10 April 1912
It is a cool, clear Wednesday afternoon in April when Harry Styles looks his own Fate in the eye.
That’s what it feels like, anyway, staring up at the towering behemoth of a ship in front of him. The Titanic, she’s called, and aptly so—dwarfing every other craft moored nearby. They say it’s the ship of dreams, and maybe it is, but for Harry, each step toward the looming vessel feels an awful lot like a funeral march.
Not the time, he scolds himself silently, shaking his head to chase away memories of pressed black suits and a pile of earth shoveled into a waiting grave. The movement helps the visions fade, but the melancholy lingers, clinging like cobwebs in the corners of his skull.
Harry is pulled from his thoughts by a small, white-gloved hand slipping into the crook of his arm.
“It’s not too late, you know,” a smooth, alto voice murmurs into his ear. “You don’t have to do this.”
He stops in his tracks to face his sister, barely registering the grunts of complaint from the people having to walk around them. “I’m not letting you go alone, Gemma. Mother wouldn’t have wanted me to.” His voice is soft and tender, but firm enough to let the young woman know that he’s made up his mind.
Her eyes, so much like their mother’s, search his briefly for any sign of uncertainty. Finding nothing but steely resolve cloaked in clear green, she releases his arm and offers a tight-lipped smile.
Harry returns the smile momentarily, but it falls from his face the moment his uncle’s voice cuts through the clamouring crowd. “Oi, you two! Get a move on!” Sucking in a resigned breath, the crisp, salty air settling heavy in his chest alongside his displeasure, Harry dutifully follows along.
Pausing halfway up the gangplank, Harry lets his eyes sweep over the bustling crowd on the dock below. This could be the last time he sees his mother country, and he wants to take it all in while he can. His gaze settles on the area where the Third Class passengers are waiting to board, uniformed officers examining them for lice and signs of disease.
One man in particular catches his eye among the masses, tufts of his walnut hair catching the breeze as he’s inspected for nits. Even from a distance, Harry can see the indignant twist of the stranger’s mouth as he’s checked over dispassionately. Harry can’t help but stare, something about the unknown man drawing his attention, as if the coarsely-dressed passenger is somehow lit from within, pride and dignity that far outstrip his social status shining through.
As if sensing the weight of Harry’s regard, the man lifts his chin, bright, curious eyes snapping to Harry’s own. Harry looks away quickly, cheeks aflame as if scorched by the fiery stranger, but not before learning that the other man’s eyes are so blue they seem to reflect the hazy Southampton sky, a soothing balm compared to his otherwise blazing countenance.
“H, come on,” Gemma urges, already stepping into the doorway leading inside the ship—her maid, Nellie, close behind. Looking out over the ragtag crowd one more time, Harry searches for the blue-eyed man, but he’s already moved on, blending back into the restless throng of bodies waiting to board.
When Harry catches up to Gemma, just inside the door leading into the belly of the ship, their uncle is speaking to a uniformed man. “Charles, Gemma, and Harry Styles,” his uncle says to the man, who jots it down in a book.
“Thank you, Mr Styles, and welcome aboard the Titanic,” the officer says, motioning over a group of waiting stewards. “Someone will show you to your rooms, and I hope you have a pleasant voyage.” With a tip of his cap, the man turns to the next party coming aboard.
The stewards gather up all of the Styles’ belongings, relieving the porters who had followed the trio up from the dock. Harry notices Charles slip a less than gracious tip into the hands of the retreating porters, always loathe to part with his coin. Disgusted, Harry resolves to make sure the stewards are rewarded more fairly for their services.
The interior of the gargantuan passenger liner is far more luxurious than Harry ever imagined, giving him the impression of standing in a hotel rather than on a ship. The walls are paneled in rich, dark oak—every corridor well lit and open. Bags in hand, two of the stewards make their way through an open door into the ship proper, while another leads Harry, Gemma, and their uncle to visit the Purser. There is a bank of elevators up ahead, and to Harry’s right is a vast, airy room, clusters of tables and chairs scattered between carved white columns.
Their guide, a young man with ginger hair, must have followed Harry’s gaze. “Reception Room, sir,” he explains, nodding toward the public space. “The Dining Saloon is just through there.” He points to a set of doors on the opposite wall.
Harry nods, craning his neck for a better look into the room. “And the stairs?” he asks, indicating the large, curving staircase that seems to be the focal point of the room.
The steward smiles, eyes lighting up with a knowing gleam. “Ah, that’s the Grand Staircase, Mr Styles. I’d bet my hat you’ve never seen anything like it on any other ship.” He hefts the bag in his hand. “For now, if you don’t mind, we’ll take the lift, but I strongly encourage you to have a walk later and see for yourself.”
“Yes, I certainly will,” Harry murmurs, scanning the room one more time before ducking into the lift behind his elder sister.
They step out one floor higher, on C Deck. It looks much the same as the one below, though this one has linoleum floors instead of the red carpeting found in the Reception Room, and a long, white-paneled hallway stretches out in front of them. Once Charles deposits his valuables with the Purser, another steward, this one tall and brunet, gestures down the hallway. “Right this way, if you please,” he says pleasantly.
They stop in front of a door halfway down, the tall steward unlocking it and swinging it open. “This will be your suite, ma’am,” he says, nodding to Gemma. She slips inside curiously, silently taking in the damask-patterned walls and finely carved furnishings. A pair of stewardesses already wait inside, ready to unpack Gemma’s things and get her settled in. Nellie’s large brown eyes are wide as saucers as she pulls out a chair and helps Gemma into it before helping the stewardesses see to the many articles of clothing Gemma brought aboard.
“I’ll come check on you a little later,” Harry promises, before following the stewards to the room next door.
The second room is just as lavish as the first, though where Gemma’s is draped in golds and greens, this one has oak walls outfitted with red silk panels. The bed and table are both carved from a dark wood, and the chaise lounge in the corner of the room is upholstered in the same red fabric as the walls. It’s rich and warm and makes Harry want to run screaming in the opposite direction.
“This is your room, Mr Styles,” the brunet steward says to Harry, stepping aside to let Harry enter the room. Harry’s face is a polite mask, even if his insides are churning. He feels seasick, and they’ve yet to set sail.
“Thank you,” Harry says quietly, tugging off a tan glove so he can feel the ornate details on the headboard with his bare hand.
The ginger-haired steward who had told Harry about the staircase is the one who stays behind to unpack his things, while the other steward escorts Charles to his room next door. Harry watches the man carefully put away his clothing and effects, slightly uncomfortable at being waited on. They’d had servants at home, sure; much like Nellie, however, they felt more like friends than staff, and more often than not Harry sought out their company when he felt too lonely in the Styles manor.
Harry hopes they’ll fare well, left alone in his father’s employ. He would have rather brought them all with him, but his ticket alone was more than he could manage on his own, and he doubts his father would have been willing to pay for another—or to part with any of their household staff. He can practically hear Desmond’s voice in his head: “Good help is hard to find, son, and harder to keep.”
“Sir? I’ve finished,” the steward says, cutting through Harry’s thoughts. Sure enough, his bags are emptied and the book Harry has been reading is placed neatly on the table next to the chaise.
“Oh,” Harry says, looking from the book back to where the steward is waiting near the door. “Thank you… I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
The steward smiles crookedly, puffing out his chest. “Anthony Wheeler, sir, at your service.”
Harry chuckles to himself. This lad can’t be much younger than him, yet he seems so much lighter, freer somehow. “Thank you, Mr Wheeler,” he says, slipping the steward a note, which the man pockets gratefully.
“Anytime, sir,” Wheeler says, turning to leave but stopping just before he exits the room. “Oh, that door there can be opened into Miss Styles’ room, and that one into Mr Styles’.” He points to a door on either side of the room. “Just in case you wanted a little more space.”
Making a mental note to push a chair in front of the one leading to his uncle’s room, Harry nods in acknowledgement as Wheeler takes his leave.
He’s no sooner settled into one of the chairs around the table to remove his shoes than there’s a knock at the door connecting his room to his uncle’s. “Harry, a word?” Charles calls, voice muffled by the heavy wood.
Rolling his eyes heavenward, Harry climbs to his feet and opens the door. Charles steps in without waiting to be invited, looking around the room as if he’s half expected Harry to have messed it up already. “Well? What do you think?” Charles asks, his watery blue eyes staring unblinkingly up at Harry. At twenty-two, Harry has a fair bit of height on his uncle, and he takes great pleasure in looking down his nose at the older man.
“It’s a bit much, if I’m honest,” Harry drawls, delighting in the way Charles’ face twists in outrage. He’d clearly expected Harry to be more impressed (which he is, but he’ll be damned if he lets Charles know that). “I mean, it’s just a boat.”
Charles sputters at that. “Just a boat? Harry, the Titanic is the greatest ship ever built!” He shakes his head in sheer disbelief. “I know you have little regard for our way of life, but I thought even you could find something enjoyable about this trip.” He opens the door to his own room, looking over his shoulder at Harry before he goes. “Though you’re upset with your father and me, I do hope you’ll try to enjoy yourself at least a little bit, for Gemma’s sake.” He closes the door behind him, but not before Harry hears him mutter, “Just a boat... Honestly.”
Glaring at the door, Harry kicks off his shoes and hurls himself onto the bed. It’s very soft, he must admit, even as he scowls into the pillow. Rolling over onto his back to stare up at the coffered ceiling, he finds his uncle’s words echoing in his ears, and each repetition deepens the furrow between Harry’s brows. For Gemma’s sake. As if Charles has ever done anything for anyone that didn’t serve him in some way, let alone Gemma. The sole reason Harry is even on this trip is to look out for his sister, something the elder men in their family have seemingly forgotten how to do.
Letting his eyes drift closed, Harry wonders how his life changed so much so abruptly. His mother’s been dead less than half a year, and now he’s on a boat—sorry, ship—to America, all because his father has decided Gemma is old enough to be married, preferably to one of his business partners—something their mother would never have allowed. Now that she’s gone, however, there’s no one to intervene, and Harry sure as hell isn’t about to allow his sister to be sent to live in an unfamiliar land by herself. (And no, he doesn’t consider living in close proximity to their uncle to be to her advantage).
So here he is, on the maiden voyage of a magnificent ship, and he doesn’t even have the energy to go up on deck to watch her set sail. He doesn’t want to see the people waving farewell to those on shore, all the while knowing there’s no one left to miss him. God knows his father won’t.
With heavy eyelids and a heavier heart, Harry allows himself to slip into unconsciousness, perfectly content to sleep the whole damn journey away.
Louis slings his rucksack into the bunk with a grunt, still a little amazed that all his worldly possessions are so easily packed into one measly bag. The room he’s in is small—just four berths and a little sink—but it’s clean and tidy and has a door, a luxury, he’s been told, compared to Third Class passage on most other ships. Hell, sharing a room with only three other people will be enough of a luxury, given that Louis is used to bunking with his four little sisters (well, two on the nights the little ones have nightmares and creep off to their mother’s bed).
The other three bunks are still empty and pristine, their inhabitants not having arrived quite yet. Relishing actually being alone for a little while, Louis pulls his clothing out of his bag and starts stuffing things into the drawer of the bunk he’s chosen, whistling to himself as he unpacks. As far as he’s concerned, this trip is off to a famous start.
It’s nearing noon when Louis finally meets his first bunk mate, a man named Stanley Lucas who also hails from South Yorkshire, like himself, which is a lovely coincidence. He’s energetic and talkative, with a round face and dark brown hair. Louis likes him immediately and guesses they would have been close mates, had they met sooner and lived lives that allowed for socialising.
“So, Tomlinson, what’s got you climbing into this bloody great tub, then?” Lucas asks, leaning jauntily against the railing of the poop deck. They’ve both finished unpacking for the most part (though the chore took considerably longer than it might have done without all their friendly banter), and decided to make their way above to watch England fade into the horizon. Louis swallows hard, his eyes never leaving the land that is all he’s known in his twenty-four years of life.
Regarding Stan’s casually-worded question, it’s the thought of four little girls with hopeful eyes and hungry bellies, his exhausted mother working tirelessly to support them. It’s memories of feigning fullness so the younger ones could have another portion at supper, even when he was near starved himself. It’s too few blankets to go around and too many holes to patch in their clothing—these are the reasons Louis is off to a new continent, leaving life as he knows it behind him, growing smaller and smaller as the Titanic cuts through the calm sea.
“My family,” he answers simply, finally ripping his eyes away to meet Lucas’. “I want to be able to help my family.”
Stan smiles kindly, seeming to sense that that’s all Louis has to offer on the topic, before turning his gaze back to the shoreline himself. “I’m going to live with my cousins,” he explains. “They’ve a farm in Illinois and could use another set of hands come summer.”
Louis nods his head, hoping not to come off as rude but too emotionally drained to speak. He lets himself sag against the railing, watching the water foam white around the ship’s stern, the wake of the great ocean liner sending ripples out farther than either man can see. Louis blows a kiss toward home, not even caring if Stan notices, and lets the waves carry his love back to his mother and sisters.
The deck is beginning to fill with other passengers: children tugging their mothers’ hands so they can peer through the railings; men introducing themselves and shaking hands, inviting each other to reconvene in the Third Class smoking room. The chatter pulls Louis from his thoughts, bringing him back to the present. He straightens his back and claps a hand on Stan’s shoulder, replacing the sad twist of his lips with a jovial grin. “Well, Lucas, old chap, what do you say we see what trouble we can get into before tea?”
Stan grins in return, pushing himself off the rails and turning his back on England once and for all. “I’d say you’re on to something, Tomlinson. Lead the way.”
After a rather short-lived attempt at sneaking into the Third Class pantries, followed by a tea of cold meats and cheeses, Louis finds himself alone yet again, Lucas—sociable bloke that he seems to be—having joined some other passengers for a card game in the Smoking Room. The day is young, though, and there’s still mischief to be had. After all, he’s barely seen more of the ship than his part of F Deck and the stairwell, and that just won’t do at all.
So he goes exploring. He pokes his head into a few rooms and says hello to other passengers, tries to open every linen closet he comes across, and jiggles the handles of a couple interesting-looking (and, sadly, locked) doors. He finds a staircase, taking it as high as it goes, all the way up to the poop deck, only to be met with a locked gate bearing a sign—Third Class Passengers Not Permitted Forward of This. The gate isn’t very tall, only waist-high, but the stern-looking steward standing on the other side makes Louis think twice about trying to scale it. With a huff and a longing glance over the metal bars, Louis turns and plods back down the stairs. He never figured sneaking into areas he wasn’t meant to be in would be that easy, as confirmed by the failed pantry adventure, but it would have been nice, that’s all.
He makes his way up to E Deck, following the same hallway that had led him and Stan to the Dining Saloon. There’s nothing terribly thrilling along the expanse of corridor, just pristine white paneling and more doors he’s not allowed through. Childishly, Louis pulls a face at one such door, only to leap back in surprise as it swings open. A man steps through, keeping his face stoic despite what a ridiculous picture Louis must present, flattened against the opposite wall and clutching his breast.
“Afternoon, sir. Anything I can help you find?” the man asks, smiling politely under his moustache.
Composing himself, Louis returns the smile, stepping back to the middle of the hallway. “No, thanks, just taking a stroll,” he says breezily, fidgeting with the rolled-up cuff of his white shirt, the colour of the garment practically beige next to the pure white of the steward’s uniform.
The employee nods politely and bids Louis a good day, before strolling off down the corridor, letting the door swing closed behind him.
Well, almost closed. The door is heavy, and Louis’ foot throbs a bit from where he’s wedged it in the crack between the door and the frame, but it works a treat.
Two sounds simultaneously rouse Harry from his slumber: One is a tapping at the door connecting his stateroom to Gemma’s, and the other is the raucous trumpeting of a bugle from somewhere down the corridor. He hadn’t even realised he’d fallen asleep, yet apparently his sister and “The Roast Beef of Old England” have decided he shouldn’t rest any longer.
“Coming!” he calls sleepily, rolling out of bed. He’s still in his clothes from boarding, the bed made up as if no one has slept in it at all. A glimpse in the mirror over his room’s dressing table shows a handsome but tired looking man, red lines streaking his left cheek from the pillow, bags under his eyes from many a sleepless night prior to leaving. He worries, is the thing. Ever since their mother passed, he’s taken it upon himself to make life as easy for his sister as possible, even if it means making things harder for himself. Although… Being twenty-two years old and spoken of in code as a “confirmed bachelor” by his father’s acquaintances means he’s already made things plenty difficult.
Taking a deep breath, Harry forces his negative musings down and puts on a brave face for his sister. He opens the door with a drowsy smile. “Hello, Gems. Dinner time already?”
Gemma is a vision in pale pink and cream, her hair twisted elegantly out of her face and fashioned with their mother’s favourite hair comb. There’s a wry tilt to her mouth, but like Harry’s own smile, it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“I cannot believe you’re going to spend the whole voyage locked in your room,” Gemma teases. “Don’t you know how many eligible young ladies are on board?” The last part is said in a terrible imitation of their uncle’s gruff voice.
Harry chuckles. “Oh, yes, my dear sister, but how will they feel when they discover I’m quite taken with their brothers instead?”
The siblings both laugh, the thickness in the air dissipating. Gemma has long been aware of where her brother’s affections lie, and has never shown him any less love for it. He’s so grateful to have someone to speak freely to. She had held his hand when he tearfully told his mother why he never showed interest in any of the women she introduced him to, and comforted him when his father expressed his disgust at Harry’s inclinations.
It’s always been the two of them together, and Harry will be damned if that’s going to change anytime soon. It’s why, the moment their father announced his intentions for Gemma to travel to America to find a husband, Harry insisted that he would go along with her. His father hardly put up a fuss; in his eyes, he was free of both an unmarried daughter and a disgrace of a son. The price of Harry’s ticket was worth escaping the rumours that his continued bachelorhood was certain to foster.
Their laughter subsiding, Harry looks down at his now-rumpled suit mournfully. “Give me a moment to make myself presentable, and I’ll escort you to dinner,” he tells Gemma, grateful that the steward had unpacked to save him the trouble of searching through his luggage.
Feigning impatience, Gemma crosses her arms in a flurry of chiffon, a pair of gloves clutched in one hand. “If you must. You’re lucky you’re the only man on this ship I care to have escort me.” She raises her chin proudly. “I could have anyone, you know.”
Harry nods solemnly. “Yes, I know.” He ducks forward to kiss her on the cheek. “And they’d be lucky to have you.”
She flushes, clearly not expecting the praise, and smacks him with the gloves she has yet to put on. “Stop flirting and get dressed, Mr Styles. Your sister is famished,” she admonishes, though he can tell she’s rather pleased with his words.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replies, pulling the door shut and turning to his wardrobe. He may never fit in as seamlessly with the other passengers as his uncle would like, but he can damn sure dress the part.
Beyond the door he had propped open with his foot, Louis finds himself faced with a stairway leading downwards and little else. “Might as well,” he murmurs under his breath before setting off down the stairs.
At the bottom, he’s met with another two doors: one to his left, the other straight ahead. It’s the latter that he approaches, a plate on the wall designating it as the cabin for Third Class Stewards. He rests his hand on the handle, considering what might happen if he enters. Surely ‘accidentally’ stumbling into the crew’s quarters is a common mistake, right?
Gathering his courage, Louis pushes at the door. It’s not locked, and swings open without a sound.
The room beyond looks quite similar to his own in Third Class, albeit on a larger scale. Bunks line the walls, and he’s relieved to find them all empty. They have been used recently, however, as evidenced by the disturbed bed linens and stray belongings left on a few of the beds. One bunk even has a uniform lying on it, folded neatly and waiting to be worn.
Louis can’t help but brush his fingers over the starched white fabric, admiring the shiny brass buttons, each embossed with the White Star Line’s logo. It looks to be about his size, maybe a touch larger. He shouldn’t, he really should not.
But since when has that ever stopped him?
Peering around to ensure the room is empty, Louis hastily unbuttons his shirt and slips the uniform inside. The bulge it produces is noticeable, but hopefully anyone he encounters between here and his berth will be too polite to stare at his misshapen midsection. Heart pounding, each thud forcing more adrenaline through his veins, Louis steals back up the stairs and—checking that the coast is clear—back into the relative safety of the corridor.
By the time Louis reaches his room, he’s sweating and breathless. Luckily most of the passengers are at the first seating of supper, and the rest are in the common areas keeping busy. With the door shut against any prying eyes, Louis takes off his shirt and carefully extracts his bounty.
The jacket is nicer than anything Louis owns, fabric crisp and bright. The double row of buttons have a gold finish, and there isn’t a trace of tarnish in the ridges of the design. He thinks of the gated stairwell, of the beautiful ragtime music he could hear drifting down from the higher decks, and all the places this uniform might take him: The biggest ship in the world just got a lot bigger to Louis Tomlinson.
He wastes no time dressing, fingers seeming to fly over the brass buttons as he fastens them. One is loose, and droops a bit lower than the rest, but it’s hardly noticeable. The jacket is big on him, as he expected, but not enough to give him away. The trousers are a different story, the backside stretched taut over the swell of his bum, but the seam holds. As a final touch, Louis wets his hands at the sink between the bunks and slicks back his hair, copying the way he had seen some of the crew wear theirs. It’ll dry, of course, but hopefully not before he has a chance to take a look around.
Act like you’re meant to be here, Louis tells himself as he climbs the same staircase he was denied access to before. A different steward is at the gate, looking rather bored. His eyes light up when he sees Louis. “Are you my replacement, then?” he asks.
Louis blinks, barely able to believe the string of good luck he’s had today. “That’s me,” he says cheerfully, leaning against the gate in what he hopes is a casual pose. There are a few passengers milling about the poop deck, but no one he recognises. No one seems to recognise him either.
The other steward regards him for a moment, seemingly trying to place Louis, but doesn’t linger on him for long. “She’s all yours.” Without a backward glance, the steward disappears down the stairs.
Pausing only long enough to listen for approaching footsteps, Louis lets himself through the gate. He feels guilty for a moment, hoping whoever was actually meant to take watch doesn’t get in too much trouble, but the thrill of what he’s about to do doesn’t allow him to worry for long.
On the other side of the gate is a covered promenade, large square windows giving a panoramic view of the ocean. The sky is rosy as the sun sinks toward the water, the Cherbourg coast growing closer all the while. Louis’ never been to France before, and this is probably the closest he’ll ever come. A lighthouse guards the coast like a sentry, the combined force of the wind and the Titanic’s wake sending waves crashing against the base.
Tearing his eyes away from the approaching shoreline, Louis turns to examine the other side of the promenade. It too is lined with windows, these peering into what seems to be a beautiful library, more books than Louis’ ever seen in his life contained in but one of the shelves. Elegantly dressed men and women lounge on sofas and in armchairs, some reading, others engaged in lively discussion. He doesn’t linger long, sure it wouldn’t do to be caught staring in like some sort of Peeping Tom. He’s supposed to be a steward, after all; surely he would have seen the library at some point in time.
Up ahead, a stewardess is pushing through a door. The key in her hand seems to indicate it had been locked, and that’s all the inspiration Louis needs to make haste. He crosses to the door in a few broad strides, catching it under the guise of holding it open for the stewardess.
“Thanks,” she says in a Welsh accent, eyeing Louis as she steps through. “Haven’t seen you around before, have I?”
The question catches Louis off guard, but he quickly recovers. “Oh, I’ve been ill, you see,” he lies smoothly, gracing her with a toothy smile. “Kept to my bunk for a bit there.”
She looks unsure, but seems to accept his bluff. He looks the part, after all, and with a polite farewell she hurries off down the promenade and leaves Louis to slip through the door.
He’s in a hallway, staterooms lining either side of the passageway. The walls are white and paneled, with sconces illuminating the elegant moulding. Beneath his feet is gleaming white linoleum, reflecting the light overhead, and he knows, just knows, that he’s found his way to First Class. Once he turns a corner, he confirms it.
If the glimpse of the library had seemed exquisite, it is nothing compared to the absolute splendour surrounding him now.
In front of Louis is a sweeping staircase, two sets of steps curving together at a landing before diverging to continue to the deck above. The wood is rich and warm, oak perhaps, and accented with ornate ironwork. Hints of bronze contrast with the iron, and a grand painting hangs over the landing like a crown. Louis had never thought things like staircases could be beautiful before, and even that word fails to adequately describe the magnificence of the structure before him.
Equally magnificent are the men and women traversing the stairs, dressed handsomely in silks and tails as they make their way back to their rooms after dinner. Louis knows he has to move, that he’s drawing more than a few curious looks with his gaping, so with great reluctance he continues past the stairs and down the hallway.
Of course, approaching from the other end of the corridor is a group of stewards in blue jackets.
The First Class uniform must be different, Louis realises with a sinking feeling, knowing it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught. They haven’t spotted him yet, however, and it’s a rash decision when Louis decides to try the door of the closest stateroom. Finding it unlocked and praying its occupants are at dinner, he ducks inside and presses his back against the door, safely closed once more.
“It’s generally considered polite to knock, I believe,” a woman’s voice says to his right, giving Louis a nasty scare and producing an undignified squawk.
The woman in question is seated at a writing desk, regarding him with a curious expression. She stands, the fabric of her gown catching the light. It’s rosy in colour, with gold trim, a perfect complement to the green and gold palette of her stateroom. Her hair is dark and carefully styled, her eyes wide but not unfriendly. She seems amused, almost, at his intrusion.
Louis remembers that he just barged into this woman’s quarters unannounced, and he should probably get around to explaining himself.
“My deepest apologies, miss,” he says, giving a polite bow. “I was hoping to see to your room while you were dining, but clearly I’ve made an error. I hope you’ll forgive my blunder.”
She graces him with the barest hint of a smile, but it’s enough to allow his anxiety to ebb. “I suppose, just please do knock next time. I was about to dress for bed,” she tells him, her low voice as elegant as her surroundings.
The thought of accidentally bursting in on a woman in a state of undress has a warm blush rising in Louis’ cheeks, and it does not go unnoticed by the lady. She laughs into her hand. “Regardless, my room is fine for the evening.” She pauses as if thinking, tilting her head as she looks at Louis. “However, my brother’s room is right next door. Perhaps he needs tending to?”
It doesn’t seem to concern her that his uniform differs from that of the other First Class stewards, or that Louis didn’t come bearing any linens or supplies. However, far be it from him to question his good fortune. “Yes, miss, right away.” He turns to make a hasty exit, but she calls out to him before he can even open the door.
“You can go through here, if you’d like,” she suggests, pointing to a door next to the writing desk. It must lead directly into the brother’s room. Louis lets his shoulders sag almost imperceptibly—he’d planned on leaving her room and making a swift getaway, never actually checking in with her brother. Alas, it seems he has no choice. He can only hope the brother is as easily deceived as the sister.
“Thank you, miss. Good night.” Louis bows again and crosses to the aforementioned door. He casts one last look back at the woman, smiling almost smugly as Louis steps out of her room and into the one next door. Curious, he thinks, pulling the door shut behind him and turning to see what he’s gotten himself into.
The room is… completely empty. Where the sister’s was vibrant, this room is fitted with dark wood and colours. It feels rich, and impressive, and Louis should get out of here before the brother comes back.
But he’s come all this way, and who knows if he’ll be able to sneak back up again, so Louis allows himself a few moments to look around.
The thing that draws his attention is the bed. It’s large and looks untouched, piled high with pillows. The mattress alone looks twice as thick as his own in Third Class, and he longs to feel how soft it is. Just for a minute, that’s all, he reasons, stepping to the bed.
The mattress under his fingertips is even softer than he imagined. He must know what it’s like to lie in such a bed. Careful not to rumple the linens, Louis lays himself out, almost groaning at the way he sinks into the softness. It’s like he’s lying in a cloud, and Louis would gladly spend the rest of the voyage right here in this bed. A pleased sigh deflates his lungs as his eyelids flutter closed, allowing himself just a bit longer to pretend before he takes his leave.
The voice is loud in the otherwise quiet room, sending Louis flying out of the bed and backing up against the wall. He hadn’t even heard the door open, but sure enough, a man is now standing inside the threshold, regarding him curiously. He’s undoubtedly the woman’s brother, with similar facial features; only his eyes are lighter, green perhaps. His dark hair is long and curls around his handsome face, full lips pressed together as he waits for Louis to explain himself.
“I, erm,” Louis starts, rushing to think of something, anything he can say to excuse his actions. The last thing he needs is for his behaviour to be reported. They would very quickly learn that Louis isn’t a steward at all and has no business being in a first class stateroom. “I was just testing the softness of the bed,” he explains, trying to hide the tremor in his voice. “We’ve had some complaints of lumps, you see.”
It’s a ridiculous lie, and Louis knows he’s done for. So it comes as a complete shock when, instead of getting angry, the room’s rightful occupant opens his mouth wide—and laughs.
As expected, dining with his uncle is a rather unpleasant affair. The elder Styles keeps trying desperately to convince Harry to make connections, encouraging Harry to think of his father’s reputation. Instead, Harry spends the entire meal talking to Gemma, commenting on the various dishes placed in front of them and elbowing each other to giggle at a few of the more ostentatiously dressed passengers. Their antics, while earning them disapproving glares from their uncle, have the young couple seated next to them giggling into their napkins. It’s all well and good until Harry accidentally laughs mid-drink of champagne, sending him into a fit of coughing that has several well-mannered diners nearby scoffing at him.
“Enough, both of you,” Charles hisses from Harry’s left, throwing his napkin down on the table. “I did not agree to accompany you on this trip only to have you behave like children.” He narrows his eyes at Harry. “You especially need to be concerned with what others think of you. Or do you not care what whispers accompany your name, your father’s name, because of your actions?”
Red-faced and suddenly angry, Harry pushes away his half-eaten Waldorf pudding, and refuses to look up from the tablecloth for the remainder of dinner. Maybe it’s childish, but he’s not about to have this fight in front of so many people. Gemma rests a reassuring hand on his, encouraging him to unclench his fist, but doesn’t pester him to rejoin the conversation. She knows, better than anybody, how little Harry cares about sullying his father’s name, and how much he hates attention being called to his own. It’s as if the Sin of the Greeks has left a mark on his face, and everyone who looks upon him can pass judgment without bothering to get to know him as a person.
“Styles?” A quiet American accent cuts through Harry’s brooding. It’s the young man of the couple dining with them, leaning across the table as the final dishes are cleared away. “Would you care to join me for a brandy in the Smoking Room?”
Harry smiles warmly at the man, Daniel Marvin, eighteen years old and returning from a honeymoon with his bride. “I’d like that, thank you.” He stands, helping Gemma to her feet. “Want me to stop by your room before I turn in for the night?”
“No, I’m just going to read for a bit and then go to bed.” She smiles gratefully at Daniel. “Do try to keep my dear brother out of trouble, and whatever you do, don’t play cards with him.”
Daniel chuckles, his light eyebrows raised in question. “Oh? He’s that good, is he?”
Both Styles siblings laugh at that. “No, he’s awful. He can’t bluff to save his life,” Gemma explains, grinning fondly at her brother. “I won’t allow him to suffer such embarrassment, not if I can help it.”
“That’s enough, now,” Harry interjects with a frown, though there’s no real umbrage in his tone. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Marvin,” he says playfully as he takes Gemma’s arm, heading toward the door. “Let’s get that brandy, then we’ll see about the cards.”
It manages to be a rather pleasant end to the uncomfortable evening. Daniel is good company and even better at cards, though he graciously doesn’t boast when he bests Harry hand after hand. The brandy is excellent, and even knowing that his uncle is somewhere in the same room with one businessman or another can’t dampen his spirits.
By the time Harry bids Daniel a good evening and wanders back down to C Deck, any lingering irritation from dinner has faded. Instead he strolls along merrily, humming to the strains of music he can hear floating up the Grand Staircase from the Reception Room below. He promises himself that he’ll make time tomorrow to sit and properly listen to the band, always one to appreciate skilled musicians. Harry dabbled in piano himself, often sitting in on Gemma’s lessons (and frankly, taking to the instrument far better than she ever did). He’d even dreamt of playing professionally, once, though his father never would have allowed it. Who knows, maybe America will allow him to follow his dreams without his father watching over his every move. Doubtful, seeing as how his uncle is all too happy to fill that particular role.
He reaches the door to his stateroom just after 8:30. The Titanic is on her way to Queenstown by now, he reckons, the last stop before New York. It’s hard to believe that in a matter of days, he’ll be all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s exhilarating and daunting all at once, and as he pushes open the door he can’t help but try to imagine what life has in store for him.
What he isn’t expecting, however, is to find a strange man in his bed.
“Ahem,” he clears his throat softly, hoping to announce his presence without startling the man too much.
The intruder springs from the bed in an instant, pressing himself against the paneling and staring at Harry with wide, frightened eyes. His chest rises and falls rapidly beneath the fabric of his uniform. He appears to be a crew member of some sort, though he’s dressed differently than Wheeler and the other stewards Harry has seen thus far.
“I, erm, I was just testing the softness of the bed,” the man says slowly, nervously. “We’ve had some complaints of lumps, you see.”
And, well, that might be the most ridiculous thing Harry’s heard in awhile. On the one hand, it’s most likely a lie, the steward embarrassed at having been caught literally lying down on the job. On the other, he wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of his fellow passengers actually had complained that the beds weren’t up to snuff, and his uncle would be at the top of the list.
So he laughs. Loud, brash, full-bodied laughter, the brandy still warming him from tip to toe. The steward looks quite taken aback, but soon relaxes and joins in with a hesitant chuckle of his own.
“Don’t worry, I won’t turn you in,” Harry says, once he’s recovered from his laughter. “I imagine you’ve had a long day, waiting hand and foot on people.”
The man smiles gratefully, eyes crinkling at the corners. He looks familiar, but Harry hasn’t the slightest idea from where he might know him. “Thank you, sir,” he says earnestly, finally stepping away from the wall.
He’s rather attractive, Harry decides, taking a good look at the steward. His toffee-coloured hair is falling over his forehead, clearly having been slicked back earlier in the day. He’s thin, his cheekbones prominent under the tanned skin of his face, and the jacket he’s wearing seems a touch too big for him. He’s shorter than Harry, but holds himself proudly, like he’s used to standing his ground.
Truth be told, he’s the most interesting person Harry’s met on this ship.
“I’m Harry Styles,” Harry says, taking a step closer to his ‘guest’ and extending a hand.
Looking hesitant, the steward takes the proffered hand and clasps it briefly before pulling away. “Tomlinson, sir,” he says, and leaves it at that.
Sensing the man’s discomfort and satisfied at having a name to go on should he care to meet him again, Harry inclines his head and steps out of the way. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Tomlinson,” he says sincerely.
Tomlinson blushes but doesn’t reply, merely gives an awkward bow and hurries to the door. Harry can’t help but notice the way the trousers of his uniform hug Tomlinson’s backside, Harry’s mind conjuring up images that would probably give his uncle a heart attack.
The man is nearly out the door when, emboldened by the brandy, Harry stops him. “Oh, and Tomlinson,” he says, waiting for the steward to meet his gaze before continuing, “you’re welcome to test the softness of my bed any time you please.”
Tomlinson doesn’t reply, just studies Harry’s face with bright blue eyes before slipping out into the corridor.
Harry can’t stop thinking of his visitor as he dresses for bed, and when he finally climbs beneath the covers he fancies he can still feel the warmth left there from Tomlinson’s body. He falls asleep feeling less lonely than he has in quite some time.
Safely back on F Deck, Louis presses himself into an alcove, catching his breath from his flight from First Class. The uniform had made the return trip uneventful, but the prospect of being caught at any moment has Louis’ heart fluttering wildly against his ribs like a bird desperate to escape its cage.
Still, it had been worth the risk, every second of it. Even though he’s back where he belongs, Louis feels as if he carries some of the elegance with him, soaked into his skin like sun does in summertime. The resulting glow puts a bounce in Louis’ step once he’s calmed himself enough to return to his room. He wonders what Stan has been doing to keep himself entertained, and if any more of the bunks in their room have found occupants.
He pauses just outside his door, glancing down at his garb. Though Stan seems like the sort of lad up for a bit of deception in the name of fun, he isn’t entirely sure how his new friend will react to Louis’ tale of theft and trespass. Just to be safe, he removes the purloined jacket and tucks it under his arm, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Taking a deep breath, he pushes open the door to his cabin and steps inside.
To his surprise, Stan is seated on his bunk, but he isn’t the only person in the room. A new man, who appears to be around the same age, is taking up the remaining lower bunk, the pair chatting amiably. They pause their conversation at Louis’ arrival.
“Tomlinson!” Stan crows, ruddy-faced. It’s evident that he’s paid a visit to the bar fairly recently. “We looked for you at supper. Where did you get off to?”
Propping himself up against the bottom of his own bunk. Louis casually slides the jacket out from under his arm and onto the bed. “Oh, I did a bit more exploring. Found some chaps to play a few hands with.” He tips his chin toward the newcomer. “I see you’ve found company, as well.”
“Blimey, where are my manners?” Stan says, slapping his knee. “Louis Tomlinson, this is Zayn Malik. He boarded in Cherbourg.”
Louis turns his full attention to Malik, taking in his appearance for the first time. He’s got a dark complexion and black hair, his brown eyes almost amber in the light of their cabin. “Pleasure to meet you, Malik,” Louis says, holding out his hand.
Zayn smiles, and Louis gets the feeling that he’s not at all unpopular with the ladies. “The pleasure’s all mine, Tomlinson,” he says, in an accent Louis is surprised to hear is decidedly not French. Zayn must sense what Louis is thinking, because he goes on to explain: “I’m from England, originally. My parents moved to France when I was younger. My dad wanted to live along the coast to find work. He’s a lascar,” Zayn says, matter-of-factly. “A sailor from India,” he clarifies, seeing the blank expressions on the faces of the other men.
“Is that what made you want to take to the seas, then?” Louis asks jovially, climbing up onto his bed and peering over the edge at his companions.
Zayn shakes his head. “No, I never took to sailing like my father. My mother has family in Montreal, though, so I’m going to stay with them and look for work.”
“You’re in good company, then. Seems we’re all off to seek our fortunes.” He rolls over on his back, wriggling to get comfortable. This mattress is far better than the one he slept on at home, but nothing compared to the bed in First Class. “I think I’m going to turn in, lads. It’s been quite an exciting day.”
Stan and Zayn both wish him good night, neither man staying awake for long after. Despite being the first to try to sleep, it’s Louis who lies awake as soft snoring fills the cabin. He can’t seem to get that Styles fellow out of his head, a pair of green eyes burned into the back of his eyelids. He can’t put his finger on why the man should invade his mind, especially since they’ll likely never meet again, but there is just something about Harry Styles that has Louis wishing desperately that maybe, just maybe, their paths will cross once more.
He goes to sleep meditating on silk walls and carved furnishings, and, even if he can’t place why, a man whose countenance is far more exquisite than either.