, dripping into his face.

He did not realize the mistake in his decision until Harry was getting onto the horse behind him and his arms were wrapping around Louis’ sides to reach for the reigns, his thighs pressing up to the back of Louis’ breeches.  There was no space between them, Harry’s front pressed close to Louis’ back, caging him in as Harry started his horse off back in the direction of the stable.

It was exhilarating, how quickly they were going, trying to escape the rapid drops of rain from soaking them completely, though they did not quite manage the feat with how it fell openly from the sky.

He could feel Harry laugh behind him as he cheered for his horse to increase its speed.  Louis held the book tighter to himself, as if that could save it from drowning with him, and laughed himself.  Giddy with Harry behind him and the grass and open sky passing them by, the estate drawing nearer.

He felt like a right fool for not realizing it would rain sooner than it had.  He felt like a fool for the way his chest was reacting to Harry and his cloying heat that seemed to seep into Louis’ petite frame, and the sweet rain soaked smell of his hair where it brushed Louis’ cheek.

They made it under the shelter of the stable right when the rain truly rushed down and a rumble of thunder was heard from behind them.

Louis exhaled as the horse moved, much slower, towards the middle of the room.

When Harry pulled them to a stop on top of the hay and hard dirt, he spoke, "Did you take it from the library?”

Louis glanced down to the book in his hands, the damp binding and pages trying to wrinkle together in their frame.  His voice was only slightly off, after he fully registered that Harry’s lovely mouth was very close to his ear, from where he was looking over his shoulder.  "Yes, I apologize for the state at which it will return..."

Harry shifted behind him, his thighs pressing a bit closer to Louis’.  "It will do.  The beauty of a library is that once a book is ruined, another can always replace it."  He dropped the reigns, arms moving back from where they had been around Louis’ waist.  "So are its similarities to life."

“What a philosopher, you are.”  Louis quipped, after he caught his breath back from the mournful tug his chest gave when Harry had removed his arms.  Harry gave him a smile.  One that Louis caught from over his shoulder before Harry was dismounting.  The horse steadying itself by clopping its hooves back and forth against the hard ground.

Louis took in another breath, looking down at it and the far distance he was from the ground.  His expression morphed into panicked concern at how he was supposed to get down.

“Come now, you must have ridden a horse before.”  Harry was laughing then, an airy chuckle in the soft light of the lantern flame, as Louis steadied himself on one side of the horse’s saddle.

“I have.”  He teetered at the edge, trying to gain a sense of lowering himself from such a height.

“Then why are you so afraid of this one?”

“Perhaps it is due to the fact my horses were never quite so tall.”  Louis gave Harry a squinty eyed look, which quickly vanished when the horse clopped it’s hooves a few times again, staying in place.

“Are you saying that you are of a short stature?”  Harry grinned, lips almost as soft to gaze upon as his features gave away.  Louis could see his eyes alight with amusement, like absinthe glistening in the dim light of a flickering flame. 

Harry stepped up closer to him, between his legs as Louis whispered, murmured a breathless, “Never.”  He exhaled a silent, shaky breath upon the movement of Harry’s hands, long fingers absently stilling at the edge of Louis’ damp vest, to rest at his hips. 

He reached forward to steady himself on Harry’s shoulders, the uncertainty in his stomach falling away at the security the gentleman brought with him.  It was only a moment before he was slipping down from the saddle. 

The little space of the plodding horse behind him and Harry’s solid body in front of him had Louis stepping into the man’s chest, Harry simply drawing him closer by the small of his back, hands having already fit to his waist when his feet had met the ground.  Louis felt his cheeks heat at the motion, the proximity of their bodies.  He looked up to see Harry already scanning his expression, eyes trailing from his temple, down the line of his jaw, and over, to pause upon his lips.

Louis licked tentatively over them, a small flick of his tongue that Harry steadily tracked, an intensity to the set of his jaw that had Louis’ stomach flipping in uncertainty.  They were close, the rain that dripped from Harry’s dark curls falling to Louis’ shoulders.

He tightened his grip on Harry’s waistcoat, the fine fabric wet and clinging to his palms as he allowed them slide further down his chest.  Harry’s gaze flickered to the movement when Louis’ thumb brushed over one of the buttons, gliding over the intricate design.  Before his eyes were back on his lips.

He leaned closer, just a breath.  Wanting just a small press of their lips, to know what it would feel like.

The horse whinnying from behind him, stomping its feet in time, broke Louis from the enchantment that had fallen upon him at their proximity.  He let his hands fall to his sides as Harry pulled himself away to quiet the animal.  Louis stepped to the side, willing the fluttering in his stomach, the heat of his cheeks, to leave him; the ache of his lips to be touched… caressed by Harry’s own delicate mouth, to escape his suddenly yearning heart.

“Shh, quiet, Roman.  I know you are tired and wet.  We shall have you settled soon enough.”  Harry’s tone was soothing.  Louis felt anything but soothed.

He turned to look at him, still bereft of air.  He had to speak, break the silence and the maddening circles his mind was running in.  "Where is your stable boy?"

It was a long few moments before Harry was responding.  "I presume he is at home eating a warm supper with his wife."  He moved to unbuckle the saddle from his horse, pulling the heavy leather from its back.

"It is not very late..."  Louis replied, watching Harry’s fluid movements, the way the rain had dampened Harry’s hair, causing the wet tendrils to curl into his neck.  The white shirt he wore pressed close to his body, the muscles of his arm flexing noticeably under the strain of his work.

Louis openly stared at him.

"No... I thought it best he left early this evening so as to not venture back in the storm."  He murmured in reply, reaching up to stroke along the horse’s mane, and remove the bridle from its head.

"Did you know it would rain?"  Louis questioned suddenly, wondering if their precarious wet nature was something Harry had planned.

"The weather is a fickle creature, Louis... I did not know.  I did have reason to wonder at the greying of its clouds though."

Louis’ stomach flipped again.  Wondering if Harry had wanted Louis to share his horse, had wanted Louis to be with him, soaked and warmed only through the residual heat of Harry’s skin.

The thought made him bite lightly over his lower lip, focusing on each of Harry’s movements as he waited patiently for him to finish and put Roman back in his stable.

When they began the walk back towards the manor, Louis stayed quiet, listening to the pitter-patter of the raindrops against the glass panes.  Thinking about the warmth emanating from Harry’s person and how they strode so closely to each other.

A covered walkway led from the stable to the estate, warm wind whipping at Louis’ cheeks and the heavy scent of rain kissing his nose.  He walked a bit nearer to Harry so as to keep away from the windows and the thick drops of rain skittering down them and passing over the open panels.

He tried not to notice when Harry would glance down at him, would press in closer to his side.  Their hands swept past each other, knuckles brushing, but neither bridged the space between them to twine their fingers.

Louis was glad Harry did not do so, cheeks flushed already with just the thought.

It was not until they were back in the manor, dry under the ceiling and lit brighter by the chandeliers that Louis followed Harry up the magnificent staircase and down a few long halls.

If he had not been so concerned with the gentleman beside him, Louis may have realized earlier why they were stopping outside of a large oak door, before they got there.

Harry’s hand paused on the handle, “This is my room.”

Louis stared at him and then at the door, a bit harder.  As if will alone would allow him to see what it was hiding.

His eyes widened in the breadth of the terribly long second it took for him to respond, glancing in the direction which he spoke.  Pointing too as he realized he should not be so interested in Harry’s living quarters.  “Oh… umm, well, mine is a bit further down the hall.”

Harry’s lips quirked in a small smile.  A pretty tilt of his rose colored lips.  “Yes, I know.”

“Alright, I will just… go to it, then.”  Louis took a step back, though he felt compelled to stay, even for a moment longer.  He hoped Harry would open his door so he could have the smallest peak inside.  No doubt the master of the house would have a truly opulent room.

Harry’s words distracted him.  “May I escort you to dinner?”

Louis’ voice was much quieter when he replied, an equally nice smile gracing his lips, “Yes.  Please.”

Harry chuckled quietly, sweetly, with a nod of his head.  “I will then.”

Louis took another few steps back, towards his own room.  He did not want to break their eye contact, even if he had a small, embarrassingly soft smile on his mouth. 

Harry eventually stepped back into his room, Louis unable to catch a glance inside because he was too distracted by Harry’s jawline and cheekbones to do so, and only then did Louis return to his own room to change as quickly as he could.  Not that he did not wish to keep Harry waiting.  He was just bothered by his wet, clinging clothes.

He waited by the door for a good few moments before leaving to ensure Harry knew he had not been waiting for him.  He was back to smiling like a fool, since the effort of having to school his expression was too great.  Especially when Harry was trying to make him laugh, and overall succeeding.

Louis would work on it later.  For then, he was perfectly content smiling at Harry and laughing at his witty commentary, and supplying his own remarks, walking beside him until they made it to the dining hall.

 

Louis enjoyed the little game they played when Harry was home.  Where Louis would lose himself somewhere in the manor, and Harry would come find him, appear out of nowhere and be lost with him.  Harry would always have something interesting to say about the room or the rug, or vase, or tapestry.  And Louis would always tease him for it.

Especially for the portrait he’d seen of Harry as a child, with ruddy cheeks and bouncy curls, grinning much too widely, that it was no wonder Harry had hidden it away in a back, back room of the manor.

Louis thought it was precious.

He also thought the way Harry looked then while he poked fun, flushed in embarrassment and smiling just a bit bashfully, was precious.  He promised himself not to say so out loud.

The morning after the rain had finished its downpour he awoke early, eating breakfast with the girls and trying to decide where to wander that day.  Determining where he wanted Harry to come find him.

He chose to go out to the gardens, since he had ended up walking past them the day before in his musings.

They were well-kept.  Flowers blooming all around in the spring warmth.  He walked for a bit, admiring the beauty of each, the uniqueness of every bud and petal.  It was when he was appreciating the roses that Harry appeared behind him.

Louis turned, beckoning him closer with a smile.  “Your roses are beautiful.”

“Only with you looking upon them.”  Was his immediate reply.  Louis rolled his eyes as he turned fully, and Harry moved closer still.  Looking oddly determined.  Until Louis was glancing up at him, and Harry was reaching out to brush a stray strand of hair behind his ear, letting his fingertips trail down Louis’ jaw to cup his chin.

He bit his lip at the motion, ready to tell Harry that he should not be so freely touching another person’s hair.  To feign dissatisfaction with the movement, even if he was anything but.

He did not have time to so much as utter the words when Harry’s butler appeared through a trail in the bushes and he was taking an immediate step back.  Looking a bit put-out when he had to drop his hand from Louis’ chin.  “Mr. Styles, you have a guest.”

Harry turned his attention briefly, confusion flitting momentarily over his features, “Who?”

“Your sister, sir.”  Harry’s eyes lit up in excitement as he glanced back towards Louis.  As if completely forgetting whatever it was he had intended on telling him.

Louis, himself, tensed the slightest bit, even as he began to follow Harry and his butler back towards the estate.  Where he would be greeting Miss Gemma Styles.  Or rather Mrs. Gemma Richards, since Louis had learned she was married.

He wondered what she would be like.  Found himself growing a bit nervous at the prospect of meeting her at all.

They walked into the parlor, where Louis knew his sisters were.  Mrs. Richards was sitting on a couch in the middle of the room, speaking with them and it was not until she saw her brother that she arose, smile blinding as she strode over to him. “Harry!”

She was just as beautiful as Louis thought she would be.  Just as intimidating too.  She reminded Louis too much of her brother where he stepped up to pull her into a hug and they stood in front of one another.

 “Where are my nephews?” Harry looked down, around her skirts and over the room, eyes scrunched in question.  As if they would appear out of nowhere if he looked hard enough. 

“My husband did not think it appropriate for them to visit when he heard you already had guests.”  She glanced back towards Louis, in a way that only seemed to insinuate that Louis may have been the cause for such a statement.

He flushed, interrupted from beginning a lengthy internal debate about what that could possibly mean by Harry collecting his sisters attention back to him.  With a very blunt, “I never did like your husband.”

She leaned closer, perfect lips poised in a smile, to whisper not so discreetly, “Me neither.”  When she backed away she turned to Louis, fully, to give him a small bow and a look over, frighteningly similar to her brother’s.  “So you must be Louis Tomlinson then.  I have heard so much about you.”

“Oh?”  Louis squeaked, eyes finding Harry’s for a quick moment.  He really hoped Harry had not been spewing lies about their meetings.  Louis was completely innocent of any ill-behavior.

“Yes, Harry is quite the… poet in our letters.”

“I can imagine it being unfortunate he is a politician and not a writer.”  Louis replied immediately, causing her to laugh.  He let his own mouth ease into a small smile at that. Though his shoulders were still tense and he made quick work of glaring at Harry every time Mrs. Richards was not looking.

“It is quite unfortunate.”  She replied, before Harry was stepping forward to garner her attention once again.

Sweeping a hand towards the girls who were not so discreetly watching them from behind their books.  “You have met my other guests then?”

She directed her reply towards Louis, with a smile.  “Your sisters are all very lovely.  And a congratulations are in order for your eldest.  I pray that she be very happy in her marriage.”

Louis nodded, thanking her.  Listening as she started the conversation anew once they were ushered to their chairs for tea.

Mrs. Gemma Richards was funny, snarky, and a bit cynical.  She was nice to the girls and seemed to enjoy indulging them.  Much like her brother did.

Consequently, his sisters ate it up.  And Louis found that he was relieved, at least, that they were polite in their fighting over her attention.  Louis enjoyed her wry humor much the same.  Especially when she teased her brother.  And when Harry would mutter in dissatisfaction every time she did.

Louis learned a bit more about Harry’s family as well.  They painted a much prettier picture than Harry’s Aunt had left behind in Louis’ mind.  Of course, he should not have been surprised that the Styles were all charming and lovely.  Harry loved talking about his nephews once he got started on the topic.  Making great claims about wishing Louis could have met them.

Mrs. Richards promised the next time she came that she would smuggle them there as well, even if her husband decided on the contrary.  Harry seemed very pleased by the prospect.  He had his butlers make a room presentable for her, the one she usually took, and they spoke until it was time to eat a more filling amount of food, collecting around the dinner table instead.

Louis discovered that Harry’s sister would be staying for a few days and he knew that meant Harry would be staying as well.  That he would not have to go back to his townhome right away.  At least until Mrs. Richards left, since he did not seem like he wanted to miss out on spending any amount of time with her.

Louis was glad that Harry would not be leaving just yet.  It was tiring, wondering where Harry was and who he may have been with...  It made Louis irrationally pouty imagining him talking with the women his Aunt had introduced him to.

It made him even more pouty having to miss him.

Even if Louis wanted to wholeheartedly deny that he did miss him, just the tiniest bit when they were not together.

Chapter Text

Louis was sitting in the drawing room with the twins, the windows open to let a breeze in.  The room was warm and the sun was at its peak, deciding to stay out as long as it could.

Gemma and Felicite were somewhere in the manor, Louis not aware of their activity.  Nor was he aware of the activity of their host.

He watched as the twins read their books, sitting beside one another and kicking each other’s feet intermittently between page turns.  Neither seeming to mind.

Louis was too distracted, himself, to read.  He had received a note the day before, about his grandparents, who seemed to have fallen ill and he was unsure how to feel about it.  He and his sisters had not spoken with them in years.  Yet, he knew if they passed, their estate would come under Louis’ jurisdiction.  They would have a home again.

He had not told his sister’s yet, trying to process it himself.  If his Grandparents recovered, it would lead to nothing, and he did not want to get their hopes up.

He leaned his head back against the cushion, closing his eyes.  It must only have been a few moments before there was a pounding noise, a repetitive thumping against the floor, growing louder from outside the door before it was abruptly opened.  Louis looked up to see two basset hounds stumbling in, in a mad rush.  Harry was standing above them with a large smile on his face.

“These are my hunting dogs.”  He stated, as the puppies yapped and barreled into each other on tiny legs.  The twins squealed in delight before joining the dogs on the carpet and petting over their short fur as they tried nipping at their palms.

Phoebe was the first to coo, excitedly, “They are so precious.”  Quickly followed by Daisy, who was being stepped on, “So perfect.  Look at them Lou.”

He was looking.  And they were adorable.  But he knew what was going to come before the words even left Daisy’s mouth.  “Can we have our own?”

He exhaled a breath, staring down at the four pairs of puppy-dog eyes suddenly on him.  Only two coming from actual dogs.  “Absolutely not.”

Phoebe picked the larger one up, as it struggled in her arms, so she could really show Louis how sweet they were.  As if he could not tell from where they had been on the floor.  “Oh please, Louis.  Please please.”  The dog barked at him.  Louis looked up to glare at Harry who was smirking back at him, having moved closer in Louis’ distraction.

“Please!  You are our favorite brother.”  Daisy was beside him with the other puppy then.  “We want one.”

“Hunting dogs?”  He asked Harry.  Who grinned a bit larger. 

“They have a bit of training yet.”

The puppies continued yapping, growling and licking at the twins’ cheeks.  He got a few more whines about wanting puppies and he breathed a sigh, looking between them.  “You two are the most demanding little things.”  He reached forward to pet the top of one of the dog’s heads.  It was soft, and quite precious.  “Perhaps… if we ever find ourselves in a new home.”

They seemed content enough with that response, moving back to the carpet to play more easily with the puppies.  Louis turned a shrewd look on Harry.

“Are you planning on hosting a hunt soon, then?”

Harry glanced at the twins momentarily before looking back towards Louis.  “Oh no, I just wanted to show the girls my new dogs.”

“Is that the only reason?”  Louis asked, brow arched.

Harry did not even have the gall to look guilty.  “If they were to grow a bit attached and want to stay here longer, then I would not be the one to stop them.”

Louis did not have a response to that.

He had relayed his wish to leave after finding a proper home to Harry the few days before.  He had intended for Harry to assist in that endeavor, not heed it.  Still, he felt slightly warm at Harry’s admission. Harry must have grown so accustomed to them being there that he wanted them to continue to do so.

He was glad Harry seemed to like his sisters and that their stay was not a hindrance to him in any way.  He had been skeptical at first, about coming, but he was glad he had decided to accept Harry’s offer.

Particularly since most of their time since entering Harry’s home had been wonderful, especially once Charlotte and Niall had resolved their romantic issues.

Most every moment had been wonderful, except for when another member of Harry’s extended family decided to visit unannounced.

One less enjoyable to speak with than Gemma.

Lady Selley.  As wrinkled and overly jeweled as she had been the last time Louis had seen her.

Her presence required another table setting to be placed out for dinner, and Louis was just happy to know he did not have to sit directly beside her.

All of Harry’s many guests and Harry himself sat together for supper, listening to Lady Selley prattle on about her trip and the irritation she had at the lack of an invitation.  She was wearing layers of expensive silk, looking unbearably pompous, and she turned a snide nose up at Louis and his sisters every time they so much as took a spoonful of stew.

It was not long into her aunt’s tirade that Gemma promptly informed the table that she would not be able to stay for much longer and would be heading out the following morning.  It was news to Louis, and apparently to Harry who gave his sister a scathing look and exchanged expressions of disapproval with her, in place of words. 

Louis was pretty sure Harry was trying to kick her under the table for abandoning them to their aunt, until Lady Selley cleared her throat, responding as if she had not even noticed their silent bickering.  “That is very unfortunate, Gemma.  I was hoping to speak with you about your sons’ schooling.”

There was an elongated pause.  “Oh, well, you know how it is to have two young ones.  Cannot leave them alone for too long.”  Gemma supplied with a pretty laugh.

“Yes, quite.  They need a mother’s loving hand.”

She merely hummed in reply.

And it was with a flick of Lady Selley’s wrist that the conversation turned to Louis instead.  He silently hoped Harry would kick him under the table, as he imagined anything would be better than Lady Selley’s attention on him.  “Mr. Tomlinson.  What is it that you do, then?”

He cleared his throat, pausing for a long moment.  “Well, currently, I am trying to find a proper suitor for my sister.”  He glanced towards Felicite as he said it.  She did not even pull a face, as it was already partially sneered at Lady Selley’s unpleasant tone.

“Ah, so you have no business here?”  She actually tried to make it sound like an honest question, rather than the rude statement that it was.

Harry made a noise in rebuke, trying his best to not glare, though his eyes twitched anyway.  “Aunt Selley, Louis and his sisters are my guests.”

She turned her nose up and took another spoonful of stew.  Louis was not immature enough to hope she choke on it.  He did hope it was sufficiently hot that she would burn her tongue though.

“How old are you Mr. Tomlinson?  Certainly old enough to be searching for a wife for yourself.”  She ignored Harry’s statement as if he had not even said anything.

He grimaced a little.  “Ah, umm, my sisters are of most importance at this point in my life.”

She hummed, “Well, Harry is also focusing on finding a suitable wife.  He visited with Miss Blackwell the other day.  I do believe he enjoyed himself, quite well.”  She smiled between him and Harry.

Louis felt a stirring in his stomach.  Not feeling very hungry with Lady Selley’s questioning.  He idly mixed his soup in his absence of appetite.  When he glanced up to see Harry out of the corner of his eye, the gentleman’s mouth was pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed at his Aunt.  Who was beginning a conversation with Gemma on the other side of the table, completely oblivious.

Louis stared at his meal, ignoring Harry’s glances throughout the rest of their supper.  It was not like it mattered, nor did Louis care.  Clearly Harry was not interested at all in getting married.  Even if he had enjoyed himself with Miss Blackwell.

Louis should probably be looking for a wife for himself too.  Someone to spend the rest of his life with.  There was another squirming feeling in his empty stomach.  He turned to listen to the twins’ chatter about other things, all gossip and giggles, and it helped him find his smile.

He did not join the others in the parlor after supper and instead left with Phoebe and Daisy back to their rooms so they could squabble and talk and ready themselves for bed.

With the girls giving him a kiss on each cheek before they got into their beds, Louis was feeling much lighter.  Not that he had reason to, Lady Selley was abrasive and rude and he did not care for her opinion or words.

He returned to his own room, to lie in bed and roll around in sleeplessness.

When it had grown to an unreasonable hour of the morning, and Louis had finally found himself in a restless sleep, he heard a noise, muffled through the wall.  A thudding sound that had him waking, feeling groggy and irritable.

When the noise sounded again a few moments later, he stood, reaching for the silk robe near his vanity to slip on over his bare skin.  The material was soft, thin and much less confining than the clothes he had kicked off during sleep.

He walked down the empty hallway, feet cold against the wooden floor, moonlight shining in through the wide windows to guide his way.  He followed the intermittent sound of crashing until he reached the door to the parlor.  He waited for a long moment before moving forward to twist the brass knob and push the door open.

Harry was there, back turned towards him.  It took Louis longer than he would like to admit, to notice the shattered vase near Harry’s feet, the smudge of wetness and dirt on the wall above the glass pieces.

Harry turned towards him after Louis took in a breath, stepping in to shut the door behind him.  It seemed Harry had not left the room since taking his guests there after dinner.  He was wearing the same clothes as the night before, as if he had not even tried to sleep.  Skulking about and growing frustrated instead.

His collar was loosened, showing a sliver of his neck and upper chest, the skin milky and pale in the moonlight.

Louis took in the mess on the floor, along with a few heavy books lying in the heap among the wreckage. “Harry… What are you doing?” 

Harry frowned, not looking sheepish in the slightest about his temper tantrum.  At least, what Louis assumed was such, as there was no one else in the room to blame the mess on.  "I'm thinking."

His aunt must have clearly gotten into his head.  He went over to the table, to squeeze the dull bud of a flower, tossed about in his madness.

Louis took in the carpeted floor that had most certainly seen better days, and the books, some open on the ground with their pages bent and folded in all the wrong ways.  He took in another breath, watching the way Harry squeezed at the flower.  The irritation in his expression and the twinge of sadness.  "You're being dramatic."

Harry did not deny the statement, even looked like he was about to huff out a laugh.  Instead though, he allowed himself to fully look at Louis, eyes roaming his person and the scanty outfit he had thrown on.

Louis had never felt more barren before.  His skin prickled under the attention.

“I am not being dramatic,” he mumbled, pushing the flower off the table with his pointer finger as he said so.  Smiling at Louis at the action.

Louis laughed a bit breathlessly, finding it hard to breathe knowing Harry was watching him.  He shook his head, trying to shake the tension out of his shoulders. “You are.”  Louis looked over Harry’s person once more, noticing his lack of shoes.  It seemed he had at least done that, probably the first thing he had thrown.  Louis shifted, reminded that he also did not have anything covering his feet.  And only a robe silhouetting his shape in the shadowed light.  If he sat down, perhaps he would feel better protected from wandering eyes. He moved towards the couch, reluctantly beckoning Harry to come with.  So he would not accidentally step on any pieces of the vase springing up from the ground.  He felt his heart beating in his throat along the words he spoke, when he asked, “Come sit with me...?”

Harry did as asked, moving closer easily. Louis pulled his robe further over his legs as he shifted them up onto the cushion.  Nerves tickled up and down his arms and legs, as he breathed steadily to rid himself of the sinking feeling in his stomach.  Like he had made a mistake asking Harry to draw nearer.  There was room between them, though it was small, that Louis was thankful for, not having forgotten his lack of proper clothing in the presence of his host.  He did wish to reach out, however, touch lightly across Harry’s hand to rid the harshness around his eyes.

He did not though, stayed where he was near the arm of the couch, chest still fluttering with insecurity.  Like it knew he was doing something he should not have been.  He studied Harry, noticing his hair was mussed, still wildly beautiful, but like he had dragged tense hands through it a few times.  Louis wanted to reach forward to fix it with his own, push a few strands behind his ear and caress his cheekbone while he did so.  He tried to speak softly, soothing, afraid if he spoke louder he would admit all of the things he wanted in that moment.  All of the things he could not pretend did not toy with his thoughts on a daily basis.  “What is wrong, Harry?”

Harry just shook his head, brows furrowing in sadness.  He let out an unsteady breath, though his lips remained closed.  Louis shifted closer, only slightly, fingertips cold where he wanted to touch Harry’s cheek.  He closed his hand into a fist, swallowing as anxiousness filled his own mind.  He wanted to will the sadness away from Harry’s features.

He remained quiet, knowing it was rude to pry and still wishing to help anyway he could.  “Is it your Aunt?  Did she say something to you?”  Perhaps she was still harping him about marriage.  Or maybe she had brought him even worse news.  Louis’ chest felt tight as the briefest memory of his own parent’s death flickered through his mind.

When he received a grimace in place of a response, he could not help but feel almost relieved.  Though the disappointment was still there on Harry’s face.  He continued, wanting to know what was wrong.  He took a breath, “Is it your family, your sister leaving?”  If it was, he thought he could convince Gemma to stay for a bit longer.

When Harry shook his head again and turned his gaze downward, Louis thought the worst.  Tongue heavy as he questioned, “Is it me?  Is it my sister’s and I being here?”

He had thought Harry had not minded, but perhaps he had been wrong.  Maybe Harry was just too kind to say anything to him.  Louis felt the anxiousness building in his chest the longer Harry waited to respond.

When Harry seemed to realize Louis’ distress, his eyes widened, finally speaking to calm him.  “No, absolutely not, Louis.  I am very, very happy you and your sisters are here.”  He reached forward to lightly touch across Louis’ cheek.  “It is not any of those things.  Though I suppose my Aunt does enjoy to mention things that I hate to hear.”

Louis flushed under Harry’s touch, of course he did.  Even the darkness of the room, he was sure, would not cover up the heat flooding his cheeks at the simple gesture.  When Louis opened his mouth to continue prodding, Harry shook his head, stopping the stream of questions from leaving his mouth.  “I will not have your words… or your guesses.” Harry murmured instead, dropping his hand to rest against Louis’ knee.

Louis’ breath picked up momentarily, silently.  Unsure, still, and so incredibly nervous.  “What will you have of me, then…?”

That sadness flickered across his eyes again, his expression shifting to something more sobering.  Even as he shook his head again, turning his gaze down to his hands.  “Nothing.  I cannot have you nor anything of you... No matter how intensely I crave your affection, how sweetly I imagine you would feel if only I were allowed to touch.”  He pulled his hand back, as if he had reminded himself of what he could not have. Repeating even quieter, “I am not allowed.” 

Louis’ heart was beating quickly, skipping at the words.  Concern ebbing away when he started to realize why Harry was so distressed.  A different concern settling into his bones at the way Harry looked at him, then, when Harry continued, “It is that knowledge which torments me and keeps me awake, and away from dreaming of you.”  Louis’ throat fell dry, his cheeks turning even pinker as he bit over his lower lip.

He did not know what to say.  Did not know what to feel.  Except that he was itching to reach out for Harry again, and close that space between them.  Wondering why there were sparks under his skin when Harry watched his lips while he spoke.  Harry was being so destructively honest, and it was dangerous.  Wanting to do what he did.  It was wrong, but Louis wanted it so badly.  He wanted to make Harry feel better...  He wanted Harry to make him feel better, feel good.  Feel like maybe he was not the only one to want the things he did, incapacitated by the want to be with another man.

Louis’ words were just a whisper.  A secret to share in the waking night. “Y-you may have me now, Harry… until the morning birds sing at dawn.”

Harry seemed surprised at his words.  Louis’ pulse beat even quicker.  Especially so when Harry neared him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder to lay him back against the couch.

He did not ask if Louis meant it, because if he did Louis was unsure if he would have been able to reply.  He just waited, anxiously, as Harry looked over him, green eyes casting a trail of heat across his skin.  Of Harry moving closer, hands drifting over him to touch at his waist, to slide down over his hip.  So softly, gently settling himself over Louis and leaving only a small bit of room for him to escape if he really wanted to.  The heat of Harry above him, and the gentle hand slipping down his leg to be placed right above his knee surprisingly helped to calm him, as he stared up at the man’s lovely features, tangling his fingers in his hair.  Watching as Harry studied his face for a long, intimate second.

The catch of their lips took Louis’ breath away.  The slow drag of Harry’s fingertips up Louis’ thigh, beneath the thin cloth of his robe.  He gripped Harry’s curls harder, eliciting a noise from him.  The sound tugging low in his belly.

He pressed closer, molding their mouths together, Harry’s tongue slipping between the seam of his lips.  Louis’ heart was thundering madly in his chest, skin hot and taught with want.  Harry’s hand slipped lower, running so slowly, tantalizingly across Louis’ skin.

Harry only pulled back to move his taunting lips to Louis’ jaw, his neck.  Biting and kissing so fervently, pressing blooming roses into his skin.  Louis sucked in an uneven breath at every touch, a soft sound falling from his parted lips.

It felt like too much, like not enough.  He wanted Harry to touch more, to taste more.  He bit over his lip, robe slipping past his shoulder when Harry’s mouth trailed to his collarbone.  He whined lightly.  Until Harry pulled away to exhale against the cool point at which he had last bitten.  He shifted back to hover over Louis again, hand dragging up to grip at his hip, nothing separating his palm from Louis’ skin.  Louis felt exposed, blinking wet eyes up at Harry, who only removed his hand to trace his thumb along Louis’ reddened lower lip, kissing beneath his ear.

“Am I only to see you like this during the night?”  His words were low and they made the want flare even hotter in Louis’ stomach, thighs closing slightly more against Harry’s hips.  Louis turned his head towards Harry’s curls when he pulled back to meet his gaze, wanting to kiss him again.  His eyes sparkled such a beautiful green.  Harry kissed at the corner of his lips, whispering, “So desirable and tempting…  It seems impossible for me to keep my gaze away from you.  My lips away from marking your skin.”

Louis’ pulse jumped as he leaned in to realign their mouths.  So in need.  Only managing to whisper Harry’s name, so he could make the sensations quiet.

Harry lined their hips up and rutted down, in a motion that was so perfect, so good, Louis could only let out a soft moan, pulling again at Harry’s curls.

Harry continued the motion, harder and sweeter, teasing Louis with his every movement.  He kissed Louis like a flower’s roots kissed the rain, running his hand up and down his side, thumbing across his ribcage.

Only a small bit of material separated them from each other, the friction pulling Louis closer to the edge.  The sound of Harry’s pleasure drawing him even closer.

“Gorgeous, Louis.  So lovely.”  Harry spoke soft, intimate in the gentle rays of morning light fanning out across the sky.  Strokes of blue, orange and pink, staining the hard edge of the horizon.

It was only a few more thrusts before Louis’ toes curled and he was gasping for breath, Harry not stilling on top of him until he was letting out a moan of his own, hand gripping hard at Louis’ hip.

Louis felt tingly, hot and cold all over, everywhere they touched, and he kissed Harry’s parted lips.  It was the best feeling in the world.  The way Harry thumbed at his hip and kissed across his cheekbones and along his lips.

The birds were chirping softly, had been for a little while, at least.  And Louis knew the rest of the house would be waking up soon.  He did not want to move, wished he would not have to let Harry get up.  There was a peaceful calm surrounding him and he did not want to go back to his room to overthink and regret.  Harry’s mouth seemed to be able to kiss away his worries. 

But they could not get caught.

Not doing what they were doing, not together at the hour that it was.  “You should sleep...”  Louis mumbled eventually, against Harry’s lips since he would not pull far enough away for much else.  Harry just hunched over him more, shaking his head and shooting a spark up Louis’ spine at the feeling it caused when his curls brushed across his cheek and their mouths brushed once again.

He leaned into his space, into his kiss.  For just a little bit longer.  Until he was moving his hand to press his fingers against Harry’s mouth, and separate them.  His lips were much too soft.  “You look tired.”

Harry reached up to grab his wrist, pull his hand away so he could speak, so he could kiss at his fingertips.  “How am I expected to leave when I have you beneath me?”

Louis gave a small smile.  “Willingly.”

Harry groaned, moving down to rest his forehead against Louis’ shoulder.  “You make it sound easy.”

He still had Louis’ hand in his grasp, folding their fingers together.  Louis took in a small breath.  “You will have to before your staff wakes up.”  He seemed to consider that.  His weight felt right against Louis’ chest, his inhales and exhales comforting.

Louis tried to not feel a pang of unhappiness when Harry eventually pulled back, tried to not feel oddly disappointed as he quickly situated his robe to cover himself up again.  Without their proximity came the anxiousness that Harry had staved off.

What had he done, what had he been thinking?  He surveyed the mess in the room again, now that the morning sun allowed him better view of it.  His stomach was rolling, his steps quiet when he quickly moved towards the door.  He willed himself to glance back at Harry, who had his lips pursed and eyes troubled again where he met Louis’ gaze.  Louis took in another steadying breath, before as loudly as he could manage, which was barely above a whisper, he managed to say, “Good night, Harry.”

It was no longer night, but Louis rushed back to his room, back to his bed, and back to where he could hide beneath the sheets, curtains drawn over the sun’s beginning ascent.

He did not leave his room for the entire day.  Felicite coming to see him later, to question what was wrong.  She also brought food with her, upon Harry’s request and he nibbled on it.  Thoughts in disarray.  Gemma was to leave that day and he could not even imagine going out and seeing her off.  He felt sick, because of what he had allowed to happen.  That he had enjoyed happening.

He would write Gemma a letter in apology, at least then he may feel slightly better about his behavior. 

He was much less sad about Lady Selley’s departure the following day.  He was surprised Harry was still there and had not gone back to his townhome upon the news.  He spent days locked up in his room, and Harry did not visit him once.

Of which Louis was grateful.  Things between them were shaky.  Louis refused to talk about what had happened, refused to even see him, and Harry refused to pretend it had not happened.  Made clear by the way he told Louis on his fourth day of his hiding, that he would be going with Harry and his sister’s to the theatre no matter his dislike of Harry at the moment.  Or his regret.

 

Harry was clearly on edge, looking tired and so rung out, dark circles beneath his eyes and a hand pressed to his temples where they rode in his carriage towards the theatre.  The bruises beneath his lids reminded Louis of the night they had stayed up together, a squirmy feeling turning his stomach.

“Louis,” he turned his attention to Daisy at her voice.  “Felicite said she would take Phoebe and I to shop for ribbons and lace tomorrow.”  They looked at him expectantly, as if his permission was merely a formality, and they would do as they pleased regardless.  They probably wished to get out of the house and away from Louis’ odd behavior.

He nodded, glad they were not sensing the weariness of their host.  “Take care not to buy too many ribbons.  And to share.”

Harry quirked his lip up at that, when his sister’s groaned their consent.  Perhaps he could spend the following day coaxing Harry into taking a nap, to sleep away his mood.  He quickly chastised himself, knowing he had no reason to do so as he was likely the reason for Harry’s sleeplessness.

There was silence between them, an uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding the two, even as the girls talked with one another.  Their shoulders brushed where they sat beside each other in the cart, and Louis tried to not focus too heavily on that point of contact.

He missed speaking to Harry and listening to his thoughts and opinions.  Harry was most definitely upset with him.  As he should be.  Louis had run away, and he knew it was not right, what they had done.  It was not proper, but he had reveled in it.  Had wanted it to continue.

Louis breathed out a frustrated sigh.

At least he was not the only one discontented with himself.

When they made it inside the bustling theatre, they went promptly to their seats in the balcony, overlooking the audience below.  Phoebe, Daisy, and Felicite sat in the first row of seats, with Harry and Louis behind them.  Harry was frowning and looking upset and Louis wanted nothing more than to see him well rested and happy.

When the gas lights dimmed for the show to begin, Louis could not focus on the stage at all.  They were shrouded in darkness and yet Louis could clearly see the downturn of Harry’s lips.  Those lips that had made Louis feel so precious.

He would swear he had done it without thinking, but that was untrue.  He reached across the small distance between them, hesitantly caressing the back of Harry’s tense hand.  It eased almost immediately under the contact.

Louis held his breath as Harry turned his hand over, so slowly, fingertips stroking along his own as he entwined their fingers together.  Not as hesitant as Louis had been, never as hesitant.  Though there was a sweet gentleness to it, as if Harry was afraid of scaring Louis away again.  Of being caught.

Harry did not look over at him, but his expression seemed to soften the slightest.  Louis’ insides were all over the place again, like they had been the night they had spent together.  His cheeks a faint pink.

He knew it was not an apology, nor was it an answer to the unraveling questions in his mind, but the way Harry’s palm pressed up against his own, warm and secure, felt right.  And in that moment, it seemed that was all Louis really needed.

Chapter Text

Louis chewed thoughtfully at his dinner, feeling a flush on his cheeks.  He reached up to mess with his cravat, a habit he had not thought would return once he had grown out of his youth.  Felicite was talking about taking the horse out earlier that day and being frightened when Harry’s hunting dogs had barked at them, and startled her.  Phoebe and Daisy seemed joyed by the thought.

Louis refrained from speaking, feeling Harry’s eyes on his profile.  He flushed further, only mumbling a response when their expectant looks fell to him.  As if they were concerned by his silence.  He cleared his throat, changing the topic to the ball Harry was having the following day.  The girls had prodded him and begged, not for very long, before Harry was admitting defeat and having them help him plan for one.

They were ecstatic, already having picked out their dresses and shoes and hairpieces.

Louis was just glad they were happy and had something to look forward to.  And he had another chance to find Felicite a proper suitor.   He felt Harry’s hand beneath the table, land on his knee and squeeze momentarily, drawing his attention.  He turned to glance at him, his neck tingling with the movement and his gaze falling to Harry’s gorgeous smirk.

Louis kicked him beneath the table, trying to hide his own smile into his food.

Harry hooked their ankles together in retaliation, and they stayed that way for the rest of dinner.

It was after the table had been cleared away and the girls had returned to their rooms that they were alone, Harry and Louis walking together in their empty wing of the house.  The sun was still out, though it was quickly setting.  “Are you going to force Felicite into dancing with gentlemen she has no interest in?”

“Every single one of them.”  Louis replied, giving a smile.  “Why do you ask?”

He continued their pace, only slowing when he felt Harry’s hand brush over his.  Reaching down to hold Louis’ within his own and entwine their fingers.  Louis glanced down to their hands, biting over his lower lip as Harry continued their conversation as if nothing were amiss.

“Mm, Felicite shared some concern with me on the topic.”  He replied, slowing their pace to a much more leisurely tempo, to extend their walk to their rooms.

“She is probably chagrinned she can no longer use Niall as an excuse to dance with her all night long.”

Harry grinned, running his thumb over Louis’ knuckles, in such a teasing way to make Louis’ heart kick up in a flutter.  “I am sure she will try her best regardless.”

“I am sure she will.”  Louis repeated, leaning closer into Harry’s space.  So if anyone were to see them, an unlikely scenario as the maids and butlers should have been in their quarters at that time, it would be harder to notice they were holding hands.  A thought that had Louis blushing again.

Harry stopped them outside his room, Louis turning his head again, to see him.  The movement of his cravat against his neck, against the assorted purple bruises there, caused him to bite over his lip and let out a quiet breath.

Harry guided Louis to stand in front of him, every step deliberate and filled with anticipation.  Merely so Harry could look down at him and slip his free hand to Louis’ waist.

Louis’ heart was already stammering, skipping over its unsteady beats.  Harry leaned in, bending forward to nose at Louis’ jaw, causing him to let out an uneven breath.

His voice was low, his lips so soft where they brushed over his skin.  “Could you feel my marks on your neck…? Is that why you were so silent during supper?”  His smirk elicited another exhale of breath and a blush to retouch his cheeks.  “Could you feel how much I wanted you…?”

He placed Louis’ hand at his shoulder, to pull at the cloth around Louis’ neck, loosening it ever so slightly.  The warmth of his breath teased at Louis’ skin, the more that was revealed.  “Should I leave more?”

They were right out in the open.  Louis’ hand tightened around the fabric above Harry’s bicep when his teeth pressed down teasingly.  “Harry…  Not right here.”  Louis finally found his voice again.  And Harry pulled back with the largest smirk Louis had yet been forced to see.  He glowered back, reaching up to pull the corner of Harry’s lips down, so he would not look so pleased by the turn of events.

Louis really should not have been surprised by the next suggestion out of Harry’s mouth, when he gestured towards his unopened door.  “Would you care to join me?”

He only hesitated a moment before pulling back from the man, to step tentatively towards the oak.  He hoped that if he did not say anything, Harry would just allow him inside without needing to hear how Louis had wanted to be invited into his room for some amount of time then.

The bedroom was grand, the colors subdued, pale and varying from ivory to beige to the darkest hints of gold.  Tapestry’s covered the wall and the bed’s posters reached to the height of the ceiling, draped in silk and pastel blue.  There were splashes of a more vibrant blue in the fabric of the cushions, tying the patterns together wondrously.  The wide window allowed the setting sun’s view in to paint the decor in a watery light.

Louis stepped further in, feeling Harry step up behind him to wrap strong arms around his waist.  After shutting the door with a soft click.

“Your room is beautiful.”  Louis murmured, placing his arms timidly on top of Harry’s, to hold them closer to himself.

Harry kissed slowly at the corner of his jaw, words quiet and satisfying to hear whispered into his skin.  “It could be yours.”  Harry’s hand found his again, fingers curling over Louis’, twining them together.  “If you wanted to share...”

Louis could not see any way he could deny such an offer, with Harry holding him so closely, and making him feel so warm and comfortable.  He settled on a quiet, “Perhaps.  Some nights…”

Harry seemed pleased enough with that response, reaching up to finally, fully, undo the cravat around Louis’ neck.  He exhaled heavier the more clothing was discarded, his vest next before he was being turned so Harry could connect their mouths.

His lips were soft, the pressure just enough to have Louis’ fingertips tingling where he twisted them in chocolate curls.  He even allowed Harry to begin unbuttoning his shirt before he could even think about stopping him.  Or about how he would rather have him continue.  Think about what was happening and that he would be allowing Harry to see him, shirtless and vulnerable.

He had not been that close to Harry since the few nights before.  It felt like they were moving too quickly.  And yet not fast enough.  He focused on Harry’s mouth and his solid warmth to calm his scattering nerves.

And with his mind on Harry and every little flicker of pleasure zipping up his spine, they spent their night together much like they had before.  After which Louis stayed, wrapped up in Harry’s arms, and feeling so very satisfied and content.

Harry kissed him everywhere he wanted him to, curled around Louis when they finished and murmured sweetly to him until he fell asleep.  Shared secrets and little details about what he thought of the world and what he thought of Louis.  Louis quite liked hearing him expound on his beauty, even if he would never admit it.  And he quite liked having Harry so close and holding him so gently.

He fell asleep to the loveliest dreams and woke up still tucked into Harry’s embrace.

 

There was a lot of motion in the mansion when Louis came out from his room, which he had snuck back into earlier that morning.  The staff were preparing for the ball, last minute dusting and fixing of the draperies.  Harry wanted everything to be perfect, since he did not often have visitors to his Country Home.

And when the ball began, it was magnificent, the ballroom cast in golden light and the practiced sound of the orchestra curling over the crystal halls.  There were even more people there than had come to Liam’s ball.  Harry and Louis never strayed too far from one another, in the masses of elegantly dressed gentleman and ladies.  Even as Louis tried introducing his sister to any eligible bachelor he could.  Charlotte was not much help, assisting in stealing Felicite from him instead, and Niall in distracting him from his task.  He found it hard to complain when it was so wonderful seeing them again.  Seeing all of them.  He even managed to steal Liam, Zayn, and Niall away to smoke with them in a more private room.  It only lasted for a short amount of time before they were being pulled back out into the festivities.

Liam went about the rest of his night dancing with his wife and complimenting himself to all the respectable people in attendance.  Inevitably, all of them.  Zayn likewise, made his rounds with all of his fans, and with Felicite and her friends present, there were quite a number of them.

Louis had Zayn promise to visit him again before he was to leave England.  A relatively soon endeavor, he was informed.  He knew Felicite would be disappointed when she found out.  He would miss Zayn as well, until he decided to show his presence in England once again.  Louis hoped by then he would have his own estate, that perhaps Zayn could stay at his instead of Liam’s.  He wondered if Harry would ever visit him once he and his sisters left Briglane Manor.

He met Harry’s gaze across the floor and with a fluttering heart, offered him the smallest of smiles.  It was returned, eyes softening ever so sweetly, until his attention was being ensnared by the guest beside him once again.

Louis occupied himself, forcing Felicite to dance.  And upon her dramatic request for a break from his torture, he made his way back towards his friends, collecting the little trio they made and spending most of the evening laughing with them.  He was greatly pleased when Harry joined their group and stood close enough to him that their arms would brush.  No one would notice if Louis stepped closer to him, when the room was so crowded with dancers and conversing individuals.

And it was only much, much later.  When most of the crowds had decided to leave, after the commotion and excitement had fully run its course, that Louis realized he was exhausted and that his feet hurt a little too.  He almost immediately collapsed upon his bed when he made it into his room, and only missed having Harry’s arms around him for a moment or two before almost promptly falling asleep.

 

He refrained from making the same mistake of missing Harry’s embrace again, and snuck into Harry’s bedroom the following night.  With no intention of participating in any act besides sleep.  Harry seemed fine with that prospect and upon having Louis disrobe himself, they curled up together beneath the blankets and sheets, naked skin even softer and warmer than the feathery pillows beneath them.

It was after they were settled, and Harry’s fingers traced a comforting pattern along his arm, that Louis realized he was not nearly as tired as he should have been.

He was deep in thought, hypnotized by the easy movements of Harry’s hand.  He thought Harry was much too good at making him feel comfortable.  And that he seemed so very natural at being naked with another man.  It spurred thoughts of their conversation so long ago when Harry had asked Louis what he thought of Molly Houses.

Louis could feel heat rising onto his cheeks like fog above dewy July grass.   He could recall Harry said he had frequented such establishments often and his brows furrowed with the thought.  With the implication that perhaps that was what Harry got up to when he went off to town.  When he was not so busy with the politics of the country.

Louis tried not to seep into the warm hand curling around his waist and thumbing across the jut of his hipbone.  It was not as difficult as Louis had intended when jealousy curled in the pit of his stomach and he picked at Harry’s sheets wondering what Harry could have possibly been doing at a Molly House.  And with whom.

Louis took a small breath, to let the ugly feeling unfurl from his stomach and hopefully disappear.  He wondered what would happen if Harry took him to a Molly House.  Wonders if they would be caught.  Wonders, more eagerly, what it is that Harry would do to him there.

He snuggled closer to Harry, feeling supple skin and warm, lean muscle.  Everywhere.

Suddenly Harry’s hand, stroking slowly over his side, did not seem like quite enough.

Louis stayed quiet, hesitant and anxious that speaking too loudly would break the soothing atmosphere they were caught in.  That it would break the softness and comfort he felt wrapped in Harry’s arms.  He spoke anyways.  “What did you do when you visited a Molly house?”

Louis held his breath in anticipation for Harry’s response.  His ears were not the only thing perking up, eager to catch Harry’s quiet reply.

Warm words were pressed to the skin of Louis’ bare shoulder, murmured into the crook of his neck, “Do you want me to show you?”  His voice brought goosebumps to Louis’ skin.  It seemed Louis may not have been the only one thinking of such erotic things.

Louis’ heart’s steady rhythm picked up its heavy thrum to a rapid staccato beat.  Especially as Harry’s hand dragged slowly down his hip, Harry’s lips kissing softly at his shoulder blade.

Harry’s naked chest and solid embrace disappeared when he moved back to lie Louis down on the bed.  Louis nodded his head, brimming with the sudden sensation of needing whatever Harry was going to give him.

He looked up to Harry’s gaze, that matched his own and wanted, wanted so readily that if he had any breath to give, it would already have been swept away.

Harry’s hands found their way to Louis’ front.  Lithe, adept fingers marking a trail of heat down his flushed skin, fluttering gently over his side, across each one of his ribs.  As if waiting for them to deflate with a rapid exhale, a gentle sigh.

They went further.  Without hesitation, where Louis could protest, to touch over where Louis’ body yearned for him.  The sensation curling streams of heat through his body.  Harry did not stay still for long, running a palm over Louis and thumbing across the sensitive skin at his tip.  Louis was gasping, grasping for a hold on Harry’s body, hands reaching up to grip at the muscles of Harry’s shoulder and the back of his neck.  He whined quietly, already feeling too much.  He pulled Harry’s mouth up to his own, a hot brush of lips, an intimate, immediate drag of Harry’s tongue against the seam of his mouth, seeking entrance.  Louis opened up, whining again when Harry let his hand drift down from his cock. 

All thoughts of Harry with others, of Harry at those Molly Houses was gone.  Louis could only think of himself and every small movement Harry made, every exact touch of their skin together, burning against him.

Louis’ legs flexed as Harry’s deft fingers traveled even further.  To the place Louis had not once dared to venture on his own.  To trace the ring of muscles where he ached for it.  Louis could feel every nerve-ending jumping at the thought of what was about to happen.  His whole body was tense, until Harry pulled back so he could fist over his cock again, whisper for Louis to “relax…”  Louis wanted Harry to keep kissing him, but could not ask when Harry pet over Louis’ lower lip with the pads of his two longest fingers, slowly slipping them in, eyes dilating at the action.  “Such a pretty mouth, Louis.”

Louis licked over them, butterflies kicking up in his stomach when he realized the purpose for what he was doing.  He flushed harder, shutting his eyes, and moaning around Harry’s fingers.  He wanted it, he wanted it so much.

When Harry reattached his lips to Louis’, in place of his hands, Louis could feel the nerves flickering through him.  Sparks of anticipation mixed with bursts of anxiousness and he tried relaxing further into the duvet, under Harry’s careful mouth.  The touch of wet fingers to his hole had him whimpering, undoing the comfort he had just managed to take. 

Harry distracted Louis with his skillful tongue, kissing for far too long and far too gently, hinting at what they were about to do.  When Louis was calmer again, he began to push in. 

Louis clenched at the intrusion, hands gripping harder at Harry’s shoulders.  Harry’s other hand began to pet over his hip, his kisses begging for Louis to stop overthinking.  Wincing at the discomfort as Harry moved the slightest bit within him.  Droplets of tears formed at his lash line.  He did not understand what he was doing wrong, to be so uncomfortable.  He furrowed his brows, trying to relax, trying to focus solely upon Harry’s gentle kisses.

He breathed evenly, a moment passing before he was allowing Harry to push in further.  Allowing Harry to continue his slow in and out motion.  Louis moaned, tensing up for an entirely different reason when Harry hit a spot within him, brushing over the area with his finger and causing Louis to shudder in ecstasy.  Louis' eyes slipped shut, slow rhythmic movements of Harry’s hand bringing him a pleasure he had never experienced before.  He gaped when Harry pushed in his second finger along his first, openly welcoming it as Harry pet over his inner walls and continued hitting against that spot that had Louis’ toes curling.

A gasp, hesitant pants for air, cold and biting against his lungs where they could not reach, drew from him as his tongue and mouth haphazardly met with Harry's.  Seeking purchase.  Unable to do so with the soft moans separating their lips.

Louis' blunt nails dug into Harry's shoulder blades, skin taught with the pleasure coursing through him.  Hearing his own whimpers, a blush tinged his cheeks, even as he murmured Harry’s name when Harry disconnected their mouths and let him breathe.  “Harry…”

Those sinful lips continued their study of the most sensitive parts of his neck, nipping when Louis would gasp at the gentle pressure of his mouth at a particular spot.  Harry’s words were soft, so low and seductive Louis felt every prickle of goosebumps arise from the cool touch of Harry’s fingertips, when he murmured, “Touch yourself, Louis.  Want you to.”

Louis tangled his hand in those lovely, unruly chocolate curls, his other hand trailing down heated skin to his own flushed cock.

He stroked himself at the pace of Harry’s fingers, moans breaking away from his lips.  Harry moved his mouth against Louis’ again as Louis sighed for him, stomach muscles clenching.

He licked into Louis’ mouth, breathing heavier, movements against his lips firmer.  Harry’s mouth tasted so lovely, so sweet and good.  Had Louis falling over the edge not long after he had begun, eliciting him to come all over his lower belly and keen against Harry’s mouth.

Harry continued kissing him, leaving him no room to break away for air.  Louis did not think he wanted to breathe properly ever again if it meant Harry had to move away from him.  His entire being was loose, achy in the most satisfying way.  He reveled in it, noticing almost belatedly that Harry’s hand had left him to begin absently palming over himself.

Harry pulled back the breath of a space to clear his throat, his voice still low, still rough, still soft like satin and pleased like velvet.  So low it tingled in Louis’ toes.  “Need you to touch me, Louis.  Please.”

Louis shut his eyes once again, nodding his head almost frantically.  He wanted to so badly.  He reached down to replace Harry’s hand over himself, savoring the groans and soft pants Harry let out as Louis moved over him.  Their lips did not connect again, Harry’s warm breath brushing across his cheek as he bent his head down, arching slightly into Louis’ hand.

Louis tightened his grip, blushing at the action when he stopped to run his thumb along Harry’s head.  Just how he would do it to himself.  He felt deftly improper and warm and so, so satisfied.  And he wanted to kiss Harry again.

He realigned their mouths, Harry’s broken off moan brushing past his lips and sparking through him.  Harry reached his peak and Louis had brought him there, pulling him through his ecstasy and wringing him dry.  He kept their mouths pressed close, their tongues lining up in slow, deep motions, his breathing still reedy with exertion.

Louis kept his eyes closed, even when Harry eventually dropped to the bed beside him, their lips still connected.  Louis felt needy, making a small noise when Harry shifted away, before his hand was resting at the dip of his lower back and pulling him closer.

He readily followed, pressing nearer and allowing his knuckles to brush across Harry’s collarbones.  Their kisses slowed, but stayed soft, until they were nothing more than a mere exchange of small pecks and dabs in between gentle words of praise.  Words of Louis’ taste, and his warmth, and his pretty sounds.  Louis felt like he was drowning in Harry’s voice, in his touch.  Where their legs tangled under the sheets and Harry’s hand stroked so gently along his spine.

It was not a surprise to Louis that he wished to be tangled up with Harry for the rest of the night.  Nor was it a surprise that he found himself seeking comfort in Harry’s bed, and in Harry’s arms most every night from there on out.

It was almost as if Louis had experienced an awakening, wanting to recreate all of those emotions and feelings that had made him feel so good, wanting to be as close to Harry as he had been.  He wanted, and he wanted, and yet he could still not manage to get them in the same bed every night that he wished to.

Predominantly when Harry started going back into town and leaving for days on end.  Louis always felt particularly lonely when that was the case.  He did, on more than one occasion, go to Harry’s room expecting to see him, hoping to see him, and sitting on his bed for bits of time in wait.  To read the letter Harry wrote him the first day he had gone, to think about them together, to think about how pretty Harry was.

When Harry did come back, Louis increasingly spent every night in Harry’s bed.  More and more of his day walking the grounds with Harry, sitting with him in the drawing rooms and laughing at his stories, debating with him over every little thing, and smiling.  So much smiling, Louis was sure something must have been wrong with him.  He was not sure he had ever been so content before.  Even with everything else happening in his life.

He had grown so accustom to the wonderful feelings Harry brought with him when he arrived back to the manor that it was almost easy to forget how stressful his life was.  How dramatic his sisters, who had really take after him in this regard, could be.

He was back in his room, standing and flipping through the book on his dresser.  One that Harry had recommended him, when there was a knock on the door and Louis was turning towards it, with a curious, “Come in.”

It was Felicite, looking anxious and frowning already as she stepped inside.  Shutting the door with a definite click behind her.  Her expression had Louis immediately on alert, setting his book down and turning to her fully, brows pinched in preparation for the worst.

Felicite’s visits with him were so infrequent that he could not imagine it was anything good, or else she would have shared the news with him and the twins while they were at supper.  Or in the drawing room together.

She took a deep breath, and what she said was the farthest thing from what Louis had expected.  “I wish to see the world.”

She gave him no room to question her motives, or what she was even talking about before she continued.  Sounding adamant, as if she already knew what Louis’ response would be.  “Mr. Malik said he would take me with him when he leaves the country in two weeks’ time.”

His brows immediately shot up, in the cusp of processing her words.  But her tone quickly turned to pleading.  Before Louis could tell her no.  “Please, oh please, Louis, it is all I could ever ask.”

He was almost too flabbergasted to respond.  But the words quickly flew from his mouth, his nerves popping and fizzling under his skin.  “I cannot agree to that.  It is extraordinarily improper for an unmarried girl to go traipsing around the world.”  Not even if it were with his friend.  He was shocked Zayn had agreed to such a thing.

Their conversation was quickly de-hinging, Felicite’s face immediately growing more upset.  She glared, but Louis was so stuck in his own mind, thinking so hard about what Zayn possibly could have said to her that her next statement practically forced the breath from his lungs.   “Nor is it proper the perversions you and Mr. Styles seem to enjoy.”

His eyes widened, his breath caught. The room went still, dreadfully silent and the only sound Louis could hear was the hard, heavy thump of his heart beating against his eardrums and his stomach catching in his throat.   “Watch your tongue, Felicite.”  A heated flush colored his cheeks, giving him away more than words ever could.

The color almost immediately drained from his face when he realized that if Felicite had suspected them, he and Harry had been much too callous in their interactions.  He took a steadying breath.  It still did not fill his lungs.  His palms were sweaty and he could not look away, could not swallow or clear his throat.  “…Mr. Styles has been a most gracious host...  You will take care to not speak so liberally of him ever again.”

“And should I speak so liberally of you?”  She asked next, tone still harsh.  Words still biting.

He did not have a response for her.  He breathed in again, thinking of anything he could say.  He felt ill.  He felt hurt.  Once the shock began to slip away. 

Felicite was staring him down and Louis figured it was better than seeing disgust in her expression or something of equal depth.

He knew he could not just give her what she wanted.  Even if she knew about him and Harry.  Even if she threw a tantrum and hissed poisonous words at him.

But instead of continuing with her pushing and her declarations, she turned back to her pleas, clasping her hands together.  Cheeks still pink and eyes begging.  “Please, Louis.  It will not just be me.  He will be bringing Miss Edwards too.  She can watch me, make sure I do not get into trouble.  I know you like Miss Edwards.”

Louis’ pulse was still erratic, his cheeks warm with shame.  His gut twisting in discomfort. “I have only ever spoken with her a handful of times,” he replied, words quieter.  She had given him something to hold on to, to respond to, but he still shook his head again, “I apologize, Felicite.  My answer is no.”

She stared at him, mouth agape as if ready to plead more, yell more.  Anything to convince Louis he was wrong.  But then she blinked, looking as if she realized she should not have said anything about him and Harry.  That it had thrown him so off guard that his hackles were raised and that any thoughts beside she knows, she knows, she knows had ceased from his mind.  Without another word she stormed out.  And Louis fell onto his bed, face pressed into the pillow in hopes that it could take him away from reality.  He felt like he was suffocating.  Like guilt and shame were hosting a ball in his chest, and chaos and disgrace were their guests of honor.  He could feel tears of anxiety prickling in his eyes.

Felicite would not say anything about him and Harry to anyone.  Louis was sure of that.  But he had upset her, and she must have been disgusted with him.

That niggling feeling of regret, for everything he had allowed himself and Harry to do in the past weeks, began weighing on his mind.  Another guest to the extraordinary ball being thrown at his expense.

He had no idea what his parents would have done with Felicite.  He wished that they were there.  They would have known what to do about her lashing out, how to calm her and make everyone happy.  They likely would have said no to her request as well.  But they would have managed to do it much better than he had.

He was Felicite’s older brother.  He had to make sure she was safe and he could not do that if she was in another country.  Even if he trusted Zayn to do it in his stead.

She knows continued to play in his mind.  His thoughts were scattered, unsure whether to grasp onto the threads murmuring concern about his sister and what she wanted, or onto the wisps that sang Harry’s name and asked Louis what he wanted.  His mind was going back and forth, unable to decide how to think or what to think or if he should even be trying to think so, so hard.

A part of him hated that he wished Harry were there then, to hold him and listen to him figure out his thoughts.  Make Louis feel secure in his arms, and kiss his cheeks when the tears inevitably fell.

Which he knew had begun when his breathing grew ragged.  He had not fought with any of his sisters in the longest time.  At least until before his parents had passed.  They had their bickering moments, but nothing this horrible.  He was not his parents.  He was not strong enough for all the predicaments that had come with their passing.  He had to watch his sisters, he had to find them a home, he had Grandparents that hated them, and judgmental colleagues whispering about them behind their backs.

He was guilty and ashamed of his behavior.  All because Felicite had pointed it out. 

He did not want her to think poorly of him.  He just wanted what was best for her; what was best for them as a family.

Louis wanted his parents back.  And he wanted everything to be okay.

He stood from his bed then, taking in a few heavy breaths, and rubbing at his cheeks.  He tried to tidy himself up, as best he could in his state, before making his way to Harry’s room.

He knocked, sniffling and trying to contain himself.  He needed to calm down.  Harry would not want to see him like he was.

When Harry opened the door, a twinge of guilt passed through him, for doing what he was doing.  It did not compare to the feeling of warmth that kissed over his insides and sunk into the soft bits in between when Harry made a surprised noise, immediately pulling Louis into his arms, and thumbing lightly at the skin beneath his eyes.  “Is something wrong, my love?”

Harry quickly shut the door behind them, guiding Louis towards his bed once Louis shook his head, giving him a watery smile.  Harry was so beautiful, and his expression was so concerned, so kind.  Louis did not understand what was wrong with wanting to be with Harry.  Why he could not do it.

Louis cleared his throat, voice scratchy and quiet when he murmured, “It’s nothing.”  A sniffle tacked onto the end of his sentence, disagreeing with him.

Harry swiftly shuffled down onto the bed, frowning quietly, before pulling Louis into his lap, to hold him again.  Exactly what Louis needed.

Harry held Louis close, his hand coming up to caress Louis’ cheek.  And he kissed his forehead when Louis sniffled again.  Causing Louis to breathe out a huff of laughter, chest much lighter than it had been before.  All because of Harry.

Louis leaned closer, Harry’s hand finding its way into his hair and combing softly through the strands.  He let out an even breath, leaning his head against Harry’s chest, before turning his nose into Harry’s collarbones.  “Felicite knows about us…”

Harry hardly paused his movements at the admission, though he switched his hand’s motions to forming odd shapes across Louis’ scalp.  It was the most relaxing feeling, and it did wonders to soothe him.  Make him comfortable enough to admit, “She was upset Zayn will be leaving the country.”

Harry pulled him slightly closer, humming to show he was listening.  It urged Louis on, to express all that he had been thinking earlier in his room.  “She wants to go with him.  To another country.”  He tries to make the request sound ridiculous.  Though he knew just how badly Felicite wished she could go.  She had always been so free-spirited; reading their father’s travel atlas with him when she was young and listening to their mother’s stories about far off lands.

Louis knew he should not have been surprised.  Other women were known for their travels.  Zayn’s sisters did it themselves.

“You do not think she should go?”  Harry asked, softly interrupting his thoughts.

Louis groaned, nose still sniffly, and throat still dry, as he momentarily shut his eyes, “She is still unmarried…  And young.” 

Harry leaned down to kiss his head again, humming, before Louis interrupted any comment he was going to make with a continued, “But she really wants to go…  I think she is very angry with me.”  He knew she was very angry with him.  Otherwise she would not have lashed out as furiously as she had.  He allowed himself to take a deep breath, relax into the little patterns Harry began to draw over his shoulder instead.  He felt exhausted.  And their fight had not even been a long one.  It was as if he knew there would be more to come and his body wanted to sleep while it could.

“If she were married, you would allow her to leave?”  Harry asked next, looking as if he too were in thought.  Clarifying the situation and making Louis have to consider the unlikely circumstance.

Louis exhaled heavily, wishing she were already married.  That was where the problem lied.  “Yes…  At that point, it would be her and her husband’s decision…”  Another wave of exhaustion washed over him when he thought back to the year before when his parents had been alive.  Everything had been so wonderful then.  His chest tightened when he murmured, “I wish my parents were here to make these decisions.”

Harry held him the slightest bit closer.  “Tell her that if she finds a husband that you will let her go.”  He made it sound as if it were the easiest thing to do.

Louis exhaled again, frown growing more defined.  Eyebrows pinching in frustration.  “That will only make her even more upset.”  He put his head in his hands, rubbing over his face.  He did not remember being so at a loss since before he had moved into Briglane Manor.  “I just wish… I knew what to do.”

Harry tilted Louis’ chin up, leaning down to press a soft kiss to his mouth.  “Sleep on your thoughts and perhaps you will have your answer tomorrow.”

Louis kissed Harry back, the smallest of touches, before he murmured his own, “Perhaps.”  He snuggled back into Harry’s embrace, relishing in the easy movement of Harry’s hand along his side.  The gentle thrum of Harry’s heartbeat singing like doves in his ear.

He stayed there for much of the rest of the evening, listening to Harry’s soft rambling, and supplying his own quiet responses.  Until Harry was lying them down against the pillows so that they could sleep on their thoughts together.

Chapter Text

Felicite turned her head away again, deigning to ignore Louis for the seventh day in a row.  She had been doing a wonderful job of making herself scarce during the day and only presenting herself for meals.  Where she would speak with Phoebe, Daisy, or Harry, and disregard Louis’ existence.

He knew why she was doing it.  She wanted him to know she was upset by his decision to keep her there instead of let her leave with Zayn.  That did not mean it did not irritate him or sadden him.  He felt insecure and having one of his sisters pretend to hate him was not helping.  Especially after Felicite had admitted to knowing about him and Harry.

Maybe she really did hate him.

Or perhaps he was just overthinking, as he was notorious for doing.

He was thinking about it again, always thinking about it, when there was a knock on his bedroom door.  Felicite, to his utter shock, was on the other side and she strode past him immediately, head held high even as he blinked at her in surprise.  She clearly was not ignoring him if she was coming to visit.

He watched her where she stopped directly in the middle of the room, keeping her back to him.  She did not wait even a moment before announcing, “I have made a deal with Mr. Styles.”

He had been confused to find her seeking him out and he was now more confused by her statement.  He was too caught on the fact she was there to really focus on what she was saying.  “A deal?”  She turned after a moment, but made it a point to not make eye contact, though it seemed that it may not have been to ignore him like she had been doing before.  She was frowning, looking mildly uncomfortable, but resolute.  Louis was already nervous.

“Mr. Styles and I… we have made an arrangement.”

His eyes squinted, pulse picking up its pace.  “What kind of arrangement?”

“Since you seem to be obstinate about the idea of my leaving the country… I thought it best that I find a husband, since it seems to be one of the only things you care about.”  She cleared her throat, though the dread had already set in the moment she had spoken Harry’s name.  “Mr. Styles has agreed to marry me.  And I will have his permission to travel abroad with Zayn.”

Louis’ throat closed up.  He was sure his face had immediately drawn and paled, his voice weak as he struggled to get it out at all.  “Did he really?”

Felicite continued looking away, with a short nod, “He was the one who thought of the idea.”

Louis stared at her, trying to take in a breath.  He felt ill, suddenly, finding it increasingly harder to breathe with her words repeating themselves in his mind.  Why did Harry want to marry his sister?  Why did the thought make his chest ache and the corners of his eyes want to pinch with tears?  Louis felt sick.

He had nothing to say to her, and she seemed to realize this, turning to walk back towards the door.  As if to relieve him of the worry that she would see him cry.  She stalled with her hand on the door handle, voice in a murmur, “I am sorry that I… we, are doing this, but it is just… this is what I have always wanted, Lou.  To travel the world...”  She glanced over her shoulder back at him, “I am sorry.  If there was another way, I would take it.”

She was gone then and Louis was alone again.  Increasingly alone, the pressure and weight of her words dropping upon him, pinning him to his spot.  The tears prickled at his lash line and he willed, willed them not to fall.  Not for such an idiotic reason.  Not for someone who clearly never cared in the first place.  He was almost too shocked to even process it; he had never expected something like it to happen.

Louis clenched his hands into fists, the pounding of his heartbeat loud in his ear.  He did not care if Harry was to wed his sister.  He did not care that Harry had come up with the plan.  He did not care that it felt as if his heart was breaking into a bunch of tiny pieces, shattering in his chest cavity and digging into the organs there, suffocating.

He could not stand it for long, the gravity of the situation, he rubbed furiously at the tear tracks starting to crawl down his face.  At the way his breath came out ragged when he let out an involuntary sob.  He did not wallow, would not.  He regained the smallest composure he could scrounge up, though the angry tears continued to fall, and when he finally managed to even his breathing, he stalked towards the door and towards Harry’s bedroom, hoping he was there so he would not have to scour the entire mansion for him.

He was not sure he would be able to manage it.

Louis did not wait after Harry acknowledged the knock on the door before he was shoving it out of the way and stalking inside.  Right up to Harry to shove him.  Harry seemed just as shocked as Louis had been when Felicite had told him about their arrangement, eyes widening at the push and at the way tear tracks still stained Louis’ face.  Louis did not think Harry had ever been shoved in his entire pompous life.  His fingers came up to wrap around Louis’ wrists before he could pull away.  Louis’ voice was shaky, but at least there were no fresh tears to mar what he was saying.  “How could you?!”

He tried pushing at his chest again, “Why would you promise my sister that?  After you know what I think?”  He tried pulling back so he could shove him harder, so he could get away.  Louis could not even stand looking at him.  At the way Harry’s brows pinched and his eyes harbored something that resembled distress.

Louis took a step back even though Harry still had his hands pressed to his chest, looking away, only suddenly starting to realize what he had just done.  How inappropriate his behavior had just been.  He found that he could hardly bring himself to care, not when Harry deserved it.  Harry’s grip tightened on his wrists, pulling his attention back to the warmth of his hands and the gentleness of his fingers.  He hated him.

Harry’s voice was strong when he responded.  Resolute like Felicite’s had been.  “I did it to keep you here with me, Louis Tomlinson.  And if that means marrying your sister, then so be it.”

Louis whipped his head back towards Harry to glare at him as furiously as he could, yank his hands out of Harry’s grip.  Harry let him that time, watched as Louis took a step back, and let out an abrupt laugh that really did not sound amused, “And are you to have her bear your children too?”

Harry’s mouth twitched at that, curled into a frown that Louis begged would stay.  He almost wished Harry would get angry too.  Would feel a little bit of what Louis was feeling, would yell back at him. 

Louis scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest, “It is much too easy for you to decide to marry my sister, when all you need to consider are your Aunt’s remarks on inheritance.”  Harry’s brows twitched at that, in irritation.  Louis scowled, a tiny thrill rushing through him at getting a reaction that he approved of.  “Do not use me as your excuse to marry a woman, at which you find so agonizing a practice, in means that it is more tolerable for you to bear.”

Harry’s expression fell neutral again and Louis’ temper flared once more.  Especially at his next insistence, “Please, Louis.  That is not what--”

Louis said the first thing that came to his mouth, “Clearly you do not care for me, at all.”  He scoffed again, to deter the tightening of his throat as a few more tears started licking down his face.  He looked away, “Of course, you want to marry my sister.  You must think you are helping me.”

“I am helping you.”  Louis turned his scowl back at Harry, looking at the way Harry stared back so steadily.  “You need your sisters to be wed.”

“Not to you!”  The tightness clung to his throat, bile crawling its way up his stomach to his mouth, drowning.  Making it impossible to breathe.  He took a staggering breath, keeping his attention averted. 

Even as Harry made to approach.  “Louis… please.”

Louis shook his head, turning his attention back to Harry.  Wishing it was only anger he felt, and not an overwhelming ache in his chest and emptiness in the pit of his stomach.  “You do not have my permission to marry Felicite.  Find another solution to your problems.”

And without another breath, Louis stormed back out.  No longer seething with rage, empty and silent in discord instead.  Like the disarray after a storm, nothing, not even the wildlife daring to come out until the darkness has passed.

He went to his bedroom and did not come out for the rest of the night, or the next day.  He was served his meals by one of the maids, but he did not eat it.  Did not do anything except try to get over the emotions twisting through him, pulling him to pieces.

Harry had not denied it when Louis had said he did not care for him.  He wondered what that meant.  Wondered how mad Felicite would be when she found out that Louis would not allow her to marry Harry.  Wondered if Harry had even told her or if he was waiting for Louis to do it for him.

He hated thinking about Harry, but it was hard not to when that was all his mind wanted to dwell on.  And they were not even unhappy thoughts, half of them about how much he missed him, the other half on how much he wanted Harry to realize what an idiot he was and come groveling back.  But Louis really knew one of the only reasons he was so mad was because he was jealous…  Jealous that Harry was going to marry his sister.  He shoved the blankets off of him.  They were Harry’s after all.  And they still held the lingering scent of him from when he had lied in them days before.

Louis sat up abruptly, grabbing the blankets and throwing them on the carpet instead.  Getting up to scour his room for a book that could occupy his thoughts more than Harry’s expression when Louis had yelled at him.  Surprised and yet expectant, as if he knew it had been coming, but shocked by the ferocity of Louis’ contempt.

Louis returned to his bed when he had found a book, immediately going through it and reading as quickly as he could, his eyes almost as furious as his temper had been the day before.  It was exhausting.  And his feet were getting cold.

He placed his book down after he had gone through a few chapters, getting up to put the blanket back down on his bed.  So he could shove his feet and legs beneath it. Because he was cold, and that was all.

In the moment when he had finally managed to distract himself with the words lying in front of him, there was a light rap on the door.

He exhaled a terse breath, “If it is someone who I do not wish to see…” he paused, momentarily considering how rude he wished to be.  He continued anyways, “then go away.”

There was an awkward shuffle before a voice chimed in, “It is Phoebe and Daisy…  May we come in?”

Louis exhaled in relief.  Glad it was not Felicite, that it was not Harry, and that it was not the maid with more food he did not wish to eat.  “Yes, you may come in…”

The door opened, and two little blonde heads popped in, identical looks of concern on their pink-cheeked faces, “Louis, what is wrong?  Felicite has been ignoring you.”

He was not surprised they had noticed or that they were asking immediately upon entering.  Not even starting with irrelevant or trivial conversation.  It had been more than a week of Felicite’s behavior.  And now here he was, trying to ignore the rest of them.

“Are you okay?”  Daisy asked next, before they jumped on the bed, lying flat on their fronts and resting their sweet little chins against their hands.  Looking up to him with matching frowns.

He shook his head, exhaling a breath, that came out much more choked than he had been intending.  He was not going to cry.  Again. They seemed to sense his discomfort, shifting up to sit on either side of him and hook their arms through his.  Daisy laid her head against his shoulder, Phoebe squeezing his arm in hers.

He took a steadying breath.  “Your sister is just mad because she wants to go with Mr. Malik out of the country…”

Phoebe turned to look up at him, where he stared down at the quilt covering his legs.  “Is Felicite going to marry Mr. Styles?”

Louis could feel his eyes stinging, wanting to well up with tears, again.  He stared harder at the blanket ignoring the pinch in his chest, willing himself to hold it together, even as he shook his head, a bit harshly.

Daisy squeezed his arm a bit tighter, Phoebe turning her gaze away and moving to rest her head against his shoulder as well.  “Good.  I do not want Felicite to marry him.”

Louis bit over his lower lip, feeling his eyes grow a bit wet.  He thought he was stronger than that, had thought his isolating himself would allow him to get over it.  And yet, his sister’s simple questions were getting him upset again.  “W-why?”  His voice sounded wobbly, and he cleared his throat.  To not give himself away more than he must already have.  He wondered if they knew too, about what he and Harry used to do.

“Because Felicite does not love Mr. Styles.”  Daisy replied from his left.

“And Mr. Styles does not love Felicite either.”  Phoebe added, “Unlike Charlotte and Niall.  They love each other.”

Louis nodded his head, sniffing slightly.  The statements settled his emotions and he was relieved they did not seem to know about what he and Harry had been doing.  “That is right… But sometimes we cannot marry those we love.”  He glanced down to see both Phoebe and Daisy frowning.  As if they wanted to protest the idea, but decided to refrain from doing so.

Daisy perked up after a moment, reaching into her boot, which she was still wearing on Louis’ bed, to pull out a paper.  He shook his head when he realized both the girls were still wearing their shoes on his bed, though a small smile also lifted his lips.

He loved his sister’s and he took a moment to kiss them both on the head as Daisy held the paper, or rather a letter, out to him.  “This came for you this morning.  You were not at breakfast to receive it.”

“So we volunteered to bring it to you.”  They both smiled when Louis kissed their heads, seemingly quite proud of a job well done.

“Thank you girls.  You always treat me so well.”  The beamed extra wide at that, before relaxing back against his sides, likely to ‘sneakily’ read over his shoulder.  He turned the letter over noticing the address it was from.  From his grandparents estate.

He put the letter back down, deciding not to open it until the twins left.  Not wanting them to see anything that they should not.  They seemed to realize he was not going to open it, turning their heads back to face him.  “Will you come to supper tonight?  Mary says we will be having Partridge.”

Daisy grinned, “With gooseberry cheese and marmalade for our breads!”

“Oh, and hot chocolate.  All of your favorites.”  Phoebe added, ecstatic.

Louis smiled lightly, the girls’ excitement and cheer slowly settling over him like the blanket on his lap, making him feel warm and comforted.  He looked between the two of them, with a small laugh, “I think marmalade is your favorite.”  They immediately shook their heads as he continued, “And how would Mary know what all of my favorites are?”

“Mr. Styles told her what to make…”  Phoebe replied.  The reminder of Harry’s name pulled the smile from his mouth just as quickly as it had arrived.

Daisy pursed her lips momentarily before adding, “Well, he asked us what your favorite dishes were so we told him.”

He lifted his arms to pinch both their cheeks, “And you both just had to add your own favorites too, huh?”

They laughed and the sound delighted his soul.  His youngest sisters just had a way of making him feel better and he was so, so happy to have them. 

The thought that Harry had wanted to make him a special meal also tugged at his chest.  He was still upset with him, still upset with the situation and what had happened, but he could not stop the skip of his heart at the idea that Harry wanted his forgiveness.  Wanted him to come down to dinner, to see him and win his affections back.

The girls smiled giddily up at him, awaiting his reply.  He nodded, “Of course I will join you for supper.  I am quite hungry from being up here all alone.”  As if on cue, his stomach grumbled and the girls laughed again.  At his discomfort.  He chuckled with them, feeling lighter than before.

They spoke a bit longer, going on and on about how excited they were for the delicious meal they would have later.  Louis was also a bit eager, but was also not sure what it would be like eating with Harry after their fight.  If it would be tense and awkward.

He wondered if he would have to make eye contact, if Harry would try to speak with him.  The thought had his stomach turning yet again and uneasiness falling over him.  He remembered why it was that he had skipped breakfast that morning.

But his sister’s smiling, gleaming faces told him he could not change his mind, no matter how much he wanted to.

When they left, running out without a care in the world, Louis turned towards the letter they had left him.  Where it increasingly held his attention every time he turned his head from Phoebe on one side of him to Daisy on the other, his eyes flicking down to the thick parchment and the scrawl with his grandparent’s address.  He knew they had fallen sick.  And this letter could only indicate one of two things.  They either were well again, and back to despising Louis and his sisters, or one or the both of them had passed and Louis would be the owner of their inheritance. Unless they had finally found a way to finagle him out of it.

He peeled the seal off the letter, to open it, scanning over the words immediately to see if he could hint to himself at the nature of the message.  The scrawl was too much of a mess for him to be able to do it, so he started again at the top, slower.  ‘Dear Mr. Louis Tomlinson…’  It most certainly had not been written by his grandparents.  He was not surprised and he quickly skipped the pleasantries, not having to move far for the point of the letter to be made clear.  His Grandfather had not made it through his sickness.  His Grandmother was still alive, but she was ill and had no right to her estate any longer.  It was Louis’ by law.

Louis read over the letter a few more times.  Trying not to be happy by such a sad happenstance, trying not to be happy when it was everything he had been hoping would happen.  He disliked his grandparents, but he did not wish death upon them.  A part of him did feel sorrow for his Grandpa and his Grandmother’s aching heart.  The love of her life had passed and now she was alone and battling her own sickness.

He wondered if he should try to make amends for their hatred.  He did have half of his father in him, after all.  He wondered if it was worth it or if his grandmother would just continue to ignore his existence as she had for most of her life.

He was reminded once again of his own parent’s passing.  At how much he missed them every single day.

He stood after a few terrible moments of remembering the weeks after their death.  He moved to his desk to reply.

Ideas began forming in his mind.  What he could do with a home again.  He would no longer have to stay with Harry.  The thought sat somewhere lodged between his ribs and his lungs.  The quick of his quill stopping, dripping a blotch of ink at the end of his signature.  He glanced down at the black mark, removing his hands from the letter and what he had wrote.  He took a steadying breath, pressing a palm to his chest as if the motion would allow him to physically feel what was suddenly causing the pressure there.

He turned away from the desk, moving towards the window to lose his mind in the fields of grass and flowers outside.  He would miss the view.  He would miss his room.

It would not be the only thing he would miss.

Louis turned after too long staring at the way the sun and clouds saturated the sky and bright blue swirled in the spaces between.  Louis moved to begin dressing himself for dinner, changing to a more fitting pair of breeches and one of his nicest vests.  His movements seemed automatic, brain, and heart somewhere else in the mansion.  With someone else who he was still very upset with.

 

Getting himself to the dining room was a struggle.  Felicite was still not maintaining eye contact, though her shoulders were a hard line, her eyes despondent.  It seemed Harry had told her that Louis would not allow them to get married.

Harry himself sat in the seat beside Louis’, where he usually would, trying to talk to him and smile at him every moment he could.

Louis hated that Harry’s smile made his inside’s warm the slightest bit.  Even if it was strained and seemed like Harry was not sure his cordiality was working.

He still did not engage Harry in conversation.  And the first time he spoke at all during supper was over the partridge when he told his sister’s about the letter he had received.  The news of their Grandfather’s death.  He did not mention what their living arrangements would be just yet and decided instead to pick at the biscuit he had been given while listening to his sister’s sympathies and uncertain replies.

He would tell them after the news had set in.  After he had sorted his thoughts out and made sure they would be welcome, though it was their home.  He wondered if his grandmother would stay or move in with her other son.

It would definitely be odd if she stayed.

The rest of dinner, in opposition to his previous statement was … nice, if the conversation was not a tad stilted.  Phoebe and Daisy supplied most of it, Felicite not really looking up from her meal and Louis giving the simplest responses whenever Harry tried engaging him in discussion.  He caught on relatively quickly though, and stopped trying to gather Louis’ attention, responding to Phoebe and Daisy’s questions and musings instead.

Louis hated how good he was with them.  Though it was all pretense, he was secretly pleased with their affinities for one another.  Secretly pleased, also, that Felicite and Harry sat far from each other and did not try to speak to each other.  Most certainly not acting like a couple who would be getting married.

To add to Louis’ relatively good mood, the food was delicious, of course, and Harry made sure Louis was being fed until he was stuffed, asking the maid to continue adding to Louis’ plate.  As if he could not do it himself.  Or decide how much he wanted.  Harry must have thought he knew better than Louis.

And no matter how Louis feigned annoyance every time Harry spoke, it mostly made a small part of him warm up.  Because Harry had all of the food prepared for Louis specifically and he clearly was trying to make things better.

Louis had also gained the smallest ounce of satisfaction from Harry’s reaction after he had told everyone about their grandfather.  Harry had frozen up a little, pursing his lips.  As if he knew what that had meant.  And he had not liked it.

In fact, it was Harry who had tried so quickly to change the subject.

And when dinner was over, before Harry could suggest walking Louis back to his room, he excused himself.  Quickly pacing back to his room so that he would not have to see him for any longer than necessary.  He knew if he spent any more time with him, his anger would dwindle so much so that it would be as if he had never been mad in the first place.

Something was wrong with him.  And with the way Harry always made him feel.

With his belly stuffed and his taste buds singing from the delicious treats at dinner, Louis curled up in his bed and immediately fell asleep.

 

The thought had struck him, so quickly during the night.  Like the moon had waited for the exact moment Louis closed his eyes to drop it upon him.  He awoke in the morning, dressing in rapid succession and rushing towards the dining room, where Felicite was not, and then to the parlor, where she also was not, and to the salon next, where he finally found her.

He opened the door, eyes scanning around and finally catching on the familiar brunette hair.  She even looked up at his barging in.  He tried to steady his heavy breathing, from where he had so improperly been running through the entirety of the estate.  It would have been the library next if she had not so thoughtfully appeared.

“You can go with Zayn.”  He burst out.

She lit up immediately, almost as quick as a candlewick to flame.  Surprise written in her tone and her features, “I can?”

Louis nodded, cutting off her celebration before it could start, “On three conditions.”

She seemed completely appeased, eyes wide and smile painfully bright, seeming to not even mind that he had conditions.  She nodded her head, still looking ecstatic, “What is it?”

“I will pay for your trip.  With the inheritance we will be receiving from our grandparent’s estate.”  He took a breath, “Meaning you… will not marry with Mr. Styles.”  He flushed slightly but she merely nodded, waiting for his last condition.  “And you will stay safe, listen to everything Zayn tells you, and write to me and your sisters as often as possible.”

Her smile widened even further, when she stood abruptly to run and throw her arms around his neck, almost knocking him off his feet.  “Thank you, thank you!  I will.  I will write every day, so often you will be sick of receiving my letters and hearing of everything that I am doing.”  He held her equally as tight, a rush of relief finally circling through him.  From his head to the tips of his toes.

He pulled back with a small exhale.  Before she was hugging him again and mumbling, a bit quieter, “Thank you Louis… I, umm, again, I apologize.  For going behind your back with Mr. Styles… and for ignoring you for so long.” She glanced away, bashful, “And for hurting your feelings.”

He did not reply to that, not wanting to admit to it.  Though by his behavior it must have been obvious.  He pressed a kiss to her forehead, “It is alright…”

She smiled again, squeezing him tight once more, with a whisper, “You are the best older brother ever.” She took in a quick breath, finally drawing back.  Still flushed slightly and likely embarrassed by her behavior the past few weeks. “I do love you, so much, you know?”

Louis smiled down at her, nodding his head.  “I love you too, Felicite.  And I accept your apology.”

When Felicite pulled fully back from their embrace, her smile was more timid.  Before he reached up to pinch her cheek and it formed into that beautiful smile he so loved.  “You best go start getting packed then.  I hear Zayn will be leaving in less than a fortnight’s time.  I will send a letter to him right away to inform him of my decision.”

She nodded and watched him for a moment more before bounding towards the door.  “Thank you again, Louis,” she called over her shoulder before she was disappearing into the hallway.

He smiled, looking after her for a long moment.  He hoped his parents would approve of his decision; he thinks they would have.

With a small breath Louis turned to head back to his room.  At a much more appropriate pace, feeling much more content now that he had sorted that one overwhelming issue out.  When he was back in his room, he moved towards his desk to do as he promised and write to Zayn.  He was just in the throes of informing Zayn that he will have to send constant updates to Louis, much more often than his usual monthly letter when there was a knock on the door.

He wondered if it was Felicite again.  Or the twins.  He smiled, was unable to stop the grin from finding its way onto his lips when he moved over to let whoever it was in.  He stalled immediately when his eyes met with a broad chest and a tall frame that decidedly belonged to none of his sister’s.  He followed the torso up until his eyes met with a stormy green.

And his deep voice asked, “May I come in?”

Louis exhaled a breath, small, stepping back with a curt head nod.  He closed the door behind Harry after he had stepped through.  Waiting.  For Harry to say anything and break the unnerving silence between them.

It was quiet and Louis, restless with the sudden tension in the room, walked over towards his window, to keep his attention pointed away from the sole focus of his mind, now that it had entered his room.

“You are leaving, then?”  It was not so much a question as a statement that hung heavy in the air.  Too heavy for either to want to pick up and carry with them.

Louis nodded.  He swept his hand over the sill of the window’s ledge, to give him something to do, his fingers something to hold onto.  The wood’s grain tickled at his fingertips.  “The estate is ours.  Whenever we wish to come claim it.”

Harry was watching him; Louis could feel it where Harry’s eyes were boring into the back of his head.  Could hear Harry open his mouth as if to respond before holding back.  Louis stared down hard at where his fingers met the wood, noting the smallest remnants of dust.  Harry turned away without another word, shoes clicking tirelessly against the hardwood as he walked away.

Or that was what Louis had thought before he felt hands sliding over his hips and he was turning back to look up at Harry.  He did not shove him away, as Harry’s arms wrapped securely around his waist and he was pulled back into Harry’s chest.  He let out an even breath, sinking into the feeling, as Harry leant forward to rest his chin against his shoulder.  Hold him just the slightest bit closer.  “I suppose nothing I say will convince you to stay?”

Louis’ heart thrummed slowly, methodically, his blood warming at the soft vibrations he could feel forming with Harry’s words.  There was something that Harry could say.  One thing he could say that would cause Louis pause.  But he held his mouth shut.

Harry would never say the words and Louis wished he did not long to hear them.  Was glad that he would not, so that leaving would be easier.  It was something he had to do, for himself, and for his sisters.  It had been something they both knew he would do, eventually.  Leave.

Harry tucked him closer into his embrace when Louis shook his head.  As if that could keep Louis there.  Louis swallowed, thinking it could very well do that, if his mind was not so set on going.

He did not say another word.  Nor did Louis.  They stayed silent, wrapped up together in the confines of Louis’ room.  Louis rested his head against Harry’s chest, his attention caught again on the grand window beside them, on the open fields resting there.  At the flocks of birds flying overhead and the royal ferns sprouting up from the wet dirt.

Watching the sun rise high in the sky, painting the clouds in nameless colors and the grass in shadows of orange and yellow.  The sun sparkling gold across the water there, far away, and yet too beautiful not to witness.

And Louis felt stuck to the spot, Harry’s heart beating in time with his own, his warmth, his exhales, silent and soft against his neck, his cheek.

Louis could only break away from the sight, to tilt his head, to look across Harry’s profile, and to meet with his gorgeous eyes when Harry turned to look back.  Their lips touched then, so soft and light, dancing together in the dimming light of the world outside.

He knew he would not receive an apology from Harry.  And yet, Louis felt light, content, like he did not want one anymore.  Because Harry wanted him there, as stubborn as he was… as gentle and lovely as he was too.  Louis pressed closer, made the quietest noise of want against Harry’s mouth, and his sound was returned, Harry’s hands moving up to cup his jaw and his thumbs to glide over his cheeks.

Louis would miss having Harry so close.  Would miss their kisses, and the soft way Harry would caress his cheekbones and whisper sweet words to him.  He did not say so aloud, afraid of what it might have meant.  Harry did not say it either and his heart did not flounder in the weight of their secrets.

They stayed that way for much of the afternoon, holding one another close and kissing like they knew the day would come much too quickly where they would no longer be able to.

Louis, against all principles, went and spent the night with Harry in his room, after having supper with his very, very happy sisters.  Felicite because she would be able to go off and explore the world, and the twins because there was no more fighting between any of them.

It was, of course, not the last time he spent the night in Harry’s room.  Knowing that day would come much too soon, Louis pathetically sought out Harry’s comfort at night, even if they were still on rocky grounds.  Harry disapproving of Louis’ choice and Louis doing nothing to ease his mind.

 

The day that Felicite and Zayn would be leaving the country, a large breakfast was prepared for them, since both Charlotte and Niall were visiting to see Felicite off.   She was too chatty and excited to manage to eat anything, even at Charlotte’s constant reminding.

She did manage to stuff a few biscuits into her mouth, quite uncivilly before she was getting Phoebe and Daisy to help her grab her things from her rooms to stand outside.  The rest of the party followed the procession, moving to stand outside in the muggy July air.

Felicite was adorned in her favorite redingote even though it was summer, a royal blue color with tassel trims, trunks of luggage beside her.  She was absolutely buzzing, ecstatic and grinning with crazed eyes and an abundance of energy.  It almost seemed as if she was about to grab Phoebe and Daisy and start jumping around in a circle with them, squealing about how excited she was.  She practically did so when a carriage came into view, following the dirt road leading up to the estate.

Louis and Harry stood back with Niall as Charlotte and Felicite shared the tightest hug that Louis had thought he had ever seen.  Though from his hug the other day he was not so sure it could compete.  He would miss his sister very much.

He put off her farewell the slightest when they spoke with Zayn after the carriage finally stopped and Felicite’s things were being hauled onto it.  Louis would miss Zayn just as much as he would miss Felicite, though Zayn’s leaving was much more common place.  Louis would worry about Felicite every day.  And hope she was having the time of her life.

When it was finally time, and Louis could not distract them any longer, he hugged the both of them, before Zayn and Felicite were being swept up with their impending adventure and the carriage was trotting off into the distance.  They would pick up Miss Edwards first before heading to London and then to the nearest ship leaving Britain.

Louis already missed her and she had barely even left his side.  He was not sure how he would manage living without Felicite.  But he supposed, he had thought the same thing when Charlotte had left and he had survived.  Although he could visit Charlotte any time the thought occurred, and he had in the past few months.  With Phoebe and Daisy in tow.

His concern for Felicite and thoughts of what she was already getting up to dwindled slightly with Lottie and Niall staying for lunch.  And it was odd, that Felicite was not there to eat with them, that Louis and the twins would be moving into their new estate within a week.  It was odd knowing there was a small bump forming near the front of Charlotte’s waist, Niall looking happier at that than he ever had since Louis had met him.

It was not odd the way the twins prattled on, bright and cheery.  Not odd in the way Louis’ heart would jump every time he would glance over and catch Harry looking at him.

It had happened ever since their conversation, their kisses had begun dragging on longer, the moments they spent together in bed taking up much more time than they should.  They both knew the day of Louis’ departure would arrive sooner than they hoped.  Sooner than Louis hoped.  Because even though he wanted his own home again, wanted to get his life back together and sorted, he would miss staying at Briglane Manor.

He would miss what it held even more.  The memories he had created, the moments he and Harry had shared.

After Charlotte and Niall had left and Louis was back in his room that night, he knew there was one more experience that he wanted to create and to hold on to.  One more to keep with him when everything changed and he and Harry were no longer together.  One to remember when Harry forgot all about him in his luxurious, charming life.

Louis waited until it was the last night in Harry’s manor to express his wants.  Partly out of nerves and partly out of the fear that allowing himself to have it would deter him from wanting to leave at all.

He had no choice then, though.  He would leave the following day with Phoebe and Daisy no matter what happened.  And, apparently, with two basset hounds that Harry had gifted to them.  An excuse, he had stated, to come visit and make sure they were being well taken care of.  Louis’ sister’s cheered at the suggestion, having grown quite close with Harry as well.

Though Louis doubted they felt the same pinching in their chests as he did, the same longing when Louis imagined not being around him anymore.  It was the last evening and Louis was all packed, except for what he would wear the following day, and what he currently had on.  The robe he had worn before when he had stumbled upon Harry in the drawing room.  The first time he had allowed himself to give in to his desires.

He walked to Harry’s bedroom door, heart in his throat.  The pounding in his chest in time with the sharp rap of his knuckles on the oak.

He did not pause for long, after Harry gave him permission to enter, before he was allowing himself inside, catching Harry’s gaze and the soft way he smiled at Louis.  He was perched on the edge of his bed, only partially undressed, as if he had been in the process of stripping completely when Louis came by.

“Come to bed?”  His voice was low and soft, enticing where he held his hands out for Louis.  As if to touch him as soon as possible.  Their mouths met only a moment after Harry’s warm grip found its way to Louis’ hips.

Louis immediately gave in, standing in between Harry’s legs and reaching up to cup his strong jaw, breathe life into his warm lips.  Harry stroked along his hip, using his mouth in the most pleasant way.  Their tongues met in a slow sigh and Louis felt shivers run to the tips of his fingers, stomach flopping in anticipation.

He pressed closer, breathed deeper, not wanting to pull back in fear that the morning would appear before Louis was ready for it.  He allowed his fingers to tangle in Harry’s silky curls, trying to commit every sensation to his memory.

He stalled on a gasp, when Harry trailed his hand towards the ribbon keeping his robe closed.  Their eyes met and Louis’ heart skipped harder.  The green of Harry’s gaze was piercing, as it so often was where Louis was concerned.  Sad almost, in their depths.  Louis’ eyes trailed across Harry’s features, sharp cheekbones, rigid nose, sweet mouth.  He was beautiful, so incredibly beautiful.

Louis opened his own mouth slowly, to speak, staring at the redness of Harry’s lips, at the light sheen of wetness clinging to them.  He reached up to run his thumb over them, Harry still regarding him when he looked back up.  His voice was quiet, not even attempting to cling to the small space between them.  “I want your everything.”

Harry’s grip tightened at his words, hand slipping beneath his robe to stroke over the bare skin of his side.  He nodded, after Louis’ request had settled, finding the small of Louis’ back to pull him down into his lap, so Louis’ thighs could be astride Harry’s hips.  Harry’s mouth lined up with his again in that moment, words murmured against the parting of his lips, “You are sin, Louis.  Aching want…”

Louis whined lowly against his mouth, closing his eyes tight and pressing closer.  Wanting to be impossibly closer.  Harry’s hands continued their purposeful movements along his sides, his hips, his lower back and then up his spine, until he could slip Louis’ robe past his shoulders and allow it to fall to the ground beneath the bed.

Louis’ hands were equally as fervent, glad Harry was already missing his shirt so that Louis could touch all over his chest.  Unable to stay in one place for long, with the need to touch him everywhere, feel every jump of muscle and tightening of tendon beneath his palms.

Harry groaned and Louis was already gasping at Harry’s every shift in movement.  With the knowledge of what they were going to do floating in the clouds above them.

Harry flipped them over, Louis immediately beginning to fiddle with the buttons of his trousers.  His cock was hard and leaking against his belly already.  Harry’s was just as hard when Louis finally managed to rid him of the rest of his clothes. 

Harry rutted down against him and the friction pulled a drawn out moan from Louis’ throat, his toes curling, his hands wrapping around Harry’s neck as he realigned their mouths.

Harry started opening him up, like he had done before, long fingers wet with spit, stretching Louis open and making him squirm against the sheets.

Louis could only focus on everywhere they were touching, hot with everything he was feeling.  Harry drew the sweetest whimpers from him, Louis quietly murmuring Harry’s name against the skin of his cheeks, against his jaw when they parted to gasp for breath.

Louis wanted everything from him, fingernails digging into the hard muscles of his back, into his shoulder blades when Harry crooked his fingers just right.  “Please, Harry…”  Louis whispered against his mouth.

Harry slowed his movements, leaning down to press kiss upon kiss to Louis’ jaw and neck, head ducked and mouth so very gentle.  He removed his hand, eliciting a whine from Louis who lifted his knees up to press against Harry’s hips, pulling a hand through Harry’s curls.

Harry pulled back, meeting Louis’ eyes and looking overcome, lips raw and red, hair a mess, and yet he still looked unbelievably gorgeous.  He shifted after a moment, sitting up to lick over his palm and touch over himself, line himself up with Louis’ hole.  Louis felt the nerves coursing through him, tightening the pull at his belly and causing the tingling sensation over every inch of his skin.  Harry looked down at him with hooded eyes, thumbing ever so gently against Louis’ hip before he began to push in.

Louis’ eyes widened, the breath leaving him abruptly and hands scrambling to grip at the duvet.  Harry let his hands roam over Louis’ legs, pet over them as he waited only momentarily to continue.  The pain was indescribable, Louis’ eyes clenching shut and brows contorting in discomfort as Harry continued pushing forward.  He tried focusing on everywhere Harry’s fingertips stroked across his skin and soon Harry was completely buried within him, and the discomfort had subsided just slightly.  Harry leant over him, hands running soothingly up his sides, until their hands could connect against the sheets.  Louis’ grip was tight where their fingers entwined.  Louis could feel the lightest press of Harry’s lips against each of his eyelids, movement catching against his eyelashes.  Before he was dragging them across Louis’ cheekbone as he began to move again.

Harry exhaled a breath against the corner of Louis’ mouth, a low noise as he began a slow pace.  The more Harry moved the more Louis relaxed.  The more he fell into the kisses Harry was pressing against his lips and the movement of his strong body on top of Louis’.

When Harry shifted Louis’ hips up and thrusted in, Louis let out a sharp gasp and a moan.  The ecstasy almost returning in full force as Harry continued hitting that same spot, his thrusts growing gradually faster and harder.  Louis cried out in pleasure, his free hand moving from Harry’s shoulder to grip hard in the back of his hair.  Tugging as Harry simultaneously nipped at his lower lip and he allowed himself to be taken so fully and thoroughly.

“So good, Lou...”  Harry’s hand at his hip moved down to his thigh, gripping underneath it.  Everything, everywhere Harry was touching was hot and perfect.  Was overwhelming in how much Louis wanted it to continue when it had hurt so much before.

He was gasping, a panting mess, trying to breathe through every kiss he was given.  Their mouths hardly able to do more than brush across each other as they both let out their breaths and intermittent noises.

Harry’s hips snapped into Louis just right and punched tiny whimpers and moans from him.  Harry’s own groan lost in his neck when Harry arched his back and ducked his head there, forehead pressed to his shoulder.

Everything was hot and messy, and wet.  Louis tightened his grip in Harry’s hair, the sound it pulled from Harry causing him to leak more against his stomach.  The pressure of Harry’s abdomen above him creating a friction Louis could hardly stand with how good it felt.  Too many sensations pulled him in every direction.

Harry bit at his neck, like he so often liked to do, and Louis could feel the tightening in his belly grow imperceptibly tauter.  He could tell he was almost through.  The way Harry’s thrusts were growing sloppier, his hips staying closer and grinding inside of Louis instead, indicating that Harry was close too.

“Harry,” Louis gasped, feeling so incredibly close to him, tied together.  A sudden wave of emotion washed over him, tangling up in his ecstasy.  He whined against Harry’s mouth, when he brought his lips back up to press against Louis’.  A soft sound formed on Harry’s tongue and was pressed into Louis’ mouth with a ferventness he had never seen Harry have before.   He inhaled a sharp breath, thumb brushing over the back of Harry’s hand, his fingers tugging harder at Harry’s curls.  “Need you, Harry…”  He gasped, a sharp breath, an exhale; his chest tightening as he admitted quietly, in the small distance between their begging mouths, “I always need you.”

Harry gripped his hand tighter, his thigh, biting against his mouth and kissing him so deep that Louis almost lost himself completely at that.

His chest tightened, his toes curling with Harry’s every movement.  He saw stars when his orgasm shot through him, his mind fizzing out as he held on to the feeling coursing through him.  The indescribable high, the warmth collecting in every corner of his body. He did not even notice that Harry had also come until his movements slowed to a stop and there was only the sound of their heavy breathing mingling in the air.  He only began to realize when the heavy weight of Harry settled over him and he could feel Harry drop kisses all along his cheekbones and lips.

When Harry pulled out the sting returned, but Louis was quickly enveloped in Harry’s arms, and turned on his side so Harry would no longer be squishing him beneath his weight, and it did not hurt as much.  Louis cuddled closer to Harry’s chest, the thrill still looping through him where his nose was pressed into Harry’s shoulder.

He felt sticky and the warmth of their actions was starting to wear off, but when Harry pulled back to grab the blanket and curl it around them, Louis felt safe and happy, relaxed.

Louis smiled when Harry thumbed across his cheekbone and looked down at his face, to watch him.  Louis bit over his lower lip when a blush started to bloom on his cheeks, a quiet, “Thank you.”

Harry was beautiful.  A small dimple appearing when he smiled back, his features soft and his gaze adoring.  He pressed another kiss to Louis’ lips, “Thank you.”

Louis reached up to brush his fingertips across Harry’s mouth, murmuring playfully, “Such a gentleman.”

Harry’s delighted smirk replaced his smile, as he nipped at Louis’ fingers, “For you.  Always.”

Louis laughed, a soft happy sound.  And Harry pressed kisses to his fingertips in return.  The quiet ache in Louis’ chest was a dull throbbing, reminding Louis that it would be over after that night.

He watched the way Harry’s mouth moved along his hand, to kiss at his knuckles and then again at his wrist.  Louis’ heart stung and fluttered, like a butterfly who had torn a wing.  He fought with himself in staying where he was to study Harry’s face and his every minute expression or to move closer into his arms and have Harry hold him for the last time.

The last time, he reminded himself.  It had to be.

When he felt the familiar sting at the corners of his eyes, Louis shifted closer, tucking himself easily in Harry’s embrace and beneath his chin, pressing his ear to Harry’s chest and hearing the soft sound of his heartbeat.  Harry wrapped him up, tangling their legs together and running his hand gently down Louis’ spine.

Louis did not want to forget that moment, he did not want Harry to forget him after he left.  Louis pressed closer and hoped Harry could not feel the quiet rush of wetness against Louis’ cheek.

Chapter Text

The first room was yellow.  The walls, the curtains, the chaise lounges and chairs.  Bright like sunshine, like a new beginning.  Phoebe and Daisy were milling around the parlor, where they had begun exploring the home.  Their new butler was getting the luggage from the carriage, that they had borrowed from Harry, the basset hounds barking from outside.

Louis took a steadying breath.  They were finally there.  Their new home.

Phoebe and Daisy glanced back to him before moving into the next room, commenting on the decor.  Louis was surprised they were not running around the estate already, like they had been at Harry’s manor when they had first arrived.  It seemed they were not as excited to be living there as they had been with Briglane Manor.  Though Louis found himself feeling similarly.

The twins’ were resigned, and Louis knew they would eventually learn to like the home.  Even if there was no Charlotte, Niall, or Felicite there.  No Harry either, Louis’ lips turned down further at the reminder.

He shook his head, taking another breath before following after the girls.  Of course there was no Harry, that had been the point of them leaving.  So that they would no longer have to live off of Harry’s generosity.

Louis stepped into the dining room, the walls a tamer pastel.  There were far fewer chairs at the table than at Harry’s manor, but still an adequate enough number for them to have plenty of guests.

He needed to stop thinking about Harry.

It was not as if he had not seen him that very morning, after the previous night they had spent together… Harry pulling him close, to the sound of the manor coming to life, birds chirping outside the windows and the sound of the sheets restless above their roaming hands.  Their wandering mouths finding one another’s in the soft morning light as they breathed sighs into each gentle caress.

Louis had not wanted to leave, and by the way that Harry’s fingertips had stroked ever so gently down his side and over his back, it was apparent Harry had not wanted him to leave either.

Louis pressed his lips together, the ghost of the feeling there, just enough to leave him longing, still.  Ever since he had left Harry’s side.

Louis followed after the girls again, throughout the entire estate, up to their rooms where they bickered over which each should take.  None of them wanted the room their grandparent’s used to share, so they decided to make it a place for guests to stay in.  It was, after all, one of the largest and most opulent spaces in the house.

Louis decided on a smaller room at the corner of the house.  Blue walls welcoming.  It was quaint and different enough from his last room that he thought it best to take, so that perhaps the reminders of Harry could linger outside the door instead of joining him in his sleep.

He fell flat against the bed, frowning up at the ceiling, arms spread out to his sides.

It had felt like goodbye, that morning.  He had felt it, and it was an itch in the back of his mind that he could not get rid of.  A small continuous pricking against his heart as if it were trying to sew itself up without a thimble.  Useless, since he himself did not know how to sew, and painful, the needle continuously stabbing instead of mending.  Like it so often did to his mother’s thumb.  She had always hated sewing.  She had told him once that time would heal all wounds, before indicating her thumb and murmuring “even the smallest, most obnoxious ones.”

He had smiled up at her and nodded, and she had then tried to show him how to sew.  He had given up after the first poke.

And it felt like that again.  He just had to wait for Harry to drift out of his mind.  Eventually it would happen.  Harry would forget him and Louis would forget Harry.  The distance separating them felt like enough of an aid. He doubted Harry would visit even though he had promised the girls.

He had a wife to find after all…  A girl to introduce to his Aunt, to stop the incessant letters he received from her about his inheritance.  And that meant there was no room for Louis in Harry’s life.  He had his job at parliament, his townhome and estate, his molly house visits, and his money.  Those of which had seemed to satisfy him enough before Louis had come along.  Harry would not visit.

Louis had told him not to.  It must have been obvious in the way he allowed Harry to have him the night before, allowed Harry to have all of him so he would not need to come back for anything more.  Would not feel as if he had not had his fill.  So the chase would stop.

Louis continued staring up at the ceiling.  A small part of him considered that everything he was musing about Harry was nonsense.  That Harry felt more for him than that, even if he had not said as much…

Even though Louis had been the last to admit such embarrassing, needy things.  Telling Harry he had needed him.  That he always needed him.  His cheeks flamed red as he thought back, once more, to the night before.  He would have considered it one of the best nights of his life if he had not remembered it was happening because he was leaving the next day.

Louis was working himself up, he knew.  He had a penchant for doing that.  His father had always told him so, before Felicite took up the reigns and began telling him herself in her adolescent days.  She had always liked to copy their father.

He wondered if she had left London yet.  Or if they were to be there for a few days.  He had not received her first letter yet.  Considering it had only been a day and not even the fastest horse could have managed that feat, he was not yet worried.

He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.  He would invite Niall and Charlotte over, and the little bump that was his future niece or nephew, to come see the house.  That would bring a bit of cheer into the estate.  He smiled slightly, thinking he could put them in the guest bedroom and they would not know any which way.

He would also invite Liam and Sophia over.  He did want them to see his new home.  Even if it was farther than his previous estate had been to theirs.  Liam likely would not mind the carriage ride and would think it be refreshing and the passing countryside, delightful.

Louis smiled a little wider.  He had so many people he cared for so deeply.  It was alright if Harry did not want him.  He could live…

Or at least he hoped he could.

And a week did pass, with him still breathing, even if every day he thought about Harry.  He was like a nagging, persistent ache.  One that would not go away until enough time had passed, or Louis remedied the situation, even knowing he would be unable to.

He did know though, that something, or rather someone, was missing.  In every room of his house, in the empty fireplace, in the dust on the shelves, in the light fighting to stream through the cracks in the curtains.  He wanted Harry to visit him.  He wanted him so much.

But it had been six days.  Six days since he had left Briglane Manor and not a word.  Not like he had been expecting a letter from Harry, but that had not stopped him from wanting one.  It was hard to occupy himself with anything else but wondering what Harry was doing and why he was not visiting.

Louis was full of contradictions, and he needed to stop thinking about Harry.  Had to for the ache to eventually go away.  He glared down at the book in his hands.  A random novel he had gotten from Zayn before his departure with Felicite.  The pages bit into the palm of his hand, where he gripped it quite steadily, hoping it could increase his concentration.

His mind was beginning to hurt again.  At forcing it to stop doing what it clearly wanted to do.  Which was to think of a certain person that Louis refused to acquiesce to, since it had only been a few short seconds since he had last thought about him.  He put the book down, taking a deep, calming breath.  It did not do much to relieve the tightness beneath his sternum.

He sucked in another breath, letting his head clear and his hands search for the tea cup he had on the table, bringing it to his mouth to sip at.

The tea calmed him immensely and he considered picking his book back up after another sip.  Reading was always good for the mind.  Even if he and his mind were currently not on speaking terms.

Before his decision could be made, the sound of shoes sounded against the hardwood floor.

Their butler appeared at the entrance of the sitting room, promptly offering an explanation for his arrival.  “Sir, a Mister Harry Styles is at the door.”

Louis’ hand immediately twitched against the handle of the tea cup he had in his grip.  It took him entirely too long to place it down and respond.  “Please.  Let him in.”  He stood after another moment, fidgeting slightly as he cleared his throat and tried to calm the immediate pinkness of his cheeks.

His heart was furious all of a sudden, thumping steadily and heavy, making itself known to the entire room.  He could not take his eyes from the doorway, when Harry finally walked in.  The butler shut the door behind him. 

After a week of nothing, it was a sigh of fresh air, a kiss of warmth.  Louis’ breath stuttered momentarily as he looked over Harry’s figure, black riding boots, tight beige trousers, a vest cinching close to his waist and a jacket covering his shoulders and arms, a cravat circling his neck.  Louis looked towards his gaze, to see it still directed towards Louis’ body as well.  Lingering across each and every angle and curve.  Until their eyes met.  Finally.

Louis bit down on his lower lip, comforted by the familiarity of Harry’s gaze.  His voice was light, like a breeze, “Is there something amiss, Mr. Styles?  For you to stare at me like you do.”

Harry watched him from across the room.  Not averting his eyes as a small smirk began to tug at the corner of his lovely lips.  “Nothing of discourse, Mr. Tomlinson, I have told you before why I do so.”

Louis’ smile only grew, tone softening even more, “And why is that?”

Harry took a few steps closer, though he maintained a natural distance.  “If only I had the words to describe your allure…  If I had them, I would certainly never stop.”

“Allure?”  Louis tried to hold back a giggle from slipping out, unable to in the end.  His grin would have given it away regardless.

Harry’s voice was soft, low and teasing as he continued their charade, “Charm, beauty…  The color of your cheeks, the sight of your lips… mesmerizing.  The loveliest sight I have ever had the privilege to witness.”

“Do you not think it is a little improper to be saying such things?”  Louis’ blush would.  Though his grin was much too wide for him to be taken seriously.

Harry’s smile widened, as he tilted his head imploringly, watching Louis with amusement.  “I do not.”

Louis’ fingers itched with the need to reach out.  He did not wait before he was stepping forward and closing the gap between them.  Burning lips immediately finding Harry’s like a release, tongues melding together in the softest way.  Harry’s mouth was the sweetest nectar, tasting like honey and syrup that Louis ate up hungrily.  Harry’s hands gripped at his waist, pulling him impossibly close until their chests were flush and his hands could wander along the edge of Louis’ vest, slipping beneath the fabric, though Louis’ shirt stopped them from greeting his skin.

Harry kissed him like he had missed him, like Louis was all he needed.  He pulled back, hand moving up to grip at Louis’ jaw and stroke across his cheekbone.  “May I stay here tonight?”

Louis nodded, their lips brushing with the motion.  His heart warmed impossibly more, his stomach knotting and untwisting in mere moments.  “Should have written me, so I could have prepared…”  Louis blushed lightly, biting on his lower lip again at the excuse.

Harry caught on, nudging their noses together.  “Suppose I should just stay in your room, then.  So as to not cause any inconvenience.”

Louis pressed their mouths together once more, just slightly, murmuring, “You always cause me inconvenience.”

Harry pulled further back with his dazzling smile on full display, before dropping his hand from Louis’ face to ask lightly, “Where are Phoebe and Daisy?”  He glanced away belatedly as if to finally take in the room and his surroundings.

Louis watched him, quite honestly unable to stop now that Harry was there, back in his space, back where a small part of Louis knew he belonged.  “They went to town for a little while.  Meeting with Sophia and Charlotte…  They should be back for supper.”

Harry nodded, finding Louis again with his gaze.  As if reorienting himself with the only thing in the room that mattered.

The accusation fell from Louis’ mouth before he could stall it, “It took you awhile to visit…”  He had considered that Harry would not visit at all, but he still felt his cheeks flame up at what it sounded like.  He glanced away, he was not disappointed Harry had not stayed away.  Even if he had told himself he wanted him to.

Harry pursed his mouth, letting out a quiet, “I had a lot to consider.”

Louis mulled this over, frowning slightly, wanting to enquire further but unsure whether he should.  He did anyways, asking mildly, “Consider?”

“About my inheritance.”

“Ah…”  That had Louis frowning again, reminding him of another reason why he should not have been so happy to see Harry after so little time.  He momentarily deliberated telling Harry he had to leave, but knew it would never happen.  He detested the idea so greatly that his hand was involuntarily reaching out to grip onto the cuff of Harry’s sleeve.  To keep him there.

“Let us not talk about it and only speak of trivial matters.”  That had been one of the reasons, after all, that had driven Louis from Harry’s home.  The decision Harry had made to marry his sister.  He did not want to fight again, especially when he could have Harry once more, for the short period of time that he was there.  He would refuse to stay with Harry once he married someone else.  Refused to be a second choice.

Harry looked surprised by his statement, “Wait, but…”

Louis clamped his other hand to Harry’s mouth, to stop it from moving.  His lips were very, very soft.  “No, only trivial things.  I beg you.”  He waited for Harry to give a stilted nod, his brows staying furrowed, before Louis was removing his palm.

He gave Harry a tiny smile, and a quiet, “Thank you.”  Even though there was a small picking motion at his chest that Louis knew was because he was already jealous of whomever it would be that could have Harry for forever.

Harry leaned into his space again, as if he could read his mind.  “Shall I kiss you again?”

Louis blinked back at him, surprised by his question, but relieved nonetheless.  He stepped closer, hands finding the lapels of Harry’s jacket for something to hold onto, the fabric rough beneath his fingers, Harry’s mouth like silk under his own.  Tongue, soft and giving.

He pulled back, wanting to say something, wanting to hear Harry speak again. 

They were interrupted by the sound of approaching steps, the pounding and scurrying, chatter and laughing, the sound of puppy paws and yipping, indicating who it was before they arrived.  Louis and Harry both took hasty steps back.

“Mr. Styles!”  Phoebe exclaimed upon entering the room, smiling so bright it was if she was trying to beat the one on Louis’ face.  He quickly stepped back again as Daisy greeted Harry as well and they both did their customary bows.

“You came to visit!”  Daisy pointed out.  The dogs yipped, straggling up to Harry’s ankles to rub against his shoes.  Louis almost envied them.  Oddly enough.  He would not have minded being able to press up close to Harry, more than he already had.

He coughed slightly to clear his mind, his cheeks feeling sheepishly warm.  He was glad his sisters did not notice his oddness, excitedly telling Harry this and that about what he had missed in the last week.

Louis looked between the three momentarily before interrupting the twins monologue, brows quirked.  “I thought you were in town.”  He would still be kissing Harry if they were.

Daisy grinned, “We were.  We brought the puppies with us.”

“We wanted to show Sophia!”  Phoebe chimed in, bending down to start scratching behind the chubbier one’s ears.

Louis momentarily balked. “You brought the puppies into the stores with you?”  He glanced over to Harry, who was watching him with a small smile.  A jump of his pulse occurred, merely from that small action, even as he continued looking dumbfounded.

They giggled, and it was certainly better than them rolling their eyes at his assumption.  “No.  We had Sophia’s coachman watch them.”

Louis, himself, rolled his eyes.  “Oh, how very kind of you.”

Harry spoke again, drawing the twins’ attention.  Louis was pretty sure they were starting to like Harry just as much as they liked Niall. “I see they are being very well taken care of.” 

Phoebe’s eyes sparkled as she looked back at the dogs, “Yes, we love them very much.”

Daisy nodded along, “Thank you for letting us have them.”

“You are very welcome.”  Harry smiled back at them and all Louis could think of was how enamored he was by him and the way he always treated his sisters so kindly.  Harry really was as charming as they all said, and Louis got to witness it more often than most.

He smiled lightly as Harry continued, asking the girls how the puppies had been behaving and how their training had been coming along.  After which, he requested they join him to the next ballet that came into town.  Louis felt warm imagining them all going together.

The girls were very talkative with Harry there, taking up most of his attention when they all sat down for tea and later when they all sat down for supper.  The day seemed to be moving much quicker with Harry around, but Louis did not mind because he knew he would have Harry all to himself later that evening.

He watched fondly, trying to get his fill on seeing Harry again, taking him and his lovely smile in.  His heart beat steady and his insides felt like mush, soft and squishy.  He could not take his eyes away from Harry and his stomach flipped every time they would make eye contact.  He felt just like he had at the beginning, when he would catch Harry’s eyes on him, but instead of like before he no longer turned away or shied from the attention.  He loved it.

And as the night drew nearer to a close, Louis felt sparks of excitement flickering throughout his body.  Even brighter than what had been there earlier in the day.  He wanted to hold Harry again, wanted Harry’s big hands to touch all over him.

He quickly relinquished the cleanup of their dinner to the maids, choosing to call for an early bedtime for the lot of them.  The twins only complained a little that they were not staying up longer to chat, but Louis had enough of sharing.  He wanted to be alone with Harry.

The four of them began walking back to their rooms, when their supper had finally dragged on too long, with Phoebe and Daisy still talking Harry’s ear off.  They finally seemed to calm when they realized that Harry had not left yet and was still there.  “Are you staying in the guest room?”  Daisy asked, innocently enough, as Harry had just been about to pass the door.

Harry seemed to pause a few moments too long, before nodding his head with a decided, “Yes, of course.”  It seemed he had not forgotten his and Louis’ earlier agreement either.

Daisy grinned back, before yawning and mumbling, “Have a good night, Mr. Styles.  Sleep well, Lou.”

Phoebe followed suit, wishing Harry and Louis a good night before they were all four moving to their respective rooms.  Louis watched Harry stall in front of the guest bedroom door, after being told which one it was, before he was closing his own bedroom door behind him and immediately readying himself for bed, stripping off all of his clothing and moving beneath the sheets to await Harry’s arrival.

It was odd having Harry sneak into his room and not the other way around like it had been at Briglane Manor.  But it was exciting nonetheless.  Louis beamed up at Harry from the bed when he finally arrived, fiddling with the sheets that covered his lower region, though he wore nothing else.  He hoped his message was clear enough.  What he wanted.

Harry approached the bed, already beginning to tug at his cravat and pull it from his lovely, pale neck.  Louis watched the action, stomach fluttering lightly, reaching out already so he could close the distance between them as soon as he could.  Harry bent down once he was close enough, to connect their mouths in a soft, slow kiss.  Louis’ hands were already at his jaw to hold him steady so he could press even more kisses to his mouth.

Harry sat at the edge of his bed, pulling back when Louis made a quiet noise, reaching up to stroke over Louis’ cheekbone.  Louis’ eyelashes fluttered open when Harry let out a small breath.  His brows furrowed momentarily as he watched Louis, as if he could not quite comprehend how Louis could be the way he was.  His voice did not waver, though it pulled at Louis’ insides and took away his breath, with how helpless and vulnerable he sounded.  “Why do you tempt me?”

Louis tilted his head at the unexpected change in Harry’s demeanor, moving after another moment to kiss Harry’s palm at his cheek, dropping his hands from Harry’s jaw to hold his wrist instead and thumb along the pulse there.  His brows pinched together slightly, the question of what was wrong on the tip of his tongue.

Harry continued before he could, eyes gliding down to study his mouth, tone soft like a whisper.  “Why does my soul soar so at the sight of your lips?”

Louis’ own pulse jumped at his words, cheeks dusting the lightest shade of pink as Harry continued watching the small movements of his lips, as they parted on a breath.  Everything suddenly dawned upon him, what was happening.  The room felt hot, blurring at the edges of his vision, with the only clarity Harry’s low tremor and the way his eyes sought out Louis’ gaze.  Louis had told Harry he had not wanted to discuss it earlier, where they stood.  Had not wanted to hear about Harry’s decision to be with someone else, about his inheritance and his future.  But he no longer wanted to wait, did not think he could, yearned to hear Harry’s voice.  Yearned for the truth Harry was so keen on keeping from him.  Or rather, what Louis was so keen on keeping from himself.

Harry leaned in to kiss him once more, the lightest brush of lips.  Louis leaned into it, the quiet breath Harry exhaled like another kiss to his aching mouth.  “Louis…”

He sounded lost, unsure and unsteady.  Louis looked to him again, reaching forward to grip onto his vest, palms clammy and tight.  Waiting, patiently, for him to speak.  To say anything.  He watched his mouth as he spoke.  “You are everything I wish to have, Louis.  Everything my body and my heart, yearns for.”

Louis took in the words, hands gripping a bit harder.  His stomach dropped, so much so he felt faint for a moment too long.  The heat flooded his face and a warmth curled in every empty crevice between his bones and under his skin.  He waited for Harry to continue, knowing that was not all he wished to say.  Knowing it could not be all.

Harry leaned their foreheads together, letting out another breath. “I do not care about my inheritance, about pleasing my Aunt or being a gentleman.”  His eyes closed, the corners of his mouth twitching further into a frown. “I will not marry anyone... Gemma’s children can have my estate when I pass.”

Louis’ mind reeled with the weight of what was just dropped upon him, his chest tight and his eyes stinging all of a sudden.  Harry’s hand was like an anchor against his cheek, his breathing a constant reminder that he was there.  He was there and he would throw everything away for Louis.  Was going to throw everything away.  To be with him.

Louis, as stubborn and willful as he was, let out a small sob, pressing closer immediately as his lash line dotted with tears.  He aligned their mouths before he could make another sound, to pour all of his emotions into the way he kissed him.  Into the pressure of their lips and tongues against each other. 

He wrapped his arms around Harry’s broad shoulders and a different noise fell from his tongue, sharp and needy.  Harry’s hands found his waist, steadying him and simultaneously pulling him closer as he fell pliant beneath Louis’ affection.  Matching him in time and intent.  Mouth so perfect and hands so gentle, sweeping down Louis’ back against his bare skin, hot under his touch.

Louis broke away, cheeks damp as he whispered, breathless beneath Harry’s hold.  “I love you, I love you Harry…”

Harry pulled him closer, burying his head into the crook of Louis’ neck, circling his arms tight around his waist.  Louis’ hands found their way into Harry’s chocolate curls, pulling lightly and stroking through as he held him back just as tight. 

Harry’s teeth nipped against a sensitive spot on his neck, eliciting a surprised sound from Louis.  He shifted Louis down onto the bed, never separating, to hover above him and bite at his lip next, soothing the sting with a swipe of his tongue.

They kissed and kissed, Louis’ lips raw and tingly, nerve endings sharp and shivering under every pressure of Harry’s body above him.

Louis waited until Harry was pulling back for a breath, before asking, requesting, “Will you stay tomorrow?”

Harry’s hands squeezed at his waist, as he pulled back enough for Louis to see his eyes. The beautiful green, stilling Louis’ erratic heart.  He nodded, “And the day after that, and after that, and even after…”

Louis’ chest clenched again, in warmth, in love.  He reached up to run his fingertips along Harry’s jawbone, giving him his happiest, brightest smile.  It felt like he could hardly contain it on his face.

Harry returned his smile and leaned back down to softly brush their noses together.  He pressed closer, his arms wrapping tighter around Louis’ middle.  As if he had no intentions of ever letting Louis go.